Wednesday, June 30, 2010


This is my cycling blog, so only the cycling portion of our two weeks in Suches, Georgia will be recounted. However, kids and grandkids joined us for a week of other fun. We continued our hiking of the Appalachian Trail and perhaps next year will complete the State of Georgia portion.
You will soon hear Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen say, sometime during the next three weeks, that the first day (of Le Tour de France) in the mountains is amajor leg adjustment even for the pros, in leaving flat or rolling hills and cycling mountains. This is very true, and even though Brasstown Bald is always the "big" objective, I always take a few days of lesser climbs before tackling it.
We again stayed at our favorite site, High Valley Resort, so on the first morning I left the cabin and within five minutes began the climb of Woody Gap (from the north, or easy side). Ten minutes later came the 5.3 mile descent and the transition over to Turner's Corner, followed by the 8 or so mile climb up Neel's Gap, a nice descent, and the 3.2 mile climb up Wolf Pen Gap. This totalled 34 miles, just shy of 4,000 feet of climb, and a good warm-up.
What I found out on this practice run is that my sinuses were not working properly, my legs took an abnormally long time to go from "rolling" to "climbing," and I used too much braking on the curves.
The next foray had Marilane drive me to the top of Jack's Gap (coincidentally the beginning of the Brasstown Bald climb), and I began with a downhill, followed by Unicoi Gap, a modest climb and great downhill, and a transition over to the Russell Scenic Highway (Hogpen Gap). This is a long, steep climb and took a lot out of me. Plus, while the downhill gave me some great speed, a lot of transition miles had to be churned out before coming to the turn to Wolf Pen Gap. The day's total came to 44.8 miles and 5344 feet of climb.
The next day I took it easy and just went up to Wolf Pen and back, 14 miles and 1602 feet of climb. The day following, still taking it easy, I did the three gaps in the other direction. Four days of riding, all of which included Wolf Pen Gap.
My next riding day took me north of Suches to Skeenah Gap. In all, 50.7 miles and 4788 feet of climb. But it was a clockwise loop, and to return to the cabin, I again came by way of Wolf Pen. By now, my descending had improved quite a bit. Two days later, the time had come to challenge Brasstown Bald.
Since it is about 25 miles away, some coordinating needed to be done. I left the cabin on my bike, up and over Wolf Pen and another five miles. Son Kurt drove the car, picked me up roadside, and drove the remaining 10 miles (up Jack's Gap) to the base. Because I had warmed up for an hour, it didn't take but a few minutes before beginning the climb.
B'town starts you off with a 16% max, 13% overall, ramp of about a quarter mile, then the steepness lessens, but rarely did I see single digits on my computer. Somewhere around a mile, the Garmin (thus the road) jumped to 18% for a short while, 16% overall, then a short respite, then "the wall" so named because it comes in around 24% (this # is open to debate). Twenty yards from topping this ramp I had to stop and let my heart rate and breathing recover. Within 90 seconds I remounted the bike and easily, if slowly, covered the distance and continued the climb. I noticed single digits and dropped a few gears for a while, but two more ramps in the teens needed attending before the parking lot came into view. Total time for 2.4 miles: 32 minutes, 20 seconds. Total time to return to the bottom: 4 minutes, 54 seconds. The wheel rims were very, very hot to the touch.
Brasstown should have been my last ride, but Kurt and Nic had a late flight, so starting at 8am Sunday I did the familiar three gap ride. Ah, but fate had just a tad excitement in store. Coming to the Wolf Pen Gap turn off of Neel's Gap, I noticed a banner on the corner indicating the Georgia Cup. Oh s**t! I was now on a bike race course!!
Hey! I had to get home and showered. I made about a mile of climbing before I saw the lead vehicle, lights flashing. About 50 yards behind was a single rider, the leader. It took another 3 or 4 minutes before the second rider came past, and another 5 minutes before a pack of five riders. By now, I only had a short way to go the top. Other riders came past, Moose waving at each but receiving no response. Moose is the stuffed animal attached to my Camelbak.
All the while, I kept tabs on riders behind, and when getting to the top and not seeing any within 100 yards (where a turn prevented further distance sighting), I plunged down the other side. Given the many times I had done this recently, I must admit, I took the curves beautifully and without braking and pedaling out of the corners. I even had to wave the car and motorcycle in front of me to speed it up. Alas, one of the earlier cyclists had a misfortune coming out of one of the turns and needed medical attention, plus having a vehicle in the road. I slowed a bit, and then could see in my mirror a real racer coming. I sat up and let him pass before again tucking and pedaling.
This was a two mile downhill and four miles of rolling before arriving at the cabin. Only one other racer passed me, but truthfully, only the ones who were out of gas were behind anyhow. Because I saw an on-time arrival when topping Neel's Gap, and actually arrived ten minutes early, I guess being on the course and scorching the downhill accounted for the whole ten minutes. My legs felt like jelly, and agreed with me.
Climbing now takes a back seat, as only six weeks away are the Texas State Time Trial Championships. Stay tuned.


For the past two weeks I've been enjoying cycling in the north Georgia mountains (to be posted later). Unfortunately, I received tragic news one afternoon: my friend, Evelyn, collapsed and died while on a ride.
This came as a real shocker. If you have been a regular reader, you know that she was a strong rider, in seemingly excellent health, making me struggle to keep up with her on my Sunday morning 360 route. Just a few days prior, we had exchanged emails, planning to ride it again when I returned home. However, she also volunteered countless hours helping people learn to ride, become better riders, led Sunday rides for several years, and actively promoted cycling whenever she could. She was a very nice person.
Her cycling friends held a commemorative ride in Austin. Not being able to attend, I did my own in Georgia. Her family held a service on Monday. I returned home on Tuesday.
So, with heavy heart I bid a solitary "adieu" to my cycling buddy. Sorry I couldn't do more.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Short background: when going to Georgia to, in addition to family fun, accost Brasstown Bald, I generally take a few days to get used to riding mountains. Going "up" for five+ miles is not the same as attacking a short hill. Therefore, my first day is usually Woody Gap, Neel's Gap, and Wolf Pen Gap. This is a 32 or so mile circuit.
Woody Gap is easy from the north, with a 5.3 mile terrific downhill. From there is a transition over to Neel's Gap. This is a 5 or so mile uphill in the neighborhood of 8%, judging from my glances at the readout of my Garmin 305. Later I will ascertain more accurate figures. Wolf Pen is about 4 miles of tighter turns and double-digit ramps. I did these two days ago.
One thing I noticed on this ride was the transition from downhill to uphill caused my quads to signal my brain "who, me"? This is very strange and has not happened before. For the whole ride, each uphill took a long time before the muscles started operating properly.
Today brought a new adventure. I had not cycled Unicoi or Hogpen Gaps. Judging from the map, I guesstimated 40 miles. Marilane accompanied me in the car to the beginning of Brasstown Bald, my departure point.
The ride began with a generally 4 mile downhill, very little pedaling. Unicoi was longer than Woody Gap, but not too difficult. The downhill had long, sweeping curves and allowed for high speeds and very little braking. A short transition to the Russell Scenic Highway, aka Hogpen Gap. This proved to be a leg-breaker. I think probably a mile longer than Neel's Gap, and steeper, as it took an hour and ten minutes of climbing, using all of my gears (including the one I saved for Brasstown Bald), and a rest stop to allow my heart to return to a reasonable level. The major downhill portion had me above 40mph for several miles, but the rest of it flattened out or rolled. My legs had no umphh left. Unfortunately, Marilane had gone shopping, a dark cloud began to form, and I had another 15 miles, including back over Wolf Pen Gap, four miles away.
I took a short break at the bottom of Wolf Pen and shifted to the easiest gear possible. Thirty-five minutes, and a short mid-climb break later, I somehow made it to the top. This side of Wolf Pen is only a few miles of descent, but is truthfully my favorite. The curves at the start are short and steeply inclined and just a whole lot of fun. These gave me the energy to make it the rest of the way to the cabin, a total of 44 miles, arriving concurrently with the rain.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


One of the reasons for my before-sunrise-departure Sunday rides is to try to take advantage of the wind. Generally, the prevailing wind is from the southeast or southwest. Generally, the wind picks up as the sun rises. My 360 route goes south, southwest, west, then northeast, with the last few miles again heading south. Ergo, for the first 50 minutes I'm into the wind and my goal is to make the turn before the sun gets too high.
Alas, this morning proved non-typical. As I drove to the start, I could see some big flags billowing straight out. Again today my start time was 6am. This route gives me about eight minutes of warm-up before the first climb. I rounded one corner and prepared to shift into the big ring and fold over the aerobars, as this is a nice flat section with a bike lane. Immediately Plan B came into play as the wind came head-on. Plan B is to scramble for a gear that I can hold at 80 rpm. Once I found the gear, I looked down to see which one and gave a startled grunt when I saw how far up the cassette I had come! Thus the term "5 gear wind" came to my mind.
I count going from middle to big ring as two gears, so today I pedaled this stretch 5 gears lower than average.
The half-way point came and I had lost seven minutes. Even with the wind behind me, I never made up the time. Great workout, enjoyed getting out, but still haven't taken advantage of the new gears.

Monday, June 7, 2010


After yesterday's ride I installed my new 11-28 cogset, replacing the 12-25. This (the 28 cog) is the final improvement toward helping achieve success at Brasstown Bald. My Sunday 360 Loop ride is amazingly consistent: 2 hours 33 minutes on good days, 2:36 average days, 2:45 on bad days. In a previous post, I hypothesized that my downhill speed needed a boost. The 11 tooth cog should rectify that. Therefore, I modified the 100% cadence focus by planning to see what speed the 11 would give me going down, without regard to cadence.
The weather forecast indicated a slight wind (5-10mph) from the south, increasing to 10-15mph in the afternoon. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the whole forecast. At 4:30am the temperature showed 83F. I expected 75F. While mentally noted, I gave it no more than a passing thought.
I left the house, in the dark, at 5:30, driving to the start place and putting wheels down at 6am. As the sky lightened, I could see there would be no sunrise to behold. Dampness enveloped me within 20 yards of starting. It wasn't foggy, but for the next 2:36 minutes I cycled in a cloud. I'm guessing the humidity hovered between 95-100%. I managed to put it in the 11 a couple of times, but with the heavy air and slight wind, never could to crank it up. Of course, I still worked on cadence (had to, actually). Try again next Sunday.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Cycling has been restricted for the past two weeks. This morning I slipped out at 7am for a quick 31 mile ride before the wind had a chance to come up. The ride is half neighborhoods and half highway with a wide shoulder and normally takes two hours. Once again I concentrated on cadence, not worrying about speed. Until last month, my average rpm surrounded 72. The last two rides I had it up to 80. Since most of the time today I was in the mid 80's and occasionally low 90's and once 102, I think 80 is about the best I can do. The route has several hills that even with gearing down, my rpm drops. Plus, the computer registers zero when I coast. Does high cadence work? I can tell you I dropped 5 minutes off the last time, and the last time was 5 minutes off my previous best. And, my knees thanked me.
But, the title is the grasshopper. I pedaled up a grade on the highway (next to a field), concentrating on my cadence. Suddenly, for no reason, my gear shifted. Further investigation revealed a small grasshopper stuck between the chain and the 19 tooth cassette ring. Really, really stuck. Stopping and changing gears moved the chain off the corpse, but removal proved difficult. I couldn't pry it off the teeth, it had impaled itself so deeply. After a few futile efforts, I moved on and by the time I had gone 12 additional miles, it had departed the cassette. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently, it jumped onto (or the space above) the chain just as it engaged the gear.
And why even bring up this trivial matter? One, because the ride itself was boring. Enjoyable to be out, but other than dodging early garage sale patrons, uneventful. And two, because sometimes stuff happens. Let it go.