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.