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 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.
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.