The day started out early, and as if on queue the weather was perfect. The 40-mile route didn't start until 9am, but a few of us got there early to take a quick warm up lap around Strawberry Hill USA, just outside of Chesnee SC. There was still a bit of chill in the air, and getting warmed up took a bit of effort.
After completing the loop, it was just about time for the mass start of the 40mi folks. The start and finish line for the Preservation ride is the main cafe at Strawberry Hill USA. As we got together to ride out, we got instructions from Steve Baker about the route, and then we were on our way.
At about the 18 mile mark we reached the first rest stop, and learned that they had added a ~3mile loop inside of Greenspace at Fairview to make sure that the ride got closer to the 40 mile mark after some changes in the route from last year. This area is a reserved area that Upstate Forever worked with the home owners in the area to create, making an easement where the natural beauty of the area will be preserved for future generations. There was a lot of open countryside, with horse stables (including several folks taking their horses out for walks) and natural woodland spaces. We decided to take the loop before making a stop, enjoying the scenery the entire way. We spent most of this time gazing at the mountains off in the distance, tempting us to continue the journey, like sirens calling out to be explored.
The second half of the ride brought us more challenges as we dealt with returning back into more populated areas as well as experiences several longer rolling hills. We made our way over Lake Bowen and through the countryside around Boiling Springs, SC. The only high traffic area of the ride was while we were on Highway 9 for about a mile. While there was an established bicycle lane, it was overgrown and had a fair amount of trash that was in it, making it a bit dangerous to stay out of the way of the vehicles. Thankfully this was an extremely short section of the ride, and we were back out into the country. As we rode back towards the start/finish point, the rolling hills just continued to challenge us. As we'd crest one hill we'd be presented with a decent and another climb yet to come. One of the folks I was riding with exclaimed "they just keep coming!".
We passed several photographers along the way, taking pictures of the riders. For a couple of them I decided to ham it up and act like I was sprinting for all I was worth, but for the most part I took the time to sit up and wave, as I was enjoying the ride more than anything else at this point. I felt like I could have just kept riding for hours longer, taking in the day and the beauty around us.
We took our final left hand turn, and the strikingly red roof of the cafe at Strawberry Hill USA came into view at the top of the next climb. Just before this point I had made a comment to Mark that last year I had made a promise to sprint out the last leg of the ride. Much like last year, the final climb of the ride took its toll on my legs, and I used the last bit of energy I had left to make a good showing as we went by the corn maze. My family was there to greet us, and we were greeted to a fantastic lunch. Unlike most rides, the lunch was served on actual plates, with cloth napkins and real silverware. This left the waste to be minimal.
Of all the rides I've experienced in the past 2 years, this has to be one of my favorites. From the organization that it supports to the views that you can experience, it's one of the best in the area. The routes are well marked and well supported, and it definitely is as challenging of an experience as you make it. Having now done both the 40 and 75 mile routes, neither disappoint. I find it challenging to ask folks to help fund raise for many of the cycling events out there, but Upstate Forever does directly for the area that I have less of a heartache with it. I look forward to when the 2014 edition of this ride is announced, and getting a chance to challenge Skyuka Mountain road again.