Monday, April 15, 2019

Tour de Liverance

About a month ago Kathryn noticed a ride, on Facebook I think, that struck her as exactly the kind of thing I'd be into. "It's called Tour de Liverance!" I'd heard of it but I didn't know when it was, or any other details, so I looked it up, and oh yeah, she was right.

At the time we were in the middle of a move, Florine was coming to stay with us the next week, and we'd be really unpacking the week after that... So, it wasn't until a week and a half ago that I finally signed up. Funny thing there though, I'd crashed at Cochran Mill earlier that day, busted a rib, but not yet realized how bad it was until the next day, AFTER signing up.

I don't know if it was fractured or just bruised, but it was definitely "busted". Sadly, I know from experience, that busted ribs hurt terribly a week later, then quickly get better. The ride was a week and a half out. I reasoned that it wouldn't be pretty, but it was still doable. In fact, it worked out better than I'd expected. Friday night I was only a little sore. Saturday morning (at 5AM!) I felt almost fine.

I grabbed some breakfast at the local Waffle House, which is now a different Waffle House from what used to be the local Waffle House, and had fun talking to the ladies that worked there. "How you know the Waffle House lingo for ordering?" "I've been eating at Waffle House for like 30 years!" "30 years! He said 30 years! You get a 10% discount for coming here for so long!" Waffle Houses vary significantly in how they execute "order scramble WELL" but this one was perfect, and it made me really happy that my new local Waffle House is so good.

Ellijay is like 1.5 hours away, so I got there right after 7, but the lot at the Ellijay Primary School was empty. 10 minutes later I saw what looked like volunteers start to assemble, and it looked like maybe a little further down the street was where we were supposed to meet up. Yep, there were Corvus Racing flags flying on either side of the bridge over the Ellijay River...

...and tents in a little parking area beyond.

Chris Gray, event director extraordinaire, met me at the tent and got me checked in. I knew his name from seeing it on the TNGA roster either last year or the year before, and I recognized him from having seen him milling around the start as well, but it was cool to finally meet him. I didn't know how he'd fared in the TNGA though, so we talked about it a bit. Turned out he'd crashed on the Hickory Nut, landed on a big rock, right into his IT band, wasn't able to sleep it off that night, and had to pack it in the next day. No shame in that. It's a tough route, and the Hickory Nut has a eats bikes and riders alike.

It was over an hour and a half until the start, so I kicked back in my truck and rested for about half of that. Everybody in the world started showing up though... I got up and got ready when the excitement finally got to me.

Ready to ride.

Well, kind of. I'd originally put my number on the bars, both out of habit, and because I never liked putting it on my jersey. If you put it over the pockets then you're constantly trying to reach between it and the pocket. If you put it higher up on your back, then it flaps around and you can feel the safety pins. When in Rome, though, right? I ended up moving it to my jersey, and, as expected, kept trying to reach between it any my pocket all day.

I saw Mark Johnson for about 2 seconds somewhere in there. I also ran into Kate Gates and she introduced me to Mike Rasch. Mike's quite a character. He's also a New Orleans boy, and a 2-time TNGA finisher, so we had a lot to talk about! There's some festival going on in N.O. this weekend, so he's up here getting away from all of the tourists. We used to do the same thing: Oak Mountain and Tsali, every major holiday.

We didn't have too long to talk though. I wasn't sure how well the SAGs would be stocked, and I needed to run to the store for some calories. When I got back, it was time to line up.

I recognized the kid lined up next to me from the Cartecay New Year's Day ride. He and a buddy of his had hung with the leaders all day, and they'd both attacked me on the final couple of climbs, which was a great surprise at the time. He was doing the "short" option, but it was still the longest ride he'd ever done. It's quite a thing when you're lined up on a mountain bike, and the short option is 45 miles. That's the sport these days!

We had a few minutes left before the riders meeting, so I powered up my GPS, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. And some more. Nothing. It would not acquire satellites. Continue Acquiring. Nothing. Retry. Nothing.

Yikes! Clouds and space weather. I don't know. It's happened before.

I missed most of the meeting running back over to the tent to get a cue sheet. I almost missed the start.


I'd lined up at the back, planned on coming in DFL, and as such, had a nice, lazy start.

It had me a little worried though... There were three ride options - 45, 68 (I think, 60-something), and 105 miles. I was doing the 105, but the 45 mile riders turned left at the first turn, while everybody else turned right. Which way do I go? I checked and double-checked the cue sheet before turning right, and then checked it like 3 more times to be sure.

That sucked, so just in case, I kept trying to get my GPS to acquire, and 5 or 6 turns later it finally did! Woohoo! What a relief.

From downtown Ellijay, we took some scenic back roads over to Gates Chapel Road. And I do mean scenic.

How I never discovered these roads on my own is a mystery, but a lot of them were new to me.

From Gates Chapel Road, we spun up over Holly Creek Gap and back up over Mulberry Gap, for the first good climbs of the day. I somehow set a PR on the climb from CCC Camp Road up over MGap proper. I also rode behind a guy who kept making wrong-turns because he had his GPS zoomed in too much for the lag. He eventually got it straightened out, but we kept passing each other for a while.

Somewhere in there, I also ran into a guy that I'd ridden with a few times and our conversation went something like this:

(him) "It seems like I know you from somewhere. Did we ride together recently?"

"Yeah, I think we've ridden together a couple of times. Did you ride the Fireball Fiasco this year?"

"Yeah, I rode it with (two people's names that I don't remember). Oh! You were that guy that got in the water!" (hits brakes and drops back laughing) "Josh! Josh! Hey! Oh my gosh! This guy is crazy! ..."

I think it was Josh. I couldn't hear the rest of their conversation because we hit a downhill right about then, but what I had heard made me crack up laughing.

It started raining a little south of Hwy 52, and it made everything shine and glisten.

Sad that the photo doesn't do it justice.

It got a little cold there for a while too, and I feared I hadn't adequately prepared for the weather.

SAG 1 was at a church somewhere back near Ellijay. The rain had died down by then. Some kids were blowing vuvuzellas as the riders approached, and the SAG workers were cheering. They held up my bike while I stuffed my face with pastries and candy from the elaborate banquet they had laid out for us. Each of the SAGs were Deliverance-themed. This one was named Banjos and Bacon. Everyone was wearing overalls and the banquet included all of these elaborate bacon candies. They looked so good, and smelled even better. I craved the salt in them, but I feared that if I indulged, that it would sit in my stomach for hours, denying me any additional nutrition for the duration.

Dangit! No bacon.

The batteries in my GPS were sketchy Circle-K brand garbage, and had already worn themselves out. I'd brought a pair of trusty Duracells along to manage that exact eventuality, and swapped them at the SAG. This involved detaching and reattaching my GPS. The unit itself is a super bulk monster from like 2006 and I won't even attempt to describe how incredibly rigged-up and ghetto the mount was, except that it involved duct tape, zip ties, and a mount for a different GPS unit. It must have looked ridiculous to the NICA kid holding up my bike. Thanks to him for not laughing.

I'd hoped that it wouldn't have to reacquire satellites, or would have a quick and easy time of it, but no, it took like another 45 minutes, and my cue sheet had already been destroyed in the rain. Fortunately the route was actually marked! I didn't know this when I started the ride, but I probably would have if I hadn't been fooling around with my GPS during the riders' meeting.

The irony.

Every turn had either a series of orange arrows painted on the road, a little yellow sign, or both. In a few locations there were ribbons too. There had been a few spots, transition to or from gravel, where the arrow had been worn away by the time I'd gotten there, but overall, it was pretty good. Unless I just wasn't paying any attention, I figured shouldn't have any trouble. And, this turned out to be the case. I was able to follow the arrows until my GPS figured itself out.

Somewhere in East Ellijay, I passed a house with a perfect little concrete quarterpipe merging up out of the curb. Looking at it, I couldn't imagine any purpose for it except being an actual ramp. It was super tempting. It was even on my right, and I like to turn left in the air. Super tempting! But I had a long ride ahead of me and there was that one time at Bull Mountain where I tore my sidewall indulging in almost the same kind of shenanigans and had to limp it through the rest of the ride. Not today! Moving on.

Almost immediately after that we started climbing this sadistically steep climb. It was right in the middle of some neighborhood too. The houses were notched in there weirdly, and it gave the whole thing the feel of a Brazilian favela. A mail truck passed me right at the bottom, and I leapfrogged it all the way up the hill. It must have been terribly frustrating for her because I couldn't easily stick to one side and she had to wait for me a few times.

We eventually made it out to 575/515...

...and the road immediately became beautiful gravel.

Perfect tread. Tons of little rollers, just the right height and pitch to carry. There was also weird scenery.

And a derelict rail.

The guy with the GPS trouble was on my tail the whole time too. We kept passing each other when one of us would have fiddle with something. There was nothing I could do to drop him, but I could stay reasonably far ahead of him if I could get ahead.

The elevation profile showed 2 big climbs - one was early in the ride, basically the entire Holly Creek/Mulberry Gap area. The other one was up over Burnt Mountain, which I knew was way later. There were little kicks elsewhere too, but the severity of them wasn't immediately discernible from the data. That East Ellijay Favela, for example, wasn't obvious. Nor was the big kick up Raven Cliffs Road.

That came next.

Woo, hoo hoo!

Quite a climb.

At the bottom, there were a bunch of blocks of something on the right hand side of the road. Tailings, they appeared to be. I wondered if the "cliffs" were a quarry face. Maybe limestone or marble, considering the location. I couln't see any cliffs through the woods, but I figured they must be back up in there somewhere. Definitely bears further investigation.

I was way out of my element by then too. I know the NF like the back of my hand, but I've never explored much south of Ellijay. I've driven over Burnt Mountain, but never ridden or hiked any of it.


Somewhere after Raven Cliffs there were these weird cows with a big white stripe all the way around their midsection.

It's kind of sad that I don't know what they're called, considering how much time I spend driving and riding around in the country, and many millions of cows I've seen in my life. But, somehow, I don't know cows. Whatever they are, I don't remember ever seeing that kind before, and they were very interesting at the time.

SAG 2 was at Chateau Meichtry.

Moonshine Madness, it was called.

Their banquet had been decimated by the riders that had already been through, at least as compared to SAG 1, but there was enough left to stuff my face again. I was actually still good on beverages too, so I didn't bother to fill up.

Graham Skardon and Mike Rasch were hanging out up the hill a bit. Graham is another PBR rider, so he came down and Kim Murrell took our picture together. I didn't immediately recognize Jason because he's grown out this triumphant beard since I last saw him. He gave me a hug, and thankfully didn't crush my ribcage too hard. They weren't riding, just hanging out, but it was a treat to see them. Totally unexpected. Kim's got this ruthless Vista 350/Mountain 450 ride up in Tennessee that is alleged to make the TNGA feel like a training ride. Not sure if I'll ever be in the right kind of shape to do it, but it's definitely on my list.

I stretched a bit, and laid down in the grass, but I felt surprisingly good for being halfway done, and figured I'd better get going before my legs got too cold.

Somewhere past SAG 2 there were markings on the road for the different loop lengths, and I got this song stuck in my head after reading them. I don't know the name of the song, but it's some trap song that Billy and I were listening to a while back while working on his condo. The guy basically calls out denominations of bills that he's throwing at strippers. He mostly says "twenny... twenny..." but then every now and then "hund'ed". And that got stuck in my head: "hund'ed". Over and over. I must have said it out loud 15 or 20 times over the next couple of miles and I'd crack up sometimes when I realized that I'd actually said it out loud.

So ridiculous. My ridiculous brain.

Somewhere in there, my back tire started feeling squishy. Yep, getting low. I had 2 CO2's, so it hit it with half of one of them and kept going. A couple of climbs later it was getting soft again, so I stopped at the next intersection to fix it.

My 20 year old bike has non-tubeless 26'ers, but these days, all non-tubeless tires are "tubeless-ready" (even 26'ers), which basically just means that they're really tight on the rim. They're tough to get off, even with a lever, and after yard-sale-ing the gear I was carrying, I realized I didn't have one. Dangit! I knew I was forgetting something. 5mm to the rescue. It takes a while, and a lot of force, but it's possible to work them off with the wrench. Score.

Mike and Graham showed up right as I was putting it all back together.

"Did you see that bear?"


There was a house on the corner there, and a bear was in their driveway, probably going for the trash cans. It had been 40 yards away from me the entire time, but I had not seen it at all. I had seen a turkey, some kind of quail, and a groundhog earlier, but not a bear. Mike and Graham had though, and Mike even got a photo of it. This led to a general discussion of bears as we rode away, and it was a really fun discussion because Mike apparently likes to personify bears, attributing human behaviors to them like verbal communication and dancing.

A few turns later we started crawling up Burnt Mountain.


A black truck passed us, and some chick "woohoo'ed" out the window at us. Mike recognized the truck as Kim and Jason's. The woohoo-girl was Kim! Ha!

We hit the Burnt Mountain overlook a few minutes later.

Check out Mike's awesome kit.

High visibility!

A few minutes later we passed Jason and Kim on the side of the road taking pictures of us.

Graham and Mike eventually pulled away from me, and Jason and Kim drove back by us.

At this point, I wasn't feeling pretty weak. All climbs were crawls. I rested on every descent. I stretched a lot. I felt like I'd make it through the ride, but that, overall, my fitness still had a long way to go.

Up the road a bit, the Canton Cartel guys had set up an unofficial SAG.

I'd just run out of Gatorade, and my other bottle was full of Tailwind, which I'd picked up at the first SAG, but never tried before in my life. They had water and more Tailwind, so I filled up on water and kept moving.

The drop off of Burnt Mountain was insanely fast. It was like dropping off the back of Hogpen, but the turns were lazy, so I didn't have to hit the brakes much at all. Man! I don't believe that I could have gone faster on that bike. It was amazing.

I was well past the halfway point by then, and though the ride had decidedly transitioned into the "work" phase, it had not yet become "suffering". The scenic backroads, all new-to-me, did a lot to keep my spirits lifted too.

Somewhere in there, I ran out of the little chocolate donuts and honey bun that I'd brought with me from that store in Ellijay, and started cracking into the "Chocolate, Nut-Butter Crackers" that I'd picked up at the first SAG. Oh, glorious confection, where have you been all my life? It was like eating a peanut-butter chocolate ice cream cone, when you start having to take bites of the cone. So good. And not terribly sweet, unlike that honey bun that had been making me a little sick at my stomach for a while now. It was a bit dry, but thanks to the Canton guys, I had plenty of water.

Actually... I say that. It wasn't the hottest part of the day, but it was still pretty hot, and I was chugging that water. A few miles from SAG 3, I was out, and started to hit the Tailwind. I've never had Tailwind before, and didn't know what to expect. Turns out I should expect it to be very salty, and to have a lingering aftertaste. It reminded me of Heed. It didn't taste like Heed, but I remember that I first got Heed at a SAG on the ORAMM and was equally surprised by how it salty it was, and by the aftertaste. Also, neither are especially citrusy, which I'd come to expect in a sports drink. It also didn't help that I was passing a warm cow pasture when I took the first swig, and the delicate interplay of aroma and aftertaste really put me off. I'll have to try it again under more controlled conditions to decide if it's actually gross or not.

Either way, it was what I had, and I was really putting it down for the next few miles.

It was after 5 as I approached the 3rd SAG. Chris sent out some pre-ride information that there was no guarantee that they'd still be there after a certain time, or have anything but water left if the were. In anticipation of this, I'd figured out where pretty much every gas station or store within a few blocks of the route was, from SAG 2 on, and put waypoints in my GPS for them.

When I hit Simmon's road, I knew that Stanley's Chevron was a couple of blocks off-route to the left. They, for sure, had anything I could possibly want, so I opted for that over SAG 3. Somehow I failed to take a photo of it, but my brain was operating in low-power mode at the time, so hopefully that can be forgiven.

Two gatorades and half a can of coke later, and I was feeling like a new man.

As I got up to get moving again, an older gentleman drove up to the spot next to the one I was sitting in.

"You about rode the tires off of that bicycle didn't you?"

"Darn near! Yes, sir!"

We both grinned these wide grins as I got up and he went it. Somehow he beat me though. Whatever he was after only took a few seconds, and he was back in his car before I was quite on my bike.

Mike and Graham were turning off of Simmons Road right as I got back on-route. Ha! "I wondered if I'd run into you guys again!"

SAG 3 was less than a mile later though. There was a crowd of smiling, cheering, overalls-wearing yahoo's there to greet us, so it appeared that I'd been a little too conservative with my trip to the gas station. Mike and Graham turned off, but I kept moving.

Not long after, I was bombing down some sweet, wide gravel road, just having passed three guys fishing off of a bridge, when I noticed that I wasn't quite following the route any more. GPS jitter? Maybe. The route was off to the right a ways, but I figured if there was a road down there, I ought to be able to see it, and I couldn't see anything.

So, I carried on a bit, just to see if things would converge. Nope.

The heck? Did I miss a turn?

Maybe back at that creek?

Yep, there was a turn there. Well marked with paint, a sign, and ribbons. I just didn't see it. Thank the Lord for a working GPS!

And I quickly realized why I couldn't see it through the woods.

Not exactly a road any more.

When it did become a road again, it had been freshly covered in big, chunky, wrestling-match gravel.

It took forever to climb. Chunky, steep, relentless hills.

What sadistic madman throws something like that in, that late in the ride? The very audacity! I love it!

When that was over, the route quickly became straight-up singletrack.

And there was an old abandoned car back in there, just for good measure.

Yeah, I'm supposed to be cranking out miles, but if there's an old car back in the woods somewhere, it's hard to resist the urge to get a photo and mark the location.

Not long after, I emerged on Turniptown Road, and I kind of knew where I was. It had been cooling off for a while too, and I actually felt really good climbing again. It was, at least, much less of a crawl than some of the others had been, earlier in the day.

There was some final-insult though. At what I imagined was the top, based on the GPS track, there was actually a bit more climbing, and then when you did start to descend, it would be a quick drop, followed by another little kick, then another quick drop. No sustained descent, and each subsequent kick was a little too much to carry.

Ha ha! You madman!

When I hit Hwy 52, I felt very relieved. I knew where I was, for sure, and it was almost dead flat to the finish.

Approaching downtown, I imagined a 1K kite strung over the road.

There was no actual kite, but there was one in my mind!

Chris was standing on the bridge, getting everybody's number as the riders came through. I didn't immediately realize that I was finished. He was standing at the start point, but I'd lined up way back from that point, so it felt like I had to keep riding up over the bridge to actually finish.

I was, in fact, done though. And man, what a ride! Great route. Unexpectedly difficult. There were so many kicks that didn't show up in the elevation profile. There was that East Ellijay favela, that Raven Cliff's Climb, that rough section at the end. And I hit Burnt Mountain in the hottest part of the day. All unexpected. I really got my money's worth.

After taking a second to collect my senses, I met Chris's family, who were all there together at the finish. Beautiful family. They all have glorious hair! Chris's is in the form of an amazingly long, braided beard. His daughter's is long, curly, and shockingly red. And, his son's is long, blonde, and wavy, almost exactly how my nephew wears his, and how I kept mine in my late teens and twenties. His wife was wearing a hat, so I couldn't tell what hers was like, but it's statistically likely to also be amazing. Seems weird now to go on and on about their hair, but seriously, it was that striking. His son and daughter are both NICA riders, so who knows, I may end up on a ride with them some day, if I haven't already.

There were burgers for the finishers out back of the coffee house next to the bike shop, so I spun back into town and got myself a couple. When I got there, Graham and Mike were already there. They'd apparently passed me when I taken that wrong turn. Dangit! In fact, there was only one guy left out on the course. I'd come on second-to-DFL. Ha!

We all talked about Louisiana, the TNGA, and some of Karlos's rides while our burgers sizzled on the grill. And, man, when they were done sizzling, those burgers really hit the spot. It was one of those times where you don't realize how hungry you are until you start to eat too.

So good.

I was surprisingly not tired on the way home. Not sleepy at least. I didn't even sleep in today. Me and Sophie got up at 9 to go shopping for jeans at Old Navy. I did nap about half of the afternoon away though, so maybe my fatigue was just delayed.

Whatever the case, I feel pretty good right now. Sometimes I don't want to even look at a bike for a week after a long ride, but not this time. I hope that bodes well for my fitness. I guess the next few weeks will tell.

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