Lance, we hardly knew ye

There was a time when I defended Lance Armstrong vociferously. I was not blind – I knew that he was likely guilty of some form of doping. But I was also well-versed in the story of Lance’s triumph over cancer and gritty comeback to cycling prominence. I admired his “f-you” attitude regarding disease and anyone who stood between him and the podium. I took inspiration from his work ethic, his fiery attitude and his magnificent exploits in the Alps the Pyrenees and on his victory laps along the sun-dappled avenues of Paris.

I also found the US Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into Armstrong to be more witch hunt than anything resembling actual jurisprudence and was uncomfortable, to say the least, with USADA head man Travis Tygart’s questionable motives, tactics and evident lack of any jurisdiction to even conduct such an investigation.

Then there were Lance’s vehement denials, his passing of over 500 drug tests, administered at times and places of the governing body’s choosing. In my mind, he was probably guilty of at least blood doping, if not synthetic doping, but I also could not understand exactly why putting your own blood back into your body would even be against the rules. Yet there was never any doubt in my mind that even if he actually doped, he still worked harder, rode faster and kicked more ass than any other doper out there.

Armstrong reigned in a period of ubiquitous doping, and had he not found a way around the rules, he likely would never have been competitive. The Tour de France, you will recall, is a 2,000 mile road race that takes place over the course of three weeks and is sometimes won or lost by a margin of mere seconds. It was a “dope or go home” culture that pervaded the cycling world and Lance found a way to make it work for him. A testament to the pervasive levels of doping in the sport is that the International Cycling Union – cycling’s governing body – chose not to award Lance’s seven vacated Tour de France titles (1999 – 2005) to any other cyclist because there was hardly another competitive cyclist available who had not been guilty of doping during those years.

In the end, much like Barry Bonds in Major League Baseball, Lance Armstrong will be the poster child of the “doping era” in professional cycling. God, I hate to mention Lance Armstrong in the same breath as Barry Bonds – it’s nauseates me.

When he quit his fight against the USADA back in August, I was still a Lance defender, right up until Tygart finally (and quite belatedly) released his evidence in October. And damning evidence it was. Though it was mostly testimonial evidence and, as far as I know, included no positive test results, some of the names of those testifying lent tremendous credibility to the USADA report. You can discount the likes of Floyd Landis, but when Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie talk, people listen. Accordingly, within the span of several days, Lance was abruptly and unceremoniously dumped by his myriad sponsors and cast aside by the cycling community. He was proven to be, ironically, a cancer upon the sport.

Why Oprah, why now?

Thus followed several months of silence from the Armstrong camp. As Autumn bled into the Christmas season and 2013 rolled around, Armstrong was mostly forgotten, replaced in the media and in our Attention Deficit Disorder-stricken minds by the latest bowl results or for the political-minded, by the ever-raging gun-control and fiscal debates – or perhaps for the truly stupid among us, by the Golden Globe awards.

And then it came – the announcement that Lance would appear on Oprah this Thursday to bare his soul. This was a surprise to me. I fully anticipated (and hoped for) a long period of silence from Armstrong during which he would reconnect with his family and begin to rebuild his life in a positive way. I figured it would be at least a year. But three months? Oprah?

If he must do it now – and his megalomania, I have no doubt, dictates that it must be so – wouldn’t he be better served to go on a real talk show – Jim Rome, lets say – where he can take real, hard questions? Instead, he is opting to appear on Oprah, where she will toss him softballs, give him a platform to shed a few tears, whereupon she’ll proclaim him healed and forgiven. I think it’s lame. And desperate. C’mon, Lance!

The American public is a forgiving one. We love a redemption story. But if you make fools of us, you’re screwed. Just ask Barry Bonds.

I’ll watch the Oprah interview on Thursday, mostly out of morbid curiosity. And if Oprah grills him, I’ll be both surprised and thankful. But I still have to wonder – does this man not have advisors? Does he not have publicists whom he pays to cultivate his public image? What are they thinking?

USADA – Proof that we no longer reside in a Democracy?

I woke up this morning to the news I had hoped I would never hear – Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong had given up his fight against the USADA and, like jackals in the night, the agency moved in swiftly for the kill – stripping Armstrong of all seven of his Tour titles. Forget that the agency has no jurisdiction to strip Tour de France titles. Forget that they violated their own statute of limitations of eight years in bringing charges going back as far as 1996. Forget due process and the burden of proof and anything remotely resembling fairness. Forget it all. We no longer live in a Democracy.

Just this past February, US Federal prosecutors, led by Jeff Novitsky – the man who brought down Barry Bonds and Roger Clemmons – closed their investigation, which had been brought before a grand jury. After a lengthy subpoena process during which former teammates and international cycling officials were interviewed, blood and urine samples examined and all evidence thoroughly scoured, Novitsky threw in the towel. The evidence he had would not hold water in a court of law. Lance had been vindicated, it seemed.

If only Federal prosecutors were not subject to standards of proof – if only they did not have to deal with a pesky jury – if only they could cast aside due process and adjudicate on a whim. If only another organization not tethered to standards of fairness and law could take up this case…

Enter Travis Tygart and the goons of the United States Anti-Doping Agency

Created in 1999 (ironically, the same year as Armstrong’s first Tour victory) at the recommendation of the U.S. Olympic Committee to address and regulate the anti-doping campaign of the USOC – the mission of this quasi-governmental agency is to manage the anti-doping programs for Olympic, Pan-American and Paralympic sport in the United States. The USADA is not a government entity and as such is not subject to the aforementioned Constitutional standards of proof and due process. Yet, it receives a majority of its funding by tax-payer dollars through the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The non-profit status of the USADA also allows them to prosecute athletes with a lower burden of proof than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that the Department of Justice would have had to adhere to. Uncomfortable yet? It gets worse.

An article by Tim Dockery on the website xtri.com provides a chilling account of the inner-workings of the USADA’s tribunal process. The basics are as follows:

• Travis Tygart and his USADA staff serve the accused wrong-doer (in this instance, Lance Armstrong), with a letter accusing him of violating Anti-doping rules. As evidence of this charge, only prior drug tests (that Armstrong passed) and anonymous witnesses are cited.
• Armstrong then had ten days to provide a written response to a review board hand-picked by Tygart. He was not given the opportunity to personally appear in front of this review board, nor was he provided the names of the “witnesses” who accused him.
• This hand-picked “review board” reviews the evidence and decides whether the case should go to a full arbitration hearing, which in similar fashion to the review board, is a kangaroo court made up of Tygart-approved “yes men” who make a ruling.
• Unsurprisingly, cases that are prosecuted by the USADA are successful over 95% of the time.
• At this point, Tygart and the USADA board recommend sanctions, which include lifetime bans, stripping of titles and the like.
• No appeals process, no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses (who, in Armstrong’s case were all proven dopers offered immunity for their testimony), and apparently no thought or consideration as to the fact that the USADA has no jurisdiction to even conduct such an investigation, much less administer sanctions.

Dockery rightly points out in his article that in 2012 – a year when we sent our Olympians into competition in London – the USADA spent a vast majority of its time and resources not assuring the compliance of those Olympians (which, it should be reiterated, is the mission of the organization and the sole reason for its existence), but rather going after a 40 year old retired cyclist with unsubstantiated allegations of wrong-doing going back some 17 years.

Some men do great things in this world. Some men are achievers, strivers and world-changers. Other men exist, it seems, solely to tear great men down – haunted by their own shortcomings and the frustrations of otherwise insignificant lives. Decide for yourself who is the former and who is the latter in this case.

The USADA has made a mockery of justice. Their corrupt abuse of power is flagrant and shocking. I would expect this in North Korea, or Iran or the former Soviet Union, where tyrants and personal vendettas and secretive, one-sided hearings leave innocents subject to the abuse of the State. That this happened here leaves me wondering; do we even live in a Democracy anymore? If Lance Armstrong can be stripped of seven Tour titles without one iota of physical evidence, what’s next? Who’s next?

Still the champ…

In the meantime, Lance will move on. He will continue to raise millions for cancer victims through his wildly successful Livestrong organization. He will continue to live a good life and maybe one day the USADA will be discredited and his trophies will be returned – because he will always be the winner of seven Tours de France – nothing can change that. Until then, at least he no longer has to wallow in the mud with Tygart and his minions.

Cycle North Carolina Fall Ride – Part IV – Enough Already!

I can’t speak for my readers (both of you), but even I am getting bored with this CNC Fall Ride recap. Suffice it to say we finished on Saturday in the Outer Banks town of Corolla. To say we were happy to be off the bikes would be to dabble in reckless understatement. We were tired and sore but thrilled with the accomplishment and could not wait for our first night in a real bed in over a week.

That night we stayed in near-by Elizabeth City and had a wonderful meal with Fran and Nita at a locally-owned place named Montero’s which was recommended by the staff at our hotel. This meal was worth cycling 500+ miles for. With apologies to the great chefs of Charleston, I had the best shrimp & grits I have ever tasted. Everyone’s meal was fantastic and we shared a great bottle of Malbec. Tired, happy, full and looking forward to a great night’s sleep, we waddled out of the restaurant and back to the hotel around 8pm.

On Sunday we headed back to Raleigh and our week was over. It was an incredible experience – one we’ll talk about for a long time. We can’t thank Fran enough for his time and patience. I’m not sure this is exactly how he envisioned spending his retirement (tent camping and carting our cycling stuff around), but he was up to the challenge and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with both he and Nita. Melissa and I pedaled 503 miles together and shared a small tent for seven nights. I am happy to say we are still on speaking terms! It was a wonderful adventure and now, as we turn our attention to training for Ironman France next June, we’ll look forward to the next one. Because that’s what we do and that’s what we love about our life together.

Cycle North Carolina Fall Ride – Part III

Day 4 – Henderson to Rocky Mount – 73 miles (280 total)

This was “hump day”, which is never quite as exciting as the name would imply, however it did provide the most down hill riding of any day of the trip, beginning at 454ft above sea level in Henderson and ending at just 89 feet in Rocky Mount 73 miles later. Mostly downhill riding was exactly what the doctor ordered for day four as we were beginning to feel the effects of the ride – sore leg muscles and fannies the approximate color and texture of well tenderized porterhouses (how’s that for a visual?). This was the last day of anything really resembling rolling hills – from here on out it would be flat and windy until we finished in Corolla – so we enjoyed the scenery, the continued outstanding weather and the mostly down hill riding.

Upon arriving in Rocky Mount, we rolled into their Municipal baseball facility where we camped for the night. We were determined to explore the downtown for dinner and ventured out in Fran’s car around 5:30 or so. I can tell you that Rocky Mount has seen better days. The downtown was nearly abandoned – both void of foot and vehicular traffic – and apparently, from the number of vacant, crumbling buildings, suffering acutely from what appears to be a decades-long economic decline. There was a street-scaping project in progress on Main Street – a testament to the optimism of city leaders (“Build it and they will come” must be their mantra), but from what we saw, it’s going to take more than optimism and Federal grants for city beautification. “Rocky” seemed, indeed, to be a most apt description of this city’s fortunes. We ate at a locally owned restaurant – Madison’s Seafood. I ordered a crab bisque which came out cold. Melissa ordered a soup, which never came. The service was slow and when the waitress did meander by our table, she seemed distracted. When the check came, predictably, it was wrong. We noticed several other customers complaining about the slow service as well. At one point I thought a customer (who had the look and temper of Ike Turner) was going to come to blows with the manager. It was a strange dining experience and seemed to encapsulate the troublesome times of Rocky Mount itself.

We returned to camp at the baseball facility and hit the sack by 9pm or so. (In all fairness to the City of Rocky Mount, the baseball facility is wonderful – lovingly maintained fields, squeaky clean, an obvious source of civic pride – this facility is likely the envy of many cities of greater population and economic prosperity).

Hump day concluded, tomorrow we would roll on to Plymouth.

Day 5 – Rocky Mount to Plymouth – 76 miles (356 total)

Fran had been looking forward to this day all week. After we headed out in the morning, he drove down to Raleigh to pick up Melissa’s Mom, Nita, who would join us for the remainder of the week. It worked out perfectly that this also happened to be the warmest day of the entire ride, so we were able to go without our warm cycling clothes in the morning – the only morning that we wouldn’t have been able to meet up with Fran at rest stop one to jettison jackets, full gloves, etc. Our luck with the beautiful weather continued. We continued to lose elevation on day five – going from 87 miles above sea level to 19 in Plymouth. There was a price to pay for all of these warm temperatures and flat roads though… wind.

This was likely the hardest day of the entire week. Melissa and I agreed about it. Every rider I spoke with agreed as well. There was a nearly non-stop headwind of 12 to 15 mph with higher gusts. Long, monotonous, flat stretches of two lane that roads that felt like wind tunnels and had all of us thinking wistfully back to the relative windless hill country back west. Everyone seemed to agree that hills were preferable to windy and flat. But in the end, it was still a day of cycling with my wife – we were outdoors, we were on vacation, we were closer with each pedal stroke to finishing this ride. It was hard to justify too much in the way of complaints.

We rolled into the diminutive yet historic river town of Plymouth around 4:30. After a visit to the shower truck, had dinner at camp (baked potatoes and chili) and caught up with Fran and Nita. We were both completely whipped from five days of riding and the constant wind that day – we were probably asleep by 8:30. Two days to go…

Cycle North Carolina Fall Ride – Part II

Day 2 – Mayodan to Mebane – 73 miles (140 total)

We awoke Monday morning to heavy dew, almost as if it had rained overnight, and the coldest low temperature of the entire ride (39 degrees). We were a little sore from the first day’s ride, but also happy to have the first day behind us, and looking forward to day two. We were starting to get into a rhythm – wake at six, break down camp, have breakfast, ride, set up camp, have dinner, sleep, start again. It was comforting to have a routine and we both enjoyed the mindless repetitiveness of it all. As the sun rose, casting advancing light on the rustic grapevines and fields around us, warming the air subtly, degree by precious degree, we were feeling good.

Breakfast this day was one of the many highlights of the week. Provided by Autumn Creek, it was a spread, as Fran put it, fit for a king. Situated under the cover of their gorgeous open-aired dining area, the buffet that spread out before us as we entered was almost overwhelming. Homemade buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, grits, thick-sliced bacon, all manner of sausages, fried pork chops, perfectly done scrambled eggs, pastries, coffee… it was a nearly emotional experience and I was supremely happy as we sat there shoveling in maybe the best breakfast I have ever had while looking over the sun-dappled vineyards. Even now, I get a little misty just thinking about it. I wondered if it might be possible to pedal 500+ miles in a week and actually gain weight!

The rest stops on day two were special as well. After our daily wardrobe adjustment at rest stop one, we pedaled another 13 miles to the second rest stop in the town of Reidsville. The stop was set up in their beautifully constructed downtown Market Square and the entire town, it seemed, came out to greet us. There was a carnival-like atmosphere as we turned into the square as dozens of townspeople cheered us on and welcomed us to their town. Besides the usual CNC rest stop fare, there were local food vendors on site with everything from homemade pastries to chilidogs to cheeseburgers. Melissa and I both had chilidogs (how could we not?) and enjoyed a nice break, sitting in the sun and people watching. If you are beginning to sense a food-centric theme here, you are dead on. The meals – and even the occasional rest stop Little Debbie – were always the highlights of each day. As the old saying goes, “armies march on their stomachs”. Well, so do cyclists.

Rest stop three was another 15 miles down the road, at Grove Vineyards, where we did a wine tasting and listened to a live acoustic guitar performance. If you have ever wondered what wine goes best with Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies (and who hasn’t?), I would highly recommend the pinot noir.

And so, properly sated once again we rode off for rest stop four at the Glencoe Mill Village Museum. This was possibly my favorite rest stop of the entire trip. It was situated at a turn-of-the-century textile mill that had closed down in 2003, but had found a second life as a textile mill museum. Large interpretive signs posted on the exterior wall of the mill told the stories of the Glencoe Mill, mill village life, child labor, working conditions, labor movements and various other aspects of mill life. The western regions of North and South Carolina were, in the decades from 1890 through the mid-20th Century, the textile capital of the world, providing employment to millions and shaping the lives of generations. Children were recruited to work in the mills as early as 13 or 14 so entire families worked in various roles in the same mill. Mill owners constructed housing, mill stores, churches and taverns on mill property so that workers could be more easily monitored and controlled. This is a fascinating aspect of the history of the American South, and especially the Carolinas and I was thrilled that the old Glencoe Mill had found a new lease on life. Much to Melissa’s credit, she indulged me as I walked the property and took it all in.

We finally rolled into the Mebane Arts Community Center around 3:30pm and after showers, had dinner and hit the sack early. Tomorrow it would be onto Henderson.

Day 3 – Mebane to Henderson – 69 miles (207 total)

Some days on this trip tend to run together in a blur of spinning wheels and shifting gears and gently rolling hills with nothing especially sticking out in the memory. Day three was like that. We were solidly into our routine by now and enjoying some of the most beautiful weather of the year. We were exceptionally lucky weather-wise during the entire week. Especially compared to last year’s CNC ride where it rained five out of seven days. Our friends and fellow FreeHouba Tri Club members Martin Dvorak and Tim Brookie did last year’s ride and persevered through the worst weather in the 13-year history of the CNC fall ride. We had a new-found admiration for them as the week wore on – cycling all day and tent camping at night presents plenty of challenges in the best of weather – I honestly cannot imagine doing this event in the rain. It would be miserable. We both thought about that quite a bit during the course of the week and realized how fortunate we were.

When we rolled into Henderson on Tuesday afternoon we were pleasantly surprised by our accommodations. Our tents were set up in shallow right field of one of the baseball fields at the Henderson Family YMCA. The fields were well manicured, the grass pillow-soft. After dinner at a regional steak restaurant called Ribeye’s (we all had ribeyes), we retired to camp. After Fran turned in, Melissa and I watched an episode of “Modern Family” on her iPad in the tent (ain’t technology great?) and finally faded off to sleep by around 10pm. More to come…

Cycle North Carolina Fall Ride – Part I

CNC Fall Ride – October 1 – 8, 2011

503 miles. That’s the distance we ended up biking over seven days through some of the prettiest back-country North Carolina roads that I never even knew existed. Yesterday Melissa and I completed our first Cycle North Carolina (CNC) fall ride. The route for this ride varies from year to year and this year it started in Elkin and ended in the tiny Outer Banks town of Corolla. Melissa’s dad, Fran, graciously agreed to come out and “sag” us for the entirety of the trip, and for this we will be eternally grateful. Having him there to haul our cycling “stuff”, allowed us to take along considerably more in the way of small comforts than we would have been able to otherwise. For most folks on this ride – those depending on the CNC staff to cart their luggage from campsite to campsite – the bag limit is two per person. Into these two bags one must stuff a tent, sleeping bag and seven days worth of cycling and casual clothes. While this doesn’t necessarily qualify as “roughing it” (shower trucks with warm water are at each camp site and meals are provided), it does make for a rather austere existence for seven days. Melissa and I, on the other hand, were able to bring along a cooler, a small camp table, a plastic box containing various items for bike maintenance, camp chairs, etc. We also brought a small burner for boiling water, a coffee press, good coffee, dark chocolate, wine and bourbon. Yes, friends, on trips like this, the small comforts make all the difference.

Fran picked us up last Saturday (Oct 1) and after stuffing the cavernous interior of his GMC sport utility literally to the ceiling, transferring the bike rack from our car to his (thanks to some brilliant engineering by Melissa’s brother, Grant), and loading the bikes, we were on our way to Elkin. We made it to the campsite at Elkin’s Municipal Recreation Center around 3:30 and after hastily setting up tents, we found the only restaurant in Elkin to watch a college football game – a place called Dodge City, which Melissa found through the miracle of her iPad and whose name somehow conjured up images of drunken, slack-jawed bubbas watching NASCAR. So it was a pleasant surprise as we walked in and found the Carolina vs. Auburn game on almost every one of their half dozen or so televisions scattered around the dining area. Unfortunately, my Gamecocks lost the game but we still had a great meal. Around 8pm, Fran’s Wisconsin Badgers kicked it off vs. Nebraska and we hung around to watch most of that game as well (Badgers won). We didn’t make it back to camp until close to 11pm and we arrived to absolutely no signs of activity within camp – everyone had turned in long ago. 65 miles of cycling awaited us the next day.

Day 1 – Elkin to Mayodan – 65 miles

We woke up at 6am to the jerkings of rain fly zippers and the tinny clinks of tent poles and pegs as people dismantled their campsites and prepared for the day. As I exited the tent I was a little surprised to find a lot of people already dressed for cycling and looking eager to ride. The average age of the 900+ cyclists on this ride was 55 years old. Not surprisingly, most of those dressed and ready to go at 6:15am were the older ones who had probably been up for hours already. The low overnight was around 40 and it felt colder than that. By 7:15 or so, we had broken down camp and loaded Fran’s car and he was headed off to the first rest stop where he was volunteering. Melissa and I ate breakfast and took shelter in the gym of the rec center to warm up a bit before starting our ride. We finally ventured out around 8:30.

We recognized a lot of the day one course from the Three Mountain Madness course we rode back in June. That ride included summits of Sauratown Mountain, Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain, and while the day one route skipped those summits, much of the route was the same. Considerable climbing, hazardous descents (one in particular including loose gravel) and absolutely gorgeous scenery – it was possibly the most scenic ride of the week.

Beginning a routine that would last all week, Melissa and I dressed warmly to start the ride (cycling jackets, full gloves, tights, etc), knowing that we would be able to shed some of that clothing , passing it off to Fran at rest stop #1 where he volunteered each day. It was an exceptional luxury, as most others had to decide between either dressing warmly early and being over-dressed as it warmed up, or freezing early on and being more comfortable later. With the option of shedding clothes at the first rest stop (usually 12 to 20 miles in and 10 to 15 degrees warmer), we were fairly comfortable all day long. We were spoiled!

We rolled into Autumn Creek Vineyards – a beautiful winery just outside of the town of Mayodan around 3pm. This was our stop-over for the second night and by the time we arrived, Fran had already set up camp. We showered and headed to a local Mexican restaurant where we ate well and watched Green Bay whip Denver. We made it back to camp by 7pm and were probably asleep by 8:30 – exhausted from a late night on Saturday and the first day of cycling. The next day we would pedal 70 miles to Mebane. More to come…

Autumn’s awakening – shaking off a late summer malaise

I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from this blog since Melissa and I returned from Czech Republic last month. I had grand visions of all of the articles I would write chronicling our time in Europe – the food, the Martin-led forced march of “turbo-touring” (his term – an apt description), Prague and all of it’s wonders, summiting Czech’s tallest peak and discovering the singular and unexpected pleasure of cold beer for sale at the top, our time in the tiny village of Plesiste and “two quick beers” with Martin’s dad and friends… I was going to write about all of it. And then, within several days of our return it seemed like the world went haywire. A totally unexpected earthquake on the East Coast had me working over-time in Northern Virginia for several weeks. The earthquake was followed by a hurricane, which was followed by news of devastating drought in Texas, continued chaos in the Middle East, an escalation of the already chronic ineptitude and disfunction in Washington, rumors of collapse in the financial markets and the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Suddenly, Czech Republic seemed like a distant memory and blogging about my life seemed obtuse and self-absorbed.

There was also the mammoth distraction of college football starting up and swirling rumors of conference realignment. I am fascinated by the realignment topic and could talk for hours on end with anyone who indulges me (Melissa is not one of these people) about the various possibilities. (Texas to the Pac Ten, SEC or Independent? Who will be the 14th team in the SEC… Clemson? Georgia Tech? FSU? Missouri? Will the Big 12 try to pick up the pieces and forge ahead or will they attempt to merge with the Big East?) I never get tired of it. It’s a sickness, really – I don’t know what is wrong with me.  Add to all of this a general late summer malaise, a dash of writer’s block and, let’s be completely honest here, my own innate laziness, and you have a recipe for accomplishing very little in the way of writing for what is going on two months now.

But with fall comes renewal. I guess the whole renewal thing is supposed to correspond with spring, but for me, it’s fall. The cool weather seems to have a medicinal affect and it has me thinking about writing again. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the hardships in our world – natural disasters, anniversaries of tragic events (even one the magnitude of 9/11) and the general un-ease of our time should not be parlayed into an excuse to stop writing. These events should be observed with reverence, but life goes on – life continues to be good and worth chronicling.

Melissa and I are getting ready to embark on an epic (for us, anyway) cycling trip – the Cycle North Carolina (CNC) Fall Ride. This is our first time on this annual west to east ride across the State of North Carolina. This year the event begins in Elkin, N.C. in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and ends seven days later in the tiny Outer Banks town of Corolla. We’ll pedal a total of 492 miles over those seven days, averaging 70 miles per day. I figure, if nothing else, I’ll get a blog or two just from chronicling the size of the blisters on my saddle-weary rear end. But I have a hunch I’ll find a bit more of substance to write about beyond that. Melissa’s Dad (Fran) has been kind enough to “sherpa” for us on this trip. He’s flying out tomorrow and will follow us all week in his SUV, helping to set up camp (yes, did I mention we’ll be tent camping each night?), transporting our luggage and assorted gear, and even volunteering to help the CNC staff along the way. A few days into the trip, Melissa’s Mom (Nita) will join us. We start the ride this Sunday.

For now, it’s good to be back writing again. More later…