Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- The words come rat-ta-tat-tat, spilling out of David Carlton's mouth, coated with energy and excitement.

They spill all over the place as Carlton, full of animated life and gestures, tries his best to explain just what it's like to live in this cycling world, this realm where you push yourself like never before -- driving whatever there is that's in you to the brink and beyond.

"I've done all kinds of sports -- tennis, boxing, football, martial arts, track & field, weight training -- and this is the toughest sport,'' he said. "It's so physically demanding ... ''

Just how demanding?

"You have to be on the verge of exhaustion, total exhaustion," Carlton said as his eyes light up with the revelation he was sharing. "You have to get comfortable being very uncomfortable. It's so challenging and requires so much focus that when you finish the race, you feel as if you have just had a mild stroke.''

Welcome to the life and times of the Albany-based Pecan City Pedalers Club Racing Team.

That's what they call themselves, this band of bikers who have found new life in the world of cycling -- not just for the sheer fun of racing on bicycles or the bond that has grown between the group.

There's that, and so much more.

Sure, they have those somewhat easy bike rides together, and yes, there's a competitive edge that swells and feeds off the road races that range from 40 to 100 miles -- races they relish. For in each of them, there's that desire to be the best. It's part of what drives them.

But that's only part of it.

They ride like the wind because they love pushing their own limits.

"There is something addicting about it,'' said Mark Miller, 53. "You are pushing your limits, and you don't know what limits you have. I feel better in my mid 50s than I felt when I was in my 30s. It's the best I've ever felt in my life.''

Runners know that feeling of exhilaration, but the cyclists say what they feel is different, more personal.

"It's not like a runner's high,'' Pecan City founder Michele Moulton said. "It's more painful.''

In a good way.

The group of local cyclists talk about the pain because it's real, but that's only a bi-product of cycling.

"It's my passion,'' said Kent Wheeler, who has been riding for 16 years. Wheeler, 44, is the best in the group and has won big races all across Georgia and Florida, while Wheeler and Moulton have both competed nationally. In the cycling world, all the riders are ranked and put into categories, ranging from Category 5 through Category 1 (the highest).

Wheeler is a Category 1 rider and the top cyclist in the club. Moulton, who started the club a little more than two years ago, is a Category 2 and constantly moving up toward the top category.

Everyone has their own reasons for cycling, but talk to a dozen members of the club and the same theme echoes from each rider: There is simply nothing that compares to cycling.

"I've played semi-pro soccer in Germany when I was stationed there with the Marines,'' Wheeler said. "I played football in high school, and played a lot of other sports. There's nothing like this. It's truly the most painful sport.

"Imagine when I blow the whistle you go as hard as you can for as long as you can. And just about the time there is nothing left, a guy pulls up next to you and wants to play a chess match. That's what it's like. There's so much to it. It's a little like NASCAR. There's blocking and drafting and there is a team dynamic. I love it.''

Wheeler may know more about the pain of cycling than the rest. During one race, he was so locked in that he didn't even realize what happened when he was knocked off his bike and onto the pavement.

"A deer blind-sided me,'' Wheeler said. "I was on the ground, and the only thing I could think of was, 'I need to get up and continue racing.' ''

But he couldn't. His bike was a wreck.

"The whole field stopped to see if I was all right,'' Wheeler said. "The fork on my bike was broken. I was done for the day.''

Wheeler's blind-siding gives you some idea of just how intense the riders get during a race, when endurance and focus mingle, sending them on a wave with its own crest -- its own threshold.

The club consists of 15 members, ranging from ages 14 to 57. Two of the members live in Alabama but race with Pecan City. Gage Kronberger is the youngest at 14. He's the Alabama Road Racing champion in his age group, and Ryan Couture, 27, won the Category 4 Alabama Road Race championship.

The club is sponsored by Heritage Bank, and they travel together for races in this part of the country. But part of the fun are the group rides -- which can be competitive.

After all, everyone in the group lives to compete.

Moulton has won multiple titles. She was the 2009 Criterium Champion in Georgia and also finished fourth in the Masters National Road Racing championships last August. She's the heart and soul of the club. Five years ago, Moulton would have never dreamed cycling would become such a big part of her life.

She was busy with a career and also spent time teaching an aerobics class when she met Amy Fix about four years ago. Fix was already hooked on cycling and road races, and she thought Moulton, who was in great shape, would fit right in with the cyclists, so Fix invited Moulton to a group ride.

"I had to buy a bike,'' Moulton remembers. "I went on a group ride and that was it.''

Well, almost.

"It was awkward at first, all the shifting and breaking, and learning how to drink the water while you were riding the bike,'' Moulton said with a laugh. "But I stuck with it. One year later, I started racing.''

Now the members of the club call her "The Godfather.'' Not the "Godmother,'' but the "Godfather.''

"She is the Godfather,'' says Ray Fararo, who -- at the age of 51 -- rides about 225 miles a week to get ready for road races. Wheeler averages about 300 miles a week, and Moulton rides about 250.

Moulton formed the club in 2009 and now teaches a spinning class. It was natural for her, and just as natural for some of the members to gravitate to cycling.

"I've always played sports and was still playing soccer when I went to her spinning class,'' said Pecan City rider Mark Thompson, 41. "That's how I started. I stopped playing soccer and have been racing for about nine months. It's so competitive and you push yourself like nothing else. You have to go to a special place, a special place inside to push yourself to do this.''

They all end up at that special place, and that's part of the magic of the sport.

"I was a meathead, a guy who was always working out in the gym,'' said Carlton, 49. "I went to her spinning class, and I was hooked. The cycling community is such a good group, such good people. And there's nothing like the feeling you get doing this. It's a feeling of euphoria.''

Then Carlton stopped for a second, paused and added: "The euphoria doesn't come during the race. You feel the euphoria after the race.''