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Sep. 16, 2019
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BRAG overnights at LLOP

By Jane Harrison
 
The sun set on hundreds of road weary cyclists at Lake Lanier Olympic Park June 2. Too worn out to shake a leg during the free rock concert in their honor, the exhausted throng uttered bragging rights to completing one of the most arduous segments in the 40-year history of the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, BRAG for short.
 
The 74-mile course from Ellijay to Gainesville took the perhaps the cruelest route possible, with a side trip up Burnt Mountain west of  Ga. 136 and quad-burning trek up one of the toughest climbs in North Hall County. “It was one of the longest and most challenging routes ever,” admitted Franklin Johnson, BRAG executive director. Plenty of participants would swear there’s another mountain between Burnt Mountain and Lake Lanier, he said. About 1,100 cyclists wheeled from the mountains to the sea and stepped out of their pedals for the final stop in Darien June 8. All done, most gave it positive reviews, Johnson said.
 
He raved about the Lake Lanier stop. “The venue was wonderful. It was a real treat to stay on the water. Riders enjoyed seeing the sun set on the water and the concert at the Olympic grandstands,” he said. 
 
Most overnighted in tents on LLOP grounds or bedded down in the boathouse, according to LLOP Executive Director Robyn Lynch. “They cleaned up well after themselves. They were very well organized, bringing their own medical (crew), security and showers … We’d be glad to have them back,” she added. About 200 stayed in area hotels.
 
Motorists courteously shared the road, even when the two-wheeled tourists spun down Green Street the next day during morning rush hour.
 
Local cyclists Warren Almand and Richard Hunt were among them. Almand, reached on his cell in Clermont after a 26-mile recovery ride, spoke proudly about logging his 25th BRAG. The Burnt Mountain ascent put a lot of folks off the saddle, walking. Almand, 69, pushed onward, he said, “but it was really hard.”
 
Lloyd Unnold, known unofficially as the grandfather of road biking in Hall County, observed Support and Gear vehicles (SAG wagons), toting loads of bikes, with other tuckered out riders looking to hitch a ride on the next SAG run. Unnold, who no longer bikes, said BRAG course-makers contacted him prior to mapping the anniversary tour. He advised alternate routes that didn’t climb the mountain or North Hall’s Hubert Stephens Road. He agreed those who made it indeed had something to brag about.
 
Almand described LLOP as the “perfect place” for a BRAG night out. He commended Gainesville motorists and police department for getting the cyclists safely out of town and on to another 70-plus mile route into Covington. Almand called the third leg, through Georgia heartland from Covington to Montecello, the “15 hills of hell.”
 
But it’s a journey that brings them back, no matter which roads are chosen across this diverse state. “The whole week there are more than 900 people around you. When I get home it sure is quiet,” Almand said. Road cyclists share a bond forged by skinny tires “motorized” by legs and lungs on roads where they hope chicken haulers, pick-up trucks and muscle cars will give them their lawful three feet. BRAG gives them opportunity to travel en mass with a presence impossible to miss. Almand described each year’s event as “a reunion  of people. You pick up a lot of relationships” on two wheels.
 
Experienced cyclists who want a taste of Burnt Mountain can test their stamina mounting it from the opposite direction from the BRAG summit in the annual Shine Pedalers Metric Century July 27.

Information about the local club’s ride and other cycling opportunities appears in the Lakeside Outdoor Calendar.

Posted online 6/28/19
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