Mountain Range

TELLICO HIGHLANDS

Kim Ranallo (2)

3/19/22

It’s crazy to think I completed the DMR only a month ago. After the DMR, I felt renewed mentally and spiritually. That ride was an exhale for the soul. But only two weeks after, I was already scheming my next ITT pursuit: Tellico Highlands. I have done a handful of rides in the Tellico region. The gravel around the Tellico is some of my favorite because the scenery is amazing and for the most part the gravel is smooth and fast rolling.

The week leading up to the ride was pretty stressful, leaving me with no extra mental bandwidth to prepare for the ITT. I did manage to study the route closely and of course planned out all of my bail-out options but I had no spare time for the nerves to set in. My alarm for 4:45a came too quickly the day of, and I groggily fumbled my way out the door. The drive from Chattanooga isn’t bad at all and I was at the Oosterneck pull-off by 6:45a. It was still pitch black dark out, so I took my time getting ready. I had my wheels down and rolling shortly after 7:10a. It was still dark but first light was in the sky. I was half asleep so as I made the first turn over the bridge and onto the gravel, I rolled right into a giant puddle. I didn’t even see it! I grimaced and tried to will myself into being awake and alert. I just hoped that wasn’t an omen for the day I had in front of me.

The Wildcat climb wasn’t bad. The wind was a bit gusty, but it wasn’t too troublesome. The gravel that was super fresh and loose last summer is better packed now, and it was easy to find smooth lines. I love how Wildcat snakes up and you can see the road before you and if you turn around you can see the winding road you’ve already climbed. The views here are amazing too, and I made sure to keep my head on a swivel because I didn’t want to miss any of it! My legs felt fine, but I was very conservative with my pace up this first climb. My bonk at Southern Cross two weeks ago was still freshly engraved in my mind and I wanted to steer clear of that pain cave.

I reached the top of Wildcat and decided to take a quick pee break before the descent. I was still feeling a little drowsy and out of it and I was in a hurry to keep going since I had a lot of miles left in the day. I did a little dance to pull down my drop-seat bibs and squatted. Only to discover with horror that I didn’t pull my bibs down enough. In my attempt to rectify the situation, I made it worse. I was pissed (pun intended?) at myself. What’s one supposed to do? I’m not going to turn back just because I peed my chamois. I wrung out my chamois (yes, that’s right…) and I got back on my bike, hoping the descent would air them out a little.

Up until this point, I was definitely warding off an imminent bad mood, but now I had my grumpy pee pants on. I was feeling slow on the bike, even on the descents, and now I had soggy chamois. I tried to laugh at myself because it was ridiculous, and I’ll admit - it was hard to stay cranky rolling through that beautiful terrain. I passed by the store stop, not wanting to stop this early in the day or interact with people. There was some congestion right down the road from the store where a truck was blocking the entire road while he struggled to back up a long trailer into a driveway. I slowed to a stop but did not have the patience to wait for this guy to figure it out. I shouldered my bike and hopped over a muddy ditch and around the traffic jam. I kept on past the game check station, mostly because I was getting a little agitated with the people and cars around. I felt I had enough water to make it to Indian Boundary and worst case scenario I could always stop to filter. I made the right turn onto North River and immediately felt more at ease now that I was off the main road and away from the cars.

The climb up to the Cherohala had me feeling surly. I was mostly frustrated that my pace felt so slow. I was still trying to be conservative but I felt at this rate I would be out there for well over 10 hours. I let the negative thoughts pass and kept my focus on turning the cranks. Before long I was at the parkway. I took a quick second to put on my wind jacket and off I went. The descent was fast and exciting for this non-roadie. The wind was blustering and when I would turn a corner the headwind would become a hellacious crosswind, pushing the bike around beneath me. After spending all morning crawling up climbs, I was grateful to finally be ticking some faster miles but I was definitely relieved when I reached the turn off to Indian Boundary. I loved the trail that meandered around the lake. This was definitely a highlight, and the point where my day started to turn around for the better. The weather was absolutely perfect, sunshine and warm for a shoulder season day - a big improvement from my freezing day on the DMR. I took my time on the trail, soft pedaling and soaking in the views of the lake and mountains. The general store was still closed for the winter season which I was expecting, so I cruised into the campground. I made a pit stop at the toilet to avoid another pee disaster. Then, I walked over to a water spigot but much to my dismay - no water came out. I went to the next campsite over and I couldn’t get that water to work either. Surely there was water at this campground, as there were a ton of people staying here, but I couldn’t figure it out. Cars were driving through and campers were looking curiously at me. I don’t know what it is about these big self-supported rides, but I always feel a little feral during them. I picked up my bike and headed out of the campground. A car passing by stopped and rolled down the window. I tried to keep going but they were already talking at me, asking if I knew where some overlook was. I looked at him dumbfounded and told him I had no freaking clue. I shook my head and kept pedaling, having had enough human interaction for one ride.

I found my happy place again on the quiet gravel leading out of Indian Boundary. I was a little concerned about my water situation, after being unsuccessful with filling at Indian Boundary. I had a water filter and there was plenty of water around, but I was feeling lazy/impatient and didn’t want to stop again. I figured I would deal with it when I was almost empty. I turned onto Doublecamp and not far up the road I spotted a piped spring. Jackpot! I was relieved and was able to quickly refill and keep moving. Doublecamp was a bit more rugged than I was anticipating but the wildflowers and the creek gave me plenty to look at. I grunted my way up to Cold Spring road and the glorious 8 mile descent that followed made me forget about all of the climbing. I could not get over how beautiful it was and all the fast, swooping switchbacks had me squealing “Weeeee!” with joy. I felt silly, for I was out in the woods doing another Big Dumb Ride by myself and loving every second of it, pee chamois and all. The bliss and peace that finds me out there is calming and a great antidote to the stressors of life.

I was having such a blast flying down Citico Road that I almost missed the turn onto the unmaintained gated gravel road. The climbing was tough on this section, but I saw bike tire marks on the ground which got me excited because I knew some friends who were doing a different route in the Tellico area that day. This lit the late matches for me, as I chased the imaginary rabbit in hopes of potentially catching up to friends. The double track was rough and tough and there were fallen tree limbs everywhere. It felt like a cyclocross challenge at this point. There were so many sticks on the ground it was like pedaling through a minefield with derailleur bombs ready to detonate at any time. I picked my lines carefully and pedaled as if I was going to be able to catch up to some friendly faces. It definitely made this section go by quickly, but I could see how it would be easy to fall apart here this late in the day. I never did catch up to them, but once I turned onto Turkey Creek I knew I was in the home stretch. Like a horse running to the barn, I finally let myself pedal harder and it felt good to push power that late in a ride. I hammered it on River Road back to Oosterneck and I definitely screamed a victorious “Yes!!” when my car came into sight.

Despite the frustrations that come with a low energy day - slow pace, flat mental game, bad mood - I am very proud of this ride. I think the fact I did this ride on a day when I just wasn’t feeling it makes it even that much more of an accomplishment. It’s easy to do big rides when you’re chomping at the bit, but can you still get it done even when the fire in your belly has dulled to an ember? It’s not really about motivation - it’s about consistency and how you show up throughout all of life’s ups and downs. I’m immensely grateful for the bike and for these challenging routes that help keep things in perspective. Onwards!