Posts Tagged ‘Team in Training’

six gap three gap 3 gap 6 gap north georgia cycling bicycling ride route map

Six Gap Route in North Georgia

Everywhere else in the world they are called passes– or at least where I am from.  Here in Geogia, the  low passage points over mountains are referred to as gaps.  In North Georgia there is an area situated between the mountain towns of Dahlonega and Helen referred to as Six Gaps- or simply The Gaps, that is comprised of 6 mountain passes that can be ridden on a single 104 mile bike ride of a lifetime, or three gaps for 58 miles.

The annual Six Gap Century & Three Gap Fifty ride is renowned as one of the most challenging rides in the United States with over 11,000 feet of elevation gain and grades of up to 15% on the infamous Hogpen Gap.  By comparison, the Tahoe Century ride I completed in 2010 was a paltry 6300 feet of elevation gain- or just more than half of the full Six Gap ride.

From 2003-2008 the area served as a challenging mountain stage of the now discontinued Tour De Georgia.  “Brasstown Bald is a very, very tough climb” said Lance Armstrong of the 2004 breakaway with Voigt to steal the win from stage leader Chris Horner.  Hors catégorie is a French term used to designate a climb that is “beyond categorization”, an incredibly tough climb. Most climbs in cycling are designated from Category 1 (hardest) to Category 4 (easiest), based on both steepness and length. A climb that is harder than Category 1 is designated as hors catégorie– such as Brasstown Bald with the steepest grade at 24 percent.

Today I rode the “front three” gaps- Neels, Wolfpen and Woody for a total of 62 Miles (the route map says 58).  I arrived at Lumpkin High School around 8 am and was wheels-down by 8:30 so as to try and beat the hottest part of the day in the afternoon.  I immediately appreciated the rolling hills along Black Mountain Road as a nice warm-up and lead-in to Neels- something I usually hit cold when starting the ride from Turner’s Corner General Store.  It was a gorgeous morning and I had the roads nearly to myself- even though it was the start of the July 4th weekend.  What little traffic there was consisted of other cyclist and motorcycles.

stone pile stonepile north georgia dalahnegaBlack Mountain Road becomes Yahoola Road just before the sharp turn and climb onto Route 19.  I stopped my to toss a stone on Trahlyta’s Grave at the foot of Stonepile gap before heading west to Turners Corner.  According to Cherokee legend, Trahlyta was a beautiful local woman who was kidnapped by an unrequited suitor.  In captivity her beauty and health declined and on her death she asked to be buried in her native hills.  Cherokee, and later whites, adopted the custom of tossing a stone on her grave as they passed in the hopes of receiving her beauty.  The Stone Pile now sits in the middle of the intersection of routes 19 & 60.  Read more about the legend [here].

turners corner general store cycling bicycle bicycling biking north georgia six gaps

Friendly People, Friendly Cows and a Great View!

I stopped in to Turner’s Store to replenish my fluids and  buy some preemptive Advil before hitting Neels.  This climb winds nearly 8 miles and rises to an elevation of 3097 feet to the top of Blood Mountain.  Any way you cut it, an 8 mile climb is just no fun at all- but my legs felt strong as I cranked my way along 129 in light traffic and made it to the top in just under an hour.  Situated at the the top of Neels is perhaps my favorite outdoor store in the world- Mountain Crossings.  It is not just any store- housed in a solid granite building that was build as lodging for the Conservation Corps workers during the depression. Mountain Crossings is a critical supply link for hikers on the Apalachian Trail.  Stretching from Georgia to Maine, the “AT” is a 2200 mile trail network attracting hikers from the world over.  At Mountain Crossings, the trail route actually goes through the breezeway between two buildings and represents the only covered portion on the entire trail!  The side patio offers a peaceful resting place for weary hikers and bikers while enjoying a panorama of the valley below.  It also gave me an opportunity to feel slightly superior to the “weighty” tourists who 0ooe’d and ahhh’ed at the view-   I had earned my view!

Wolfpen, Woody's, Hogpen, Neels, Unicoi,

Smile! No, really- Smile!

The screaming descent down the backside of Neel’s made the climb totally worthwhile- reaching speeds of 40+ miles per hour, a quick brake-check before heading down is a must.  From Neel’s, I turned left onto Highway 180 at Vogel State park- immediately heading into the climb at Wolfpen.  Featuring steeper, but shorter stretches between turns, the summit of Wolfpen tops out at 3369.  I was not feeling on top of my game at the summit- as the picture shows a forced grin bathed in sweat.   I downed both water bottles and a gel pack to replenish my energy before heading down the backside of Wolfpen into Suchess Valley for the route 60 tie-in.    In addition, my mysterious bottom bracket creaking returned on this climb- it is time to break out the sledgehammer of scientific investigation on this problem when I get home.  I need to develop new hypothoses.

The final gap ascent today was up the back side of Woodys which would deliver me back to the Stone Pile and about 15 miles from the car.  When riding with Team In Training I had made this ascent, but from the other direction- and I dreaded this last climb.  I could feel my fuel needle clicking on empty, it was getting hot and another 8 mile climb was not at the top of my list.  The cycling gods were with me though because I did not realize that with each climb up Neels and Wolfpen, did not correlate to an equal distance down.  The result was a 15-minute climb to the summit of Woody’s.  It was almost anti-climatic!  The descent was absolutely incredible though- nearly 10 miles of winding speed to the rock pile and I was on my way home!

The final miles back to the car were tough- I was now officially dehydrated and it was hot.  This ride kicked my ass- but it was wonderful and terrific and I cant wait to go again!  On the way home I stopped at Taco Bell on 400 and ate 8 soft tacos- yummy!  I have renewed respect for the Gaps- and am considering an entry into the main event this year for all six.  It is another 50 miles and double the elevation gain from today’s ride- but what if I did it?  What if I have what it takes to earn a coveted six gap jersey?  What if….


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This is the third part in the series Sometimes It Is About The Bike.

A few weeks after returning from the ski trip in Tahoe, Eddie would tell me that he  had ran up the stairs  of his home with a basket full of laundry and had to sit gasping on his bed to regain his breath once again.  On this occasion he had also coughed up small amounts of blood.  Something was wrong.

Dad "Eddie" and Dan at a Cycling Event in the early 1990's

He went to his general practitioner to get checked out a few days later- the basics all seemed fine.  His heart was strong, blood oxygen levels were fine- he was in terrific shape for a man of 60 years old.  As almost an afterthought his doctor scheduled a chest x-ray.  After a series of tests, examinations and evaluations were made over the  following weeks the diagnosis of Stage III non-small-cell carcinoma was made.  He had developed an inoperable grapefruit-sized tumor that had surrounded his aorta and completely closed off the airway to his left lung.

At this point in the telling of this story it would seem fitting to launch into a recitation of my Father’s decline over the next 3 years- going into the endless chemotherapy treatments (27 of them), radiation treatments (over 100), various medications and their respective side effects, countless hospital and doctor visits.  However, this would detract from the underlying greatness of his struggle.  Neither am I minimizing what I can only consider the miraculous medical treatment he received, the angels  in the chemo clinic, and the most amazing medical team a person could ever have hoped for.   Being sick with cancer is alot of hard work, and while all of these things “Medical” filled more and more of his days- ultimately buying him more days, the work of being sick never overcame him.  He was never a cancer patient.

The truth is, he would not want me talking about his illness at all.  In my conversations with him about his sickness and treatments, he would only tell me enough so that I would not go to Jeannie for all of the information (which I would do anyway).  This is not out of  shame,  misplaced machismo or false sense of pride, refusal to acknowledge an obviously severe situation or an attempt on his part to obfuscate  the fact that he had been diagnosed  with cancer and would likely die from this condition.  Quite to the contrary, Eddie had the ability, more than anyone I know to simply accept the situation that was before him and set out on a course of action.

It is what it is” was perhaps one of my Father’s most common and endearing sayings. There is an absolute truth that “it” is infact always exactly what “it” is, regardless of our desires for “it” to be something different or our efforts to  change “it” to something more to our liking….something more palatable.    I still struggle with this simple concept, but I see the is strength in  his ability to see something for what it is, and I think it takes the highest form of courage to do so: honesty and humility. 

Back in my Atlanta garage I began to remove the parts of my Dad’s roadbike from the box where they had sat for the previous weeks.  The bike had originally been Dan’s and even though it was now over 20 years old, the paint was in good shape and the unmistakable Dura Ace gruppo looked to be in decent order.  At some point Eddie had upgraded the fork to a clear-finished carbon fork.  I remarked how light and feather-like the frame felt in my hand as I removed the protective foam packaging.   It was easily 15 pounds lighter than the KHS.   

The bike went together quickly and perfectly.  Fighting off another round of tears, I also found in the box my Dad’s helmet, water bottles and complete tool kit- everything he owned that was bike related.  His brand new riding shoes were in there too- we have the same size feet.   After inflating the tires I took the Specialized out for an awkward test ride the steep racing geometry felt squirrely in the turns compared to the yachty feel of KHS.  Also unlike the KHS, the bike fairly lept out from under me at turning the cranks.  This bike felt very, very good- stiff and responsive. 

It would be several rides before I would become fully accustomed to the more aggressive riding position- but I found that even after 6-8 hours in the saddle that my knees, neck and shoulders no longer ached.  Being able to ride for longer and at a faster pace coupled with my decreasing waistline and increasing anaerobic threshold gave me an opportunity to graduate from my lovely cruising TNT ladies and into the slower fast group that I would ultimately ride Tahoe with.  My confidence and heart were beaming- all thanks to the bike my father gave me.  

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This is the second part of the Series Sometimes It’s About the Bike.


Dad and Dan Skiing at Homewood, Lake Tahoe 2006

The final straw with the KHS cruiser as a credible training bike came in March, near the end of a weekly Team ride in the Town of Alpharetta, just north of Atlanta.  The Team-In-Training program assigns a volunteer mentor to help guide each participant through the challenges of fund raising and the rigors of preparing for the specific event.  My mentor was a British expatriate named Andrew Hirst- an all around great bloke who had completed the Tahoe Century two years earlier.  I had grown significantly  stronger  in the saddle since the first winter training rides and managed to stay with Andrew on his faster bike that day…until we reached the final climb of the ride leading back to the Kroger parking lot where we had begun.

Ahead of me, Andrew rose to lean into the steepening climb.  Meanwhile,  gravity exercised itself upon every ounce of the nearly thirty-pound cruiser which I rode; compelling it back toward the bottom of the hill as every muscle and tendon I was capable of summoning cajoled it upward.  I had read a Scientific American article indicating cursing actually produces a physiological soothing effect on pain.   Judging from the sting of superlatives I was in absolute agony as I cranked up that hill in pursuit of the Brit.  As we rolled toward the cars Andrew jokingly questioned my intention to ride the cruiser in Tahoe.  I questioned my intention as well.

Until recently, I was a person that found it convenient to dismiss the possibility of a “grand design” for the universe and the fact that I had a place in it.  I was baptized Catholic as an infant, but had always jokingly exclaimed  as an adult that it was not my fault.  I can count on both hands the number of times in my life I had voluntarily crossed the threshold of a Church.  Considering myself a spiritual person non-the-less, I maintained an undeveloped dogma which was  primarily of my own divination and which omitted almost completely the possibility of a personal and loving creator who’s power guided my way- independent of my acknowledgment or comprehension of that creator and his power.

My small ideology did allow  for the possibility that strings of cause-and-effect circumstances, like long sequences of computer programming code, may on seemingly random occasions generate unanticipated results which appear to be correlative-  coincidence.  A ghost in the machine.  It had entered into my consciousness that  perhaps such a coincidence was at play in the fact  it was in Lake Tahoe, during a 2006 family Christmas ski vacation that I witnessed the first signs of my fathers illness, and that I was now training to return there in order to ride in honor of his life- and the lives of others effected by cancer.  That the hand of god was plainly at work in this “coincidence” eluded me completely.

On a blustery day at the Homewood Ski Resort  in Tahoe, the wind was screaming in sixty-to-seventy mile an hour blasts over the peak above us, exploding into white mist on the water’s surface below- like an invisible freight train falling from the sky.  Looking down the lake from the chairlift we counted waterspouts as they rose in angry dervishes driven by the wind’s fury.   The ladies had called it quits on the slopes, retreating to the lodge with Liam and Ethan.   My Dad, Dan and I were the strongest skiers of our  family group  and having surveiled  a challenging glades run through the woods, we took the opportunity to  hit a couple of runs together.

The heavy snow and technical difficulty, combined with the  thin air  at an altitude of nearly 7800 feet, found me catching my breath at the end of the run as I joined Dan emerging from the tree line.  Dad joined us moments later and he was doubled-over, gasping for air.  Dan and I took the opportunity to lovingly taunt him about getting old and being out of shape- he shook his head breathlessly holding his gloved hand up to us indicating that he was okay, but  that we needed to wait a minute for him to recover.

Read the rest of the Sometimes it’s About the Bike Series.







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When I committed to participate in the 2010 Tahoe Century a.k.a. America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, with the Georgia Chapter of Team In Training (TNT), the fund-raising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I did so from the fairly self-centered standpoint that it provided an avenue  for me to achieve the personal goal  I had set of completing a 100-mile bicycle ride in 2010.  After a nearly decade long hiatus, I had begun riding again in earnest the  just  the previous fall, but had managed to complete a solo “death march” 60-miler on the Silver Comet Trail, so the 100 mile goal was a relatively realistic one.

I started the year with TNT riding the trusty and hefty KHS Urban-X, a great fender-clad city bike for cruising the neighborhood with the kids or throwing a case of beer on the rack, but not so great for hills of any grade, rides of more than 30 miles…or for looking good on the open road.   I rode alot with the the slower group and the older women I hung with all thought my bike was a hoot.

I had spoken to my Dad about doing the Tahoe Century in his honor, even though he was suffering from lung cancer rather than Leukemia or Lymphoma.  He was teary eyed at the prospect that I would even think about doing something like that for him- and he agreed.  He said that I would need a proper road bike for the effort and since he didn’t ride his anymore, why not send it down to me to ride.  In time, I could sense my Dad’s spirits rise and hear the excitement in his voice as I shared my training updates and fundraising status- this news really pulled him up a notch.

The large box containing the Dad’s bike arrived and I opened it excitedly; but then I just kind of sat there amongst the tools and parts and cried, realizing that the the reason that Dad had sent the bike wasn’t because he “didn’t ride it anymore” it was that he would not be riding it again- ever.  I closed up the box and it sat in the garage for a month.  I continued to ride the KHS on my TNT training rides for those weeks, and pedaled a little harder in an effort to avoid the grim reality of the road bike at home in the garage and what it meant.

This is part one of the series Sometimes it’s About the Bike

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