I was expecting somewhere between 30 and 40 people to be there when I pulled in. By my rough guess, the number was closer to 100 people or more. Wow. Big turnout. We milled about waiting for Randy and crew to give their pre-ride talk, so I found John B., Joshua, and several others I knew. Finally Randy got up in a truck bed and went over the rules.
To start, we were to ride down the greenway to Volunteer Landing several miles away behind Joel, who would serve as the pace-rider that no-one was to pass. This was pretty smart, because if you release 100 riders to go racing off to one spot in an uncontrolled fashion, carnage will likely ensue, and I'm not partial to carnage at this point in my life. At Volunteer Landing we would receive a 'spoke card' (which nobody actually stuck in their spokes) that we'd have to present at each check point before getting a playing card. The checkpoints? All of them were local bike shops. Seven in all (I know of two that chose not to participate). No preset order, no prize for finishing first. Just ride to as many as you can because you'd get an extra card for going to all seven. At the end we would see what the best five card poker hand we could make would be to determine the placings.
I took off near the middle of the group of folks headed out. I ended up nowhere near anyone I knew personally, but at an event like this if you know twenty out of a hundred, that just means you have eighty freinds out there you just haven't met yet. Actually, Abby and Derek did catch up to me close to our arrival at Volunteer Landing. To our surprise, they also gave us a playing card at to go along with our spoke cards. There were other surprises later on.
I got a 10 of Spades. Josh showed up soon after and got an Ace.
At TVB we were surprised to find we'd have to do a stunt to earn our card. The stunt was to ride a (very) tiny bike down the sidewalk to a manhole and back. It looked really funny, but wasn't all that easy. Plus, they only had one tiny bike, so it took a while to wait through the line (I think a large percentage of riders went there first). I got my card while waiting for Josh (I got a 9 of Diamonds) and talked to Eric O. (who offered a beer, but I turned it down). I forgot what Josh got, but it was a face card.
We left TVB and headed out Broadway toward FCP. I'd never been there, so I was happy that we hooked up with a group containing someone who had. Still, after riding a little over 3 miles out there, Alex (a young guy I only met today) and I rode right past it (it's very hard to see - I was even looking for it). Josh called us back, and happily they didn't make us do any weird stuff to get a card, which for me was a 2 of diamonds. Josh got another face card.
Josh, Alex and I ended up together on the return down Broadway back into town. Alex asked if we minded if he rode with us (of course not!), and I got the impression he didn't know his way around the hinterlands of Knoxville. That was when he and Josh put their safety in my hands and let me lead the way to River Sports Outfitters (RSO). I knew a shortcut. I didn't tell them it went through a particularly rough-looking part of town, but I've ridden there alone before without problems, so I knew three of us would be fine. A little over six miles later we pulled up safely at RSO.
The stunt here looked interesting, but I had to beg for a medical exemption. Given my problems with fractured and patched up collarbones, I didn't think my doctor (or wife) would approve of my taking a turn on a climbing wall. I showed the volunteer there my scar and hardware, promised to stay with Josh the whole time and not skip out early, and generally be a good boy, so she went ahead and gave me a card (Ace of Hearts). The line was long again, but at least they had three climbing sections open. I watched several people tackle the wall. Angie did well. Tanya did great. Others I knew, not so great. When it was Josh's turn I jokingly told him I was giving him 30 seconds and no more. I needn't have bothered. To my surprise he practically flew up the wall. It took him longer to get the harness unkooked than it did to climb. Wow. He's been holding out on the skillz, I think. He got another face card. Hmm.
We'd lost Alex in the crowd, so we headed on to Bike Zoo. The stunt there was to sing the "I'm a little tea-pot" song out on the front sidewalk. I jumped right in first off. It's not really embarrassing when everybody else around you has to do it too. My card was the Jack of Diamonds.
We left there and headed over to Harper's Bike Shop, where the stunts were more heinous. They had five set up, of which we had to do two. Forget the two involving jumping on a BMX bike. I did the log pull (a railroad tie attached by chain to the back of a bike they had) and the 'dizzy' course on my own bike. The log pull was a lot tougher. I got the 4 of Diamonds. Hmm. Maybe I had a chance after all?
Josh and I left and took a southerly route to Cedar Bluff Cycles (CBC) over Nubbin Ridge road. I wanted to stay on Westland (shorter, flatter), but Josh insisted there'd be less traffic on Nubbin Ridge. Well, that may have been true, but as I sit here now hours later my knee still says it was a bad idea due to the more-intense-than-I'm-ready-for climbs. After eight or so miles, we finally caught up with Alex at CBC.
The stunt at CBC was to ride a kid's bike (not as small as the one at TVB) all the way around the strip mall building (a LOT farther than at TVB). My knees already hurt. This was adding insult to injury. My knees were hitting the handlebars, so I had to ride with them both sticking way out to the side. Not comfortable. But my card? Queen of Diamonds, and that spells Flush, baby. There was one more bike shop on the list, but it was way further out in the wrong direction, and I didn't really see how even getting two more cards (one at the shop and one for hitting all seven) would help my hand enough to be worth adding an extra 10 miles (if we were stupid and rode straight down Kingston Pike - more like 16 or 17 to do it safely) to our ride. This was already going to be my long ride for the year, I thought. Josh agreed, so with Alex back with us we headed for the greenway entrance over by Lowe's Home Center.
Again Josh got seperated, but he won this time when Alex and I Got caught up at a traffic light. We hit the greenway and headed back toward the Bi-Lo. I was happy to find that the section of greenway behind the Wal-Mart/Sams Club had been finished so I wouldn't have to ride through their parking lot on a Saturday afternoon. We took the greenway all the way to where it ends, which is where we saw John, Dianne, Cathy, and some other guy headed the other way toward CBC (they had no plan to go further west than that either.) John was nice enough to tell us the quickest way back to Bi-Lo from there.
As we finally approached the Bi-Lo, Alex said he still needed to go to Bike Zoo (which explains how he'd gotten ahead of us to CBC). Bike Zoo is really close to Bi-Lo, though, so I knew he'd be back soon. Josh and I rode in to discover that there wasn't really any activity going on other than sitting around at El Mezcal, a Mexican restaurant which is in the same strip building where Bi-Lo was. Josh got a beer. I got a Diet Coke. Then we went out and sat around meeting several of the friends we didn't know yet. This was about 4:30. Fifteen minutes later I ordered a burrito and rice since I was famished (not surprising since I'd had no lunch before riding a total of 39 miles).
They finally got around to determining prizes at about 5:15, by which time I was shivering since the temp was dropping, the wind was picking up, and the clouds had moved in front of the Sun. I felt good about my flush, though, since I knew places went about ten deep. Little did I know.
Apparently there was a lot of horse-trading going on out there. I'd seen a few people trading cards around at CBC, but didn't think much of it since even their hand improvements were not better than my flush. However, when about 9 people held up their hands with a 4-of-a-kind, I knew there was something more widespread going on. Since there had already been a straight flush (Hmmm), I knew my flush was useless. At one point I figured I could give my 4 of Diamonds to John to give him a fourth 4 (and tenth place), but he declined. Good for him.
All in all, a great day for a great ride. I think a lot of people were headed over to Union Jack's bar afterward, but I didn't have a change of clothes and figured I really needed to get out of my cycling gear and into a shower. After twenty minutes under the spray of hot water in my shower back home, I knew I'd been right.