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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

2012 Six Gap Century

It's a terrible thing to loose fitness and your brain not know it until it's too late. The past few months I've had to back off on my normal insane amounts of training. I've noticed that instead of dictating the pace on rides I've been more content to just sit in. But that's all that has changed since I last raced my bike. Well this Sunday I put power to the pedals for 104 miles in the mountains of North Georgia and learned what my body is currently capable of doing. It was good. But not to the level that my brain thought we were still at. A fact that became painfully obvious after 50 miles of riding at a top end pace.

Some people I know have a way of convincing themselves that reality isn't the truth. They say things like, "Awe that'll never happen" or "It'll all turn out OK". Point of fact they are lazy. They deal with things after it happens to them. I can't be that way. I'm too hyper focused. I need a plan. I need to understand the obstacles before me and eliminate the problems before they hurt me or the ones I love. I hate the idea of being reactive instead of proactive.
But I understand that God made us all different. I don't judge others. Just don't expect many sympathies from yours truly when stuff happens to you that you could have prevented. I don't mean when you make a bad decision. Heck I make plenty. You have to try things sometimes. Some folks never let ignorance stand in the way of making a bad decision though or just cross their fingers and hope nothing bad happens? But me...Negative.

However, I allowed myself to think I could press on through an event like Six Gap with the same ease and happiness that I did last year without doing all the work and preparations I normally do. I focused on other things and suffered the consequences. I knew the date was coming, I just treated it with costly disregard. And boy did I pay for it.

The first 50 miles were the usual blissfully strong riding I'm accustomed to. My friends Benny Bohanon, David Shabat, and Craig Tinsley were there. Craig had been riding like crazy the past few months. Two weeks earlier he rode the Bridge to Bridge ride in North Carolina. The day before this he competed in a 6 Hr mountain bike race at Jack Rabbit Trail. So I felt the need to shepperd my friend if he was going to "do the double". As you'll read below it turns out he didn't need the help. But I channeled my inner Christian Vande Velde and paced my leader (Ryder) up the climbs. At least that's where I derived my enthusiasm.

By the time we reached Hog Pen I could feel the error of my ways. Despite eating and drinking everything I needed to, I could feel the power slipping away from my legs. It was too far, it was too much, it was too bad because I had no way out accept to climb three more mountains. I went into damage control mode. I ate electrolytes like candy. I even tried some fruit dates from Craigs zip lock bag. And like any good endurance athlete I worked on some positive phrases in my head. "You are powerful!" "You are strong!" Things like that.
Robert Loomis in the lead group on Unicoi

My problem wasn't the dreaded bonk. It was a combination of dehydration and plain old lack of training. I hadn't been drinking water all week. The cramps started to hit me on the Wolf Pen climb. I nursed them in the back of my legs, the back of my arms, and of all places in the center of my left foot. The toe beside my pinkie toe was missing in action for the entire climb. And the thing is I never really panicked. I felt like crap but it was nothing I hadn't felt before. I had a long way to go but I knew I could get there. It dawned on me while I made my way up the climb that this feeling of quasi confidence can only be learned through experiences. Bad experiences. And when I make things really easy for my kids and never let them fail, I rob them of this kind of confidence. So I added this to my damage control phrases and pushed to the top of the climb; "This will make you stronger!"

When I rounded the last turn on Wolf Pen I could hear my good friend David at the top yelling words of encouragement. David was fighting his own demons which he skillfully details in the story below I stole from his Facebook page. It's dedicated to his Endurance Athlete friends. He too has placed himself in demanding situations and understood my pain.

Anyway, I pushed on through the ride knowing that I would finish. I needed to look back and say I did my best because it sucks to think you could have done more. There are details I could share but they've been covered in the stories from my friends I've posted below. Bottom line: I had fun and felt successful. Thanks guys!

2012 Six Gap Century
Story by David Shabat

How many times have you heard from at least one person you know:  "Why do you do that stupid stuff?  You run or bike all the time.  You're always working out.  You're hardly any fun to be around anymore."  I haven't heard it in a while, since I've surrounded myself with people who have come to appreciate why I do what I do, and a lot of folks who are right there with me.  Yesterday, I was saying those words to myself. As I was ascending Hogpen Gap, the most brutal climb on the Six Gap route, I just blurted out "I am having a serious case of "I don't give a crap!".  Yes, there I was, 60 miles into the 104 mile century, just out of my mental game.  I've done the climb several times.  I've run it as well as biked it.  My brain wanted to melt down.  How many times do you have to climb Hogpen before you stop caring about getting to the top of Hogpen? How many times? You never stop caring.  You watch your buddies suffering with you.  You turn the cranks or put one foot in front of the other and you remember who you are.  You are the one who gets things done.  You may be different, but you are the "white sheep" of the family.  You know that the pain is temporary.  You know that the climb will end and you'll never forgive yourself if you give up for any reason other than physical.  You keep turning the cranks.
*   *   *

I was up at 4:15.  Coffee was brewing and I was loading the truck by 4:25.  It was a perfect day for a bike ride - with arm warmers.  Lenka and I drove to pick up our friend, Ann, and drove to Dahlonega... there around 6:15.  The parking lot was already full.  Amazingly, Chad and I parked just a few cars away from each other, so we could talk shop early and get the day going.  We prepped and were on the line in plenty of time to be near the start line, but not at the line, since this year, they corralled us into "sub 6 hour expected finish" and "more than 6 hour expected finish".  We planned to finish in around 7 hours, clock time, including stops/breaks (mind you that means off the "race/ride clock", not our bike computers, which measure ride time).  Chad, our buddy Benny, and I were lined up together.  Six Gap starts are kind of home town, since it's not a race, per se, but it's just fairly laid back if you're not in the "sub6" group.  So, we got off to a good start and picked up our ringer for the day, Craig.

We kept a nice, relaxed pace for what I'll call the prologue. Chad led our pack and was our team leader for the day.  He called the shots, set the pace, and was the overall motivator to keep us going all day long.  I had to stop and use the restroom at an unexpected point on the way... the corner before we begin the ascent up Blood Mountain to Neels Gap - first ascent of the day.  But, you can't climb well if you can't use your ab muscles without having an accident.  Craig, Chad, and I kept a tight pack up to Neels.  Benny caught us in no time at the top, and we headed out to Jack's Gap.  Again, we held a tight 3-man formation, but the climbs weren't so easy for me; at least they didn't feel as easy as they did last year.  Benny caught us on Jacks, and I took a turn to pull, though it was was mostly downhill, to the base of the climb to Unicoi.  I had a few "challenges" from other riders, who were "inertially enhanced", but for the most part, we kept a great downhill pace in the high 20s and low 30s.  The climb up Unicoi was a struggle, but we enjoyed it, like we always enjoy Unicoi.  When we reached the gap, we recovered, but Benny told us to go on, that he'd take things at his own pace... which was really not much different from ours, but just slightly out-of-sync enough to make him choose to send us on our way.  Chad had 3 rules: 1) Have FUN 2) Try to break 7 hours clock time 3) Don't let rule #2 get in the way of rule #1.  We may have a chance to break 7 hours on the clock if we pull the now smaller pack into order.

As expected, we flew down Unicoi.  Chad was on fire.  He has such grace on the bike, I had to keep my head straight because I knew I couldn't keep up with him AND maintain safe control of my bike.  I also still felt skittish about my crash a few weeks ago.  I had a post-Goose/ Maverick feeling when I hit hard downhill curves.  But, I still kept Chad within my sights.

What can you say about Hogpen?  At least it's not Brasstown?  Be thankful you have the ability to climb?

As we began the primary ascent, I had a mental meltdown.  I didn't care about Hogpen anymore.  I have climbed it on foot and on bike.  I think I had more fun on foot.  But, today, we're on bikes.  This is where Craig's year of training and racing has really paid off.  After the primary ascent, I got my head right.  I had no choice.  For the past 5 years, I have been the guy who does stuff outside his comfort zone on purpose.  I was not going to let a bout of the "I don't give a craps" get me.  So, I downshifted to my 28 cog and just spun my way up with Chad... while Craig pulled away until he had at least 30 seconds on us.  We kept sort of quiet.  Nobody wants to huff and puff because it does you no good.  No one would dare complain... we're salty veterans on this climb.  So, we just kept turning the cranks until we got to the top and were greeted with cheers and some of the best food on the ride. But then I got that sinking feeling about the descent.  Last year I hit 67 mph on the back side of Hogpen.  This year, I held a VERY conservative pace and got it to around 50 mph and held steady.  The curves were not nearly as in-my-face as last year.  There was no snap decision on when/how to execute a curve.  I saw everything coming and had plenty of reaction time.  My stomach settled just in time to turn the corner and realize...I was completely out of gas. We still had to climb Wolfpen Gap, which is the "Winding Stair" of road riding in Georgia.

Again, Craig was looking great, and he took a pace that was comfortably faster than me and Chad. Chad had his nose to the wind for us 95% of the time.  He gave the rest of us the option to take it easy while he pushed a great pace on the flats and rollers.  We were both on the suffer train.  But, Chad had an extra joy... a full-size (39/53) racing crankset, while I had a compact (36/50) crankset.  Those three teeth in the front make a HUGE difference when climbing.  But, Chad, just kept turning those cranks.  I know he was suffering right there with me, with an even more difficult climb on the bigger crank.  My hat is off to Chad.  Wolfpen was our toughest climb of the day. Chad led us out from Wolfpen to our final major ascent, Woody's. We had to take it a little easier.  Although we ate well and hydrated well, we were just wiped out compared to Craig, who was still as froggy as a SEAL on his first mission.  We cranked it up Woody's without a wasted moment.  By then, my wits were gone, I started blaming the bike for not shifting right, I had not completely bonked, but I was on my way.

Then an angel appeared before me.

I went to the refreshment area and said "I have an odd request.  There was this angel who saved my skin last year with an ice cold Coke Zero.  Is she here this year?"  They pointed me to the lady in her blue jacket... she waved her hands at me "What else have you got?  OK, I'm an angel, I've heard that before".  So I showered this lady with every compliment I could muster from my oatmeal brain.  I think that when I started getting incoherent, even to myself, she went to her truck, and pulled out a Coke Zero from her PERSONAL COOLER and gave it to me.  I offered her cash.  She would only accept my gratitude.  Finally, after a few minutes of chugging the coke, the caffeine kicked in and I started feeling like a person again.We pushed our way down Woody's, again with our captain, Chad in command of all the turns... which made it easy for us, since we could follow his line.  We caught up with a young lady who was also flying down the mountain. But, we got stuck behind some cars who were waiting on other cyclists who didn't have our "sense of adventure".  On one hard curve, there was a cyclist down.  He lost it in the curve, a left hand curve with a cliff.... JUST LIKE MY CURVE.  My stomach was a little sick looking at him at the side of the road.  He wasn't going to be riding home like I did.  I felt such a mix of luck and sadness and gratitude in my heart.  We held pace until the traffic fixed itself and we went back to our high 30s pace down the mountain.  There was another crash on the road into the "offshoot development" turn we had to make.  So, we had one last moment of excitement before the "worst part of the ride".

The last 10 or so miles of the ride is the kick in the teeth.  We had constant high-pitch rollers the whole way.  We had a few miles of open road, but even that was on an uphill grade.  Otherwise, we were either downshifting or upshifting.  Then we finally got onto Black Mountain Road, and received our last kick in the teeth of the day.  We passed the 7 hour clock time and tried to just shrug it off.  We had done more than 100 miles within 7 hours on the clock.  No one got hurt.  We shared our suffering.  And I got another day of cycling with my brother Chad.  So, we eased the pace and cruised in to a 7:04 finish.  We changed out of our very used up gear, and went into Lumpkin County High for what is always one of the best meals of the year.

I was extra thankful that Lenka and Ann drove with me, so Lenka could drive us home.  I fell asleep in the back seat of the truck, before we even pulled out of the parking lot, and didn't wake up until we dropped Ann off in Toccoa.  I am truly grateful for my friends, for the ability to ride, and for the underlying mental persistence that refuses to fail me, even when I wish it would.


2012 Six Gap Century
Benny Bohannon

The bike ride today was a lot of fun, but I sure am tired! It's called the 6 Gap Century, and takes place in the mountains near Dahlonega.
I started out this AM meeting up with 3 of the guys from Habersham Cycles. Chad Hayes, David Shabat, and Craig Tinsley. Those are some of the guys I ride with on Tuesday Nights. I do good on Tuesday nights just to stay in sight of the lead group. We even had on our matching jerseys.

Their goal was to finish the 104 mile ride in less than 7 hours.... I told them I knew I couldn't do that, but they insisted I could, and that we would all hang together and "Have Fun". So we hung together. We left the start at the school at 7:30 this morning. We got there at 6 AM, so we could line up at the front and get a good start. There were almost 2800 riders lined up behind us! When they opened the gate, we lit out flying, like the Tour de France! We were the fastest of the fast, right up there in the front.

Occasionally I would catch a glimpse behind me, as all the other riders crowded the road, their shoulders undulating as they moved in one big mass, like a river of multi-colored jerseys. Pretty cool stuff. We probably averaged over 26 mph for the first 18 miles before the first Mountain, Neel's Gap. I knew I couldn't keep up that pace for very long, so I let them lead up the first mountain. After a while, I dropped into my own pace, and they slipped away. They got to the top about 5 minutes before me, but were all waiting on me, and said it was no problem. We all rode together again until the next mountain (Jack's Gap), where they waited about 7 minutes for me. I knew they wanted to finish in under 7 hours, but they kept saying to stay with them anyway. On the way up the 3rd Mountain, Unicoi Gap, I started cramping. My muscles were letting me know I was going way beyond my abilities. When I got to the top, I told them in no uncertain terms to go on, and finish, and that I would have to ride at my own pace to finish the 104 miles. So we all did the fist-bump, and they went on. I didn't see them again until the end. I enjoyed the rest of the ride, talking to people, suffering up the climbs, and flying down the mountains. The other mountains include Hogpen Gap, Wolfpen Gap, and Woody's Gap. Hogpen is the granddaddy, with over 8 miles at up to a 16% grade. Whew!  

I finished in 7:35, which was about 45 minutes faster than last year. I guess the fast start really made up some time. The other guys came in at 7:05, which really wasn't too bad either. I saw some of the guys from Apalachee Cyles in Dacula, the other group I ride with. A couple of them finished in 6:34-6:39 ! That's an hour faster than me! Wow.
Others finished after I did, so that was fine too. Everyone was just happy to make it in. It was a lot more fun after it was over, that's for sure.
They fed us a big spaghetti supper afterwards, so now I am full, sore, and sleepy. And I also got a cool "T" shirt out of the deal.


Thanks guys for taking time to write it down! I look forward to seeing you at all the rides coming up for the rest of 2012. Check them out at the top of the page.

And now here's some crazy facts about the Six Gap Century:

  • There were 2,595 cyclists that participated in the Six Gap Century & Three Gap Fifty Bike Ride this year! 
  • An estimated 4,000 man hours went into the planning and execution of the Ride by Chamber staff and over 350 volunteers.
  • Almost 3,000 gallons of water and Heed/Gatorade were used at the 9 rest stops.
  • Over the course of the Ride, cyclists consumed 1,200 lbs of bananas, 300 lbs of apples, 250 lbs of grapes, and 200 lbs of oranges.
  • Our rest stop volunteers made an estimated 8,500 PB&J sandwiches. 
  • The Lumpkin County High School cafeteria staff fed our riders over 2,600 lbs of spaghetti

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