Photo: Fouquier ॐ, Flickr Creative Commons
As for the rest areas, they're well stocked, well staffed, and well spaced. Normally, most of the the century rides I've been in space their rest areas by as regular of a distance as possible. This makes sense on the flat to lightly rolling terrain of south Georgia, but not so much in the mountains where it may take you an hour to get through the 7 miles up the mountain and only 10 minutes coming down the other side. So, the first rest stop was about 20 miles in, but you'd been riding over rolling terrain that looks almost flat compared to the climbs that would come later. You've probably only been on the bike for an hour. Later in the race, they'd often have rest areas only 7 miles apart, mainly because it'd take you an hour to cover that distance. Hogpen Gap is only a 7-mile climb but there was a stop at the halfway point and again at the peak.
The bike mechanic who told me not to stop at the rest area at the halfway point was right, by the way. That section is too steep. Unless you're a strong climber, just kept slogging to the top where you'll only have to point your bike in the right direction to get moving again. There was a sign suggesting that the stop had beer and it was sponsored by a bar, but I have no proof they had any booze. I took the mechanic's advice.
Also, they even have guys with water jugs on the side of the road at the rest areas where you can pull off, refill your bottles and not have to even get all the way off your bike if you're looking to hit a certain time mark and don't want to take breaks during the ride. That's the first time I've seen that in a big ride.
The finish line also seemed well organized and there were booths for massages and the like along with access to the school gym for showers, and a spaghetti dinner in the cafeteria, although I partook in neither. I had been told that the hot water was gone when I went in for a shower, and I was too mad at myself to eat at the time.
Finally, the scenery is gorgeous. You're rolling through the most beautiful part of the the entire state and you rarely pass through anything remotely like a town.
So, if you decide to do 6 Gap, here's what I think you need to know:
- Make sure your bike is in good condition. You're going to be stressing it more than normal. Hitting a bump in the road at 15 mph is not the same as hitting that same bump at 45. The same goes for your brakes and tires. You really don't want to them to fail you at high speeds. Make sure they aren't too worn.
- Don't push yourself. Unless you have ridden the course before or at least ridden something similar on a mountainous course, don't ever let yourself have to breathe hard if you have the option of going slower or turning an easier gear. My problem is that my lowest gear actually proved too difficult to achieve that goal on large sections of Hogpen Gap. It's just mean to put that climb after 60 miles of riding in the mountains.
- Learn how to descend safely. I don't think that's a particularly hard skill to pick up, but you don't want to find out that you don't really know how to take a turn when you're approaching a sharp bend in the road travelling at 15 mph over the speed limit.
- Eat. There's a chance that I didn't take in enough calories, but I burned around 4,000 calories from riding less than 3/4 of the course. You can't take in all the calories you're going to burn, but you need to take in as much as you can without getting sick. I kept Gatorade in my bottle because I find it's easier, especially when tired and thirty, to drink calories than it is to eat them, but I've also found that I enjoy Belvita cookies and Honey Stinger waffles when riding. I've also ordered The Feedzone Portables cookbook to make my own food for rides, especially because there are some non-sugary options there and most endurance food is so sweet that even I, with my ample sweet tooth, get sick of it before long. I'll probably post some reviews of that book when it gets in.
- There will be a traffic jam getting onto campus at the high school where the event starts and finishes. Make sure to plan on getting there at least 30 minutes before you actually want to be there.
- Finally, the group start is huge and I was by far the most concerned for my safety there than I was at any other point of the ride. People are packed into together in a mass of bikes slowly creeping toward the starting line and it doesn't open up enough to really ride your bike until you get to the starting line several minutes later. Not everyone has enough sense to straddle the bike and walk it up so you can clip in when it's safe but not until then. People did crash during this section even going at a shuffling pace. Honestly, unless you have some sort of weird obsession with your overall time, don't even bother trying to start with the crowd. Just wait until most of them have gotten past the line and then get going. There are no rankings for finish times except for the King of the Mountain challenge for the combined times for Hogpen and Wolfpen gaps and then only the time it took you to finish those climbs counts. It doesn't matter how long it took you to get there.
- Make sure to spend some time before and after the ride day to enjoy where you are. Like I've said earlier in this series, this is the most beautiful part of Georgia and Dahlonega isn't tarted up for the tourists as badly as Helen. Hang out and watch the criterium races and cruise the bike expo on Saturday, and take Monday off work. I did the former, but my dumb ass didn't think about being on a bike for up to 8 hours on a Sunday followed by a 5-hour drive back home and having to get up for work early the following day. It's Thursday and I'm still suffering from that decision. I'm not sore. I'm just sleepy.