Or six days across the South on Fixed Gear
Our day started in the wee hours of the morning as we set off in our tiny hatchback stuffed with two stripped down bicycles, plus six days worth of clothing, food and drinks for two guys on a mission, quest, thing..
Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain the point of my dad and I taking this little safari. We figured out that in only six days it is possible to go to six different velodromes across the southern United States, begining in Columbia S.C. at the Old Columbia Speedway, then zipping down to Atlanta Ga. and the Dick Lane Velodrome, then a drive down to Baton Rouge La. and the aptly named Baton Rouge Velodrome, followed by a jump to Houston Tx. and the Alkek Velodrome, a quick drive over to Dallas and it’s Frisco Superdrome, and lastly, curving up to Ashville N.C. to the Mellowdrome.
However, this is only day one. We are off to a good start, driving in the foggy morning, wide awake with exitement, or coffee. I couldn’t tell. As we crossed the N.C/S.C. border, I came to the realization that South Carolina, viewed from the highway, is nothing more than a succesion of trees and unidentifiable dead animals on the side of the road. So I’ll just skip to our arrival in Columbia.
Let me start out by saying that in order to find the Columbia Speedway it is important to know that both the landmarks used on the website ,at the time of this writing, are abandoned. The track is around back of a vacant lot, which is beside of an abandoned trucking company, and all of this is right next to nothing. Also, since the track is only opened on Wednesday, and we arrived on Monday morning, we didn’t actually get to see the track. But we did figure out where it is, sorta. It’s behind those padlocks and “we’re going to shoot you if you climb the fence” signs. At 800m and 12 deg bank we are looking forward to coming down for somereal grassroots track riding.
With one semi-success, we decided to head for Atlanta. We checked into a motel about two miles before entering the city, and unloaded some of our less vital gear, and set back out to find our newest objective. Three wrong turns, two completely incomprehensible maps, and a partridge in a pear tree later we pulled into Dick Lane Velodrome. What do we find, more gates and padlocks. Fortunately, upon further investigation, we found a smaller gate which was not locked. Voila! Lets ride!
This was the first time in a year ( since Trexlertown at the Jr. Nationals) that I had ridden on a bank. It was as bumpy as Paris-Roubaix, and the transitions from the straight to the turns were wicked, but it felt great! After training on my High School running track, being able to dive out of a 40deg bank was like having wings.
About a half an hour into our ride, we began to see people arriving. Young people, many young people with bikes! I inquired as to what was going on and discovered that on this particular Monday night, there was going to be a youth session for Junior riders. A couple of signatures, and I was in.
Now I am a fairly decent track rider, and I felt confident doing a couple of training races with this group. For a brief moment, I had the fastest time in the flying 200m. Then I false started in the scratch race, couldn’t get unclipped from my pedals, lost my balance and fell on my butt right on the start line. But I redeemed myself in the miss and out, and later found out that the riders who beat me were from the Virgin Islands and preparing for the Pan Am games. All in all, a great time. Thanks to Tim for letting me ride, and I hope to get down again soon, and bring a couple of buddies from North Carolina.
I sit writing this in the motel, as the balmy Georgia evening rolls into night, I can’t help remembering that nobody cares how many times you fall, just how many times you get up.
Dad and I awoke dark and early in the morning, but the traffic in Atlanta had allready swung into full gear. Navigating morning rush hour before coffee or breakfast is a treat much easier said than done. But it wasn’t long after that we crossed from Georgia into Alabama.
Alabama is a nice state. It is full of quiet little farming communities and lush green pastures and forrests. Unfortunately in order to get to anything interesting, one often has to drive all the way across it. We had to cross it twice. first to Pennsacola Florida, and second to get into Mississippi and eventually to Louisiana and our next velodrome.
Our little detour to Pennsacola was to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. My dad and I are both pretty big military buffs, so this made for a nice addition to our vacation. But we spent so much time there that by the time we got to Baton Rouge it was too late, and too dark, and the Park Service had turned the track over to the skateboarders. I was really impressed by the track. It seemed to have a smooth almost organic flow. Even the transition to the apron was smooth. Sweet.
So we didn’t get to ride again, however we did find the track which was a personal goal for us and dad also got some photos of the track for further reference. After a bountiful Cajun feast with frog legs and crawdads, it was time to catch some ZZZ’s and rest up for tommorrow’s trip to Texas.
Today starts with a quick but pleasant continental breakfast in the lobby of our hotel. After we finished eating it was time to hit the road. The rest of our drive through Louisiana is mainly spent on bridges across the famous bayous of this state. Our entrance into Texas is marked by crossing the mighty Mississippi.
You know how everything is supposed to be big in Texas? Well thats not far from the truth. This place is big…the only major city we’ve encontered so far is Houston, which looks to be the size of Rhode Island.
As luck would have it,we gained an hour somewhere on the road, which gave us enough time to go to a local bike shop and buy my Dad a new pair of bike shoes. He left his sitting on the infield in Atlanta. His pedaling is going to be a little awkward until he finds a fit kit.
That buisness over with, we headed out to Alkek velodrome for our two o’clock meeting with Cristin Walker, her brother Daniel and thier friend Shelby Reynolds. These guys were kind enough to take time out of thier day and show some hospitality to a couple of bike bums with to much free time. If you are out there guys thanks a lot.
Alkek is only the second track of four we have actually gotten to ride. That said, it is the best of the two. Alkek is a fairly short track,(compared to the 500m Mellowdrome in Ashville) and the banks are set up so when one is ending, the other is just about to begin. I prefer this to Atlanta which almost levels out at times. Alkek also has a much better riding surface.
This must be the rainy season in Texas, because the weather came in and we were forced to retreat to cover. We swapped stories with our three hosts until the weather let up and things dried up a bit, so we were able to end the day with a few more good laps.
After a fish dinner and a walk around uptown Houston, it was time to head back to our hotel and get some R and R. With a drive from here to San Antonio, and from there to Dallas, tomorrow looks to be a busy day.
Our morning in Houston began in the same way all our mornings had on this trip. It was early and we were tired. We got on the interstate headed to San Antonio. We were bound for the second of two side trips in our journey for Trackie Glory. The Alamo was the target for this several hundred mile detour.
When we arrived in San Antonio, I could tell I liked it. I was raised more or less in the country, and I have never really cared for the big cities of the world. San Antonio is the exeption. It’s buildings are designed in a beautiful half modern, half spanish style. The climate is pleasant ( at least on the day I was there). The people being nice doesn’t hurt either. But the reason we came was the Alamo. The Alamo is a very intresting, very historically significant memorial, which shouldn’t be missed if you are in the area. The other reason is I am supposedly related to one of the defenders. Sure enough, on the wall listing all the known men who died, there is William Mills from Tennessee, right next to my home state of North Carolina.
However, since none of you reading this care about my family history, I’ll get back to the tracks. The journey from San Antonio to Dallas was uninteresting, although it was just long enough to put us into Fort Worth in the middle of rush hour. I take this time to point out that the Superdrome isn’t in Dallas per say, it is in Frisco, right outside Dallas. There is probably an efficient way to get to Frisco from I-30, whatever it is, we couldn’t find it. So after several hours driving around the Texas countryside, we finally found where the track had been hidden.
The plan was to wait till tomorrow and participate in the youth group put on by Suzie Goodwin and friday night races. But with a full day and a half driving ahead of us just to get through Tennessee, we decided to see if we could get a ride in on Thursday night. As luck would have it, there were some riders wrapping up a training session who let us sign in and ride. Many thanks to Mike and crew for allowing us the time and getting us some Superdrome T-shirts. ( Dad’s note.. I should point out that it was late in the evening and we were pretty scruffy looking by this point of our trip so it was and act of faith to let us on the track.)
Dad’s ankle was hurting from all the driving, so it was just me alone on the track, like I prefer it. The Superdrome is the only wooden track that I’ve had a chance to ride on. I’d like to give a thumbs up to the guy who ousted concrete. Wood creates a completly different feeling than concrete. A very good feeling I might add. Not to mention the fact that that a 250m track with a 40deg bank creates the feeling of being shot out of a cannon when peddling at speed. I loved the track, but it was 9:30 at this point and my dad and I still didn’t have a hotel room.
It is now 10:00 the next day,( I was too tired to write last night) We’re to the east of Nashville Tn. and on our way home. I’m looking forward to tomorrow as it brings our sixth and final track, and the only one familiar to me, the Ashville Mellowdrome. Since nothing happened today, and all we did was drive, I’d like to clarify something if I haven’t allready. The point of this trip was to locate six velodromes across the south, and prove that in six days a person could ride on all of them. Riding on them ourselves wasn’t actually a goal, though we jumped at every chance we got. Diving down a 40deg bank is fun to us for some reason, call us crazy.
That’s all I have to write today, just wanted to clarify.
Calling today “Day Six” isn’t exactly accurate, it is actually several days after the fact. I just wanted a few days to think about the trip before I summed it up. As for the actual day 6, we woke up,had breakfast, drove to Ashville, rode the Mellowdrome and came home to Winston-Salem N.C.
The Ashville Melowdrome is a converted Nascar track. It has long shallow 5deg banks, which makes for an easy ride. It’s really cool to ride where Richard Petty and the other Nascar racers used to compete, but it lacks some of the thrills and chills of a track with the bigger banks. However it was nice for me to get back to something that was familiar.
My summary of the trip as a whole is that it was a succcess. In six days, someone could travel to all six of these tracks and ride on all of them. Mission accomplished. We had fun on our trip and took a couple of side trips, but we still managed to ride all but two of the tracks along the way. This was an awesome vacation, and if anyone else thinks they would like to try, I would encourage it.
The following is a list of all six tracks and some points about each;
Mellowdrome..always open, cool history, only track in NC, starting a youth program, almost flat banks, good racing.
Columbia Speedway..800m , 12deg bank, converted nascar track, only open one day per week. only track in SC
Dick Lane velodrome..active youth program, old track, (my dad, aka the old guy, rode there thirty years ago), rough surface,
only track in Ga, steep banks
Baton Rouge..multi-use sometimes closed to bikes, very cool looking design, smooth transitions, only track in louisiana
Alkek Velodrome..active youth and Junior teams, good track surface, one of two in Texas, very hospitible,lots of fun
Frisco Superdrome..love that wood, very fast, most fun of the bunch, hard to find if you don’t know where it is. Great staff, the other one in Texas