15 September 2008

Faster Mustache 24.08

Hello, this is Da Trouble Twin checking in with another east coast dispatch. . .

Sometimes in Atlanta (as with many other cities, I imagine) it's easy to fall into a geographical routine. I tend to ride my bike on the same routes, I tend to hang out in the same parts of town, and stick in the same general regions most of the time. On top of that, I usually experience a particular area of the city at a consistent time of day.

So last weekend, I had a really refreshing experience riding in a 24-hour urban bike relay race through the city. Although I was already familiar with most of the streets and areas on the race route, it was cool to be forced to engage different parts of Atlanta at different parts of the day than I'm used to.

To provide some background, the concept of the race goes like this: teams of 1-6 riders take turns doing a 12-mile loop through the city. Along the way, there are 5 checkpoints you have to hit to make sure you are riding the full loop. At the end of 24 hours, the team with the most completed laps wins.

Most of the course ran through the main residential thoroughfares of Atlanta's east side, but the part that I enjoyed the most was a 3 or 4 mile chunk through the heart of downtown. As the time of day changed, the energy and character of the downtown area changed as well, particularly in a neighborhood in the southwest corner of downtown called Castleberry Hill. Like Atlanta itself, Castleberry is filled with a lot of different types of people and places all colliding together in one location. It's hard to explain, but there is this wild mashed-up vibe down there where high end art galleries sit next to decaying pawn shops, and makeshift homeless encampments are within eyeshot of million dollar residential lofts. The whole neighborhood sits in a really disorienting section of downtown where some streets are elevated over the railroad tracks, some streets are down below by the tracks, and some streets just kind of dead end into concrete barriers. The result is a lot of scrubby undeveloped plots of land that have a fringy, almost rural feel even as they loom in the shadow of the downtown skyscrapers and the golden state capitol dome a few blocks away.

In one of these zones down by the tracks is the Elliot Street Pub. It was the last checkpoint on the route, where you stopped heading west and returned back around to head into town. The night of the race, it was also one of the city's de facto cyclist hangouts, where racers would have food and drinks while waiting for their next turn to do the loop. Around 10 or so, the Elliot street scene started getting really animated, and patrons would whoop and holler encouragement as you made the turnaround on your bike. By 1:30 in the morning, the encouragement had gotten much more physical, and Elliot Street became a gauntlet of sorts, with people alternately hugging you, patting your shoulders, and/or slapping your ass as hard as possible for sport. By sunrise, tailgaters for the nearby Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome had already begun to arrive and park down by Elliot street and were all too ready to carry the torch of cheering on / heckling the cyclists as we carved our way through their downtown encampments.

I had the good fortunate of running the last leg of the race for our team. I've done some races where you ride a long distance over the course of a few hours, but never a race like this where you ride as fast as you can for 40 minutes, take a break for a few hours, and then race as fast as you can again. By that final lap on Sunday, I'd ridden over 70 miles, slept a little under 3 hours and my legs and mind were starting to weaken. But at the same time, that final loop around the city was one of my favorite. There were lots of people in the neighborhoods out walking to church or to get breakfast, and a cool breeze blew through the streets downtown. When I crossed the finish line, my teammates had a cold beer waiting for me, as we celebrated our unspectacular-but-respectable 9th place finish.


Sean P. Hutchinson said...

That sounds surreal. Did you stop at Varsity?

Matthew D. Hutchinson said...

The Varsity was a little off the route, but I did ride right by the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on each lap. Toward the end of the ride, when my saddle sore was getting upgraded from from DEFCON 3 to DEFCON 4, seeing the spires of the shrine helped my mind travel away to a happier place and time.