Travels with Hammer – 2015 North Carolina

Rawhide – 2015 Tour DaVita – North Carolina here we come!

Once again I had the good fortune to do a scouting ride of the Tour DaVita route.  This year the Tour winds its way through the Piedmont area of North Carolina in looping routes near Sanford and Pinehurst, North Carolina. Riding with me again this year were Seth Winbolt, accountant with the Accountables in Federal Way, Washington, Dan DeYoung, Seattle-based Audit Partner with KPMG.  In addition to Seth and Dan, this year Ben Mosley from Henry Schein and my good friend Jeff Skov came along to share the load. We were generously supported by Tim Brown, a group facility administrator and a long time veteran Tour DaVita rider, hailing from the Top Cats Region which is hosting the Tour this year. The North Carolina route is lush and beautiful, surrounded by hills, rivers, lakes, farmland and plantations. The course runs across the Piedmont and Cape Fear River Basin regions, and the topography is rolling with intermittent flat stretches. Tree-lined quiet lanes, country back roads, and lots of productive farmland comprise the vast majority of this year’s route.  I am calling this year’s route Rawhide because it reminds of the theme song of the old western TV show Rawhide – Rolling, Rolling, Rolling…

We arrived late Thursday night, intent on riding every mile of this year’s route before heading home Sunday afternoon. Making a scouting ride is a very different experience compared to riding the Backroads supported Tour. No smiling Backroads teammates, no rest stops set up with goodies. Generally the route winds through quiet country roads which are far from convenience or grocery stores, making it difficult to casually stop for needed supplies, so it is important to have SAG support. Our call to the Top Cats Region for someone to “volunteer” to SAG for us was answered by Tim Brown. Tim absolutely personifies the meaning of our core values of Service Excellence and Team. He is thoughtful, helpful, persistent and generally awesome (sounds like a man crush, I know, but I can’t begin to describe just how great he was during the pre-ride)! Being a Tour Veteran, Tim was always close by and was always there when we needed him. Driving the SAG wagon consists of drop-off/pickup at the start and finish of each day’s ride, organizing a daily lunch for five overheated, dehydrated and hungry riders, and making sure we were safe and accounted for at all times. It’s amazing how much driving time and effort that entails.

The total mileage for the long version of this year’s Tour is 245 miles and about 45 miles less for the shorter versions. The area is somewhat hilly; however, none of the hills we encountered were as challenging as the toughest hills in past years. It is just that there are more rolling hills than we have seen in past tours. Please don’t fret, there are many flat stretches on this year’s tour. The daily elevation gains on this year’s route are not excessive and I would categorize them as “moderate” to the average cyclist. The Tour winds through the foothills, beginning with a loop around Sanford. Our first campground will be the Sanford Lions Club, which appears to be a large sports facility with lots of grassy fields to set up camp. This Club will be our home for two nights as the first day of the route is a loop that brings you back to the campground. Day 2 will head Southwest towards Pinehurst (a golf mecca for PGA fans), where we will spend the final two nights at the Pinehurst Harness Track. North Carolina is a warm and friendly place. The weather should be great (but be prepared for hot weather). We found the people are very friendly and cyclist aware.  On the road, drivers gave us a wide berth and were courteous and safety conscious.

Photo 1 Travels with Hammer

First things first, Backroads has once again designed a great ride this year. Looking at the MapMyRide maps will reinforce the view of a rolling path winding through pine forests, fertile farmland all while riding along pleasant country byways. This region enjoys a rich historical past, with many important sites of the Revolutionary and Civil War, plantations and golf.  Tobacco and cotton used to rule this area, but over time other crops, including corn, soybeans, peanuts and others have expanded in the area. The roads were generally in good shape, predominantly beautifully-smooth asphalt with sections of chip seal mixed in from time to time. North Carolina has invested significantly in its network of official bike routes, making this course both interesting and safer. We will be riding on much of this network. We did not encounter much road construction, so we should be in good stead come late September. However, always ride safely and pay attention to your surroundings.

A quick note about riding a rolling and hilly course: this year’s route winds through generally rolling hills, with some flat stretches, on all three days. Rolling hills can be a total blast to ride! Lots of work and lots of rewards. While riding on the rollers, you will be changing gears much more frequently. Try to catch the momentum of going downhill and peddle through the bottom of the hill, using that captured momentum will help carry you up the hill. You will be increasing the power of the gears on the way downhill and reducing the gears as you go up the hill. This is an important skill to master and can make riding through the hills much less challenging and way more enjoyable.

Please also remember that on flat stretches, larger groups of riders can often form and will tend to create pace lines. Riding in a pace line can be a lot of fun and you will go faster than you would otherwise ride, but you need to keep a few “rules” in mind.

  1. Rule one, never touch your brakes in a pace line unless you first signal clearly to those behind you that you will be braking (failure to do so will likely result in riders suddenly hitting the ground).
  2. Rule two, when you take a turn at the front, maintain a steady, predictable pace. When you find yourself getting fatigued, signal to the rider behind you to come up and replace you at the front (don’t stay up front and slow down as you will slow the whole group).
  3. Rule three, when you pull off the front, do so by pulling over to the left and drifting to the back of the line.  Do not pull off to the right as you will become a hazard and may find yourself trapped in a dangerous situation.
  4. Rule four, remember to “latch on” at the end of the line, which takes a final burst of energy so the line doesn’t ride off into the distance without you.
  5. Finally, when you are in a pace line, it is best to be in an easier gear while spinning the pedals a little faster. This will help prevent you from surging into the rider in front of you. Remember predictability is really important to safe pace lining.

Again this year, we had intermittent user problems following the maps.  We had dutifully printed out the maps and even downloaded them to our Garmin. We even used the MapMyRide App on our cell phones (this App is pretty darn good and can really give you a great view of where you are going). Each turn is laid out, right one mile, left .5 miles, rotate around the tree, go back, repeat and so on. Following the maps (or in my case, failing to pay attention) can sometimes be confusing or can take you to strange places. For instance, the map said turn left (west) and after a while we passed that darn corn field again and ended up in a tobacco field…

Photo 2 Travels with Hammer

Photo 3 Travels with Hammer

All kidding aside, Backroads will have the route well marked with signs and painted arrows at most turns so no one should get lost or go off course. Riders should not be worried about getting lost or having to ride through overgrown forest trails or tobacco plantations. We are on the paved roads the entire route.

Okay, a couple of other comments before I move on to describing the course. The people in North Carolina are incredibly nice and very rider-friendly. Drivers (although there were very few cars encountered) gave a wide berth and everyone we met could not have been more helpful or kind. There are trucks driving on some of the country roads. Their drivers were patient and gave room, but please be careful as trucks and cars will win the physics battle 100 percent of the time. The weather in July was sunny, HOT and HUMID while we were riding, but be prepared for great weather, and look out for heat, rain, afternoon winds and possible thunder storms. Late September should be much cooler and less humid than what we experienced in late July. Staying hydrated is incredibly important. Even experienced riders can overlook this. I failed to stay hydrated on the century day, and it turned into an exhausting and challenging day. I could easily have avoided the suffering if I had only been smart and hydrated, hydrated and hydrated!  Much of the route is along wooded lanes or farmland, following country roads and byways.

Now, on to the route:

Day 1

We rode the Day 1 Sanford Loop, starting early Sunday morning. This year we rode the routes in reverse order so that we could finish near our hotel and the airport. It takes most of the day to fly back to the Pacific Northwest, so we had to complete our ride by noon on Sunday. The Day 1 route is a 64 mile route, with an extra 15 mile loop that you can choose to ride for a total of 79 miles. The first 20 or so miles are rolling hills without any significant flat stretches. After mile 20, the route seemed to stretch out more and while still plenty of rollers, there was also plenty of flat stretches. You will be riding through much of the Cape Fear River Basin, a huge agricultural center for North Carolina. There are plenty of trees to line much of the route. These trees provide shade and wind breaks really help keep the ride comfortable. The route winds its way from Sanford to Lillington where it turns back near the Cape Fear River. As you head back in a westerly direction you will have an opportunity to tack on a fun 15 mile loop.  This loop is pretty and fun to ride. Overall, Day 1 was very enjoyable and truly a great ride.

Day 2

This year, like last year, Day 2 is the 100 mile “century” ride, with a shorter, more manageable 69 mile version as an option. The route winds 101 miles from Sanford to Pinehurst. Day 2 is again rolling with some flat stretches between the rollers. The route winds southwest in a serpentine manner on its way to Pinehurst. Map My Ride says 4,300 feet of elevation gain (our Garmins’ averaged 5,300 feet of elevation gain), so either way, some up and down.  Don’t sweat the elevation gain too much.  It is spread out over 101 miles and there weren’t any super big hills along the way.  Overall, we found the day’s ride to be very scenic and very pleasant riding. Lunch will be held at the “House in the Horseshoe,” a historic Revolutionary War site which sits on a 2,500 acre plantation. The house on the site dates back to 1772. This site has a neat old museum chronicling the revolutionary period as well as the agricultural roots of the plantation.

Photo 4 Travels with Hammer

As you ride along the day’s route, you will pass tobacco farms, corn fields, as well as big commercial nurseries. You will not find many towns, convenience stores or other support opportunities outside of the Backroads rest stops, so make sure you are staying hydrated and carry plenty of water. The ride ends in the town of Pinehurst, a major golf mecca.  The route finishes by taking you through much of the resort neighborhoods surrounding the golf courses before ending at the Pinehurst Harness Track. The track is a large complex with plenty of room and should make a great home for the last two nights of the Tour.

Day 3

Day 3 provides a 65 mile course starting off with a stop at the Moore County Dialysis Center. The teammates and physicians are eager to meet the smiling riders from this year’s Tour. This is a gorgeous route, filled with rolling hills, deep forests, and lots of farmland. There are several challenging but conquerable climbs that reward you with fun drops and terrific variety. We started Day 3 late Friday afternoon (we were delayed as our bikes mysteriously went missing but FedEx was eventually able to get them delivered in the early afternoon) and finished just as the sun was setting. This is a great route which offers great riding, while there is lots of rolling hills, it still has some nice, relatively-flat sections. It was hot and humid on the day of our ride, so as we neared the end of the route and the day, heading back into Pinehurst, we were passing a small lake, and well, you know the rest…I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Photo 5 Travels with Hammer

Photo 6 Travels with Hammer

Overall, this year’s route is terrific and will provide a great experience for both the seasoned rider as well as the novice rider. Be prepared. Bring sunscreen. Ride safely. Finally, hydrating is crucial to set yourself up for a spectacular experience. It is easy to be surprised and become dehydrated on long rides, so a good rule of thumb is a full water bottle an hour!

Enjoy the Tour!!!

Jim “Hammer” Hilger


About Jim Hilger

Jim “The Hammer” Hilger is DaVita’s Chief Accounting Officer.  Each Year, Jim rides the route ahead of Tour DaVita and reports back to the riders on what they can expect from the route.  Jim has participated in almost all of the Tour DaVita rides.

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