6,774 ft elevation
It is my fourth ride of the Rapha Rising Challenge and even after posting some decent elevation and mileage I still need to make some sizable advancement to close this puppy. I start my ride just after one o’clock with the intention to make it over Hogpen. I have used my time here in the Georgian mountains to progressively increase the training volume to slay “The Hog”.
On day two I rode the Neels, Wolfpen, Woody loop. It was a difficult ride but 38 miles was over relatively soon while rest and relaxation filled the rest of the day. The third day of the challenge I took it easy by doing the 23 mile vineyard route. This gave me two hard days followed by one easy day. The extra time was spent on Renate’s massage bench, sleeping and eating.
Neels is always better the second time. The switch backs become more familiar
allowing me to anticipate the subtle changes in gradient and then dose the effort accordingly. I reach the top in good spirits and enjoy a rice cake before topping off the bottles. A deluge accompanied my ride down the back of Neels. With about ten feet of visibility and a death grip on the brakes levers, I descended at about 20 mph. I silently debated the merits of my choice to ride with my lightweight jersey sans gilet as the cold mountain rain poured while the perforated strip of material running down the center of the jersey offered no real protection for my back.
Then like magic, the rain stopped upon reaching the valley. The roads were dry as a bone and the valley was warm getting warmer. I take a right onto Rt 180 and feel instantly the resistance from friction produced by its gravel embedded tarmac. The feeling of resistance is further enhanced by the long section of false flats that precede the climb up Jack’s Knob. When the climbs come, they slowly work away at your will. There are no switchbacks; there is just a series of long then longer climbs separated by short descents. That’s when it happened, like an engine losing compression, I watch as the mph slowed to less than 2 mph. An ominous feeling of failure, and then impending doom, follows a virtual sound of a single, deep base, and penetrating beat, as my cleat touches ground. I visualize the boot plant on the LZ in la Drang Valley as Lieutenant Colonel Moore exited the chopper in the movie We Were Soldiers. I move to the side of the road to avoid unsuspecting traffic while I hydrate, refuel and allow myself a good ten minutes of rest. When I roll on, I am surprised at what ten minutes of rest can accomplish. Climbing at 5-6 mph I crest Jack’s Knob, locate my water stash and sat down for a proper rest.
Today’s ride was a constant negotiation with time. First, attention on work stole valuable vacation time and delayed my ride start. Then, heavy rains delayed and slowed my descent of Neels and now my fitness was being challenged by Jack’s.
My long recoveries were eating away at what little time I had left and so I am forced to consider alternatives. I can turn around, descend Jacks and return over Neels, or can continue on over Unicoi then choose to reroute around Hogpen and out of the barricade of mountain ranges known as the Six Gaps should the day be slipping away. My force of will does not allow me to completely give up and yet somehow I remain hopeful that my original goal of cresting Hogpen today is still possible. I reflect, “This is how adventure seekers get themselves into trouble”. The roads at night, in the mountains covered in forest, are dark, thin and winding. I decide to continue on, still fooling myself there is a chance for the Hog, knowing full well, I will bailout. There just isn’t enough time.
So I cruise down Jacks, ascend the switchbacks of Unicoi then descend them in the rain, ride around Hogpen and head back to the cabin. I was less than thrilled and a bit deflated from having failed, but there was now another 6,774 ft in the books and there is still more time left in the week for…
chasing The Hog.