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Posts Tagged ‘Three Gaps’

Six Gap Century Three Gap Fifty Cylcing North Georgia 3 6Today, 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. 

Six Gap Century Three Gap fifty 6 gap 3 gap 2011

Out of the Gate

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.

Cycling Parent: Fear and Doubt
Liam Earns Polka Dot Jersey – North Georgia Mountains
A Day of Cycling in the Gaps: North Georgia Mountains

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.

Bike Ride North Georgia Six Gap Centruy Three Gap Fifty 2011 Cyclist Bicycle

I hate you Brigette. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

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. 

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youth polka dot jersey cycling north georgia six gap 6 three gap 3 atlanta bike cylcing bicycleSo after much pre-ride angst on my part as spelled out in my previous post  Cycling Parent: Fear and Self-Doubt, with additional angst provided by his Mom and Grandma, Liam and I headed up to north Georgia for his first ride at the Gaps this weekend.  We decided to arrive  early for an evening of camping on Friday, prior to the “big ride” on Saturday with an early 8 a.m. start time. 

Pre-Ride

We had our tent and gear all set up by late afternoon Friday when Liam suggested we ride our bikes to the town of Helen, located about 18 miles from our campground.  Helen is Georgia’s attempt at a Tyrolean Village and  as someone who lived in Bavaria for nearly three years, I can say that the Germans are not as into candy, knives, or anything air-brushed as much as shop owners in this tourist town would have us believe.   I was hesitant.  At 36 miles round trip, I did a quick calculation of our likely average speed, estimated time to both eat dinner and do a little site-seeing & people watching.  We should have just enough time to make it back before sunset- so off we went! 

Cycling North Georgia Helen, GA Bike Bicycle

Dinner in Helen, Georgia

It turned out to be a terrific ride and not only a chance for a nice warm-up before hitting the gaps the next day, but also to provide us with a chance to run through some last minute technical skills  and to shake out the bikes a bit. The route to Helen would provide us with many of the same types of roads (no shoulders) that we would be riding the next day.  Also, for most of our rides in Atlanta we are on residential side streets or bike paths.  The traffic on these roads, while lighter was also moving alot faster.  Liam and I practiced shouting “car back” or “car up” to warn about approaching traffic and move toward the side.  We also used the less aggressive descents to brush up on some braking and turning skills for the next day.  After a faux-German dinner we arrived back to the campsite for a fire and early bed time. 

The Front Three Gaps

Woody Gap North Georgia Cycling Six Gap 6 Three Gap 3 Youth Atlanta Bike Bicycle.

Liam Stroking Up Woody Gap

After a good breakfast of bagels, fruit and coffee (for Liam too) we met up with our group at Turner’s Corner, all of whom had woken up extra early to drive in from Atlanta.  We were blessed with a cold front which meant almost unheard of temperatures in the  sixties for the start of our first ascent up Neel’s Gap.  Liam and I settled into a nice rhythm and found our legs for the 7 miles of climbing ahead of us.   He pulled up a couple of times and I warned him to to put out too much too early because we had a lot of climbing ahead of us.  Neel’s would be the longest climb of the three  gaps we would be doing that day and as we rolled into the parking lot of the Mountain Crossing store atop Neels I looked back to check his expression- all smiles.  We re-grouped at the summit and did a bike-check (brakes).  I encouraged him to eat a Gu Gel for the upcoming climb up Wolfpen, explaining that the our breakfast had just been burned riding up this mountain. 

The winding decent down the backside of Neels was fast but safely paced.  My new friend Brigette hung back with us because she did not feel confident about her first big downhill either.  We made it safely to the turnoff onto Hwy 180 at Vogel State Park and immediately found ourselves beginning on Wolfpen Gap.  Wolfpen is not as long as Neels but is much steeper with several switch backs and pain inducing turn-ups at several points.  It is also deeply wooded making it difficult to visually guage how much longer  the suffering will last.  Liam dug into the climb and I could see that he was having a hard time with it, but then he relaxed, naturally focusing on breathing and turning the pedals.  I could also feel the burn and was glad for the shot of Gu Gel.  A short time later we emerged from the woods at the Summit of Wolfpen, re-grouped again and made our way down into the valley toward Suchess.  The Wolfpen descent was also taken at a moderate and comfortable pace.

Woody Gap North Georgia Cycling Six Gap 6 Three Gap 3 Youth Atlanta Bike Bicycle.We rolled into the crappy gas station rest stop at Suchess for a Gatorade refill.  There was a group of motorcyclists there and Liam was full of questions about the bikes- carefully pointing out that ours were pedal powered.  The turn out of crappy-gas-station-rest-stop onto hwy 60 threw us onto our final ascent of the day- the “short” climb up the backside of Woody Gap.   Liam was still pedaling strong, though I did see his line start to wobble a little bit at some of the switchbacks- a clear sign that he was getting fatigued.  Our group had already begun the descent before we had reached the summit, so we stopped for a brief photo op at the top before turning down ourselves. 

Now the dividends of the the previous 3 hours of pedalling and hell got to be cashed in with a nearly 8-mile long cascade down the gently winding roads of Woody Gap to the valley floor below.  At one turn near the top we were afforded a view of  patchwork  farms that looked like a green earthen quilt.  I accelerated next to Liam and pointed over too it which elicited a “Whoa!” from him.  I explained that we had pedaled up this entire distance and were going to ride back down there.   About 30 minutes later we arrived at Turner’s Corner General Store to meet up with the rest of our group for post-ride BBQ sandwiches and drinks.

I am obviously proud of Liam for this accomplishment.  Not many adults, much less 11 year old boys ever challenge themselves like he did today.  He rode 36 miles (72 total for the weekend) and climbed over 5000 vertical feet on his first ride at three gap.  This is something I did not even do until last season- and with great difficulty even then.  The completion of this climb is something that will continue to pay dividends for the rest of his life and will hopefully set a new bar for what he thinks he is capable of doing. 

In honor of the Tour De France currently underway, it was suggested that Liam should be awarded the “Polkapolka dot jersey mountain climbing Dot Jersey” for the ride he put in today.  The Polka Dots are awarded to the King of the Mountain for each stage- or the rider accumulating the most points (1st-6th) on each major climb of that stage.  Liam- you have earned your mountain goat jersey.  I am proud of you- on and off the bike.  Well done.

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As I write, it is the evening before Liam and I head up North Georgia to ride with the Sorrella Cycling Team for a loop around Three Gaps.  This will be Liam’s first ride in the mountains.  I wrote about my growing affinity for the challenging riding in the area between Dahlonega and Helen  after a solo ride along this route in  A Day of Cycling in North Georgia several weeks ago.  The basis for my nervousness is multi-faceted; but primarily centers around visions of Liam missing a turn on a winding descent and catapulting over a guardrail, him crossing the center line into oncoming traffic…the list of things that could possibly go wrong goes on ad-infinatum.  These are fears…they are things that are possible, but not  probable.  These fears are also compounded by the fact that I, by my own admission and at times to my own detriment,  am not always the best judge of what is “safe”.  This is called self-doubt.   So I struggle tonight with the basic curse of any responsible parent: fear and self-doubt. 

Lake Tahoe America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride AMBBR TNT Team In Training Atlanta Youth Cyling

Liam Riding up Emerald Bay, "America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride" 2010

Then on the other side of my invisible ledger, I also have to give weight to the fact that Liam is a very strong (but young) cyclist.  He often takes the lead on our weekend Kirkwood Sunday Rides when there is a question on the route.  His bike handling and situational awareness skills are solid and he is not prone to erratic or irresponsible maneuvers while riding…not always the case off the bike.  In fact, none of my fears or doubts have anything to do with whether or not Liam has the ability complete the ride- that is up to him, and to his credit he is eager and willing.  He has put in a lot of miles this year and he should be physically up to it.  I have to remember that he blew everyone on the Team-In-Training group away last year by riding up Emerald Bay for our 25 mile tune up ride for the 2010 Tahoe Century.  In fact, since the start of this year’s Tour De France, which he has missed watching only a few stages, I have seen a new willingness and ramp up in his riding- venturing out several times this week on his own. 

I wish that  this angst I am feeling could all be neatly tied up with a bow and make the decision definitive one way or the other- but that is almost never the case with anything worthwhile in life.  Things like love and passion and courage are never a sum-total of an equation; there is always a stepping off point where we must move through our fears and self doubt about what lays ahead and go with the information we’ve got.   My job as a father is to (safely) deliver a well-balanced, intelligent young man into the world in a few years.   I think that this challenge and riding in general is a move in that direction- so I am stepping off.   

A side note- this is all in MY head.  Liam is just pleased as punch to climb 6000 feet!

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