Sunday, October 5, 2008

The First Time

The first time you conquer a particularly challenging trail is a moment to remember. More importantly it should be done in the company of friends to make it even more memorable. The more you laugh and smile in the face of a challenge, odds are the smaller the beast becomes.

Our local trail, Tibbs, is the legendary beast. The mere mention of its name in a crowd immediately evokes uggghhh's, oooooohhhhh's, and Aaaagggghhh's! You are not considered truly inducted into the inner sanctum of mountain biking until Tibbs is listed on your resume.

Cyclesmith had called a Windy Gap/Tibbs ride and made it the official Raja/Chocolate Girl Anniversary Ride. We could not have picked a better group of friends with which to celebrate!

We had celebrated on Wednesday with just the two of us by heading to the North Georgia Mountains in search of some hills....remember, we're Hillseekers now.

It was a gorgeous day with crystal clear skies, but we still could not see any snow capped Alps on the horizon. As much as I adore our yearly European treks, it is causing a problem back on the homefront. We are slowly becoming Alpine snobs, and are no longer impressed with anything short of a 8,000' pass involving glacier waterfalls, cowbells, 48 switchbacks, and strudel.

I pretended to be scared of the warning signs at Brasstown Bald, but secretly my eyes were rolling in boredom. 3 miles, whatever. We made the best of it and climbed Brasstown for our first time.

It was a nice day on the bike just the two of us together, something we rarely get to do anymore. 50 miles went by fast, and it was time to call it a day. A day we will remember because we marked it with climbing on a bike!

By Saturday, we were ready to celebrate again with more climbing. This time it would be mega climbing. More like Alpine climbing via dirt roads. Our "little" 16 mile route included a rough start 1.5 miles immediately up Windy Gap, 5 miles rolling on Milma, and then a 1.5 mile climb up Tibbs, the motherload of climbs. It's a heck of a way to start a ride, and is not for the faint of heart. You do not have to be the best mtn biker in the world to take it on, but you do need a certain amount of determination, a little fire in your belly, and a high threshold for pain.

The ride was not really about our anniversary at all. It gave us an official excuse to be festive and silly. The real purpose, at least for us, was to cheer on and witness some of our friends' first experience with TIBBS! In an effort to spare them the fear of the unknown, we try to lay it out bit by bit, rock by rock, describing what to do how and where. The rest would be up to them. We were hoping today would have a happy ending.

Some days we've not had as much success and happily ever after campers. Some have puked, some have cursed madly, and some have walked while cussing and puking. You never know how people will respond to Tibbs. You get everything from, "that wasn't so bad" to "I don't ever want to come here again." I had a feeling these campers would all do well.

Regularjoe was one of the first timers, along with cRASh, Speedy, Tweety, and Robb. I gave strict instructions to them to resist the urge to keep pace with the group and climb at their own pace. "You will regret it if you go out too fast", I told them as if scolding school boys.

Fortunately, none of them suffered from male ego mtn biker induced stupidity, and each settled into their own world of pain. I tried to keep tabs on them ever so often, and spoke a few words of encouragement. You can't do too much talking on this climb though. When you are suffering from the pain of climbing Windy Gap, the last thing your mind wants to hear is some cheery little voice blabbing on incessantly.

The trail was a mile deep in dust. When we climbed it in August during the Drama Queen race it was dusty, but not this bad. No rain had fallen since that time, and the rolling tires were stirring up clouds. The morning light streamed through the trees passing through a dust prism casting a beautiful glow. I enjoyed watching the riders ahead and wished I had my Nikon.

My legs felt really good for a change. Ever since our return from Switzerland, I have felt like crap and not had a decent ride until now. Thank goodness. There's nothing worse than climbing these trails with cement bags. It made it easier for me to ride back and forth on the climb to check on everyone's progress since my legs were not protesting as of yet.

Everyone made it to the turnoff for Milma, but I could see the nervous looks in some of their faces. I could tell what they were thinking, "this better be worth it, cause that climb sucked." I kept my fingers crossed.

Milma has some nice downhill sections in it and then gradual rolling ups. At first I started down with the front pack, and quickly abandoned that idea. With 5 guys in front of me going full speed ahead, the dust kicked up was blinding. Backing off to let things settle, I tried to catch some shots with the light reflecting off the dust clouds. It was much more dramatic when I was in the thick of it.

Milma trail always brings a glimmer of hope back into the first timers eyes. The downhills are fun, and the climbing is not so bad. Funny how quickly you can forget the pain of a climb.

Part of the reason I enjoy bringing newbies to this trail is so that I can relax and enjoy myself. The majority of times we have ever ridden these routes is during some sort of sufferfest like Firewater, Drama Queen, or just chasing the experts. Our earlier days of riding here were never particularly pleasant. Much much suffering was involved. I like to try and keep the suffering to a minimum for the newbies. We'll unleash on the 2nd lap.

Since this was a "neutral" ride, everyone was waiting at the turnoff for Tibbs. Shredders like Shane and Carebear were content to stop and chew the fat. Shane told me later how much he enjoyed the ride because it "reminds him of what it's all about." That's a bold statement coming from one of the fastest expert racers in the South. But today wasn't about stroking his ego or anyone else. No one really cared if they were in the presence of the Drama Queen and King or how many hours you rode last week. This was all about getting up Tibbs for the first time! Let's do this thing!

If you have the luxury of going up Tibbs at your own leisure, that is the way to do it. Trying to keep pace with the group or racing up is another level of torture that I don't relish. Everytime I climb here, I go through all the memories in my head of past "races". My first time was on a hardtail, fully rigid I think. Climbing on full suspension makes a huge difference, and I really enjoyed the MotoLite. Robb and Tweety were riding full-on LazyBoys and climbed amazingly well.

With such a rough trail, I think the more suspension you have, the better it serves you. Of course, if you're Shane, you don't need anything but 2 wheels.

You may be wondering what the big deal is about Tibbs. The big deal is that it is a long unrelenting climb with no clear line. You have to pick your way through loose rocks trying to keep enough momentum while struggling to keep your heart from exploding due to the constant steep trail forever extending before you.

If your legs are fresh, it is a fun challenge. But if they aren't, it can be quite the climb, or hike, as the case may be.

Our campers all did great and finished with smiles on their faces!

With the nasty parts over, we continued on the gravel forest service road to the firetower. Once we reached the gate, it was a 2 mile gradual climb to the tower.

I like doing this climb before the dead of winter because it's much prettier with all the color still out. The more curious of us climbed up for the view.

In the meantime, Raja discovered he had a problem.

Seems one of the bolts came out on the climb. What is with these new bikes? Duckman's self destructed on the first few rides, and now it's Raja's turn. Not to worry. With Tweety on board, they would be sure to come up with a solution. While we were up gazing out on the horizon from the tower, Raja was busy ransacking the vacant bikes, striping them of nuts and bolts.

Duckman saved the day with a spare stem bolt, and MarkD sacrificed his bike tool by stealing all its washers.

We have, without a doubt, the most generous, creative, helpful friends in the world. I don't leave home without them.

While they were scratching their heads and solving equations, the rest of us were not afraid to kick back and relax. It was such a beautiful day, and we were not about to let a second of it go to waste.

It's so nice to be on a ride with all kinds of rider abilities, but everyone is still able to relax and chill. Nobody got uptight or anxious because we weren't hammering. The trail will be there when we get there!

Finally the repairs were made and we continued back to the Windy Gap trailhead. But not without a stop for some more antics. Thanks to G-Off and Sweetwater adding fuel to the fire, we did our own version of silliness. If you can't laugh, then go home.

Windy Gap was the reason Tweety and Robb brought their recliners, so they took off with Shane to bomb Mr. Toad's Wild Ride while the rest of us rode more sensibly.

Raja continued to litter the trail with pieces of his bike, Kokopelli augered in, and a few more of us had our own encounters with mother earth. Windy Gap will challenge the best of riders, and everyone rode like a champ. We survived with all bones intact and minimal blood loss!

Judging from everyone's faces back at the parking lot, I could tell it was a successful ride. I was so proud of my newbie friends!!!! That's not an easy ride and something to be very very proud of for accomplishing. So now that means there's no excuse they cannot all do the Drama Queen next year. Hitting Windy Gap and Milma after racing 23 miles........that's your next big challenge!!! Remember, there's a first time for everything!

1 comment:

Becky said...

Only you could downplay a climb up Brasstown :) Is it just childs-play after all the climbs you've done in Switzerland and all over?! It must have been especially easy for you since there weren't all those rocks and dirt in the way like on Tibbs. Sounds like a perfect way to celebrate an anniversary!