Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hausfrau in the Holler

Things were stirring this weekend in our sleepy Southern town. A fresh wind blew in from Europe bringing with it our favorite Hausfrau straight from Zurich. While nutty Jeff was busying kayaking from See to See in Switzerland (see is German for lake), Becky slipped away for a US visit.

While living in Switzerland has its perks, once a Southerner always a Southerner. The hills of North Georgia hold a special place in Becky's heart. Anxious to get in as much gap riding as possible, she twisted my arm to join her on Friday for "training camp". Their title of Hillseekers is aptly named.

If you do not like climbing, I do not suggest you ever venture off with either of the two. However, if you like fun and adventure with a side dish of hard effort, they are just the folks for you. Take it from the horse's mouth, you will not be disappointed when you go on a ride with Becky.

Starting from the Ranch, we headed out on the beautiful backroads in the North Georgia Mountains. Our plan was to work our way over to Unicoi for the long climb up towards Jacks.

Fortunately, Don and Paul signed up for Camp too, and I was not the only one along to chase Swiss Miss through the twisty roads.

While Becky is captivated by the challenging climbs, my simple mind is preoccupied with the signage, or rather, the quaint names one finds in North Georgia. In case we were to get confused for a second and think we were in Spain or Tuscany, someone graciously had the foresight to let us know in what country we are cycling.

I spent most of my time trying to spot all the fun names along our route. Asbestos Road, Scorpion Hollow, Never Blue Rd, Lightning Dr, and Frogtown Rd all made me giggle. I do not think I'd be giggling if I decided to camp here though. Probably more appealing to teenagers.

My quads felt like they had just been dismissed from a service at Loudsville Church, because they were screaming as we started up Unicoi. All I could think of is "how will I survive today and be able to do this again tomorrow?" Easy answer. Put it in the easiest gear you've got and make like a spinning wheel. I had been dreading this climb because the last time I did it 8 years ago was not a pleasant experience. Today's ascent was much more enjoyable and we made it to the top with little drama.

Our next climb was up the more agreeable side of Jacks. This was my favorite of the day. Paul and I spun easily and chatted while Don and Becky sprinted on ahead. There were no cars, the birds were singing, and all was right with the world.

I haven't ridden with Paul in over a year, and enjoyed our time of catching up with each other. We laughed at our bug laden arms. Southern heat and humidity is the perfect recipe to turn our bodies into fly paper, and Paul was a prime target with his 1" thick layer of sunscreen. In spite of the heat, the scenery is delightful.

Becky wanted so badly to climb up Brasstown, but again, no one was taking the bait. Having never done this, I really wanted to try, but my legs were just not in the mood. Besides, today I was climbing as gingerly as possible in an effort to save up for tomorrow. Climbing Brasstown gingerly is not possible. On we went down to our next gap, Neels. But first, a stop at everybody's favorite rest stop, Sunrise Grocery.

This place is packed with more character than a Disney theme park.

We could not keep the Hausfrau away from the hot boiled peanuts.

Mmmmm, better than bratwurst.

With our bellies full and our water bottles replenished, we headed on up Neels. Even after Neels, our ride through the vineyards was not over. Frog Gap, and Owl Gap, and every kind of animal gap you can think of was still ahead.

I was thrilled to actually ride by Frogtown Winery. With a name like Frogtown, you cannot help but be intrigued. With memories of cycling by Italian vineyards like Casaloste, Vignamaggio, and Le Capezzine, this name amuses me. I am easily amused. The name may not be Tuscan, but the scenery is pretty close.

4 1/2 hrs later, we finished our "little" ride. The Hausfrau was satisfied with 62 miles and ready for more. The rest of us were exhausted and ready for a nap! I had to get home, washed, and rejuvenated for Day 2 of Swiss Miss Gap Training Camp.

Eleven brave souls signed up for Saturday's GapFest. We are all well aware of Becky's propensity to stretch the truth a bit when it comes to describing the severity of a route, so our hidden anxiety was as thick as the humidity. Although we are all thrilled to see her, there's an unspoken reverence and awe of her scary fast calves and insatiable need for climbing. Having fully adapted to the Swiss way of riding, Becky insisted we start once again on a gravel road. Thankfully my mountain biking skills came in handy.

Off we went in pursuit of beautiful country roads and long unending climbs.

It was another gorgeous day. We were off to a fabulous start. No attacking, just enjoying the beauty around us while putting forth a little bit of effort.

I cannot remember the names of the roads, but they were delightful to the senses. Of course, little gaps were cleverly placed all along the way and the pace would get a little serious. No worries though, we regrouped at the top and carried merrily along. Mountain goat climber, Rich, enjoyed putting the hurt on us, while Becky just saw it as a challenge.

Beth got in secret training before the ride since she rode to the start from her homebase in Suches. Sid took a break from wedding plans to join the climbfest.

In between gawking at the countryside and racing up the climbs, I engaged in my favorite pastime, sign spotting. teehee, This sign cracks me up.

While I was busy snapping sign pictures, EuroPhotoNinja documented the Training Camp as well.

When we reached the turn onto 60, I knew all to well what lay ahead. The looooooooong 15 mile climb to Suches.

Becky and Jeff led a ride here 3 years ago, my first and only encounter with this climb. I distinctly remember the searing pan she inflicted as Alexis and I tried to maintain her pace. Having long since dropped the entire pack of guys, she tortured us all the way to top. It was not a pleasant kind of torture. I wanted to redeem myself today.

Becky always beams with an innocent cheerful smile on the outside, while inside she's plotting your course of destruction. Brian and Stuart know all too well about her tricky ways.

But before our trek up to Suches, we first must continue our tour of colorful Southern rest stops.

One of the highlights of a ride in Italy or Switzerland is a mid stop at a charming cafe or mountain top rifugio. Instead of sipping an espresso or snacking on strudel, in North Georgia you can chew on beef jerky and shop for a trophy head for your doublewide.

As colorful as Sunrise Grocery is, this one is downright scary. If I brought any out of town guests here, I'd make sure they walked softly and kept their mouth shut. I will answer any questions you have after we have left the premises.

We lined the gems up outside and went inside to buy whatever.

After loading up on pork rinds and moonshine, we were ready to tackle the assault on Suches.

Alpa was beginning to question her sanity at choosing to ride with this group. It was her first visit to the gaps, so I reassured her the climb could be conquered. Just sit back and enjoy the views.

This time up the climb, I noticed how beautiful it is. All I noticed last trip up was the wheel in front of me as I tried to hang on to the shredfest.

At first the climb rolls along teasing you with little drops down into the valley only to climb once again. Finally we entered the thick woods as the road twisted endless up, up, up. Brian and Rich got down to business and powered their way ahead. I tried to tune into my legs and see what was going on inside. The Dixie Gas must have been the right fuel because they felt good. Time to put a hurtin' on somebody.

Hard as I tried, I could not shake Wild Bill and Stu from my train. But they did not challenge me and we paced in silence, so surely I was inflicting some pain. I was riding without my heart rate monitor and going purely by feel. It felt good and the power band was steady. The top came sooner than expected. Wow! It's over already! Sweet revenge. I've been redeemed.

Our treat for the climb was a stop at the Suches Store. Hanging out with the other bikers, this group was turning into a bunch of lounge lizards. I had to be careful not to turn my back on Raja at this stop. He was close to making a trade of our bikes for this Aprilia SXV 550 motard. He had to be physically removed from the scene to prevent further damage.

I had to light a stick of dynamite under their rocking chairs, but we got moving again. On to climb WolfPen. Beth climbed it with us, but turned around to return to her house just a few miles back. We were down to 10.

Raja took off like a F14 down WolfPen descent. Brian never knew what was his first exposure to the flying sherpaman. Yea, my man can descend like nobody's business:-)

Rider's meeting. Some of the trainees are on a tight schedule and needed to head back to basecamp. Not me! We had yet to hit the best part of the route. We were in for the full Tour. Now we were 5. The Fab5.

This part of the ride was just over the top beautiful, and I would not have missed it for the world. We did the luscious Craig's Gap. Even though I practically walked up the climb on all fours, the suffering was a small price to pay for the joy of this road.

The next treat was Fain Branch. The acid in our legs was dulled by the serenity and peaceful views.

It was magical.

That's where I hit the motherload of signs.
I really wish we had climbed to the top. But at the time, I was met with a little resistance. Another climb for another day.

I was not going to finish this ride until we made a visit to my all time favorite holler in these parts.

Becky may be all European now, but she still has her cracking point. She was giggling like a school girl at this sign (see the pic at the top of the post).

One last gap left for the ride, Christmas Tree Gap. The Fabulous 5 rolled it in at 66 miles. I got an even 70 for the day since I did some extra climbing laps. Wow, 9 hrs riding in 2 days. I don't do that much in a week.

But enough wallerin' in glory, we had more work to be done. It was now time to hoe. The farmer that let us ride on his land was expecting some payment.

Riding in North Georgia was more work than for which I bargained! It was also more Fun than I imagined! Having the Hausfrau in the Holler was a Hoot! Cheers to the Swiss Miss!

It was a great weekend of riding in good ole North Georgia with good friends. You cannot beat this scenery.

Here's a souvenir from my stay at Camp.

Thanks, Becky, for a wonderful Training Camp! Look forward to our Swiss Alpine Camp!!


Speedy said...

Great post! My favorite line:
My quads felt like they had just been dismissed from a service at Loudsville Church...
Laughed out loud on that one! My quads hurt just reading this post :)

Brian said...

That was a great day, thanks for documenting!!! See you on the next riding adventure! Tell 'Il Falco' I said hellooooooooo!

Becky said...

Wow, thanks! It is nice to re-live the fun thru your story. No matter how beautiful Switzerland and the rest of Europe is, the Gaps will always hold a special place in my heart. And my special friends there will too! It was a great time.
"I'll come back sometime, ya hear!" :)