|At the finish (notice who has the deepest squat hold 😏)|
The Tellico Highlands is one in a series of three gravel ITT's put on by Tennessee Gravel. I had completed the Death March Revival back in the winter and the Dirty 130 last month. Wanting to finish all three before the end of June (the series runs from July 2020 through June 2021), I enlisted some awesome suffer buds, Jeff Cohen and John Switow.
This would be my 4th BDR for the year. I suppose I should give you some background into why I call some of my adventures Big Dumb Rides. BIG stands for a challenge that I think is probable, but that it is going to be hard, really hard. I will have to dig deep, not only physically, but mentally, as well. There will be times of pure joy smattered with bits of holy hell. And it is how I respond to the suck that will determine the outcome. I go BIG for me, not for a podium, not to compare myself to others, but to compete against myself.
DUMB stands for the look I get when I tell non ultra endurance cyclists or athletes what I am about to do. There are many who just don't get it or just maybe have never experienced that endorphin rush. To them it seems like lunacy. Why would you want to put your body through that, they say. Why not? Where's the challenge of sitting at home, inside, doing nothing but mind-numbing activities? You have this great machine, your body, right at your fingertips, just dying to show you the magic it can perform. Take it for a test ride and you will be amazed at what you can do, given a little training and mental fortitude.
Your BDR doesn't have to be what my BDR is. It can be anything that takes you to the edge of your limit. And what you will find is that those limits can be pushed beyond what you think they are. The after effects are phenomenal!
Now, back to the Tellico Highlands ITT. 90 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing, as fast as you can do it. Self-supported, you either carry your nutrition with you, or find re-supply along the way (filtering water or finding an open store along the route, of which there are two: Green Cove and Indian Boundary camp store). You can ride with others, but not take any assistance from them. It is up to you and only you to complete the route.
Mother Nature gave us almost primo conditions. It rained the day before, settling all the dust, but making some sections a little muddy. It was 60 degrees and overcast at the start, with no wind. Forecast called for 15% chance of scattered showers for the morning. I opted for my summer kit and took no extra clothing, i.e. vest or rain jacket. I knew it would probably be cooler up on the Skyway, but hopefully short-lived.
We started a little after 8 am. Hitting River Road, I enjoyed a brief warm up on smooth pavement before hanging a right on Wildcat. Let the climbing commence! Hero gravel! Smooth and firm made the climb seem almost too easy. Wait! What? My legs were not heavy, not barking immediately, and definitely not dead. Feeling great, but knowing the day was early, I settled into an all day speed. Everyone was all talky talky on this climb, which then rolled awhile, and then briefly descended to the start of the Dry Basin climb.
Overcast and misty was perfect for this climb which has very minimal tree cover. The gravel was settled nicely from yesterday's rain, giving us perfect traction; probably the best shape I have seen this climb in.
|Dry Basin climb|
At the top, we ran into another rider. Alex from Knoxville was out doing his own big loop, which included much of ours but then also added more Skyway and the Santeelah gravel climb. He was sorta new to the area and was out exploring. He couldn't believe just how beautiful this area of Tennessee was. I know, I have lived here my whole life and am still pinching myself when I set out on these mountainous roads.
We made good time back to River Road, opted out of the Green Cove stop and refilled our water at the game check station. It had been misting for the last 20 minutes or so, but now it turned to a light rain. At least it was warm and we were about to hard charge into the biggest climb, North River Road. This 10 mile 2500 foot climb would put us at only 29 miles in, but already having climbed 1/2 of the ride's elevation ... oof! Today would not be a PR, but a steady tempo to the top. I was still feeling good, but it appears that Jeff was feeling even better, as his pace put him out of eyesight about halfway up. John and I stayed together, knowing that if we tried to reel Jeff back in, we could easily implode.
|Rationing the sweet and salty goodness, one big bite per climb.|
My Garmin read 43 degrees at the top and we were enshrouded in clouds. I was soaked with a mixture of sweat and rain, but so far all the extremities were warm. The rain stopped, but the climbing didn't. We still had another couple of miles on the Skyway.
Oh, well, today's ride was really not about trying to get the fastest time anyway. Fellowship was one of the main goals and trumped FKT (it would have only been the fondit on an already heavily iced cake anyways). We stopped at the campground store and refilled. I made use of the campground bathhouse to empty the bladder and refresh the Chamois Butt'r. I was in heaven for a couple of minutes when I found this ...
I ran it a few cycles, warming my hands and drying out my gloves. Since the re-route had taken the wind out of my sails a little bit, I was damn sure gonna enjoy some moments of luxury!
|Happy the legs were still happy on Farr Gap|
|Farr Gap climb|
|Careful where you squat ... poison ivy galore!|
John must have gotten instant energy from his food, as he shot off like a rocket and blistered that heinous bumpy descent!
|Farr Gap vista|
Jeff and I rode a bit more cautious, what with his recent flat issue and me just playing it smart on my slightly skinnier tires than John's. Our last water refill was at the piped spring at the bottom of the descent.
|Citico Creek Road|
The final climb was Miller's Ridge. While the profile doesn't look bad, it has about a dozen or so punchy little hits that just add up to a TKO. This is where I began to crack a little. I wasn't feeling so zippy anymore, but I knew I would get through it. So I just played the suffering game, inwardly smiling and thinking, "This all you got, MR?" John ran out of gas again, but then hit the nitrous after inhaling a package of Honey Stinger blocks. I need to set him up with some sort of glucose CRI.
|But with Mountain Dews instead of Coke|
I finished the last of my PayDay at what I thought was the top, but then quickly found out that there was about another mile of this "up, down, up, down" meanness. Finally we hit Turkey Creek, a sweet sweet mixed surface buttery smooth descent. 7 miles long and at just the right grade where braking is minimal, I was in heaven.
|Smiling me, thinking that it was just all downhill from here.|
|Post ride feeding frenzy|