|Mountains to molehills Ride report -LONG-||Mike P|
Nov 22, 2001 6:46 AM
|This spring I was looking at a topo map of the Cherokee National Forrest, just NE of Chattanooga Tennessee. I noticed a road screaming, "BIG HILLS, NICE VIEWS!!!" running through part of the map and figured I should learn a little about this road to see if it would be a good place to take a ride. It turns out the road (165 in TN, 143 in NC) is a scenic highway, the Cherohala Skyway. The Cherohala Skyway runs from Tellico Plains, in Tennessee, to near Robbinsville, NC. All in all, about 36 miles each way, rising from 900 ft above sea level up to as high as 5300 ft and then back down to 2400 ft. I found a lot of historical information about the area and the road and became more interested the more I learned. I decided to go ride it before the end of the year. I began riding more of the mountain roads near home to prepare.
I live in Chattanooga. It is located in the Tennessee Valley, which is surrounded by several "mountains", Signal Mountain, Raccoon Mountain and Lookout Mountain, to name a few. I was raised here; so this area defined my personal definitions of what valleys and mountains are, and as a child, everything seemed big. I grew up. Learned about mountains bigger than what is here. But, I had never ridden a bike up anything that had an elevation change greater than 1000 feet or so. . . until this past Saturday.
I had everything ready Friday night. The bike and most of my gear I loaded in the truck before I went to try to fall asleep. Set the alarm for 6AM, fell asleep fairly quickly, woke up a couple times to pee and drink more water, which was expected, then woke up at 5:59. I mentally ran through all I had packed, wondering what I would forget, ate breakfast, wondered again what I was forgetting, and was out the door by 7AM.
The drive was nice, just under 2 hours and little traffic. I wasn't sure where to park and ended up parking in the end of the gravel parking lot of The Tellico Beach Hamburger and Hotdog Drive-in. There was no sand. It was cold when I first got out of the truck, 35 degrees, so I took my time getting ready. By 10 it was 40 degrees so I finished stretching and reached for my jacket, which wasn't there. Now I realized what I had left at home. I had a fleece jacket that would have to do. The bike was ready, I was ready.
The first 3 miles followed the banks of the Tellico River. It was up-hill but easy enough to get the muscles warmed up. What a beautiful place. After leaving the waters edge the hills became steeper, but not too steep. In places I was able to see the road cut into the ridges far ahead. There were no clouds and not much of a breeze to speak of. At mile 11 or so the hill became even more steep but the sun was getting high enough to tease me with a little warmth, and the road found its way to a ridge-line, opening up to amazing views on each side of the road. I had to shed my jacket and tights around mile 12. The scenery made the hill less painful and at times I had slow down a bit, reminding myself I had never ridden up so much. Enjoyed a good down-hill section for 1.5 miles at mile 16 (this one really hurt me on the way back). Then it was back up again. I reached the North Carolina state line at mile 20 at about 4200 ft.
The state line was my planned bail-out point if I just exploded. I was feeling very good and felt I would be able to make it to my planned turn around at the highest point on the road and still be able to make it back without killing myself. The views were even better now (it was a bit hazy from some forest fires to the NW), plus, it was only 8 more miles, so I continued on. 8 miles of up, down, up, down, up, . . . finally reaching Santeetlah Gap Overlook, 5390 ft. It took 2:27 to get there and I averaged a whopping 11.5 MPH for 28.5 miles.
This is getting really long so I am going to spare you the details of the trip down. It was easier and much faster but still just a scenic as the trip up. By the end, ride time was 3:46, averaging 15.1 MPH. In the end, I was completely exhausted but at the same time I felt re-energized in many ways. A good way to begin the Thanksgiving holidays. So, now the "mountains" of home seem a little smaller so I am planning on spending more time up there this spring.
Overall, the entire road was in great shape. Very smooth, wide and clean, not overly steep but challenging. Most traffic I saw was motorcycles, few cars. There were a lot of hunters out so if you go, don't bring your deer or turkey.