Tales of being toothless in Georgia, our first MTB race, and an ongoing quest for the best pizza.
The bikes were tuned, the van was packed, and the weather forecast promised temperatures in the 40’s to low 70’s with clear blue skies, sunshine, and no humidity in the Georgia mountains. We were off to our first mountain bike race…a three hour challenge.
To get to the mountains we have to drive through Atlanta. And Atlanta means several different things… Traffic. Loud stereos. And food. Good, cutting edge cuisine. Always on the quest for the Holy Grail of pizza, we researched and narrowed down the top three pizza joints in Atlanta based on Martin’s stringent criteria. (Seriously, you could throw some good toppings on a gluten-free crust and Bethany would be happy, but Martin is the quintessential pizza connoisseur.)
Think good pizza is simple? Think again. Equal parts science and art, good pizza is actually quite complex. To start, pizza needs to come out of an 800-1000 degree ceramic wood-fired oven where the pizza enters and exits the inferno in less than ninety seconds. The dough – the key to the whole process – has to be thin and crispy on the outside, but still retaining a soft, slightly doughy texture on the inside — never soggy, never burnt, with a thick and airy crust that compresses and pops back with gentle pressure of your finger. The cheese has to have flavor, texture, and consistency – not just smothered on the dough like an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich. As to additional toppings, we differ tremendously in our taste with Bethany preferring many robust, spicy flavors and ingredients, whereas for Martin — ever the traditionalist — it’s onions, mushrooms, or olives, with two toppings at a maximum. Hungry yet?
So, on our way up north we decided to try our first Atlanta pizza venture at Antico Pizza Napoletana for pizza tradizional di Napoli. Our first choice was a home run – great pizza and terrific location with parking for the van. See our review for the details.
With one free day before the race, we stopped at one of our favorite towns, Blue Ridge, Georgia, to visit with Chris Tilghman of Surf Blue Ridge and eat some of the town’s best at Blue Ridge Grocery (Review coming soon).
Was it bad luck or was it bacon karma?
There are only two types of people in this world: Those who love bacon and those who won’t admit it. Since Bethany has recently adopted a more pescatarian lifestyle, it has been a while since her last bacon indulgence. It can only be described as bacon karma what happened upon her first bite into that beloved bit of bacony goodness. Her front tooth – a veneer in the process of being repaired – fell right off, leaving her toothless in the most obnoxious of spots. (And fitting, given our current southern coordinates). The remainder of the trip was spent gumming food, hiding that big ‘ol smile, and holding the broken front tooth together…. Don’t go bacon my heart… 🙁
After some light pre-race hiking & paddling with friends, followed by a lovely dinner at Harvest on Main, we drove the 2.5 hours to Payne Park on Lake Hartwell via the back roads of Georgia and South Carolina to the 3 Hours of Payne mountain bike race. Foiled by our friendly meteorologist, the afore-promised warmth and sunshine was quickly replaced by grey skies, cold temps, and driving rain….The rain continued through the evening into the wee hours of the night as we slept in VANdal and listened to large raindrops hit the roof, knowing that tomorrow’s race would be equivalent to a redneck mudfest.
Stealthy as it is, VANdal discreetly occupied a primo spot….Exact location not mentioned here because it was probably a little “too” stealthy to be permissible… 🙂 But needless to say, it was perfect, lakefront, and VERY close to the start of the race.
The Terrapin RecreationAle 3-Hour race series by Chainbuster Productions usually attracts between 250 and 300 riders, but on this occasion (assumedly due to the nasty weather conditions) only the self-proclaimed masochists managed to show up. The race consisted of a 9.5 loop, where each rider had three hours to complete as many loops as possible with no credit being given to a partially completed lap. Major kudos to the Chainbuster event organizers for putting on a stellar race — great organization, prizes/trophies, clear instructions, helpful volunteers, and a kickass race location.
The course was mostly fast and flowy wide single track — hilly, muddy, slick, and spectacularly scenic with trails edging right around the lake. The red clay of this area of Georgia, increasingly muddied up as each racer zoomed along the course, was tricky to maneuver especially considering our lack of experience and it being our very first mountain bike race.
As an added bonus, she also scored a twelve pack of her favorite RecreationAle by local Terrapin Brewery from sales VP Dustin Watts and his lovely wife Terri (huge fans of VANdal by the way :D).
VANdal was, undoubtedly, a big hit after the race. Between race finish and the end of the awards ceremony, we not only had hot showers, but Bethany had also made an awesome shrimp and pasta dish that (coupled with the beer) we were able to enjoy whilst other racers were still sucking down the last of their gels, powerades, and bars in the cold rain.
Post-race, we closed out our trip with a little more fun in Blue Ridge.
Finally, the perfect weather we were promised arrived and we soaked up every second of it with a gorgeous morning MTB ride on the Aska trails, followed by a paddle on the glassy, calm waters of Lake Blue Ridge.
Heading home, we decided to try the number two pizza restaurant in Atlanta. Well reviewed, and highly recommended, Fritti turned out to be soggy, tasteless, and overpriced… As much as we liked Pizza Antico, we disliked Fritti.
Next adventure: Hide your kids, hide your wife, it’s “Censored” — Not appropriate for children, bible-thumpers, and socially constipated Christian right-wing Republicans… That’s right, VANdal heads to a national (did we mention nude?) 5K championship.