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Rodney Darby working out near his home in Southwest Decatur. Darby and three others will attempt to set a speed record for traversing the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Rodney Darby working out near his home in Southwest Decatur. Darby and three others will attempt to set a speed record for traversing the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Blue Ridge bike quest
Decatur man leads team seeking to cycle parkway in record time

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

Because it’s there.

That’s the best reason Rodney Darby of Decatur can offer for why he and three other men will attempt to pedal the entire 469-mile length of the Blue Ridge Parkway — and do it in under 29 hours and 36 minutes.

“Why? My wife has been asking the same question,” Darby, 54, said. “I don’t know if I can put my finger on it.”

It basically comes down to the age-old response of why does somebody climb a mountain, he said. Because it’s there.

As for the time element, that’s the 7-year-old record for cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Uphill pedaling appears as perhaps the biggest obstacle for their trek, which will start June 9 in Waynesboro, Va., and end in Cherokee, N.C. The hills they will climb combine for a total of 48,600 feet. That’s more than 11/2 times the height of Mount Everest.

One of the problems is there’s nothing comparable around Decatur to help him train for the event.

Darby, however, is familiar with those mountains, as he’s cycled them with his older brother, Dan, and most recently with his son, Anthony, in six days last summer. Both his brother and son will be part of the relay team, which also includes his son’s friend, Ryan Dye.

“It’s something I always thought about doing while we were doing the Blue Ridge. How fast could we really do it,” Darby said, adding part of the impulse to do the relay was because he could do it with his brother and son.

The Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association will sanction the relay. The organization promotes a wide range of long distance bicycle races, including the Race Across America.

UMCA record books already list Darby’s name. He completed the 121.5-mile, south-to-north ride across Tennessee in 8 hours and 10 minutes last September, becoming the fastest to do so in the master’s class (50 to 59 years old).

“After doing that, I said this is fun, so I talked to my brother, and I said we ought to do the Blue Ridge as a team,” Darby said.

Initially, his son wanted no part of it.

“I remember when I got done riding (the Blue Ridge) last summer, I said I’ll never bike this entire thing again,” said Anthony Darby, a 1993 Austin High grad and former counselor at Cedar Ridge Middle School. He now lives in Birmingham.

Then his father explained it would only last a full day and it began to intrigue him. Once they started talking about strategy and logistics, the younger Darby said he was hooked.

Darby said getting the others to sign up was easy, but they all had some doubts it would materialize because of all the planning it required.

In between training one to two hours a day and working, Darby has set up the services of two UMCA officials who must ride along in a station wagon to verify the record. In addition, he has two support crewmembers in two four-door pickups, which will shuttle riders ahead for the relay.

Darby said he’s ridden consistently since his freshman year at college when he did his first distance ride, a three-day trek. He noted his brother, though age 60, is part of a cycling team in Virginia Beach, Va.

The cycling passion carried over to his son, whom he said at 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, has the perfect build for cycling. His son and Dye, who is an experienced endurance mountain biker, will be the key attack on the steep grades.

“I feel like I’m the weak link now,” Darby said. “I’ve put together too strong a team.”

Under UMCA relay rules, a team can ride up to four at a time, one at a time or even let one person ride the whole distance, just as long as one person crosses the finish line. The Darby team plans to attack it one rider at a time in 30-minute intervals.

That brings up what could be an even bigger obstacle than the steep mountains:

Sleep.

“Since I’ve not done this before, I don’t know if we’re going to want to sleep. I don’t expect to sleep any, Darby said.

“Each of us has trained by getting up at 2 in the morning to try to get accustomed to riding at night,” he said.

Getting back to the motivation for doing the relay, Darby said it could be a way to prove he’s as competitive at 54 as any other age.

His son said that motivation flows down to him and because he’s the youngest of the Darby’s, he feels he has to be strongest and therefore must train the hardest.

“All four of us are competitive,” he said. “That’s just the way Darbys are.”

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