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.