By Lawrence Midura, New York Randonneurs
This 1000 Km brevet begins in Bonifay, Florida, amongst the forests and wide-open agragrian spaces of Northwestern Florida. The actual ride- start is approximately 60 miles north of the emerald blue waters of Florida's Gulf Coast.
The brevet is a traditional out-and-back style three-day event that starts at 141 feet above sea level in Florida, and gradually climbs to higher ground to the turn-around point at Alabama's Cheaha State Park at an elevation over 2000 feet above sea level. After about 50 miles, the route leaves Florida and crosses the state border into Alabama for a short distance, and then enters the Southern Rivers Region of southwestern Georgia. The weather for the 5 a.m. start was about 70 degrees F with a light rain for only about 2 hours. The skies then partially cleared, but remained mostly cloudy for the remainder of the first day's 208 mile route. It was simply perfect weather for riding. The first day afternoon temperatures were 78 - 80 degrees F.
The ride originated in the Central Time Zone, but changed to the Eastern Time Zone as we entered Georgia. The first Control was at 85 miles at Blakely, GA, at 285 feet above sea level. We cycled northeasterly through relatively flat and easy rolling terrain with cotton fields visible on the outskirts of Blakely. For history buffs, the last remaining wooden Confederate flagpole erected in 1861 stands in the Blakely Courthouse Square. However, this rider did not actually see the old Confederate flag flying anywhere in Blakely.
We then cycled 42 miles north toward the second Control at Georgetown, GA. En route we encountered the first series of rolling hills in the vicinity of Fort Gaines, GA, which were near the George T. Bagby State Park and the Walter F. George Reservoir. Upon leaving the Georgetown Control, we cycled north again through the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, and passed the Florence Marina State Park which is at 318 feet above sea level. Then we changed direction again heading west back into Alabama.
After a short westward route direction, we then headed north again to the beautiful university city of Auburn, Al, which is at an elevation of 686 feet above sea level. This third leg of the first day was 82 miles through rolling agrarian countryside in southeastern Alabama which is also considered Alabama's River Heritage Region. All riders arrived by 9 p.m. at the first sleep Control at Auburn's Holiday Inn Express.
Most riders began the second, and most challenging day of the brevet, together at 3 a.m. for the out-and-back to Alabama's Cheaha State Park located in the Talladega Mountains of Alabama, which encompasses the highest point of Alabama at 2407 feet above sea level. This mountain area appeared very similar to the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts in New England.
The early morning outbound route from Auburn took a northwesterly direction primarily on State Highway 49 onto the Cumberland Plateau which is the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains. For the next 87 miles to the Control at Lineville, Al, at 1004 feet above sea level, the route resembled the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200K (BMB) route in New Hampshire of never-ending big rolling hills. It was like an amusement park roller- coaster ride!
The next 17-mile leg of the second day from Lineville, Al, to the halfway turnaround point at Cheaha State Park was the most radical climbing segment of the entire ride. We cycled for about 14 miles north on Vermont- style narrow, winding, roads, up-and-down, until the 309 mile-point of the brevet. Then we made a left turn onto State Route 281 which is known as the Skyway Motorway/Talladega Scenic Drive within the Talladega National Forest.
The 3-mile trek from this point to the turn-around Control at Cheaha Mountain State Park is all uphill with a steep climbing wall near the top just like BMB's outbound Middlebury Gap, but not quite as steep as California's Gold Rush 1200K Janesville Grade. It should be noted that this stretch of highway is also designated a U.S. Scenic Byway by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This type of highway defines a truly American experience on some of our country's most treasured roadways.
The return to Auburn, Al, on the second day brought all riders back to the Holiday Inn Express sleep Control by 9 PM. The second day sky was partly sunny and cloudy, with very comfortable riding temperatures ranging in the early morning from a cool 57 degrees F, to an afternoon high of about 68 - 72 degrees F with no precipitation.
The final third day for the remaining 209 miles utilized essentially the same route except for a variation inbound after the Blakely, GA, Control. At about the 563 mile-point of the brevet, we headed again northwesterly for 21 miles on a long, gradual uphill on US 84 back into Alabama to a different Control at Dothan, Al, at about 308 feet above sea level. For the peanut butter lovers of the world, Dothan, Al, is designated as the Peanut Capital of the World. And cotton fields re-appeared again in Alabama as we headed south toward the Florida state border, and the Bonifay finish at the Tivoli Inn. Weather for the last day was partly sunny with mild temperatures in the mid -70s F.
It can be said that all finishing randonneurs cycled this 1000 Km brevet in a Scandinavian-style. Most riding was done during daylight hours, with cyclists trying to ride together where possible. All randonneurs were off their bikes for 6 hours or more each of the two nights at the Auburn, Al, Holiday Inn Express sleep Control.
RBA Joe Arnold should be commended for planning a 1000K route in a region of America where true Southern Hospitality greeted randonneurs. Cyclists experienced the deep South's landscape of excellent rural roads, lakes, rivers, hills, mountains, cotton fields, peanut fields, and lush southern pine forests. It was a unique road-bike brevet experience in the South's laid-back country charm. And after the event, it gave this cyclist the opportunity to relax on the white-sand beaches and enjoy the sunshine of Florida's Gulf Coast.