First of all, I want to say that all of the dedication and support that the volunteers, ride organizers, and sponsors put into this year's Back Roads Century is very much appreciated. The food, music, and cold water were great! The folks at each rest stop were very friendly and cheerful. It all shows how much work has gone into this effort – it’s truly become an exceptional event. My only suggestions would have been more port-o-lets at the fairgrounds (a little line is fine but those were a bit much), and I really missed the shower at the end this year.
But I've come to the realization that the hosting community does not want this event, and I certainly don't want to ride where I'm not welcome. It's not just the ticket that I got near the end of the day. On this ride, I saw few smiles from residents, and even fewer return waves. I will say that most drivers were considerate, with only one car passing me dangerously close and fast at the top of a hill (not bad for a typical ride).
I've been riding in traffic for over 40 years now. I'm cautious but confident in the city and on open roads. I try my best to obey road rules and to be respectful of car drivers. It bugs the heck out of me when I see a cyclist run a red light, arrogantly hog the road, or do something stupid that reflects badly on the rest of us. I was a volunteer fireman and first responder for ten years and know what it's like to deal with the public from that side of the line, when it's your responsibility to protect or save people - often without happy endings. So I read the Clarke County zero-tolerance email thinking it's understandable that the police and sheriffs’ departments need to enforce road rules for everyone.
However, what I saw and experienced on this ride was bizarre. It appeared to be a concerted effort to write as many citations for bicyclists as possible. Looking back over my Gramin data, it's clear that I did roll through the stop sign - at 5.14 mph. The officer said he cut cyclists slack if they put their foot down at the stop sign. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't unclip at every stop (especially at the end of a long ride).
We stood out in the hot sun watching as cars rolled through the stop sign, while the officer wrote tickets in his air-conditioned car. Come to think about it, for all of the cyclists I saw ticketed along the ride, I never saw a car driver pulled over. It appeared that they were only interested in ticketing bicyclists. I'd be curious to know how many tickets (and for what offenses) were issued to riders on Sunday, and if any were issued to car drivers.
When the officer came back with the tickets, I asked him if there had been any reports of shooting at cyclists this year. The officer said that he never heard about any incidents with gunshots and riders, and that they do not tolerate that kind of criminal behavior.
My partner then surprised me by saying she had been waiting alongside the road for me to catch up, and a bit nervous about all of the gunshots, when something ricocheted off the fence next to her. She got on her bike and left quickly. I remember hearing a lot of gunshots along Red Gate Road but figured someone was just target shooting.
I then told the officer that I was part of a small group near the end of the Back Roads Century ride four years ago, when someone fired a shotgun blast over us from the side of the road. Everyone was pretty freaked out with the shredded leaves falling all around us, but the shooter never showed his face and we didn't stick around to investigate. We reported it to SAG, and they called it in. But at that point, I just wanted to finish the last five miles of the ride and I had no interest in waiting to fill out a police report.
The officer reiterated that they do not tolerate that kind of criminal behavior, and said that we should have called 911 in both cases. My partner said she just wanted to get out of there and didn't even think about calling 911. I pointed out that the incident four years ago was reported.
But it got me thinking. I figured that the shooter in my case was just trying to scare us (I don't know what happened in my partner's situation this Sunday). Getting hit with buckshot would certainly hurt and would probably leave a mark. However, getting run off the road or hit by a car is far more dangerous, and something every rider has to worry about.
I lived and rode in the rural Deep South for most of my life. And I've lived in DC for over 10 years now, riding in traffic and back roads throughout MD and VA. I've certainly had my share of intimidating and aggressive actions by car and truck drivers, but somehow I never considered calling 911 on an idiot driver. I doubt that police would be able to respond if riders called in about every such incident. And can you imagine the call center operator on the other end? “You’re calling to tell me someone cut you off on the road???!!!” Yeah, right.
After the ride, we were talking with someone else who was pulled over. The officer told him that the ride organizers were not paying the Sherrff’s office to be out there supporting the riders, and they had to get their revenue somehow.
So regretfully, I get it. Residents in the area do not want this event. Berryville Police and Clark County Sheriffs departments see this as an unwelcome burden. The message has been received loud and clear, and I certainly won’t be going back.