Just in case you missed it, we had some bizarre weather here in Tennessee this past weekend. Creeks, rivers, and lakes flooded from 15 inches of rain, killing at least 12 people and doing millions of dollars in damage. Officials are saying this may be the worst flooding in the state's history, and that it may take years to repair the devastation.
The weird thing was that it didn't rain at Three-State Three-Mountain.
This was my fifth time doing 3S3M. In 2006, my first time, it was really nice and dry. In 2007, we had some early sprinkles and cloud cover, but that helped me do my first sub-6-hour finish there.
In 2008, the skies opened up. RandoGirl and I opted for the metric, and I rode my single-speed commuter. The fenders made me very popular.
In 2009, history repeated itself and the skies opened up. This time, however, RandoGirl would not be denied her opportunity to climb Burkhalter Gap Road, and we did the full century. Fortunately, the rain stopped more or less after the first 50 miles, so we had a decent ride.
But we decided then and there that we were not going to do this ride in the rain again. To avoid this, we did not register early this year, and we did not reserve a hotel room. As this past weekend approached, we began applauding our vision, since the forecast for the southeastern United States was a weekend of rain.
That was the first part of my perfect storm of pain.
You see, as this past weekend approached, I began to think that I was riding pretty well. My legs felt good, my weight was right, and I was playing with the thought of a new personal best at 3S3M.
Just playing, mind you ... I was not going to commit. And that was the second part of my storm of pain.
So, Thursday night, I did the Harpeth Bicycle Club's regular ride. I wasn't going to go hard, even though it didn't look like the weekend weather would work out for 3S3M. Frankly, my legs were still tired from last weekend's fleche.
But, going up Carter's Creek Pike, a couple of fast guys went off the front. Like an idiot, I went with them. Then, like another idiot, I suggested we go up Wilkins Branch. Finally, like the King of Idiots, I suggested we come back on Old Hillsboro, since Boyd Mill Road is so bumpy that you can't go fast on that.
Friday morning, my legs were shredded. I crawled out of bed, got some breakfast, turned on the weather, and heard the weatherman predict that the rain might hold off until Saturday afternoon.
Now, at this point, a sane man listens to his legs and stays home for the weekend. Me? I put on my biking clothes and rode in to work. Then I rode over to Vanderbilt Medical Center in the afternoon to see my friend, Peter Lee, who is recovering from surgery there. Then I rode home.
A 40-mile recovery ride. Smart.
By Friday night the weather forecast was good for Chattanooga on Saturday morning, but not so good for Nashville. RandoGirl thought about joining me, and then thought better. She does that.
Which is how the last part of the perfect storm hit, with me driving down from Nashville to Chattanooga at 4 am, signing up, and sitting at the front of the starting pack at 7:30.
My legs felt heavy, but generally okay for the first 40 miles. I made it over the first mountain, Suck Creek, just behind the lead pack. They descended better than I, and so I settled into the next pack. We passed the "decision point" -- go left for the metric, or straight for the full 100 miles -- and half a dozen of that group turned off. I kept going straight into the belly of the storm of the century.
I fell off that pack just before we got to the second state (Alabama). My legs were more than heavy now -- the quadriceps were lead, and the calves were CroMoly. Another group came by, and I worked with them up the second mountain: Sand.
Everything hurt by this point, and I finally stopped for water and a break at the rest area at mile 60. After five minutes, two other guys were ready to roll on, and we headed for our third state: Georgia. After eight miles of working into a stiff headwind, we turned left for a fast section to a little descent, heading towards the final mountain.
Again, I fell off on the descent, mostly because my legs had gone from being lead to feeling like spent uranium control rods. I could turn them over, but not with any "oomph" at all. At mile 75, I was riding by myself, in no man's land, with nothing in the furnace.
With only five miles before Burkhalter Gap Road -- the short, tough climb up the last of the mountains, Lookout -- I eased back and began budgeting my remaining energy. The following thought kept going through my head: "I've never walked Burkhalter before. I ain't gonna do it today."
I got to the base of that climb 4:20 into my ride. I got to the top -- about 2.5 miles later -- at 4:50. It was done on the bike, and it was all done really slowly.
With just over 15 miles left, I topped off my bottles and rolled on. The remaining miles up on top of Lookout Mountain are always kind of rolly, and will wear you down. I had nothing left to wear down, so I just gutted it out until I found a small group to work with. This ragged band dissolved as soon as we started down the mountain towards Chattanooga, and I motored the last couple of miles through the city back to the stadium.
The elapsed-time clock read 5:43 as I rolled in. It was a new personal best -- just not as good a personal best as I had hoped.
Driving back, I felt as if I had sort of failed. Of course, the flooding here has since put things back into perspective. I did my best -- I just didn't plan very smart. But I've lived to ride another day, and maybe next time I'll leave some gas in the tank before I start the ride.