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Bicycling Blog - A Trip to the Mountains - Part 1

April 2011

This April I had the privilege of spending four days bicycling in the mountains near Helen, Ga. I made the trip with 12 other guys that are as dedicated to sport as I am, or even more so. We picked this area because the mountains here had been made famous by the now defunct Tour of Georgia which had formerly been contested by some of the top names in the sport of cycling. The most famous of the mountains in this area is Brasstown Bald which is the highest point in the state of Georgia and was the finish line for several dramatic stage finishes of the Tour of Georgia over the years.

Our group assembled early on a Thursday morning in Evansville to caravan down to Helen where we would be renting a cabin for the weekend.  We departed Evansville at 5 a.m. with the idea of arriving in Helen in time get in a good ride before dark.  The trip down went smoothly and by 3 p.m. we were settled into the cabin and suited up for our first ride.

Our first ride was back through Helen then out to Unicoi Gap. Just riding to Helen was hillier that any roads I’ve ridden in Indiana. We split into two groups early in the ride. I was in the second group and unfortunately no one in this group knew where we were going. We rode through the town of Helen and as we left town we saw a sign for Unicoi. We made the turn and began climbing up a long hill. Once we reached the top of the hill we were pretty sure we weren’t on the right road. We were in Unicoi State Park which did not contain the mountain we had intended to climb. After consulting a local cyclist we headed back out of the park and got on the right road to Unicoi Gap. 

Riding up this mountain was extremely hard. I started out riding much too hard before settling into a sustainable pace. The idea that I was going to be spending the next 45 minutes riding up a hill that was very steep at times was beginning to take a toll on me and it was as difficult mentally as it was physically. I knew we would be riding harder mountains the next day yet I was in the middle of ridding up a hill that was harder that anything I had ever ridden before. Around every corner was more hill as far as you could see and my ears were starting to pop as we gained altitude.  Sweat had gotten in my eyes making it hard to see. I was beginning to have self doubt as to whether I could actually make it to the top when suddenly and unexpectedly the summit arrived. 

We stopped at the top to regroup and the guys from the other group also joined us on top. They had not made the wrong turn we had made but they had ridden on over the top and down the other side. The ride back up from that side was shorter so the timing worked out that we were all back at the summit together and with about the same mileage. From here we would do the decent of the mountain and ride on back to the cabin.

Now having never ridden up a mountain before meant that I’d never ridden down a mountain before either and I was nervous. It didn’t help the one of the other guys started getting some speed wobble near the top. I had read enough to know that excessive breaking can lead to having a wheel overheat resulting in a blowout so I was trying to keep my speed under control while not overdoing the breaks. I rode down the mountain and through the switchbacks trying to keep everything under control. I couldn’t see the riders in front of me but I knew there were a couple of guys still behind me. It was a bit of a white knuckle ride for me but I was at the bottom before I knew it.

I continued riding on alone toward Helen. I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind and I didn’t know how to get back to the cabin so I stopped and waited for the guys to catch up. We rode on through Helen and out toward the cabin but eventually we had to call for directions because we didn’t know how to get back. We were on course and close to the cabin so soon after calling we were back at the cabin. Then it was time for the hot tub and an excellent dinner.

I was very nervous about the ride the following day. We would be doing three Gaps pulse the Brasstown summit and I was sure I would be able to do it. I told a friend back in Evansville that this was the hardest day I’d ever had on the bike and I’ve had some really hard days.

Check back soon for a description of Day 2.