The Inaugural Natchez Trace 1500k

Ride Report by Dave Thompson:

Are you looking for a long ride on a well maintained road? Do you want to ride where there aren’t any trucks, where any traffic nicely gives you at least three feet or more of space? In fact, do you want a road where the occasional car seems like it’s out of place, like “why is that car on my bike path?” Are you looking for a relatively flat ride where you never have to move out of your large chainring?

I’ve got the ride for you! You need to ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The NT 1500 is an out and back on the parkway with a few very short jogs off to get to Controls. Starting in Nashville Tennessee and turning around in Natchez Mississippi, there are no services on the parkway itself, nor are there intersections – only on and off ramps. Except for those Controls, you’d ride the entire thing without ever seeing a stop sign, a traffic light, a convenience store … you get the idea. There are restrooms with potable water and we made full use of those.

The scenery has a sameness for the entire ride. You cross a couple of large rivers, lots of creeks and over many crossing roads. Trees are well back from the sides, think 50-100 feet in general, and the roadsides mowed. Yes, that’s 450+ miles of mowing in either direction! Now that would be a full time job!

There is also some limited farming in some areas, mostly hay. Elevation never gets much over 1000 feet so there are only a couple of vistas to take in.

We saw some deer, wild dogs, armadillos (mostly road kill), but not a lot when you consider the length of the ride.

Only once did I switch to my small chainring and that was close to the end on the return leg, a grade that I hadn’t noticed as I descended. One other time I had a passing thought of shifting down but the hill on the road in Tishomingo Park to the Control was so short that it wasn’t necessary. Most of the grades that you encounter on this ride are 4% or less; in fact, there’s a lot of 1% that didn’t even register on my Garmin, which treated it as “noise” in total ascent even as the elevation changed.

Only about 22,000 feet of climbing registered on my Garmin over the 1500 km. Ridewithgps counted it as 36,000 — it counts all that low grade stuff. A lot of that climbing is on the first 60 miles which of course is the last 60 miles as you return.

The ride is broken up into, roughly, 450 (French Camp), 300 (Natchez), 300 (French Camp), 225 (Tishomingo), 225 km (finish).

The ride is setup with a long first day. I thought that was going to be a long one but didn’t realize how flat the parkway is. Leaving at 4am, Jerry and I arrived at the French Camp Control around 11:30 p.m. Sleeping was in cabins with several bunks. I went to sleep immediately, as usual; Jerry was disturbed by the noise of other riders. We were middle of the pack coming into French Creek. We got up at 3:30 and were rolling around 4am. 20 miles down the road there as an off-parkway store marked on the cue sheet and we stopped there.

The night control was at Natchez, the almost-halfway point, 750 km give or take. The return leg is very slightly longer because of the off route controls. We arrived at Natchez numbers 10 & 11 of the 55 or so riders. 6:30 p.m. at the Control, we left 7 hours later at 1:30 a.m. A 7-hour night stop is a record for me but Jerry needed the sleep. This Control was a motel and we slept soundly.

On the way back, my mental plan was to stop at French Camp and sleep for a few hours and do the same at Tishomingo. That mental plan was one that had developed along the way. That’s where the drop bags would be. It didn’t work out that way. We arrived at French Camp at 4:30 p.m. (?) but weren’t able to get any sleep. We were alone in the cabin but it was hot. I can’t sleep when it’s hot. We rested for almost the planned three hours but were obviously short on sleep when we left at 8:30 p.m. We found an open convenience store at an intervening control and rolled into Tupelo just before 5am. They opened the M.C.’s at 5:01 a.m. and we lingered there for an hour, catching a few minutes of sleep.

No, we didn’t see Elvis … he was sleeping.

I was sure that Jerry would want to rest for a long time at Tishomingo, the last night stop, but he was ready to get this over with as well. Besides, it was only 9:30 a.m. when we arrived in Tish! We’d taken a few 10-minute naps along the roadway or at the aforementioned restrooms, immediately falling asleep and awakened by my phone alarm.

Leaving Tish at 10:30, we arrived back in Nashville just before 11 p.m., just under 91 hours on the ride against the 120 hour time limit. We were numbers 4 & 5 of the group. We returned at noon the next day to check on the drop bags and only three more people had arrived in between.

The downside to the sameness, of course, especially at night, is that you can get bored. On a more typical ride going through small towns, even if everything is closed up late at night, there is something to see. The Parkway just goes on and on. I have to confess that the last 40 miles was tough mentally; I needed it to be over and the miles just crawled by.

The planning, support and execution were excellent. We were well fed and housed. If I were doing this again, I’d make an off-parkway motel booking between French Camp and Tishomingo for the return leg. Tupelo might have been a good location, or before. A couple of hours of good sleep at that point would have actually shortened the ride. We wouldn’t have needed the naps on the roadside and we would have been riding faster. To a certain extent you get into a sleep-deprived crawl and you roll along and have to remind yourself to up the pace – yes, pedaling does make it go faster!

Obviously Jerry and I were the outliers. We arrived late Friday night while most everyone else arrived 20-24 hours later on Saturday. Just as obviously, I enjoyed myself.

What a crazy “sport”! No more this year!

Southern Appalachian Super 600

Ride Report by Liz Overduin:

Earlier this year, I think it was April, Terry Payne asked me if I wanted to do a Super 600 down in the Blue Ridge Mountains with him in September. Recklessly I replied “WooHoo, let’s do it!” A Super 600 is a 600 km brevet with a minimum of 10,000 metres of climbing and you are allowed 50 hours instead of the usual 40 hours to complete it. Kathy Brouse and Arthur Reinstein did a Super 600 in Oregon earlier this summer. Kathy told me about her experience. She said it was the hardest thing she had ever done and that it made the Van Isle 1200 she had just completed a few weeks earlier, seem like merely a 200 in comparison. Is it me, or is it the sport of Randonneuring, but I got two reactions after hearing about their experience. Part of me was terrified at the thought of attempting something so difficult, and part of me couldn’t wait to do it. Eventually I emailed Terry and told him it would not be a good idea for me to attempt something as challenging as the Super 600. A month later I emailed him again and told him I was in! Ahhh, Randonneuring!

The Southern Appalachian Super 600 has everything you could possibly want in a Super 600. Yes, you go up and up a lot. We started the ride on Saturday morning at 4:30 AM. We went up immediately at the start, 53 kms up to the top of Mt Mitchell. It took us just over 4 hours to get to the summit. Then you go down, down, down. It was exhilarating! You can “take the lane” because you are going as fast as the cars. I would see Terry ahead of me going like a slingshot around the curves – it was incredible! I felt like I was on a roller-coaster ride but I was in charge of the speed. We did this over and over for the next 600 kms – slowly up, up and up, then zooming back down! The road conditions were perfect and even in the dark we could often let ourselves get good speed on the descents.

Terry and I also enjoyed meeting people with their Southern drawl way of talking. Terry would tell them what we were doing and getting their reaction was fun. One woman said “Wauw, ah woodn’ e’en be aybell to waulk tha’ faah” which made no sense to Terry and I because we weren’t walking, we were cycling! Everyone was so friendly and encouraging to us, one man gave us bottles of water when we got to the top of a long climb.

The scenery was spectacular, endless views on every horizon of the tree-covered Blue Ridge Mountains with waterfalls and lakes throughout. It seems that every home, whether it was a mansion up high in the hills or a shack along a rocky creek, the main focus was the porch. It’s all about the rocking chairs on the porch when you’re living in that kind of scenery!

Cycling during the night, Terry and I disturbed a lot of sleeping hound dogs who would wake up and howl at us as we approached. Thankfully they were on chains or behind fences. It seemed that when we did get chased by the occasional dog, it was almost always the harmless spunky wiener type dog. Except once for Terry – but that’s his story to tell.

We were very lucky with the weather. During the day it was sunny and warm – bit like the Ontario summer we missed here in Ontario. It would get cooler at night which was great for climbing up and up. When we went down, we had to wear all our warm gear or we would get completely chilled. On the second night, at the start of a big climb, it started to pour down rain. Not a gentle rain, but a pelting down rain with no real warning – one minute it’s not raining, and then it was torrential downpour! I could hear Terry laughing out loud ahead of me as we were going up – he’s like that – I would recommend Terry as a riding buddy to anyone!

One big difference about cycling down in the States is that there are no 24 hour Tim Hortons everywhere. You have to make sure you always have food with you on the bike. When you do see a place to eat and drink, don’t skip it because the next one may not be soon enough. One of the controls on the first night was a post office. Beside the Post office was a Pub with a huge outdoor patio and a live rock n’ roll band. It was after midnight and the band members looked like they just got off their Harleys and they were pounding out some great tunes. Terry and I went inside to fill our water bottles. Then we looked at each other and said “Carey Chappelle would not leave here without having a beer – let’s have one for Carey”! We sat among the pony-tailed, bearded bikers in that outdoor patio listening to the band and totally enjoyed that beer!

I love the sport of Randonneuring – there’s no doubt about it. I would recommend a Super 600 to all of you because even to just attempt it, is a great adventure. It’s tough, but that goes without saying. If it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t be Randonneuring. Even with the extra 10 hours, Terry and I had less than 3 hours total at our “overnight” stop, where we did not arrive until 5:15 Sunday morning! Finishing at 4:14 on Monday morning, almost 48 hours later, Terry and I agreed that it sure had been an incredible experience!

Cheers to you all,
Liz Overduin

PS – (FYI – Huron Chapter’s March to the Marsh 600 has 4,300 metres of climbing and Toronto Chapter’s Haliburton Highlands 600 has 4,500 metres of climbing but…..the Ottawa Chapter has the Lake Placid ride which has 8,000 metres of climbing….hey….just saying….!)

Appalachian Adventure 1000, September 5-7, 2014

Ride Report by Dave Thompson:

This was a good ride. Very well organized and supported, there’s little that I could provide in constructive criticism. It was a delight doing a supported 1000…

We started at 4:00 a.m. in Leesburg VA from the Comfort Suites – same start location as the Shenandoah 1200 – and ended that day in Lexington VA at a Best Western. The second day started and ended in Lexington which was convenient for riders and organizers, as we could stay in place, re-use the hotel room etc. The third day saw us back in Leesburg.

A large conference room was setup in the Lexington hotel as the Control. They kept food simple – rice with veggie or meat chilli and chicken soup. Two large rice cookers kept producing rice. Snack food aplenty along with PB&J, breakfast items etc. were continuously available. Soft drinks, juice and beer…

Volunteers staffed the Lexington Control, three for each of the two nights. On the first night you checked in at the Control, got your hotel room key, collected your drop bag, ate and showered in your preferred order, got up the next day, ate again in that conference room and headed out. You were able to leave your stuff in the room as you were coming back to the same place. After the second night you brought your drop-bag back to the conference room.

This ride was organized into three relatively equal days in terms of distance and climbing. The VA countryside in the Appalachians rolls and rolls. There really is no flat. Day 2 featured some longer climbs; the longest being about 1400 feet, but each day came in around 13,000 feet. The cue sheet provided good climbing information, letting you know when we were heading for a “gap” or “crest” and what that climb would be. It also provided Control-to-Control climbing rate, which varied between about 4,000 and 8,000 feet of climbing per 100 miles. For me, the really useful part was knowing the elevation at the gap. Most of those longer climbs are long switch-backs, so it helps to know where you are.

The cue sheet was superb. It had every detail imaginable about facilities on the route, even down to ORF’s (outdoor restroom facilities, aka johnny-on-the-spot). Usually that kind of detail is too much, but not in this case. There were many, many Controls but most were Info Controls, which eased time constraints for the riders. Crista noted the “if this were a timed Control open/close” on the cue sheet so you knew if you were on track. On Day 2, for example, there was only one Control during the day that wasn’t an Info Control, which was about half way through the day. Most of those Info Controls were actually establishments that could have provided stamps or signatures, but were not used that way.

The roads are excellent. I can only remember one significant but short rough patch and it was well noted on the cue sheet. There were no gravel stretches, no fresh chip-seal. We crossed railroad tracks often and many were marked as very rough — but compared to what we experience in Ontario rides, they were a dream. It certainly helps that they get neither deep frost nor Florida heat!

The scenery is pretty, rolling countryside, farms, heavily treed in places but obviously no snow-capped peaks or ocean views. There are rivers and a few lakes but not the 50% water experience of Northern Ontario. Dawn on Day 2 found me at the top of the highest crest looking down at all these hills, orange in the sky, fog filling the lowest points — that was probably the highlight scenery-wise. It’s a great area for cycling, great exercise with all the hills and reasonable traffic.

Everyone can experience something different on these rides, depending on where you are in the group. It was very hot on day one, temps and humidity around 90 – that, everyone felt. I got caught in a short downpour that day; some others didn’t see rain. On day two and three the temperature was gradually easing … some got caught in rain on day two, I did not. We did have wind soon after dawn for a few hours on day three, but that would depend on where you were at that point in time. It did not get cold at night, that’s one advantage of Fall in Virginia. For the most part arm-warmers did the job — highly unusual for me. I carried my heavy jacket in my pack, knowing that sometime a short thunderstorm can produce hail … that was unnecessary, thankfully. I did don the jacket during the rain; was thankful for its protection.

Inevitably I compare this ride to the Shenandoah 1200, since it covers some of the same territory. The amount of total climbing per mile is less, but not much less. The Shen has some long relatively flat stretches … which means that it also has some long, long climbs with steep grades. The Shen covers more north-to-south territory, from Gettysburg PA to Mt Airy SC; the AA is more compact. The days are shorter time-wise on the AA but about the same distance, except for, of course, the last 200k of the Shen as it’s a 1200 vs. the AA 1000.

As is typical on these rides, I’m the Lantern Rouge early on. In this case I was riding by myself and trailing the pack after about 12 miles. By the end of the first day I was somewhere in the middle of the group of 30-some riders. There were a couple of riders who rode through, but most got some sleep. The fast getting-some-sleep group of six riders finished the ride about 10 minutes ahead of me. It was kind of a running joke — I’d come into a Control and find them there; I’d leave first; they’d pass me down the road. I wrapped up the ride at 7:28 p.m. on Sunday for a time of 63:28 against the time limit of 75 hours. When I left the hotel at 3:30 the next a.m. to head back to Reading PA and our youngest son’s family, one rider had just come in and there were still four on the course due in shortly.

I finished Day 1 around 9 p.m.; Day 2 around 7 p.m. I started Day 2 at 1:15 a.m. and Day 3 at 12:45 a.m. That’s actually more night stop time than I usually have on these rides — 4 hours the first night and 6 hours the second night.

Night riding was particularly slow on the second night. My Garmin had frozen at about 280 miles and even when I got it “thawed”, it wouldn’t show the course beyond that point. I ended up using it simply as a cycle computer with a built-in map. That meant a lot of in-the-dark navigating and this route has lots of turns. I stopped a lot. I put in some bonus miles. Oh well. Even though I’ve used the Garmin for many 1200 km rides with the entire ride loaded up as one tcx track, the roads were too winding and therefore the number of bread-crumbs in the tcx over-ran its capacity — that’s my assumption. I should have broken the ride up into separate days. I will do some research on that.

This is a ride well worth doing, but don’t I say that about every ride?