....Not the century. You can read about that in my September 3, 2011 blog. Every year since 2005 we've been coming to the North Georgia Mountains on vacation. I bring my bike and ride the gaps, three at a time. Every year in July I post a blog about it. Mostly, not much changes. This year, there were some minor changes, plus I didn't get rained out on my rides.
I was looking forward to this year, in that with my new bike fit allowing more muscles to turn the pedals, I hoped to make a better ascent of Hogpen Gap and maybe tackle Brasstown Bald. Last year I didn't have the oomph for Hogpen, and it has been at least three years since I tried the beast of Brasstown.
My first ride is always Woody Gap, Neels Gap, Wolfpen Gap. This thirty-five mile loop eases me into mountain cycling, in that Woody (from Suches) is a short (two miles), gentle climb (6-8% grade) and the transition to Neels is rolling. Traditionally, it takes me two hours, forty-five minutes. I started my Garmin and rolled out from the cabin. In the past I'd wait until leaving the premises before beginning to time the ride. As I glanced down, I noticed the HRM was not giving me a reading. Mentally I checked that the strap was in place (yes, it has been forgotten in the past) and when I got to the road I stopped and re-wet it. Still no read-out. This was poor timing for the battery to go out. As it turns out, even replacing the battery didn't get it going, and I'm finding blogs advising what to do, but now I have other issues with it. That's another story, but suffice to say none of my rides have heart-rate information.
The ride itself was uneventful. The five-mile descent down Woody is always fun and I had no traffic. There was a slight wind in my face, so to maintain the mid-twenties speed, I did some easy pedaling. The transition to Turner's Corner felt good. After a short stop to ingest a Clif Bar, I began the eight miles (which historically, and incorrectly, have reported as nine) to the top. I recorded mostly 7-8% with a few short 10% ramps, with about a mile of flat-downhill about the half-way spot, and arrived at the top feeling good. Another short stop for a nature break, then it was off down the mountain.
This is a four-lane highway that is very lightly traveled. Generally, if I start without a vehicle in front of me and get a few seconds headstart on any behind me, since my speed is close to the speed limit (35 mph), I can use both lanes of traffic to carve the curves. I'm constantly monitoring my rear view mirrors to be sure of not impeding any cars, but mostly I have the road to myself. All too soon the left turn onto route 180 and Wolfpen Gap comes up.
Wolfpen is a three-mile climb, with a lot of cambered, tight turns. It is a favorite of motorcycles and there are always guys enjoying it. It is also my favorite, although five out of the six gaps can be catagorized as favorites (I'm unenamoured with Jack's Gap), for different reasons. Once at the top, there is a two mile exhilerating descent, some standard descent, and then rolling back to the cabin.
This year, I did this loop, in one direction or the other, four times.
My other loop starts at the top of Jack's Gap (driving to that point), and is a boring five-mile descent and right turn up to Unicoi Gap. This is another easy ascent of about two and a half miles at 5-8%, followed by a great downhill. Again, four lanes most of the time, with sweeping curves that mostly can be taken at speed. I noticed some cracks developing in strategic places on the curves, which had me slowing slightly. You get a couple of fast miles, then more moderate. Soon enough another right turn puts you on the transition to Hogpen. Don't get the wrong idea, this transition has 8% grades.
One more right turn puts you on the Russell Scenic Highway. It is not scenic. Rather, it is shaded. There are trees on both sides. The asphalt is newish and smooth. It is a long climb, with a nice downhill in the middle. But my Garmin showed a lot of 10-12% grades. The killer comes after a long 12% that turns a curve and presents you with 16% (according to my Garmin, which may not be accurate at this point since it showed 20%). It doesn't matter, the climb is tough. Through the sweating and panting, I smiled. I was going up and although working hard, not struggling. The downhill had me wishing for the road I'd just come up. Rough as a cob. Scary long straights, allowing speeds in excess of 50mph, if you are so inclined. I kept mine around 39mph this year (I see that previously I'd gone up to 47). More rolling transition gets you back to route 180, a left turn, ride a mile, another left turn, ride two miles, turn right and go up Wolfpen. Mileage came in at forty-five, climbing 5462 feet.
One other route I do is the Skeenah Gap ride. This is fifty-one miles, and has as much altitude (4782) as the shorter ones. Where the three gap starting with Woody (going south) is counter-clockwise, Skeenah is clockwise, thus starts with going down the north side of Woody. It is another great descent. Super weather, mostly by myself without vehicles, until I got to a couple miles of moderate traffic. Last year, I had to stop after thirty-eight miles and call for a ride home, I was so pooped. This year I just carried on, topping Wolfpen once again.
I rested the next day in preparation for Brasstown Bald. Originally I thought I had a three year hiatus from climbing Brasstown, but in going through my records I find my last climb to have been in 2011. Also, I didn't set a new record on the decent, but tied my best time of 4:55. You can read about it in my July 2011 post, with pictures. Anyhow, I was pleased as punch to once again be able to make the ascent. For those not reading the 2011 account, the climb starts off at 12%, goes to 16%, drops to 12%, then a short break in the 6-8% range. You get another 16%, maybe 18%, followed immediately by the 24% wall. After that, the 16% and 12% ramps don't seem so bad, and the single digits downright flat.
This year's foray into Georgia was a cycling success, with 260 miles and 29,841feet of climbing.