AJ Bouye Returns, Sets Jaguars Tone

Back at the OTA’s Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye explained why he missed the first week.

“Stuff that happened towards the end of last year kind of motivated me, so I just needed extra time with myself and my family just to work on that,” he said on Tuesday. “I had specific trainers I was working with position-wise.”

He also said he was staying in touch with Jalen Ramsey and other defensive backs to be sure, “Everybody was still working.” We hadn’t heard that in a while.

“You can tell that we are a little bit more comfortable in the scheme. Everybody is gelling together and clicking. Everyone was happy that I was back, and it felt like towards the end of the season last year. We were still on the same page – having fun and flying around.”

There’s a story from when I was a kid in Baltimore about the Colts players and how close they were. Gino Marchetti’s wife Joan said they were getting ready to put a new floor in the kitchen. Nobody made any money back then so it was a “DIY” job. The materials were delivered and they were getting started when a knock came at the front door. “I went to answer it,” said Joan. “And there’s John Unitas standing there with a cup of coffee. He came over to help. John Unitas, really.” Of course both Marchetti and Unitas are in the Hall of Fame.

Players’ living out of town from where they played was unheard of then, but it’s more the norm now. Still, the Jaguars have a new closeness in the locker room that’s been missing.

Plus players co-mingle with the “opposition” more frequently in the modern game. Some of it’s because of the money made, ease of travel and just more opportunity. Bouye explained some of the things he’s been working on in the offseason he picked up from his best opponent.

“I talked to A.B. [Antonio Brown] at the Pro Bowl, and he saw how I kind of played him in the first game and he adjusted and I didn’t,” he explained. “He was showing me some of the stuff he was doing, and he was doing it in the walkthrough [at the Pro Bowl]. I was just like, ‘Alright. I am going to start playing that [style] and work on certain things with my body just to stay stronger at the top of the route.”

That might all be semi-new, but more importantly it gives some insight to how Bouye is still working. When you talk with him, you can tell he has a chip on his shoulder but more importantly, he wants to be great. And believe it or not, not all players have that mind-set.

So he’s learning from a player who’s an opponent but is generally considered the best receiver in the game.

“Yes. We both have a lot of respect for each other’s game. I was just picking apart a lot of other DB’s. After this, I am going probably going to work with [Richard] Sherman and all of them. I am going to start learning stuff from them, too.”

Is Ramsey coming to the OTA’s? Probably not, and it’s no big deal. But Bouye assured us his running mate is still working.

“I was going to go and work with him and his dad in Nashville.” But he came to work in Jacksonville instead.

Jaguars Start 2018 “Not Dwelling On The Past”

“To be honest, I told the team it’s always good to learn from the past, but please do not dwell on the past.”

And with that, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone set the theme and the tone for the 2018 workouts for last year’s AFC runner-up.”

There’s an excitement in the air, no doubt, when it comes to the Jaguars prospects this year. With a first-place schedule but three home games in the first month of the season, everybody: fans, “experts” and media are picking the Jaguars to repeat their success of 2017. But nothing is a given in the NFL and while the Jaguars appear better on paper than they were last year, that’s no predictor of success once they take the field.

“I think when people come from the outside, they are going to try to get our team to talk about last year and these things of last year,” Marrone added before the Jaguars took the field for the first time as a team in 2018. “They are going to talk about how maybe failing at the end and how that is going to motivate you.”

But Marrone and the players are counting on recreating what happened last year. Not just on the field, but in the locker room as well.

“That’s the one thing – team chemistry, leadership – I believe that is something I can’t manifest,” Marrone said. ” In other words, I can’t just say ‘Hey, come on.’ It has to happen. I can put them in situations where people can take advantage of it, but you cannot manipulate or do things like that because the team has to feel that.”

Last year it was about Blake Bortles level of play and whether he could take the Jaguars to the elite level among teams in the NFL. He showed he could do that, but the Jaguars defense was the bell cow when it came to their identity. That is the case again this year, but the Jaguars have that identity before the season starts, meaning Bortles know his job is to protect the ball.

“I knew that if I did not turn the ball over, we were going to have a chance to win every game,” Blake said on Tuesday. “That should be and it is my mindset every single game we play, but I think it was just something in the playoffs that I made sure I wasn’t the reason we lost a game.”

With a second year under Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Bortles admits he’s more comfortable starting the season since the playbook is very familiar.

“I should know the offense better than anyone in the building, including him,” Blake said of Hackett’s offense. “I think that it is constant work towards that and being able to do and say and see everything that he can do as an offensive coordinator and being that coach on the field.”

And what does Blake think of going into this year versus last year’s success?

“I think playing with the same focus and the same intensity that we finished last season with is big,” he explained. “Being able to replicate that day after day will really help not only being better practice players and going through the week better, but making so that Sunday is just another day.”

Getting Bortles ahead of the curve is what the Jaguars need to start fast out of the gate. It might be the most critical position in sports, and the Jaguars believe Blake is on his way.

“I have always believed that when your quarterback is ahead of everyone and the rest of the offense has to catch up, that is a pretty good thing,” Marrone said of Bortles off-season work. “You don’t want the quarterback trying to catch up to the rest of the offensive players. I think that Blake is in a good spot from there as far as what he knows of the offense, what we want to do.”

So what are they looking for when it comes to the OTA’s, the mini-camp and even into training camp?

“You are going to have setbacks,” Marrone explained. “But if you looked at a graph. You may go up a little bit, down a little, up a little, down a little, But if you steadily drew a line, you want to see that line increase.”

Best “Feel Good” Win At THE PLAYERS

There’s nothing like a feel good story in sports. And in American sports, the comeback, feel good story is always the best.

We’ve had all kinds of winners at THE Players Championship. Household names like Jack and Tiger, hometown champions in Mark McCumber and David Duval, and unlikely names on the trophy like Stephen (Ames) and Tim (Clark).

But never a real “feel good” story like Webb Simpson. Nuts and bolts, he won at 18-under par, despite making double-bogey on the 72nd hole. He tied the course record of 63 looked in control the whole time. He’s now one of seven players to have held both The Players crystal and the US Open trophy in their career. He also completes an American sweep of the Majors and the Players, Not done since Tiger Woods held all five.

All from a guy who was about a half a step from quitting golf completely. Simpson had success in his professional career, winning on the PGA Tour and US Open. He found a way to get the ball in the hole and win, despite not being exceptionally long and using a “belly” putter. When that style form of putting was outlawed, his golfing fortunes began to sink.

“You know, I think I had been a pro for eight years, seven years, and you get used to playing at a level that you know you’re capable of, and then for — you go a year or two years playing below that capability, and it starts to get at you,” Simpson said Sunday. “And I actually think it’s easier to work hard when you’re playing well. So it made working hard and staying positive and present that much harder.”

Noting the support he had from his “team” Webb admitted there were nights at the dinner table with his wife that he’d be in tears, ready to give up golf completely. But her encouragement, as well as his relationship with his caddy Paul Tesori kepts him going. Ironically, it was a disagreement with Tesori on the course that convinced him what he needed to do to get better.

Yeah, the lowest point ended up being the turning point. It was 2016 at Barclays at Bethpage Black,” he explained. “I thought I missed the cut by one. I ended up making the cut. But Paul and I got in an argument on the golf course, and it was just frustration pent up in both of us. We go sit in my car for about an hour. I’m so frustrated, I’m over it, and he is, too, and he kind of encouraged me to really do something about it. So call certain guys who maybe have struggled, try out different putters. I was pretty stubborn. I wanted to go conventional as conventional can get, so I just started trying different things and became a lot more open minded.”

Talks with a numerous players about their putting styles and how they came to use them were instrumental in Simpson finding something that worked for him. That “open minded” attitude allowed him to take a lesson from Tim Clark a year ago at the 2017 Players and switch to the “claw grip” with a Matt Kuchar style putter-up-the-arm stroke.

He couldn’t go back to belly putting because it was illegal, and he couldn’t go back to that putter either since he broke it in half to stave off temptation.

“My wife is in the driveway pulling out with the kids,” as he tells the story. “And I tell her this, and I see my bag in the garage, and I see the belly putter, and for whatever reason I had an urge to just break it. And so I go over there and snap it over my knee, and I’m on the way to throw it in the trash can, and she tells me I’d better hang on to it, it’s been pretty good to me. So I put it in my trophy case, both pieces.”

Admitting he putted better in THE Players than he ever had, even Johnny Miller noted a “Tom Watson” like decision make and execution process on the greens. After talking it over with Tesori, looking it over, studying and stepping away, Simpson takes a practice stroke and hits it. No standing over it forever.

At this point, Simpson’s relationship with Tesori is well documented. Paul’s history in his hometown, his family’s story, his steadfast faith and faith in Simpson all are part of this feel good story. Webb even calls Tesori “The Mayor.”

“Paul has been just a great friend through all this, a great coworker,” Simpson said in the post match press conference. “(He) is such a great caddie with such a great resume that I never thought once that he would quit and go work for somebody else.

“But through that, I expected him to be frustrated at times, and he never was. He never got frustrated. He stayed positive on my worst days. He would try to give me a pep talk. I think to go through that, you need someone more than a caddie, you need a friend, and he definitely was that for me.”

Add to all that with final Players win on Mother’s Day, just six months after Simpson lost his father. Webb’s dad is the person who introduced him to the game, to a rare disease.

“I thought about him all day,” Simpson said when asked about his dad. “I think it’s been an emotional week for my mom and sisters and my brother. We miss him like crazy, but I really wanted to do this for my mom. She’s been praying for me a lot.”

Hard to get a better “feel good” story than that.

Simpson (with Tesori) In Command At THE PLAYERS

It’s a weird thing to talk to athletes about their top accomplishments. People who are motivated, ambitious and energetic have an easier time remembering their failures than whatever success they had. There’s a specific kind of memory that sits close to the surface, protecting them from ever making the same mistake twice.

On the other hand, there’s also a kind of memory that allows those same athletes to recall every single detail immediately after performing at the highest level. For golfers, it not just the club they hit and the yardage, it’s the blade of grass in front of the ball, the bee that was on the green, the puff of wind they felt in mid-swing and even the smell of, well, whatever they were smelling walking 18 holes.

That was Webb Simpson after the second round of this year’s PLAYERS Championship. And eagle on two and three other birdies on the front had him make the turn in thirty-one. A simple par on 10 seemed unremarkable, but then everything started to go on the hole.

“Obviously when you’re out there competing in a big tournament, you’re as focused as can be,” Simpson said after tying the course record with a 63 on Friday. “But then at a certain point, maybe on 13 today, you start just — like a kid, just kind of laughing. Everything is going in. You feel like no matter what, you’re going to make it,”

Anybody who plays golf knows it comes and goes, even at the highest level. Ben Hogan famously said, “If you think you’ve found it, don’t go to sleep.” One day everything is easy, the next, not so much. For Simpson, the challenge is to stay in the moment.

“I mean, yeah.,” he explained. “That’s the challenge is you’re hitting all your shots exactly where you’re looking, and so the temptation is to start aiming more at the flag. But I didn’t do that. I mean, every — you’ve got to isolate every shot and every putt and just ask yourself, what’s the objective here. Although I’m hitting it great, on 13, I aimed 30 feet right of the hole. 14, I have 9-iron in my hand, I’m aiming 15 feet right of the hole.”

There’s a lot of talk in golf these days by the players about, “us” and “we.” The entire team is part of the success of any player and the caddie is a big, big part of that. Simpson’s caddie is St. Augustine product Paul Tesori. Paul was an accomplished player himself, played at the University of Florida and qualified to play on the PGA Tour. But after not finding enough success as a player, he found a career carrying the bag and consulting with other players. Somehow he worked with Vijay Singh for a while and also caddied for Jerry Kelly and Sean O’Hair. But his success has come with his good friend Webb Simpson. Both men of tremendous faith, their bond goes way beyond player/caddie.

“I think it’s massive,” Webb said Friday. “:You know, to work with somebody every day for eight hours, nine hours a day, and you really like them, and you have a friendship outside of golf, I think it’s pretty special.”

Playing on the PGA Tour is an adjustment for anybody. It’s not just about the golf. The travel, the schedule, the grind, the food, all of it plays a part in a player’s success or lack thereof.

“You know, there’s a lot out here,” Simpson noted. “I get lonely because my family is at home, and there’s ups and downs of the year for performance, and so he knows — as a friend he knows me better than just a coworker, so he knows how to handle me if I’m in those bad places. So he’s been a huge, huge piece in my career.”

“Outside of the majors, this is his favorite tournament,” Webb said of Tesori, normal since he’s from here. “It doesn’t put pressure on me, but it’s always a place you think, like Charlotte for me, it’s a nice place to play well. He’s got so much support out there, more support than I do. It’s been fun the last couple days seeing all the people coming out for Paul.”

If not handled right, it could put a strain on their relationship. In reality, Simpson is the player, Paul is the “guy on the bag.” But in this case, Simpson rolls with it.

“Oh, yeah, I call him the mayor. He can’t get from the putting green to the range without getting stopped a few times. Everybody loves him.”

Easy? Hard? Round 1 Of The Players Was Both

As a two-time champion at The Players, Tiger Woods understands the role the Stadium Course plays as part of the championship.

“When you’re playing well, it seems easy,” Tiger said after playing last week in Charlotte and again after the first round of this year’s Players. “But if you’re a little off, there’s trouble on every shot. You never get comfortable.”

That was evident in the first round of this year’s Players as six players are tied for the lead at six under. Eighty-five players shot even par or better. Yet Phil Mickelson posted a 7 over 79. Jordan Spieth shot 77. That’s how unpredictable things can be at the Players and despite the star power put together by the pairings, the golf course came out as the celebrity.

“If it stays calm in the morning, you’ll see a bunch of guys go low,” Tiger said after an even par 72 in the opening round. “I think tomorrow’s supposed to be the hottest day of the week, and if that’s the case, again, the golf ball is going to be going forever. So this golf course won’t be playing very long.”

With more players tied for the lead than any other year The Players has been contested at the Stadium Course, there were birdies to be made. Webb Simpson made plenty of them and is one of the players on top of the leaderboard.

“Yeah, it’s perfect,” he said of the golf course. “Fairways are perfect, greens are perfect, and if we read these greens right, the ball should go in the hole. It’s fun to play golf courses that are this well-kept.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Dustin Johnson’s finish at six under. Johnson is the top ranked player in the world yet has never had a top ten finish at The Players. Going into the week, Johnson was aware of his lack of success on the Stadium Course but said he had a plan that would work if he stuck to it. “Yeah, I’m definitely surprised, but I think a lot of it has to do with putting,” he explained. “I don’t think I putted very well around here as a whole. I’ve had definitely rounds where I putted well, but for the most part I haven’t, that’s one thing I’ve struggled around here with and obviously today I rolled it nicely.”

There are plenty of up and down swings on the leaderboard with former champions Si Woo Kim, Matt Kuchar and Sergio Garcia all getting to seven under par at one point. All three fell back, with Sergio’s double-bogey, bogey finish the most dramatic drop. He hit a ball in the water on 17 on his way to a five, and missed an eight-footer on 18 to finish at four under.

“I don’t know that anybody’s overly comfortable here,” said Kuchar who was tied for the first round lead. “I think it’s such a good golf course, such a good test of golf, good shots are rewarded, bad shots are punished. You see a wide variety in scores out here. You see guys shoot 6-under and you see guys shoot 6-, 8-over. It’s just, it’s a great, great test of golf.”

As always, morning players on Thursday will tee of on Friday afternoon and afternoon players on Thursday play Friday morning. It was the morning players who seemed to have the best of the conditions on Thursday.

THE PLAYERS To March: A Good Move

I’ve always said that most of the locals who attend The Players think every PGA Tour event is like that. Of course the Players is like nothing else out there, taking the best from every PGA Tour stop all year and incorporating it into the Stadium Course. It’s not only the best run PGA Tour event, along with The Masters it might be the best run sporting event anywhere as well. It’s a sought after hospitality opportunity for corporations all over the world as well as businesses in Jacksonville and North Florida. It’s a nice blend of both.

Which brings us to current Commissioner Jay Monahan and the move back to March. Monahan said during last year’s Players that they were “considering all options” and they didn’t have any plans to move the tournament “at this time.” Jay doesn’t have a problem with the proximity to the Masters nor the concurrent time frame of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t need it’s own month on the calendar or separation from the majors to draw attention.

He sees the Players as a stand-alone sporting event and now, in 2017, he’s right. The tournament has it’s own following, it’s own stature and maybe most importantly, it’s a very big deal to the modern day PGA Tour player. Adam Scott was the first champion to say, “This is the tournament I’ve dreamed of winning.” And that was in 2004.

Gone are the days that “Deane’s tournament” was vying for significant status ahead of “Arnold’s tournament” or “Jack’s tournament” on the PGA Tour. Beman’s drive to put the Tour in the club and course building business rankled more than a few of his contemporaries, so they weren’t all fired up about supporting the TPC, as it was originally called. Raymond Floyd made his feelings well known at a famous Players meeting during the tournament in the ’80’s.

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, a move to March will bring the golf course condition and the wind direction back to where the Stadium Course was originally intended by designer Pete Dye. They can make the course as hard and fast as they want.

And it’ll put the Players back in the “Florida Swing” on the golf schedule where it belongs. While much of the country looks to the Masters as the start of spring and the beginning of the golf season, those of us in North Florida know, our games are already rounding into shape during some good weather days in February and March.

It’s the right call and a good fit. Nothing’s ever wrong with being 1st on the schedule.

Players Says “Adapt” To THE PLAYERS In March

Without the old burden of achieving status as the “Fifth Major” gone, you knew it was only a matter of time before The Players moved back to March. Earlier in the year, the PGA of America announced that the PGA Championship will be moving to May with the PGA Tour moving the Players back to it’s March timeframe. Moving the PGA Championship is not unprecedented and although there’s a concern that the early date on the golf calendar might eliminate some traditional northern courses as venues, May opens the door for courses in the Southeast, Florida, Texas and even Southern California.

Moving The Players has been a topic since the tournament was started in the ’70’s. It started in Atlanta on Labor Day in 1974, moved to Ft. Worth the next year in August and then to Ft. Lauderdale the following February. When it moved to Ponte Vedra and Sawgrass Country Club it was played in mid-March before settling on the last week of March in 1983.

Moving to March has gotten different reactions from the players involved. Former champ Phil Mickelson says the course was designed to play in March weather.

“There’s a lot of holes like that where we’ve got to fly it on and stop it,” Phil said on Tuesday. “I think the way it played in March, I kind of preferred over the firm, fast. I don’t think when it was designed, it was designed to be firm, fast the way it has played the last few years.”

Three factors worked against The Players in March in the Tour’s quest to make it the 5th Major. Weather could always be a factor, but as anybody who lives in North Florida knows, we’re as likely to have a week of perfect weather as anything else and much of the memories of the Players in March include perfect weather. There were a couple of Monday finishes, but for the most part, delays in the competition were minor. In it’s quest for a spot on the overall sports calendar as a significant sporting event, the tournament switched from CBS to NBC once CBS made a commitment to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Nobody’s going to forget about March Madness because the Players is happening, and at times that was a sticking point for the decision-makers at the Tour. And finally, the last week of March also happens to be two weeks before the first full week of April and that’s always The Masters.

When contested in March, there wasn’t a tournament that went by without many of the storylines focused on the contestants preparing for Augusta. The Players creator, then-Commissioner Deane Beman, didn’t like any talk about the Masters, wanting his tournament to gain “Major” status as a true “players championship.” Despite his protests, Beman had one eye on what they were doing at Augusta National as he developed The Players. His competitive nature would not allow otherwise.

“This is our championship,” he was fond of saying. Deane had a prickly nature about him when it came to competing with Augusta and the Masters and didn’t like it when the basketball tournament was on television in the hospitality suites, the clubhouse and the media center. When he could control what people were watching, he did. (We couldn’t watch the basketball in the media center more than once.)

A winner two years ago, Rickie Fowler says it’s about adapting.

“Luckily it’s still the same golf course, still the same look, but just make that adjustment as far as wind direction,” he explained. “I mean, I feel like we do that on a day-to-day basis when it comes to a place like the Open Championship overseas.

When he took over as the PGA Tour Commissioner in 1994, Tim Finchem had many of the same thoughts about The Players and even more about it’s relationship with Jacksonville. Under Finchem, the Tour tried to separate the tournament once known as the “GJO” from the city entirely, stressing to the assembled media, “the dateline is Ponte Vedra.” There was no reference to it being one of the beaches associated with Jacksonville in any of the promotional material regarding the tournament nor on the national telecast. The dis-association with the city was strongest when Finchem and the Tour decided that The Players should be an international destination for fans and that the local flavor and support of the tournament was holding it back from it’s rightful place in the pantheon of professional golf competition.

They came to their senses a few years ago when Matt Rapp took over as the Executive Director and they refocused on the local community, it’s support, fan base, and the tournament’s reputation as a “must attend” event (and party) in North Florida. Current Players boss Jared Rice seems to have the same charge from new Commissioner Jay Monahan.

Outside of the playing conditions, PGA Champion Justin Thomas said the Players deserves more respect and will probably get it in March.

“Yeah, it’ll be exciting. It’ll be cool just because I think all of us on the TOUR feel that this event can stand on its own,” he said. “It’s not like it’s another event, and it’s no disrespect to the other events, but this is our championship, this is THE PLAYERS Championship. This has a very major-like field, has a very major-like feel, air to it. The roars are very similar. So it’ll be cool to kind of have a major tournament, one a month there, starting in March”

A Bike Ride In The Tennessee Mountains

When my friend Alex sent me the info on George Hincapie’s first Gran Fondo in Chattanooga last January it looked like a great idea. Riding in a different city with different terrain and supporting some of the efforts George’s, charitable and otherwise I’m usually up for. From the one day 50-miler on Saturday, the trip expanded to four days when we hired Velo Girl Bike Tours to guide us around the area leading up to the weekend.

Riding out of town and even out of the country has given me a chance to meet many new people, an unexpected positive consequence to this thing I generally started for fun and fitness. In fact, that’s how I met Alex, a lawyer living on Long Island who’s become a good friend and riding partner. No matter the season or the trip or what kind of shape he’s in, he can ride, climb, drink a beer and provide plenty sparkling repartee. That was one of the things I found in common with Jennifer and David Billstrom, the owners/operators of Velo Girl. They’re in it for the right reasons.

Jennifer is a very sweet woman who is also a very solid rider. I take it she’s the “Girl” in Velo Girl. When I asked her how she got into this gig, she said, “I was in the corporate world behind a desk and knew I needed to get out. I like people. I wanted to meet new people.” And that’s just what she did.

While her husband David does a lot of the nuts and bolts work during the tour, Jennifer is the soul of the operation, tending to clients needs, riding when possible or necessary and providing a nice calming presence. Not to say she’s just there, hanging around either. She also designs all of the rides, scouts and picks the restaurants and hotels. Her pre-ride packet of what to expect was thorough and complete, easy to understand and lets you know about any surprises.

You can have plenty of ideas as a tour operator as to how you’d like things to go but executing them is another situation. That’s where David blends perfectly into the operation. Admitting he’s not a chef but “I’ve always liked to cook,” David prepares all of the on-road meals, a delicious mix of sweet and salty, clearly put together with the knowledge of what riders are looking for when they get off their bike. Past the normal PB&J, the Velo Girl “ride food” included local selections as well as a custom chicken salad David made that got my attention. He also provides bike support, helping me assemble my bike and providing mechanical support throughout the trip. If you needed it, drink, food, water, repairs, a pep talk, whatever, David was going to try to get it done.

Oftentimes tour operators are looking to ride their bike with you coming along and basically paying for their trip. That’s not the case with Velo Girl. There’s no question the client is the focus and the experience of the whole trip is important to them. Even their van/trailer set up is first class and organized, able to transport our entire group, including bikes, food, equipment, tools and whatever, wherever we were headed.

Our riding included climbs up Suck Creek (honest, that’s really the name), Signal, Lookout and Raccoon mountains. We rode all along the Chickamauga Reservoir (built by the TVA in 1940), climbing and descending from water level and even crossing the Tennessee River. One day we rode through the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the site of a pivotal battle in 1863 that eventually led to the Union troops taking control of the city. Beautiful landscapes, wonderful vistas and plenty of history to be found on this trip.

My trip didn’t start too well as American Airlines cancelled my original flight from JAX to CHA because of a mechanical issue with our original plane. Better to find that out on the ground than in the air but I was three hours late getting to Chattanooga.

A city of 350,000 or so residents including the surrounding counties, Chattanooga has always had a “second city” reputation to Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and even Atlanta, just under two hours to the south. The home of UT-Chattanooga, it still has a college town feel but there’s plenty of work there with VW employing over 2,000 workers at their nearby plant. What was impressive, and apparently new in the last few years, was the “vibe” in the city. A walking downtown with a flourishing restaurant scene, I was impressed with every meal we had. Part of that was Jennifer’s selections but the food, the atmosphere, the décor and design of every place we went, all independent operators was top-notch. From an expansive full-service place like “Stir” to the hole-in-the-wall “Bitter Alibi,” every meal was a real experience.

By the way, we stayed at the Chattanoogan Hotel, a good, convenient spot. Not fabulous but very nice, kind of like a Hyatt, the staff was very attentive. They took care of receiving and shipping my bike without a blink of an eye. Nice spa as well.

I don’t have anything bad to say about this trip. At 6’3″ and 240lbs, I’m not built for climbing and I know it. But I did navigate the 4000′ elevation when asked. George told me to get a new setup on my bike in the future to make it a little easier going uphill so I’m asking Phil at Champion Cycling and SRAM for some advice.

Here are my only suggestions for Velo Girl:

Maybe it’s just me but while I really like riding my bike, the history and happenings in a region I’m riding are a real reason I’m there. I know, some people just want to shut up and ride. When I’m traveling, I’m looking for a little more. While I’m not looking for a full treatise on what’s going on there, maybe a couple of paragraphs in my pre-ride packet on the significance and history of the reservoir and the same about the battlefield would have given me a chance to do some additional research if I chose. I’d like a little time built into a day like the one we rode through the national park to read some of the signs and monuments. Not a ton, just a little.

I saw the Velo Girl van a lot, which was great. Logistically, David (and Jen when she wasn’t riding) was right there when I was hoping he’d be. Again, I’m not much of a climber so I’m usually last up the mountain. I don’t have a problem with that but there were times I was climbing that I didn’t see a soul. Not a car or another rider for an hour or so. That’s one of the beauties of doing something like this but I got to thinking about a potential flat or mechanical problem and what I might do about that. With spotty cell service at best along some of the climbs, I’d have been stuck for a while, looking for help. When it’s just the two of them, maybe an e-bike or a scooter in the trailer to come and check on us stragglers would be a thought.

Our tour was small with some last minute cancellations and their friend Nancy; a local rider rehabbing an injury was also very helpful.

Riding your bike, meeting new people, and seeing something different. If that’s what you’re looking for, Jennifer has the same thought with Velo Girl.