My memory of the Flag Loop (out old Centerville Road, over the Georgia line and back) was a happy one. We did the ride at night last winter, when I was in really good shape. It was the only night clay ride I've ever done. Not long after, a plan started to hatch in my brain about connecting it and the Kilearn/Dirt Proctor route, to make it a long solo ride.
The stars aligned and I slept nine hours Saturday night. I felt like Sunday was a perfect day to take a shot at it. I was up early enough and it was cool and clear out. I started out slow feeling sluggish after my first real week of riding in a while. I got lost looking for the back door (a cut through some private roads, off Bradfordville Rd.) to Proctor. I figured it was about ten miles out to Centerville, but when I got there I had about sixteen. I was so preoccupied with my incorrect mile count, that I forgot to get water at the Bradfordville Country Store, before I headed out on the clay. My plan was to turn around if my odometer read over thirty miles by the time I reached the first turn on Metcaff. I cruised thought the Old Centerville Road clay and looking at houses and plantation gates. I wondered what it would be like to live out there. I hit the pavement at Springhill and quickly realized the climbs were tougher and longer than I remembered. At about twenty eight miles, I came to the stop sign and the left turn onto Metcaff. Another cyclist rolled up to the intersection across the street and we chatted about where we were from and where we were going. He had never ridden the Flag Loop, but he knew the roads and came with me to make sure I got the next turn correct. At the next dirt section we said our goodbyes and I was on my own again.
About this time, I started to feel a very uneasy stirring in my gut. It's that rumble and cramp, we all recognize from awful previous experiences. I began looking for a place to desecrate. In my preoccupation with impending doom, I missed my left turn and ended up on 319 a few miles south of Thomasville. The one bright spot was, there was a gas station across the road and I was thanking (Deity of choice) that I would be able to evacuate the evil in a civilized manner and also get water. At first I didn't notice all the plastic bags on the gas pumps, or the lack of cars, but when I looked into the dark pad locked carcass of the store, I said "no fucking way!" loudly to no one. My mind and bowels were already in launch mode and I had to find whatever spot I could to exercise the demons, that were coming with or without my consent. I squatted next to an A.C. unit, praying that no one would see me doing something, National Geographic would edit from a Hippo documentary. I always carry paper towels with me (for just such a party) and was thankful I had done one thing right. I walked away from the crime scene as though nothing happened, vowing never to admit guilt for the havoc I had unleashed.
A quick check of the map revealed I missed my turn by one mile and I headed down Forshalee, thankful that at last, I was headed home. This is a narrow and nearly house free road with a couple good climbs and bombing (thirty mile per hour, plus) downhill's. I was feeling so relieved that I actually got out of the saddle on a couple of the hills and forced myself not to touch the brakes going down. I got to the left on Sunny Hill and drank down my last swallow (which put Kenny Rodgers "The Gambler" on loop, in my internal radio station).
By the time I got to Old Centerville again I was really thirsty and hungry but I couldn't force down a Cliff Bar with no water. I came to St. Phillips-Primitive Baptist Church of Christ and rolled under the chain at the gate. I found a spicket and turned it on. A slow stream of brown water sputtered out of the pipe and turned eventually to a milky white water and air mixture. After a few minutes it finally became a clear clean (looking) stream. I filled my bottles after a smell and taste test. All seemed well. I decided I would not drink that stuff after suffering my previous intestinal riot, and planned to haul ass (as best I could) to the Bradfordville Store. When I finally got there, all my monkey brain could think of was RC Cola. I went in and bought water and two sodas. I staggered out to the porch and inhaled the first and then the second without a break. I slammed down the bottle on the railing, only then noticing a man and his wife looking at me in equal amounts of disbelief and disgust. I apologized and told them I'd been out of water for about an hour. I filled my bottles with fresh water and felt like a new man (after a couple dinosaur burps).
When I got back to Proctor, the idea of going back over my tracks seemed dumb, so I headed south to Crump and the Miccosukee Greenway. The idea of not dealing with cars and shaving a couple miles off my ride home seemed sound. By the time I got to the top, and the end of that trail, every root and patch of sand was causing me to spit and curse, and I swore I might never ride it again. I coasted down the sweet paved hill and back up the last climb on Woodgate, to my hood. Sixty three miles (about twenty more than I estimated) and four hours and forty five minutes were in the books. Considering all the missteps and calamity, I felt pretty good.
There is something about these long solo rides, on new routes, that make them seem bigger than they are. I am always afraid of getting dropped and lost on group rides and I figure this is good therapy for that. It's nice to know you didn't sit in and shut your brain off on another group ride. In the end you did it alone (however slow) and for this old dog, the feeling of accomplishment is very rewarding. I guess you can always do a lot more than you think you can. I need to remember that.