Alablawg

Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Saturday, May 06, 2006

New England Is A Beautiful Area

Lying just off US 11, in Northwestern Georgia. There doesn't appear to be a building younger than fifty, at least. They sit upon rolling hills, among open fields. As you cycle through the little community, you get a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. It is a real pleasure. Or it should be.

Those mountains take your mind somewhere else. Because you know you are about to ride over a very large one - Lookout Mountain. You want to enjoy the scenery, but the dreaded left turn onto Burkhalter Gap Road is only a couple miles away. Two and half miles of pain is waiting ahead.

The first two mountains in the 3-State 3-Mountain challenge are very different from the last one. The trip up Suck Creek is almost enjoyable. It's five miles long, but never steep. You hit it ten miles into the ride, so the early morning excitement is still fresh. Riders are everywhere, and people are talking. The road is shady and cool, snaking up the mountain while next to it Suck Creek plunges down. The top is a crest, you just go over the hump and begin a five mile downhill.

Sand Mountain is tougher. The climb is half as long as Suck Creek, but much steeper. The pavement is rough. By the time you hit it, you have done over fifty miles. No-one is chatty, instead concentrating on getting up the mountain. Still, you feel strong, powering the pedals around. And you know the view from the top is worth the climb.

Lookout is different. You make the turn at mile eighty two. The grade is steady almost the whole way, giving you no breaks. It isn't too steep, but a six mile an hour average is good. What makes it truly awful is that about a quarter mile from the top the road makes a sharp right and turns into a wall.

Today, I was in a pack of twenty or so as we approached Burkhalter. As we got closer, the pace slackened. People started dumping out their water bottles; that much less weight to carry. We make the turn, and within twenty feet I am in my lowest gear. I find a comfortable cadence. Comfortable meaning not quite excrutiating pain. Another rider is going the same pace as I am. He is from Nashville. We talk for a bit - some gallows humor; road bike v. mountain bike; the rides in our hometowns. A third of the way up I see a guy with an Iron Man tattoo on his calf. I yell "Iron Man" as I pass him. He says, "yeah, but it don't hurt like this." That makes me feel good. We continue up. I am feeling strong, passing and not being passed, keeping up with the Nashville rider.

Then the turn. Coming around that corner and seeing that wall scares me. I slow down. I stand up. I try to sit, but can't produce enough force to stay upright, so I have to stand again. The Nashville rider leaves me. I am not strong, my legs are spaghetti. I can't even look up, I just look at my front tire and watch the sweat drip over it and onto the road. Each stroke is like doing a one hundred sixty pound squat with one leg. It's only a quarter mile, will it ever end?

"Looking good!" "Go riders, almost there." "Here's the top, you can make it." I hear the voices, I don't see the people. I keep pedalling, swaying back and forth, breathing hard, wondering how humiliating it would be to just fall over. But the voices were right, I am almost there, a hundred feet, fifty, twenty five, five: Oh thank the Lord I can stop pedalling!

Only fifteen miles to go. Most of it rollers on top of the mountain, then a three mile downhill blast into town. Then off to the hotel, where I can look back at Lookout and say, "I conquered you again."