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.