When Thomson Bender was looking for something special to do on his 17th birthday, he probably never thought he would spend the day in the town that shares his name.
Thomson is one of 1,800 riders in this year's Bicycle Ride Across Georgia which will be making a stop in Thomson on June 14. The coincidence of the name sharing came as a pleasant surprise to Thomson's father Bob who will be riding in his fifth BRAG.
There are also several McDuffie County residents participating in the event who will welcome Thomson Bender to their hometown this Monday. Making the trek from McDuffie County is Jackson Cheatham, Steve Dwyer, Bill Jopling, Bob and Kelly Flanders and Tony and Katie Reese.
BRAG has visited Thomson several times during its 25-year history. In 1984, riders passed through the Camellia City of the South, and they spent the night in 1989 and 1993. This is the first time in 11 years that BRAG riders will get to experience McDuffie County, and merchants couldn't be happier.
"We're just fortunate to have them...They've got a pretty structured schedule, and we're kind of fitting into it with what we're doing," said McDuffie County Tourism Director Gerald Baygents. "It's just pretty much like any other visitors that come in and spend the night. That's what tourism's about. Anytime we can get groups to do that for whatever reason, it boosts our economy."
Hotels and restaurants look to get a huge spike in business when BRAG comes through next week, even though a majority of riders will be camped out in the field behind Thomson High School.
According to BRAG Director Jerry Colley, riders are expected to spend $100,000 per day along the ride. In other words, McDuffie County's economy could be getting a $100,000 infusion from the out-of-town visitors.
While in Thomson, BRAG participants will be treated to entertainment from the band Crosstie Walkers as well as catered meals at THS. Shuttle busses will also be running from I-20 to THS about every 30 minutes.
Mr. Colley said Thomson has been a very accommodating town, one that he is glad to return to.
"We love to go back where we've been before and where we know we're welcomed, as we are in Thomson. It's one of our favorite cities," he said.
This year's theme for the week-long ride is "Toccoa to Tybee Island." Riders will stop about every 60 miles along that route. Thomson is the second stop on the trip, 63 miles from Elberton.
"This is how 1,800 people like to spend their vacation, riding bicycles," Mr. Colley said.
Even Thomson Bender chose to spend his birthday and his vacation on the ride across Georgia. He is fond of the City of Thomson because this won't be the first time he's been in the town that shares his name.
When the Bender family drove through Thomson years ago, they took pictures of their son standing next to the city limit sign, the Bank of Thomson and at the high school. This Monday, as he turns 17 in the city with his name, amidst a week-long bike ride, his father is sure it will be a birthday he won't soon forget.