Burnt Mountain

https://www.strava.com/activities/650876246

Sometimes you end a ride feeling great. You’ve been sweating and working and just blasting those pedals for hours. Pull into the parking lot and smoothly dismount, slide off your helmet and slick back your shiny, windblown mane.

Other times you barely make it back alive. Drag into the parking lot, almost hit your car trying to stop before tilting over and unclipping just in time. The earth seems to shift and you almost fall as you attempt stand on two painful legs for the first time in what feels like an eternity. Try to remove your helmet, sunglasses fall to the ground. You hair is dry, frizzy and blown out like you stuck your finger into an electrical outlet. Your skin is hot and scaly, the ability to sweat left you hours ago.

This ride was the latter. It started out ok but turned into a death march almost exactly at the halfway point. I’ve never come closer to calling for a ride home. Standing on the side of the road at the start of the Burnt Mountain climb, crying inside as I frantically swipe around on my phone looking for a shortcut to avoid the climb. I find nothing and the choice is laid bare. I can choose life and climb the mountain, legs, lungs and heart burning and exhausted but still moving. Or I can choose death and sit on the side of the road for two hours waiting to be picked up by a disappointed partner. I imagine the look on her face as the opens the door. Rice-cake smile, trying not to be obvious with the judgement. Thoughts on how to deal with failure quick behind her lips.

I clench my jaw, shift into the largest cog I have and crawl up the mountain. Every atom screaming to stop. Let the flame extinguish, there is no shame in giving up. Failure is a growth method. But I can’t so I keep riding. I summit the mountain and howl down the descent. The rest of the ride is a blur. It’s hot, I’m always running out of water, stomach churning and refusing food. Legs barely working. Head spinning from the exertion.

Cohutta gravel grinder 

https://www.strava.com/activities/626972582

This ride destroyed me; mentally, physically and spiritually. All that is left of my previous being is a blast shadow on the gravel road heading up Cohutta Mountain. I wanted an adventure and that’s exactly what I received.

It started out reasonably enough, a nice mild downhill to get used to my new bike. A few mild climbs, a big climb with nice views and then some rolling switchbacks where I was really getting the bike to plane. Then I lost confidence as I could not figure out if I was on the right road or not. My water ran out and the mental house of cards providing my motivation fell apart almost instantly. This was 3 hours in of a 9+ hour ride/walk.

After pedaling along for a while I came upon a check station managed to get water from their spigot. It smelled awful, straight sulfur from a well. An old guy stopped to check on me and confirmed that I was on the right road so the stress from that fell away as well. Headed into Cisco and got a water and powerade. Chugged it and ate a bag of gummies with caffeine and then just lost it on Cowpen. My earlier water panic made me over drink and over eat which just killed me once the climbing started. Cowpen has huge chunks of gravel and a very steep climb. I started walking in the first few hundred feet and just kept going.

I’d ride the flats and mild climbs but I just didn’t have the legs or gears for the steeper parts. My stomach was bloated and I felt like shit. Couldn’t put down any power and my thoughts were negative and drawing me into a hole. I’d check my phone constantly and note little progress. When I had cell service I sent a text to my girlfriend that I might not make my 11pm “home or send help” time cut off. I pulled out my headphone and stopped my strava. Just the sound of my footsteps crunching through the gravel and dirt. No water for tears.

The road just goes up forever. I walked and walked and walked. The ravages of heat exhaustion threw mild hallucinations at me. Three bears appeared in what was actually a downed tree. Ants were on my handlebars. It was a bad bad scene.

I did see one real bear but he was moving and not interested in me. Several turkeys and a couple taking selfies at one of the scenic viewpoints, hard to eat but I keep going.

Once you summit the main climb it’s tinged with several smaller, but still steep and difficult, climbs. By themselves, each one of these climbs would be something I would have planned a road ride around and felt a great sense of accomplishment once climbed. Here they are something I trudge up at 3 miles an hour. Head low, breathing ragged, heart small and empty.

The week leading to this ride was solitary. An argument early in the week pushed my girlfriend to stay in a hotel. Work is crushing and isolating. Coming to the wilderness has been a bad choice. But now the sun is setting and I am pedaling stronger, I rarely walk in the last few miles but they seem endless.  I drove this almost 9 hours ago but I remember nothing. This climb was here? WHERE IS THE TRAIL HEAD? I AM SO CLOSE! I curse and grimace, feelings overwhelm me and I try to cry but there is nothing for which to make tears.

The sense of joy upon seeing my car is invigorating. I have never been so happy in my life. This is both an indictment of how easy my life has been and how hard this ride has been. I quickly change and start the drive home. Eager to be around other humans and away from this hell of my own creation.