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Cherohala Challenge June 15, 2002, Part 1(29 posts)

Cherohala Challenge June 15, 2002, Part 1Mike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:35 PM
The pictures were taken a few days after the ride but the weather conditions were simular to the day of the ride. I hope this isn't overboard but the ride is just so nice I couldn't really leave anything else out. I made it home with over 100 pictures (digital is amazing) and tried to pick the best. Sorry if some do not seem to clear but after cropping and scaling-down of the originals, some quality is lost.

The Cherohala Challenge is appropriately named. With 114 miles of riding and total altitude gain of around 9200 feet, it is a challenge. The ride starts and finishes at the High School in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. The school was open and had locker rooms available for changing and for some non-portapotty action. Real ceramic here! The weather forecast was great (and correct); sun, a few clouds, mild temps, and not much wind down low. There was a bit of chill in the air at the start so I packed my arm warmers and raincoat in a jersey pocket for the higher elevations. I estimate 150 to 175 riders started. And we did start pretty close to 8 AM, as scheduled.

As for me. . . I was apprehensive at the start. I had a headache. I had never ridden more than 80 miles in one day and I had certainly never been on any rides with so much "UP" in them. I was shooting for 8 hours ride time but didn't even know if I could go that long. I was not sure how much "go juice" I was going to need; I was afraid I would run out early. To add to my uncertainties, I had found a crack in my frame while cleaning it a couple days before the ride, so I wasn't on my ride. A friend of mine at work heard me whining to my girlfriend and offered me his bike for the weekend. I still can't believe it! I owe him big time! It had a triple; I am used to a double. 172.5 mm cranks on this bike, mine has 170 mm. Mine was around 5 pounds lighter than his, and I don't care what anyone says, 5 extra pounds is a lot in some circumstances. It did ride nice but it just didn't feel the same, at all. It was a bike to ride though, so I'm not bitching, just letting you know I was wondering why I was there. Once we started riding though, I completely forgot everything that had been bothering me. Everything! The sounds and visuals of a good size pack of cyclist, along with the collective energy of everyone around, and the road itself, just seemed to wash away all that crap bugging me.
Cherohala Challenge June 15, 2002, Part 2Mike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:36 PM
The first 25 miles or so finds mostly farmland and small, rural communities common to SE Tennessee. Lots of moisture in the air kept the glasses fogged and patches of fog floated, ghostlike, here and there around the rolling terrain. Other than some serious accordion action early on, the front group remained quite large until around the 12 mile mark. I was about 40 back from the front, just about where I wanted to be. We were on a fairly narrow road and came to a left turn onto an even smaller road, which left several people wishing they could fly as they dropped off the edge of the road, jamming things up pretty bad. I am not sure but I believe 20 - 30 in front of the pile-up were able to ride off. A few smaller groups formed after that but nothing big, at least not that I saw. Groups formed, broke up, others formed, you know the routine. Meanwhile, off to the South, (right), the haze tried to conceal the heights of the Unicoi Mountains; (I always thought these were the Unaka Mountains but the map says otherwise). Home of the Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests, through which we would be passing in a few hours. Hmmm, looks like lots of whitecaps of clouds over there. I saw several people glance in that direction but not for long and I don't think anyone talked about it. I did get in with a group that worked together for a bit but that fell apart on a hill just before the first SAG.

The first SAG was located around the 25 mile point, and more or less marks the beginning of the hills. I filled my water bottle, off-loaded my used water, ate a banana quarter and grabbed an oatmeal and raisin cookie to eat while getting back into ride mode on my own. I was limiting myself to less than five minutes off the bike per SAG. This section of the ride skirts the southwestern edge of The Great Smokey Mountain's National Park. The rolling terrain gives way to steeper slopes of numerous ridges and ravines. There are a number of small dams built by TVA to display mans power over nature. . . oops. . . to generate hydroelectric power for the area. The route passes Chilhowee Dam first, after which the road starts to get a little steeper and a little more curvaceous. I tried, but failed, to grab the back of a faster moving group of 6 riders as they passed me. Soon after, 2 others caught me, I figured they would go by but they didn't. They stayed on my back wheel so I just stayed in my own little groove. The wind was right, and I pulled along at 20 - 22 MPH for about 10 minutes. After which, the three of us worked nicely together until the road got steeper and they fell behind. The woods are thick and dark and almost cool. I was loving it. Managed to catch the 6 that had passed me earlier. I just hung around with them for the next few miles. Part of this road is known as The Tail of the Dragon, with 318 curves (or something like that). We also passed another dam, Calderwood, and some scenic views that were quite wonderful. Another thing, the road was being paved. So the tar from the pavement stuck to the tires, and the tires picked up all the dirt and rocks from the road. The tires even felt like they were sticking to the pavement; you could hear it. Nothing like the road trying to hold your tires while riding up a hill.
Chilhowee DamMike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:42 PM
Some curves on The Tail of the DragonMike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:44 PM
Calderwood DamMike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:47 PM
Cherohala Challenge June 15, 2002, Part 3Mike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:38 PM
After leaving the Tail of the Dragon, at Deals Gap, there was a nice down hill run which passed above, then by, Cheoah Dam, then crossing a bridge at the base of the dam. Quite impressive. One of the V-shaped, tall dams, filling a narrow but deep ravine. And the structures and equipment off to the right side made me feel like I had found something out of that Myst game. Part of the movie, The Fugitive, was filmed in this area; perhaps it was at this dam. More up hill after that, oh joy! Somewhere around this point I began having doubts I would be able to finish. I was feeling tired, my head was aching, my backside was aching. "Just keep going", I told my self, "just keep going." I was almost out of water but figured the second SAG would be close by so I just concentrated on the scenery.

Just as I ran out of water, the second SAG appeared. I still had a headache and the river behind the SAG looked inviting for a swim. Sticking to my 5 minute rule, it was: fill the water bottle and now almost empty go-juice bottle with water, eat a couple banana quarters, water the flowers, and pick up a most colorful M&M filled cookie to eat while setting my mind back to the road up ahead. Less than 10 miles after leaving the second SAG the route made its way into Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. If you like camping, go there. There are stands of old growth forest with lots of trails and another dam. Santeetlah Dam can be seen through the trees just after entering the park. Riding through the forest revived me a bit, the woods were thick with giant trees and other stuff to look at. Joyce Kilmer just kind of throws you out onto the Cherohala Skyway though. The big hill of the day. I was feeling better now, overlooking the perma-headache I'd been sporting all day. I have ridden this road before so I had a good idea of how much to push myself. And I was encouraged by my time to this point, as I was running a little ahead of what I had planned; actually, I was over 20 minutes up. Anyway, back to the hill. It is steep. I don't know how steep. . . it's just steep. And it is sustained, 15 miles or so. At some points you can look up and see the road cutting the ridges ahead. At several places you can actually see the road above going up to the left, and above that, the road rising back to the right, and above that, it's headed up to the left again. Just kind of sawing its way up the mountain. Passing the 3000 foot elevation marker, I'm still feeling good. Around that elevation, I heard some strange birds. I don't know what they were but they were making the oddest noise. Do you remember those plastic pipe toys that would whistle when you spun them? They were colored plastic, 3 feet long or so, and they were corrugated inside and out. That's what these birds sounded like. The scenery really is incredible as the road rises into the mountains from the forest below.
Cheoah Dam from the topMike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:49 PM
Cheoah Dam from the bottomMike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:51 PM
Little pool of water near SAG 2Mike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:54 PM
Behind SAG 2Mike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:59 PM
Start of the SkywayMike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:01 PM
On the way upMike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:04 PM
Cherohala Challenge June 15, 2002, Part 4Mike P
Jun 21, 2002 7:39 PM
The third SAG came into view at 3550 feet. The wind was beginning to make its presence known, blowing down from the hill above with a bit of cold in it. I filled one water bottle, leaving the other empty, still had half a bottle of go-juice, ate 2 more banana quarters. The clouds were much darker now. It didn't look like rain, however it did look cold. Passed the 4000 foot marker, looked at the winding road ahead and smiled a sadistic little smile as I realized I was going to finish. As I passed the 5000 foot marker I dropped down to that third little chainring on that triple. I had never really gotten comfortable with the differences between my bike and the one I was riding but did I ever use the crap out of the little ring the rest of the way up! And I don't care but I was more than happy it was there.

Soon I found myself at 5377 feet and the fourth SAG. The ride description says 5390 feet but the road sign says it is 5377 feet. It is possible there was a section of road as high as 5390, just not that point. The folks working there were helpful. I didn't even have to fill my water bottle; they took it from my bike, filled it and put it back for me. They were offering paper towels to stuff in the jersey for the ride down; I passed on that but did pull on the arm-warmers because it was very cold. And I treated myself to a most wonderful quarter of a PB&J, on wheat bread, with strawberry preserves, (or was it jam?). Who cares? And what a view! I stretched my back a little before getting back on the bike to start the ride down.

The ride down is not exactly all down hill. There are a couple big hills before descending into the valley below. My legs were really starting to scream each time the road turned up. The little ring was used again. If my odometer was right, and I didn't just die, I was thinking I would hit the finish in 7 1/2 hours so I was getting really happy and for some reason I was wishing for another one of those PB&Js. The downhill sections are steep and fast, with a lot of curves, nothing hair raising though. The views are, again, breathtaking. After passing 3500 feet or so, I ditched the arm warmers and settled in for some more down hill action. About that time I noticed another SAG off to the left side of the road. Didn't get anything but a PB&J. I stretched my back and neck a bit more while taking in the view. Staying aerodynamic for those long hills is hard on the back and neck. Only 15 more miles to go. Down, up, down, up, down, etc. (not sex, but fun). With 4 or 5 miles left to go, the road follows another river back into Tellico Plains. And there's the High School. I made it in 7:42 by the ride clock and my odometer showed 7:23 ride time. I was happy but worn out!

I have to say the ride support was great, as was the route, and weather. The SAGs were all well stocked and there was a SAG-wagon picking up the dead. I believe the mere presence of a blue portapotty induces the need to take care of business right when the ride starts, so the lack of those blue things was appreciated. I highly recommend this ride!

Still on the way upMike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:06 PM
Yes, still going upMike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:07 PM
5000 feetMike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:09 PM
A tree near SAG 4Mike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:11 PM
Still on the way to SAG 4Mike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:13 PM
SAG 4 elevationMike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:15 PM
On the way downMike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:17 PM
View from the last SAGMike P
Jun 21, 2002 8:19 PM
Very nice ride report mikeScot_Gore
Jun 21, 2002 8:57 PM
I can see why it's called a challenge. Looks like a very demanding course.

Very nice. Extremely.Leisure
Jun 22, 2002 2:36 AM
So in retrospect, would you rather have used your own bike or do you think the triple turned out to be a blessing in disguise? The dragon tail looks like a lot of fun, and the hills look pretty impressive.
I have thought about the triple/double thingMike P
Jun 22, 2002 6:41 PM
I would like to be able to say I am strong enough that I could have done the ride with the double, but I can't. I may have finished but I would have had trouble. I don't think I am going to put a triple on my next bike, I'm just going to have to get stronger.

To answer your question; without a doubt, the triple was a welcome blessing. However, I miss my bike and would like to have made the ride on it.

Great pics, Mike.look271
Jun 22, 2002 9:38 AM
Looks like a great ride. Too bad I missed you at the 3/3 in Chattanooga. Maybe I'll go down south for this one next year =).I'm definately doing the 3/3 again. How did you make out with your Raleigh?
They are going to replace the frameMike P
Jun 22, 2002 11:39 AM
It would be worth the trip. If I had to choose between the two, Cherohala, without a doubt. Next year will be my fourth for the 3/3, I may have to do the full 100 instead of the metric though.

I will be getting a Raleigh Pro as a replacement. It weighs more than the 2.4 lbs my old frame weighed. Hopefully it will last longer. It's a steel frame and the reviews I have been able to find are positive. I am not sure if I like the paint job though but I have only seen pictures of it. Perhaps I'll like it better in person. If not, I am going to see if the shop will let me use the frame towards purchase of something I like.

Jun 22, 2002 12:57 PM
I have seen them in a local shop. Not a bad bike. I'll bet you'll like the ride. Maybe I'll do both of the rides.I'm getting sick in my old age and love a good route with lots of climbs. The views from your pics are spectacular. Hopefully it'll be sunny next year and I'll actually be able to see from the tops of the mtns in the 3/3!
2 thumbs up. nmMB1
Jun 22, 2002 4:08 PM
Brings back painful memories.AllUpHill
Jun 22, 2002 5:48 PM
What beautiful pictures. Now I have the urge to drive down there and ride the course again on my own, perhaps in the Fall. Somehow I managed to miss most of that scenery when I did the ride last year. I have a murky recollection of one of the dams, and I think I glanced over my shoulder once at the mountains below but was in too much misery to care! You took the right approach to enjoy the ride and pause at the food stops.

I do recall, as I climbed up the Skyway, many, many folks--perhaps a local church group--on k-mart bikes coasting down, having been driven to the top of the mountain and dropped off. Cheaters!

You're right about the hills that spoil the descent back to Tellico Plains. I reached the top and triumphantly prepared to coast the entire way down. I had seen the elevation profile of the course and the impression it gives is that there are two tiny upslopes which you can just casually big-ring over during the course of this enourmous, continuous 30 mile descent. Nope. They're substantial hills. They bring you to a grinding halt as you try to get your muscles to work again, by this point cold, stiff and fatigued.