Goals

It’s been a long time since I had any cycling goals. So easy to set a ceiling and once hit continually venture only as high as you’ve already been.

I’ve done that this year, so far.

I did it last year.

I mean, I plan rides in new places and have had a ton of new experiences racing my mountain bike and gravel bikes around the Southeast but it’s been a long time since I set out to work towards and complete a goal that isn’t just a spur of the moment Saturday morning ride.

In 2015 I had a few goals. I rode a 200k and was on my way to a 300k when the seasons changed and I ran out of motivation.

In 2014 I was racing at the track and it was more fun than anything else. I did a few centuries and a lot of the Dunwoody Cycling Saturday ride.

2013 I wanted to be a road racer. I raced as much as I could afford and worked very hard to race well. It didn’t pan out but it was fun and made me feel accomplished at the end of the season.

2012 my goal was to ride a fixed gear century. I failed the first time but succeeded the second. Creeping out of my mom’s house at 5am and riding along the quiet Sunday hours to the outskirts of Athens, GA. Later I wanted to win an alleycat, which I did twice. The Peachtree Bash and the Black Cat Alleycat. The former is on of my most cherished experiences.

2011 I started cycling. First I just wanted to ride more than 5 miles. Then I wanted to ride from my duplex to the restaurant I worked at – a special place where I made friends and grew so much. 24 miles round trip, felt like a huge accomplishment at the time. Later I wanted to ride 40 miles, after that a metric century but I think that didn’t happen until 2012.

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Gravel and learning to love a bike

https://www.strava.com/activities/1164797390

An hour in and I feel totally alone, the shimmering glow of impending sunrise off to my left creates a warm sensation as I pedal along the narrow road near Ben Hill. The far west side of Atlanta is marked by dense housing spaced by huge swaths of featureless rolling Kudzu covering empty lots.

I stop for a photo and as I get back up to speed a paceline of three roars by with a cheery “good morning” I am startled and let out a laugh as they quickly disappear into the distance. It’s so easy to forget that solitude on the road is almost always an illusion. With a smile I continue heading southwest, passing the suburban tracts with their smaller 1980s style housing stock before entering the more recent developments where the housing appears enormous on tiny lots, barely enough grass for a mower I suppose.

Before long I have left any semblance of urbanity behind and come to the first of many gravel segments. The road is filled with chatter and I bounce around for a bit before I settle in and starting actively riding my bike. It’s so easy to sit on my bike and spin my legs around, lazy riding even if it’s fast. Once the terrain gets rough I need to ride the bike. Lean forward as I encounter a rut heading uphill, counter-steer into the loose gravel turns and raise up ever so slightly with the larger bumps to cushion the impact with my legs.

It’s spirited riding and I make good time through a sampling of the sections of the Dirty Sheets route – a seminal off-road route for Atlanta area riders. The roads here are just chunky enough to make a road rider feel accomplished while at the same time attracting mountain and cross riders with their sweeping curves and short sections of technical terrain.

The roughest section is Upper Wooten Road – a cyclist and pedestrian only section that serves as an entrance into Cochran Mill Park. The gravel gets a little larger and looser with a few steep climbs but I make good time and don’t need to adjust the pressure in my tires, still set for road riding.

Once I near Cochran Mills I see huge swarms of road cyclists, it takes a few times of seeing the pavement marked heart and arrow to recall this is the One Love Century – an event put on by the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club. I ride a fair portion of the route and note the relaxed pace and cheery attitudes of the riders. I have obviously missed the more competitive groups. A relaxing stream of greetings and encouragement flow by as I work my way through the groups here and there on the road back northeast.

Soon enough I turn off onto my own route and head back into the city. I take a short detour to investigate what appears to be a connecting bike path just north of Camp Creek Parkway but it ends after less than a mile with no connection to anything else.

Oh well I think, at least it was a change of pace. Back on track I pass through familiar areas of the far west side. The economic depression of this area is obvious but the passing traffic is courteous and I make good time. Soon enough I am close to home but I feel very good so I add a few more miles before concluding my ride. It feels nice to be on familiar roads for a change so I totter over, around and just like that I am back at the door to my apartment, smile still on my face.

Ray’s Gap

Rays Gap

https://www.strava.com/activities/1106344044

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

https://www.strava.com/activities/1096367252

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.