The Hound of the Gastonvilles

The beast continued to advance its short fun bristling up over much of its body with an intermittent snarl revealing sharp and powerful teeth and a low rumble reverberating through its taut chest.


My mind roiled in a feverish mix of fear and excitement as I imagined the following exchange between myself, the beast, and the beast’s owner:

“Bring it big boy!”  I shouted standing on the side of a state road clutching my helmet, “I’ll beat the fuck out of you!”

“There’s no need for that kind of language,” protested the dog’s owner from the edge of her yard, “He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

I didn’t tell this woman her dog had hurled himself at me earlier in the day narrowly missing my thigh before striking my rear wheel.

Instead, I replied, “Ma’am, this dog intends me harm.  Either get control of him or I’m going to leave him lying in the street.”

The beast took another step prompting me to….

Understanding the evolution of this violent and savage scene requires a trip back in time of about a week when I first contacted the Gaston County Cycling Club about participating in its 25th annual Polar Bear Ride.



I expressed interest, weather permitting, in attempting the event’s 100K metric centiry route.  The gentleman with whom I was speaking discouraged the idea saying most riders choosing that route average 18 – 20mph and that their volunteers would be reluctant to continue staffing rest stops and the finish line area to support a single slow cyclist.

After we hung up, I decided not to drive to Cramerton and play the entry fee even though I liked the charity the ride supported, a local chapter of Feeding America’s Backpack Program benefitting hungry children.  However, the weather deteriorated later in the week and with the temperature now forecast to be around 20 degrees at the start I realized I would ride the short route instead of my normal 100K as I am still getting acclimated to these below freezing conditions.

I communicated with the same gentleman again to inform him I would attend and to ask about the registration cost, which was listed at $25 on and $35 on the Gaston County Cyclists website.  Online registration had been closed for at least a week prior to the event, and I asked if the BikeReg price would be honored, and he assured me it would.  I felt better about the nearly two hour drive with this $10 reduction in cost.

When I arrived that Saturday morning, the woman running the registration table quoted me the $35 price, and when I asked to see the gentleman to confirm our conversation, I learned he was not there due to being ill.  I paid the $35 and consoled myself with the thought I was helping put food on the table for hungry kids.

My ride went well, and while the short route was only 20 miles in length, crossing the finish line got me out of the cold or at least I thought it would.  I discovered the assembly area for cyclists was the outdoor patio of Doffer’s Canteen, a Cramerton eatery, where hot chili and warm sweet tea awaited us along with a small fire and space heater.  The fire and space heater struggled to provide warmth in the face of temperatures that had yet to reach 30 degrees, although I was told later cyclists were welcome to go inside Doffer’s to escape the cold.

I am not a fan of most chili, but this recipe went heavy on the beans, which I like.  I even had a second cup.  I did not enjoy the warm sweet tea and lamented the lack of hot chocolate, but had fun talking with other cyclists and club members who organized the event.  The polar bear mascot, always a nice touch at these cold weather rides, wore a white suit with a dark vest and matching boots.  She did not pull the bear’s head down over her face which made some of the costume’s features difficult to see and undermined the overall look.

I asked the mascot about a post on the Gaston County Cyclists website in which one of their members reported being bitten by a dog on a section of the intermediate (40 mile) route a week or two prior to the event, and while we were discussing that situation, a report came in of another cyclist suffering a deep puncture wound from a dog attack that morning on the 100K route.  Receipt of this news appeared matter of fact by club members even though the frequency of these attacks seemed excessive and a cause for alarm at least in my experience where cyclists are often chased but rarely bitten.

This news gave me pause about returning the following week to ride the 100K route in warmer weather until I remembered dogs are typically quarantined for 10 days after biting someone and then their owners do not always bring them back home.  Surely, these canines represented the extent of the local vicious dog population.  With that thought to comfort me, I made the almost two hour drive again three days later with the high temperature expected to be near 60.

All the routes begin with an over one mile ascent of Crowder Mountain, which I found easier this time perhaps because of the warmer weather or because I knew what to expect and stayed in the big ring.  My ride went well until I neared the intersection of Kendrick and Ridge Roads at about the 14 mile mark in York County South Carolina.  Twin dogs, resembling Wire Hair Fox Terriers, came charging out from a manufactured home and swirled around my bike.  I yelled at them as I continued to pedal and then felt a hit near the ankle of my right leg.  I glanced down to see that one of the dogs had bitten my Achilles tendon!  I wore thick double socks and shoe covers that velcroed over this area so fortunately the dog’s teeth did not penetrate past the fabric.  Wrenching free, I quickened my pace and left the dogs behind without further incident.

I settled back into the ride and traveled another 8 miles reaching the turn that signaled the beginning of the metric century loop.  Excitement and trepidation washed over me as I had completed a third of the ride without stopping but remembered I was entering the part of the route where another cyclist had been severely bitten the previous Saturday.   My apprehension proved warranted as two miles further in (24 mile mark) near the intersection of Lewis and Sparrow Springs Road in Gaston County I encountered two larger dogs while climbing a hill.  These dogs appeared to be mixed breeds and weighed about 50 – 60 pounds.  The one with the brown and white short haired coat bull rushed me and launched itself at my left thigh as it drew near on the bike.  Somehow its teeth failed to close on flesh and instead gave my rear wheel a glancing blow.  A quick look back confirmed the dog had lost its balance and came skittering to a stop in the middle of the road.  Its less aggressive and longer haired companion posed no immediate threat and once again I was able to pedal away uninjured.  Before reaching Sparrow Springs Road, I noticed “DOG” had been painted in large white letters in the opposite lane, and I remember thinking another ride must have trouble with this same canine.  Little did I know nor could I imagine the route I was on would bring me face-to-face with this same dog a second time.

Blissful remained my ignorance as I dipped back down into South Carolina for the third and final time encountering a series a rolling hills that I believe other cyclists termed “The Triple Ripple” and then reaching what I considered the most beautiful section of the ride, one that took me past Kings Mountain National Military Park before crossing back into North Carolina via Cleveland County.  I would enter the town of Kings Mountain , turn southeast, and be treated to a stunning view of the mountain itself (much more spectacular than the image below) on Lake Montonia Road as I neared Gaston County.


Waiting for me ahead was the metric century route’s other signature climb (in addition to Crowder Mountain), a steep 700’ ascent on the aptly named Pinnacle Road.  I was euphoric when I crested that hill.  I was at the 39 mile mark, and I knew I could make it now to the finish of this craggy, western Carolina course without stopping for rest or refreshment.  My euphoria carried me to Sparrow Springs Road and masked my impending danger until I turned left back onto Lewis Road and pulled up short when I saw the word “DOG” painted directly ahead in large white letters.

“No way,” I thought, “What kind of pinheads would take you past a vicious dog, apparently a known vicious dog, not once but twice?!”

I spied a utility worker repairing a junction box on my right, and after garnering his attention and establishing his familiarity with the area, I asked how I could detour past Lewis Road to get back on Bethany.

“You really can’t,” he replied, “unless maybe you go down into South Carolina or up to Kings Mountain, but either direction would be miles and miles out of your way.”

I explained my encounter with the dogs earlier that day, and he sympathized.  “Yeah, I got a man working in front of that house, and they’ve been out in the front yard pretty much the whole time barking and raising Cain whenever we walk over to the truck.  There’s a woman who comes out and checks on them from time-to-time.”

Not knowing what else to do, I called animal control.  I was clear I was uninjured and my bike undamaged from the earlier attack, which caused the dispatcher’s interest to wane.  “This situation is low priority.  I don’t know when I can get a unit out there.”

I protested I was from Greensboro and was alone with no back-up or support and needed to get back to Cramerton before dark.  She found this situation odd even when I explained my limited participation in Saturday’s charity event coupled with my desire to ride the metric century route.

“May you should have planned better before coming back down here,” came her unhelpful reply.

“Oh, I got something that can handle that dog.  I just don’t want to use it.  I was hoping you could intervene.”  What I actually had was pepper spray, but I didn’t reveal that detail to the dispatcher in hopes of escalating the matter.  That ploy didn’t work.

“As long as what you’ve got is otherwise legal, you have the right to defend yourself on state property sir.  I’m not giving you an arrival time for a unit.  You’ll just have to wait there no matter how long it takes, and it’ll be awhile, if this is how you want to handle the situation.”

I disconnected and shook my head.

“That didn’t seem to go so well,” offered the utility worker.

“No, it didn’t,” I replied.

“Tell you what,” he said, “I’ve got to go down to the truck soon.  I have some pepper spray in there, and the other guy has pepper spray too.  May be between the two of us we can get you past that dog without anyone getting hurt.”

That idea became our plan.  I removed my helmet, head covering, gloves, and glasses in an effort to blend in and hopefully look more human to the dog.  We moved out a few minutes later with the utility worker in front and me trailing behind pushing the bike.  The dogs spotted us about the time we reached his vehicle and sounded a cacophonous alarm.

The utility worker shut the truck’s door after retrieving the pepper spray and called out to his friend.  “Hey _____, let’s see if we can get this guy past these dogs so he can be on his way.”  I noticed a woman walking across the front yard of the house about this time as well.  I felt relieved.  The situation seemed under control.

That’s when our strategy started to unravel.  The short haired dog evidenced little interest in the utility workers instead locking onto me as its fur started to bristle and a snarl escaped its maw with its sharp teeth glistening in the sun.  Apparently, I appeared no more human to the hound than I did on the bike and the owner’s ambling gait as she trekked across her yard also did little to reassure me.

“Don’t run.  Just keep your pace.  It may not like the sound of your [cycling] shoes on this pavement,” stated the first utility worker.

The hound continued its relentless, measured advance looking more like it might charge with each step as a low rumble began to build deep within its taut chest.



My frustration with these aggressive dogs boiled over as the following scene played out in my mind:

I stopped to brandish my helmet towards the advancing canine and shouted, “BRING IT ON BIG BOY!  I’LL BEAT THE FUCK OUT OF YOU!”

“There’s no need for that kind of language,” admonished the owner who had halted at the edge of her yard, “He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

I didn’t tell this woman her dog had hurled himself at me earlier in the day narrowly missing my thigh before striking my rear wheel.

“Ma’am, this dog intends me harm.  Get control of him or I’ll leave him lying in the road.”

In reality, the light weight helmet would have made a poor weapon , not to mention carrying it with one hand and holding onto the bike with the other hindered me from being able to reach my pepper spray.  Should this hound attack I would be in a tough spot.

The first utility worker motioned me to come around him while his companion engaged the owner in polite conversation as she seemed unconcerned about the actions of her dog insisting he was harmless.

The hound adjusted course and continued to approach me in a menacing manner.  The utility workers took turns interspersing themselves between me and the dog as we slowly exited its territory.  I thanked them for their help once we were clear, quickly redonned my helmet and other attire, and sped away on the bike.

Hills dominated the next 13 miles while the final 9 mile segment was largely flat and included the descent down Crowder Mountain.  I arrived back at Doffer’s Canteen in Cramerton prior to sunset even with my late morning start and lengthy dog delay.  Because the one stop I did make was safety related, not for rest or refreshment, I counted this effort as my 46th No Stops ride.


I messaged a different Gaston County Cyclists club member the next day to let her know what had happened as well as what I enjoyed about their Polar Bear Ride.  I made a point of mentioning my positive experience Saturday on the short route and how much I liked the chili, the spectacular view of Kings Mountain I had doing their metric century, the road markings, and the overall design of the routes.  I critiqued a minor aspect or two of the event and raised the dog issue citing 4 dog attacks in approximately 2 weeks as evidence of a serious canine problem.   I wanted to be helpful, but my words were not well-received.  Here is a truncated version of the club member’s response:

Thank you for your comments….You say we have a serious dog problem.  We do not.  The homeowners have a serious dog problem….We do everything possible to ensure a safe ride….I have ridden the metric century route several times and have never had an issue with dogs.  You were unfamiliar with this area and riding alone.  I think you may have become confused and gotten lost.  We cannot be responsible for roads outside the official routes.

Here is a slightly more expansive version of what I messaged back:

Thanks for reading and replying…..When I tell someone I was bitten by a dog and then nearly bitten by a second dog, I say, quite naturally, that these attacks happened at the Gaston County Polar Bear Ride not in front of Jane Homeowner’s house…..

Have you considered adjusting your routes?  If not, you are NOT doing everything possible to ensure a safe ride…..

I absolutely stayed on your metric century route the entire time.  Remember I said your road markings were great and provided you with mileage data and street names taken directly from your cue sheet to identify where the attacks occurred…

I know riders sign waivers, but above and beyond liability issues, I know you also care about the experience your riders have.   I was BITTEN.  Another cyclist suffered a DEEP PUNCTURE WOUND on Saturday and one of your members was BITTEN on an official route a week or so before the ride.  I would think you would want to discuss these attacks as part of your planning meetings for next year.

To conclude, do I feel angry or resentful?  I do not.  I was not hurt nor was my bike damaged.  If anything, I feel sad.  This ride is challenging and has some gorgeous scenery.  Club members I met were decent, down to earth people.   I want to like and recommend this event.  But for the moment, all I can say is bring your pepper spray if you want to take part.  You’re going to need it.

Quest For The R-12 Award

“Do you think you’ll keep doing these rides or are you done?” asked Bryan as he, Bob, and I sat together in a booth at a Burger King after completing my first 200 kilometer bike ride, the Tar Heel 200 whose out and back route snakes through southeastern North Carolina between Benson and the crossroads town of Tar Heel in Bladen County.

“I could do this again” came my nonchalant, guarded reply.  While I did not tip my hand to Bryan or Bob, thoughts of Randonneurs USA’s (RUSA’s) R-12 award had begun infiltrating my mind.  The R-12 is earned by riding a 200 kilometer (200K) route each month for twelve consecutive months.

The disparity between my cycling accomplishments and those of Bryan and Bob fueled my sense of caution.  They had completed 1200 kilometer Gran Brevets and had earned some of the most prestigious RUSA decorations including the K-Hound and Mondial awards.

“If you stay active, you’re going to have to get used to riding at night,” Bryan cautioned.  “It’s unavoidable at the longer distances and can happen, like tonight, on the 200Ks.”

Bryan’s advice came from the trepidation I expressed about rolling through the heart of Dunn and Erwin after dark on a busy Saturday night and would prove prophetic the very next month as my group would finish the 210K Warrenton & Egypt Mountain permanent  1.5 hours past nightfall after being buffeted by fierce headwinds  for much of the route.

Martin, our ride leader and another extremely accomplished randonneur, insisted we maintain a tight formation and match the pace of the slowest rider to maximize the visibility of our reflective vests and lights to motorists in those pitch black conditions.  “Safety  etiquette,” he explained.

I would not get over my aversion to being on the road past dark until late April when Bob and I completed a 300K after midnight with the final 50 miles being ridden under the pale gaze of a waxing crescent moon.

I was stoked about riding my first 300K in February on an out and back route that began in Lumberton and turned around in Maple Hill, but a lack of other participants convinced me to scale back my plans and do the 200K with Bob, Martin, and Harvey, who was also new to randonneuring, that began in Lumberton but turned around in Delway.  Dropping back to the 200K proved a good decision even if it meant getting up at 3am to make the 5:30am check-in as I knew little about that part of North Carolina, we were once again barraged by strong sustained headwinds, and I experienced chest discomfort in Roseboro about 40 miles into the route.  The discomfort eased off about the time we reached Garland, but returned with a vengeance the following weekend prompting me to seek medical attention.

My cardiologist put me through a regimen of tests which led to exploratory surgery (a heart catheterization procedure).  While surgery revealed no urgent issues requiring immediate attention, changes were made to my medication array; I was scheduled for a cardiac MRI, and was told no cycling for 10 days to allow the incision point to heal.  Fortunately, a 205K I could ride had been scheduled in late March allowing me to continue my quest for the R-12 award.  I was an R-3 at that point.

I arrived at 6:30am in Raleigh for check-in of the 205K Road to Hicksboro event with Martin reprising his role as ride leader.  He pulled me aside and questioned my participation, suggesting someone with a heart issue might be well-advised to limit himself to 100K or even 50 mile routes.  I told him I felt great and was ready to continue my R series.  Then came a pregnant pause finally broken by Martin’s acerbic riposte.  “There’s no dying on my rides.  You remember that.  No dying.”  Ironically, a few minutes later, Martin nearly backed over me moving his car.  I considered saying “If I’m not allowed to die, you’re not allowed to kill me,” but thought better of it given his serious mood.

The longer March days helped us finish the Road to Hicksboro before dark, and my attention turned to the start of the North Carolina Brevet Series in April.  I completed the 200K rout on April 8th followed by the 300K route on April 29th.  Both routes began and ended in Morrisville with respective turn arounds in Siler City and Seagrove.  Martin and Bob rode with me on both occasions with Harvey joining us for the 300K.  Harvey proved to be a glib conversationalist and a quick wit making him valuable company on these rides where any diversion is a welcome once your mileage reaches triple digits.

Sadly, Harvey and Martin experienced significant mechanical problems that were beyond our ability to repair by the time we reached Seagrove and took Did Not Finish (DNFs) on the 300K.  I shot Bob a concerned look wondering if I might be on my own for the return trip to Morrisville, but I need not have worried as Bob is as a steady a rider as you will find, and while his speech patterns tend toward the taciturn, his resolve is damn near unshakeable.

My grumbling and poor decision-making on the way back would force Bob outside of his comfort zone and into a coaching role where he found ways to encourage me and to kick me in the ass about my stubborn refusal to shift out of the big ring while we were navigating through the hills of Randolph County , which was accomplishing nothing except to slow us down.  After twice suggesting I go into the small ring, he finally stopped and told me I had a choice.  I could either shift down and finish my first 300K or continue to be hardheaded and risk tearing a quad or creating some other totally unnecessary circumstance that would cause me to DNF.  I shifted down, and we finished the ride.  The 300K medal I earned that day partially belongs to Bob.


Completing the 300K gave my psyche a huge boost, and I began to think of myself as a route slayer – someone who could cycle most any distance without serious difficulty.  The 200K Martin had on his ride schedule for May would soon disabuse me of this notion.

Innocuously named Badgett Sisters Parkway, the 208K route began and ended in Durham and went through the rugged terrain of and adjoining the Caswell County Game Lands area before turning around in Yanceyville.   The fun started in the small municipality of Corbett with about 21 miles of strenuous climbing to our lunch control in western Yanceyville followed by another 21 miles of even more strenuous climbing back to Corbett.  Temperatures topped out around 90 that day with humidity that made the mercury feel closer to 100.  I staggered back into the Corbett convenience store control and bought multiple bottles of water – some to consume and some just to pour over my head and down my back.  I felt my heart beating in a way that seemed not normal, a scary sensation I had never experienced before or since that hot, miserable day.  I would finish the ride 7 minutes behind Bob and about 30 minutes in front of my disqualification time, which to this day remains the closest I have come to DNFing a RUSA ride.  I was an R-6, but just barely.


June did not start well as I had my Cardiac MRI and received an urgent call from my cardiologist’s office two days later.  The test results were BAD.  So bad I had been scheduled for an immediate consultation with an implant cardiologist as a prelude to surgery.  “Don’t worry Mr. Richardson.  We’re not going to let you die,” were the chilling words spoken by the physician assistant at the end of that call.  Of course, I did worry and stayed off the bike as this new cardiologist wanted to implant an ICD, a type of defibrillator, inside my chest as soon as possible because I was at elevated risk of experiencing cardiac arrest.  Cardiac arrest goes by another name – Sudden Death Syndrome – and obviously, it’s an extremely serious condition.  We decided on June 22nd as the date for the procedure, and I thought my quest for the R-12 had reached an unsuccessful conclusion.

But about a week before surgery, I received a message from Bob.  He asked about my plans for completing a 200K ride in June saying he had already done his but would be willing to ride another one if I wanted company.  Unfortunately, his schedule did not permit him to be back on the bike until June 22nd.  I told him about the medical issue and said with a sigh that my R series appeared to be over as no further 200Ks were scheduled prior to my procedure.

“I have a 200K route you could do,” Bob offered, “But I’m out of town and can’t meet you until the 21st to give you the RUSA control card and have you sign the waiver.  Would that work?”

I ran a mental timeline and realized that all the pre-op requirements would be completed the day before the procedure so the question became do I risk doing a long bike ride hours before having an ICD wired into my chest.

An imaginary comical dialogue began with two figures appearing to help me make this decision.  On my left shoulder sat Fear while Hubris carved out a perch on my right shoulder.  A short humorous debate ensued:

Fear – “What if you get out there and DIE from cardiac arrest the day before life saving surgery?  That’s just stupid!  STOO-PID!”

Hubris – “The legend.  Daniel Richardson.  Rode his bike 128 miles and then reported to the hospital for heart surgery.”

It was not a hard decision.  “Sure Bob.  That works great!” I said, mentally high fiving Hubris before he disappeared in a metaphorical puff of smoke.

By the end of June 21st, I was an R-7 with my first solo 200K, the North of Burlington permanent, in the books.  About 10 hours later, a scalpel sliced open my chest.

Surgery went well, but a projected six to eight week recovery period conspired to scuttle my R-12 quest just past its halfway point.  I insisted to the implant cardiologist I felt fine at my ten day follow-up and asked for permission to get back on the bike.

“Can you guarantee me you won’t crash?” he asked.

“Of course not,” I said.

“Well then, limit yourself to the stationary bike until mid-August because if you crash or get jostled hard by a pothole or other road hazard we could be back in the OR doing this procedure all over again.”

I stayed silent, but shot a surreptitious wink toward Hubris over in the corner.

July 30th saw me making another early morning drive to meet Bob for the 201K Lookin’ Out My Back Door permanent, which began and ended in Garner with a turn around in Cedar Creek.  I had ridden only once since June 21st, an easier 100K route, so I was unsure of my conditioning and worried I might take a tumble out on the road.

Lookin’ Out My Back Door was not my best ride as we had a strong headwind to contend with coming back as well as a lengthy detour to avoid new bridge construction, but I did keep the bike upright and finished the day as an R-8.

My R-9 came with a repeat of the North Carolina 200K Brevet route, which was largely unremarkable except for being my second solo outing and having to contend with August heat and humidity that rivaled what I encountered on the Badgett Sisters Parkway ride back in May.   A convenience store control patron even commented at the 50 mile mark it was too hot to be out on a bike, but I stayed hydrated and finished without issue.

Bob and I spent our Labor Day riding his 202K North of Burlington permanent, a hybrid out and back/loop route which began and ended in Graham with a turn around in Semora, a small town near the Virginia border, and a western salient encircling McLeansville.  I quipped that Caswell County hunters were giving us a 21 gun salute as we were subjected to a constant barrage of shotgun fire after entering the county.  Labor Day, of course, marks the opening of dove season.

I rode North of Burlington solo in October and finished after dark for the first time since the 300K brevet in April.  Bob and his delightful wife met me at the finish, and I joked with them about the differences between historic West Burlington and Graham and the industriousness of Graham’s drug dealers who I observed peddling their wares at various street corners that Sunday evening.

I found myself back at the Burger King in Benson on November 18th where my quest had begun 11 months earlier.  Bob and Martin, who I had not ridden with since May, joined me in the doing the Tar Heel 200 for the second time.  My ride nearly ended before it began as a large dog rushed our peloton and brushed my front wheel just outside of Benson.  His owner called him back into her yard, and we kept pedaling towards Dunn in the cold early morning temperatures.  A stiff headwind delayed our arrival in Tar Heel, but after lunch, the mercury climbed to a pleasant range and the now brisk tailwind propelled us back the way we came.

We achieved an impressive negative split by the time we reached the last control about 13.5 miles from Benson.   I had pondered the possibility that Bob and Martin might do something to mark the occasion – hand shakes, back slaps, pictures, dousing me with Gator Ade, etc – and when they approached me outside that convenience store, I silently went back over what I had planned to say.

But oh no.  Ever the teacher, Martin chose the moment to remind me that my sprint/glide pedaling technique slows me down and that I succeed in spite of it not because of it.  He invited me to imagine a future where I engage in constant pedaling, significantly increase my average speed, and have many more people with whom I can ride without getting dropped.  He went on to say that he and Bob were going to help get started as soon as we left the control by dropping behind and watching my feet.  Each time I reverted to my old pattern he would call out or Bob would blow the air horn he uses to discourage canine pursuit  to help this new cadence pattern become second nature.  Thank God they stopped this aggravation after about 10 miles, but truth be told I did pedal constantly almost the entire time.

McDonald’s replaced Burger King, and Martin occupied Bryan’s booth seat, but otherwise, I experienced a perfect déjà vu when the questions came about my future plans.  Have you re-upped with RUSA for 2018?  What’s your next step as a presumptive R-12?  Will you continue to ride 200Ks?  Before I could answer, Bob interjected that I had not done my last 200K, and now as an R-13 after finishing the Lake Gaston 208K, he has been proven right.

I have extended my membership with RUSA through 2018, and I am in the process of formulating my cycling goals for the coming year.  Will I go for the R-24 designation?  Will I commit to attempting a Super Randonneur series in which you ride a 200/300/400/600k in a single calendar year?  Will I strive to put myself in position to earn a qualifying spot in the 2019 Paris-Brest-Paris Gran Brevet, the most prestigious randonneuring event in the world?  Will I set my most ambitious annual mileage goal ever?

I am not certain just yet other than knowing I want to continue being an inspiration to other heart patients in staying active and to people in general about finding ways to be your best self even during life’s dark moments.  As I first heard during a motivational seminar, what life does to you does not matter nearly as much as how you respond to those events

The future is not set.  The man of tomorrow is forged by his battles today.  An idea on which diverse charcters such as John Connor and Lex Luthor can agree.  While I do not know what will happen to me in 2018 and beyond, I do know that cycling will be part of my life as long as I am able to stay upright on a bike.   See you on the road.


Why I Ride

Apparently, I am dying.

Or so said the interventional cardiologist who performed my latest heart catheterization procedure as he described a preciptious decline in my cardiovascular function and proffered options of last resort such as heart pumps and transplants.

Do I look like I’m dying?


Do I feel like I’m dying?


Do I act like I’m dying?


I posed this conundrum to the physician I saw during the follow-up appoitnment at my regular cardiologist’s office.

Heart catheterization test results are the gold standard in this discipline of medicine and the treatment regimens he mentioned are the only possibilities remaining to someone with your level of heart function, she began as I looked increasingly incredulous.

BUT, she continued, numbers do not tell the whole story.  They do not take into account a patient’s spirit, will to persevere, and perhaps in your case the athleticism you have cultivated for the past two decades.  You are in great shape for a man your age, you take your medicine religiously, and you eat a sensible diet.  Very little research has been done on people like you.  You’re an anomaly we don’t understand, and while I wish I could prognosticate your trajectory, your heart function might continue to decline with you being able to happily cycle through the Alps or you could pass out watching TV and never wake-up.   I don’t have a better answer.  I’m sorry.

Her words hung in the air as she exited the examination room and I grew contemplative.  Am I really nearing the end of this journey we call life?  Will Atropos step forward to cut my mortal thread as I settle into watching another episode of “Get Smart” on DVD?

Could I deceive this fearsome Moira  by saying “Would you believe, at this very moment, you are being surrounded by an army of Myrmidons, Argonaunts, and Gorgons?”

Probably not.

Then the words of Horace Mann rang through my mind.  “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,” said the great educator.

I’d better get busy living then because right now, the trophy case is looking bare.

But what battles to fight?  What objectives to secure?  What victories to win?

One epiphany came during a January visit with my cardiologist.  After I told her about completing my first 200K bike ride, I jokingly inquired about when she was going to publish her paper on me.  She didn’t laugh.  Instead, she turned her head and said (more or less):

When are YOU going to start speaking out?  I see you once a year, and you like to regale me with some anecdote about your latest physical accomplishment, but I never see you out in the community.  I never see you in media.  I never see you sharing your story with anyone else.  And you teach rhetoric and public speaking?!  Shame on you!

Do you have any idea what impact you might have?  I see patients every day who think their diagnosis a death sentence and just give up or live in fear waiting on the other shoe to drop.

Pick-up a microphone and tell a roomful of other heart patients and cardiologists that you cycle thousands of miles each year and do grueling work-out routines at your gym.  Maybe you’ll remind them what a precious gift life is and what’s possible with current treatment methods.  Even older patients or ones with more severe conditions might be inspired again seek out the beauty of a warm spring day or contact someone they have not spoken with in a long time.

Don’t speak to me of papers and journal articles when YOU’RE the one who has far more potential to touch people day-to-day.

Message received doc.   Maybe, by pedaling and inspiring others, I’ll score that victory for humanity so when the time comes as it must for us all, I can stand before the Creator and look back on my life without having to say, “Sorry about that, Chief.”

That’s not the only reason I ride, but it is a BIG motivator to keep pushing the envelope.

In Search of Local Amish

I call it the “Groundhog Day” conversation, a reference to the movie starring Bill Murray, because I get drawn into the same exchange most times I travel to participate in a group ride.

First the polite question:

“Where are you from?”

Followed by the polite answer:


Then a look of surprise and the abrupt, unfiltered query, “Aren’t there rides in Greensboro?!”

Resisting the temptation of a snarky retort, I explain I enjoy meeting cyclists throughout North Carolina and experiencing more of what our state has to offer while atop the saddle of my bike.

This same narrative unfolded after a recent excursion I undertook with the Clip In & Ride cycling group based in Forsyth and Davie Counties.  Carolyn Reavis Mundt founded Clip In & Ride in January 2012, and after five years of steady growth, membership now exceeds 660 people with the group averaging close to 300 rides per year.

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Clip In & Ride’s current president, Vanessa Mebel, posted an out and back ride from the Huntsville Baptist Church in Yadkin County near Farmington to the Shiloh General Store in Hamptonville (Iredell County), a distance of about 47 miles.  The general store is an Amish owned business that opened in 2004 and sells meats, cheeses, herbs, spices, children’s toys, bulk foods, nuts, dried fruits, homemade baskets, jams, jellies, wooden furniture, and honey during the summer.  A deli in the back offers a daily lunch, and all edible items utilize fresh ingredients with no processed foods being served or found on the shelves.


Shiloh General Store is sometimes truncated to Shiloh’s OR referred to as the Amish bakery due to the breads, fried pies, and other baked goods prepared each day.  Scratch made glazed doughnuts are available on Saturdays and are an especially popular item.

Another enticing aspect of this ride was the Union Grove district, which includes Hamptonville, is the only Amish settlement currently operating in North Carolina.  The Amish settled here in 1985 from southern Ohio where they adhere to a more liberal interpretation of their faith including allowing private homes to connect to the public power grid.  In fact, during the ride, I saw an Amish man operating a tractor near St. Paul Church Road..

No matter how often you cycle in Greensboro, you will not encounter any Amish or any business like the general store as the Union Grove area remains the sole place in our state where you can go “In Search of Local Amish.”

I had volunteered to be the C group leader for Vanessa’s ride so I arrived about 30 minutes early at the church to prep my bike and meet the cyclists I would be escorting.  C riders average 13 – 15mph and congregate at the back of the pack on most group outings.

However, a problem developed as the posted start time drew near.  Many C riders canceled their plans last minute due to lingering weather conditions like damp roads and cool temperatures, and the two C riders who did come said they wanted to try and keep up with the B cyclists whose target speed for this ride was 15.5 – 16.5 mph.

I was out of a job and jokingly told Vanessa I was promoting myself to sweep.  Being sweep is actually an important function and means you are the last rider on the route who takes on the responsibility of ensuing everyone is accounted for and receives any assistance they may require.   She agreed that this role revision was an acceptable alternative especially as I had driven an hour to be of help.

Cyclists preparing to depart Huntsville Baptist Church:

The ride began with a small number of A riders sprinting ahead at about 20 mph followed by Vanessa’s main body of B riders who would push each other into the 17+ mph range.  This pace ended up being a little fast for one of the C riders who dropped back and kept me company the rest of the way to the general store.

Highlights of this portion of the route included being chased by a mid-sized dog on US-21 South/Harmony Highway who insisted on running ahead of my C rider friend’s front wheel to her general dismay and seeing an Amish woman riding her bicycle down Windsor Road while wearing a full length black dress and matching bonnet.

Entering Amish Country on Hunting Creek Church Road:


We arrived at Shiloh’s and discovered the business awash with customers after having undergone a major expansion and renovation.  Check-out lines a dozen people deep convinced me to limit my time inside the building, which proved fortuitous as Vanessa’s B group was preparing to leave as I stepped back outside (The A group had departed before my C rider friend and I reached the store).

Cyclists assembling to begin the return trip back to Huntsville Baptist Church:


The second C rider joined my friend and I for the return trip as he wished to focus on enjoying the scenery rather than maintaining a faster average speed.   Nevertheless, everyone hammered down the flat and downhill stretches heading away from the general store, and I was well to the rear by the time I reached Barnard Mill Road.

Barnard Mill has a bridge over the South Yadkin River that marks the start of a ¾ mile climb that begins with a steep 7% grade (according to RideWithGPS) followed by two longer inclines with less severe ascents.  Perhaps out of kindness to let me to catch-up or perhaps because they needed a blow, I found the main body waiting to turn onto US-21 N/Harmony Highway.

I may be slow, but I can ride a long way without stopping.  As I slipped past Vanessa’s B riders to seize the lead, however transitory, I did an enthusiastic fist pump while shouting (at least inside the confines of my own mind), “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more unto the breach;”  Who says cyclists can’t have moments of literary erudition?

Uneventful is how I would describe the rest of the way as the two C riders and I more or less stayed together for the remainder of the route.  I averaged a little more than 14 mph on this 47.36 mile route with a total gain of 1,502’/1,690’ (MapMyRide and RideWithGPS figures respectively).


Back at the church, several of us decided to have lunch at a place called the FeedBag.  This eatery, which purports to be the best restaurant in Farmington, is also the only restaurant in Farmington.  Despite this dubious distinction, I enjoyed my burger and fries and would return even if I did not ring their bell to indicate I had been served more food than mortal man could consume.  Then again, I do not expect plow horse portions on an $8 ticket.

The famous FeedBag Restaurant with the mural of Farmington Crossing on the roof.




Not pictured: Lex.

Good food.  Good  ride.   And we were successful in our search to find local Amish.  Good day overall. Until the next cycling adventure…..

Interested in learning more about the Clip In & Ride Cycling Group?

Clip In & Ride Cycling Group

Lewisville, NC
813 Cyclists

Love to road bike and would love it even more if you had friends riding with you? Biking to us is fun, social and a chance to stay fit.Must haves:• Sense of humor• Road bik…

Next Meetup

Perfect Harmony Ride in the country

Saturday, Mar 17, 2018, 10:00 AM
10 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →



Interested in visiting the Shiloh General Store?



Interested in eating at the FeedBag?



Runners, Walkers, and Cyclists Aid Robeson County Flood Recovery Efforts

Appearances can be deceiving.  When I visited Lumberton in February, the town and surrounding area looked as if it had recovered well from the horrific flooding associated with Hurricane Matthew.  Animal carcasses in advanced stages of decomposition strewn along the shoulders of roads and death’s fetid stench emanating from creeks and rivers seemed the only reminders of a natural disaster.

Talking to Lumberton residents prior to the start of the2017 Rumba on the Lumber Festival’s cycling events disabused me of this notion.  The volunteer working the registration table said flood waters destroyed or made many homes uninhabitable, putting a severe strain on temporary housing and other resources.

Jef Lambdin, one of the organizers of this year’s Rumba on the Lumber weekend, added

“All the houses that were damaged now have to be rehabilitated, rebuilt or bulldozed.  Many of the grants available will pay for a home to be bulldozed and/or built up with a higher foundation.  None of the funds available from state or federal agencies will pay for the appliances and fixtures necessary for living in a home after it has been rebuilt – stoves, refrigerators, etc.  So funds the Road Runners will be donating to the Robeson County Hurricane Matthew Recovery Committee and the Lumberton Hurricane Matthew Disaster Relief Committee will go to families to purchase said items as well as purchasing building materials for families that choose to rebuild themselves.  There are still around 80 families in hotels.  Estimates vary between 150 and 200 homes still being repaired/rehabilitated/rebuilt.”

Also, Lambdin indicated 317 runners and walkers participated in Saturday’s 10K, 5K, and Fun Mile while 56 cyclists participated in Sunday’s 100K Metric Century, 20 Mile Bicycle Adventure, and Bicycle Rodeo.  Respectively, Yamaha of Lumberton, Cruzbike, and The Bicycle Shop sponsored the cycling events while Southeastern Health sponsored all the running and walking events.

2017 Rumba on the Lumber Festival:

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After talking with Lambdin and completing a simple onsite registration process, I began prepping my bike for the 12 noon start of the 100K Metric Century ride.   Part of this preparation included raising the seat post by about 1/3’ after experiencing leg cramps the previous day that may have been caused by excessive lowering of the post.

I located a group of cyclists from the coast with whom to ride after ascertaining that they planned to maintain an average speed of 13 – 15mph, a good pace for me after yesterday’s hilly ascent up Caraway Mountain, shortly before Owen Thomas, President of the Robeson Road Runners, welcomed everyone and gave the opening instructions.

Thomas indicated the route was essentially the same as last year except for the River and Burney Road loop being reversed for safety reasons and pointed out the official SAG vehicle and ambulance that would be patrolling the course.  One alert cyclist observed that the SAG support number had been omitted from the cue sheets, prompting Thomas to call out the number and encouraging everyone to write it down.

Official SAG vehicle and ambulance:

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As the ride began from Northeast Park in Lumberton, I pedaled hard to keep up with the group from the coast whose average speed fluctuated between 14 – 16+ mph.  I feigned a problem with my Garmin near the 5 mile mark and let them slip away around the next curve as I planned to ride the entire route without stopping and found the added pressure to keep up undesirable.

Cyclists listening to the opening instructions and getting ready to start:


Being last on these smaller rides is not uncommon for me, and I settled into this comfortable routine by waving the ambulance on past.   I passed the single overlapping rest stop at Tar Heel, NC about 20 miles into the course as my erstwhile companions restocked their provisions.  They would pull ahead again as we prepared to turn left onto Burney Road, and we would trade the lead one final time as I moved ahead after they paused a second time at the rest stop only to fall behind for good as we neared the Smith Mill Road turn from Tar Heel Ferry Road.

Biggest challenges of the ride?  Battling an annoying headwind for the first 35 miles and the mind numbing lassitude you sometimes encounter riding solo on a mostly flat course.  Singletary Church Road was a perfect example with its nearly 8 miles of long, straight stretches broken up only by the occasional curve, church, or in home hair salon.  Finishing this monotonous grind provided an emotional lift and awareness that I would soon be back at Northeast Park.

Entrance to Northeast Park in Lumberton:


I completed the 100K route in less than 4.5 hours with no stops achieving my goal.  I posted a 14 mph average speed with an average cadence of 80 rpms.  I discovered I was not the last person back as 3 other cyclists remained on the course, including a husband and wife from Canada (Quebec City), who had gotten lost during the ride.

Happy to be back after riding over 62 miles in Robeson and Bladen Counties:

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Lunch awaited us upon our return with the famous Butt Sliders from Candy Sue’s, a local restaurant, proving a popular item.  Spinach dip with pita chips, fresh fruit, soft drinks, and water comprised the other nutrition and refreshment options.

I congratulated Lambdin and Thomas on a solid effort and was pleased to hear Thomas contemplating how next year’s Rumba on the Lumber committee might grow the Sunday cycling events to generate turnout more equivalent to the Saturday portion of the weekend when the running and walking events take place.  By then I hope Lumberton, Robeson County, and surrounding areas will have fully recovered from the devastating flooding unleashed by Hurricane Matthew.

Interested in attending the 2018 Rumba on the Lumber?  Tentative dates are March 3rd and 4th.  Keep up with all the announcements and details at

Robeson Road Runners website.  Rumba on the Lumber is the last tab top right corner.





Caraway and Back

I should have been worried about this ride.  Earlier in the week, what I think may have been a painful acid reflux episode sent me scurrying to my cardiologist in fear that I’d had a heart attack while leaving behind a coating of bronchial sludge in each lung.  Also, my Fuji had undergone minor, yet important, modifications including the installation of a new seat and a 3/4” lowering of the seat post.  Because of my bronchitis I had not been on the bike since these adjustments had been completed.

That’s me at Jamestown Presbyterian Church before I started as well as my new seat and lowered seat post.  I had no idea of the difficulties I would soon encounter:

Excitement displaced the restraint a more temperate person might have felt.  Excitement about being back on the bike.  Excitement about testing the modifications to see if they made a difference.  Excitement about completing my 14th “No Stops” endurance training ride.  One that would mirror last year’s Hamil-Kerr Challenge by starting at Jamestown Presbyterian Church on Guilford College Road and ascending Caraway Mountain on the outskirts of Asheboro before looping back to the church.

The thought never occurred to me that taking on a 1.62 mile climb with a 2.8% average grade before charging ahead without respite into the rolling terrain surrounding Lake Lucas might prove Custerian in its mindless audacity given my weakened condition and untested modified mechanical steed.

2,428′ of gain on a 58 mile route with a Level 5 climb up Caraway Mountain is no joke:


At least not until the first hill where my chest tightened and my respiration quickened.

“Oh crap!” I thought.  “How am I going to get up Caraway if I’m feeling like this less than 2 miles into this 55 mile route?”

Caraway.  A rite of passage for local cyclists.  A sometimes boogeyman used to weaken the will and hobble the spirit.  The angst associated with these memories came flooding back into my mind.  Maybe I would pedal to my half-brother Gary’s house nearby and surprise him with a visit.  Maybe I would see my friends Felicia and David out in their yard giving me an excuse to stop and chat as I passed their residence.  Maybe I would truncate the route to 25 miles by turning around at the Guil-Rand Fire Station on Harlow Road.  The last thing I wanted was to falter halfway up Caraway.

My confidence returned as my chest loosened and my respiration slowed after cresting this initial hill, and I pushed on towards Cedar Square and Sophia.  On Edgar Road a German Shepherd mix gave pursuit, which distracted me at least from an upcoming short climb.  Closing in on Flint Hill community, I could see Caraway Mountain in the distance and felt the uncertainty return as I labored up the last two significant hills before reaching Caraway Creek.

The big hump in the middle of the frame is Caraway Mountain as seen from a distance:


Caraway Creek marks the beginning of the mountain and the Caraway Velo Club Adopt-A-Highway sign just past the bridge seems to morph occasionally into an “Abandon Ye All Hope” admonition.

Ignoring this intermittent phantasmagoric warning, I found a comfortable gear and began to climb.  The chest strain and fast breaths reemerged after about half a mile as I closed in on Camp Caraway.   I slipped the chain into the small ring after reaching the steepest and longest part of the ascent a short distance past the camp.  Still, my chest constriction intensified as the congestion in my lungs seemed to thicken with each pedal stroke.

Random motivational thoughts raced across my mind as I kept going.  I could see Camp Mundo Vista ahead as I rounded another curve.  If I could just get to the entrance of Mundo Vista, I would have finished the hardest section of the climb, and the easing of the gradient would make me feel like a cork bobbing to the top of a wave as I sailed up the rest of the hill.  But could I get there?

Somehow I did even though my bronchial passages felt increasingly clogged after a tough first 25 miles.  And I still had 30 miles to go.  But Caraway had been beaten.

Watch the video as I take you on a guided tour up Caraway Mountain:

The route flattened out at the top of the mountain before beginning a long descent to the Lake Lucas dam on Old Lexington Road, giving me much needed recovery time.  Of course, what goes down must come up, and all too soon I began another extended climb from the dam to Lake Lucas Road.

Partial view of Lake Lucas.  Picture taken from the bridge on Lake Lucas Road:


From that point to Highway 311, rolling hills and lengthy inclines vexed me for the next four to five miles.  The pasta I’d eaten prior to the ride seemed a fleeting memory as I felt my strength begin to wane, which prompted me to drop back down to the small ring and begin prodigious consumption of protein bars and Gator Ade while remaining on the bike.

My energy level had returned to normal by mile 35, which was good because my notoriously bad sense of direction tricked me into turning the wrong way onto Branson Davis Road.  Almost two miles later, I rolled back into Sophia before realizing what I’d done.  I kicked myself for adding what would amount to nearly four extra miles to the route, and as I turned 180 degrees to continue this prolonged journey, I felt a sharp twinge in my right quadriceps.   I was starting to cramp.

“A CRAMP?!  You gotta be kidding me!  It’s 50 degrees, and I’ve been drinking Gator Ade!”  I fumed.

Then I remembered.  The seat post.  I’d lowered it by ¾” after two friends told me my hips were moving up and down with each rotation and hindering the efficiency of my pedal stroke.

¾’ proved too large a drop as both legs were cramping by the time I reached Davis Country Road.  Still, I was determined to finish and pushed through the pain even though the hills on Groometown Road and Kivett Drive made me wince and yelp.

That seat post is too low and caused me to experience leg cramps during this ride:


The discomfort eased off near the intersection of Guilford College Road and Gate City Boulevard, and I arrived back at Jamestown Presbyterian Church a few minutes later.  I achieved my goal having ridden about 58.4 miles with no stops.  My average speed was only 13 mph, but given I was cycling a difficult route alone in a weakened physical state, I’ll take it and officially declare the Hamil-Kerr Challenge to be the 14th NO STOP ride I’ve completed.

Here’s my route including my wrong turn and backtracking on Branson Davis Road:


Want to ride this route yourself and get to the top of Caraway?

The 2017 Hamil-Kerr Challenge is being held Saturday, April 22nd at Jamestown Presbyterian Church.  The event is a non-profit fundraiser providing research and support for patients and their families who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Progressive Supra-Nuclear Palsy (PSP), and Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) research.    Lunch is included with your registration.

Check out all the details at