Monday, July 23, 2012

Unicoi Gap

Abnormal is the new normal.

I think that's just how it's going to be for a while. Maybe for a long while. "Nothing endures but change."

Something like that.

Case in point... I haven't seen the road or the woods in a couple of weeks, except on TV.

Of course, I've been watching the Tour, so today, when I did get a chance to ride again, I felt like putting in a million miles on the road. I've long wanted to ride from my house to Helen and back and today seemed like the right day to try it.

I tried to get up at 6 but it just didn't work. 8 turned out to be more my speed but it took forever to get out of the house. I probably rolled out at 9. It was damp and cool outside and my driveway was slippery. I'd soaked myself in sunscreen but it seemed foolish at the time. There wasn't a sliver of sunlight visible in any direction until I got out of the neighborhood.

I've been known to do The Zero but today's ride seemed like it might demand a few calories.


I wound my way north, back and forth across Highway 400, past some awesome old houses...

 Old House

...past an old cemetery with gnarly, bent, and broken old tombs.


Past the Chestatee.


I've driven from Dahlonega to the Jean Anderson intersection (where you hang a right toward Helen) a hundred times, maybe more, but for some reason it seemed to go on about 10 times further than I expected today. The horse farm where they give the trail rides always seemes like it's most of the way to the intersection but it's actually much closer to Dahlonega than that. I guess I'll have to keep that in mind.

Also, the road is called Long Branch Road, and with the Chestatee at the south end, I guess I should have realized that the road runs up the Long Branch valley to whatever unnamed gap lies up that way. This never occurred to me driving it, but it was immediately obvious on the bike.


For whatever reason, the next leg after that seemed about as long as I expected.

My stomach was getting empty again for some reason so I stopped at a gas station for more calories.


I had an ice cream sandwich too and it was really good.

Closer to Cleveland I caught my first glimpse of the mountains over a massive field of corn.

 First Glimpse of the Mountains

Traffic on the highway was remarkably light for some reason.

My legs still felt sleepy. Usually if I've bene off the bike for a while, it takes a good 30 miles to warm up. Maybe it would take longer today.

The mountains drew ever closer.

 Slightly Closer

Where were my legs?

The road bent left and ran along the west flank of Long Mountain. At the north end lay the little town of Cleveland - gateway to the mountains.


I guess it goes without saying that the sun was finally out in full force at this point. It wasn't Texas-hot but it was definitely getting warm.

Pressing further north, I passed Mount Yonah...


...and made my way into Helen.


Helen is always packed. Driving in can take a half hour from the edge of town to the center. I passed a hundred cars or more on the shoulder.

I was actually stunned when I discovered that it's legal to pass cars on bike. A guy in an orange Camaro seemed pretty well stunned himself and pulled over on me until his front right tire was off the road on the grass. "You shall not pass!" All I could do was shrug my shoulders at him, which appeared to be what he was looking for, and he let me by. It was weird.

I'd long wanted to ride to Helen and back, but my head was full of Tour-inspired bad ideas and I felt a little ambitious.

On to Unicoi Gap!

I should have realized how bad of an idea this was because my legs still felt weak and my breathing was garbage, but hey, I was way up there already. Might as well, right?


I imagined myself Thomas Voeckler, confidently charging over the Pyrenees, but in reality I crawled up the mountain, drawing dissatisfied looks from the roadies descending in the other direction.

Ohhh, it was a crawl, but I made it.

 Unicoi Gap

Then I sat down on the steps of the AT for a while.

An older gentleman and his wife were looking for Horsetrough Falls. I pointed them in the right direction.

It was hot. It was hot in the shade. I hadn't been drinking enough I guess.

I downed most of what I had and headed back toward Helen. You'd think that I'd have gotten some recovery on the descent, being downhill and all, but if you've descended off of Unicoi before then you know that's just crazy-talk.

My plan all along had been to get some lunch in Helen, so I stopped at the Nacoochee Grill and called Clark to see if he and Suzy wanted to meet me for a bite. Or, at least, I tried to. I had my wife's phone and I'm not sure the number it it for them was right - the voice mail message didn't sound like what I remember. Dangit.

 Nacoochee Tavern

It was Two-something. We needed to be in Douglasville by 5 or 6 to pick up my kids from my mom's place. I could either eat, rest and ride home or call my wife to pick me up. It would take an hour to eat and rest. The ride back would take 3 or 4 hours, assuming I didn't bonk or worse. I'd been too ambitious.

I'd only called my wife to save me once before, and she wasn't too upset when I called again. I ate a really good chicken parmesan sandwich and sat in the shade while she drove over to pick me up.

And that's how it ended today.

Next time?

I'd like to try again. Will I? I hope. We'll have to see what the future holds.


  1. You must have had the wrong digits, I'd have totally saved you!

  2. Dangit! When I dunked my phone in the Etowah I lost all my current numbers and all I've got is old numbers that I transferred out of my wife's phone. Could you email me your number?