3 State 3 Mountain 2013 – A Rider’s Diary

I road 3 State 3 Mountain bike ride this weekend in Chattanooga. It was a difficult day for many reasons, but mainly because a man died descending down Lookout Mtn. He lost control and went into the other lane and was hit by a car coming up the road.

The weather on May 4, 2013 was awful. All week I kept an eye on the various weather sites hoping that their forecast of rain and chilly weather would change. It never did and the reality was worse.

I spent a restless spring trying to get ready for this ride. It always comes too soon in the season for my taste as I like it hot and sunny. This spring was anything but. I try to get a couple of 1-2 hour rides in during the week after work before launching 3-4 hour training rides on the weekend. I like getting up early and beating the traffic for space on the road. This year it was cold and rainy forcing me on the bike around 10. Heck, even the Saturday’s leading up to the ride was wet and/or cold so I hedged my ride to Sunday thinking it might be better. I am a gym rat and did as much spinning and weight work as I could figuring I could use the strength even if my cardio might be lacking. Training for 3 State is a challenge.

I left my home near Nashville on Saturday morning at 4 for the drive to Findley Stadium in Chattanooga. The air was damp and cold but it was dark and I had hopes that things might turn out OK after sunrise. The rain spared us for an hour or so as cyclists milled about getting themselves ready in the parking lot before lining up for the start. The thought creeped in that maybe we could be spared the worst of the weather forecast.

I had already decided that I wouldn’t ride the 100 mile challenge and instead opt for the 83 mile route avoiding Burkhalter Gap. It was a disappointing decision as I rode the 2012 course and had a really good ride up Burkhalter. I trained over all the hilly terrain, which is considerable, where I live to get ready for it this year.

I didn’t have any decent inclement weather riding gear. I found a pair of running tights a couple of days before the ride on sale at a sporting good store. But other than that I had the typical cycling shorts, half-finger gloves, long-sleeved jersey and a light jacket.

I rode to the start line and noted that the pack looked a little lighter than typical. The folks that parked beside me decided not to ride and they talked to some friends of theirs and they decided to bail as well. It was seemingly a lighter turnout than past years.

As soon as we rolled out it started to rain. I mean the second. It never stopped. And it was cold. I felt pretty good but knew the adrenaline would fade and misery might set in a couple of hours into the ride. When we hit the split for the metric century and those taking the full challenge, I knew I was staying straight on 41 while the majority of the herd veered right down the hill toward a rendezvous with Raccoon Mtn. It ended up being the best decision I’ve made in quite a while.

Very few were in front of me and fewer behind. I don’t think the option of doing 62 was on the minds of many. The route took us through 3 States but up only Sand Mountain. True enough after about an hour I was in a fight to keep myself mentally in the game. I stopped at the first rest stop for a bathroom break and a cup of peanuts and chocolate then I hurriedly got back on my bike to warm up.

Somewhere around the 2 hour mark I lost feeling in my right foot. Why not the left? I dunno. It was a block of wood. Numb. I worn thin wool socks but, yea, had no shoe covers. They were soaked. I made it to the second rest stop, I think on top of Sand Mtn, and squeezed out my sock for whatever good it would do. I got another cup of salted snacks and took off. I was cold but felt okay riding.

Riding Sand Mtn was eerie. Typically there are tons of people in front, beside and behind. There was nobody around when I climbed up. Nobody. I knew coming down the mtn would be troubling. The rain and cold made it tough but I took care and got down with no problem.

3.5 hours in I was ready for this ride to be over. I pushed hard to get to the finish. I was cold and soaked but felt like I had accomplished something epic. I must say as miserable as I was for almost 4 hours, the 2009 3 State 3 Mountain is still the coldest I have been. I figure training in the cold helped greatly in my preparation. Getting dry was a great feeling.

Sunday I checked Facebook and the 3 State Page. I was stunned to find that there was a tragic fatality and another woman in the hospital with serious injuries. I was deflated that something like that could happen. I didn’t know the guy but no cyclist in the community ever wants something like that to happen.

Questions about why they didn’t cancel the ride were posted. One cyclist’s scary/uncomfortable day of riding is another’s fun day of cycling challenge. Cycling is dangerous on the best of days. We know the risk of riding while sharing the road with cars, when it’s raining, windy, cold. Many folks used their good judgement and opted out of the ride altogether. Many more SAGed out after Raccoon Mtn. The bus was filled with bikes and riders. Others rode shorter distances. Should the ride be held in the parking lot of an industrial park so no one will have to ride down a hill? Maybe only ride when the temp is 65 degrees? 70? What happens if it starts raining 2 hours in? I’m a fan of personal responsibility. We always feel the need to find blame when something bad happens. I don’t blame the event organizers like some did on FB. At. All. They organize the best cycling event in the Southeast. Nobody is forced to attend and ride. Nobody is forced to keep riding. Sometimes bad things happen.


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3-State 3-Mountain Challenge 2011 – A Rider’s Diary

This past weekend I rode in the 2011 3-State 3-Mountain Challenge. I skipped last year’s so I kept thinking about the pain of 2009. The weather that year was atrocious. Coincidentally the weather affected this year’s ride but not in the way you might think. The horrible tornadoes the previous week required a change to the route. The most noticeable was the assault up Lookout Mountain via Burkhalter Gap Road was not included this year and the century route was reduced to 90 miles. What didn’t change was how great this ride is.

The weather was fantastic. It started out cool. It was maybe 50 degrees at the start. I wore typical shorts with a light cycling windbreaker. I probably kept that on for the first 2 hours.

The ride through Chattanooga is always fun. 2000+ riders rolling through the streets with full traffic support is a blast. Rolling over the Tennessee River bridge gives a great view that you otherwise would miss riding in a car. The ride gets a special one-day pass to cross. Once we cross over the bridge the riding gets a little more serious. You know the long grind up Suck Creek is waiting.

Suck Creek is a great climb. We hit it early in the morning and there is little traffic. The climb is long yet not very steep. I love being in the woods and settling in to a nice rhythm. The ride hasn’t yet split so you are riding along with a lot of other folks. I really enjoy it. Coming down the other side was fantastic. You can really get some nice speed on the decent and hitting the switchbacks are fun as well.

Once at the bottom we hit the first rest stop at a park. As usual the rest stops are stellar. Well stocked. The volunteers are fantastic.

I am no road racer. I do these events for the challenge and because I love to ride. My main issue is not bonking at ~80 miles. If I eat I don’t bonk, natch. But sometimes I have a hard time eating. I forced myself to consume bananas and a bag of trail mix or Fritos or chips at every stop. I have had problems with cramps in the past so I make sure to eat plenty of high sodium foods too. I also use Endurolytes by Hammer as well as some energy chews as I ride. I drank Heed and Powerade. The result is I had no cramps and more energy than any other ride I’ve done.

Anyway, once off Suck Creek we made our way across the Valley to get to the start of Sand Mountain. We crossed over the “blue bridge” again. The views across the river is gorgeous. Before Sand Mountain we had to deal with Ladd’s Mountain which is a tough little climb. It’s short but steep.

Sand Mountain is tough. The climb up can be steep. The ride on top of the mountain is rolling terrain with rough pavement. The views are freaking incredible. It seems like you will never come down that mountain but you eventually make your way across the top. The ride down is a blast. Very fast. There are a couple of switchback turns that are challenging. I love the descents. A lot of riders are very cautious coming down this mountain.

It was interesting coming off Sand Mountain and realizing that there would be no pain up Burkhalter and within 15 miles you would be done. The ride into Chattanooga was great. Full traffic support. We climbed up the side of Lookout Mountain and they had a lane coned off all the way up and down and back to the Stadium. The climb wasn’t that long, or hard, but it made the ride to the stadium easy.

The ride completely screwed up mid-day traffic. Those folks in Chattanooga that were not on a bike were no doubt pissed. We breezed through each red light with full support. I don’t know how the organizers pull that off but it is simply incredible to be given that kind of support.

3-State 3-Mountain Challenge has been my favorite ride over the last couple of years. Nothing compares to the support. You never ride alone. There are so many riders that you are always within site of another group of riders. It’s challenging and frankly I didn’t mind missing the pain of Burkhalter. The views from the rolling farmlands to mountain woodlands to steep valley views was spectacular.

It’s always nice to roll back to Finley Stadium. People are lined along the drive cheering you on. Whatever goal you had for yourself seems to be validated, recognized, by the friendly people at this great ride.

The thing that I don’t like about 3-State 3-Mountain Challenge is it is hard to get ready for. It requires me to train during March and April, which is usually tough due to weather. It’s always cold, rainy and windy here in Nashville during that time. Yea it builds character and yields better training but it tough to get motivated. I never really get out of shape as I weight lift and attend spin classes year round. This year I started the training in earnest at the start of March. I went to spin class on Friday. I did more spin on Tuesday and Wednesday. If the weather was decent I hit the road on Saturday. If not I put my bike on the trainer and rode. By April the weather was good enough to plan longer rides on the weekend like 50 and 60 mile rides on my favorite routes. I included all hills that I normally train on. I also began riding my local hills in a 2 hour circuit once maybe twice during the week eliminating all but the Friday spin class. This seemed to be good enough and will be how I prepare for next year’s ride. Spin gets flack for not being a good way to train for rides but it works just fine for me.

I expect to be back next year. 3:30 was an early wakeup call to make the drive down but it was definitely worth it.

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Harpeth River Ride 2010 – A Rider’s Diary

The Harpeth River Ride was my first supported ride of the season. This cycling season has not been as momentous as last year was. I spent a couple of months trying to get over being sick. I knew I would not be in shape for 3-State this year so I decided not to sign up for it. Cherohala Challenge is not convenient and I wasn’t ready for it either but I had to find something to ride. I checked the listings and saw one in my backyard called the Harpeth River Ride. It seemed reasonable as it travels over some roads that I ride every weekend.

The event is sponsored by Nissan and Harpeth Cycling Club. Everything started and ended at the corporate office in Franklin, TN. The organization was great. They were even able to get three Radioshack riders to ride in the event. Pretty cool. On race day they corralled everyone into whatever mileage you were going to ride. I had a yellow wrist band as I figured I’d do the 100 mile. The other riders were behind the 62, 42 and 24 mile signs waiting to go.

The ride was lead out by a couple Nissan pace cars, the Radioshack dudes and a few adaptive athletes. They lead the “peloton” through a parade of sorts then on to the open road. We had the pace cars in front of us longer than I suspected we would. They pulled us all the way through and past the Franklin Square which was kind of cool. Things stayed bunched up.

We got to the 62/100 mile split and I opted for the 62 mile route at that point. Why? Because it was incredibly hot. Damn hot. I wanted to try to enjoy the ride and not allow it to become a tortuous death march.

The roads were typical Tennessee country roads. Lots of short and small hills. It was hardly ever flat but the hills were nothing that would cause you any trouble. What did cause trouble was the incessant wind and heat.

I had little trouble riding the metric century as it is something that I typically do every weekend. The problem is I typically head out when it’s that hot around 6am. The ride did not start until after 7:30 as they introduced adaptive riders and guests. They had us waiting for a sweltering 15 minutes before hitting the road. On most days by 7:30 I would have completed around 30 miles. I just wasn’t ready for the blast of heat that we had on Saturday. I would have had a lot of trouble completing 100 miles. I am glad I did the metric. No shame there. I was spent. I didn’t want to ride another mile when I got back to Nissan.

Honestly I didn’t enjoy the ride. Fighting the wind and heat just wore me out physically and mentally. The ride was well supported. Nissan and the Harpeth Cycling Club did a great job. I just hope next year it is less windy and 10 degrees cooler.

One thing that I discovered was that riding 62 miles is pretty cool. I have always done the 100 mile option on supported rides. But 62 is a distance that I ride close to every weekend. I can ride the route fast. I don’t hit a wall. I feel fine when I finish. The 100 mile rides always wear me out for the rest of the day. It’s tough to train for 100 miles. I can’t ride 80 miles+/3 times a week. I just don’t have the time. If I did I bet I would feel just as good as when I rode the 62 mile option based on my current training. Something to consider for future rides. I will always want to ride the full 6 Gaps and 3 States 100 mile routes though. Epic rides are always worth suffering through.

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Six Gap Century 2009 – A Rider’s Diary

This past weekend was the Six Gap Century in North Georgia. The ride covers 6 major gaps up in the mountains. 2,500 like minded people descended on Dahlonega, Georgia to challenge themselves on terrain that the pros rode when the Tour de Georgia was contested. It was a good day.

I was a little bit nervous about this ride. I knew it would be difficult and I did not want to have another episode like I did at Cherohala Challenge with the cramping. I prepared as best I could for Six Gap. I ate pasta for the three days leading up to the event. I drank nothing but Powerade the day before. My training for the event was basically the same as any other century I have done this year. I’ve never bonked in any of these rides. Only cramped at CC. I had no interest in this happening again.

The ride down to Dahlonega was rainy the whole way. The weather report suggested that Sunday would clear and warm but it made for a long drive through my old stomping grounds. I picked up my packet early at the Expo which they moved to the Middle School. Typical sales and services from sponsors and vendors. I didn’t feel the itch to buy anything.

We stayed in Dawsonville at the Super 8 as the hotels in Dahlonega filled a few months ago. It was only 20 minutes or so away from the start. I cannot recommend that hotel but for all other than the super budget traveler. It smelled in that place. It was two stories and no elevator in case that matters to anyone.

Sunday morning we drove to the start around 6:45. The start was at 7:30 so I figured I would have time to get stuff together and bike ready a few minutes before the start and ride off. Well the traffic was frightful. Dahlonega is a small town. We sat in traffic leading to the Lumpkin County High School start all the way back to close to the middle school. We bailed in a little parking lot below the middle school and I got myself together and rode my bike in to the start. I was definitely not the only one. And people were parked all along the side of the road and anywhere else they could find to park. The crowd was going to be huge.

I got to the high school and there was a huge lineup of people standing with their bikes behind the start line at the high school. All the way back up the drive. When they announced it was time to roll I never started pedaling until I actually crossed the “start” line.

The ride to the first gap, Neels, was pleasant enough. We actually passed through one gap, Stone Pile, that wasn’t even billed as part of main gaps. It wasn’t huge but you felt it twice: once going out on the course and again coming back.

The second gap was Jack’s. The third was Unicoi. I don’t remember anything particularly bad about these mountains. I actually felt good climbing the first three gaps. At mile 50 which was pretty much the end of the first three gaps I still felt relatively fresh and actually thought I would finish this ride feeling pretty good. Those mountains were not terribly steep but they were long. I kind of enjoy those type of hill climbs.

The downhills early on was wet from the rains the night before as well as the rain dripping off the trees. The downhills, for me, was a little sketchy since the pavement was wet. It’s not so much I don’t feel comfortable about wet downhills, but when you have packs of riders in front of you, you really don’t know about their skill. I stayed conservative and vigilant over and down the first three gaps. The downhills were rather cool. The temperature early in the morning was around 65 or so. Certainly enough to get a sweat going uphill but enough to chill you going downhill. Those that had a light jacket or armwarmers might have been happy coming down the mountain but they shedded them quickly going up.

The first three gaps were crowded. Things really didn’t thin out until Hogpen Gap. And Hogpen Gap really thinned people out. Hogpen was one of the King of the Mountain “stages” along with Wolfpen Gap. Riders wore a transponder and you would roll over the start line at the bottom of each climb and roll over the finish line at the top. Hogpen was a beast. It was long and steep. Probably 2-3 degrees steeper than anything at the first three gaps. It was a grind. I would look down and was chagrined to find I was only riding 5-6 mph at times. I got tired very quickly on this climb. I wasn’t breathing hard but my legs simply turned to mush. There was a stop mid way that I by-passed. Some kind folks at the rest stop was standing roadside offering cups of water which I grabbed. It was welcomed. It was a very hard ride. I was pleased that I wasn’t passed but a couple of times and I am eager to see what my time is compared to others.

The ride down Hogpen was very steep and would have been a blast but the road was still wet. I was hoping to hit 50 mph, but the best I could do was 46 mph. I had changed my crankset a couple of weeks before to a compact crank so I didn’t have that high gear that was I used to either so there was a lot more coasting.

The next gap was Wolfpen. I was told that the worst thing about it was that it came after Hogpen. It wasn’t as steep as Hogpen. It was another long grind but after the assault up Hogpen it was was more difficult. I settled into a nice rhythm and made it up the hill as well as could be expected.

Woody gap would be next after we got down the mountain. It was a tough little climb. My family was waiting for me at the top so that was a pleasant surprise. The climb was not that memorable as I was probably just hoping to make it across the top. I do remember that it was a little tighter and more twisty than the other climbs which made it feel different I suppose. The joy of the downhill was what made it worthwhile climbing Woody Gap. That was the most fun downhill I’ve done since at least 3-State 3-Mountain and maybe ever on the road. I would have assumed the other gaps would have afforded a more challenging, more fun downhill, but for me coming off Woody Gap was the best.

Like many rides the last mountain does not necessarily mean an end to the madness. From the top of Woody Gap to the finish it was like another 17 miles. Probably seven was pure downhill but there was a lot of hilly work to get through at the bottom. Stone Pile gap remember? At some point you begin to wonder if the end would ever get here. You would come around a bend and there would be another hill to climb. At this point I was ready to be done.

After 103+ miles my journey around the gaps was complete. I thought the support was very good. The rest stops were crowded but that was to be expected as the locations they had them were small, but only because they were on the top of the mountains and there was a lot of people. Water and Heed was the drink of choice. There were plenty of peanut butter sandwiches along with typical fruits. I stayed with the trail mix to absorb as much sodium as possible.

No cramps this go around. I took a small medicine bottle full of Enduralytes and chugged three every hour. I think it helped.

The traffic in the mountains was pretty bad. Folks from Atlanta come up Highway 400 to visit the mountains. It’s a popular location around Dahlonega. Lots of cars and motorcycles. Coming up some of the mountains cause problems because cars do not want to give bicyclists a break and bicyclists do not want to get over when cars are trying to get through. This bothers me a lot. The first three mountains were jammed with cyclists and for whatever reason they simply do not want to stop riding 2 and 3 abreast grinding up the mountain. So the cars can’t get past because it’s too dangerous to pass into the other lane. So the driver get pissed. But sometimes drivers do not give the cyclists a wide berth. Many times, not always, neither side were considerate for the other. If there is a car back and you are in the middle of the road and won’t get over you are simply being an asshole and are wrong. Just because we are riding Six Gap does not mean that the area is ours. People coming up to the mountains have no clue what a Six Gap is. All they see is inconsiderate cyclists. The traffic laws still pertain when we are riding and I saw at least a handful of signs saying that cyclists must ride single file. It may not be possible all the time but when cars are trying to get past then cyclists need to get over to the right. But yea, I saw many drivers that were rude and passing danger close. I was glad for that reason to get to where the cyclist herd thinned and I could ride like I normally do.

For some reason I saw a lot of people with flat tires. Not sure what that was about. Of all the centuries I have done this year: 3-State 3-Mountain, Cherohala Challenge, H.O.T. 100 and Six Gap they each had their own challenges. 3 State came really early in the season and was hard to train for. To this day Lookout Mountain remains the toughest climb by far. I don’t look forward to riding up it again. Cherohala Challenge was a literal pain. I won’t do that ride again. Too few people going over too long of a distance. Made it seem like you were alone for a long stretch of time. Plus the cramping and heat. Not for me. H.O.T. is a local ride. It was windy and not terribly fun. It was a good training ride to prepare for Six Gap.

And then there is Six Gap. I think, for me, it was the queen ride. It seems more prestigious. I was more prepared for this one than 3 State and CC so it wasn’t as painful. Hogpen Gap is a beast and will really test your will and motivation but if you just keep your pedals churning you will make it. I live in middle TN so there isn’t a lot of training opportunities for big mountains. Certainly not for 11,200 feet of elevation change. By far the most I’ve ever done. I sure wish I could train on some of these mountains.

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Heart of Tennessee 2009 – H.O.T. 100 – A Rider’s Diary

Today I woke at oh-dark-thirty to ride in the Murfreesboro Bicycle Club H.O.T 100 century. Frankly it was a pleasant event through some very hilly Middle Tennessee countryside. After the last two events I’ve ridden this summer I wasn’t expecting this event to be terribly demanding. I was wrong. It was a nice challenge made even more so by the weather. Only this time it wasn’t rain, cold or heat.

A nice crowd of a few hundred people (I’m not good at estimating) rolled out en masse from Lascassas Elementary School. Unlike the last two rides I wasn’t exactly humble about getting to the front quickly and riding a tempo I am used to on most rides. I’ve never really rode these events for time in the past as the goal was always to finish. I decided that I wanted to do a sub-6 century and even counting stops be back to the car in 6 hours. The route was basically two large loops. If you were doing the 100 route you went out on the second loop.

The route was rather challenging. It was rarely flat. Lots of little rolling hills. They kept coming and coming and coming. They didn’t stop until I got back to the parking. There was one nice climb at around 30 miles that was quite surprising. I looked down and there was a percent grade written on the road. 16%. Then 15%. 14%. All the way to 11%. Are you kidding me? Maybe in Chattanooga, but in nowhere Mid TN? It was a nice grind.

After that climb there was a rest stop which I decided to bypass. I decided that I was going to treat this event just like my normal Saturday rides that are 50+. I wouldn’t stop until rest stop 3 at 53 miles. I stopped at the last two to get more water/Heed and food. And let me say that the sponsors that put those together did an incredible job. They had anything and everything that you could possible want. From gel squirts to watermelon to beef jerky. I was extremely happy to see the beef jerky. I’d been using that to boost my sodium levels over the last week.

There was another surprisingly long climb across a ridge within some woods. I think it was Pleasant Ridge and it was no joke. It was a very long climb. Maybe 2 miles or a little longer? You may be riding in the middle of Tennesse but don’t underestimate the topography. It’s too bad there aren’t some mountain biking courses built around there.

I’m not certain if there were a lot of people that did the 100 miles. I rode in a couple of fast moving pace lines that was fun but for the most part I dangled out on the course alone. Probably 90% of the time I rode solo.

Which ended up being problematic. Somewhere around 60-70 miles the wind picked up. Nothing messes with my mind more than wind. And it seemed like I was mostly pushing into a head wind. It was so tiring. The last 20 miles were rather brutal. I remember coming down a decline where I would have expected to be going 20+ and I could only go 13 mph. That was disheartening. I had never ridden that long in the wind. And I was alone so it didn’t make matters easier either.

Ever since Cherohala I had been worried about cramping. I got a calf cramp around 80 miles which was a drag but I worked through that. I drank a lot the few days before. Ate a lot of high sodium foods and snacks. Way more than usual. I ate a banana 2 hours in. Another banana at 4 miles in. Took 1 Enduralyte about every hour. Stayed hydrated.

The roads were a drag in the 100 mile loop and a few other sections. They were old farm roads with potholes and extremely tooth rattling rough texture. It was horrible in places. But there aren’t a ton of roads in Mid TN so they worked with what they had a came up with an overall good course.

I happily finished the whole course, rest stops and all, well under 6 hours. If I didn’t have to deal with the wind and stayed in a paceline for more than half the time I feel like I could have gone sub 5 for ride time. That will be a goal for another time. The route was a bit over 101 miles. It was a good day. And I was glad to ride an event that was close to home.

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Cherohala Challenge 2009 – A Rider’s Diary

I completed the 2009 Cherohala Challenge. It was brutal. The first 70 miles was fantastic. The last 45 miles were rather torturous.

The ride started out in Tellico Plains at the Visitor’s center. Starting out a 7 AM we made a little traverse through the valley as we made our way to the base of the Dragon’s Tail. How does 318 curves in 11 miles sound to you? The top of the Tail saw us enter North Carolina around mile 54. At around mile 72 we entered the Cherohala Skyway. The road undulates until the finish back at the Visitor’s Center with a total of 116 miles.

I enjoyed the ride for 72-75 miles. The valley was nice and rolling and the packs kept together for the most part so mileage ticked off quickly. The Dragon’s Tail was a nice ride. Tight twisty mountain climb. It was fun. The thing that started the annoyance was the motorcycles. I get that we cyclists were pretty much one-day guests on their playground. And these folks were not antagonistic, at all. No trouble. But they were loud and they buzzed by constantly. All the way back to the visitor’s center even. But that part of the ride was fun and I enjoyed “slaying the Dragon”.

Same can’t be said for the Skyway. Cherohala Skyway is a huge grind. It’s not that steep. The views were incredible. But unfortunately I started cramping. Badly. My legs seized up constantly. I was forced to pull over and try to loosen them up as best I could. This ridiculousness continued for 45 miles. I have never been in such pain on a ride. Unfortunately I had to stop half way up to the first rest stop on Cherohala Skyway. I managed to make it the rest stop and rested trying to work things out and hydrate as best I could. I left the rest stop and got about a third of the way and had to stop. I went another third of the way to the next rest stop and had to stop. Dammit, I was pissed and in pain. I rode it out as long as I could until the muscle was just too painful. I made it to the top of the Skyway and started downhill. Which you would think would be a badass ride down considering what we climbed. Nah. It was rolling hills. It was so disappointing to run up on some of these rollers. In fact one of them I had to stop half way up…again. I managed to make it down desperate to get to the finish. I actually seized up on the flat for the first time about a half mile from the finish. It was unbelievable.

The Cherohala Challenge was a low key event. There was only 400 people, max, that rode. The problem with that is that the packs splintered. I rode by myself for the last 45 miles. I doubt I could have hung with anybody given my plight but if might have helped a bit.

The weather was hot. Damn hot. And windy in the wrong direction on the Cherohala Skyway. I’m certain dehydration caused my problem and I should have done a much better job of taking care of myself. Not very smart. We traveled through two National Forests (Natahala and Cherokee) yet the Skyway was not shaded at all. I believe we were in the sun for the better part of the ride. Definitely 95% of the last 45.

How was the rest stops? Not great. There were lines at the first two. I’m too impatient. Sorry I hate to criticize volunteers. They do a great service, but there wasn’t but a couple at each rest stop. And the selection was lacking. I should have provided for myself more.

And to add a finality to my whining the t-shirt is not to my liking. At all. Seems a disappointment given the anniversary. If you look at the front small logo, you’d be hard pressed to know what the shirt is about. There is no bicycle graphic or anything. The color blows. Sorry, just an opinion.

It was a disappointing ride for me in many respects. I was not too happy with how I rode the Cherohala Skyway. But on the other hand, I finished under a tremendous amount of personal adversity. For that I’m proud. It was a tough ride.

I doubt I’ll ride it again. I’m trying not to let my personal adversity influence another attempt but the bottom line is I didn’t enjoy the ride that much. The roads were too wide. It didn’t feel intimate, if that makes sense. Too much traffic. At this point, been there, done that. It was definitely a challenge.

I have to give a shout out to my family. We spent the night in a cabin and they hung out in Tellico Plains until I got back. It was a tremendous feeling to see the girls looking proud of their old man. I hoped to do better and feel better because they think of their dad as a superman of sorts. I don’t like to let them down. I don’t think I did but I wish I had come in quicker and in better condition. And it was very helpful to have my wife drive us home. My legs were cramping all the way home. I doubt I could have driven myself. It was truly pathetic.

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3-State 3-Mountain Challenge 2009 – A Rider’s Diary

I finished the May 2, 2009 3-State 3-Mountain Challenge. It started and ended in Chattanooga, TN. I participated in the 100-mile option and I can tell you on this particular day, it was definitely a challenge. It rained virtually all day. Almost to the second of when we started it began sprinkling and the rain only got harder as the day wore on. I kind of liked that it rained because it made the ride even more of an epic ride. I mean, I did 100-miles through three states over three mountains in the rain.

At around 8 A.M. we made our way through downtown Chattanooga, leaving Finley Stadium. I have to say that the traffic support we received from this rather busy little city was amazing. We had right of way and police support through virtually every red light and stop sign through the complete route. Police traffic guards and sheriff patrols were available at all the stops. It was amazing. The organization and the city, counties and states deserve a lot of credit. I for one thank you.

Suck Creek Mountain

Anyway, the first big climb loomed after about an hour of riding. The pace was fairly slow almost all the way to the base of the mountain so it was a pretty large group working their way up Suck Creek Mountain. It was a long climb and not very hard. It had a nice steady grade with nothing too steep. It rained the whole way up which was not as bad as you would think. However the downhill ride was another story.

Getting to the top of Suck Creek and starting the decent was brutal. With the driving rain pounding into my eyes it was nothing short of grueling. And it was freezing. The road is twisty coming down so you had to take it slow. But I had my brakes full-on and it wasn’t enough. There was no way I would be slamming on my brakes so I just hoped no one would fall in front of me. But the main thing was the driving rain and being cold.

At the bottom of Suck Creek there was a rest stop. It wasn’t that I wanted to stop but I just needed to try to get warmed up and keep fueled up. The rest stops were great with everything you might expect. They had something called Heed to drink along with water. I tried the Heed and kind of liked it. I credit it with keeping my energy levels as high as possible.

Anyway, I got back on my bike to try to get warm. I figure I had about 10 minutes until I would end up hypothermic. It was pouring rain and I needed heat. I put my head down and just rode and got warm. We rode alongside the Tennessee River as we made our way along the valley to our next big challenge which was Sand Mountain. The countryside was pretty and it was mostly flat. Yep, it was still raining and we saw more than one lighting bolt rip across the sky.

We crossed the Tennessee River on what they called the “Blue Bridge”. The wind had kicked up unbelievably traveling across it. It was neat to ride that bridge. Just after the bridge was the turnoff for the metric century option. I declined and kept forging ahead on the 100 mile route.

Sand Mountain

Sand Mountain was ahead of us now. I got fooled into thinking that we were on Sand Mountain which ended up being Ladd’s Mountain. It was a short steep little bugger. I think I had to stand and grind my way up a short section. It was tough but blessedly short. Finally Sand Mountain loomed ahead.

Sand Mountain was much steeper and more twisty than Suck Creek. It was a fantastic climb getting to the top. The road was pretty rough in places in Alabama and Sand Mountain was no different. It was just a long grind up but nothing that was too tough to handle. I rather enjoyed that climb.

The ride across the top of Sand Mountain was pleasant. The view was nice, what you could see of it. We were in the clouds due to the rain so there was very little you could see. The road on top was rough in places. It was at this point that I was getting a little tired. I tried my best to stay with the larger packs to draft the stronger riders as much as possible. For much of the ride across the top of Sand Mountain I did my best to stay with the group.

That brings another point. It was very tough to draft behind people with the rain. The rooster tails, the spray from folks tires, blasted into my eyes. It was worse than simply having the rain in your eyes. Anyway, we finally got to the downhill off Sand Mountain which would pretty much deliver us to the base of Lookout Mountain. I flew down that mountain. It was rainy and slick but I managed to get down much quicker than most. People were very conservative about the turns and such. Actually on three of the bends they had paramedics and ambulances sitting there. I felt like my mountain biking skills may have helped me. I knew that one little slip would spell disaster but I was in control and felt confident.

Lookout Mountain

Made it to the base of Lookout Mountain. They had a rest stop that I took advantage of. I had no idea what awaited but I wanted to be ready for it. I felt better at 84 miles than I ever had before.

So I fuel up and started the climb. We went up the back of Lookout Mountain on Burkhalter Gap Road. From the base it just looked long. And deceptively not very steep. I immediately had to gear down to first gear. Understand I had not been in first gear all day. I could get no momentum going up this climb. None. At about a half of a mile I began wondering how I was going to finish this. It was 2.5 miles. It got steeper the further up the mountain you went. I tried to relax. I thought I would just take it easy but it wasn’t like I could have gone easier. My god I was dying at about a mile in. I tried to stand on my pedals to get a little energy into the pedals but my legs felt like concrete. I could have walked faster up this hill at this point. I got about 100 yards from the top. With each pedal stroke I wanted to quit. I stood. As I leaned forward trying to get get my body forward up this damn hill my rear wheel kept slipping on the wet pavement. I started to see stars. My head was pounding. There were people standing on the side of the road urging us on. If they hadn’t been there I might have stopped. I knew I would hate myself if I quit so close to the top. I. was. dying. Somehow I made it to the top and rolled into the rest stop. That’s right. They had rest stops 2.5 miles apart and it was greatly needed. How do these pro bike riders do this? I had never suffered like this in anything I have ever done.

I rested for a few minutes. Fueled up thinking that it was all downhill from there. That was not to be the case. There was more climbing for the next 5 mile. Lots of rolling hills, but a steady uphill. In fact, right in front of the rest stop was a hill that was such a bummer. Short and steep. And these rolling hills never stopped. This extra climbing was almost as disheartening as the big hill, but not quite. Just when you thought you could not make it over another damn rolling hill, the downhill off Lookout Mountain came and it was a fast decent into Chattanooga.

You came down the main Lookout Mountain road right into downtown. Within about 2 miles you were rolling through downtown to the finish. It was over. I survived and could not be more proud. Again,the traffic control through the town was phenomenal. They had traffic cones set up. Police guarding traffic. Those poor people in cars had to be pissed. We screwed up traffic for miles.

Rolling into Finley Stadium felt great. People welcomed you in over the finish line with cheers, clapping and cow bells. That felt good. I can tell you I appreciated that a lot.

Huge respect for everyone who ventured out in the rain for this event. That wasn’t easy to do. I saw people turn around. But for those that made it the full 100 miles…I am really proud to be among you.

What a wonderful day. It rained. I suffered like no other time in my life. I feel like I accomplished something monumental. I rode 3 mountains through 3 states for 100 miles in the rain.

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