Heading back to the cabin in the truck, we passed the rest of the campers as they headed up Wolfpen on the way back. Tony drove Chuck and me back to the cabin while Kat stayed back behind the riders. As we passed them, yes, it crossed my mind that I should have kept going and attempted Wolfpen, but very shortly, my legs were both cramping again as I rode in the back seat of the truck, so I unbuckled and tried extending them the best I could. Tony was probably wondering why I was squirming around in the back seat so much, but the bent knees were not my friend. Wolfpen was another 1700′ climb, and it was the 5th Gap that day for the others. From the sound of it, it was a struggle for some of them to make it up it, so I’m pretty sure I made the right call for me. Besides, I’d get to make that climb the next day, so it wasn’t a climb I’d totally miss.
Back at the cabin, what remained of the day was pretty low key, laid back, and honestly just a fun time with new and old friends. The group of campers and coaches that were at the camp were all supportive and upbeat about the day despite the suffering we had all endured. I’d say we ate a late lunch and then dinner, but I honestly think it was just one continuous meal for the rest of the day and evening. We had sandwiches when we first returned, and the Peak crew quickly prepared dinner for us including grilled chicken, baked potatoes, salad, apple pie, and S’mores. My legs continued to cramp every time I moved to certain positions for most of the evening, so I drank some Osmo for the electrolytes along with my well deserved beer. After everyone had kind of settled down and eaten their weight in food that evening, Tony had the day’s debriefing session. Hearing everyone’s struggles and accomplishments for the day was motivating. Everyone faces their own fears in these situations. While I struggled with climbing the hills and my own self doubt battles, others struggled with overcoming the fear of the descents. Both battles are just as real and challenging to overcome. Climbing up a 2000’+ elevation gain over 7 miles and believing you can do it seems insane…..until you do it. Flying down 2000′ of curvy descent being blown around by wind and trusting your bike handling skills also seems insane…..until you do it. But, the sense of accomplishment of overcoming that challenge is just as rewarding to each person, and unless you’ve ridden Hogpen, you just won’t understand. I think we all headed to bed that night by 9 or 9:30 and slept pretty hard.
Going to bed around 9, meant that I’d be wide awake pretty early, and so at 5:30AM I was laying in my bunk reading Facebook updates thinking about the day ahead. I knew my legs were still tired, and the day was going to be a challenge again, but I was going to give it a try and see how it went. I wasn’t nearly as worried about this day as the day before, but I also wasn’t confident that I’d finish either since Wolfpen would be the final climb Sunday.
We were to start the ride at 9AM since the weather was supposed to be warmer, but when we woke up, the weatherman was wrong of course, and it was in the upper 20’s again, but at least there was no dusting of snow on the ground this morning. It was another chilly start to the morning.
All bundled up, we grabbed our bikes and headed down the ?paved? road from the cabin. The rough bumpy pavement was definitely not a nice wake up for my tush on the bike seat that morning, but I wasn’t the only one hurting.
The 3 Gaps that we would cover Sunday were Woody, Neels, and Wolfpen, so we turned left at the main road heading towards Woody Gap. We started out with about 4 miles of basically flat riding to warm our legs up a bit before hitting the first Gap.
WOODY GAP- It was a pretty short, almost 2 mile climb to the top of Woody Gap. Thank goodness because my legs were definitely feeling heavy. (Lol, I just realized I called a 2 mile climb short. Seriously, that would have NEVER happened before this past weekend.) It seemed the group dynamics were a bit different today. We definitely had some different paced riders at the camp, but for some reason, we were more social and packed together as we started the day. The ride started with a different feel. Everyone seemed more relaxed Sunday, maybe confidence, maybe a sense of relief of this being an easier day, maybe exhaustion, but I think a big part of it was that the riders more comfortable with hills decided to guide some of us who had mentioned our struggles the night before in the debriefing. The social atmosphere made the 2 mile climb go a bit faster, and I was glad to see this one end so quick. 3 Gaps today and 1 was done. At the top, I was still thinking about avoiding Wolfpen though at the end because my legs were tired. As we gathered at the top, a few quick tips were given on descending Woody Gap since it was about a 7 1/2 mile descent, and we were reminded by Tony of our left turn at the Stone Pile, then Tony headed down to the turn. Some of the ones who were comfortable with descents headed out first while others hung back to give tips to those less comfortable as they descended the Gap together. As we approached the Stone Pile, Tony was there waiting for us all to mark the turn.
We regrouped here before the turn, and as soon as the others got down, we took off. This particular section was a really fun downhill on my tri bike. The curves were sweeping, and I could stay in aero for most of it.
Just before Turner’s Corner there was a gas station that we stopped at for a potty break before heading towards Neels Gap. Everyone caught up here pretty quick and seemed to be getting more comfortable with the downhills.
NEELS GAP- We would hit a short hill before Neels, get a little downhill, then start climbing Neels. We were told it wasn’t a steep climb, but it was a continuous steady climb that we should be able to find a good cadence and rhythm on. Well, I was searching for more gears early on again, so my cadence was slow, but I was able to at least find a fairly steady rhythm in the 60’s-70’s to push to the top of the 4 mile 1200′ climb. With a quick bathroom stop and refueling, we were off down the backside of Neels. Call me insane, stupid, or an adrenaline junky, but my favorite parts of these rides were flying down the backside of the Gaps and topping out at speeds just under 40 mph. I hit 37.5mph coming down Neels(39.1 mph coming off Unicoi Sunday….just missed 40 mph).
WOLFPEN GAP- Well, here I was. One last climb left. The one I didn’t make yesterday. My legs weren’t cramping today, just tired, so I had no reason to stop. One 3 mile climb left to be done. Wolfpen doesn’t really have any spots that allow a bit of recovery, so it was just a matter of grinding it out to the top. It was the last one, and after Hogpen yesterday, I was going to make it to the top of this one. I was slow, and my cadence sucked, but I was getting there.
The descent from Wolfpen was short but fun, and we regrouped at the bottom to finish the last couple of miles to the cabin as a group.
Back at the cabin, we had to shower, eat lunch, pack, and debrief before heading out, so it was a pretty busy couple of hours.
I’d recommend this camp to anyone wanting to ride the Gaps. The Peak Team, coaches, and friends of Peak that attended were a fun group, and I learned a lot about climbing, mental toughness, and overcoming doubts and fears with their support. Saturday, I said I’d never climb Hogpen again……but I honestly don’t know if I’d want to miss hanging with this group next year, so I might be willing to torture myself simply for the company. Besides, the second time it’d have to be easier, right?