Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The 3 Gap 50

It was unlike any pre-ride preparation I have done prior or since. The date was Saturday September 29, 2007. It was the evening before the annual 3 Gap 50 bike ride in Dahlonega, GA; a grueling 50 mile ride featuring 3 mountain climbs. Twelve hours before the start I sit in the waiting room at a local "Doc in a Box" thumbing through a magazine. My best friend and cycling partner Jim is with the doctor being diagnosed with bronchitis. He has traveled from his home in Virginia to cycle more miles in 3 days then we have ever attempted. The day prior we had ridden 126 miles from Atlanta to Alabama and back. During the ride Jim complained on and off about not feeling well. I didn't feel like dancing either, but we buckled down and grinded through the ride that day. Saturday he woke up feeling worse. We canceled our plans for a 20 mile ride around Alpharetta. With Jim feeling no better by sundown, we went to the doctor. There would be no 3 Gap 50 for Jim the next day. I road it without him while he hydrated, rested, snacked on antibiotics, and watched football with Julie at our home.

It was now 1 year later and Jim was back. This time he was healthy, fit and with me on the starting line for the 2008 3 Gap 50. It was a beautiful day in the former gold rush town of North Georgia. I had done this ride twice before. Jim was a rookie. He was about to embark on the most difficult ride of his life. He was going to climb more in the saddle the next 6 hours then he has done in all of his riding thus far this year. The little hills in his home of Asburn, VA will never be as daunting again.

The 3 Gap 50 is listed as a 58 mile ride with 6,385 feet of elevation. The route begins and ends at Lumpkin County High School just north of downtown Dahlonega. The route twists and turns through the country side for nearly 20 miles before you reach the signature portion of the ride -- the rhythmic succession of 3 mountain climbs and descents.

The first is Neels Gap where you climb 1,600 feet up Blood Mountain for 10 miles. At the summit you cross the Appalachian Trail. The descent is 3 miles long and fast. I reached a top speed of nearly 40 mph without trying. Cross winds on the descent have fooled me in the past to question if my rear wheel was mounted securely to the frame.

At the bottom of Neels, you make a hard left turn onto Rt. 180 and immediately begin the climb up to Wolf Pen Gap. The most difficult of the three, you climb over 1,000 feet but only over 3 miles. Portions of the climb have an incline over 5 percent. On this segment I thanked the Gods my bike was equipped with a triple crank and a low first gear. When you reach the top, you are at the highest elevation of the ride. The sign at the summit lists the elevation at 3,260 feet. my GPS pegged it at 3,340 feet. The descent is steeper, shorter, and more twisty than the descent from Neels Gap. If you lose concentration, one of the guardrails on the many turns will reach out and bite you.

Of the 1,000 feet you earned climbing Wolf Pen, you only get back 500 in your 3 mile descent to Lake Winfield Scott. For the next few miles you traverse up and down over rolling hills until you reach the town of Suches. Here you make a hard left turn at the corner of Rt. 60 and Woody Lake and begin your climb up to Woody Gap. The easiest of the 3 climbs, you climb 400 feet on the shoulder of Rt. 60 for 2 miles. At the summit you cross the Appalachian Trail for the second time.

It is at this point where the real fun begins. It's now time for the mountains to pay you back for all the hard work you have put in for the past 5 hours. It's hard to imagine where you'll have more fun on a bike. The descent is long, fast, and fun. Sit in the saddle and enjoy the best 7 miles of asphalt ribbon the state of Georgia has to offer. Like the descent from Wolf Pen, this is not for the faint of heart. A demon awaits you on each corner

The remainder of the ride takes you mostly downhill back through the country side to Lumpkin County High School.

As in the New York City Century, I had my little video camera mounted to my handle bars. The video was terrific, and in some instances breath taking. I plan on having separate blog entries spotlighting each of the three videos that capture the mountain descents. I first need to do some post-production in order to meet the 100 mb and 10 minute limits mandated by YouTube.

I know, I know, I said I wouldn't make promises about future blogs. But I really PROMISE to get these videos posted over the next couple weeks. Until next time, remember speed is good, and never shift in the middle of a hairpin turn. See you on the bike trail.

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