Flying through the back roads of Georgia in the Tour de Georgia merchandiser’s Dodge Sprinter van we came across a train, slowly crossing the road. Then it stopped, dead in its tracks. How could this be? The orange race route markers pointed straight into an empty box car.
I got out of the van and checked out the train. Immovable cars extended in both directions as far as the eye could see. The traffic began piling up. Right behind us a course marshal flew to the scene in his pickup. He immediately recognized the problem, and he was a whole lot better at doing something about it than I was. He radioed the news in and within less than a minute half a dozen Georgia troopers screamed down the road in our direction, blue lights swirling everywhere, sirens blaring. They moved citizen’s vehicles to either side of the road, clearing space. I overheard that they had gotten word from the train operator that there was an emergency shutdown.
Meanwhile, in the bike race, Andrea Tafi had a five minute and thirty second lead on the peloton. He was closing the gap to our position quickly. Would all his hard work go for naught when he came upon this behemoth in his path? Local Sheriffs began working through possible alternate routes, looking for a railroad crossing that was clear. Patrol cars rushed to various locations to determine the best alternative.
But then a huge crash sounded. The train lurched forward. Somehow, they had gotten it started. The cars slowly rolled by. Reports on race radio confirmed that Tafi was within moments of turning the corner and heading toward the train.
Then finally the end of the train was visible, and the road cleared. The patrolmen flew across the tracks, well behind schedule in their task of closing intersections and creating the necessary rolling road closures. We drove within their ranks, feeling like some sort of foreign dignitary being escorted between meetings with heads of state. It's not the sort of treatment obscure authors usually get while on a book tour and late for a signing. I love Georgia!
As we came upon oncoming traffic, one officer after another peeled off and held back the cars. Already, local sheriffs had filled in and were directing columns of traffic out of our way. Beside the roads, hundreds of people waited. Seeing our Tour de Georgia logo covered truck they waved enthusiastically. We threw press-on tattoos, postcards, candy, and other freebies from the windows.
After a hair raising ride we streamed into Rome, Georgia. I sprinted to the signing booth where, to my amazement, buyers of fifteen books were waiting for signatures. "What was the holdup?" they asked. I only had time to explain the basics. Before the day was over I signed piles of books, plus tons of baseball caps, t-shirts, and various memorabilia. They were making me feel like a star. Have I ever mentioned that I love Georgia? Well, I do. I schedule a little book signing tour and they design the best world-caliber bicycle race I’ve ever experienced around it. That’s downright neighborly of them!