Tuesday, July 22, 2014


     Fresh off my week on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I looked forward to riding the six gaps again this year.  Regular readers know that we have a mini-family reunion each year at High Valley Resort in Suches.  I bring my bike, we hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) and others, and try to find a new activity each year for the grandkids.  This year it was zip-lining in Helen.  Once again, we stayed over July 4th and enjoyed the fireworks display put on by the Suches Fire Department.  But about the cycling....
     I always start off in a counter-clockwise direction over Woody Gap, transition to Neel's Gap, and back to the cabins over Wolf Pen Gap.  This is the easiest direction and allows me to ease into mountain climbing.  The cabins are right on the route, so no extra mileage or portage is necessary.  There is a one-mile warm-up before hitting the one-mile climb to Woody Gap, followed by five miles of a great downhill to the Stone Pile.  Today the wind came up the mountain, thus I had a pedestrian pace of 30 mph and more pedaling than usual.  I waited until nine o'clock thus had zero vehicle traffic.
     I picked up a few cars on my way to Turner's Corner and the beginning of Neel's Gap.  A check of the computer showed my time so far was spot-on my average.  Neel's Gap is a nine-mile climb and takes me an hour, or maybe fifty-five minutes if I'm feeling good.  I guess I felt good, because fifty-five minutes later I stopped at the top for a potty break (this is different from a "nature break" in that I used a facility designed for the purpose rather than a bush or tree or the side of the road).  
     The downhill in this direction is only about three miles and at over 30 mph took less than seven minutes.  Then came the three mile climb up Wolf Pen.  I really like both sides of Wolf Pen Gap.  And this year it was even better, in that I had brand new asphalt.  Smooth road or not, I suffered more than usual going up, and braked more than usual on the two mile twisting downhill.  Then it was the final five miles back to the cabin.  What a great work-out and only three minutes slower than my average of two-hours, forty-five minutes.  I certainly couldn't blame it on the weather, which was picture-perfect.
     The next day I did the same course but in a clock-wise direction.  This generally takes five to ten minutes longer, but because I was slow yesterday, only took three minutes longer this time.  The descent of Neel's Gap again provided sweeping curves to be taken at speed, and certainly got the adrenaline moving.  I did it again the following day, but stopped before getting to Woody Gap in order to accompany Marilane to the organic farm for fresh vegetables.  They were closed.
Dockery Lake
     Kids, grandkids and various family started arriving, plus the 4th, so cycling took a back-seat to other activities, including a six mile hike from Dockery Lake to the AT, then back to Woody Gap.  I'd not done Dockery Lake before and was pleasantly surprised at the woods we moved through.
     Several days passed before I once again mounted the bike to take on the gaps.  But with threatening weather, I opted for another Woody, Neel's, Wolf Pen circuit.  Five minutes quicker than the first time, or about average.  With all the Blue Ridge climbing in my legs I had hoped for faster times.
     More hiking.  Then came the monster: Hog Pen Gap.  Son-in-law Jim drove me over to the top of Jack's Gap for the start.  From there I descended five miles, turned right and began going up Unicoi Gap.  The first four-plus miles comprise the best descent of all the gaps.  On a good day I'm over 35 mph and don't touch the brakes.  The downhill continues another five or so miles and is quite easy.  Then you make the turn towards the Russell Scenic By-way, which takes you up and over Hog Pen Gap.  This is a serious climb.  Depending on where you say the climb starts, it is either seven or nine miles up.  But two continuous miles are in the 12% category and my Garmin registered a 22% ramp.  Hog Pen also provides the fastest, straight-line downhill of all the gaps.  I attained top speed of 45.2 mph.  The road continued to roll until the turn back toward Wolf Pen.  A couple of miles of respite, then the familiar three-mile climb.
     For the first time in several years, I had to stop mid-way up to let my heart-rate drop back to an acceptable level.  Hog Pen really takes a lot out of me.  Anyway, once at the top I coasted and banked my way down for a couple miles of rejuvenation, then rolled the last five back to the cabins.  Forty-six miles and 5602 feet of climbing for today.
     My last day was the 51-mile Skeenah Gap ride.  This goes north out of Suches in a loop toward Blairsville, then back once again over Wolf Pen Gap.  I consider this only rollers, with Wolf Pen the only real climb.  I had great weather and started with several miles of downhill.  I stopped once when my energy level going up a moderate climb needed replenishing, but felt pretty good the whole ride.  Wolf Pen was taken at a sedate speed, but I didn't need to stop and rest.  Only after reviewing the stats when I got home did I realize I did 4,957 feet of climbing.
     Compared to the Blue Ridge ride, I did half the mileage and half the climbing.  But 22,000 feet is still a lot of muscle-building.  Unlike last year, I had great weather for all my rides, mostly in the mid 70's.