Tuesday, July 25, 2017

COMEUPPANCE 2017

     So, we left Georgia on Thursday and arrived home on Friday.  This was a squirrel-ly vacation so it took awhile to get the house squared away.  However, I arrived at the Bicycle Sport Shop Sunday ride on time, with bike and accoutrement intact.  Due to a granddaughter softball commitment later, besides not really liking the Buda ride, I opted for the beginner/recovery ride.  Just as well.  We noodled along to the turn-around, then several of us went further.  Five miles out I said good-bye to my companions and returned to the shop at a reasonable speed.  This was a good recovery ride.
     I planned to do the somewhat faster Monday night ride, but it was cancelled.  The universe interfered with cycling and I logged zero miles during the week, plus a strained back muscle which kept me pretty much immobile for a few days.  Anyhow, things were sorted out by the weekend and I prepared for the really nice NW Hills ride.  I like this ride, in either direction.  My recent mountain retreat should stand me in good stead for the climbing.
     Ten of us left BSS and for about thirty seconds all was good.  I drifted to the back and felt like the hammer had been put down from the start.  Then I looked at the measly sixteen/seventeen number on my computer.  Flat ground.  Ah well, the legs are tight and will respond better once they are warmed up.  Half an hour later reality set in.  I skipped the Great Northern sprint and met them as they came back to Shoal Creek and informed Chris (the leader) that I'd be turning around.
     I cruised back down Shoal Creek at fourteen mph, waiting for the HR to drop to an acceptable level.  Well, going out I was about twenty beats high and coming back it was still ten beats high.  Pook, ding-fu!  To add insult to injury, I had a door open on me.  This hasn't happened in years.  Fortunately I was paying attention and there weren't any cars behind me.  The GoPro was mounted on the seat post so I only have the rear shot.  I didn't give the occupant a wave.  Later on I almost got squirrel-ed.  Other than that the return was uneventful, but the HR remained high.
     Back at BSS, I spread out my mat and stretched, being interrupted by a rider who inquired if I had a pump.  I carry my floor pump in the car so was able to assist before returning to stretching.  LJ and Andy returned, with one other rider from the beginner ride.  The others went for additional mileage.  I loaded up and came home.
     I rode Monday and today at Old Settlers Park.  HR was back to normal as I cruised for an hour at sixteen mph.  But the legs might take a few more easy rides before they get their strength back.  That's what I'm blaming it on, the mountains.  They ate my muscles.  You are welcome to your opinion, I'm sticking with this one.  I have no more races for a few months, so I'm back into building mode.

Friday, July 21, 2017

NORTH GEORGIA'S SIX GAPS, THREE AT A TIME

     Our annual family get-together in Suches, Georgia is now in the history books.  Since this is a cycling blog, I'll restrain myself and just relate my cycling.  Our base of operations, High Valley Resort, is on Hwy 180.  This happens to be between Wolf Pen Gap and Woody Gap so I can stumble out of the cabin and start riding (depending on which gaps are on the agenda).
     Traditionally, I ease my way into riding the mountains by going in a counter-clockwise direction.  This gives me about a mile of warm-up before ascending the easy side of Woody Gap.  This is enough to get the heart rate up in the 80% range.  But then the other side of Woody is a five mile, twisting descent.  Today I had a slight wind in my face, so actually had to pedal to hold a mostly 28 mph speed.  Turn left at the stone pile and traverse another five miles to Turner's Corner.  Ideal weather.
     I consumed a Clif Bar, turned left and started the seven mile climb up Neel's Gap.  The start is gradual and I was in cruise mode for awhile.  All too soon the climbing began.  An unrelenting couple of miles of 4-6% grade, about a mile of downhill, then a lot of 8% grades with a fair amount of 10% ramps.  The acrid smell of over-heated brakes hit my nostrils.  Up ahead I saw a large RV with smoke billowing from its wheels.  Really guys, you need to use your gears to hold your speed down.  I turned on the GoPro, but too late to get a picture.  This is the first time in twelve years that I've witnessed something like this.   It generally takes me fifty-five minutes to reach the top.  Today's account was fifty, with some help from the wind, now at my back.  A couple of riders passed me on the upper part, and they were still resting at the top.  I only took a couple of minutes before enjoying the downhill.  I can't say this is a lightly traveled road, but for the most part I go fast enough that only a few vehicles pass me.  Most of the three mile descent has two lanes (in my direction), so traffic has never been a concern.  All too soon the left turn to Wolf Pen Gap arrives and the torture begins.
     I love Wolf Pen Gap, especially since they resurfaced it a couple years ago.  Multiple banked curves make this three miles really exciting.  Of course, in this direction, I was going up, not down.  Half way up, the same two guys said hello again as they passed.  Once at the top it was a quick breather before the downhill.  This side has banked curves also, but only a mile and a half.  There are a few more climbs before getting back to the cabin.  Three hours exactly, as predicted.
     There were a few days of non-riding, including a baby-sitting stint as son Kurt defended his six hour record in the Merrill Mile (you run around an almost mile oval for six, twelve, twenty-four, or forty-eight hours).  This wasn't his year.  The number of laps completed was the same as last, but two young guys did more.  Still, a podium finish.  My next ride included the same gaps, just in a clockwise direction.  My descent of Wolf Pen had me braking more than usual.  I don't know if I had more speed between curves or just getting more cautious.  Still, I love those three miles.  I also enjoyed the seven miles of the other side of Neel's.  These are wide, sweeping curves that you can take at speed.  I noticed the pavement beginning to get cracks, mostly in the curves.  I had to be more careful in taking my line.  Seven minutes faster going this way.
video     We had rain every day of the two plus weeks of our stay.  Mostly in the afternoon.  But on my next ride, I didn't want to be caught in a downpour, so just went over Woody to the stone pile and back.  Only sixteen miles total, but five of those were coming back up Woody.  A good work-out.  Sadly, after cresting Woody and headed down the other side, I noticed the GoPro vibrating more so than usual.  As I headed for a big bend at 30 mph the mount broke and it clattered to the ground.
It took awhile for me to get stopped and return to pick up the pieces.  Astonished, there in the middle of the road were the camera and all the pieces (spread out a little but all within sight).  Keeping an ear out for traffic, I picked up the camera, checked to see if it were still running, then turned it off.  As it turns out, I'm only out the mount, everything else survived the impact.
     For the Fourth of July I donned my stars and stripes jersey and once again did the counter-clockwise route.  Another two hours, fifty-three minute, thirty-five mile, 4,000 feet of climbing, ride.  I've always gotten some acknowledgement of my jersey.  Not today.  Bummer.  The jersey was part of my coast-to-coast ride and holds lots of memories.
     Again I watched the radar closely and decided a shortened trip would be best.  This time it was over Wolf Pen, down to Vogel Park, and back.  Twenty miles, 2460 feet of climbing, and a thrilling descent, albeit only a little over a mile.
     A few more days off and it was time for me to tackle Hog Pen Gap.  This is a beast of a climb.  The most prudent way for this ride is to drive over to the top of Jack's Gap.  The route is forty-five miles and the climbs are Unicoi, Hog Pen, and Wolf Pen.  Marilane drove me over to the start.  Jack's Gap headed east has new asphalt and was a good five-mile descent to get me warmed-up.  It is also boring.  No sweeping curves, just a gradual downhill, to the extent that after two miles I had to pedal to maintain my speed.  No complaints, I made the turn and started up Unicoi.  This is relatively short at two and a half miles, with mostly 8% grades.  I cruised up, anticipating the really great five-mile descent.  Like Neel's, with wide sweeping curves, but better asphalt. That was fun.  All too soon I arrived at Helen and turned right to traverse over to the Russell Scenic Highway and Hog Pen Gap.
      This is about seven miles total with about a mile of relief before the tough climbs.  I saw a lot of double digit numbers on the gradients.  I eased my way up a 12%er then stopped to let the heart rate drop back to a decent number.  As I pulled off another rider did the same.  He was slim, well muscled, tanned.  But he too was breathing hard.  I gave him a minute head start before resuming.  There were still some hard climbs ahead, including a relatively short 20%.  Ugh!  Finally at the top I stopped to refuel and saw the other guy still there.  We both started the downhill at the same time, but I waved him to go ahead, figuring he would be the faster.  Within a hundred yards I realized that was a

mistake, so stopped to take a picture.  That gave him a two minute head start.
     Going down Hog Pen is exhilarating!  But after the first quarter mile the smooth asphalt runs out and the road is rough.  Steep, straight, and rough.  I wasn't looking forward to it.  Surprise!! New asphalt the whole way.  Oh joy.  Oh no.  There were a few slight curves, but in just a few seconds I was in the upper 40's.  Then I noticed a motorcycle behind me and moved right a bit to let them pass.  Nope, they hung back, so I took the whole lane and let it run.  Two miles with a top speed of 48.3.  Talk about adrenaline rush.  As the steeper part became more manageable, the motorcycle came around and gave me a thumbs up and some encouraging words.  They enjoyed my downhill too.
     I still had a few more miles before making the turn, and a few more mid-teen climbs.  Unbelievably, just after the big downhill I saw the other cyclist.  Shortly after, I passed him and exchanged pleasantries.  Apparently he over-extended himself and now had to noodle back to wherever his car was.  I, on the other hand, was still awash with adrenaline and happy with the smooth asphalt and cruised to the stop sign, made a left and began the four miles or so to begin Wolf Pen.
     My legs were feeling Hog Pen as I started my ascent.  Three miles.  I knew that half way there I'd be stopping.  Lots of 8-10% ramps.  It only took five minutes more than normal, so that was good.  And the downhill, sweeping, banked curves always make me smile.  Soon enough, with a few more short, steep climbs, I was back at the cabins.
     I use the Hog Pen ride as a barometer of my fitness.  If I survive that, I put Brasstown Bald on my agenda.  I took a day off, then it was time.  Brasstown Bald is a spur at the top of Jack's Gap, so once again Marilane drove me over.  This time, we drove down Jack's three miles so I could cycle back and get warmed up. The plan was for Marilane to check out some cabins, then meet me at the top of Brasstown, passing me on the way to see if I were in distress or not.  Perfect weather.  I arrived at the start and stopped to get all systems in the go position.
     Brasstown starts you off with a 16%er (may 14% depending on your computer).  Then drops to 8% to let you recover.  You don't see anything less than 6% until you are at the top.  After a mile and a half of several 16% and 12% ramps, you turn a corner and see the wall.  22-24% (again, depending on the computer).  Only once, twelve years ago, have I made it up this section without walking.  Even though the heart rate was ten beats below max, I had to stop.  I walked about thirty yards and mounted up.  I couldn't do it!  With such a low gear, I couldn't get enough speed with one pedal stroke to get my left foot on the pedal.  I tried going sideways across the road, unsuccessfully.  I gave up and walked maybe another thirty yards until the gradient dropped a little.  Then I was able to clip in and resume the ride.  I still had double digit ramps to get up.  Finally, forty minutes and twenty-seven seconds after I started, I got to the top.
     Half way up, before the wall, Marilane passed me, and further up pulled over.  I assumed she would check me out then meet me at the top before following me back down and picking me up at the bottom.  Somehow she missed me when I passed her going up and was beginning to get worried when I whizzed past on the way down.
     Whiz.  That's the word for the down hill.  I only did a few pedal strokes, after tight curves.  I did a lot of hard braking.  Unlike Hog Pen, there are lots of curves and a rough road surface.  I did manage to max out at 43.5 mph.  At four minutes, twenty-seven seconds to descend, I guess I could have gone faster in spots.  Maybe with disc brakes.  I can tell you the wheels were HOT when I got to the bottom.  Once again I had a feeling of accomplishment.
     One last ride, over Woody to the stone pile and back.  Total for this vacation: 208 miles, 21,100 feet climbed.  The one ride I didn't do was the fifty-four mile loop to the north.  This is a great ride and I sorry to have missed it.  However, given the rain/storms always being in the forecast (and always correct), I don't regret skipping it.  Next year.