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.