6400 Ft climbing
Renate rolls up and out of the mist that has settled in on Woody’s Gap. Pasty white, overweight teenagers wearing “lids” and wannabe gangsta shorts hangin’ off their hind-side listen to Hip Hop thumping from the trunk of their car. “I’m a grinder, I’m Supah grinder…” It’s a surreal picture for a Sunday morning deep in the North Georgia Mountains far away from any real urban center.
Renate happens to be an accidental participant in the Womans 100 challenge from Rapha. “why do you always do this to me?” the reply reads on my Facebook post announcing I had signed her up for a challenge to ride 100km in a single day. “First the Spartan Race and now this” she chides on but finally concludes with, “Ahh, let’s just do it!” Yes, that’s the girl I know and love. To be fair, I think she has ridden a road bike about 3 times in the last 6 months and frankly has no business attempting 62.5 miles let alone doing it over 3 of the 6-Gap century course.
I have learned through the years to let Renate ride her own pace. If you ride alongside or too close and push the pace, she gets aggravated. She prefers to look around and observe the life that is happening around her than to forge ahead at breakneck speeds, suffering through the miles with nothing but a blur for the memory of it. So I ride to intersections or a hill crest then stop and wait. When you see the world through Renate’s eyes, you cannot help but smile and revel in the wonder that is nature.
We crest Wolfpen Gap where the rough pavement has been replaced with fresh tarmac. Smooth roads are one of Renate’s simple riding pleasures and she conveys her approval with enthusiasm. We collect and use a jug of water hidden in the forest to refill our bottles and re-hydrate our bodies. “So this is Neels?” “No”, I reply “this is Wolfpen, Neels is next”. She looks at me with the face of a child after receiving a no to the eternal question, “are we there yet?” We take a long break while we chat with a woman from Atlanta and then her husband, and later their friend, who has resorted to pushing her bike up the steep side of Wolfpen.
The ride down Wolfpen was a bit precarious as roadwork was incomplete leaving a 3-4 inch step down the center-line and loose, sticky tarmac coated gravel along the fall line of the remaining side. Using the whole road to negotiate the sharp switchbacks to control the speed was not an option today. I waited at the base of Neels for Renate to arrive. When she did we began the slow arduous climb.
“I’m delirious” she remarked upon her arrival at the top. I laughed as I steadied her while she dismounted her bike. Coca cola and Honey Stinger waffles from the Mountain Crossings Outfitters satisfied our sugar cravings while we spent a long deserved pause. Some spicy beef jerky was a welcomed departure from the sweet Honey and Probar chews we had been consuming. No need to stash water here, the facility provides outdoor access to a water faucet for use by Hikers, bikers, and cyclists alike. A collection of wore torn boots with stories to tell, hang from the ceiling of the outfitters, paying homage to their purpose.
The descent off Neels provides wide cambered switchbacks that are not only a pleasure to ride but allow for safety at speeds of over 45mph. Half way down I scrub my speed and wait for Renate to pass. As I ride well behind her, I watch in horror as an impatient motorist driving a Porsche, passes dangerously close and then cuts in front of her, missing her by about 6 inches. These things often take Renate off her game yet she soldiered on like a trooper without a hitch.
We stopped briefly at the bottom near Turner’s Corner Café to regroup. 28 miles and 4,000 ft were now logged. Renate was not thrilled to hear that we were less than halfway through with the challenge. The look she gave me when I told her we needed to repeat the wine route two times was just precious. Together we agreed that we would ride it once, and then stop at the café for some coffee and pie before deciding what to do next. Renate, after all, was shaped by her mother who was skilled in the fine art of Pavlovian Conditioning who would dispense chocolate treats to her children during hiking adventures in order to keep them moving when morale and motivation was low. The idea of coffee and pie at a streamside café sent Renate spinning down the road in Pavlovian bliss.
The winery loop, as the folks from Hiker Hostel call it, is a series of punchy climbs and undulating rollers that challenge the legs and provide some additional elevation to our ride. I ride up a short, wall-like hill that requires some quick planning to ensure the proper gearing needed to complete the climb. By the time I put my cleat down at the top and before I can turn around I heard the slightly anticipated “whoaaahuuuhaah”. I turn slowly to find Renate is literally, upside down in a ditch! I refrain from laughter until I can get her safely separated from pedal and bike. With more than a little cachinnation, we collect ourselves and ride on. A fieldstone chimney stands hauntingly solo in the middle of a field. An orange truck amongst a collection of forgotten automobiles marks the intersection with Damascus that guides us along the wavelike rows of grapevines that is Frogtown Cellars.
Before we turn right towards the café, Renate is in quite deliberation. We can take a left, return to a warm shower, hot food and then rest in failure or take a right ride two miles, take a short rest at the café then repeat the wine route one more time. We ride slowly towards the café while Renate mutters, “I want…..no….. No more hills”.
The waitress’ at Turner’s Corner Café were extremely friendly and very attentive. We were quickly served up hot coffee, sweet tea and peach cobbler while we relaxed outside on a deck as the Chestatee River runs beneath us. The warm peach cobbler was absolutely delicious and it certainly filled the void created by the hard 50 miles and 5000 ft of climbing. Casual conversation and jocularity with other friendly cyclists at neighboring tables provide the distraction Renate needed to keep her mind off the last 13 miles we needed to complete the challenge.
Rerunning the wine route was probably not the best way to get in the balance of the miles as Renate prefers not to retrace steps, but I do not know the area well and this is the “flattest” section in Dahlonega I know. The closer we get home the more the miles wear on poor Renate’s fading will. With only about a tenth of a mile to the hostel we realize we were half a mile short of our goal and so we ride repetitive 0.15 mile loops on the crest of a hill until the inevitable scream bellows from her lungs and her hands thrust skyward like she had just bagged a TdF stage win.
That night, sleep came easy and the next day, I rode alone.