The ride that took a little over three years to complete is finally behind us. In late March of 2014, we set out with a couple friends to ride our bicycles up to Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mtns from the Gatlinburg area. That day produced many memories etched in our minds for a long time to come. With little planning prior to the ride and a chance for bad weather to arrive in the mountains, it proved to be the perfect storm. I highly encourage you to search our history at Clingmans Dome and read the follow up to that ride.
When I tossed out the idea early this year that we return to finish what we set out to do as a group down there three years ago, it became more than an idea when we put it on the schedule and booked a cabin. Then it became a reality on April 4, 2017 as we once again set out on our bicycles to climb Clingmans from the Gatlinburg area. This trip, we were joined by friends Linn, Rusty, Gene, and Jim and we departed from the Sugarlands visitors center with my wife Maria driving SAG for us (just in case) and the climbing immediately began with twenty miles to the summit.
The weather forecast leading up to the ride was all over the place and we considered moving the ride day, but it turned out to be near perfect weather on the day we had chosen all along, so up the mountain we went. It was not long before Jim and Gene broke away from our group, as they were considerably faster and had a more challenging detour planned. The other 4 of us managed to stay together for the majority of the ride. We stopped briefly along the route to regroup and snack, then once more at the Newfound Gap overlook.
This is was my fifth time climbing this route and fourth time I would make it all the way to the top at Clingmans Dome, and without a doubt, it was my heaviest weight, but somewhere near the top with a mile or so to go, I thought to myself it just didn’t seem as hard as I remember it. Maybe it was because I didn’t push myself as hard as previous trips, maybe it was because we started closer to the mountain than I usually do, maybe it was the recent mountain biking I’ve been doing at Capitol View Park. Whatever the reason, I left the trip with the confidence that I will one day return to complete the “over and back” ride that Gene and Jim performed (they rode from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC and back), however I plan to include the Clingmans summit on the way up & over.
It it was an awesome ride and it was an awesome feeling to finally get that group photo at the summit! The descent was a nice reward for the work our legs did on the way up. It’s fast and fun. The temps were cool and windy near the top, but as we descended the temperature ascended and we were blessed to complete this ride on such a beautiful day. Back when this ride was still just an idea, the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area was very unfortunate to suffer through a tragic forest fire that destroyed many homes, businesses and some of the land. I honestly went there expecting to see some form of total devastation. Well I know there’s nothing easy about the things that were lost by the locals, especially the lives, but the area is living, breathing and thriving just as I remembered it. There were many areas with charred and burnt trees, but the forest is still there and as beautiful as ever.
There’s something special about the mountains, and I look forward to my next visit there and hope it will again include my bicycle! Another great RAM Cycling ride with great friends is in the books, and special kudos to Linn, for being the only friend that has joined us on every single group ride we’ve hosted…I’m impressed!
Three full months and 500+ miles into another year now, I feel as though I am at a rest stop at the intersection of improvement and plateau. Sitting in a mountain cabin I on a hillside in Sevier County, Tennessee, listening to the rain fall and faint sounds of thunder rolling across the forest, resting up from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and for the upcoming challenge of cycling up the mountain to Clingmans Dome point tomorrow, I’m in complete contemplation of where I go from here.
Just over a year ago, I was recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, and the year prior to that, my fitness slowly faded to the point of mediocrity. The 2-3 years leading up to that climax was very fun, as I enjoyed being a strong cyclist, much more fit and much lighter than I am today. However, before that, I was also the picture of mediocrity when it came to cycling and fitness. Earlier today Tim and I joked about the ups and downs associated with our RAM Cycling “business” over the years, noting that all of the ups and downs were the elevations gains on our activities (LOL), but a harsh reality I face now, is where I go from here. If history repeats, I’m due for a fun ride, recovering my fitness and cycling strength as time moves forward, however there’s also the fear that I break the cycle of the pendulum swinging back and forth, and maintain the plateau of weakness that I’m on. Or even worse, the possibility that I could regress also exists.
I know which road I need to take. I set myself in motion towards the point of this crossroads several months ago, when we scheduled the Clingmas ride and I mentally committed to it, however in full disclosure, knowing I had completed the challenge of climbing it in the past, I have not prepared for it quite the way I needed to, given my lack of strength, stamina, and fitness. I officially found myself sitting at this crossroads last weekend, when I decided to join my good friends Schmidty, Leighton, and St. Onge on a century ride in south central Kentucky. In fact, it was a 106 mile ride, with some tough hills and a very challenging head wind over the last 40 miles or so. Especially challenging given my state of physical fitness and weight. During the course of the ride, I felt pretty strong through the first 50-60 miles but gradually weakened over the next 20 or so, then finally just couldn’t keep the pace for the last 20+ miles. I visited a trying place within myself, hence landing at this crossroads. I thought I would’ve been satisfied with finishing with 100 miles on the dot but at the 100 mile mark, we were still six miles from Schmidty’s home where we started, so I wasn’t stopping until I finished.
So here I am at the crossroads … one road leads to where I want (need) to be— weight loss, cycling and fitness Mecca, improved overall mental and physical health and happiness … another road leads to nowhere—its the same road I’ve been on for a year or so now, nothing gained, nothing lost … another road heads where I don’t (can’t) want to go— the path to fitness and happiness decline, further overweight and out of shape, to the point where the threat of parking the bike looms … and the only other road here is the one I just came from, the path that brought me to this crossroads.
Which road will I choose? @KPtheMasher
The date is officially set for our second attempt at a RAM Cycling ascent to the highest elevation in Tennessee: April 4, 2017. The crew is planning to head down on Monday April 3, ride on Tuesday April 4, and stay to visit the lovely Gatlinburg area for a day before heading home on Thursday.
Ride details are posted on our Strava club page. We will roll out fairly early on Tuesday morning from the east side of downtown Gatlinburg, allowing us a few miles to warm up before the climbing starts at the Sugarlands Visitors Center area. It is about a 20 mile ascent to the top. We plan to take a group pic at the top and head back down. I arramged for a SAG vehicle to follow us and carry any drinks/snacks/clothing that any cyclist joining us may want to have access to. Just bring it to the start point and we’ll carry it for you.
Let’s just hope the weather is more kind to us this time than it was on our first group attempt! Anyone interested in joining us, please contact Tim or me directly for any specific details. Hope to see you there!