The Road Dog Guide to Route Planning

A Road Dog "Salute" to Captain Jack Powell
 by Tom Sheffield

bicycle chain

Within the Road Dog pack is a truly rare breed, the "Ride Leader". To be fair, probably everyone has led a ride at some time or another during their cycling career. However, not everyone possesses the ideal traits required to regularly volunteer for a position where they will be simultaneously revered and reviled.

Without a Ride Leader (and the accompanying cue sheets), the Road Dog pack assumes many personalities, even before it negotiates the treacherous Blue Jay Point speed bump that signifies the start of a ride. The pre-ride discussion is divided between the Climbing Dogs, Distance Dogs, and Porch Dogs. Notice that the Hammers don't participate in the debate, opting to save their energy for the post-break sprint back to BJP. Eventually we decide to "Ride out to someplace, take a break, and come back." 

When a Ride Leader announces a ride and posts the ride on the NCBC ride calendar, something magical happens. First participation increases, possibly because the ride announcement has eliminated the fear of the unknown. A word of warning to the uninitiated; Road Dogs have been known to be guilty of "false advertising" when signing-up to lead a ride. However, their intentions are good. After all, adding an extra 10-20% to the ride distance, average speed, or both, can only improve the fitness of the pack. Second this volunteer is obviously THE leader. Someone the pack can gossip about while he's out of earshot, take the blame if anything goes wrong, and curse at riders who break the rules-of-the-ride. Clearly the Ride Leader provides the pack with a sense of purpose. In addition, this volunteer not only gets to sweep the Goobers, but may also occasionally get hit by the broom.

Route planning is the most important, and eagerly anticipated task of the Ride Leader. Allen "Budman" Walker recently scouted a new route while enjoying a post-ride endorphin buzz. The result was the "Bull Run Hill" route, familiar to all Road Dogs as "the ride with color-coded cue sheets that might have been only 10% over the advertised distance, if they hadn't been repainting NC96, which caused us to take a longer, hillier detour, but at least we were able to drop the Ride Leader". (Also, see warning about "false advertising" above). However, when Allen led an encore ride of the same route a few weeks later we had an outstanding turn-out, proving one of three things: Road Dogs will show-up for any advertised ride OR Road Dogs have a short memory OR both. There is a fourth possibility: Some Road Dogs instinctively show up at Blue Jay Point and have no idea how they got there, nor where they'll be going, and could simply care less when (or if) they return. These Dogs are "beyond intimidation".

Some of our Ride Leaders have been known to spend long winter nights sipping warm Cytomax in front of the fire, while searching DeLorme's "North Carolina Atlas and Gazetteer" for the tightly spaced contour lines that will undoubtedly become part of a "flat" route the next Spring. There is a hierarchy amongst our ride leaders. Some have risen above merely leading weekend rides, and have taken their sadistic craftsmanship to another level. We salute them for planning routes for our club Rallies, as well as other large group rides, where they can inflict pain (as well as a sense of accomplishment) on the masses.

The NCBC is fortunate to be able to call on the services of a master Road Dog route planner, Captain Jack Powell. If you've ever had to navigate using cryptic cue sheets or sporadic road markings, you know that Captain Jack's routes are renowned for cue sheet clarity and flawless road markings. We were fortunate to gain some insight from Jack, while he was still receiving the accolades of appreciative club members for his work on the routes for the NCBC Fall 2000 Rally. (Present and future Ride Leaders should pay close attention, and possibly pick-up on some of the subtle clues for successful route planning and ride leadership.)


Ride Leader: How were you able to find a difficult route like the NCBC Fall Century in this part of North Carolina?
Capt Jack: Practice, practice, practice!

Ride Leader: Why was the first part of the route, before the Century/Metric split, ideally suited for a blistering pace?
Capt Jack: That was according to plan. It makes some of the pack stop for the first feed zone. It hurts the volunteers' feelings if everyone blasts by without even saying hello. You know we've got to have some respect for our faithful volunteers. And I love to see more riders do the Century, than the Metric, on rally days, because the Century is what the rally is all about. There is a Metric training ride on the calendar nearly every weekend, so they're no big deal to a real Road Dog. Also, the uninitiated riders will be lured into believing that the ride will be easy, and continue on the Century route, rather than chasing the "racer dudes" on the shorter, faster, Metric route.

Ride Leader: Wow! That's impressive, especially since the Century route continued to be reasonably flat for a few miles after the split before the first real climb from Old Seventy-five to Bahama. That Stagville Road is one bitchin hill!
Capt Jack: Yeah! I really enjoyed planning that ambush. I have to climb it almost every year, with 70 pounds of gear on my bike, at the 490 mile mark during "Tour De Lakes" to get back home with Jerry Allen. So I don't feel sorry for a whiney Road Dog that has been spoiled by always coasting down that big hill on Jon Buckley's "Bahama Loop" ride. Anyway, before I started inflicting pain, I got them just far enough away from the Metric route that they wouldn't think about turning back.

Ride Leader: Was that also the reason for labeling the post-split part of the Century route the "Flat Loop"?
Capt Jack: (Following a big Capt. Jack laugh...): A cyclist complained to me about the Flat Loop having hills. He had little appreciation for the explanation that the Flat River and Flat Creek run through that hilly area, thus the name. Truth is that this course crosses Flat River below Lake Mickey and Flat Creek above Lake Mickey, so what else could a Road Dog have named it? I like it, Flat Loop, draws in the suckers! I think it is kind of funny, Flat Loop! Joke is on the wimps and the "want to be" Road Dogs! 

Ride Leader: Why did the route include roads that even dedicated Road Dogs seldom, if ever, ride?
Capt Jack: It adds to the element of surprise. If you've never ridden to Mt Tirzah, it's time you did...or at least tried to. Just be careful whose wheel you suck going up to the top or you will pay later.

Ride Leader: Oh man! That's really clever. So you get them disoriented, then you REALLY drop the hammer by sending them up the "Flat Creek Wall".
Capt Jack: (A deep, belly laugh...) I surely do! But you know, the Dog that can get to that Person County line at the bottom and then be first at the top of Tirzah is good, but he ain't Boss Dog yet!

Ride Leader: Was the route designed to be reasonably flat between Mt Tirzah and the second split with the Metric course at NC96.
Capt Jack: Yes, and it served two purposes. First, the Metric Route was designed to be flat and fast. We wanted those Hammers to be out of Blue Jay Point before the Century riders began arriving. Second, we didn't want the Century riders to Goober-out at the second split with the Metric course at NC96. Is there anything more embarrassing than a Road Dog giving up the chase and looking for a short cut?

Ride Leader: We noticed that you refrained from calling the hill on Eaton Road a "wall". Why not?
Capt Jack: (Another raucous laugh) Identifying too many walls on the cue sheet will scare the pack!

Ride Leader: Why did you include Bike Route #1 in the course, just past the last opportunity to wimp-out?
Capt Jack: I knew that many of the Century riders would be familiar with this stretch of road and I wanted to instill a sense of self-confidence, prior to sending them up the "Ruin Creek Wall".

Ride Leader: That's impressively cruel! How did you find THAT wall?
Capt Jack: That's a trade secret! (More laughter!)

Ride Leader: Like a true Ride Leader, we heard that you volunteered to sweep the route. THANK YOU! We understand that you caught some Century riders in Kittrell. At that point, what was their general condition?
Capt Jack: The riders we caught at Kittrell area were looking pretty sick and one was standing beside the road off his bike. The hills of Flat Loop and the Road to Ruin had toasted them. (More laughter!)

Ride Leader: Is it true Capt Jack that you, riding as "Sweep", dropped several riders on the Century loop?
Capt Jack: Well, you know what our Road Dog credo is, don't you? (Hee, hee, hee...)

Ride Leader: Why are the last 30 miles of this route so difficult? Most of the Century riders are already completely fried by the time they cross US1 in Kittrell, and there are still some tough "rollers" to negotiate before they reach the top at Bobbitt.
Capt Jack: (With a twinkle in his eye...) I didn't know there was any other way to get back from Kittrell.

Ride Leader: Surely you could have found a better route from Franklinton to the break at the Western Wear store on NC96? The traffic and road conditions were really horrible on NC56 (not to mention that the hills sucked).
Capt Jack: My original century route did not include NC56, but the year I put it together there was a detour on SR1127 (the road from Franklinton to Pocomoke) so we were forced to use NC56. NC56 also causes the route to be a couple miles longer than desirable. However, Robby Powell and Tom Sheffield liked it so much last year I decided not to change it. Also, going through Pocomoke would cause the course to have less than 5000 ft vertical and I think that would be a shame. The fact the course has 5000+ ft vertical should be a good marketing statistic for drawing riders from outside of the Raleigh area. But as for this old tandem captain, I get a real rush out of that big downhill going out of Franklinton. We smoke the traffic there. You just got to be careful about what kind of company you ride with up the other side. Also, we thought the traffic would make any riders from Cary feel more "at home".

Ride Leader: We couldn't help but notice that the ride was nearly two miles longer than advertised. Why?
Capt Jack: It was a ride from Blue Jay Point. Why not?

Note: Some of the statements attributed to Captain Jack Powell were fabricated, but received his approval prior to distribution. Writing an article is in many ways similar to being a Ride Leader. Remember to "Beware of false advertising".

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