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.