Now that I’m well rested and returned to lucidity I can write-up my report on this year’s 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge. I must first say that it really wasn’t the 3 State 3 Mountain, it was the 3 State 2 Mountain because the last mountain was cut off this year’s ride due to tornado damage.
The Century really wasn’t a century but 89 miles. I didn’t actually know this until about half way through the ride when someone told me.
To save a little cash I stayed in a campground near Trenton Georgia which is only about a 15 minute drive from Chattanooga. What I didn’t know is that a Tornado had ripped through this town only a week ago. I left the campground Friday night and rode my bike towards Trenton. A few miles into my ride and about a half mile from town I saw a strange sight; two girls walking down the highway in prom dresses, each carrying a bundle of prom dresses. I heard something on the radio on my way down about a prom dress collection and giveaway. Later I would see a truck loaded with dresses and girls going through them.
I’ve never really seen what a Tornado is capable of up close and I hope I never see it again. As I entered Trenton I saw a few downed trees and some damaged roofs and thought, this isn’t so bad, but then I crossed a street and it was like a giant bulldozer had cut a path through town. I didn’t bring my camera on this short ride but I’m not sure if I would have taken pictures if I did.
I left for Chattanooga Saturday morning around 7AM. I was about 30 minutes behind where I wanted to be, but still had plenty of time. Moments after I pulled onto the interstate I found it blocked by police cars and a semi truck. I was sure I would miss the ride. Luckily it was only about a ten minute wait and when I drove by I saw a truck had completely burned down to the chassis. Not a good way to start my morning.
I had no problem finding the parking lot and getting my registration packet and after studying the riders who seemed to be everywhere I decided the group consensus was that jersey and shorts were all that were needed today. Sure there were a few outliers, some guys with arm and leg warmers, some guys in vests, and even a few guys in blizzard proof jackets. Of course the triathelete guys always seem to have as little as possible on, I guess they get hot easy.
It was a surreal sight when the motorcycles led the ride out of Finley stadium. I was on the wrong side of the start line and got to watch as the riders flooded into the road a seemingly unending mass. After a couple of minute of riders going by I integrated myself into the peloton and began the ride. I have some experience riding in very large groups like this, but even so it was still intimidating. countless riders some going a little faster and making their way up through the pack, others seeming like they are moving backwards through the group. I have to say that everyone I was around rode very safely and there were no bad attitudes.
It was a fascinating trip through the city and over a bridge and before I knew it we were starting the first climb, the only part of the route I had done before. Suck Creek Mountain, actually the longest highest climb of the day, but pretty gentle averaging out around 4-6% steep. I immediately found myself surging through the crowd. I was doing 10 mph and it didn’t feel hard, but I checked my Polar and saw my pulse was in the mid 170s. It was harder than it felt but as I was passing people like they were standing still I didn’t seem to notice.
Common sense kicked in and I toned it down. My friend JC’s words went through my head, “You can’t win a race in the first mile but you can sure lose it.” I used my heart rate as my guide when it started it get in the lower 160s I crank it up until it was 175ish then back off. Basically did intervals up the mountain. Suck Creek Mountain is about six miles long and climbs about 1600 feet so it’s a nice gradual climb and an awesome downhill with some really sharp and somewhat scary turns.
It seems like I kept seeing the same riders over and over again. I would pass them and they would pass me, but the backs of jerseys kept turning up over and over again. It could have been the fact that there were so many team jerseys, I assume they were team jerseys or people who are just really fired up about the Krystal chain of fast food restaurants? I have to assume that alot of these riders were taking it easy either that or it’s really easy to get a team kit in some towns.
The next 30 miles were rolling terrain of the kind that keeps you either climbing a bit or descending a bit. I probably spent about half my time drafting and half riding alone. I would stick in a paceline until it got disorganized which happened on just about every climb. Often times people would pull out and annouce they had to wait on their friends or their wife. I kept thinking, I’ve been there on many of these rides, but more on that later.
The Sand Mountain was the next big climb and somewhere before there I was informed there wouldn’t be a 3rd mountain. Sand Mountain had about 8-9% grades but was “only” about 4 miles long. For some stupid reason I had pulled a paceline nearly flat-out for a couple of miles before the climb started so I was a bit tuckered before I started climbing. I did not feel like Marco Pantini on this climb, I felt like Matt Gholson, which means like I’ve done most of my life when the road starts going up, I shifted to the lowest gear and ground it out.
I was passed by several groups on this climb, one was telling a funny story and I wished I could have kept up with them, but they were gone before the punchline. I did pass several guys on triples, I used to climb hills like this on a triple, barely moving, of course those guys had enough breath to talk while I sounded like a broken steam engine.
The next 15 miles were along the top of a ridge and the views were amazing, I had heard some grumbling earlierfrom people when they first found out the route had been changed, but now I was hearing many people admit they looked forward to the shorter ride and one less mountain climb. I have to admit that I was extremely happy to hear that because around this time I started getting some cramping stomach pains.
I really like Hammer Perpeptuem and I usually use one waterbottle with some weak gatorade and two scoops of perpetuem, and another bottle of just gatorade. Today I used stronger gatorade and 3 scoops of perpetuem in each bottle. As I used up my water I repaced it with more gatorade. On the good side I never felt hungry and never felt like I was even close to bonking. On the bad side I believe I overloaded my stomach’s ability to process calories and started feeling sick. I got straight water at the last rest stop and started feeling better shortly.
The ride through Chattanooga back to Finley stadium was epic. An entire lane was blocked off for riders to use and crossing police were at every intersection holding back traffic. I ran the last 4 miles and kept my speed up over 20 mph through town. The finish was something I’ll remember the rest of my life. People lined the sides of the road ringing bells, clapping and screaming encouragement as we pulled into the stadium parking lot for a the finish. A big clock timed our arrival; I saw 5:44:28 I had finished this thing in under six hours, my goal going in was to finish in under 8 hours. For a short moment I had felt like I just won the Tour de France.
A few final thoughts:
I mentioned earlier I was alone on this ride. I came alone and rode alone. There are lots of advantages to being alone, I never had to wait on anyone, never had to worry about anyone, and when the ride was over I loaded up and went home, I’m glad I got to do it this way once, but if I ever do it again it won’t be alone.
The Chattanooga bike club and the people of Chattanooga put on an excellent ride, the roads were great and well-marked. I especially like how they painted large warnings on the roads in the downhill sections warning about dangerous turns. The volunteers were friendly and as far as I was concerned it was perfect. What’s even more impressive about this is that the area was still reeling from storm damage and the route had to be adjusted days before the event.
The riders I was around all seemed courteous, friendly and I never saw anyone take a stupid move and ride in a un safe manner.
I would highly recommend this ride to anyone within a day’s drive or more. You won’t regret it.