Once again I had the good fortune to do a scouting ride of the Tour DaVita route. This year the Tour winds its way across South Carolina in an arc south of Greenville. Riding with me again this year were Seth Winbolt, Intern with the Accountables and Dan DeYoung, Audit Partner with KPMG. We were supported by Mark Payne, a Regional Operations Director whose MiraMonte Region is hosting the Tour this year. South Carolina is beautifully green in mid-June. Rolling hills, quiet lanes and country back roads.
We arrived on Monday night, intent on riding every mile of this year’s route before heading home Thursday afternoon. Making a scouting ride is not the same as riding the Tour. No smiling Backroads teammates, no rest stops set up with goodies. Building on last year’s enlistment of my family to SAG for us, I meekly asked Matt Weissert, DVP of MiraMonte if he could find someone crazy enough to provide support for us this year (my wife Chong and son Max decided that they weren’t that crazy). Mark Payne volunteered. Mark was awesome and during our ride I learned that he had taken on a second job (the job one does after they work hard doing a great job on their regular role) as one of the South Carolina leaders organizing this year’s Tour DaVita. Driving the SAG wagon consists of drop-off/pickup at the start and finish of each day’s ride, organizing a daily lunch for three overheated, dehydrated, and hungry riders. It’s amazing how much driving time and effort that entails.
The total mileage for the long version of this year’s Tour is 220 miles and about 20 miles less for the shorter versions. Living in Tacoma has not provided me with many impressions of South Carolina, so I didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes that is best so you can absorb it all without the filters of our preconceived ideas. South Carolina is a friendly, easy-going place with beautiful vistas, rolling hills, green lush vegetation, and is heavily forested along the route (hint: not so much wind and some shade from the sun).
First things first, Backroads has once again designed a great ride for this year. Looking at the MapMyRide maps will reinforce the view of a relatively flat, easy ride rolling through country lanes and forests. This is a historic area, with revolutionary war as well as civil war landmarks. It’s easy to envision the history of the region as you ride past plantations and battle sites. The roads were generally in good shape, with a mix of asphalt, concrete, and chip seal. Old quaint bridges, farmland, rivers and lakes line the course. Very pretty, and if you take the time, inviting. We did not encounter much road construction, so we should be in good stead come September. However, always ride safely and pay attention to your surroundings.
Warning, the maps are pretty good but you should be a little skeptical as they provide some pretty good information, but can sometimes by wrong. We had dutifully printed out the maps and even downloaded them to our Garmin. We even added the MapMyRide App to 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 can sometimes be confusing or can take you strange places. For instance, the map said turn left (west) and after a while we ended up in that darn cornfield in Iowa again…
…or take this misdirection, the map said turn right, so we did. After a while we found ourselves on a bike trail that said it was heading to the lake. With some effort, it took us a while to navigate back to the main course. With the help of the Garmin and vague memories from the boy scouts, we were able to plot a short cut back to the main road and pedal on.
Riding on such trails and stump jumping is dangerous; it lowers your average pace and can be tricky if you catch your bars on a branch.
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 cornfields; we are on the road the entire route.
Ok, a couple of other comments before I move on to describing the course. The people in South Carolina are incredibly nice. 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 will win the physics battle 100% of the time.
This year’s route will have its own challenges, and just like in prior years, it is unique.
The weather was great while we were riding, but be prepared for heat, humidity, and afternoon thunderstorms. Much of the route is along wooded lanes and byways, so there should be plenty of shelter from the wind and often from the sun. The biggest surprise on the ride was how considerate and rewarding the topography is on the route. The course is fairly flat, with rolling hills that reward every effort. It seemed to work like clockwork, every time you had to work struggling up a hill, you were immediately rewarded with a pleasant downhill that allows you to recover. These rolling hills are a blast to ride as you often maintain your momentum from downhills, which helps you up and over the corresponding uphills that invariably follow. I had so much fun on some long downhill runs that I was sure it had to be illegal!
During our ride we encountered turtles, foxes, turkeys, buzzards, cows, chasing dogs and hundreds of species of birds. Even though we were relatively close to Greenville for most of the route, it seemed we were often in the wilderness. At one point, we went turtle racing which turned out to be a little embarrassing…
That turtle was fast, too fast for Seth…
Now, on to the route:
Warning Veteran Tour Riders: Day 1 may be one of the very best rides ever on Tour DaVita! Approach this route with a huge smile on your face and maintain it throughout the day.
We rode Day 1 from Gaffney to Chester State Park. It’s a 61 mile route that is really pretty flat (1,100 ft of climbing, mostly 2%-3% inclines) with rolling hills and great scenery. South Carolina at its best. The route starts out in the town of Gaffney and quickly heads southeast on an awesome stretch of asphalt that looks and feels like it was made just for us. It felt like there was more downhill than uphill on Day 1. Enjoy every mile of it, as in most cases on a bike, for almost every downhill there is an equal or more than equal uphill in your future (see Day 2). During the day’s ride you will wind through historic Brattonville, past the site of Huck’s Defeat (War of Independence), 94 of the 273 Baptist Churches we counted on the ride (plus 3 Presbyterian churches), and countless forests. We encountered wild turtles racing across the roads throughout the day, which was a new experience for me, as well as many well-fed buzzards that kept giving us the stink eye, hoping we would crash so they could swoop in (just kidding about the stink eye).
Near the end of the days ride you enter into Chester State Park, a terrific park road that is welcoming and picturesque, ending on the shores of a large lake filled with bath water. Seth and I went for a swim to cool off before we ate the lunch Mark Payne so graciously brought us. We enjoyed the park for an hour or so before we took off to ride the first 22 miles of the Day 2 route. Chester State park ends at the lake with a large looping road surrounding a lush green lawn where we will camp. This should be a great campsite!
This year, Day 2 has become the 100 mile “Century” ride, with a shorter, more manageable 82 mile version as an option. The route spans 100 miles from Chester State Park to Fountain Inn. The Day 2 route will be more challenging for most riders. During the first 30-40 miles you are definitely climbing more, making up for much of the glorious first day. Most of the hills are a 3%-4% or a lower grade with only one or two small short steep sections. However, for those of you who rode and remember the start of Day 2 in Iowa last year, this is a much gentler grade, but still challenging. Once you pass this section the ride flattens out and regains that wonderful rolling topography. The scenery throughout the day is a fairly rural and bucolic, making for a pleasant ride. 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 Fountain Inn. We visited the Fountain Inn DaVita Clinic, which was bright and cheerful. The teammates were friendly and excited for the tour to ride through. Somehow I don’t think they really understand what is about to happen at their clinic when 600 riders suddenly show up for coffee.
Day 3 is a 61 mile route filled with rolling hills and is generally flat and all riders should be able to really enjoy it. The route starts in Fountain Inn and winds it way to Clemson (Tiger Country). Day 3 is a more scenic ride than the Day 2 ride, with more vistas and valleys to scan out into the horizon. As you approach Clemson you will ride through a beautiful area where the Clemson University extension campus is located. The last 10-15 miles are absolutely gorgeous, with a long lake crossing, riding over a small peninsula and a longer bridge. The lake teases you and we looked hard for a place to stop and jump in, but we couldn’t find a good spot so we kept riding to the finish at the Clemson University Beach and Recreational Area. This is a wonderful park with a huge lake filled with water that is just the right temperature. Day 3 is a great ride and really caps a terrific tour. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Overall, this year’s route is awesome. 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. 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.)