Motown meets Blount County
Detroit cyclists take part in late spring bike kickoff
May 24, 2006
Chain Reaction co-workers dubbed her "Itchy" after Melissa Brown went three rounds with a stubborn patch of poison ivy in her front yard two years ago.
"She had that lotion all over her, and everybody in the shop just started calling her "Itchy," friend and Walland cyclist Eddie Sloan said.
Brown, sans the ivy, was a big hit with the Metro Detroit Cycling Club at last weekends Tour de Blount bicycle rally. MDCC cyclists Mark Swint, Larry Carter, Brian Cox and Daryl Heard marveled at Brown's speed on some of the steep hills in and around Laurel Valley.
Carter, 57, a retired supervisor at General Motors Milford Proving Grounds, had ridden with Brown before. They'd shared a ride in the Western North Carolina mountains just last month.
"I came up behind her and said, "Who's that little girl?" Carter said. "We rode back together. I started cramping up, and she rode off and left me."
The 4-foot-11 Brown, who rides "the smallest bike Cannondale makes," remembers the moment fondly. I left him on the hills. I looked back to find myself riding alone. I wasn't sure if he had stopped or what.
Brown, Sloan and Carter are indicative of the broad sweep of the 700-plus cyclists who gathered at the staging area at Heritage High School for the Tour de Blount's annual run. Evidenced by her climbing prowess, Brown, 31, represents the great equalizer cycling can prove for the smaller athlete. Carter, Sloan and their MDCC teammates represent a place where the sport hopes to go.
Founded by Detroit native MacArthur Davis, MDCC formed after Swint, Cox, Heard, Carter and Davis continued to run into each other at various events. The club grew quickly from its founding five members to a roster now 18-strong. With MDCC's success, Carter said the club decided to take cycling to Detroit's African American communityu at large, a place where the sport traditionally had little following.
"We said, "Why don't we take this to a community where it doesn't get much exposure," Carter said.
Sloan, a lifelong fan of 20th century African American cycling champion Marshall W. "Major" Taylor, happened upon Carter and his MDCC teammates at a rally along the Michigan/Canadian border a few years ago. With the pace of the ride not quite to his liking, the Walland bike fit specialist said he began looking around for a group pedaling a quicker tempo. Seconds later, Swint, Cox, Heard, Daelemans, and Carter came hurtling up the road in single file.
"I said, 'Now those guys are probably from a club," Sloan said. "They were cuttin' a good pace. Not only did I jump on their wheel, but 15 or 20 othere people did, too."
Sloan's knowledge of cycling etiquette - ask before sitting in someone's draft uninvited - impressed club members.
"They said, 'People have been jumping on our wheel all day long. You're the first one to ask,'" Sloan said. "You can ride with us anytime."
When Sloan returned to Walland, MDCC made him President of its newly chartered Tennessee chapter.
"Since I'm the only (Tennessee) member, I kind of got it by default," Sloan quipped. "They've had a great time down here. I really appreciate the hospitality people have shown them."
Swint, Cox, and Heard returned to Detroit on Sunday. Carter stayed on until Tuesday to get in a few more climbs, including Montvale Road's famed "The Wall." The searing 3-mile climb into Happy Valley is something Sloan insisted Carter see before leaving.
Brown had some advice for Carter as he and a collection of cyclist, which included Brown's husband Ken, set off for the Blount County brute Tuesday morning.
"All the views are worth the climbs," she said.
That was before Sloan and the others included "Sweetie Pie," a stunning 27-percent grade out of Happy Valley, in Tuesday's ride.
"He may never come back," Brown said.
Oh, he'll be back, Carter said. Brown's going to get that rematch.
"The riding (this weekend) was excellent," Carter said. "The people were great. The countryside was breathtaking.
"So were the hills."