Rain dripped off the front edge of my helmet Saturday morning as I pedaled with about 2,500 riders down Chestnut Street in Chattanooga on the first stretch of the annual 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge. The 100-mile bicycle ride would take me through three states and up three mountains by the end of the day — if I didn’t die first.
I participated in the 62-mile version of the ride last year, but decided to pedal the full century this year just to see if I could. Fueled by Pisa Pizza’s chicken ziti from the night before and prepared with the energy bars in the back pocket of my jersey, I pushed off at the soggy, 8 a.m. start feeling slightly nervous, but ready.
SUCK CREEK MOUNTAIN, TENNESSEE
I hit Suck Creek Mountain about six miles into the ride, just as it stopped raining. The five-mile climb and five-mile descent were gradual enough that I felt warmed up, but not exhausted by the end.
I came across the first food and drink stop at the base of the mountain in Powell’s Crossroads, where bikes lay strewn across the lawn and riders clicked around the pavement in their cycling shoes.
I refilled my barely-emptied water bottles, ate a piece of a banana, and then headed toward mountain No. 2.
SAND MOUNTAIN, ALABAMA
The dogs who usually chase cyclists along the roads leading to Sand Mountain stood complacently in their yards as we passed, rather than snapping at our ankles. The riders before us, I’m sure, had already worn them out.
After a while, I settled into a pace line, a single-file group of riders who took turns cutting the wind for each other. Except for when I was in front, the distance passed much more easily with the help of other riders.
We hit Sand Mountain after 52 miles. My legs strained as I pumped up the mountain that was slightly steeper than Suck Creek, but nothing in comparison to what would follow.
LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA
Throughout the ride, I had been dreading the final climb up Lookout Mountain on Burkhalter Gap Road. The climb, which started at mile 80, has a reputation among cyclists for being especially brutal. I was worried my legs would shut down midway up the mountain, and, being clipped in to the pedals of my bike, I would crash to the pavement.
I crept up the mountain among a loose group of riders, who seemed as daunted by the climb as I. During the last quarter-mile, when the road took on a 17 percent grade, I had to stand up on my pedals and lean over the handlebars to keep any kind of forward momentum. I couldn’t think of much more than the pain.
Once I crested the mountain, my mood drastically improved.
Though I felt relatively strong through most of the race, the climb up Lookout Mountain and the 10 miles following depleted every bit of my energy.
I pulled into the finish line at Finley Stadium just over 6 hours after I started. I was thrilled to have finished, but couldn’t get off the bike soon enough.
Published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 6, 2007