Monday, October 3, 2011


The previous post gives a run-up to this one, which deserves to be separate. But you might want to read that one first.

A short history: for the past five years Marilane and I have been coming to Suches, Georgia for a family get-together. I bring my bike and cycle, as evidenced by numerous posts on the subject. Therefore, I have experienced all six of the gaps that comprise the ride. But I only do them three at a time, and that is only 33 or 37 miles. Early this year, I decided to sign up for the Six Gap Century, billed as 105 miles and 11,200 feet of climbing. Then, working backwards on the calendar, I planned an epic Blue Ridge Parkway ride. Unfortunately, as whined about in previous posts, I also planned a lot of big mileage training that never happened. Coming into Virginia, my longest ride this year had been 63.5 miles and only half a dozen had been over 50 miles.

Based on our performance on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Barry and I discussed opting for Three Gaps rather than suffer a whole day doing the century. But the weather finally turned gorgeous, with brilliant blue skies, light wind, and afternoon temperatures in the 80's. On Saturday we arrived early to pick up our packets on the square in Dahlonega, then wandered around the vendors, purchased a jersey, had lunch, and rested in the afternoon, watching football. We were then pretty much determined to suffer on Sunday.

Conversation with an experienced Six Gap rider Saturday morning convinced us to arrive early at the start, the high school. Breakfast consisted of bagels and juice at 5:30am, then the short drive to the high school. Even at this early hour, the police were directing the line of cars into the parking lot. Not much to do except sit around and use the facilities until start time, 7:30am. I had left my wind jacket at the hotel, so Barry lent me his (he had two). With a starting temperature in the low 50's, and being on the west side of the mountains, I knew it would be chilly for the first hour, especially going downhill. Usually I also cover my knees, but not when I'm serious, and I was definitely serious this morning.

We started mid-pack of an estimated 2,000 cyclists. Not because we wanted to, but because that is where we landed when we went to line up. For sure, we did not want to be with the crazy folks at the front. We are both experienced charity ride cyclists, which means we know enough to start off slow and warm up the body and conserve energy. What is different about this ride, though, is the lack of inexperienced riders. You know, the ones that zip around, change pace willy-nilly, generally causing a nuisance. Without these nuts, the atmosphere was quite relaxed, knowing that the folks around you were not dangerous.

So, I felt quite good as we eased into the ride. Lots of cyclists passed me, I passed a few. After the first half-hour I was warm, comfy, and finally came to that part of the ride where the roads were familiar. Just before Turner's Corner (a rest stop that hardly anyone stops at), I pulled off the road for a nature break and to remove the wind jacket. Neel's Gap, the first significant climb, started at Turner's Corner and finished nine miles later.

One interesting thing on the way up: a cyclist passed me (nothing strange about that) and the girl behind me called out loudly "are you going to stand the whole way!" Her companion asked her why she said what she did, in that cyclists periodically stand when going uphill, to give their backs and legs a break from sitting. She answered "he doesn't have a saddle." Sure enough, when I looked closely, he had no seat post and no saddle. No place to sit. This was not a mechanical failure, he planned to ride the whole way without it.

What wind there was came at my back. Given the temperature, the wind, the crowd, I ascended Neel's Gap better than any of my previous rides. Only glancing at the rest stop at the top, covered with a myriad of cyclists, I continued on down the other side and enjoyed a fast, vehicle free descent (the road wasn't closed, just empty of cars and motorcycles). Next came Jack's Gap.

Rather than being all uphill, the climb up Jack's Gap is a series of ups and downs, the ups being longer. Saving myself for the third gap, I just geared down and cautiously reeled up to the rest stop. Now almost three hours into the ride, I stopped and refilled my bottles, one with water and the other with the energy drink they provided. I carried a flask of energy gel (along with a couple Clif Bars). I also ate half a banana, then mounted up for the descent. All of this took seven minutes, two minutes more than what I preach should be the length of a fuel stop (it isn't about time lost, per se, but giving your muscles a break but not letting them begin to tighten up).

Halfway down, I turned off the course and pulled over for another nature break (the line at the porta potties having been too long), then proceeded down the rest of the way. This descent is downright casual, the only one of the six I can characterize that way. The start up Unicoi Gap began almost immediately. And like the just completed descent, the ascent up Unicoi was casual. Easy or not, I still started passing people. It is a short climb, maybe two and a half miles, but the descent is spectacular. Over seven miles of going down, the first three steep, fast, with wide sweeping curves. Having several cyclists in front to show me the lines helped in keeping my speed high. The last four were more moderate, in the mid-20's mph, pedaling mostly just to keep the legs moving.

Then it was time for the beast of the ride, Hogpen Gap. First came the several miles of transition to the turn on the Russell Scenic Highway. Make the turn and voila! you are going up. The first couple of miles lull the uninitiated into thinking this gap is just like the others, then you cross the KOM timing lines. Soon enough I came to guys (never women, hmmm) standing by their bikes gasping for air or just standing still hoping their heart rates would drop back to an acceptable range, or walking their bikes for a short distance to allow their legs to recover. Halfway up Hogpen a rest stop provides an excuse to ease the pain, and, of course, refuel. I took the opportunity to do both, and use the porta potty. It only took five minutes.

I still had another three miles to the summit, but almost a mile of that was downhill, and the hardest climbing had been accomplished. What with the rest and downhill, I felt fairly chipper as I crossed the KOM timing lines at the top. An aside: While the Six Gap Century is primarily a ride, not a race, they give everybody a timing chip and award prizes (and bragging rights) to the fastest finisher (male and female), and fastest up Hogpen Gap and Wolfpen Gap. I didn't enter the KOM competition, but they have my time anyhow. I finished 7th in my age group going up Hogpen. Had I put off the rest stop, I would have (woulda, coulda, shoulda) finished 4th. This is more musing than anything, I took the rest when I needed it. Besides, I finished 5th overall in my age group, so apparently two guys punished themselves too much.

Back to the ride. The downhill off Hogpen is extremely fast and the road is rough. I was happy clocking 47.5 mph and not trying for 50. Perhaps smooth asphalt might have tempted me. With a judicious use of the brakes, and again having a cyclist in front of me (about 50 yards, we don't like being too close at these speeds), the eight miles of downhill and transition went by quickly.

The next gap was Wolfpen. Wolfpen is my friend. It is three miles of steep, switchbacked corners. It usually takes all of my gears to get past some of the ramps, but because of my familiarity with it (at least five climbs per year), I never seem stressed with this climb. And the downhill has banked switchbacks than are a lot of fun for the first mile. Like Neel's and Unicoi, I zipped down Wolfpen at speeds previously unseen by me. Then came the short climb up to Winfield Scott Lake and the transition to Woody Gap.

Woody is a wuss (in this direction). It is short, maybe a mile and a half, with not much gradient. When you reach the summit, however, you have a great five mile downhill. I hardly glanced at the rest stop, as I pushed into the big ring and small cog for a fast descent. Alas, it was now afternoon and the wind had come up, blowing in my face. Rather than coasting in the high-20's, I now soft-pedaled in the mid-20s. Again, even with an open road, only one car came from behind me.

The last ten miles I took casually, mainly because I was really tired and secondarily because I knew I could finish. Actually, once I got past Hogpen I knew I had enough energy to complete the ride. One other thing kept me from pushing hard to the end: every now and then my left calf or right quad would give indication they might cramp if I asked too much of them. So we eased into Dahlonega and turned into the high school grounds, stopping the clock at seven hours and 55 minutes, three seconds.

Right after crossing the finish line, we stopped to turn in our timing chips. When I started to pedal away, the right calf balked, so I opted to walk the 100 yards to the truck and give different muscles an opportunity to work.

Having the start/finish at the high school is a great plus. Besides the bathrooms, they had the kitchen in which to work. A spaghetti plate, with rolls and tea, waited for me to pick up and find a table to sit at. My new friend, Mike, and his friends waved me over and we ate and discussed the ride.

I went over to see about getting a massage. The list and waiting period was too long. I just found a chair and let the day's work ease away.

No comments:

Post a Comment