Wednesday, July 25, 2012


     Again this year, we had our family get-together in Suches, Georgia.  Again this year, since this is a cycling blog, I'll skip details of all the fun we had hiking the Appalachian Trail (completing all of the trail in Georgia), swimming at Lake Winfield Scott (not me, of course), and the fireworks display in Suches.
     My concern that I had lost some training was alleviated on my first ride.  We arrived at the cabin on Monday and around 9am on Tuesday (allowing folks to get to work and clear the roads), I began the traditional 3 Gap inaugural ride.  That is, I always do this ride first.  Woody Gap is only three miles from the cabin, and the climb only a mile, followed by a five mile downhill.  The wind in my face necessitated pedalling down the mountain in order to maintain a decent speed.  Mostly I stayed in the 25-30mph range, but did manage 35mph on one stretch.
      A nice, rolling transition of four miles brought me to Turner's Corner, the start of the nine mile climb to Neel's Gap.  I always allow an hour and it usually takes me 50-55 minutes to complete.  The start is gradual, and several miles into it you receive relief in the form of a slight downhill for about a mile.  Then it is three miles of 6-8% grade.
On the Skeenah Gap ride
     The reward for such hard work is a three mile descent, mostly without vehicles, thus allowing me to use all of the road.  My GPS indicates four spikes over 35mph, and nothing under 30mph once I got moving going down.  A left turn onto GA 180 put me immediately onto the climb up Wolf Pen Gap.  This three mile climb, mostly in the 8-10% range, usually takes half an hour and is my favorite of all the gaps.  The two mile descent of corkscrew turns is a lot of fun, and as usual I braked too much on my first run.  Generally it takes two or three times to re-familiarize myself with this section before I can zip around and fully enjoy the experience.  After Winfield Scott, it is another five miles of rolling hills to the cabin.
     In all, I did the 3 Gap ride, either clockwise or counter-clockwise, five times and on two other occasions rode from the cabin up Wolf Pen and back.  I also did the Hogpen Gap loop twice.
     The Hogpen Gap loop starts at the base of Brasstown Bald, or Jack's Gap if you prefer.  The eastern descent of Jack's Gap is a real bummer.  Five miles of downhill, but only the first mile is fun and after that it is so gradual that you sometimes wonder (as you have to pedal) if you are going down at all.  However the right turn and ascent up Unicoi Gap is just as gradual, and short, like three miles.
     The downhill of Unicoi is eight miles of sheer fun, with sweeping curves that can be taken as speed.  My top speed was 40mph at the very start, with lots of peaks over 35mph and nothing under 30mph for the first three miles.  Soon enough, sigh, came the right turn and transition to Hogpen Gap.
     Hogpen is similar to Neel's, in that the beginning is not-as-steep and there is a short downhill relief before the real climbing begins.  The difference is Hogpen's "gradual" is just under 10%, and the "steep" has a lot of over 10%, including a 15% pitch of about a quarter mile (perhaps less).  I'm proud to say I made it, for the first time, without stopping.  As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the climb I had been passed by a guy (cyclist) playing loud music (the tune the same as I hear at Gold's).  He also passed me as I took a short break at the top (thus he apparently took a break somewhere along the way).  But I didn't see him again, even though the downhill brought me to 45mph.  It would have been faster but a car (one of the few I saw) was in my way.  I could smell his brakes about halfway down, so obviously he didn't like using his gears to adjust his speed.
     Hogpen takes a lot of energy, but after a rolling transition, I still had to climb up Jack's Gap to get to the car.  This is another six and a half miles of climbing, although to be truthful, it also has a few relief parts.  Still, it was a slow slog.  I did the Hogpen loop twice.  The second time, I had to stop after the 15% grade.
     The other loop I do is over Skeena Gap.  This is a fifty-one mile loop.  The day I picked to ride it had heavy humidity and I felt blah.  Even small inclines gave my legs fits.  After thirty-eight miles I called Marilane to come pick me up.  I didn't have enough oomph to make it over Wolf Pen.  And, I never attempted Brasstown Bald.  Usually I build up the strength to tackle the 16%, 16%, 24% grades, but since I couldn't do the 15% and had trouble with the 12%'s, this seemed out of my reach for this year.
     All in all, I had 334 miles of mountain riding, and 33,900 feet of climb.  After returning home I signed up for the State Road Race Championships in Killeen.  This course has some heavy hills, and with my mountain training as a base, I hope to achieve some sort of recognition this year.