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.