The trip started on Wednesday afternoon around 4 pm as Karel and I headed out for our long road trip to Georgia. The first half of the drive was in the light, but unfortunately it was also raining. Bummer for a nice and easy drive. Karel did most of the driving as I tried to sit still for the 8 hours that we were in the car. Leave it to me to entertain Karel with my singing of songs from the radio and making him play the alphabet game with me. Great game by the way. You find things that start with each letter of the alphabet. Of course with Karel and I being so competitive, it was a race to see who could find each letter. After a couple gas/restroom/eating stops we arrived at Cavendar Creek Cabins around 1:30 am. Although I didn’t explore the cabins when we arrived, I couldn’t wait to see the place in the daylight. The night went by fast and as I was making some breakfast, Karel was already at work fixing bikes for the other guys. I guess they were anxious for him to come. After unpacking my stuff, we were heading out the door at 10:30am for our first ride. The whole week was great for sleeping in until 7:00am and taking our time until we trained. The weather was great and I couldn’t have asked for any better company. Thursday’s ride consisted of two climbs and around 50 miles. The only bad part about the awesome mountains of Georgia is that an easy day will always have a climb or two. We had to ascend and descend a couple hills just to leave the area around our cabin. I was a little worried about my first experience of cycling in the mountains and further, my first experience cycling in the mountains on my new road bike. However, this week I was thinking like a cyclist and excited to train like one! Well, I really didn’t have a choice since I was in company with 9 other cycling guys. No slack for me!
The ride was awesome and I completed the two gaps. It wasn’t the climbing that I feared, it was the scary downhill. My skills were ok going up the hills and luckily, my small frame worked for me as I was climbing. I wish I would have had one more cassette on my bike cause the shifting stopped when I needed just one more shift to climb the mountains with a faster cadence. Karel was awesome on the mountains and he was happy that Anthony was there to train with him. As for the rest of us, we had a great ride in the mountains. Only one crash for the day, which was made by Karel as he was flying down the mountain. PoP POP! Two flats as he was going down the switch back and he flipped right over his bike. But of course, he cycled away with a minor scratch on his elbow…and still continued to demoralize my climbing skills on the rest of the ride. I wanted to make the most of my day and finished my 50 mile ride with a 30 minute run on the hills around our cabin. My legs didn’t hurt like I thought they would and it is amazing how the altitude can make a short run feel like a marathon. Thursday evening was a Rib dinner for the guys and a sweet potato and veggie meat for Marni. In addition to the salad, bread and corn, I had a great dinner with the guys. Friday morning was the most looked forward part of the trip as I was about to watch my first Tour! My day started with a 9 mile run in the mountains as Karel, Jim, Ray and Scott went for a 40 mile ride. I was loving my run, as I always do when I run in the country. As far as the tour goes, let me tell ya.. there is nothing like seeing Pro Cyclists climb a mountain after a 100 mile stage! I took some great pics at the top of Brasstown Bald Mountain (elevation 4700) and I also took a pic with the famous Versus commentator Phil Liggett, as well as other pics of Floyd LAndis, George Hincapie, Levi L. and lots of cyclists who Jared knew by name (I think he knew them all!). As Jared would call out cyclists, I was snapping pictures at everyone. I had no idea who he was talking about, but I thought if they were worth cheering for, they were famous enough to have a picture taken. We took buses to the parking lot at the top of the mountain and saved our legs from the 5K walk to the top. However, the last 400 meters were killer! I felt like the pavement was getting closer and closer to my shins as I was walking. And if I thought walking the last 400 meters was tough, I couldn’t even imagine the climb to that point and how the riders were feeling with less than a ¼ mile to the finish! But of course I would be able to test my skills the following day with the same Brasstown Bald 5K climb…oh my! Friday evening was pasta night and it was Chicken Parmesan for the guys and pasta with meatless sauce for Marni. I was thrilled that the guys even thought about me as they were preparing dinner! Once again, I was in great company with the guys. Awesome people!
Saturday was the big day! Karel and Anthony started their day early as Anthony had to head home in the early afternoon. Karel kept him company for the first half of his ride and also met up with me and the rest of the guys for some of our ride. Just to give you a taste of what I did on Saturday, we left around 11:45am and didn’t return to the car until around 5:00pm. Aside from waiting for others at the top of the mountains and a few fuel breaks, we were in the saddle for around 4 ½ hours. Four of the guys and me covered around 60 miles, over 12,000 feet of climbing and 3 BIG gaps. The first gap was the Brasstown Bald Mountain climb, with a 20% grade climb at “the wall”. It took around 40 minutes to cycle to the bottom of brasstown and it was nothing but uphill from there. All I wanted to do was to make it up to the top. Since I knew it was a 5K to get to the top, I also kept my time to see how long it would take. Ray R. kept me going and we stayed bike by bike the entire climb. While climbing is very challenging, it is more mental more than anything. Of course your legs want to give out, you don’t know if you should stand or sit and when your body wants to stop you have to tell it to keep going. Well…..my body stopped and I knew which way by body wanted to go- DOWN! So I tell this story as I laugh at myself but I made it to the wall and with less than 2K to go, I couldn’t pedal anymore. The bike wasn’t moving. I couldn’t clip out fast enough and I looked like the person who tries to ride with clip pedals for the first time. Bike and Marni went down to the ground together. More than anything I was frustrated! As I picked up my bike and pushed it up the wall, I couldn’t help to notice the blood dripping down my right knee. Oh well. I found a semi flat spot on the top of “the wall” and started the last part of the climb. Karel had already climbed the mountain in around 21 minutes and he came and met me to cheer me on behind me as I continued to the top. Minus the walk, I climbed the mountain in around 28 minutes. Let’s put this in perspective now. 5K in 28 minutes. Sounds like a good time for a 5K run. Yep-I was averaging around 8 miles per hour. After several pics as the top and a quick cleaning of the leg, my next task was to get down the mountain. Not sure of your descending skills but I’m still working on mine. With an average speed of around 30 mph (while squeezing my breaks to save my life) I finally made it down. I even stopped once on the descend cause I thought my breaks were going to fail and catch on fire. Had to stop to cool them off. Aside from shaking and feeling completely freaked out from the descend, I overheard the guys talking about there 40+ mph max speeds. Needless to say, I kept up with the guys on the climbing part of the ride but there was plenty of rest for them as they waited for me to descend. Thanks guys for waiting. They were always looking at for me. Some would like to call it a day after that climb, but we hadn’t even covered 30 miles before our next climb. This was going to be a long day. The next gap was Hogpen gap and if I thought Brasstown was challenging, I was wishing for one more cassette on my bike for the next climb. With only one minor switchback (as oppose to Brasstown with several) I was fighting my way up an almost straight 15% grade climb. This was the last that I saw of Karel as he was flying down the mountain at speeds close to 54 mph. I pedaled my way to the stop and once again I was elated to make my 2nd major climb of the day. But of course, after a couple pics, it was down the other side of the mountain. Ray, Scott, Jim, Harry and I continued our ride while others headed back to the cars. One more gap to go. I must admit that the scenery was beautiful and there was nothing else I’d rather be doing than spending all day on my bike. No TV, no cell phones, no computer, just me, my bike and the outdoors. The last climb of the day was Unicoi. I loved the switchbacks to get up the mountain and I had minimized my fear of descending and really took advantage of my last descend of the day. After two more hours of riding and a well needed fuel break (I was on the verge of bonking!) we were back at the car and it was nearly 5pm!!! One last pic and I was off for a snooze in the car on the way home. I had a quick phone call to Karel to let him now that we were on our way back to the cabins and I was thrilled to hear I had pancakes, egg whites and fruit waiting for me back at the cabin. He's so good to me! As I shared some of my riding stories with Karel, I had barely enough strength to eat the yummy food. It was off to the hot tub (which was kinda chilly when we got in it) for a well-needed soak and Karel shared his day, which was a 100 mile ride in the mountains! Woah!!!! He is an animal! This is perfect training for him as he heads to New Mexico next Monday for the Tour de Gila.
Sunday morning wasn’t as bad as I thought (soreness that is) and I was off for an easy 50 minute run. While the run was supposed to be easy, nothing is easy when I have to run uphill in the gravel for over a 1/2 mile just to exit our cabin area. Karel went for one last 3 hour ride in the mountains and it was my turn to cook him breakfast when he returned. With lots of memories and pics, we packed up the car, cleaned out the cabin and headed back to Florida around 12:30 pm. The last stage of the tour was in downtown Atlanta and featured a circuit race around Centennial park. Seeing that I am no good with directions and Karel is my on-call GPS, we decided to eat at the underground to make the most of our last day of our vacation. I figured we wouldn't be able to find the cycling race though. After finishing a late lunch, we were both craving ice cream (as two lovers of yogurt ice cream, the past 4 days were rough!). After getting some yogurt, we walked around ATL to see if we could find the tour. After 10 minutes of walking and seeing a flash of cyclists, we made it to the last stage just in time to see the last loop of the circuit race!! What good timing and a great way to finish the weekend. As if you thought two passionate athletes would miss this opportunity to watch a race! I squeezed my way to the fence and snapped some great pics of the uphill finish. After walking around a bit more, we headed back to the car to start a long 7 hour drive home.
What a great trip! I can’t tell you how awesome it was to train like a pro. I really tested my skills with the mountains and I would absolutely do it all over again. And now with St.Anthony’s in on Sunday, I couldn’t be more ready to start my taper!