Charles Lewis has crossed state four times with BRAG
Monday, June 5, 2017 - 2:35pm
Every June for the last six years Louisville’s Charles Lewis has been touring Georgia’s back roads from a bicycle seat.
“When you aren’t boxed in with everything whizzing by, you do get a greater appreciation for the landscape and the beauty that we have here,” Lewis said.
Next week he will be one of around 1,200 Bike Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) participants who will be pedaling about 350 miles from Athens to Brunswick over the course of a week.
For more than a decade he has participated in Paddle Georgia weeklong events down Georgia Rivers and every year, he said he saw fellow paddlers sporting BRAG T-shirts. He asked and they told him about the organization.
At the time, he said, he didn’t even have a road bike.
“Then I visited a friend in San Diego and he had just gotten a new bike and we took a ride together,” Lewis said. “He ended up letting me have his old bike.”
Now, every year, in early spring he takes the bicycle down from the rafters of his garage, dusts it off and oils it up to begin about six weeks of training for the big BRAG ride.
“Usually, I’ll ride two or three times a week, usually 15 to 20 miles,” Lewis said. “That’s a good training ride. I mean you don’t have to go the whole distance. That’s about how far you go between rest stops.”
During the actual BRAG event each year cyclists average 50 to 60 miles a day with rest stops every 18 miles or so.
“It’s not a race. It’s a fun ride. The rest stops are really fun because there’s always a bunch of people around, you get to have a snack and a chat,” Lewis said.
The big BRAG ride is partly about the challenge, Lewis admits, about pushing his body to power his two wheels across his home state. But it is also about the relationships he builds with other cyclists.
“A lot of these young guys will be like bullets and they’ll blast by the rest stops. They might stop at one in a 60 mile ride. So some guys will get here by 11ish, plus if you ride fast you get the choice spots for where to sleep, so there’s an advantage there too,” Lewis said. “But there’s a lot of really neat people from all walks of life. You’ll meet guys who are teachers, doctors, military guys, students.”
There will be kids on tag-a-longs, he said, bikes they can pedal but that are attached to and trail behind their parents’ bikes.
“There was one family I kind of watched grow up the last five or six years,” he said. “They had two girls on a tandem tag-a-long. Dad’s on the big bike and these two girls are right behind. They were both wearing yellow the first day I met them. At a rest stop I told them they looked like two little ducks. And every time I’d ride by them we’d quack at each other.”
Every year there is also a BRAG Dream Team which consists of about 15 under-privileged youth that the organization provides with a bike and a helmet, gear and support they need to ride so they are able to make the whole trip.
While he enjoys meeting new people every year, Lewis said that former Louisville natives the Veals, Jeff, Judy, Jane and Jo, siblings who now reside in the Atlanta area, have become his adopted family for BRAG every year.
“Sure, it’s partly the challenge, but I think the bigger part is the community and the communities that we pass through that support us,” BRAG Representative Franklin Johnson said. “There’s one lady who rides with us who has done it every year, 30 years in a row. There’s a lot of people like that who just continue to do it.”
This year Jefferson County is about midway on the route and so riders will be spending an extra “lay off” day in Louisville.
“It’s fantastic that we have the layover day here,” Lewis said. “I’m sure it will mean a lot to our local businesses. Some people will be going on a century ride, that’s 100 miles, that day. But there’ll be a lot of others looking to rest and explore the county. The distillery will be a draw, because how often do you get a chance to see moonshine being made legally, right?”
Lewis said that he does ask that local drivers have patience with the groups of bikers they meet on the county’s roads Tuesday through Thursday.
“Of course traffic is the biggest hazard. Georgia state law is that you have to have to allow a minimum of 3 feet between your vehicle and a rider. But that’s 3 feet,” Lewis said holding out his arm. “When a log truck is coming by that close to you it’s scary. Three feet is tight. When I’m riding, I’m always on the white line on my right.
“Most drivers are courteous. It will take some patience on the part of drivers. With 1,200 riders there will be groups of riders. There might be 50 riders in a quarter mile. A lot of cars will just slow down and wait for an opportunity to pass and not take a chance on hitting somebody.”
Lewis said he is already looking forward to his fellow cyclists and road-buddies being able to enjoy the community and scenery he calls home.
“We have a lot of really pretty rural settings around here, barns and cow pastures and hay bales and such. When you’re on a bike, you’re just going so much slower, you really get a chance to see what’s out there,” Lewis said, but added. “That is unless you are on a steep downhill, then everybody’s in an aerodynamic tuck trying to get all the mileage they can out of the slope.”