Fortunately, I conned, er, I mean I had some like minded riding companions, Chris Dillow, Rob Morley (that's right guys Rob was on the bike in the mountains, in March with snow on the ground nontheless - I have pics to prove it), Scooby, Brad Reed, David Hayter, and Paul Windsor. We had enough to make a nice paceline on the flats (if you can call it "flat") that led up to Iron Mtn.
Notice the snow?
Now check out the snow on Iron Mtn (highest point in the pic). That's where we are going.
On the lower slopes of Iron Mtn, I stopped for nature and then probably rode to hard to catch back up with everyone which included David "I'm to fat to climb - wah" Hayter. I can give David a hard time, he expects it from me. In his honor, he hasn't ridden much all winter and came out for hellride. What he lacks in brains, he makes up for in guts.
Anyway, on top of Iron, Brad and Scooby called it a day to take care of business at home and that left me, Rob, David, Paul and Chris to head over into North Carolina and to the second climb of the day - Indian Graves Gap. But first, we had 12 or so miles of relatively easy riding through Buladean and along the Toe River on Hwy 197. I always know when the evil is about to come on Hwy 197. You are riding along the Clinchfield RR and it is amazingly flat and very easy. Then after a couple of miles, you can see the turn towards Tennessee. It is bad.
The climb proper is actually a stairstep one with 4 main "steps" and totals about 9 miles. The first 3 steps are very steep and relatively short compared to the 4th one which is roughly as long as the other 3 combined. Grades are in the 10-15% range with a couple of 15%+ spots ( I am guessing). After the first 3 steps, you actually have a nice descent and some flat to ride for about 3/4 of a mile. Just enough to make the uninitiated think there is light at the end of the tunnel. Soon you realize though, the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a freight train heading your way. Step 4 is a bitch! It is steep and unrelenting.
The pic DOES NOT do the slope here justice. Look at the powerlines and you get an idea of the grade. There are some cool views though.
I am not a good climber especially on steep, long climbs. That is why I spend most of my training time in the mountains. I got in trouble early on step 4 and about midway up and then it happened:
I blew up. I kinda figured I might since I have been experimenting with the full line of Hammer Products and I ran out of Heed and Hammer Gel this week. I went back to Brand X that I used last year and some Perpetuem. I used that the whole ride and just didn't feel as snappy as usual. Some of that may have been from the ride itself but I never bonked in the previous few weeks and the rides were just as long. If that's not a product endorsement, I don't know what is.
I suffered and wobbled my way to the Tennessee State Line and the top of the climb where almost everyone else was waiting. It was downhill to Erwin TN and some FOOD!
I am not ashamed to admit we collectively chose to eliminate the climb of Buffalo Mtn and headed back to Johnson City via the busy but gloriously flat Erwin Hwy.
Rolling through the campus of ETSU, we congratulated each other for bagging one of the toughest rides in our area, in March (early March) in the cold and with snow on the ground.
We did about 72 miles in 5:00 and climbed roughly 7000 feet. It was good.