Residents in Social Circle pride themselves on their tight-knit community mentality and volunteerism. What better way to celebrate that aim than by gathering to fuel up 700 hungry and pollen-covered bicyclists from all over the state at a rest stop under the sun?
Cyclists of all ages and experience-levels rode through Social Circle yesterday between about 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. for the BRAG (Bicycle Ride Across Georgia) Spring Tune-Up, stopping leisurely at the Blue Willow Inn for snacks, water, rest and some conversation with fellow riders and residents.
The three-day event featured different looped routes each day that took riders through four Georgia counties, beginning and ending at Heritage Park in Madison, where campgrounds and hotels offered space and various activities.
“It’s the best bicycling in Georgia, with the flat lands in parts and gentle hills and countryside in others,” said BRAG CEO Jerry Colley. “But it’s a tour. Not a race.”
Designed for both families or beginners and hardcore cyclists, each day had a choice of routes and miles.
“You’ve been off your bike for several months because of the cold, so the Tune-Up is a chance to get ready to be back out on your bike for several more months,” said Colley, looking around at the groups of people laughing, eating sandwiches, energy bars and pickles provided by BRAG and soaking in the spring air. “It’s exercise, but it’s just as much a social event. You’re actually doing something and going somewhere.”
Anita Chan and Calvin Cheung, both from Johns Creek, navigated the 101-mile Oreo Cow Century Ride on a tandem bike. Signs every 10-15 miles brought them to the Blue Willow Inn rest stop.
Their tandem bike accompanied other pairs, tricycles, regular road bikes, low-riding bikes, and even one that had a body surrounding the frame, making it appear as if a motorcycle sidecar broke away to ride on its own.
Bobby Thompson, from Suwanee, sat on the sidewalk by the rest stop tent to take a break from his first ride in 13 years. And he rode the Century loop.
“It’s a perfect day for it, and I just wanted to challenge myself,” Thompson said.
The day also found hardcore riders in Atlantan Sudie Teszler and Kim Seitz, who works at General Mills in Covington. Although this ride was their first Spring Tune-Up, they are both training for Ironman Chattanooga in September. This will be Teszler’s 10th Ironman competition.
“You go through all the little towns,” said Seitz. “This is one of the prettiest rides I’ve ever done.”
Although the Century loop did not befit every rider, three long-time BRAG friends were content with the Blue
Willow Ride, a 57-mile route, with 32, 10 or shorter options available.
Dick Allis, from biker-friendly Peachtree City, has been riding with BRAG since 1990. When he is not fixing bikes for children in need (up to 1,200 so far), Allis said he just loves being with his friends.
“It’s like a homecoming every time,” said Allis, standing by his bike that sports a sign stating “no rocker for me.”
Next to Allis, George Wood, 76, still rides on the same bike he bought around 1976, although Allis said it’s from the 50s. Wood said it has been “almost perfectly free” transportation around his home in Fayetteville.
Susan Cowan, their third rider, from Conyers, said she just bought herself a new bike, which has a seat resembling an office chair, before her 70th birthday.
“How’s that for optimism?” Cowan said.
No matter what route they took or how long it took them to get there, no rider was hesitant to show their appreciation for those running the rest stop. Abbey Hospice handed out food and drinks during the middle portion of the day.
Donna Burroughs, volunteer coordinator at Abbey Hospice, stressed the importance of helping out in the community.
“It’s a you-give-and-you-receive type of thing,” Burroughs said.
She said Abbey Hospice has been volunteering at the Spring Tune-Up for years, especially because Social Circle is a bike-friendly town.
“We’re in a place that’s still small enough where everybody knows everybody,” Burroughs said.
Patsy Joiner, president of the board for Social Circle’s Main Street Better Hometown and Blue Willow Inn office manager, said she remembers before the parking lot behind the Inn was built, when people would lay all over the ground to rest. She said she likes to see all the different people come together to serve others in the community.
“You do whatever you have to do,” Joiner said.
The partnership between Social Circle and BRAG has been going on for so long no one could even remember exactly how many years the Blue Willow Inn has been a rest stop. But it doesn’t look like riders will lose this stop anytime soon.