Jason Vance (5)
As is the case of my first Triple Crown attempt back in 2021, riding these routes on consecutive days is simply time-management. It’s difficult to make 3 separate trips up to Tennessee from Charleston, SC (on top of coming up for the Three Rivers Way), so scheduling a visit to ride them all in one shot makes sense to me. It’s still a bad idea, but I like bad ideas. And I like to share my bad ideas, so I drug Matt along with me.
“Not as steep, the climbs are not as punchy” is what I tell Matt; “There’s four climbs on this route.” Matt tells me his Garmin says there’s twelve. Too much data to think about. All I’m concentrating on is Wildcat; the climb up North River Rd to the Skyway; the climb up Farr Gap; and the climb out of Jake Best. The efforts are more sustained, and the downhills are longer.
We set off a tick after 10am, in part to allow a bit more recovery from DMR the day before, but mainly to ensure the section of road construction on Whiteoak Flat is clear of workers in the early evening when we’ll roll through there to finish the route. I can feel the efforts from yesterday in my legs, but our pace up Wildcat isn’t overly ambitious, and the road levels off and turns downhill with enough frequency to bring brief bouts of relief as we head towards Bald River Rd. On Bald River Rd., we run across Clint, Cedar, PJ, Ben who are ascending out of Green Cove on Day 2 of their Vista ITT. We stop to chat for a moment, enjoy the camaraderie of fellow yahoos out enjoying the beauty and ruggedness of this region, with the mutual understanding that we’re all going to be suffering as the day drags on. After the brief descent into Green Cove, Matt refuels on a can of beanie-weenies, and I nurse a Doomsday Prepper (Dr. Pepper) on the way to the game check station; we then begin the 8 mile climb up North River Rd. It’s a long pull, the grade is consistent and doesn’t level off or provide any measurable break along the way…but it’s under the canopy and follows the river most of the way up, keeping us cool as the afternoon drags on. As I approach the Skyway, I notice my rear tire is slowly losing air. I top it off at the first overlook, and Matt and I begin our descent, immediately latching onto a trio of Harleys. These first few miles are fast rolling; we repeatedly chase down the Harleys on the straights, but then are held up through the turns. Though annoying, it offered a measure of safety that somebody wasn’t going to force a pass behind us while those Harleys were slowing everybody down. As the last descent began, my rear tire became squishy and I stayed on the brakes while Matt rolled on to Indian Boundary Camp. I’d finish the loop around the lake bouncing my rim off the roots, then threw in a tube at the camp store.
After the repair and resupply, Matt and I set off towards Farr Gap enjoying the river-side descent through the camping areas. As we begin climb #3 (Matt’s micro-managing Garmin says climb #9), I hear a burst of tire buzz behind me, then Matt says, “You’re not going to believe this…”. Thinking (hoping!) maybe he snapped his chain, Matt tells me he broke his frame: split the drive-side yoke near the bottom-bracket. Matt can’t even coast on the broken frame as any weight on the rear wheel pulls the tire into the chain-stay. We make a plan for me to finish the route while he walks the ~10 miles back to Indian Boundary camp, then I’ll pick up Babe the Big Blue Ox (Matt’s Festiva) and drive up to camp to get him. I grind up Farr Gap and wind through the 7-mile descent into Jake Best camp…hero gravel, these miles zip by quickly. The last obstacle is the doubletrack climb out of Jake Best; you gain less than 1000 feet over 9 miles, but it’s basically a series of rollers pointed uphill. The remaining 12 miles is smooth gravel and pavement returning to the Tellico River. I arrive at the car just as lights become necessary, then load up and drive up the Skyway to get Matt. He’s chilling on the porch of the Indian Boundary camp store, having arrived there on foot maybe 30 minutes earlier. By the time we roll into Etowah, only McDs and Wawful House appear open…waffles it is.