Monday, March 5, 2012


So we just got back from one hectic week in Helen, GA.  This maybe the only town in the world where the locals wear cowboy hats and hang out in fake Bavarian farmhouses.  But we came for the mountains and on this particular day (I think it was Thursday) we were going to climb them all. This is a standard route we do every year that goes over Hogpen, Wolfpen, Woody, Neels, Jacks, and Unicoi gaps in that order.

The weather looks alright.
We left in two groups with the one group leaving an hour later and hoping to catch the first group.  I guess I was with the "fast" group, but after a sleepless night of constant stomachaches caused either by some bad salmon or the shitload of hotdogs I ate in Hotlanta, I definitely wasn't feeling it.

Too many hotdogs.
 Hani, Kevin, Zach, and Eric J., and I hit the bottom of Hogpen pretty hard.  Hani was leading the charge as has been par for the trip so I was pretty happy about being able to catch him despite the lingering effects of food poisoning.  As it turns out the only reason Hani didn't ride away from all of us was that he was rolling on a flat rear tire which he didn't notice until the top - Johan Vansummeren style. At this point we got a call from the first group who'd gotten to the bottom of the Wolfpen gap only to learn that the road was totally closed for construction.  The worker blocking the road was quite friendly and even left us with some helpful advice: "Don't let the hillbillies get ya." Uh ... thanks for the warning?

Eric bunny-hopping; not letting the hillbillies get us.
Change of plans: we were now going to tackle the infamous Brasstown Bald.  Now I'm not going to claim that I know a lot about the hardest climbs in the country, but I have gone over several climbs used in both the Tour of California and the Pro Cycling Challenge (including Independence Pass) and although Brasstown is only 3 miles long, it's average gradient of 11% with max gradient of about 24% make it harder than any other climb I've seen.  The two groups met up and ascended Jacks to the base of Brasstown, with John and Zach pushing the pace at the front while the rest of us tried to save energy for the steepness ahead.

The whole group together and yes, Tim has a plaid jersey.
Let's fast-forward to halfway up the climb when the effects of the previous night have worn off and I'm starting to feel good - that is until I hit the wall (the 24% section).  I've ridden up this thing three times before and each time there was a moment when I thought I wasn't going to make it; "Why the hell didn't I bring a 34t cog!?"

Sprinting calf.
The fourth time is no exception and as I start to contemplate slashing my own tire I look back to see Hani just 20 meters off my wheel.  Now we all know how silly it is to compete during training rides, but on the other hand there's no such thing as a race that doesn't matter so I sucked it up and just hammered the rest of the climb.

Eric at the top.  If the Appalachians are the Pyrenees of North America then Brasstown is the Col d'Aubisque?
Marleigh said she just wanted "to see how far I can get." Yeah right...
Everyone ended up making it to the top which is pretty awesome and we also all made it down with bones intact.  On the descent back down Jacks, John, Jane, Eric J., and I decided to do a little downhill racing.  Eric claims were cruising along at about 52 mph for most of it.

Go Jane!
After Brasstown the last climb up Unicoi was a piece of cake.  I took the time to enjoy some of the scenery since our last day wasn't going to be quite so sunny.  The Appalachians really are something.

The last few icicles melting off the top of Hogpen.  These were completely gone by the end of the trip.
After a ride like that there's not much else to do but relax in the hot tub and eat all the food.

Classy jersey Zach.  And nice shorts - did we win the Brasstown Strava segment?
And maybe I should mention the aquarium and its huge whale sharks.

There's no MWCCC race next weekend, but on the 17th and 18th we've got Lindenwood so expect some good news then.


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