Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gravel Road Fun


Raja and I like to get in long steady rides on the weekends, but the rain on Friday was looking to put a dent in our plans. Rain makes one's options far and few between. You either find some forest service roads on which to ride, or head to Rich Mountain. "I can't do that much singletrack climbing, honey," I whined. Let's just join these guys on the Cooper/Winding Stair ride. Problem is, we didn't know these guys. It was just a forwarded email from a friend. Not real tempting.

Then Raja made a smart call. "We could do the Noontoola ride that James is hosting, and do a loop before they start to get in more time." Actually, I'm the one that suggested starting at 8:30. I think Raja had in mind a simple hour warmup at 9:30.

Too late, I already had some takers to join us at the cold ungodly hour. A newcomer we met on New Year's, Carl, would be joining us along with Mike and Russell. Good. I would need the extra company to keep me distracted from the cold temps and to keep me honest. 19 years of marriage, and it's too easy to whine your way out of a ride. With other witnesses, Raja and I would have to stick to our plan.

6 am came early. The sun was hardly up and we were only 30 minutes from the trailhead.
Mike was already there, 8:00 sharp. We layered up waiting for our 2 additional guests. The cell phone rang. Carl was at the Springer Mtn trailhead. No, no, drive on 2 more miles to the next church and you will see us.

At 8:34 we decided Russell had come to his senses and decided to stay home. We rolled out down the road toward Springer Mountain. It was sooooooooooo cold. Even the hand warmers I had in my gloves did nothing to bring back the feeling in my fingers. What was I thinking? What bozo came up with this idea? Oh yea, it was my idea. Doh.

We saw Russell's car coming down the road enroute to the parking area. "Go on without me, I know the way," he said. I knew he would catch us. He's a very strong climber. So were Carl and Mike. Forget James' ride, I was only hoping to survive this little "warmup".

The climb up Springer is pleasant and completely a middle ringer. I enjoyed the light show of sun peeping over the mountain tops, creating large shadows behind my friends in front of me.
The air was crystal clear, and we had nice views through the trees. Now I was glad we had this special time to enjoy the quiet morning with nothing to interrupt the peaceful scenery.

Mike and Carl weren't too out of control, and I was able to plod along behind. I kept waiting to see Russell appear out of nowhere. Then the silence would be shattered. When Russell is on, he likes to keep the throttle wide open. The boys stopped for a nature break, so I went ahead to set up for a shot. I had lugged the Nikon along to experiment with the wide angle lens. As I waited, I could hear them chatting. Than I heard Russell's voice. Uh oh, and now there are 4. Things are about to get ugly.
It's just a natural reaction, especially with guys. If one person goes faster, then the others will too. Sure enough, Russell was all "get up and go", while my "get-up" was still thawing out. Off they went, and off I went...off the back. But that's okay, I was out for the long haul today. We climbed and climbed, and it got colder and colder. The ground was still covered in frost. But I was enjoying the beautiful morning and the company. By now the climbing was over and the ride is more rolling up and down. It's so pretty up here, and I enjoyed watching the guys zipping around the bends in front of me.

Finally we reached the intersection of Noontoola/Winding Stair. Good thing I bundled up for the long 7 mile descent. It was bitterly cold flying down that gravel road. Carl was impressive on his older hardtail bike, not missing a beat. I was being put to shame on my fancy full suspension Santa Cruz Blur.

The descent went on for lightyears. It is such a lovely road with the rhododendron and views of the the pretty creek just down the side of the bank. Too bad my eyes were watering so bad from the cold air that I couldn't see all of it. I decided to stop and snap a photo of the creek with my real camera, since most of my shots today would be with the Canon. On this dark road with so much foliage overhang, the Canon would struggle mightily to get anything salvageable.

I hopped on with Mike to continue the descent. Would we ever get to the end of this road? My watch said 10:30. This meant we wouldn't make it back to the cars in time to refuel before James's group started. Sure enough, around the corner I saw SinglespeedAddict Scott pedaling up the road towards us. Here comes the pack behind him.

Oh well, guess I better join in with the group now. Mike opted to continue back to the car, but I thought better of that idea. There's no way I was going to work like a slave to catch back up on this climb. Mike, on the other hand, is an extremely strong climber fully capable of such a feat.

I ripped off my outer jacket as fast as I could. The descent was cold, but turning around and making this climb would warm me up quickly. Tucking it in my camelbak, I jumped back on my bike to chase down the group.

I was all out of sorts and discombobulated. Things were not as I planned. I needed my energy drink, and I wanted to shed some of this extra baggage. My legs were not so energetic, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the group! I looked at my cycle computer; 20 miles and 1 hr 50 min already logged. Oh, yea, I guess that could have something to do with it.

With the wind completely blown out of my sails, I couldn't get ahead of the group fast enough in order to dismount, take out the DSLR, set up and shoot. All my visions of getting good shots of this beautiful road were shot out the window. Finally, I came to my senses and bagged the effort. Just try and get a few over the shoulders with the Canon. Enjoy the ride.

So many fun folks were along for the ride. SinglespeedAddict Scott (today's cover shot) had surprised me with a show. This is his favorite loop to ride, and I wondered how he could resist the temptation. Even the Captain made an appearance to keep tabs on our grammar.
Scubacruz was there on his singlespeed to tackle the climbs with ease. I was thrilled to see Lori had come along as well. It was Lori's first big mtn bike ride since her accident last August. She was afraid she'd be the tail end all day. Hardly. I was impressed with her strong and consistent riding.

I was impressed with all the women today. Both Trish and Robin were riding strong and dropping the guys. Riding fast isn't the most important thing in the world. But it sure makes it more enjoyable when you can ride along with others. So I know how good this must feel for them. I'm proud of 'em!
Greg Schisla showed up for the ride. We go back decades with "Schisla", as we used to call him. Now, it's FarmerG. I prefer Schisla. In fact, the last time I did this loop over 15 years ago was with him and all the hard core mtn bikers of the day. Back then,I was the only girl along, and there were no favors handed out to me. They left me in the dust quicker than a drag race start. Nobody was mean to me, but they weren't as encouraging and patient as riders are today. I had to earn my spot among them. I think that's why I'm sensitive to the importance of waiting for slower riders and trying to cheer each other on during a ride.

I picked my way through different groups and riders, eventually settling in with Schisla. We talked about the old days and told stories of who's where and doing what. Before I knew it, we were at the top. A much more pleasant approach than my climb up Noontoola on the Chili Dawg ride a month ago. I had chased Mary up this eternal climb and almost choked on a lung.

We regrouped at the top and carried on the loop.
James has a good description of the route we took in case you want to understand exactly where we were. Thanks James!
We rolled along the ridge to our reward: some fun long descents. Roger was pushing the pace, but not so much that I couldn't keep him in sight. Which really means, he wasn't pushing the pace at all. Afterwards, on the drive home, he said it was all his legs could do on that stretch. He too had been feeling the affects of our morning jaunt.

For a gravel road ride, it was really quite enjoyable. We were having fun challenging each other on, but also regrouping, laughing, and joking around.
It's a very scenic loop with only one creek crossing and no mud. No mud until this one little section.

Shucks, I remember the rides in Rome where we'd go through this crap for miles. Rome mud will eventually tackle you down to the ground and render you and the bike helpless....not fun. This was fun!

The last bit of climbing had every leg muscle in revolt.
But I had wanted to completely thrash my legs, and it looked as though I had succeeded. Since I rarely hit the road or dirt during the week, the weekends are my only chance to get 'er done.
The flat roads back to the cars were beautiful.
But my body was yearning for the comfort of something other than my Terry saddle. We were almost through, when here come Russell and Carl pedaling in the other direction. "Let's make it an even 50," they said. Forget it! I used to be all wrapped up in making my numbers even, or rounding up my time. Now, I realize it never made a difference in my life. Therefore, that tactic doesn't tempt me in the least. Go ahead, boys. 47 miles works for me.

The true sign of a successful ride; look at the smiles on these faces!

A great day in the saddle! Thanks, James, for a wonderful afternoon!

Sunday, we were both exhausted and couldn't do much more than watch our feathered friends at the food bar.
Monday, it is always a relief to visit my best friend, Janusz. He played a couple tunes on my hamstrings as I screamed along off key. Those muscles are so tight that you can play 'em like a guitar.

Back at home, I spun on the trainer to loosen things up. My entertainment? "Come September", 1961, starring Rock Hudson, Bobby Darin, and SandraDee. A surprisingly entertaining movie. With it's setting in Italy, I was challenged to test out my limited Italian since much of the banter was in the rapid fire language. This movie would be perfect for a modern day remake.
Ahhhh, Italia! I hope to see you soon, my friend.

In the meantime, North Georgia dirt roads and singletrack will have to do!

1 comment:

Russell said...

You make me sound like a crazy hammerhead! You know I'm usually slow; I was just trying to keep warm!