Cherohala crossing

I partially got talked into doing the Cherohala crossing #3. I knew Hammering Hill Billy and FarmerG have done this ride before, and although I heard it was on/off road with 3 climbs, it would have some of the beautiful views of North Carolina and the Cherohala parkway.

I finally made it to Paradox, although a little later than anticipated. After some bites of steak & some veggies fresh from FarmerG’s garden we huddled around the campfire & told tall tales of our mis-adventures of bike racing over the years.

A bit a late evening of jocularity and sipping adult beverages around a campfire before we finally turned in for the night. I was camping for a 2nd night, 1st being at Mulberry Gap for the Drama Queen ride – and was fortunate enough that FarmerG had some extra blankets because the sudden N.C. night time low of 48 was most unexpected after our months HOTlanta heat.

as more people pulled up before sunrise, I rubbed my groggy eyes, they were anxious for the day of riding to get started. We on the other hand we dragging slightly. Andy was there and soon Mr Paine himself pulled up – an unexpected surprise – now I know this ride was going to be a brute.

We had an great breakfast of coffee & pancakes, jittery with anticipation of what might be in store for the day. Troy was our designated team driver of the vehicle – many Thanks to Troy, who was saving his legs for the infamous US100K on Monday.

Climbing was the game today – 3 long climbs and descents, all on dirt. I was on a 2Niner Mt bike with a knobby up front and a Maxxis CrossMark in the rear, probably the best rear tire for this ride. I was at a disadvantage going uphill, but on the downhills the Mt bike was a huge advantage over the cycle-cross bikes.

We readied ourselves and left from the park of Murphy, NC, and headed to Andrews, NC – but not until I had the ONLY flat of the day. Onward we marched rolling along the small rollers, each 1 taking it’s toll already on my legs. The Drama Queen was starting to show her evil backside to my quads. I would be mid-pack of a moderate moving group, then slightly off the back, then have to re-gain ground once the road flattened out.

We made a left turn on what was a paved road, which soon turned to a dirt road. The group was now starting to split up. The grade of the road would change every so often, however the usual ability to get out of the saddle and pedal to maintain speed in a steeper section was lost due to traction on the dirt road. It was a ‘sit & spin’ kind of a day.

I tried not to think too much about the gearing I was using because it wasn’t long until I realized that my legs didn’t have much left in the tanks. I was running low on fuel and the reserves had not been replenished. The gravel this year was reported as much looser than the previous year. And clearly they had recently put down new gravel on 1 of the descents.

Once to the top would re-grouped with everyone, and I was inhaling all food that I could, and re-filling water, then adding Nuun tablets. I found out that HillBilly and Shane were duking it out for the KOM on a day that I was trying to survive. The descents were long, somewhat loose gravel and Fast as you wanted, most everyone had pains in the forearms and calves from standing while braking down the descents.

The flat sections we quite fast for being on a Mt bike, I was able to grab a wheel of Greg and put my head down to hold his wheel. Then we would regroup, ride awhile until someone got frisky again – back to the races, then slow enough for everyone to catch up.

On the 2nd climb, the body went on strike: said ‘no mo, until we get supplies’ I got some gel, got a bite of cliff-bar, but it just wasn’t enough. My body was on ‘E’ and I felt like I was holding everyone up – the day was going to be long enough as it was so, I hopped in the follow vehicle and snapped some photos of the other riders climbing up this mountain. Meanwhile, I was eating anything available: cheez-its and Pnut butter wafers, and drinking more Nuun. At the top, we regrouped again before another awesome descent – I was on a mt bike, descents were tough for those with the cyclo-cross tires. Somewhere either on this climb or on the descent we crossed into Tennessee. Hit some flatter roads and the 2nd store stop. Luckily for me, I found a pop-tart in my pack that I had forgotten about – I don’t think I had ever been more excited about a pop-tart ever before.

After the store-stop at the bottom of this gap was along the river, and we had to gradually climb out of this area. I was holding pace with the group along the flats, then once again, I was falling off slightly on the rollers and catching back on. We were heading out for the final climb of the day.

What this last climb lacked in length, it made up in short steep sections that whether from tired legs, lack of gearing or lack of traction, several people had to walk up. Once re-grouped at the top, we started again down the Mountain. Just after passing me, Shane moved his way up to the front, and out of sight through the next turn. I was slowing down because the edge was on our right and the turn went out of sight to the left. About mid-way through the turn, I saw a pick-up truck that luckily was now stopped on the far left side of the road, and luckily again, there was Shane just a little passed the truck looking back at us, as if to say ‘Holy Crap!’ We were all able to safely get around the vehicle.

Once again at the bottom, Greg was an instigator and was Hammering this section all the way to the stop sign. There we waited on everyone and headed back out for the final leg back to Murphy. Just as I thought the worst of this ride was over and seemed to have some energy again, the upcoming climbs were to take their toll before I was able to drag myself back into town. Greg and Wayne stopped and waited on everyone before getting back to the cars.

After 15 minutes of beverages and munching it was time for the all-mighty HillBilly recovery ice bath in the Hiawassee river. After soaking for a bit, we motored on back to FarmerG’s for some beef burgers and pasta with sauce straight from Farmer’s garden – Awesome sauce to top an Awesome weekend of riding with great friends!!

Cherohala crossing #3:

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