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.