Wheelin’ into town

Alone and in groups, just under 1,000 cyclists wound south from Thomson, passed farms and fields, clapboard churches, in and out of small towns, before parking in Louisville Tuesday, the midway point on their 350 mile trip to the sea. 
“We had about 980 riders who have pulled into Louisville today,” Bike Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) Representative Franklin Johnson said. “They said it was a beautiful ride and unexpectedly hilly. Everyone is loving Louisville and this location.”
For the last 38 years BRAG has been organizing cyclists in at least one big trip across the state. This year they are traveling from Athens to Brunswick, stopping in cities along the way to camp every night. Louisville was chosen for this year’s layover rest day, Wednesday, before the group hits the road again Thursday morning. Camp has been set up at Louisville Academy and Helen Clark Memorial Park.
For the last several months the city has worked with county agencies like the chamber of commerce, school board and local businesses to prepare for the event. 
“The responses we’ve gotten today have been fabulous,” former Chamber Director Lil Easterlin said. “Everyone is thrilled with the downtown and the park. They can’t believe how wonderful the school is. We’ve heard nothing but bragging on our community.
“The local vendors I’ve talked to have done pretty well. They’ve been very busy and seem very content with the amount of business they’ve gotten. They (the cyclists) have been telling us about the service and the food and it sounds like they are really making the rounds.”
Vendors have filled the park. Local churches have arranged to show free movies to welcome the riders and free and open concerts were arranged for both Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
“It’s been a great day,” new chamber president Amy Howard said Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve had lots of people coming to the chamber booth. Everyone has loved the restaurants they’ve eaten at. We’ve had a great response with everybody working together, the city, the chamber, emergency services. And we have a full day tomorrow.”
In addition to exploring the community and taking shuttles into Bartow to visit the museum and distillery, BRAG riders also had the option to take part in several bike rides around the area, including a 100-mile century that would take them through Edgehill, Avera, Gibson, Mitchell, Jewell and back to Louisville.
“Keep an eye out,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be a lot of people on the road Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Pass with care. There’s going to be mothers and fathers and daughters and sons out on the road so, be careful.”
Johnson said that while it is partly the challenge that brings his BRAG riders back every year, both the challenge and the accomplishment of having pedaled a bike across the state, it is also the community that is built between cyclists.
“There’s one lady who rides with us who has done it every year, 30 years in a row,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of people like that who just continue to do it. There’s such a great community of riders who enjoy each others’ company and make friends and continue to make friends throughout the year.”
Mary Shultz, 19, of Atlanta, has been taking part for 10 years. She started riding tandem with her father, Richard. She completed her first century at 17.
“This is my first ride. I’ve never been on BRAG before. It has been a ball,” said Mary Reed of Decatur. “The thing I like most is the small towns. The people are so open.”
Making the BRAG trip was on her bucket list, she said. 
“The best story today is there were five cows leaning into a fence, shoulder to shoulder, watching the bicycles go by,” said Dan Reed, also of Decatur. “They were entertained.”
Johnson encouraged more local residents to come out, meet the riders who are visiting and learn more about the sport they love. 
“I’d really like to invite the community to come down had meet the riders and enjoy the festivities,” Johnson said. “There’s a big coming out tomorrow (Wednesday) night from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. with lights and sound and it’s going to be a big show. We’d love the community to come out.”