Wednesday was, for all intents and purposes, prep-day ahead of our Thursday noon-time departure for the 2017 Georgia Tandem Rally in Valdosta, Georgia. This was the usual stuff: getting tandem down and making sure it was ready to go, getting my tool box, spare parts organizer, pumps, computers and whatnot from the garage staged for packing in the back of the truck as well as getting three days’ worth of cycling apparel packed into our respective gear bags and, of course, clothing to wear when we weren’t on the bikes. The odd part was I didn’t have a truck to pack all of stuff in!
Yes, the wild card was the status of our tandem hauler – my 2006 Toyota Tundra – that went into the shop on Saturday for a standard service at 133,000 miles, investigation of a clunking noise from the front end and a speed-sensitive vibration from the back-end I suspected was a bad rear wheel bearing. As of Tuesday afternoon they were still diagnosing the condition of the rear seals and bearings but discovered in the process the rear brakes were not wearing evenly and recommended those be changed. Under the assumption the truck would still be ready to go by Wednesday afternoon, I gave Nick the OK for the rear brake shoe replacement. As we reached the end of the day on Wednesday there was good news and bad news: the good news was they’d finished all of the routine service, had the drums off being machined and had found a bad bearing that was also being replaced. The bad news was, the truck wouldn’t be ready until Thursday morning. Oh, well, and the front end still needs new upper control arms & ball joints.
Well, actually, there was another piece of bad news embedded in there: the bearing that was bad had just been replaced 3,000 miles ago in late November. Nick gave me the option of taking it back to the other shop since we we’re talking about a $350-$400 repair or having them do it over. Given they had the thing torn apart already and because I didn’t want to keep bouncing back and forth between shops, I decided to eat the possible warranted repair cost from the other shop and put all of my eggs in one basket with Alan Cox Automotive.
Our planned departure time on Thursday was around noon and the promised “ready for pick-up” time on the truck was 10:30am. Nick called promptly at 10:26am to let me know it was ready to go and at 11:00am Debbie dropped me off to collect the truck. Yeah, well… Nick mentioned something about the possibly needing a new brake booster & master cylinder assembly in the near future as the brakes didn’t seem to be operating as well as they should. Wow, was that an understatement! I’d mentioned the brakes on the truck sometimes worked better after a “pump” indicative of having a little air in the line. However, as I backed the truck out of the parking space the brake pedal sank nearly all the way to the firewall as I applied pressure to it. After backing up, stopping, then driving forward and stopping again with the same buried brake pedal result I parked the truck at the service door and provided a quick assessment of the brake to Nick, i.e., “Good grief, that’s 10 times worse than anything I’ve ever experienced: it’s not safe to drive!”
Nick immediately got a hold of chief wrench Jeremy and I explained what I experienced. Jeremy took it for a very short – and equally scary – test drive. After pulling into the shop he said “10 minutes”. It was more like 20 minutes but he was all over it, had the brakes operating as they should by 11:30 and I was safely on my way. It suffices to say, someone new to the shop had worked on the rear brake pad installation, adjustment and bleeding the system and missed the mark… by a lot. But, after a quick adjustment to the rear brakes and bleeding some air out of the system everything was good.
Back at home we had the truck packed, ate some steak burritos and were on the road by 12:15pm, which would hopefully put us well ahead of Atlanta traffic since we’d being going through the heart of downtown on our way to South Georgia. It was an easy, boring and uneventful 4-hour drive with just one gas stop as I neglected to top-off the tank before we left Kennesaw after the unplanned, 30-minute delay. That 30-minute delay also meant I didn’t get a chance to cut the front lawn which was going to seed and looked awful. Oh well, something for Sunday when we returned. But, as I said, an uneventful trip that had us in downtown Valdosta at 4:15pm for the rally check-in and mixer at Birdie’s Market, an old theater that had been converted into a really nice downstairs market with an upstairs banquet room.
Similar to our trip town to Thunder Beach in Panama City Beach a couple of weeks back, this was the first time Debbie and I were able to leave a 1/2 day early so we could arrive for the start of the Georgia Tandem Rally (GTR) with a Thursday meet & greet. As we arrived and checked in we did see a lot of folks whom we know from the previous 18 GTRs. However, unlike the previous 18 GTRs, we didn’t have our social coordinators Linda & Eric or our dear friend and “tail gunner” for the triplet, Lisa, to hang with this year: they were together at Lisa’s youngest daughter’s college graduation exercise. So, while we did our best to mingle with long-time friends, we still kinda felt like we were wearing brown suits at a tuxedo convention and just didn’t fit in all that well. But, as I said, we knew a lot of the folks there, we were able to stay socially engaged for the duration of the event and even helped with moving registration materials out to our host’s van as the event came to an end.
As it was dinner time, we decided to go to Birdie’s Market’s sister restaurant, the Steel Magnolias just a 1/2 block away. Again, we were essentially a pair of lost souls without our posse as we arrived at the restaurant, but were thrilled to see they had two lovely bars and, well, anyone who even occasionally reads our blog will know that we’re always right at home at a bar.
We opted to sit at the downstairs bar that fronted the kitchen and food prep counter; talk about performance art! We were mesmerized by all of the various cooks and chefs churning out amazing meals for the restaurant’s unusually large Thursday night crowd of hungry seasoned cyclists as we sat at the corner of the bar with me sipping on some lovely silver Don Julio tequila while Debbie enjoyed a very nice glass of Eugen Müller, Riesling Kabinett. For dinner, we split the Ahi Tuna Carpaccio as an appetizer and the Steel Magnolias Shrimp & Grits with andouille sausage, roasted red pepper gravy and a fried egg as our entrée: it was one of the best bowls of shrimp and grits we’ve had in a long time, noting the best was at the Boar’s Head in Savannah. We even saved room for dessert: a rum covered cheese cake that was out of this world! We also had a very nice chat with a couple who joined us at the bar and who were passing through on their way to Florida: Steel Magnolias was apparently one of their regular stops and we can now see why.
After finishing up our dinner we headed back to the hotel where we’d hoped we’d find a few folks mingling in the lobby. Alas, that was not the case as this is a tandem rally not a motorcycle rally. We retired early for the night, which was OK too.
We were up about an hour before we’d need to be in the truck and headed to the remote ride start location which gave us plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast. We wandered down to the hotel lobby breakfast bar which featured the ubiquitous selection of pre-fabricated foods and a waffle maker. Debbie went for the pre-fab omelette, sausage and some fruit while I opted to be really bad and have a Belgian waffle. With breakfast out-of-the-way we returned to our room to dress in our cycling gear and then made our way to the truck for the 10 minute drive up I75 north to Hihira, GA, for a remote start .
Given that Debbie and I didn’t have a lot of miles under our belt from this past winter or spring aside from a few 25-mile loop rides from the house on the few weekends when we were at home and not otherwise occupied, we opted to ride the 46-mile route with just over 1,050 feet of climbing. It turned out to be a very flat ride through farm land with a stiff 10 mph breeze and very little tree coverage. Although we made sure we didn’t jump out on the front of the pack with the faster riders, we did find ourselves working our way through several groups of cyclists before we settled in with a group including long-time friends Bill & Sametta, Lonnie & Carol, Alan & Joanne, Laura & Duncan, Jeff & Joyce, and a few others. After the store stop we fell back in with a smaller subset of our original group for the 14-mile bonus loop. Somewhere along the way we collected a few other riders while also losing a few. Our only real error in judgement was not stopping at the 2nd store stop with our other friends. We’d gotten a little ahead of everyone as we entered town and were actually past the store when we realized the others were stopping. With the roads torn-up and a few too many cars around, we opted to go on ahead by ourselves. We eventually met up with and rode a few miles with Tom & Beryl whom we’d come to know during one of our two visits to the Tandems East Open House a few years back in their home state of New Jersey. We chatted briefly before they drifted back to finish the ride with their friends from Ontario, Canada. We finished the ride without any real issues other than the rear shifting getting a little out of adjustment on the final few miles of the ride, a mysterious and recurring issue with our Calfee regardless of whose shifters and derailleurs we use. On the bright side, it’s easily corrected in just a few moments with the turn of an inline barrel adjuster at the head tube.
As it was on Thursday evening, Debbie and I ended up heading off by ourselves to the highly recommended Smokin’ Pig BBQ place just a couple of miles from the remote start/end point. We clearly weren’t the first cyclists to arrive and seemingly ended up in a large overflow room. We each had our own pulled-pork sandwich and split the sides of green beans and cole slaw, but quickly realized the sandwiches were anything but the small burger bun type we find in so many places. No, the basic sandwich was a jumbo by standard and neither one of us really needed that much food. But, it was tasty!
After our lunch we headed back to the hotel and decided to get some down time by the pool, something I’ve only recently learned to enjoy during the past year or so. However, you can get too much of a good thing and sadly I did just that. After sitting out for a while I decided to get in the pool to cool off and neglected to bring my hat along on this trip. Shortly after I got in the pool Debbie sat down at the edge with her toes in the water and our friend Laura waded-in and I’m guessing we probably spent the next hour chatting away. Oh well, at least it didn’t burn-burn where I had any discomfort: I just looked really red for a day and a half.
After taking our showers and visiting with friends in the hotel lobby for a short while we headed back to the Steel Magnolias for an early dinner at the bar. Our friends from Atlanta, Paul & Jody, joined us this time so we had a great time visiting with them. As for our dinner, we went with the Executive Chef’s recommendation on a wedge cut salad adorned with ham,cheese and a bunch of other yummy stuff as our starter and had the Colorado Lamb Chops with red potato smash, local farmers salad & creamed silver queen corn as the sides. Once again, simply amazing.
We skipped dessert as we would be heading about a mile down the road to the Crescent House for a frozen yogurt social. Debbie & Jody walked to the Crescent House while Paul and I repositioned our vehicles behind the venue for the drive home after the social. Before getting our yogurt we all toured the Crescent: it was very interesting.
From a Georgia tourism website, “Built in 1898 by U.S. Sen. William Stanley West, Crescent House is Valdosta’s best-known landmark. The house gets its name from the circular veranda with 13 massive columns, each representing 13 original American colonies. It has beautiful test gardens, an octagon-shaped schoolhouse and a quaint chapel. Saved from demolition, in 1951 it became the home of Valdosta’s garden clubs.”
As for the dessert social, it was held alongside the home in a small parking lot.
Apparently a local yogurt shop owner is one of a handful of people who have purchased a customized panel van that is essentially a soft-serve yogurt shop on wheels that allows him to pull up to any venue and dispense about 1,500 servings of yogurt. It’s a slick operation, but you’d have to sell a lot of yogurt to pay for that truck and the associated cost of operating it.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped by Walmart to get some soft drinks and a straw, wide-brimmed beach hat for me in case we went to the pool again on Saturday. As on Friday, there wasn’t a lot going on back in the hotel so we retired to our room and called it a day.
We were up around 7:30 on Saturday which gave us just enough time to get into our cycling clothes, grab some breakfast down in the hotel lobby, get the tandem and make our way around the hotel parking lot to the riders meeting area in the parking lot of the conference center next door to the hotel.
A light mist was falling as the riders meeting concluded and we headed out of the parking lot on the start of our ride. Valdosta’s finest provided us with about 2 miles of lane protection and uninterrupted passage through several stop lights on Route 221 as the light mist attempted to become a light rain. However, shortly after getting off of Route 221 onto more rural two-lane roads the rain and mist disappeared. We found ourselves riding with Lonnie and Carol and a few other couples for the first long leg of the ride, catching up with Mark & Charlotte, Reg & Michelle, Dean & Meg and a lone single rider whose husband just broke a collar-bone before the rally and was sidelined. At the point where the 32 & 47 mile routes split off from the 59 and 67 we found ourselves with just Reg & Michelle as well as Dean & Meg. We picked up a few other teams along the next few legs before rolling into the 1st store stop. After grabbing a Coke and a Fig Newton we headed back out with Reg & Michelle and another couple whose names escape me at the moment. After getting away from the lovely aroma emitted by the paper plant next to the store stop we found ourselves on some very lovely rolling terrain with lots of shade and tree cover: it was much more to our liking vs. riding on dead-flat, straight roads that crisscrossed the wide-open farm land we’d enjoyed on Friday. Amazingly, Saturday’s ride was actually a lot less hilly than the Friday ride, but sure didn’t seem like it.
I do have to note, perhaps the visual highlight of the ride was seeing two fully restored, classic Ford Mustang Mach 1’s sitting in a driveway during our loop ride from the 1st store stop to the 2nd store stop (well OK, it was the same store). One was a silver jade 1969 Mach 1 (with later-year 5-spoke styled wheels as shown below) and a black 1973 Mach 1.
After making the loop that added 15 miles to the shorter, 32-mile loop we once again visited the store stop for a while and then headed back out with the same two couples that we’d been riding with for the final leg of the ride. The roads heading back towards Valdosta were once again the dead-flat, straight roads through farm land but overall Debbie and I were both feeling a lot stronger than we did on Friday so we just took it all in stride and enjoyed the ride.
We arrived at the hotel just after 11:30am and opted to skip cleaning up before lunch and headed over to the conference center where lunch was being served. I dropped Debbie off so she could find us some seats in the shade of the large patio area where the buffet was being served while I ran back to the hotel to put the tandem in the truck. Rather than walking over to the conference center I drove so Debbie wouldn’t have to walk back… unless she wanted to. The weather was still touch and go with showers in the area, but not right on top of us. We sat with several of the folks whom we rode with and had a really pleasant time. The food was a bit more hearty than we expected for lunch; BBQ beef in a very sweet sauce, chicken fingers, mashed potatoes, green beans, baked beans, macaroni salad & carrot salad. Frozen yogurt cups and zinger zebra cakes for dessert. I had some of the BBQ and macaroni salad, but passed on the beans and desserts.
After lunch we went back out to the pool for a while so we could relax, but this time spent most of our time under the shade of an umbrella, being content to enjoy the warm air. I took a few dips in the pool to cool off but was sporting a nice covering of sunscreen and my new straw beach hat to keep from getting too much of a good thing. After spending about an hour at the pool Debbie headed up to the room to rest a bit and refresh while I went off to the hotel exploring the bike room and visiting with Bill, Sara, Duncan, Laura and others in the hotel lobby while watching the Preakness pre-race as background.
It was probably around 5:00pm when Debbie came down and joined the group, at which point I headed up to the room to grab a quick shower and to dress for dinner. No, no kilt at the tandem rally: just jeans, western boots and a Big Dog Hawaiian shirt. Sadly, I neglected to bring any tequila to the rally so I was left to enjoy a couple of Michelob Ultra’s and then some other pseudo “craft beer” from Budweiser. Bill and Sara shared some of their lovely Pina Noir with Debbie so she was in a better place than I was, at least as far as cocktails are concerned.
Right before 6:00pm we all began to head over to the conference center for the social hour ahead of dinner. After grabbing some proper cocktails we found a table we shared with Paul & Jody, Dan & Dolores and Richard & Carolyn. Dinner was the usual buffet style with some baked chicken, pasta dishes, a couple different kinds of beans and salad. Nothing to write home about, but tasty and warm. I think I was off visiting with other folks when the various announcements were being made for upcoming rallies, such as the Southern Tandem Rally near Salisbury, North Carolina on 21-24 September and then came the give-away / awards for…. You name it. They also announced the 20th anniversary of GTR would be held at Athens, Georgia over the Memorial Day Weekend, or at least it looked that way on the calendar.
Anyway, we had a great time back in the lobby at the hotel after dinner with some of the same usual suspects from before dinner. Lots of folks from the Carolinas whom we really enjoyed spending time with: Laura & Duncan, Bill & Sara, Stephen & Dawn, Jerry & Kim, Carl & Ayako, Mark & Charlotte, etc…. That time in the lobby went a long way towards sewing up our STR registration decision. I think Debbie and I were about the last to leave the lobby as I put all of the chairs back where they belonged and did a little clean up before we headed up to our room. I want to say it wasn’t quite 11:00pm so, yeah… a lot different from the motorcycling crowd.
On Sunday we woke up to the sound of heavy rain and thunder at 6:00am. Around 7:00am the GTR Emergency Alert System was used to send out a cancellation notice for the 8:30 riders meeting due to the weather. We’d already been on the fence about riding on Sunday as we had to be back at home by 4:00pm for our granddaughter Charlotte’s gymnastics meet, so this announcement removed all doubt: we’d be homeward bound within the hour.
It didn’t take us long to pack up, but in hindsight I should have taken at least another minute to give the room a once over as I left a Samsung S4 battery and battery charger plugged into the phone’s outlet on the desk. This is the second time I’ve left things behind when we’ve stayed at a condo or hotel, noting that two pair of swim trunks and a sun shirt went missing in Panama City Beach.
After saying a lot of goodbyes, we were on the road shortly after 8:00am with an ETA at home of 12:10pm. Traffic was light all the way home with just a little slowing through Atlanta; definitely a lot better than it would have been had we ridden and left at 10:30am!
Once we arrived home and I had the truck unloaded I turned my attention to harvesting the mess that had become our front lawn over the past week, as the new Bermuda sod had gone to seed with 5” tall spouts covering well over ½ of the front yard: it looked like heck! Fortunately, Zoysia grass in the side and back yard don’t go to seed like the Bermuda so I didn’t feel compelled to cut that grass on Sunday.
With a quick 2.5 hour drive up to Walhalla, South Carolina for the Rally in the Valley with Lisa on the triplet just five days away, my next task was to get the triplet down from the rafters where it’s been for the last year so I could get it ready for the ride. I’d removed the chains after bringing the triplet home from GTR last year but still hadn’t given them a proper cleaning so those got dumped into my 24-year old can of diesel and gasoline solvent for a good soaking to remove all of the crud that collected on the somewhat sticky chains as they hung in a corner of the garage. While the chains were soaking I installed the wheels on the triplet and transferred Debbie’s saddle from the Calfee as she is no longer using the Selle Anatomica saddles: anyone need a spare? I have four leather Titanico saddles and a C2 Composite model that are now sitting on the shelf.
Around 2:00pm I knocked off and got cleaned up so we could go grab a late lunch at Loco’s as we’d be sitting in the gym from 4:00pm until 7:30pm, meaning we’d be having dinner at the elegant hour. Our friend Billy was there with his new-to-him 2009 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic; what a great-looking bike! This is the one where I told him if he didn’t buy it I would! And, I really meant it. I’ve also told him that if he and Dava find they don’t ride it, I want first refusal on the initial sale offering! It would be a great companion bike to Blue II that I could use to replace the BMW for commuting while rekindling some of the joy I had with the Wide Glide.
After enjoying a nice simple salad and some blackened fish tacos as well as some lovely silver Herradura we headed over to the gym to find Julie and a place to sit for the meet. I’ll skip my editorial on parental behavior and child rearing and note that the little girls down on the floor were all fun and often times amazing to watch: here’s hoping they can overcome the short comings of their parents. Charlotte did really well on the floor exercise, vault and uneven bars, but came up short on the balance beam and that put her 2/10ths of a point out of 1st place. Yup, a 2nd place in her 2nd year. She placed 1st last year, but has since been moved up two levels and is now competing against the top-tier 8 year olds so 2nd ain’t bad for the little ballerina: yes, she’s also our little dancer.
We arrived back at the house around 8:00pm and weren’t quite sure what we’d be doing for dinner. It was about that same time that we saw a note from our friends Ryan & Jeanette saying they were headed to Taco Mac for a late dinner after spending the entire day working on their home. We asked if they’d like company and joined them around 9:00pm for dinner at the elegant hour. Well, I say dinner: I was treated to one of the nicest surprise birthday celebrations ever when the waitress brought out two horseshoe-shaped Herradura shot glass holders with one shot each of Reposado, Double Barrel Reposado, Blanco and Ultra. Ryan & Jeanette are also big fans of the Agave-based joy-juice so we had a grand time tasting and comparing the different tequilas. We enjoyed each other’s company until 11:00pm and then called it a night: what a great time that was!
Anyway, that’s the news from Kennesaw this week. I’ve got a little more work to do on the triplet to get it ready for Saturday’s ride. We’ll have it loaded up on the truck Thursday night for a noon-time departure on Friday. That should get us to our friend Lisa’s home by 3:00pm. We’ll go out and have dinner somewhere, spend the night at Lisa’s and then make a short drive to Walhalla for the Rally in the Valley ride on Saturday morning. We’re only signed up for the 30 mile option so we’ll be headed back home at noon on Saturday so we can spend the rest of the long weekend relaxing, doing chores or whatever comes up.