SAVANNAH, Georgia – Here’s the secret for completing a 360-mile bicycle ride across southern Georgia in June: pickle shooters.
This was especially true for two northern Maine women cycling in 90-plus degree heat with humidity high enough to bump the heat index up to around 115-degrees some days during last week’s Bicycle Ride Across Georgia — or BRAG — June 3-8.
Speaking for myself, when pedaling up to 60-miles a day in those conditions, I am going to sweat, a lot, losing electrolytes and hydration along the way.
Drinking gallons — and I do mean gallons — of Gatorade and water simply did not cut it.
Enter the pickle shooters, plastic cups of straight dill pickle juice. The briny brew was the perfect — if not tastiest — vehicle for replenishing the nutrients and salts that I sweated out from Cordele to St. Mary’s, Georgia.
It was also one of the many examples of the helpful suggestions and encouragement my friend Penny McHatten and I received along the route from legions of southern cyclists who took pity on two Yankee women.
Without a doubt, BRAG is one of the most physically challenging things I have done. While the roads were largely hill-free and flat, that break was more than offset by those temperatures.
We began the week with about 800 other cyclists departing from Cordele under partly sunny skies.
All day we rode through farmland and past small towns along secondary roads on our way to Tifton, Georgia. At one point, while enjoying some shade on the side of the road, a car pulled up and a sweet, elderly woman asked us, “Are y’all lost?”
“Oh, no,” we said. “We’re riding our bikes across Georgia.”
“You girls are crazy,” she replied, and immediately offered water or any assistance we may have needed.
In Tifton, we were met at the day’s finish line with offers of freshly cut watermelon — fitting since we were cycling through the watermelon capital of the south — water, Gatorade and fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I loaded up on all but the latter.
After a good night’s sleep at a local B&B, it was off to Douglas, about 65 miles down the road.
That day introduced us to some real south Georgia heat.
“It’s hot even for us southern gals,” according to Roz, our new cycling buddy and a Georgia native.
We drank gallons of water that day and at each rest stop I dumped water over my head in an attempt to bring down my core body temperature which was rising along with the outdoor temperature.
By the time we were 10 miles from the day’s finish line, the sun was winning. The air temperature was in the upper 90s and with the humidity factored in, felt like around 115. Add to that, we were cycling over new, black pavement — normally a dream surface — and Penny and I were feeling baked from top to bottom.
No amount of pickle juice was going to help at this point.
Given that I was exhibiting symptoms of heat stroke, we decided discretion was the better part of valor and accepted a ride in a support vehicle to our final destination that day — a blissfully air conditioned hotel room.
After a built in rest day, it was time to head east for about 60 miles to Waycross, Georgia.
It was about this time that tropical storm Andrea was heading northeast and the two of us met up just outside of Douglas. Due to a reoccurrence of a medical condition, Penny did not ride that day, so she missed all the fun over the ensuing miles.
And, honest to God, I do mean fun!
I had a blast cycling through that tropical storm. It was the coolest I had been, there was little to no wind and those of us who opted to slog it out shared a wonderful and soggy bond all day.
The best part was that the running water in the roads helped smooth out the rough chip seal surface that southern cyclists term, “shake and bake.”
In Waycross, I caught up with Penny in the lobby of our hotel which was crammed with dripping cyclists.
Thankfully, Penny was feeling much better and by the next morning was back in cycling form. We had 55 miles to go that day into Brunswick, Georgia, for our last night on the ride.
Thankfully, Andrea made up for her drenching of the previous day with a tropical tailwind that pushed us all the way into Brunswick. At one point as we pedaled along, Penny — who has a computer with a speedometer on her bike — asked me if I knew how fast we were going.
“Twenty-one miles per hour,” she announced.
Ah, but wind is a fickle mistress for cyclists and the following day, over the last 59 miles to the finish line in St. Mary’s, Georgia, we pushed into a headwind, greatly reducing our speeds.
But the end was in sight, at least in our mind’s eye.
Right out of Brunswick we climbed the only real hill on the entire ride — the roadway up to the mile-and-a-half long Sidney Lanier Bridge rising 185-feet above the Brunswick River.
At each rest stop that day, it was more water, fresh Georgia peaches — something of which I never tired — and cups of those pickle shooters with Gatorade chasers.
I was hot and I was getting fatigued but there was no doubt in my mind of finishing.
Okay, so maybe I had to get driven eight miles into one of the rest stops after suffering a mild allergic reaction to a bee sting, but that was all part of the adventure, right? But no Georgian bee was going to stop me. I quickly recovered and continued the bike ride.
On this sixth and final day, cyclists and volunteers who had been strangers on Monday were now familiar and friendly faces.
“It’s the ‘gator spotter,’” the ladies from St. Mary’s called out on that last day as I passed.
Obviously, my desire to see an alligator at some point along the route had made the rounds.
I didn’t see any gators, just lots of “possums on the half shell,” the term Roz used to describe roadkill armadillos.
I may have been the gator gal, but Penny’s rep far outshined mine with her pink Trek road bike, pink cycling shoes, collection of pink jerseys and the stuffed pink pig peeking out of her bike bag, all worn in support of breast cancer awareness.
“There goes Pinky,” cyclists would yell and wave as she cruised by.
St. Mary’s and the finish line within reach, I had my only bike mishap as we passed through a busy intersection and my gears locked up.
The dozen or so BRAG cyclists with me formed a protective shield around me as I limped my way out of the road and within seconds a BRAG volunteer in a car was there to offer assistance.
But after 359 miles I was determined to carry my bike over the finish line and was able to somehow get it working again. Back on the road I re-joined Penny so we could cross that end line just as we had started six days earlier in Cordele — side-by-side.
The finish was made even more memorable by the fact our southern friend Susan was there to greet us, homemade sign and clanging cowbells in hand.
And then, it was over.
Somehow, an army of fellow cyclists, volunteers and folks met along the way enabled two gals from the far north to accomplish the ride of a lifetime.
This may be the heat talking, but the tentative route for next year has been published and there is a real temptation to give it another go.
Though I doubt I will have developed a taste for pickle shooters by then.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.