0 – 4:45am it’s dark, a bright orange moon hangs low on the horizon and I have just started my ride with a u-turn to get back on course after missing turn #1. I am in good spirits, I have attached a headlamp to my cambelbak strap so that my cuesheet is illuminated with a soft red glow. Heading north through the darkness I tense at a variety of noises just off the road. Rustling, barking and cracking of twigs give me a pep in my step and I make good time. Coming to an unmarked intersection I realize I have taken a wrong turn and headed south instead of north. The early morning wakeup has left me confused I decide, instead of backtracking I find a parallel road and steel myself for the extra miles. After riding for a few minutes I take my phone back out and check the map again. I am on the right road after all! I was foiled by the compass functionality of the mapping software that attempts to determine your facing point instead of displaying the map oriented north. I relax and scoot up the next rise with a smile.
16 – 5:45am I’m in Calhoun looking at the stores and thinking about how dumb it was to shave the night before. My helmet strap is irritating my neck and I stop to apply some ointment near a park. A few photos and I’m off, stopping again to photograph some display armored vehicles. So far the roads have been wide and low traffic, I’m enjoying the dawn lights and excited to climb. I can see so far and the foothills are so interesting to look at. This is going to be a good ride, I think to myself.
32 – 6:45am and I am in the woods tending to some personal issues. After a few minutes I feel much better and start the first climb of the day. John’s Mountain is steep and has a few switchbacks that spice things up. I feel good for most of the climb but have some issues with shifting between my 32 and 26 cogs. I power through and take in the amazing view at the top. The descent is exciting with a fast hairpin and swooping straightaway. Back on level ground I refill my water at the checking station and head north on the rolling flats of the wildlife management area.
48 – 7:45am The second climb of the day starts with an exploded cooler on the side of the road. The bottles spread about are all sealed so I help myself to a bottle of water and a Gatorade, only to quickly discard the latter as I am unsure of the shelf life after it’s been outside in the sun and heat for an ndeterminate time. The 136 climb is mild and I take it at a moderate pace. The descent is fast with only one turn, I pedal hard all the way down, getting quite a rise at the feeling of the wind in my face.
64 – 8:45am 151 is a flat, 55 mph roadway but it seems ok since traffic is fairly light. Lots of foothills to look at and interesting homes on wide parcels set back from the road. I ride this section fast since it’s fairly flat, thrumming along in the big ring and smaller cogs the miles go quickly. The last climb of the day is brutal. I struggle to stay on top of my 32 as my body becomes a runaway furnace and sweat pours from every patch of skin. Finally I summit and take the descent in style. I pass two riders at the bottom and once again head north on the flat roads. Funny to note the markers for an organized century still mark the road. I wonder when was this ride? The two riders I passed earlier roll up behind me as I stop to check my route and photograph some hawks riding the thermals high above. I have a hard time articulating where I am going since I just have a cue sheet and did not study this section of my route very closely. The lead rider waves me to follow and we take off. We talk a little about the riding, they are down from Chattanooga, only about 20-25 miles away. I mention where I’ve been riding today and then the River Gorge Road Race I did in 2013. We make conversation until my turn, I bid them a good ride and head east, soon to be turning towards home.
70 – 9:45am I stop at a firestation to adjust my front fender. A loud keening sound grabs my attention and I see a small furball curled in the doorway, soaking up the sun. My heart patters and I dismount my bike and approach. The kitten springs into action and runs across the street. I walk a little closer and sit down. Curiosity piqued he returns quickly and spends several minutes meowing and rubbing all over me. I try to feed him and give him water but he just wants pets and rubs. My heart breaks as I tell him I have to go, he scampers with me for a few steps before I pedal away. I feel bad. But I’m well past the halfway point and heading home. I stop at a park and refill my water and wash my hands and face. I feel much better and get back on the road. As I head south the wind is really blowing, a hot dry air pushes against my efforts and threatens to grind down my mood even more. I see a text from my girlfriend about the cat and feel a little better, then I find some steve madden sunglasses on the side of the road and really start to brighten up. Free stuff is a serious mood elevator.
86 – 10:45pm Back on 136, it’s flat and fast but the wind is serious. 10 miles pass, some mildly interesting scenery but the wind and heat is wearing me out. I miss a turn but it’s ok I just keep going. I ride through the staging area for the Georgia Road Race Champs I also raced in 2016. Funny that this is the ride I realized I was actually just a tourist who hates camping. My foot aches from all the flat riding and but I am back on track and still heading south.
102 – 11:45pm Still heading south, foot hurts, very hot and very windy. This is the most trying section. I feel like I am making poor time and cannot find a rhythm. My last caffeine gel did nothing. I am deflated. The hot water in my bottles does not diminish the heat. It’s hot and I feel terrible.
118 – 12:45pm I am very close. Old 141 runs parallel to the current highway 41 but while the latter is pan flat the former winds up and down. It’s a funny thing to see; at least it is now as I’m writing this. At the time I wanted to cry. I open the bottle of water I took from the side of the road all those hours ago. It is the last arrow I have in my quiver but it will get me home. The last turn on Cedar Creek is salvation. I am rejuvenated and the last 5 miles fly by. I love everything and am so hot and so tired but also so happy.
129 – 1:45pm? I am done. Excited for chocolate milk and sub sandwiches.