Today, I had my ass handed to me in 11,230 different ways. For many cyclists, completing a 100 mile bike ride or century, in a single day represents a significant milestone- a true notch in their belt. In January of 2010 I set the goal of completing my first century ride with Team In Training that June. With a lot of time in the saddle and encouragement from friends, family and teammates I completed that century ride- and about five others since.
Like many goals reached, their attainment reveals more possibilities- opening the doors to the potential for further accomplishment. Century rides are no different; and while completing any century is a big win- I have since learned that there are Centuries…then there are Centuries. Throughout Georgia, the Southeastern US and perhaps the entire East Coast no other Century holds the position of the Six Gap Century held in the mountains of North Georgia near the beautiful town of Dahlonega. Riders who successfully complete Six Gap proudly wear the coveted jersey back on their local rides- to the envy of fellow riders. In the cycling community, little else trumps the prestige of earning a Six Gap jersey.
My Six Gap Century attempt was not preordained. In reality, I was shamed into it. As a test run I completed the Beautiful Back Roads Century in Cartersville, GA the previous week. At 100 miles, the BBRC is a Century…but not a Century of the caliber of Six Gap- it would allow me to gauge my fitness level in anticipation of the big ride in the Gaps the following week. Even with riding an extra 16 miles due to a missed turn, being chased by dogs and experiencing a mechanical that left me riding the final 30 miles in a single gear I still finished- though admittedly not as strong as I would have liked. Still, I had signed up and paid for Six Gap. At the very least I could do the 3 gap fifty mile option, right? I had done this ride and written about it on numerous occasions- I knew I could do 3 gap with little trouble.
As 3000 riders departed the massive parking lot of Lumpkin County Highshool, some for the 35 mile Valley Ride, others for the 3 Gap Fifty and others for the 6 Gap Century I was still undecided as to my route option. Did I have it in me to do the full ride? Could I climb the dreaded Hogpen Gap? On the medical side- could my patched up knee handle the strain of 11,300 feet of mountain climbs? While discussing my quandary The previous night my friend and fellow rider Brigette, simply looked at me and said “Rule #5”. She may have added “bitch” in there too. This statement refers to cycling humor website Velominati who keeps a set of rules for cyclists. Our group has taken to slinging these rules around on group rides as both corrective action and as a source humorous motivation, or just plain ridicule. Rule #5 is “Harden the F up“; and is the cycling equivalent of the Triple Dog Dare. With this bit of healthy humiliation masked as encouragement coming from Brigette, I was resigned to doing the full Six Gap.
I am not going into a blow-by-blow of the ride in this article. It was hard- perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done. After 60 miles of riding, Hogpen gap did in fact “rip my legs off and beat my soul with the stumps” as fellow rider Graham likes to say. I got off and walked twice. I stopped at every rest stop. The climbs at Neal’s, Jack’s and Unicoi gaps were fine and long- I cursed and swore as Hogpen and Wolfpen gaps inched slowly beneath my wheels and my legs turned into stone. I screamed down the backside of each one and let the breeze cool my saddle sores, drying the sweat into a salty crust in my hair. I wondered if the end would ever come- and 9.5 hours later it did. My friends were waiting for me in the parking lot- asking what took me so long. I have my six gap jersey and no one can ever take that ride away from me.. but I might let you touch it if you want.