To sum it up though, they take veterans out on bikes throughout the year and the weekend in October is the big one. As an Army Veteran, their cause is near and dear to me. So like every year, I took that Friday off and met the group near a park just a few miles from Uptown Charlotte.
Even though this is a "fun" ride, I still used it as training. So I brought my full bikepacking setup.
After talking about the route, we got ready to roll. This ride is unique in a lot of ways, but one of the best things is that the local Sheriff's department provided an escort and blocked off traffic along the route. These guys were awesome.
We took off just after rush hour, so as not to cause too much of a traffic disturbance. We rolled through the usual Charlotte neighborhoods...
And eventually we ended up at a school right in Uptown. While we were rolling up, you could hear the kids screaming to welcome us. We made our way inside...
The students (5th graders) put on a presentation for us, which included the Pledge of Allegiance, a song, and some poems that thanked us for serving our country. It was touching, and I'm sure there were some tears in the room. We eventually moved outside, where the kids spent time with us asking questions and looking over our bikes.
We had to say goodbye to our friends so we could head into the heart of Uptown Charlotte.
Then we meandered through the streets towards the local community college, where a catered lunch was waiting for us. We all sat back and enjoyed the food, conversation, and views of the city.
After a few group photos (I can't find them yet), we gathered up and headed towards the Sugar Creek Greenway. I had the honor of being asked to lead our group down the greenway towards Freedom Park, which was an awesome experience.
For some reason I didn't take any photos at Freedom Park, even though we hung out there for quite a while. We gathered up again, taking surface roads (with the police escort of course) back to the park where we started. Even though the distance was only around 18 miles, it was an absolute blast. It was like being in a five hour parade around Charlotte. I got to chat with some old friends and I made a few new ones. And the best part? I would get to hang out with them all the very next day.
Since I don't post on here every day anymore, I'll just get right into day two...
I was up Saturday morning at the crack of dark. I had to be at the Veterans Memorial Park in Mint Hill by 7:30 a.m. for the 8:00 a.m. departure. I grabbed some coffee and hit the road. I was rewarded for being up so early on a weekend...
There were three routes scheduled that day, a 15, 32, and 66 mile. I usually do the 32 since road riding bores me, but since I need to keep up my mileage I opted for the 66 mile route. I had this thought that it would be easy, since I'd been doing rides this long (and longer) on a fully loaded mountain bike. With a road bike, I knew it would be a piece of cake.
We took off early and I ended up in the front. While that wasn't unusual when I was doing cross country mountain bike races, it was kinda odd on a road ride where I was outfitted in baggy shorts alongside kitted up Strava dudes. Plus, we were pushing 20 plus miles per hour. Who gives a shit.
I kept up that pace for a while, then I remembered that I'm training for endurance, and more importantly, I was out there to have fun. I backed off of my ridiculous pace and let the super serious crew roll on by, no doubt with them laughing about how the baggy shorts dude couldn't keep up. I don't use Strava, unless it's in my truck. They can have that nonsense.
Anyway, once I eased into a comfortable pace I started looking around. The route was beautiful, taking us out towards the Uwharrie Mountains. I really was having a great time, which is rare for me when I'm on skinny tires. I only stopped twice, and used one of those stops to take a photo.
The route was well planned on quiet, country roads. There were two fully stocked aid stations, as well as a couple of convenience stores if I needed anything (I didn't.) A few hours later I rolled into the finish, feeling much better than I normally do when I come back from a bikepacking trip. It wasn't easy, but I felt pretty good. After that I sat with a few of the warriors from the other rides and had a delicious lunch and watched as more people came through the finish. I guess I wasn't going that slow, but it didn't matter.
I love this event and hope to keep doing it for years to come. Riding bicycles with fellow veterans and sharing stories, food, and making memories was a great way to spend my weekend.
Now, it's back to bikepacking. In case you hadn't heard, I'm doing a big ride in Florida.
See y'all next week sometime.