Lake Country Cycling Club

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Written by Reynolds Lake Oconee

The parking lot sits wide at the base of a church steeple in the middle of what is otherwise an open series of endless fields. From the looks of it, you wouldn’t know you’re just five minutes from The Sandy Creek Barn or 15 minutes from The Lake Club. On a Tuesday afternoon at 4:30, the lot is empty — well, almost empty. One SUV pulls into a spot, with two bicycles loaded on the back. A husband and wife dressed in their kits (riding shorts and shirts) jump out to stretch.

“We’re only planning to go 19 miles today,” says Debbie Bartolomei, a Reynolds Member with her husband, John.

She doesn’t emphasize the word “only,” but it stands out anyway. Debbie rode 2,547 miles in 2021 with the Lake Country Cycling Club (LCCC).

“Some club members rode a lot more than that,” Debbie says. To be sure, some didn’t.

As Debbie and John pull their bikes off the rack, another SUV pulls into the parking lot, followed by a sedan, a van, and two more SUVs. A total of 10 riders will rendezvous where the church and cows coexist. It is a small sampling of the LCCC members who call the Oconee region, including Reynolds, home.

“Our goal is to get people outside for exercise and camaraderie,” says Clay Lloyd, who co-leads the road-cycling group with Debbie. “We aren’t intimidating.”

A roll call of the club includes a real-estate agent, a pastor, retired military officers, a former professional baseball player, moms, tech heads, and business executives. There’s a rider in her 20s and one in his 70s, though it’s hard to believe from looking at his jaw, which is as smooth and taut as his calves. Most riders will cover the 19-mile route today. A few will go half the distance. On a full day of riding, one or two cyclists might surpass 100 miles.

Members of the Lake Country Cycling Club
Members of the Lake Country Cycling Club

“There’s no judgement,” John says. “To ride, you need a bike and enough stamina to go eight or ten miles. We always designate a ‘sweeper’ to stay back and make sure no one gets left behind. It isn’t a race. It’s a club.”

Anywhere else, a weekday approaching 5:00 p.m. would be the absolute worst time to ride bikes. But out here it’s recess from rush hour. The route is as pleasant as the names on it: Syrup Mill, Plum Creek, Gray Horse, and Billy Merritt. Silos playfully pop out of the earth. Flowers appear as a yellow sea in the distance. An old corner store and remnants of a chapel are reminders of carefree times, which don’t seem so distant really. At the crest of one hill someone has blessedly painted the symbol of a conquered challenge: the American flag on a huge rock.

“I’m always telling people, ‘Slow down and look around, or you’ll miss all the interesting views,” Debbie says. “The scenery makes the miles go by a lot faster.” So do the occasional dogs. “We see more dogs than cars,” John says. “They usually just want to run behind us and wag their tails.”

Naturally, the group attracts attention — almost always positive. People wave and offer tips for additions to the route. Debbie remembers only one time when a driver saluted the riders with “a tall finger.”

“That’s a good track record for road cyclists,” John says. “I think people find it intriguing to see this eclectic group of riders all kitted out and knocking out miles. Sometimes they’re so interested that they decide to join us.”

Two years ago, a guest at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, shipped his $18,000 bike from California to the resort because he heard there were good places to ride in the area. Before he’d pedaled very deep into lake country, he saw some LCCC riders and asked if he could join the pack. His guided tour must have surpassed expectations because he said on his next visit to Georgia he planned to fly in some friends (and their bikes) so they could ride with the club for a day.

The group makes pit stops on longer rides to pick up Gatorade and fig newtons. Not long ago, they also picked up another cyclist who happened to see them. He’s been in the club ever since.

“We do this partly for the physical health,” Debbie says, adding that John’s oncologist has credited his fitness for a quicker-than-expected recovery from mouth cancer. “But there’s so much more to it than the obvious benefits.”

During a break on an old porch that seems to have been abandoned years ago for moments just like this, Clay sits on a bench and spills a thought between gulps of water. “I can speak from my own experience. You come out to join these people for a nice peaceful bike ride, and when you take the time to look back you realize you’ve met best friends.”

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