Tarwheels go the long way around

chnsports@nando.comAugust 14, 2013 

Remember those angry neighbors’ flippant mantra for meddling kids?

“Hey you brats, get outta my yard…Go play in the road, why don’tch’ya!?”

Hundreds of kids of all ages spent Saturday in roads — riding, rolling, and basically playing — across central North Carolina as they partook in the 18th annual Carolina Tarwheels’ BikeFest Rural Heritage Tour, leaving and returning from Hillsborough.

Opting between 7-mile, 35-mile (half-metric), 62 mile (metric century) and 100-mile (English century) routes, more than 800 cyclists were spread out across the scenic byways, some of which neared the Virginia border. The mileage they amassed in total would encircle the Earth…twice.

“It’s just a great event for cyclists, and it’s our biggest event of the year for the Tarwheels,” event co-coordinator and Tarwheels member Don Turner said.

The annual event provides a rolling tour of historic farmlands along quiet country roads, highlighting the pastoral heritage of the Piedmont, the Tarwheels’ website stated.

While Turner stressed that the event was a tour rather than a race, he said some more experienced riders would take advantage of long, straight roads to stretch their legs in the “big gears.”

“The first 25 miles, you’re in a big bunch, and it helps to know how to ride in a group,” he said. “Now some folks will choose to go as fast as they can and they’ll do pace lines, which is about the only way to survive for 100 miles.”

Riders on the 100-mile loop visited Alamance, Caswell, and Person counties before returning to Orange County.

Along the way, ambitious riders scaled around 5,000 feet in total elevation on formidable hills, some of which lasted nearly a mile.

Turner added that little has changed about the tour courses over the past few years.

“The routes in the last number of years have been the same,” he said. “They’re good roads, and we’re really familiar with them.”

At the other end of the spectrum, some riders preferring a much shorter ride took advantage of a free seven-mile tour of historic sites in and around Hillsborough.

Cyclists rode alone, in families, or alongside members of their own cycling clubs.

“This is one of the rides we do to support the event,” said Laura Kelley, a member of the Chapel Hill-based LUNA Chix Cycling Team. “We try to support three events during the season. I’m just going to do the 62-mile event though. I melt in the sun.”

“I’ve got the 100-mile cue sheet,” Kelley’s LUNA Chix teammate Lee Mullin said.

For members of the Raleigh-based Black Girls Run’s break-out cycling group We Burn Rubber, the event reflected training for triathlons.

“I think both of us want to do a triathlon, like an ironman,” Veronica Joyner said of her and teammate Shelley Watson’s aspirations. “I just started, but we want to get used to the distance.”

“I’ve done two triathlons,” Watson said, “but they were sprint triathlons.”

Tarwheels club president John Rees said riders on all courses were given directions on cue sheets and were followed by mechanical support vehicles and a network of amateur radio operators. Rest stops were scattered along the course, offering home-baked treats for riders.

“We have a great partner in the Bicycle Chain,” he said, “we have (support) vehicles, and we have amateur radio operators here, because there isn’t great cellphone service everywhere on our routes, and amateur radio service operates no matter where they are.”

“We have over 100 volunteers out there,” Turner said, “…and they’ve all volunteered for a number of years. We have rest stops, and we have great food at the rest stops.”

“The treats that are all home-baked goods, like cookies, brownies, and cakes,” Rees said. “That’s a distinct feature.”

Event sponsors included Durham’s Bronto email marketing and Carrboro’s Clean Machine bike store. Rees added that the volunteers perhaps most crucial to the success of the race were the course sweepers.

“We have people sweeping—volunteers riding the course who stay behind the last riders,” Rees said. “The thing is just to make sure everybody comes back.”

The Tarwheels club donates all net proceeds to local bicycling-related activities. It has bestowed more than $50,000 to worthy causes since 2006, the website stated.

Recipients have included Rails to Trails, East Coast Greenways, Chapel Hill Greenways, Triangle Trips for Kids, Lewis Days (bike restoration for children of need) and 78 needy kids who received new bicycles, which we distributed through New Hope Elementary School and Durham Social Services.

“Since it’s all volunteers out here, all the money that comes in is profit,” Rees explained, “and we give it all back out.”

“This is our big fundraiser,” Turner said. “We’ll clear $20,000 today.”

Rees was pleased with the participation and credited volunteers with the event’s success.

“We had a great turnout,” Rees said. “The bikes just kept on coming off the starting line. The Tarwheels have had the greatest volunteers for years. The man marking our courses has been doing it for as long as I can remember.

“It’s our event— it’s a club tradition. Fortunately, a lot of the same people do this from year to year, and we learn a little bit more every year.”

And so do around 800 lucky bicyclists, who are provided a view of that local treasure of 50,000 miles just out their back doors.

Young: 919-932-8743

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