Veteran Rider Shares Her 2016 STIHL Tour des Trees Experience Thus Far

This is my 6th tour – I rode 2001, 2002, 2003, skipped a few years, rode 2010, 2011, skipped a few years…and now 2016. I am one of those riders that selectively chooses when to ride based on two things: 1) location; 2) time of year. I love the October rides – there is no better time to be on your bike, anywhere, than in October. The smell and crispness of the air, the brisk mornings, the welcome of sunshine (as opposed to wishing it would go away) – you can’t beat a fall ride on your bike.
As a Tour des Trees “veteran rider”, the experience of sitting out a few years and jumping back in…reconnecting, is equally inspiring as the ride itself. You literally reconnect with each rider that you have ever drafted, sat their wheel, or they sat yours, just as if it were yesterday. While riding, you listen to developments in their careers, their families and their future plans. You reconnect and you inspire and you are inspired by each rider, each day, as you progress through the rigors of riding a bike 600 miles in 7 days.

The first two days of the 2016 tour have been outstanding. After an “opening day” ride of 116 miles in the aftermath of hurricane Mathew, all riders woke up this morning with the promise that, at a very minimum, today’s ride could not possibly be as challenging as yesterday’s. And that is exactly how Day 2 unfolded. We rolled out of our hotel at 7:00 sharp and were escorted expertly by local officials to our breakfast location (same location as dinner last night – Old North State Winery). They professionally and respectfully escorted our group of riders through morning rush-hour traffic – halting traffic at intersections with a total yield of vehicles to bikers (that rarely happens). Then….after breakfast…..they demonstrated this same level of support, times 10, and escorted the entire 100’ish riders safely out of town to begin our day.

As if that weren’t enough, we had that same respect and dedication when we rolled into Walnut Cove for lunch and a tree dedication ceremony. Cyclists rolled into town to the welcoming show of a firetruck with flashing lights, accompanied by an officer, blocking the major intersection, so that all cyclist could roll through safely. All riders were very appreciative of the town’s respect for our cause and for this immense show of gratitude and respect for our efforts.

I rolled out from a lunch of turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie refreshed and restored and ready to “bang” out the last 40 miles. I was at first in a bit of a funk when I hit the road after lunch – a full stomach and a bit of time off the bike tends to take your mind off the goal. I couldn’t even decide who I wanted to ride with. So, I did the classic “Shirl” move and dropped into the void between groups. I didn’t want to sit a wheel on a pace line, as I had done for 65 miles the day before, and I didn’t want to slow down to wait for the riders behind be to catch up, so I rode 25 glorious rides alone…in some of the most spectacular countryside I have ever seen. Beautiful rolling hills, bright blue skies, enormous Oaks, elegant dogwoods, rolls of hay nested in verdant fields. And the smell of freshly cut grass. Monday must be mowing day in North Carolina, or maybe it was because it was dry enough after a week or two of steady rain and flooding that the locals could cut the grass. I watched homeowner after homeowner out cutting the grass on their John Deere riding mowers, with John Deere logos on their mailboxes – proudly cutting their expansive lawns and waving a polite welcome to me as I rode by alone….and I returning the wave. At one point, I was a bit apprehensive at realizing that I had not seen a support vehicle, another rider or any road markings for quite some time. I stopped and asked one of the “lawn mowing homeowners” if he had seen any other bikers come through. He stopped and smiled and said “Yep, saw a bunch of them headed that away just a minute ago and a whole bunch of them going by all morning”. I was so grateful just to know that I was on the right road – and that he had noticed our group passing through his peaceful community.

I eventually hooked up with other riders, as always happens – we move in and out of our packs. And we rolled safely into the green city of Greensboro at rush hour. A bit challenging at first, but the route eventually dropped us into the amazing finale for the day – a neighborhood of massive trees, dappled light, downhill swoops and a sense of peace and tranquility after our initial shock of introduction into the city, at rush hour, and the abrupt transition from rural to urban riding. Top it all off with a climbing demonstration at University of Carolina at Greensboro and how could you not check this one off as one of the top 10 epic rides EVER!

Written by Tour rider, Shirl McMayon.

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