Cycling Success: Perspective straight from the saddle

Shannon Woolfolk poses next to her bike near her grandparents' house along the route. Woolfolk was part of a group from MC which biked across Tennessee over spring break. Photo courtesy of Mountain Challenge

I get a lot of funny looks when I tell people about my spring break plans—probably because biking 450 miles in six days does not spell fun for most people.

I totally understand this.

Before I went on my first bike trip last year, I was intimidated by the sound of it, to say the least, but I jumped on board anyway!

As it turns out, bike tripping is undoubtedly one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Spring break bonus: I got to sip a milkshake on the beach by the end of it, and I even got my tan on … though it did come with some funky tan lines!

So, if you have ever wondered why on Earth some of your fellow MC students, faculty, staff and alumni voluntarily spend their spring breaks from the seats of bicycles, I hope this article helps you to understand!

I think anyone who participates in a bike trip would agree that the allure comes from the physical challenges and mental struggles, the sense of accomplishment in overcoming these, the camaraderie and hospitality experienced, and simply having a whole week of free time to do what we love—ride.

A bike trip is no walk in the park—it’s a marathon—especially those hosted by Mountain Challenge.

Such a trip is an endurance event that requires a lot of preparation and training. While the overall distance varies some from year to year, this year the pedaling parade spanned 450 miles, from Memphis to Maryville, via highways 70 and 96.  The mileage per day went something like this: 71 on the first day, then 78, 68, 68 (and going up the plateau!), 60, and 100 (century day!).

We woke up with the sun and rode out when the crisp cool of an early spring morning was just beginning to burn off.  As we went throughout the day, we met up with our support van every 10 to 15 miles or so for stretching and snack breaks which never lasted long enough.

The physical challenges are obvious, I suppose, but with enough training, it really is not too bad. It is fun to be on the bike, after all!

The mental struggles (for me, anyway) include trying to stay focused on the road, the scenery and the “this-is-fun” factor while my toes are numb and tingling from lack of circulation, my rear hurts from sitting hours upon hours on a tiny bicycle seat, and cars and semi-trucks are whizzing past with drivers that have lead-feet and bad attitudes.

But at the end of the day, when I am dead-tired and covered with sweat, sunscreen and pollen, I get an amazing sense of accomplishment that makes it all more than worth it.     One of my favorite things about this bike trip was getting to experience small-town America. We always took the “business route” instead of the “bypass,” and it always led us to the best local restaurants and the friendliest people.

The MC bike trip provides a nice reminder that good ole southern hospitality still exists.

Each night, a church or friend of MC took us in and gave us a free place to sleep. Often times, the congregation or host cooked up a delicious dinner and/or breakfast for us.

We always left them with a thank-you note and some (hopefully) interesting stories!

Riding a bike is fun, but the fellowship experienced on the trip makes the best memories.

The Mountain Challenge bike trip is a spring break experience like no other. It is rewarding, to say the very least.

Last year’s trip taught me, after I surprised myself by riding all 340 miles, that I can do anything with enough determination.

This year, I unfortunately did not get to ride every mile (nor did anyone else, since the last day got rained out). I experienced my first bike crash 50 miles into the trip. (Helmets are so important! Mine got a crack in it, and my head only got a bruise!)

I readjusted my goals, and rode 90 more miles over two days until my bike’s odometer reached 1,000 miles. Not getting to ride every mile was frustrating, but I still had a great time!    This trip taught me to be thankful for good health (I could have been injured much worse!) and to be content to enjoy every day for what it brings, especially when it brings something unexpected.

I loved being on my bike with the rest of the pack, but I was also happy to hang out with our wonderful van driver, Jennifer Deaver and take pictures.

The Bike Trip group this year was Joe McBrien, Bruce Guillaume, Dana Davidson, Jack Piepenbring, Travis Wilson, Mary Steger, Becky, Traci Haydu, and I.

Soapbox moment! Please share the road! Cyclists are just out to have a good time, and a little courtesy from drivers is always appreciated.

When passing a cyclist, lower your speed and give as much space as possible. (Tennessee law mandates at least 3 feet). Do not pass on blind curves or hills.

I know some non-cyclists have the attitude that bikes should be ridden on sidewalks, but we can travel long distances in a day and average speeds anywhere from 12 to 25+mph. Riding on sidewalks is impractical and potentially dangerous, and the same is true for the Greenbelt.

I’m sorry to be in the way (I don’t like it anymore than you do.), but even on main roads with broad shoulders, these “bike lanes” are often littered with glass and debris that could puncture tires.

I hope I’ve shown with this article that cyclists just want to be outside and active—it’s fun!

And Tennessee’s fine roads are the best place for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *