It’s been ten years, but we made it back to Tennessee. Get ready for a great ride.
Once again I had the good fortune to do a scouting ride of the Tour DaVita route. This year the Tour starts in Spring Hill, just south of Nashville and on day three touches the Naches trail. Ten years ago we rode into Tennessee on the first ever Tour DaVita. This year’s Ten Year anniversary ride is a new route and does not repeat the original route. Riding with me again this year were Seth Winbolt, Senior Accountant with the Accountables in Federal Way, Washington, and Dan DeYoung, Seattle based Audit Partner with KPMG. In addition to Seth and Dan, this year my big brother Kurt came along to see if he could help share the load. We were generously supported by Brock Cornell from IT at Team Music City and a five time veteran Tour DaVita rider, located within the Heritage Division of Trail Blazers which is hosting the Tour this year. The Tennessee route rolls through Middle Tennessee’s peaceful valleys, quiet countryside and abundant farmland. The route is beautiful, surrounded by rivers, farmland, and plantations. The topography is primarily rolling with intermittent flat stretches. Overall, this is a great route. It gets better every day, culminating with the Day 3 ride which is one of the best rides I have ever experienced.
Again this year we arrived with the intent of riding every mile of this year’s route before heading home. 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 Trail Blazers for someone to “volunteer” to SAG for us was answered by Brock Cornell. Brock enthusiastically stepped up to help us. He was just great while supporting us. Being a Tour veteran, Brock 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 four disoriented, 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 230 miles and about 200 for the shorter version. The area is somewhat hilly. On average, the hills we encountered were similar to North Carolina, with an occasional challenging hill to get your heart pumping. Total elevation gains of ~9500 feet over 230 miles is considered moderately hilly for the average cyclist.
The Tour begins in Lewisburg at Rock Creek Park, where we will camp for the first two nights. The road conditions varied a lot and some of the lanes will get narrow, so remember to pay attention while riding (generally a good rule of life).
The first day of the route is a 62 mile loop that brings you back to the campground. Day 2 will zigzag over 100 miles, heading generally North to Willowbrook Farm near Franklin, Tennessee (68 miles for those cyclists choosing the Metric Century), where we will spend the final two nights of the Tour. The final day of riding will head West with a loop back to the Willowbrook Farm. Tennessee is a great state, with great music, great barbecue, and friendly people.
The weather should be nice, but be prepared for hot weather and bring a light weight rain jacket just in case. The temperature will likely drop down into the 50’s at night so a jacket or warm pullover for the evening is advised. 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.
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 fertile farmland, through lush forests and along rivers and valleys, all while riding along pleasant country roads and byways. This region enjoys a rich historical past, with many important sites, such as Graceland, Nashville, The Naches Trail, and the Great Smoky Mountains. The roads were generally in reasonably good shape, with a mix of asphalt, concrete, with sections of chip seal mixed in from time to time. Note that some of the roads are narrow and bumpy, so both hands on the bars are highly recommended. 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 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 pedal 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. So try to carry as much momentum as you feel safe with to minimize energy your legs need to generate going 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. Rule number 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, including you, suddenly hitting the ground). Rule number two, when you take a turn at the front, maintain the current pace of the line, riding in 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). Rule number 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. Rule number 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. 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.
You will likely encounter lots of wildlife on the ride this year. We saw deer, wild turkeys, beavers, hawks, buzzards, and yes, turtles. Seth almost won the annual turtle race this year, but it is amazing just how fast those little turtles can crawl…
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 1 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…
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, corn fields or tobacco plantations. We are on the paved roads the entire route.
This section was removed from the route (hey, that is why we pre-ride the course).
Ok, a couple of other comments before I move on to describing the course. 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% of the time. The weather may be sunny, HOT, and HUMID while we are riding. Be prepared for great weather, but look out for heat, rain, afternoon winds and possible thunder storms. Staying hydrated is incredibly important. Even experienced riders can overlook this. Be smart and hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate!
Now, on to the route:
We rode the Day 1 Lewisburg Loop, starting early Friday morning. This year we rode the routes in order. The Day 1 route is a 62-mile route that climbs 2,800 ft.
The majority of the route is rolling hills with an occasional flat stretch to give you a break. We will be riding mostly on county roads and narrow lanes. Road surfaces were good to marginal at times. At about 55 miles in there is a tough category 4 hill to climb that will challenge you. The good news is after you reach the top, the last 5-6 miles are mostly downhill making for an enjoyable end of your ride. At about 42 miles into the ride you will encounter Delina, a throwback crossroads store that pretty much demands you to stop and take it in. In the Delina country store you can get gator, crawdads, frog legs and other assorted fixins. It is really worth a stop! Overall, Day 1 was very enjoyable and a fun ride.
This year, like last year, Day 2 is the 100-mile “Century” ride, with a shorter, more manageable 68-mile version as an option. The route winds 100 miles from Lewisburg to Willowbrook Farm. Day 2 is again rolling with many more flat stretches between the rollers than we experienced on Day 1. The route winds North in a serpentine manner on its way to Willowbrook Farm (near Franklin, Tennessee). Map My Ride says 3,500 feet of elevation gain (our Garmins’ confirmed that elevation gain), so some up and down, but relatively less so than Day1. Don’t sweat the elevation gain too much. It is spread out over 100 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.
Day 3 is a gift to all the riders. This is a course that inspires, thrills, and is just so much dang fun!!! If you don’t enjoy this route, you should take up knitting… Day 3 is a 67 mile route that is shaped like a lollipop, out and back on the same road but a big loop at the top of the stick. The course starts from Willowbrook Farm heading west towards The Naches trail. Total elevation gain on Day 3 is 3,115 ft. The course is rolling hills with a couple of big testers around 4-6 miles in to the course which will be repeated in reverse order on your return at the finish. At about 30 miles into the route you will get to experience one of the most fantastic downhill rides as you drop along the Naches Trail. Take it in and be sure to remember the pain in your jaw when you reach the bottom of the hill is because you will have the biggest possible smile on your face all the way down the slope. 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. I just can’t repeat myself enough when I write that this is a great route which offers great riding. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
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
(Jim “The Hammer” Hilger is DaVita’s Chief Accounting Officer and Interim Chief Financial 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.)