Another wonderful gravel day in my favorite mountains of Tellico and Citico, but this time with a mission.... time to kick it up a notch and string together a bunch of favorite climbs, while practicing short stops, fueling, and metering out the effort. the Tellico Highlands loop is an awesome sampling of several of the great climbs in the area, and i've ridden versions of this route many many times. however, there was a little extra challenge this time around... the first signs of summer were in full effect with temps starting in the 70s and forecast for upper 80s, sunshine a plenty.
to simplify the route, i mentally broke it into three big efforts (or more?!).... the first pull to basin gap, north river to the skyway peak, and farr gap. sounds nice and easy...
i started a little behind schedule, but took off from the oosterneck pull-out at 10:32. wildcat is a standard "start" for a lot of my loops, so i put on autopilot and got to grinding... feeling good and peppy, but my HR was immediately amped (excited to race?! or too much too early?). the next part to the basin gap climb is a solid, exposed, loose climb, and it can sure bring the suffering. i wasn't having that mojo today and kept positive, focusing on the good lines and trying not to redline (not even an hour into a BIG day). i rounded the last bend and stomped to the top, where i exchanged pleasantries (like "watch out for the loose gravel") with some moto's, and quickly got into descending-mode for the sketchy drop to holly flats. the grading of 2020 sure has changed things, and though it was needed, this descent is just as loose as the preceding climb! ...made it unscathed though.
next was a nice cruise with a moderate climb and descent back to river road... a chance to chill out (or try to) and snack/drink. i passed the busy green cove store, and made my way to the check station to refill bottles and roll on. at this point my stats were18.8mi/2737 ft/1:35/11.8mph aver.. i started to think [way too far] ahead, and perhaps i can break 8hr? 7.5hr?! but back to the business at hand: the notorious North River climb!
North River Rd starts with a mild grade, which lulls you into a sense that "maybe it's not that hard" is said by many! and even though i've climbed it dozens of times, i still get tricked... although this time, my easier gearing made for less mashing/tugging/struggle on the steepest bits. the dry conditions made for a loose and dusty climb, but at least there was shade and it's beautiful! even with a headwind, i still committed to staying in a good place mentally, and soon enough there's the skyway! [spoiler alert: the climb is not over] i was ready and knew to just keep rolling onto the skyway, and grind away. however, now i was in the blazing sun and i was definitely feeling the heat... sweating a ton and looking a bit crusty. i was stoked to find the top and ready for some FAST miles dropping (mostly/sorta) down to Indian Boundary lake. and zippy it was... 45mph on 2.2s is pretty good [for me]!!
the Indian Boundary loop is a pleasant stroll in the shade, and was welcomed relief. lots of campers and kids on the loop.. plenty of hello's and odd looks! just as i took my last sip, i arrived at the campstore and filled up at the adjacent campground spigot. i did a quick assessment (well, i'd been thinking constantly about it) as to my fueling/legs/what's left, and decided i'd take a minute to eat some of my "real food" and sit long enough to down a bottle (and reload with nuun) before i got going again. my legs were definitely explaining that it was damn hot, and they'd been doing steady work... better not test my luck too much and find the limit/cramp!
alas, nothing left to do but get riding... which is what i came to do! rejuvenated, i got back on the gas (moderately), and set out for the *last* big effort... farr gap (and descent). farr gap has some great memories for me (first "real" gravel ride on the ole tricroSS and many more) and i enjoyed those thoughts, trying to stay distracted from the work that was inevitable. however, farr gap is actually a very nice climb, never too pitchy, and even mellow at the start and near the top. oh, but then there's the real top (after all, it is called farr "gap", not top)... loose and steep with a few stingers that definitely make you pay your dues for the upcoming descent! now, cold springs descent isn't a "relax and recover" descent... instead, it's a "hold on tight, and let it rip", like riding a bull! i was glad i had the big tires, and i had a hoot charging down to the river (though my hands said the descent could've been about half as long)!!
finally at the bottom (and the water-pipe) for another quick recharge of chugging a bottle, eating real food, and loading up for the last push. i knew the hardest work was done, and all i had left to do was knock out Miller Ridge, then cruise it on to the barn. i was studying the time, and with my average speed, it looked like i could break 8hr! well, that's assuming i don't crash, mechanical, or my legs don't cramp?!
Miller Ridge (or as i call it, the "mostly uphill, downhill"... from the first time we found it, before grading, many moons ago)... oof, that was a booger! the opening climb i knew was the longest, so no surprise there, but then it continues to roll... up, down, up, down... no, you're not done... repeat sequence! i'm sure that was one of the longer times i've had on that segment, as i was pretty sure i was just 10W or 5HBR from cramping, and was soft-pedaling/cranking all the climbs. to say i was "elated" to see the gate at the end is an understatement!
now it was game on, as the rest of the route is pretty much gravy. trucking down Turkey Creek, pop up, then bomb under the Skyway... go, go, go!! quick detour up for the Bald River Falls selfie, then spin-ups back down River Rd.... definitely my least favorite, just because SS (and all the times of trying to hold a wheel of my geared friends, but getting dropped). this time i was motivated and trucking... tucked and leaving it all out there! and there ya have it... 7:25hr overall, 7:05hr moving, 12.5mph average... a great day on a wonderful course!!
i rode my Salsa Stormchaser, geared 38:20, with 2.2 Ikon (F) and 50c Donally MSO (R). this bike has seen many long distance adventures, and i chose it (over my CruxSS) for the rowdy descents and it's comfort. i opted to keep my load light and took minimal tool/repair kit, and just Rockgeist top tube bag. my only regret was that i wish i'd taken a 3rd bottle, or at least had two big bottles... live and learn!