There were people of all sizes, shapes and ages. They were riding all kinds of bikes from brand new bajillion dollar road bikes, well used road bikes like mine, mountain bikes, and recumbent bikes. All were excited, even those that were captured yawning in the early morning light. Seriously look at the folks in the next photos...
It was going to be loads of fun! Why shouldn't it be, it was great last year! Then, in the space of mere seconds, reality began to tap me on the shoulder. I hadn't trained, I wasn't ready, and I also knew that I am dumb enough to never quit riding. A fine combination to ensure suffering. The reality, that I knew already, was that I would ride well for the first 60 miles and then would struggle with even finishing the remaining 40 miles.
Now, 40 miles isn't any big deal when one isn't all that tired, but when hot, exhausted and staring at another several thousand feet of climbing. 40 miles seem to be some daunting insurmountable wall that you can't get through, over or around. That was how this started. I hadn't even ridden mile 1 yet and I knew what I was in for. Ugh...
There were 2,300 riders this year for the century let alone the 50 mile ride that went off an hour later.
The number of people that had traveled from all over the country to do this ride was pretty fantastic. At 7:30am we rolled out in a colorful mass of clicking gears and whirring chains. I felt great through the first miles, and found a load of people to talk with as the large group began to filter out into groups of varying abilities. On the rolling roads into the mountains, I found a few folks that were riding at my level, and I worked with them to share the effort as we pedaled through the cool morning air. When we hit the first climb everything split up and there were people scattered all over the road.
I wonder if I can get some cash for proving that Sasquatch exists? This photo evidence is as convincing to me as any of the other stuff people have provided as proof in years past! Heck, Sasquatch even tried to give me a hug...I found that a touch disturbing, so I raced down the descent and onto the next climbs.
This sign is the top of Unicoi gap, the third climb of the day, and I was feeling pretty good. I was stopping at the rest stops to make sure I was eating and drinking enough during the ride. I couldn't afford to dehydrate or bonk if I was going to finish the ride. I can at least prove that I made it to the top of the third climb with this shot. You will notice a serious lack of ride photos from this point on, as my riding became more labored.
I ran out of gas (like most of the southeast) at around mile 65-70 from my fuzzy recollection. Some sorry jerk had painted "mile 60" on the road right when I began to really feel my lack of training. That little bit of knowledge basically shot me, and I felt bad for the remainder of the ride. Instead of spinning and smiling as I climbed the slopes, which is something that I really like to do. I was rocking back and forth on the bike as I worked my way up the steep gradients of Hogpen Gap just trying to keep some momentum going. Ouch...
At the top of Hogpen I stopped for a while to rest...I guess I should mention that I stopped half way up as well. I seriously thought of just calling it a day and hitching a ride back to the truck, but nah... I climbed back on the bike. After working that hard to get to the top, I wanted to enjoy the fastest descent on the course. I hit 56 mph as I screamed down the mountain leaning and twisting through curves. It is simply a wonderful feeling doing that on a bike.
The remaining climbs included similarly painful efforts, but the descents weren't as good due to cars, and tired people riding their brakes.
I snapped this shot at the top of Woody gap, the last climb of the day. I had no idea how far I was from the glorious moment where I could stop pedaling, but it had to be close-ish now. Right? In fact I think it was still 15-20 miles away. The rolling hills from that point on basically leveled me. I was in the lowest gear I could find just to get up any incline, but I had to finish. I just kept turning the pedals over and trying to get as much speed out of the bike as I could during the moments that I felt good.
I finished up in 7-ish hours. A solid 90 minutes slower than last year and an hour slower than I did it in the pouring rain the year before. At the end, I was sure that I would never get on a bike again. Fortunately, within a day, I decided that I would ride again, and as of this morning, I will certainly ride 6 gap again next year. It's funny how the painful parts of epic rides seem to fade quickly and you only remember the good.
Just remind me to train when Summer comes next year!