The Training BRAA

Training Braa-10

I’ve been having terrible headaches, and my doctor told me to cut out alcohol and caffeine. But did that stop me from carrying a whole box of wine for other people on our weekend bike tour around Lake Degray? No. No, it did not.

The Arkansas Bicycle Club does a twice-a-year multi-day “Bike Ride Around Arkansas” which they call the “BRAA.” So of course, the shorter, easier, weekend versions of this are called “Training BRAAs.” Jenny Rainwater did a great job of planning this autumn’s three-day tour with fairly low mileages and only a few completely horrible hills. A group of about fifteen of us left from the lodge at DeGray State Park on Saturday morning. The weather was beautiful.

Training Braa-6

Mandy rode mostly with Bryan and I the first day. We had been just a little concerned about her ability to keep up with the group, since they are all adults, and she is twelve. They are for the most part very experienced and strong cyclists, and this was the first time she’d ever toured with a loaded bike. But were pretty confident that she’d be fine, and we were right. She was.

We took a slight detour so as to eat lunch at a town fair, which was fun and included homemade ice cream.

Training Braa-3

We camped near the lake, in a nice campground. Since it wasn’t a hard day of riding, we had plenty of time to relax. Kathy tried out my hammock while Mandy and I taught Diane to play Bananagrams. There were hula-hooping contests, too, and when Mandy’s supper was ready, she picked it up and went to sit with her friends Diane and John and Scott. All of whom are at least four times her age.

Training Braa-4

On the second day, the weather was just as beautiful. Since we’d ridden toward the back of the group on the day before, I suggested that Mandy might want to start out with the faster riders so that she could fall back a bit if needed and still be with the group. The result? We didn’t see her all day. This hadn’t been planned, but it turned out that riding with the faster people made her faster. She also decided, apparently, that those people are more interesting than her parents.

Training Braa-1

About five miles shy of Amity, our lunch stop, I was tiring out. Halfway up a longish hill, I decided that at the top, I’d stop to rest and wait for the two people just behind me. Partway up, a friendly “Hello there!” turned my head, and I waved at another rider. He was clearly a cyclist and I assumed that he was part of our group, though I thought it was odd that he was way off the road near some garage. I pulled off at the top of the hill, as I’d planned, and looked back to see a white-bearded man coming toward me on a bright yellow tadpole trike.

Training Braa-8

And that’s how we met Charles, a charming sort-of-retired cyclist from Fort Worth. He was a daily bike commuter for years, but since hurting his back he’s started riding recumbents and now lives in Amity. He rode with us to lunch, where we found Mandy comfortably sitting with another group, having already ordered. Charles found an empty seat at that table and before long he and Mandy were having an animated conversation about recumbent trikes. Does she do this with other twelve year olds? No. No, she does not.

Charles showed us a very nice alternate route out of town, with excellent roads and only a few horrible hills. He stayed with us until our afternoon ice-cream break at a tiny rural post office (open on Sunday, since the gas station is open on Sunday and there isn’t a wall inside to separate the two.) Then we said goodbye and he pedaled home.

Training Braa-9

We got Bryan all set up in a campground for the second night out. It’s neat to watch a block of six or eight or ten consecutive campsites all filled up and bustling with activity, with no pickups or SUVs in sight.

Kathy’s husband Jerion had been hunting(?) in the area, and she’d made plans for him to stop by to visit on this evening. We’d planned carefully so that Mandy and I (along with our bikes and bags) could hitch a ride home with him. We were at work and school on time Monday morning, and Bryan finished the ride with the group, circling the lake completely to return to their cars at the lodge.