Ray’s Gap

Rays Gap


Massive storms all across the north georgia tri-state area blew through late morning, pouring rain crashing lightning and high winds were forecast. I was touch and go for making this ride but after much deliberation I committed to the traffic, potential rain riding and other bumps that might have otherwise ruined my weekend plans.

The ride itself was amazing, new roads at new times are always so invigorating. The storms made for lower temperatures and heavy overcast kept the sun hidden much of the time even if the humidity was very high. Friday is an especially interesting time to ride, there is an excitement in the air as work ceases and people prepare for their short respite from the grind of sustaining their life.

There were several loose dogs, one especially committed to the chase on Towe Chapel road that worried me on the return leg. Thankfully when I did retrace my path the hour was late and the hound had retired from his duties for the evening.

This area of Georgia, maybe only on lazy summer Fridays, seems very relaxed. There was a bit of traffic but it was courteous and accommodating. As I strode north at a fast pace in a high gear, the daylight slowly diminishing I was as relaxed as I’ve ever been.

Dalton has all the potential to be a post-industrial wasteland – home to more than a hundred carpet manufacturers and associated sibling shipping and storage facilities – but still beset by the occasional empty, dilapidated buildings and homes. However an incomparable concentration of one type of industry has prevented the slow-collapse I’ve seen in so many other areas. There is neglect and turnover but it is indicative of nothing more than normal urban industrial life-cycle. Businesses come and go but there is still growth in both production and population.

Young families sit outside eating at a corner pizza place, a small crowd gathers for an outdoor concert, downtown is relaxed and active in that southern slow-motion way that can be so comforting.

Shortly I reach my climb for the day, a winding road up to Ray’s Gap. The climb is typical of this area, glimpses of the surrounding country side can barely be had through the thick trees and the summit is little more than a cul-de-sac of very expensive homes with only a small window of visibility to the west. The climb is a leg-breaker with the final section being 13-16% – my legs give up twice and I walk for a time before remounting and finishing astride my bike.  I have a chuckle before descending and starting the ride home – the gentleman walking his dogs on the lower slope had told me there was a panoramic view from the top – but he also told me he hadn’t ridden it in a long time – time for him to ride it and see how the trees have hidden the view now.

As the sun sets and darkness falls on unfamiliar country roads the sense of solitude and isolation is overwhelming. Country houses are not brightly lit like the more urban and suburban landscapes familiar to me. Dogs bark and unknown creatures rustle from the darkness as I ride by. Long sections of road where there is nothing but trees and weeds encroaching right up to the road edge. It’s dark and lonely and I miss the people I love. But I ride on, strong emotions are the flavor of life and this ride is packed with them.

So I ride in the dark and pedal and eat and think. My legs feel weary and I am restless, I do not trust the convenience store I see coming into Resaca. Leaving my bike outside in the poorly lit storefront bordered by impenetrable darkness on either side does not seem like a good idea. I crave the frigid burn of a soda, I stop at a vending machine that intially accepts my dollar bill and then after consideration (during which I press the button for Dr. Pepper) the machine rejects the note and refuses to engage anymore. “Too late for me”, it seems to say, “I’m closed.”

So I pedal on, my lights bright and my heart singing. Shortly I see another vending machine I had passed earlier. I stop, once again paranoid in the dark unfamiliar country and slide a dollar into the machine. I press the button for Dr. Pepper and am rewarded with a cold can, I open it and drink it as quickly as I can. The cold carbonated sweetness burns my throat and nose and fills me with joy.

Fortified once more I pedal like mad through the dark back to my car. This last leg is almost an hour and a half but it feels like no time at all. Shortly I am in the parking lot of the Sosebee Cyling park, removing my damp clothes and fighting the veil of sleepiness that accompanies the end of a long ride late at night in an unfamiliar place.


Fort Mountain

Fort Mtn


Fort Mountain is a typical Georgia mountain. I climb and climb and climb and once I reach the summit there’s no visibility through the trees. I laugh, such a majestic mountain from afar but up here it seems like I went nowhere. Same tall green trees, the climbing just in my imagination.

The best part of this ride was the two hours I spent on 411 heading south. The road is wide open, nothing but speed and sun. My mind burned to a crisp, it’s been years since I’ve ridden in full sun for so long. The frigid blast of air conditioning as I stumble around the Family Dollar to purchase a root beer. It’s so cold it burns my throat and creates a frozen diamond in my stomach. I speed through the desolate small town countryside that has all but been destroyed by the service economy. Industry and residential are old, tired and sagging in the summer sun.

Later I stand outside a gas station for almost 20 minutes eating, drinking and covering myself in an entire 10 pound bag of ice. It takes so long to cool down, I try not to drink too much but the cold water feels so good. Countryfolk come and go with a few friendly comments and quite a bit of raised eyebrows but it’s nice to stop and rest.

It’s supposed to be hard

Chillhowee 1

That’s how you know it’s good.

Always lurking in the wings self doubt has risen up on this foggy morning and is hitting my with everything it has as I pedal along in the thick tepid air. Visibility is low and a sense of suffocating doubt is created. I struggle to embrace the next 7 hours.

“It’s going to be hard”
“What happens if you get lost”
“What if you get stuck”
“Are you really enjoying yourself”
“Isn’t this all just a waste of time”

A herd of cattle watches as I pass, unimpressed by my efforts. As I move through the country side passing farms, barking dogs and ominous grey skies my mood improves. By the time I cross into Tennessee I feel next to normal. The miles are passing and I am enjoying myself. The forests are green and lush from the heavy rain of the past month, sun still hiding in the clouds and the air is cool. My GPS beeps happily as it guides me along my course.

A soft rear tire signals a flat so I pull onto a side road and set about changing it. The process goes smoothly and is comforting, further reinforcing my good mood. I note the road sign “Sloan Gap” and decide to meander off course to see where it leads. This road winds through the chain just north of Sand Mountain and ends at a Oconee river outfitters. Noting the restrooms I stop to wash my hands and get my bearings before heading back to my route.

Once again I am heading North to Chilhowee. The mountain is enormous and visible from several miles away. I note parts are shrouded in angry livid grey-blue and wonder if I’ll hit some interesting weather. But where I am now is sunny and calm, the day is warming as I pedal towards the climb.

Chilhowee is a monster and destroys my legs. The climb is gravel, wash-boarded and very steep. I slide and struggle up the mountain and have to stop repeatedly. Walking is a chore and my face and lungs are afire.

Soon enough the climb is over, never feeling as bad as I expected but simultaneously the hardest thing ever. The road along the top of Chilhowee is paved and smooth. I ride for a bit before hitting more gravel and decide to turn around early as I have little water and a second climb that I expect to be as hard as the first. I will have to return to redeem myself.

The mountain contains wonderful views and I take copious pictures. The descent is almost as taxing as the climb, the wash-boarding bucks the bike too and fro and I struggle to maintain control.

My hands, shoulders and neck are sore and exhausted by the time I hit the paved section. The ride back is marked by thunderstorms, sunshine and heat, blown legs from the climb and a feeling of euphoria. I struggle mightily to get back to my car but I have conquered the earlier slings and arrows of self-doubt and succeeded in my ride. Contented I pack and return home, feeling good and motivated for future rides.