Let me start by admitting that I did walk the last 20 yards of The Wall. I could have made it up, but there are some interesting challenges that come with riding a bicycle on a 25% hill. One is that, unless you are Floyd Landis, you are going slow. The slower a bike is, the less stable it is. Two is that it gets really tricky balancing your weight on a bike that's tilted up like that, so that your front wheel becomes unweighted. When your front wheel is unweighted, it comes up off of the pavement. If the front wheel is off of the pavement, you can't really steer using that wheel.
So, on a 25% hill, you have to stand and lean forward for much of the climb, just to keep your bike from wandering all over the road. And that's what I was doing when the car came up from behind. I suspected it was the little Porche, driven by a middle-age couple, that had been passing us and stopping at points as it headed to the top. I was a little over towards the left side of my lane when I heard it, and that made me nervous, so I sat down on the tip of the saddle and tried to get more towards the edge. But the front wheel kept coming up, and I suddenly had visions of falling over right in front of the car.
So I stopped (which is easy to do at three miles per hour) and stepped quickly to the side. And since I was still 20 yards from where the 25% section ends and the relative flat of the 15% section resumes, I walked those 20 yards.
The rest of the ride, however, was great.
The first number is when we started from the WalMart parking lot in Dahlonega, GA. We could have gone off at 7 am, but the sun was not as "up" as we would have liked.
On the left above is Peter Lee. On the right is Kevin Kaiser. Let me give you a closer look at the bike that Kevin is riding, so you will understand our next number.
Yes, Kevin rode what is probably the hardest 200K in America on a fixed-gear bike. So he has one gearing choice (42-18, I think). And he can't coast.
Of course, riding fixed is nothing new for Kevin, and he has all of this fitness that he built up during the year to take fifth place in RAAM this past summer. He and Jeff Bauer did RAAM fixed in 2008, so he knew what doing 10 Gaps (a.k.a., Bundrick's Revenge) would be like Saturday. Of course, it did get to him from time to time ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Since I admitted my failure, I will also now brag on myself with my next number, which is, again ...
Yes, I was the first rider over Woody's -- the first of the 10 gaps. Of course, everyone else was kind of marshalling their forces for the coming attacks, and Woody's may be the longest climb, but it is the most gradual. Nonetheless, it felt good.
I calmed down some after that. George Hiscox and Joe Fritz went off the front, and the rest of us slowly climbed Wolfpen Gap and headed to the first control. The rest of the Nashville contingent -- Peter Lee, Vida Greer, Jeff Bauer, and Alan Gosart -- came into the control and got some food, and we all headed out more of less together. I rode to the base of Hogpen Gap with Alan and Gator Cochran.
Lots of folks that have done the very popular Six Gaps Century know about Hogpen, but they know it from climbing it going away from Helen, GA. The other side is much shorter -- and, the calculation of a slope being what it is, obviously much steeper.
I did catch up with them on the descent. Not that my descending was all that great, but Jeff was using this ride as a "shake-out" for his Waterford, in preparation for the Endless Mountains 1240K at the end of this month.
Jeff was considering the Waterford because, other than his tandem, it is the only bike he has with a triple chainring. However, the ride quality -- especially on descents -- was such that this bike has now been "shaken out" and will probably not make the trip to Pennsylvania for Endless Mountains.
Julie Gazmararian, who we saw on RAAM 2008 when she was doing Race Across the West (RAW) was also there.
The Nashville contingent again mostly left this control together, quickly going over Unicoi and Jack's Gaps, before turning right to head up Brasstown Bald.
Okay, me saying that I passed Peter here is kind of like Contador saying the he didn't see Lance crash at the Vuelta because it happened behind him. Yes, I'm bragging. But when you can pass a rider as strong as Peter, you have to take at least a little pride.
As in "Porche 911" and not the phone number or date.
After my episode with the Porche, Vida quickly passed me. She climbs like a dream, even without a triple. She did have a compact crankset and an 11-26 on the back, but never had to get off and walk. George, on the other hand, rode with a standard crank and an 11-23, but did walk.
Of course, I don't think even Floyd Landis rode this leg of the Tour de Georgia with a standard crank and an 11-23.
Here's an even better shot of Vida quickly climbing away from me, from when I was riding again. Note that this is one of the easier sections of this road.
At the top, RBA Andy Akard had borrowed an awning from Bicycle South in Atlanta, and was making sandwiches. I asked for a Reuben with pastrami. Andy wisely fixed me a turkey with cheese on whole wheat, and did not point out that there is no such thing as a Reuben with pastrami (that would be a Rachel).
It was 74 degrees and sunny on top of Brasstown Bald, with nice low humidity. It was obvious why there were so many families eating picnics up there.
Last year, I remember being in such pain at this point. I was cramping like crazy, and knew that there were more hours of agony ahead. This year, I had made it up with minimal pain, everything was working well, and I was able to just sit down, enjoy my sandwich, and look down upon a beautiful world.
Life was good.
There are no pictures from the descent. Only a fool would try to pull out a camera when coming down from Brasstown Bald. If you are not putting every ounce of mental energy that you have into keeping your speed down without blowing out a tire, then you are a better man than I.
Alan and I came down together, then hammered back over the next two gaps and back to the control. He is also going to Endless Mountains, and looked very ready.
From the control we headed back over Hogpen, going the "easy" way. Here's Peter Lee catching up with me.
I hope this picture makes up for the one where I was catching up with Peter.
Peter was also riding strong. He did Gold Rush Randonnee with Jeff in June, and has not lost any fitness.
Halfway up this climb, near the end of the 15% sections, Peter and I passed by Kevin taking a break. He had walked some of Brasstown and Hogpen, but you really have to hand it to him for doing this ride fixed. It is the kind of thing about which epic poems are written.
After Hogpen came the beautiful shady climb up Wolfpen, and then the easiest climb of all to the top of Woody's again. Vida took the points on this one, and I stopped to get a picture of my Lynskey. This was when Alan, Peter, and Jeff slipped past.
Of course, the Lynskey deserved a picture ... even if the lens on my camera was sweaty by then. This ride was uppermost in my mind when I ordered the Lynskey last year, and she made Saturday the pure joy that it was. I love my bike.
By the way, I did not need all three bottles. I rarely emptied more than one between the controls. But it was nice knowing that I had extra fluid if I needed it. As you can tell from the sweat stains on my shorts at the finish, I sweated ... a lot.
The ride down was a hammerfest, with all of us smelling the barn. Alan and Peter got into the parking lot a couple of minutes before Jeff and I, with Vida close behind. There, we found George, who had finished over an hour before. Andy was still feeding him.
Here's Alan talking with Joe, who had finished nine minutes before George and Julie. The weird thing is that Joe lives in Florida. Maybe the lack of hill training works to his advantage ... somehow.