I don't post reports of every brevet I ride, but this one deserves some mention...
The Georgia 400k, starting out of Dawsonville GA is a very challenging ride with just over 19,000 feet of climbing, about 12,000 feet of which occurs during the first 200k. It includes ascents up Woody's Gap, Wolfpen Gap, Jack's Gap, Unicoi Gap, and a 12 mile ascent to the turn around point in Highlands, NC. The portion through Jack's and Unicoi includes part of the Tour de Georgia Route (which was coming through only hours after we rode these portions).
The route is remarkable, possibly the most beautiful string of roads I've had the pleasure to ride. Coming from East Tennessee, I'm pretty used to great Appalachian scenery, but the North Georgia Mountains are pretty spectacular.
We started at 6am, with the sun just starting to lighten the sky, 14 riders out to tackle the course. Within 30 miles the first major climb up Woody's got our hearts pumping. I was riding along side Tenn RBA, Jeff Sammons. I've ridden several brevets with Jeff, and our pace is very well matched, so we've just naturally stuck together on many recent events. I've learned a ton from Jeff, and I'm eternally grateful for the knowledge and wisdom he's shared with me.
Coming out of Woody's we quickly meet another "short" ascent up Wolfpen Gap. This portion of the ride is incredibly scenic and the roads are in great shape. The Tour de Georgia was running the "Queen Stage" the same day, and we started seeing our first signs of club riders out tackling the hills around the course. We'd come across hundreds of cyclists before passing out of the Tour's route area, and it was nice to see so many enthusiastic riders and spectators on the road.
Out of Wolfpen we descend into the first control at mile 45 (Sunset Market). This is a quaint little store, with amazing apple turnovers. More and more club riders, and spectators from the Tour. We'd be leaving this control to climb up Jack's Gap, which contains the final parts of the Tour's stage up Brasstown Bald. Many cars pass with cowbell's ringing, and only a few times did I hear chuckles or laughs as the club riders passed us up and down the hills. One rider remarked "what a great job I was doing, considering I was carrying all that weight" as he passed me up Unicoi. Another really liked my tweed mudflaps
Unicoi Gap would be our final good climb before the major push up to Highlands, NC. The sun beat down as Jeff and I made our way up. We were still on the Tour's route (although going the opposite direction the rider's would be coming) and the top of Unicoi is the spot where the KOM is determined. After passing this point and riding down to Clayton GA the club riders and ride spectators became less common and the brevet course returned to more "normal."
The second control was at mile 104, and would be the last good stop before the climb up to Highlands, NC. We stopped at Wendy's for some real food. Several riders would later abandon at this point, which is probably as good a place as any, considering the nasty climb quickly approaches. Georgia RBA Andy Akard met up with us at this control, it was really nice to see the RBA out on the course, checking up on his riders. This is the first time I've met Andy, and he's a great fella, who really cares about his group (as a side note, I noticed when I returned home that Andy had been "blogging" the route real time giving the garadon yahoo group updates on the riders and the course throughout the event!)
Weather forecasts had put scattered t-storms at 60% all day. I had been advised by other riders that it "always" rains on the GA 400, and it is often really chilly in Highlands, not to mention cold at night. Naturally the rain gear, an extra layer for warmth at night, and a change of spare shorts went into my baggage. It did make for a pig of a bike, but I would be prepared! Naturally... all day it was sunny if not party cloudy and 60+F .
Out of Clayton we had a nice stretch of about 12 miles before we would turn off and begin the ascent to Highlands. The route up to Highlands and back down to this turn off would be the same, so I decided to pull off my handlebar bag, stuffed my arm and knee warmers into my jersey pockets, and secured my rain shell to my exposed front rack. I stashed the handlebar bag in the bushes and lightened my load by a good 8-10 lbs. I encouraged Jeff to do the same, but he passed... I just didn't see the need to carry all that stuff up the hill.
The climb delivered as promised, 12 miles of up, up, up, with a few short sections or reprieve when the grade would lighten up or head slightly downhill before stiffening back up. We were passed by all the other riders who were coming the other direction down from the Highlands, NC control. First by two fixed gear riders, and then a few miles later by two other groups who were ahead of us. Jeff and I would be pulling up the rear most of the day and it was nice to see the other riders in such good spirits as they screamed down the mountain.
We reached the Highlands control pretty low on fuel, so we decided to fill the tank with some Heineken and a great deli sandwich. Highlands is the 200k "turn around" but our return route would be a little different. A little rest to recharge, and down the hill we go. I stopped to recover my handlebar bag, feeling great and happy to have most of the day's climbing behind us. There would only be another 7k of vertical feet left for the day, and we'd just done over 12k.
The sun was beginning to head down and most of the remaining ride would take us through SC and back into GA via another route that avoided most of the North Georgia mountains. There remained only about two more decent ascents, but in comparison to the first half of the day, it seemed like child's play.
Andy passed us driving the route at about 9pm, out checking on his riders. We stopped and chatted briefly at a small store, and resumed the ride.
Night riding is always pretty uneventful for me, you don't really get to see much except passing stores, homes, lights, cars, ect. The course had really mellowed out, so Jeff and I continued on to the next control at mile 186.
We finally encountered a brief and light rain shower at about mile 195, so the adage held true... it always rains on the GA 400. Mile 205 found us at a Waffle House, apparently tradition on this ride. We stopped for coffee and hot food. Recharging felt great, and when we resumed the rain had let up. Temps were still around 65F so there was no need for rain gear even when the light rain fell.
This is only my second 400k, but there is something about those last 50 miles that just seems brutal. Maybe it's because I've finished both in the wee hours of the morning... I had started the caffeine drip and was feeling OK, but I was tired and found myself fighting off the fatigue. At about mile 220 there is a small but very steep hill called "Baby Brasstown." This is the first time I've ever jumped off the bike to walk up a climb, but I'm glad I did. It was a nice change of pace.
Jeff seemed to be fighting the fatigue so we started to stop every 10 miles or so just to get off the bike, nibble on something, drink water, and just generally mix up the activity. With only 30 miles to go we found a closed store with a table out front and set our heads down for a quick 10-15 minute rest. It seemed to help and we wouldn't need to stop again for the rest of the ride.
With only 15 miles to go the sun started to come back up and the rain started up again. We would finish the ride in a drizzle, at 8am... 26 hours on the road, beating the closing time by only an hour. The fast finishers had come in at just under 21 hours, and the group ahead of us had finished in just over 24. I drained a domestic adult beverage and thanked Andy for a great ride. Jeff and I peddled to our hotel and I said "good night." Stretching, showering, packing, more adult beverage carbo loading, and I was in bed with enough time to catch about 1 1/2 hours of sleep before house keeping kicked me out.
I didn't need my rain gear, or the extra warm layer, or the change of shorts. I only put on my arm warmers to come down from Highlands. But if I hadn't brought all that junk along the 257 miles, I'm convinced it would have poured the rain all day and been 40F at night! (consequently it never got below 62F even at night)
The GA 400k is an amazing event, and I'm posting this ride report as encouragement to get others to come on down and do this ride in the future. It is incredibly rewarding, challenging, and is managed extremely well! There are no pictures, and although I brought my camera, I just don't find the time to stop and take snap shots. Something in me tells me that if I take pictures, I won't be back...
Thanks Andy, and thanks to the GA crew for a great ride. I'll be back.