Ah, there's that single track, those freshly fallen, slightly off yellow leaves, the earliest signs of this year's greatest season change. The scattered clouds and vibrant sunlight lavished Vogel State Park and the surrounding mountains with cool warmth, filtering through the densely wooded canopy along the entirety of the Coosa back country trail.
The 2 hours and 20 minutes I spent circumnavigating the 13 mile loop was easily the best run this side of June, maybe even this year. It was Saturday and I had pulled into the semi-tourist town of Dahlonega, GA with plenty of time to grab my packet for Sundays' century. It was a bit of a drive to get out to the state park nestled into the southwestern end of the Appalachia's, but usually the most worth while places take a little extra driving time to get to. The trail felt euphoric in ways I simply can't describe to someone who's never experienced something similar. (I guess it's an ultra thing). Even though this run lasted about twice as long as any run I've done in several months, and maybe even since Mist, it felt awesome the entire way. I think my body's just saying, "Hey, man, anytime you wanna quit lying to yourself about those silly tri's, I'll be here."
After a few thousand feet of climbing and rocky descending gave way to the trail head I started on, my legs were properly "seasoned" for one of the hilliest century rides in the country.
Despite the length and all the stats about elevation climb and the "big" hills we could expect etc, etc, I really wasn't too bothered about this ride. Lately, I feel like I've been getting the hang of this climbing on a bike thing.
There were so many other riders, those of which have been riding before I even knew what drop bars were, at the start, it was futile of me to be in a true racing mindset (though, as it turned out, I didn't do too shabby on the 6 mile KOM challenge up Hogpen gap).
One somewhat unexpected thing I noticed was the shear inexperience of some of the other riders in the initial peletons. That first 6 or so miles before the first categorized climb was a good illustration. As soon as the road turned up and had a significant grade, hundreds dropped back as I happily pedaled past, trying to catch up to Mark who had wriggled his way to the front right as the ride started.
The crescendo of mountainy climbs came quickly and I was enjoying every bit of it, taking in all the new scenery, passing more riders that were perhaps saving their energy for the ladder parts of the ride. After cranking up the challenging climbs, we were rewarded with some exciting corkscrew style decents. Many of the roads were banked so you could afford to hold on to a decent amount of your speed through the corners. Though a little unnerving at first, I got used to them and got a better feel for how far my bike would dare lean over going 30+ mph. Coming down from the largest climb of the day, Hogpen gap, there was an insanely steep decent that began with about a half mile of straight, negative grade where I hit my top speed of the day at 47mph.
As the ride went on, I really only had two brief low points, but the next gap would cure me of that...somehow. After I cleared Wolfpen Gap (the 5th of 6) I had no one riding my speed I could draft off of for a good while until I got up and over the final, relatively small climb, Woody Gap. At the top of this climb, my emptying bottles forced me to capitulate and make a brief stop at the last, crowded aid station. Some young girls volunteering behind the water coolers were giving me a hard time for wearing an Auburn kit. I was at mile 85 of this century with about 11K of climbing on my legs, approaching that endurance survival mode, that point where words spoken or thought had little meaning, and wasn't about to humor their remarks with a reaction. Seeing my condition, they said, "Oh, you're a 6 gapper aren't you?" (most of the people at the aid station were doing the much less challenging 3 Gap ride). I said "yeah" and not much else and started the decent. ...friggin' Gator fans...
Once some other fellow 6 Gap riders came up in a pace line behind me, I got to hop on and we held a good, hard pace till the end. I was actually kinda disappointed we didn't just keep going for a while longer, as well as we were moving and as much as my adrenaline was now blocking out any remote signs of bonking.
After a celebratory Blizzard at DQ with Mark and a difficult rise from the booth seat, I started my rain-soaked journey home, contemplating my next free weekend that I could come back and do it all again.