As I exited the Atlanta, Georgia airport I was assaulted by the smell of fried food and the sting of humidity. Had I just stepped into an oven? Where was I? It quickly became clear that I had entered into another universe where fast food restaurants were not only on every corner but every five feet and Confederate flags still fluttered in the breeze many MANY years after the Civil War had ended. Welcome to Georgia y’all! The jet lag, nervousness, and heat hit me like a punch to the face. The main event had finally arrived: US Nationals.
I was very fortunate to have my lovely mum accompany me to Georgia. Without her, I probably would have succumbed to severe boredom, morbid obesity, and/or dehydration. After a night in Atlanta, we were off to Augusta which is a city well known for hosting the PGA Tour Masters and being Hulk Hogan’s birthplace. Augusta is a perplexing city where a block of old southern mansions is situation next to a ghetto. A city where hip restaurants are sprinkled throughout an abandoned downtown. A place where you cannot purchase fresh fruit nor vegetables but is home to one of the most famous and exclusive golf courses in the word. It is also the home of Fort Gordon, an army base where the Nationals Road Race was held.
Upon arrival in Augusta, my mum and I went downtown for lunch and then I drove to Fort Gordon to ride the course. Since it was early evening by the time I arrived, the weather was nice and I had fun exploring the huge army base. Seeing soldiers running around with machine guns was a bit scary but luckily none of them came after me. That night, my mum and I went downtown again to eat tasty Mexican food, mix with the locals, and watch the women’s criterium. The next morning, I went on a two hour ride around the course and felt sick from the heat and humidity. It is really draining riding in those conditions and I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and take an ice bath. That afternoon, my mum and I drove to the cute little town of Aiken, South Carolina. We had a late lunch at an organic cafe (the cafe was founded by a guy from Santa Cruz, CA) and sat outside in the shade enjoying our free range hamburgers and fresh picked blueberries. After exploring (we may have done some shopping as well…) Aiken, it was back to the hotel for an early night.
The next morning, my alarm went off at 4:30am (1:30am California time). I ate approximately one loaf of bread, a box of blueberries, a bit of chicken, and drank a coffee and a root beer before rolling out of bed. Strange meal. I woke up feeling excited and nervous as I had no idea what to expect. When we got to the course, I was attacked by red fire ants while trying to get my gear out of the trunk. The attack was quite serious and I jumped around the parking lot most likely causing all the other riders to think they were about to race against a psychopath. By the time I had killed the last ant and was covered in bites, it was ten minutes until start time. Luckily, the attack of the killer ants allowed me to forget about my nerves, As I rode to the start line, my mum headed to the feed zone with a cooler full of bottles.
There were eighty of America’s top riders in the field, including an olympian and many past national champions. The top American teams were all present and a few riders who race professionally in Europe flew in from overseas for this one event. Needless to say, the race was hard. My goals for the day were to stay hydrated, keep a high cadence, stay in a good position, and try and remain in the front group. I achieved all of my goals but the crazy thing is, I don’t remember much from the race. What I can tell you is that it was fast (average speed = 37.3kph) and relentless (lots of short and sharp climbs). I was so delirious from the heat that all I was thinking about was drinking enough electrolytes. I drank eight bottles in the 3 hours and 10 minutes that the race lasted and then I drank 1L of Pedialyte at the finish. To be honest, I didn’t feel great the first three laps. I felt sick to my stomach due to jet lag and the heat. With two laps to go, I finally woke up. The last lap of the race was incredibly fast, crazy, and fun. To make a long story short, I ended up finishing in 25th place, 9 seconds behind the leader. I was very happy with the result and proved to myself that I can race at that level. I felt a lot more comfortable in the bunch and confident in my own abilities. A much different experience than the Tour of New Zealand!
In conclusion, the trip to Augusta was quite an adventure and my mum and I had a lot of fun! I’m not sure when I’ll next be in the south but I will miss the cornbread, warm nights, and southern hospitality. Other than that, I’m pretty happy to be back in California! Later y’all!