Riding the Mountains of 3-Gap Part II: Pedals Down

[60’s style show announcer: “…and now, we return to our show…where our Hero…uhhh…oh wait…, correction!, humble, slow cyclist prepares to climb 3 of some of the tallest mountains in Georgia! WILL SHE…make it to the top of the first mountain, or will the forces of weakness and fear crumble her body and her resolve? Stay tuned as the story continues…”]

I snapped my cleats in my pedals and began to roll. We had parked in the shade next to a heavily flowing river, and that made things extremely cold. However, I had to gauge what I should wear b/c I knew I would bake on the way up (despite climbing in the shade), sweat my tail off and then freeze coming down the other side, half of which was also in the shade. So, I went light and wore my jersey with a windbreaker jacket that could convert to a ventilated vest. I was absolutely freezing, at first. Those first 5-10 minutes of cold-weather riding are always the hardest, and we all muttered in pain. My friend’s husband was the fastest of our group, and before long, he began to pedal on ahead. I had stayed behind my friend as we started the climb. However, she encouraged me to go on ahead, since she knew I was faster than she is during other riding outings. She didn’t want me to get too tired from going TOO slow. I was concerned, b/c I didn’t want to go too fast and bonk before I got to the top of the first mountain…even if I could even make it no matter WHAT speed I went!

Alas after a few more minutes, I decided to go on ahead of her. She was doing 6mph, and I pedaled at 8mph. As the grade varied, my speed while climbing Neel’s Gap (this first mountain) ranged from 6-8mph. For Seven…Long…Miles.

Did I say the climb was long?

Yeah…so long that I started to get into a meditative space, where all thoughts ceased. I didn’t look up…lest I psyche myself out by the steepness and length of road left to climb. I didn’t look around b/c it took too much mental energy. I did occasionally “send up a little prayer” that certain large trucks and tractor-trailers would stay to the far left as they passed me on that mostly 4-lane road. Otherwise, I just concentrated on pedaling. I didn’t even look at my computer or HRM. All I did was look at the road directly in front of my bicycle front tire and keep on pedaling.

Once, I looked at my computer to see how many miles I had covered. Mistake. The disappointment of seeing a number lower than I thought put chinks in my resolve. “No, not going to do that, again.” Oh…but no, I did it once more. Crap. “Patience. Just keep going. Just keep going.”

How were my legs? Even though I was in my easiest gearing (gearing I almost never use otherwise) and even though I had been pedaling up a stout but not horrific grade for nearly an hour, my legs were doing surprisingly well. Sure, the ride was tiring but not in the full sense. Really, the hardest part was the toll it takes on the mind.

…and just when my mind had enough of the climb, I looked up to see some sort of driveway. So, I rolled into it realizing only just then that it was the welcome center at the peak. I can’t even begin to tell you what it felt like at that moment! A unusual mixture of surprise at myself, personal pride, coupled with a whooping sense of relief that the climb was over.

My friend rolled in a couple minutes later. She and her hubby congratulated me. We ate our snacks, grabbed some fluids. (Heck, I didn’t even reach down for my bottle during that climb…so focused on just plain pedaling was I.) Then came the question from my friends, “so, what are you going to do, now?” By now, my level of bravery and daring had increased. I figured, “What the heck”. If I could do 7 miles of this mountain maybe, I could do a 3 mile climb that was harder. What’s the worst thing that could happen? That I bonk and have to wait for my friends to complete their ride to come and get me? So be it. I just did one mountain, maybe I really COULD climb three mountains, after all! I wanted to know just of what kind of stuff I was made.

So, we headed off down the backside of Neel’s Gap. Now, I love downhills otherwise, but a mountain descent for a few miles is a different story. I don’t know these roads, where the potholes are, where the cracks are. I have a healthy respect for unknown and unforeseen circumstances while riding at high speeds. So, I kept my hands on my brakes to ensure I remained at a modest (but still fast) descent. Within a few seconds, I was, once again, shivering terribly and painfully. I knew the climb for Wolfpen started right away after the descent and was looking forward to it if only to warm back up.

(I finish the story in Part III. Go to the next blog post.)