Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Snapshots of a Georgia Bike Ride

This column was published in June 2007 in the Tri-Valley Herald

I recently took a week off and flew to Atlanta to visit my brother. I brought my bicycle, and we rode with several friends and 1,600 other cyclists in the annual Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, or BRAG.

Picture roads that run for miles alongside farms and fields, past tiny white country churches, through towns whose names are proudly painted on water towers, towns such as Americus, Cordele, and Baxley.

Picture cyclists riding these roads, quietly crossing Georgia, sleeping in tents on the grounds of high schools and colleges, or staying in hotels, each day rising to pedal east nearly 500 miles in seven days from Columbus to Savannah.

Picture these other snapshots:
A little girl in cornrows waves from her porch as her brother rides his Big Wheel in a dirt yard adjacent to a train track.

A police officer holds off traffic and waves us through a stop sign, smiling when we say thank you.

Acres of unfamiliar, leafy plants turn out to be tobacco.

We ride along rows of peanut crops and see a sign pointing the way to Plains, Jimmy Carter’s hometown. We see Billy Carter’s gas station.

A church group of black youngsters in matching aqua shirts reaches out to us to offer icy water bottles as we near another rural town.

On a downhill, a mother and her 14-year-old son—Chylon and Zac Thatcher—pass us on their tandem bicycle as “Strawberry Fields Forever” flows from a speaker above the rear tire. I tuck in behind them for few miles and sing along.

We wake one morning to heavy rain. The forecast is for thunderstorms. I tell my brother I didn’t fly all the way across the United States to sit in a hotel room. So our team sets out to cover the 78 miles planned for that day, and by mid-morning the rains yield to clear skies.

A dead armadillo, the sixth we’ve seen, lies along the side of the road. We’ll see other dead animals as well: two possums, a rattlesnake, two raccoons, and two hawks.

On Wednesday, the layover day when cyclists may rest or choose to ride one of several loops, we opt to ride the longest route, and nine hours later my odometer—which I reset every morning—ticks to 105 miles.

On another day, at a rest stop with morning temperatures beginning to rise, retired school principal Allyn Bell stands with friends. At 69, Bell has ridden BRAG for the past 16 years.

“I’m not a natural athlete,” he says in a thick southern accent, “but I can easily ride a bicycle 50 or 70 miles a day. I hope to ride each year until I’m at least 80.”

After a day’s ride, Rachel Fulton, a 33-year-old tattoo artist from Columbus, tells me this is her first BRAG. She’s riding with friends and enjoys the challenge. I ask about the tattoo that spills along her shoulder and upper arm, and she tells me it’s an Irish and Celtic theme, a tribute to her heritage. “I may get a tattoo related to cycling if I finish the ride,” she adds, “maybe something like a gear.”

At another rest stop, Alabama residents Ed and Melody Scott give water to their 13-year-old pound puppy, a Corgi Sheltie mix named Sadie. The Scotts tow Sadie in a covered carrier, and when I pass them later she seems content to glide along the many hundred miles.

And then there’s Joe Ninke, whose extended bicycle includes a platform with railings for his 5-year-old yellow lab, Luckie. This is Luckie’s and Joe’s second BRAG.

After each day’s ride, we record our mileage and take afternoon naps in our hotel rooms and call home and watch the Braves and Tiger Woods and the Weather Channel.

In the evenings we play a card game called nine-hole golf with Gene Zurik, Deborah Kalish, Parks Avery, and his daughter Jessy, who just graduated from Georgia State University and will attend law school in the fall. Each day Jessy drives our luggage to the next hotel and checks us in.

Her dad, Parks, has a quick wit and a knack for telling stories. He’s funny and grew up in the south and is an expert at mimicking a Scottish accent.

My brother takes to calling him Angus, after Angus Hisloop, a Scotsman Parks met ten years ago on a business trip to London. Parks and my brother banter with Scottish accents about sporting events and the names of dogs, and as the cards are dealt for another hand, I take a sip of sweet tea and marvel at this snapshot of life deep in rural Georgia.

It’s no wonder Bicycling Magazine named BRAG one of best 50 bike rides in the United States.

Chylon and Zac Thatcher

Joe Ninke and Luckie


With Bill, my brother, in a small town called Fitzgerald deep in southern Georgia


Melissa said...

I loved the different little stories you placed into this. The one about the people with Beatles music playing and the different people who you saw on the ride. Very cool :) It makes me want to visit Georgia.

she said...

awesome adventure! -and, i did picture those things

the wonderful people, the beautiful scenery you describe

-all from the comfort of my chair.

i'm exhausted too.

need some water just reading about riding that far!

way to go!

i'll pass this post along to my friends/family homebased in georgia

beautiful snapshot jim


Jim Ott said...

Thanks, she. I found out there were only 13 riders from California. I met two: one from Oakland and one from Walnut Creek.

It was great getting away and spending time with my brother and getting to ride every single day.