The phrase "it gets late earlier this time of year" was attributed to Yogi Berra, commenting on the shorter Autumn days during World Series games in Yankee Stadium. Well, it got late earlier this year for the Great Peanut Tour and Rides, Sept 4-7, near Emporia in SE Virginia. The weather was more like late September or early October. It was my third Great Peanut, and it was the coolest and driest weather I've seen up there in peanut country. People who have been doing the rides for ten years or more said the same thing.
All rides are circle rides, and begin at the Cattail Creek Campground (just off I-95, about 2 mi. into Virginia) where most riders stay, although a good number stay at local motels and commute to the campground. Registration fee is $42.00, which includes a water bottle and a T-shirt. Breakfasts and dinners are served at the campground for a reasonable extra fee. In between, there are plenty of treats at the many rest stops that are staffed by volunteers and have individual touches.
On Thursday, there is a 25 mi. ride, but my wife, Sally, and I didn't arrive until 8:30 p.m., so we didn't ride. Try to arrive before dark so you can choose a tent site and set up in daylight, especially if you aren't familiar with the campground. It was so cool Thursday night that we were able to get into our down bags.
The temperature dipped below 50 degrees by Friday morning, but warmed up enough by 8:30 to start the Lake Gaston Ride in short sleeves. Rides of 25 mi. and 50 mi. are offered, but the Lake Gaston Ride is the one to do on Friday. It's an 81 mi. ride that circles clockwise to the west, through Roanoke Rapids and around Lake Gaston, crossing several arms of the lake on the way. The route south of the lake was more quiet this year, since some of the stretch alone busy Rt.158 was eliminated. The route north of the lake is especially rural and traffic free, sometimes through cleared fields, but often through woods. The rest stops, usually about twelve miles apart, are varied and good. The first featured popsicles. I had orange. One stop, right on the lake, had enough stuff for a proper lunch. I had a peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich, and lots of scuppernog grapes, and slices of watermelon and cantaloup. There were other rest stops in Littleton, on its pretty main street, and at a crossroads named Valentinels, next to a quaint post office/country store.
The Lake Gaston Ride is less flat than the other Great Peanut rides I've done; you might call it gently rolling --- gradual descents to the arms of the lake, gradual ascents away from them, and a few shallow creek valleys. Friday was a perfect day for a ride? the high temperature was about 75 degrees. A guy played bagpipes during dinner and there was a talent show at the campfire afterward.
Saturday's low was about 55 degrees --- not as cool as the day before, but still a great morning for a ride. After another breakfast of juice, coffee, pancakes, and sausage, I chose the "NC Metric Century" for Saturday's ride. (Other options for Saturday are a Quarter Century, Century, Double Metric, and, of course, the 13 mi. Great Peanut Tour itself (more about that later). The NC Metric ride dips down into North Carolina right away, and makes a counter clockwise loop through Northampton County. It's about as flat and rural as a ride in North Carolina can be. While not spectacular, it's a lovely ride, wriggling through little towns like Garysburg and Margaretsville.
A few of the rest stops are worth a comment. Mr. Stevenson died only a month before, but there was still a stop at his 'museum' of stone sculpture and other strange objects. Another rest stop had two beautifully decorated cakes, with miniature bicycles on them. And finally, just five or six miles from the end of the ride is perhaps my favorite of the rest stops. It's a working farm where you can sit in the shade and eat about eight kinds of home-made cookies. I must have sampled two or three of each kind.
I rode the first 20 miles by myself on Saturday and averaged about 17mph. Then I hooked up with a gang from Richmond and Baltimore (including Eric Geyer and a guy named Andrew) that was fast, but a bit disorganized. Organizer that I am, I got us into a double pace line, and my final average (not including rest stops) was about 19mph, in spite of riding about 30 mi. into a stiff breeze.
The Great Peanut Tour is a 13 mi. ride that starts at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. There's a lecture about peanuts at a peanut farm, and a rest stop with lots of peanut things to eat. I think everyone should do the Great Peanut Tour at least once. But since I had done it once, I chose to stay at the campground and have my only hot shower of the weekend, while most of the other 1100 folks were doing the Tour. A harpist played during dinner on Saturday, and there were banana splits for dessert. Line dancing was the after dinner event, with an entertaining guy from the Raleigh area doing the calling.
On Sunday, only two rides are offered --- a Quarter Century and the VA Metric Century. I chose the latter, after a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, apples, biscuit and bran muffin. I started out with Ed Downing and Dan and Janet Edgerton, and we later joined some TarPits, out of Oxford, NC. The VA Metric is sort of a mirror image of the NC metric, you ride east of I-95 in Virginia instead of North Carolina, with both rides overlapping for the last few miles (which means that you get to stop for the home-made cookies again). Sunday was the warmest day (highs in the upper 80s), but still not a bad day for riding.
Other NCBC members whom we encountered over the weekend were John Graeber, Al Johnson, Kim Murphy, Mike O'Connor, Jeanne Downing, and a guy named Pete, who's last name I do not know. I haven't mentioned Sally. Laid low with a sinus infection, she didn't ride after doing 35 mi. on Friday. She was quite content, however, reading, sleeping, and otherwise lounging in the shady woods where we'd pitched our tent. That leads to a general comment about the Great Peanut Rides. The pace and atmosphere are more leisurely than, for example, Bike Virginia. There are more families, and a wider range of pedaling levels. People sleep later and start riding later --- you don't hear tent Zippers at 5:00 a.m., just snoring. This has something to do with not having to pack up your tent each morning; you set up your tent and it's there for the weekend. And maybe it had something to do with the fact that it got late earlier this year.
For information about next September's Great Peanut Rides (a 20th year celebration), you can call Robert C. Wrenn of the Emporia Bike Club, Inc. at 1-800-449 BIKE (1-800-449-2453) (before 9:00 pm, please). The club's e-mail address is email@example.com, and they also have a web site at www.3rddoor.com/-gpt/.
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