9,163 ft Elevation
It is Thursday morning and the Mojo is nowhere to be found. My Weapons Grade Hydration drink mix, EFS, was empty and there was only one rice cake left in the fridge. Four consecutive climbing days and these three excuses were all I needed to announce that today would be crowned a rest day. Queue the Angels and part the clouds, there will be no suffering today.
We drove to downtown Dehlonega only to discover the local bike shop had been closed six months ago. Some locals indicated the next closest shop could be found twenty minutes away in Gainesville. What we found was Bike Town USA in existence since 1978 and still operated by the original owner, Tom Hughs. Renate and enjoyed listening to Tom tell us the story of a small shop surviving the years continually re-inventing it to fit market trends.
The rest of the day was spent making stacks of rice cakes and receiving a well deserved high quality massage.
Friday morning and The Hog is on my mind.
Another ride up and over Neels was still difficult yet manageable. The legs are adapting to the strain of mountain climbing and a day of rest was just what they needed to recover in preparation for a hard day in the saddle.
Jack’s Knob was a little easier today. While resting on the crest a woman completes the climb and announces, “I hate that climb”, as she stops in the middle of the road and stares down at the tarmac. “It’s a tough one”, I respond while I fill up my bottles. She stands in the middle of the road staring down at the tarmac in post climb meditation. After introducing myself, she returns in kind, “it’sss Slaura”. “Slaura?”, I asked a bit slowly to indicate I was unsure of my pronunciation. “Laura, I slurred a bit”. Laura launched into a full on explanation of what she was doing and why she was doing it. Laura explained that she was training in the six gaps in preparation for the Six Gap Century in September and continued talking about all kinds of difficult riding she has done in Arizona, Utah and Colorado. This woman was certainly fit and boy she could talk. I stopped listening to what she was saying and started listening for a pause, however brief. When it came, “I have to go” was all I said and I was gone.
Descending Unicoi became a bit precarious when a truck with horse trailer in tow passed
me before the descent. This meant I was not going to enjoy the ride down. In an attempt to allow space between us, I reduced my speed but still it did not take long for me to close the gap on the trailer once I released the brakes and flowed freely through the cambered switchbacks. To make matters worse, I had a Toyota clinging to my wheel like he was getting some draft advantage from it. Once the road straightened and no joy could be squeezed out taking a descent turn at speed, I pulled to the side to let the impatient motorist pass in order to increase my margin of safety while reducing my stress. At the bottom of Unicoi I stop at the bridge while some kids were enjoying a hot day while tubing on the Chattanoochee River.
And then came Hogpen.
It will be my third ascent of The Hog in four years. The first two ascents were in preparation for Ventoux when I was in, what seems like today, great shape. And now, carrying an additional thirty-five pounds, I suffered from the onset touching my cleat three times during the climb. Each touch was like a knife slash to my ego. Death by a thousand cuts, as it were. I had to adjust my expectations and be satisfied with surviving the climb. You are either going forward or moving backwards comes to mind as I grind at the pedals and virtually inch my way up the steep gradient.
I spent a good twenty minutes gathering my marbles on the crest of the Hog.
The descent off Hogpen is notoriously steep. Even with aluminum rims, I feathered my braking to avoid overheating them. The extreme gradient and the condition of the tarmac would not allow for a caution less descent but I took the speed where I could do so safely. After all, I had paid dearly for the opportunity to do so. I travel through the valley, up and over a series of rollers and begin the low gradient that carries me to Wolfpen. The heavy machines, operated by sweaty, oil covered men, were out working Wolfpen. I like it fresh, but not still hot, and steaming with the pungent odor of petroleum. Sucking petroleum fumes while ascending Wolfpen felt like a potential health hazard and so I quickly decided to move on and return over Neels.
Neels would then be the last major ascent of the day. It was difficult and slow going for I was already exhausted. Two miles from the top I noticed my front tire was slowly becoming deflated. The breakdown lanes were thin and bordered by ditches so I kept riding with my weight over my rear wheel meanwhile hoping that my luck would continue until I reached the safety of the parking lot at the Mountain Crossings Outfitters before tire was completely flat. I sat down at the picnic bench and leisurely replaced the tube while thankful the flat had not occurred on the descent of Hogpen.
I savored the descent off Neels knowing it would be the last mountain descent of the week. I returned to the cabin hungry, tired and satisfied that the Hog had been slayed.