Friday, April 11, 2008

Playin' Hooky

The only thing better than a bike ride with friends is riding your bike with friends when you're supposed to be at work.I had not planned on taking the day off for a ride in the North Georgia mountains, but all of sudden on Wednesday the plans were in the making. Always being up to no good, I can never find a soul to join me in some clandestine scheme during a weekday. For whatever odd reason though, there were 11 of us clamoring to ride the gaps outside of Dahlonega.The forecast was for a beautiful day and obviously we were all in desperate need of a getaway. Otherwise everyone would not be risking losing their jobs just to get few hours in the saddle.

Cyclesmith and Al had somehow escaped all these years without doing the gaps, and were easily suckered into the outing. How would they fare? With Duckman on one side and Xtanker keeping tabs on the back, they had no chance to escape the peleton's clutch.It was an interesting mix of riders. Here we had 2 complete newbies, Xtanker had ridden the gaps, but not the front three, and then a smattering of experienced roadies and a couple of fatty treaders rounded out the group. I smelled trouble on the horizon.Starting from the Rockpile, we headed for Turner's Corner to approach Neal's climb up Blood Mountain. A 7 mile climb, Neal's is not the toughest but it is a bit long. It really feels long if you've never done something like this before.

Having spent the first 10 plus years of my riding life just fending for myself, I never had time to analyze the dynamics or argue with them. They were what they were, and I had to learn to play the game. We did both road and mountain biking, so each discipline was learned in harmony.
Only now am I beginning to appreciate that learning curve. Times do change, and it is certainly a different dynamic now in acquiring both disciplines. It's hard to explain one type riding to someone that comes from the other side. There's always a tendency to be partial to one and question the unknown. Sure, I'm partial to mountain biking, but I do them both and use bits and pieces from each to make it all work.

So how do I explain to my newbie friends how climbing works on the road? We just climb, each finding their own rhythm, chasing the lead rider if your legs allow. No one's trying to outdo the other, it's more of a litmus test for yourself. We'll all regroup at the top, and no one is marking the score card. To a non roadie this seems so anti-social and unnecessary. Aren't we supposed to be riding together?

Well, yes, we do ride together, but that comes on the flats and rollers. A roadie has to conquer the climb, it's the only way to climb. I should say, it's the best way to climb. Otherwise if you're legs are protesting, you plod along, cursing the riders ahead because they are so strong, wishing you had never come along. Then you get to the top and you're ready to try it again. Why? I dont' know, it's just the way it has always been since I've ever been riding the road. Unless you're Hillbilly. When you're a super shredder you ride from group to group, chatting, telling stories, taking video, and then hammer to the front for the last push to the top.

We all made it to the top of Neals in one piece, some more jubilant than others. I was giddy at the thought of heading to Craig's Gap, a deliciously beautiful piece of road not too far off the normal route. When you know of something pretty, you want to share it with your friends. I wanted my newbie friends to experience this gorgeous stretch of road, but was met with a bit of resistance.

There I go again, being insensitive to the strangers in this new land. It will only add 12 more miles. I forget that unknown territory to them is not as easy to embrace. Let them get a pleasant first taste of 3 gap so they will be ready to come back for more. Fortunately, Blair and Duckman were content to lead the rest on the true 3 gap route, while Hillbilly, Robin, rlaz, G-off, Xtanker, and I headed to Wolfstake Road. I was first introduced to this spectacular loop by Becky and Jeff as part of a 70 mile route they led us on one summer. Having done the same gap rides a billion times, it was a refreshing change breathing new life into wornout routes. With no traffic and a tranquil setting, what's not to enjoy here?My other favorite loop add on is Booger Hollow, hehehe. Sounds like something out of Mayberry. Next time I'm taking a picture of that sign. The beautiful detour was over with all too soon.The question was thrown out, "does anybody want to do Hogpen or Brasstown?" Uh, no, not today. I mumbled something about having to get back in time to avoid the traffic for the drive home. Truth is, my legs could not have handled those climbs! Suches was next, but we had to climb up and over Wolfpen first to get there.

Everybody was whining about their legs, but I did not fall for that trick. Roadies are the worst to complain about their tired limbs, and then proceed to stomp you in the ground on the climb. Sure enough, G-off kept a steady pace forcing everyone's hand. G-off has made a quantum leap this year in his riding. Still young and with the perfect lean biker's body build, he has applied himself to some coaching tips I've passed his way. Good for him, bad for me. That's just one more person at whose hand I will now have to suffer. It is refreshing to see someone actually take these principles and put them to use. Many people want to get faster, but then they never actually follow through with the advice they receive.

Just like Mary, my new mountain biking friend (you met her at my beginner clinic), G-off is passionate about enjoying his cycling to its fullest potential. I enjoy getting emails from Mary when she tells me how her skills are improving as she applies the techniques we discussed. Obviously G-off has been paying attention during our email coaching sessions as well. All day he was riding steady and strong, with no signs of fading on this climb.

Xtanker was climbing Wolfpen for the first time, and seemed to be enjoying it! I love this section of the upper part with the tall trees and moss, very magical.Hillbilly was having a heyday videoing everyone with his 007 spy camera. That boy is crazy and rides like a crazy man too, crazy fast. He's entertaining to have along and regaled me with many stories and tales as we rolled along the countryside. He loves to get in the suicide crouch for the downhills too, scaring me to death!I hated for the ride to be coming to a close, but we were nearing Woody's climb. It's merely a bump in the road to me compared to the other gaps, but as the last grunt of the day it is a welcome bump.I was thoroughly enjoying today's pace, as it was not too hard and not too easy. Just right. Seems I'm always riding here with every hammer shredder in Atlanta, and don't get to enjoy the scenery or camaraderie. I reflected on many a memory of the last stretch of the finish of the 6-Gap century. Sometimes I was finishing strong, sometimes limping, other times in the rain and misery, but always jubilant to be near the end. That's a long day in the saddle, and I'm done with that phase of my life.Today was about having fun and enjoying the warmth and spring in the air. We made it back to the cars in time to see the rest of our group. Everyone was smiling. Yea, 3 -gap was a success. They were ready to do it again soon! Better wait till they are good and hooked before taking them on Hogpen. We're friends, and I want to keep it that way:)
Playing hooky has never been such fun!


matt (xtanker) said...

had a blast, love the pics,I am going to have to play hooky more often

Becky said...

We love Craigs Gap! Glad you got to enjoy it and share the "secret" add-on gap with others. Good for you for taking a day off to do some important things :)