What you are about to read is a story about two women embarking on an adventure in the mountains of Georgia and Tennesee, without a clue. If you are not prepared to learn how dumb these women are, then stop reading now.Danielle
and I planned to ride the 68 mile Forest Road loop of the Cohutta 100 race for our training ride yesterday. The plan was to start at 11am and finish by 4pm or so. We were going to park at the Bear Creek trailhead and ride up to Potatopatch to get on the course, so we added a few miles and some bonus footies to the already difficult course.
We got a late start from the house because I had to finish up a school assignment. Then, on the way out the door, it occured to me to look at a map and write down the major turns of the course. I had only ridden it once, and Danielle had only ridden it twice..all times in the Cohutta 100 race. I wasn't too worried, because it was a big loop of just gravel roads and I thought I'd recognize the few turns there were, anyway.
We arrived at the parking lot at 12:30pm. Even if we were going to take 6-7 hours to finish the loop we'd still have plenty of daylight left. I was pretty apprehensive about my SS gearing choice as it was quite a bit more stout than the one I rode in the race last year. As we were packing up, I realized I forgot the directions. Oh well, I thought we would be fine without them. We did make sure to pack cell phones in case we needed them. What we didn't pack, however, was a map, pump, knife or gun, compass, or enough water. We both brought along 4 bottles for the ride and thought that would be sufficient. Danielle had one tube and 2 CO2s, plus a sealant. I had one tube only..no air. I pumped my 29er tires up to close to 40psi and hoped for no flats.
After the first "warm-up" climb to Potatopatch, we both had to stop to adjust our packs. I hadn't worn a pack for riding in longer than I can remember. The next hour or so went without incident....Then, Danielle's rear brake was acting up and making a really strange sound. We stopped to check it out, but didn't really know how to fix it. We kept going. Then, I realized Danielle's rear tire was really low. She's running Stans so just put some more sealant in there and we hoped for the best, even though the tire was still low.
We made it to a campground (somewhere around the 4th SAG stop of the 100 mile course) and saw 2 guys at their campsite. We spotted a bicycle wheel leaning against the truck. We both assumed it was a father and son and thought nothing of it, so rode up to the campsite and asked if they had a tire pump. What we didn't realize is that we should never have approached these people...they were..um...scary. It wasn't a father and son at all. They let all the air out of her rear tire and were asking some weird questions. Danielle told them that we didn't have much further to go and that we had our husbands waiting for us. We had no choice and had to use one of her CO2 cartridges to fill the tire back up, but luckily it worked and we got the hell out of there. I kept looking over my shoulder for the next 45 minutes.
The next hour or so was also fine, though I don't remember those long steeps from the race..I must have been pretty fresh during it because I had to walk one section yesterday. Then, about 4 hours in, I jinxed us and said how we were making great time because we only had about 20-25 miles left. That's when it happened....we missed a turn. We spent an hour riding up and down big hills trying to figure out where to go. We were second guessing everything and even rode by a really creepy place that had about 10 dogs that were all chained to their own dog house in the yard. There were chickens wandering around, and lots of junk everywhere. I thought that surely I would have remembered this in the race, but I tend to be oblivious sometimes. At one point, we were on a paved road (WRONG!) so far off course and decided to pull out the cell phone. Luckily Danielle's phone worked and we were able to connect with Eddie who read us the directions from our last known point, the Tumbling Creek Campground. It took us awhile to get back there, and from then on I was still confused but we were apparently finally back on course.
I figured we may have wasted an hour at the most, so we might still have two hours left of riding at that point. We encountered another sketchy vehicle with a single male in it...and again looking over our shoulder every few minutes. Neither of us remembered any of the next several miles from the race. I "knew" it had to be right, but I still doubted everything. It was getting dark and we seemed to spend much longer down low by the river than either of us remembered. We both tried not to get frustrated and panic as we knew it would make things worse. Finally, the road started to climb again so I was hopeful that the Mountaintown Creek turnoff would appear soon. Well..it didn't. Not even close. The climbing at this point was really taking a toll. My legs were shot but I don't know what kept me pedaling...the will to live, I guess.
Finally, we saw the Mountaintown Creek trailhead so I knew we had about 7 miles to go until Potatopatch, the final and dreaded climb...but I didn't care because it was the sign that we were close. But, not that close. I don't know how long it took to climb that, but it was too long. The sun set and we found ourselves in complete darkness. There was a full moon but it was hidden by the huge mountain we were climbing. Every climb we did I thought was the last climb. But, it wasn't. There was always one more. We were both silent and just trying not to cry. We were cold, scared, and exhausted. Nothing seemed real....I was seeing things as by this point I was beyond dehydrated and bonked. Food didn't seem to help anything, I needed water. At one point, I just had to walk because I couldn't see anything. I hopped off and started pushing and couldn't even see Danielle who was standing in the middle of the road 10 feet in front of me. Walking was just as bad as riding (I don't know how many times I smacked my pedal into my shin) so we decided to start pedaling again. Finally, things seemed to flatten out and the cold breeze got stronger. I felt this HAD to be the top, but I was so sick of being disappointed that when we finally did reach Potatopatch I was so delirious that I didn't even believe it. We had been riding for 8 hours. I looked at the sign at Potatopatch and realized that it really was true...we were there. Now we just had to cruise downhill on the gravel to the car. That was still a slow process but we arrived in one piece. There was a truck coming up the road and both of us panicked..for some reason we had been so scared this whole time that we didn't want anyone to see us. We threw our bikes on the car and got the hell out of there. We didn't even change because we just wanted to get off that mountain. We called Eddie around 9pm and he was not real happy with us. Apparently, I had told him that if we weren't home by 8 then he should start worrying. He had expected us to be done several hours earlier and when he didn't hear from us he starting calling around....to everyone he knows in North Georgia. They even placed a 911 call for us and people were getting ready to send out the S&R. When he heard we were OK, they called the search off and breathed a sigh of relief. I had no idea we made him that worried and I felt awful about it.
So, we were lucky that despite the lack of preparedness we made it out with no real problems. Here's the list of mechanicals we had during the ride:
Danielle: Rear brake, rear flat
Namrita: Loose chain (no way to tighten), loose spoke, no brake pads, and front skewer not holding
And, of course we learned several basic lessons (that we should probably already know!):
- Always carry a map and/or directions (at the very least)
- If you are going out into the wilderness alone or with two females, carry some protection
- Carry a CO2 AND a pump
- Carry two tubes
- Bring more water than you think you will need or a way to filter water
- Carry a light
- Don't accept candy from strangers
We were supposed to ride the Fool's Gold course today, but I have to say that after 8 hours on the SS and 10-12,000 feet of climbing, I'm completely wrecked. We are staying close to home and I'm riding my road bike where it's flat. Now that I got a taste of it, I have decided that this type of riding (Trans-Georgia unsupported, Great Divide Race style) is not for me.
Thanks to everyone that volunteered to help Eddie yesterday. I'm quite embarassed about it and it won't happen again. It's crazy how how remote these areas are even though they don't seem like it in a race. Right now, I'm just glad I am NOT racing the 100 miler. I don't ever want to ride that loop again with one gear. Danielle will do great, though, I'm sure of it. She rode everything in her middle ring...that girl can climb. At least nothing in the race can seem as hard and long as it did yesterday!!