Monday, September 25, 2006

6 Gap Century

Every year a couple thousands roadies show up in beautiful Dahlonega, Ga to ride 100 miles over 6 mountain passes. I think the total elevation gain is 11,000 feet. It felt more like a million. A picture is worth a thousand words.

The day started off well. My girlfriend and I arrived about 1.5 hours before the race started. We just missed the long line that forms trying to cram all those cars into the Lumpkin County High School parking lot. It was nice sitting in the back of my car holding my girlfriend's hand watching those poor suckers who came thirty minutes late. I felt relaxed and ready for the race. My only concern was the weather and what clothes should I bring to prepare for it.

As I rolled up to the line, I saw my parents standing there. My mom snapped a bunch of pictures, and my dad came up and talked to me about the race. It was nice having them there.

The horn sounded and we sat and waited for 1000 riders ahead of us to get rolling. As soon as we left the parking lot it started raining. I knew I should have brought my arm warmers. The rain wasn't too bad though. I tried to settle in a pace slightly slower than last year. If I am going to climb six big ole mountains, I don't see any point in trying to race people on the flattest part of the day.

The rain got a little worse and the downhills started to get interesting. I don't ever remember riding a road bike in the rain so this was a learning experience for me. I learned your brakes no longer grab like you are used to. They slow you down some but you couldn't really stop if you needed to. I was going so slow around corners that I never really noticed my tires slipping out from under me. I will have to experiment with that some other day.

After about 20 miles of rolling stuff, we hit the base of Neels. I remember from last year this climb being somewhat difficult for me. I tried to keep with this other rider for most of the way, and I felt pretty worked when I got to the top. This time I took it easy and did my own thing. I sped up a couple times to get around cars but other than that I stuck to the game plan and felt fresh as daisy at the summit. The climb seemed so much shorter this year.

The rain was coming down really hard by now. I contemplated chickening out and doing 3 Gap. Luckily some guy said "We are already soaking wet. We are not going to get any wetter. Might as well go for it." Thank you to whoever said that. That was good advice and just the encouragement I needed to hear.

On the descent, I started shivering pretty bad. It was cold. Cold enough to make me think about 3 Gap for a minute but not cold enough to quit. At the bottom of the hill, I was happy to be pedaling again. I kept checking my heart rate hoping it would come up so I would get warm again. Finally we hit some hills, and I felt myself warming back up.

All day I ate as much as possible when I wasn't going straight up or straight down. I mixed my energy drink really thin this time, and I never felt the naseau I normally get. I also stayed more hydrated than normal. I did lose energy towards the end of the race. I might add a little more mix next time.

Jack's Gap was steep. This was the first time I felt my back hurt a little. It wasn't too bad though. I practiced pedaling in circles and stretching my back. Other than the cold everything went pretty smoothly over Jack's and up Unicoi.

At the summit of Unicoi, my girlfriend and some family were there. It was nice seeing them. They were giving me a weird look but I figured they were just trying to figure out if I was dying yet. My girlfriend gave me some arm warmers. At this point the arm warmers were more of luxury than a necessity but a little pampering never hurt anybody. I filled up my bottles and took off. The descent was more enjoyable now that I wasn't shivering so much.

Then came Hogpen. This climb is really steep and long. I would sit and pedal focusing on pulling up and over. I would try to count to 100. When I got to 100 or I couldn't stand the pain anymore, I would stand up and count to 30. After 30 I would sit back down and repeat. Why would I sit back down if standing was easier you ask? While standing made the climb less painful, it would however send my heartrate rocketing. I had to limit my standing time so that I wouldn't burn myself up and not have enough energy to make it to the top of the climb.

I repeated this process of sitting and standing for a really long time. Then I saw a rest stop that I thought was the top. I saw my family so I turned it on a little sending my heart rate soaring. When I get there I learn there are a couple more miles of climbing to go. I kept rolling and tried to let my heart rate come down. After that there were so many false summits I stopped counting. I was hurting by the time I got to the top.

I filled my bottles and took off down a super steep downhill. I rode the brakes most of the way. This was beyond my comfort level. I need to go back here and practice. I am not comfortable in the drops so I rode down the whole way on my hoods. My hands kept feeling like they were going to pop off the bars. I tried wrapping my pinkies around the bar for extra control. I worried the whole way I was going to hit a pothole and loose my grip on the bars.

I was glad to see the bottom, but I was worked. Climbing back to the 3 Gap turn was hard work. I was already dreading Wolfpen. I ate as much as I could.

Halfway up Wolfpen my right knee gave out. I could no longer pull up or push down with any real force. It still hurts now as I type this. I am not sure what I did. I think I may have stayed seated too much. I remember standing more last year because staying seated would make my back hurt. I guess the weakest link moved from my back to my knee this year. I thought about quitting. I decided that if I made it over Wolfpen then I could probably limp home the rest of the way.

I used every trick I could think of to get over Wolfpen. I would grab my knee with my right hand and force my knee up and down with my arm. I tried standing for 100 seconds and sitting for 30 seconds instead of the other way around. I tried moving my knees further in then more further out. I tried riding bow legged. I tried favoring my left leg and letting my right leg be almost limp. Nothing really helped but it was good distraction. Somehow I made it to the top. By this time both my knees were hurting. The right one still a little more than the left.

My girlfriend and sister were there. I remember giving my girlfriend my best "I am hurting so bad and I want you to tell me to quit look". Not sure if she noticed but she said "You are doing great. You can do it. You are almost done." And that was that. I slumped back on my bike and kept going.

The downhill of Wolfpen was the most fun I had all day. It wasn't too wet or too steep. It was twisty and fun. I swooped down the mountain and forgot about my knee until the climbing started again.

I felt sick at this point. Not sure if I was tired or hungry or what. I took off my rain vest while I was riding. I thought it was cool trick but after I did it, a guy rode by me and looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe it wasn't a good idea but it was fun and made me feel like one of those guys in the Tour de France. I even felt a little bit better without the vest on.

Luckily none of the rest of the climbs were as steep as Wolfpen or Hogpen. I made it over Woody's in considerable pain but I made it. The downhill was long. The rain started heavy again and it was hard to see. The sweat stung my eyes and I had to slow several times because my eyes were closed.

Eventually the hill got more gradual and I was able to pedal some of the time. Lots of riders passed me on this section. I was pretty passed caring at this point. I just wanted to finish. I was going to be proud no matter what my time was.

I couldn't believe it when I saw the high school. It didn't seem real. I pedaled as hard as I could but I must have looked pretty pathetic. I rolled over the line in 7 hours and 30 minutes.

My family was there to congratulate me. My nephew pushed my bike up the hill. It was nice talking to my family about the race. I grabbed some spaghetti dinner and talked with them some more. On the way home I stopped and got a blizzard from DQ. It felt really good to have finished the race.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks James I really enjoyed your writeup.