DEATH MARCH REVIVAL
Graham Grant (1)
I and a friend (Luke Eichelkraut) decided to ride the Death March Revival route on Saturday, October 23rd, 2021. I had ridden numerous forest service roads in the North Ga mountains before, but nothing on quite this scale. We aimed to complete the route in a single day, ideally in under 12 hours. I rode a stock Giant Fathom 29 2 hardtail mountain bike with 2.2” Maxxis Ikon tires. My drivetrain was a 1x with a 36t chainring and 11-42 cassette. A MooseTreks frame bag, Topeak saddle bag and top tube bag, and two handlebar-mounted bottle holders held my tools, food, & supplies for the day. I carried extra water in a hydration vest. Overall the fully loaded bike weighed around 40lbs.
We started from the Thunder Rock campground just after sunrise at around 8am. The morning was cold (~40F) and a dense fog covered the Ocoee River. The forests were still largely green, though numerous patches of fall color were beginning to appear, especially at the higher elevations. Luke and I planned to ride at our own paces and regroup periodically throughout the day. The first short climb served as a good warmup. I pulled away from Luke on the climb and the road quickly rose above the fogbanks into a clear, crisp morning. The next few miles on FS 221 consisted of numerous sharp climbs & descents through remote but beautiful hardwood forest. At around mile 6 I decided to dismount & trek through a small creek crossing, which resulted in my feet getting soaked. As a result, my feet were uncomfortably cold for the next several hours. The roads on this early section were rough & rocky but not unmanageable. Eventually the route dropped into a valley then turned and ran upstream alongside Tumbling Creek for several miles. This was one of the most enjoyable sections of the route; the gravel road was smooth and rose gently alongside the rapid-filled creek through picturesque forest.
The road eventually branched off from the stream and began the main climb of the day up into the Cohuttas. The climb was long and grinding, but it wasn’t particularly steep and the roads were generally in good shape. I stopped for a few minutes to eat near Watson Gap then pressed on to the top of the ridge. After gaining the top of the ridge, USFS 64 wound along the top of the ridge for several miles. The road constantly climbed and descended over & around small peaks. Luke and I repeatedly passed & fell behind one another throughout this section as the gradients changed. The forest through this section was very picturesque; the foliage was fairly even mixture of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds. We stopped at the Mountaintown Overlook at around 12pm to eat.
After a few more undulations we reached the top of the long descent down Old CCC Camp Church Rd. I took this descent very cautiously while Luke rode ahead. The road had smooth and rough sections, and the gradient was steep enough that I had to feather the brakes almost all the way down. Once below Holly Creek Gap the descent became much milder, more of a false flat. The last few miles to Mulberry Gap were very pleasant, the road running along a stream. I arrived at Mulberry Gap at around 1:00pm; Luke and I hung out there for a while to rest and eat before heading back out for the second half of the ride. It made a great rest stop, coming just about halfway through the route.
After Mulberry Gap the route ran over a few small climbs & descents before the big climb back up Potato Patch began. This climb took over an hour of moderate riding. The gradient was steep and consistent, but the midday heat (mid 70s F) became oppressive by the time I reached the top. After reaching the top and regaining the ridge the route ran through a series of short, steep climbs and descents. Luke and I regrouped near the entrance to Lake Conasauga at around 3:30pm. We then made our way North along West Cowpen Rd. The descent down to Mill Creek Road was steep and rough, requiring heaving braking and careful line choice. Luke stopped and waited for me at the Mill Creek Overlook and we enjoyed the expansive westward views for a few minutes before continuing the long, rough, winding descent down to the Conasauga River. The forests through this section of the route were very beautiful & colorful, though they were still a couple weeks away from peak fall color.
After the long descent came several miles of relatively flat smooth gravel and pavement along the river. Shortly after crossing Jacks River at around 5pm, we turned right onto Big Frog Rd and rapidly climbed back up into the Cohuttas. This surface in this section was extremely rough, with lots of small boulders, ruts, puddles, and debris. After what seemed like several hours of slow, rough slogging up and down short rocky climbs & descents, we reached FS221 again. From this point on the surface quality improved dramatically. Luke and I continued to oscillate back and forth past each other over gentle climbs & descents. Darkness fell while we were still 15 miles or so from the finish. I fell behind on nutrition in the last few miles and struggled to keep in touch with Luke even on the climbs. Temperatures also dropped dramatically over the last few miles. The final descent was fun and fast, though the cold had become sharp & painful. I rolled back into Thunder Rock a couple minutes behind Luke at around 9pm CT, for an elapsed ride time of around 11 hours 45 minutes.
Overall the route was extremely challenging but very scenic. I had ridden a few roads in the Cohuttas before this ride, so I knew something about what to expect. However, I was still very surprised at just how challenging the route was. Many of the roads were moderately rough & rocky, and the accumulated climbing from the many short, punchy climbs in the middle section of the route was exhausting over time. Still, I massively enjoyed the ride and plan to ride it again someday soon. It was one of those exhausting but incredibly rewarding days in the saddle.