Sunday, May 18, 2008

5 gaps for Speedy

Our dear friend, Speedy the Huckster, celebrated his 50th birthday this weekend! Pretty impressive considering he can ride with the energy of a 25 year old, which he proved all week during our Moab Fruita Fiesta. I have yet to see a 50 year old that can huck a bike like he can too! Whoohoo! Speedy, you're da bomb!

In honor of this auspicious occasion, I thought it would be fitting to dedicate our day of riding in the Gaps to Speeeeeeeeeedy.
We were to meet up with some of our core riding buddies for some "training" in the gaps. Actually the training was not for us, but for the poor suckers registered for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell. As if foreshadowing the pain that lay ahead for them on Mt. Mitchell, our ride today coincided with the Brasstown Bald Buster Century Challenge.We did not really plan for our route to merge with these insane cyclists, but our day just happened to unfold that way.

Starting at Turners Corner, we began climbing almost immediately on the 7 miles up Neels Gap. With all the recent torrential rains, the sound of rushing water and waterfalls could be heard much of the way up Blood Mountain. The sky was crystal clear and it was turning out to be a beautiful day.With the exception of the Caminator, no one was particularly interested in setting a blistering pace. G-off and Sweetwater were recovering from a 12 hr race so I was hoping they would ride sensibly and keep things under control.

The 2nd climb of the ride was up Jacks, which took us by the daunting entrance to Brasstown. Lots of smack talk about giving us a 30 minute headstart and still being caught, blah, blah, nobody took the bait. Do I look that stupid? I was content to take a picture and ride on by for the descent to Unicoi.

Climb #3 up Unicoi was very tame and pleasant. The real treat is the descent down Unicoi into Helen. With Rajasan leading the way, I tried my best to ride in his wake. I may be biased, but honestly, Rajasan can descend like a pro. I could tell he was not pulling out all the stops, because I was keeping him within my grasp. I know full well that I am not capable of keeping his pace when he goes all out on a downhill. Therefore, when I can still see him then I know he's just playing around. I was thankful he was in a playful mood today. If Duckman or Hillbilly had been along, I never would have seen them past the starting gate.

Trying to enjoy the short lived bliss of the descent, we all lived in denial of the task that would soon be before us.Climb 4 of the day was the real reason we had all been lollygagging up the previous 3 climbs. Ye olde Hogpen, climb of all climbs in North Georgia. Besides Brasstown, no other climb strikes fear into the heart of a cyclist more than Hogpen. It is seven miles of sheer joy.

Everytime we travel out west and people ask where we are from, we get the usual question about Georgia. Do you have any hills there or is it pretty flat?
Then they stare at you with wide disbelieving eyes as you describe the mountains of North Georgia.

In fact, when we were in Fruita last month, I was talking with a local cyclist we had just met. She looked at me with disdain when I said she should come out to Georgia and ride our beautiful trails. Why would I do that? she said with disgust dripping from her lips aghast that I would even make such a suggestion. Rather taken aback with her attitude, I did not even bother trying to crack her hardened mis-informed mind. Yea, pretty flat and ugly, isn't it?!!!!We passed by the sag stop for the Brasstown Bald Century riders only to be cheered on our way. I felt so guilty, as if I were misleading them to think I were one of the brave souls. The real century riders were easy to pick out. Besides the number plates, you could see the fatigue and pain in their riding stance.You would be in pain too after riding 85 miles before tackling Hogpen. But getting to the top only gets you closer to the real pain. After Hogpen, they had to climb Jacks up to Brasstown...a sheer wall. Horror of horrors! I did my best to encourage each rider on without sounding patronizing. When you are in such a state, there is a fine line between receiving encouragement and wanting to get off your bike and kill anyone that utters a word to you.

As I was climbing Hogpen, I heard a car coming up ringing a cowbell. It was our friend, Jim, the race director. He hollered a big Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyy to me as he drove by.....thanks, Jim! I needed that encouragement just as much as the century riders. Even with only 50 miles in my legs, it was all I could do to turn over the gears.

In contrast to the searing pain ripping through my quads, patches of cheerful wildflowers dotted the side of the road providing a lovely distraction from the difficult task of climbing.
I wonder if G-off was questioning his decision to do Mt. Mitchell as he was making today's climb? Probably not. It probably made him even more determined to better his time from last year's MM.Rajasan and I are glad to have done Mt. Mitchell once and checked it off the list. I am also glad to have completed many Six Gap centuries with no plans to do anymore. Everytime I climb Hogpen, I relive all those memories. My favorite memories are the ones where I passed the guys.

The only guys I was passing today were those struggling on the century. I took no joy or pride in doing that. I pedaled by with great respect. Raja and oclvframe were doing likewise.

A nice feature of most climbs up here is that they intersect with the Appalachian Trail. If you are unfamiliar with the climbs, you begin to wonder if you are ever going to reach the top. Just when you think you are lost and climbing the road to Kilimanjaro, you see the blessed sign....the sign of the hikers. You know what that means? It means you are at the top where the Appalachian Trail is. It is my favorite sign in these here parts!Even though the Caminator vanishes from sight before we ever start a climb, I am always happy to have him along on a ride. Unlike most shredders that I have been subjected to over the past 20 years, Cam never tires of riding with us slower boring cyclists. Perhaps he has nothing to prove and feels sorry for us. Whatever the reason, it's nice to know he's on my side. As we descended down Hogpen, I squealed with delight as we flew by large fields of wildflowers that painted the perfect picture. However, at 47 mph, I could not justify stopping to capture the moment with my camera. It would have to be stored on my personal hard drive in my head.

Raja and Cam were leading the way down Hogpen as I tried to focus on them and not on my fear of the speed. When I saw 47 on my cyclometer though, I decided that was fast enough for me! That evening I asked Raja what the fastest he's ever been down Hogpen. 57mph! When was that, I asked!? It was the first year we ever did Six Gap Century, whenever that was. Shew, I'm glad I didn't know that until now.

Once at the bottom of Hogpen, we made a left turn back towards Blood Mtn. I felt so sorry for the hearty Century riders that would have to make a right turn to climb up Jacks and Brasstown. Our torture was behind us, and all we had left was a manageable climb up the backside of Neels. But first I had an important mission to complete! Hey Becky, this pic's for you!!My favorite sign, besides the hiker signs at the top of the climbs, it's Booger Hollow! I had to get an official picture of this sign. Next time we ride up here, we need to do Booger Holler and Craigs Gap again. One of the best kept secrets in North Georgia!

We made a stop at one my favorite road stops before climb #5. Come to think of it, I have alot of favorites on this route, don't I?! That is the beauty and charm of the South, all the fun, odd, colorful out of the way places. Whether it's Booger Hollow, Hogpen, or Sunrise Grocery, you cannot help but smile when you say these names and experience Southern style. Where else can you refill your water bottle for your bike ride, buy a statuette for your yard and some fresh fruit from the farm while you chew the fat with the locals?What a delightful stop this is, with hanging baskets spilling over with flowers and smoke billowing from boiled peanuts.There is every walk of life found at this store. From cyclists with shaved legs, Harley Bike Riders, country boys buying crickets for fishing, and tourists on an afternoon drive, we all get along just fine. Miss UpTight from Fruita would not fit in here. Maybe she needs a big ole bag of boiled peanuts to cure what ails her.Boiled peanuts would not help me today to get over the last climb though. Raja and I put it in our lowest gear and spun as lightly as we could without falling over. My quads and gluts had been maxed out, and all I needed now was to ease this train back to the station. We had one more rip roaring descent waiting for us at the top. That was all the motivation I needed. Normally we never come down this descent, so it was a real treat today. Seven miles of good tight turns, they were perfect for me. Raja says it's not fast enough for him, but it was all I could handle.

It was a great day in the saddle, a hard one, but a good kind of hard! 68 miles with 7500' of climbing, I earned a bite of our hoarded Italian chocolate stored away for just an occasion. If I was a true friend, I would have shared some chocolate with Speedy for his birthday. Instead I dedicated a climb for every cheesy is that!?

Happy Birthday, Speedy!!! Here's to many more decades of health and happiness!!!


speedy said...

Thank you so much!!! The photos you gave me of our Moab/Fruita adventure are already proudly displayed. You all are the bestest!

Becky said...

I'm always having to explain to people around the world that Georgia really does have some serious hills - And steeper than most that we ever rode in Colorado. I too love those AT (aka "sprint to the top"!) signs. Thanks for the Booger Hollow sign pic! Gotta love the Gaps - Yeeeehaw! :)

Cam said...

I don't think I am riding anymore. I think I will just read the descriptions and pay you to occasionally slip in a word or two about me as if I were there.