By John Marsh
In almost all cases, if given the chance, I prefer to ride with a friend (or friends). I enjoy the camaraderie, the shared experience, the added motivation of getting out when you might not otherwise, and the subtle push to do certain rides or events, or add just a few more miles or minutes, that only riding buddies can get from one another.
But, because it’s often nigh impossible to get out with friends on a schedule that works for everyone, I most often go it alone – like a good many roadies. And, to be fair, there are just as many pleasures to be had in a solo ride, if not more.
I was reminded of this on a really enjoyable solo jaunt in the mountains a couple weekends ago. As I often do on those days when I have to drive up to Dahlonega, Georgia, to pick up my son from camp in the summer, I head up early in the day and sneak in a ride as part of my parental duty.
Despite the rising summer heat and humidity for which this little corner of our world is known, it turned out to be a really remarkable ride – in part, for what I chose to pay attention to, and in part for what I chose to ignore.
Free Your Mind, Let Your Senses Take Over
On this particular day, with no training goal in mind, and no real need to be finished by a certain time, I rode purely for the joy of it. Instead of focusing on my breathing or cadence, or rhythm, or time for a particular climb, as I normally might while riding in the mountains, I just let my mind wander.
I chose not to worry about any of that, and not to bother even glancing at my computer (other to occasionally check how far into each climb I happened to be;I do like to know that).
I let my senses take over, instead, and it made for a memorable day on the bike.
It seemed like the overall quietest, least-trafficked day I’ve ever ridden on those roads. There was little car traffic and less than the normal amount of motorcycle traffic. The motorized 2-wheelers also love the mountains, but I don’t love them. I must admit that I despise the utter roar that some types create. So I was quite pleased to have my reverie interrupted only a few times.
Even more amazing, I didn’t see a single cyclist for the entire 35-mile loop I did. My first “cyclist sighting” was when I rode back up the final 5-mile descent of Woody Gap to enjoy it again before heading to lunch. It was as if the mountains were my very own playground. Truly remarkable.
I locked into the sensory pleasures that day: sights, sounds, smells, touch – all were in play.
Campfires, Soaring Hawks, Sunning Snakes
As I rode past awakening campgrounds early in the ride, I could smell the lingering campfires from breakfast. I wondered what the campers were eating along with their morning coffee, and how they had slept the humid night before.
The landscape in the North Georgia mountains is heavily forested – all of the main cycling climbs are quite near the starting point of the Appalachian Trail, which crosses over several of the gaps.
The paucity of car traffic allowed me seemingly miles-long stretches through which I could hear the leaves rustling in the trees, mountain springs gurgling among the flora and fauna off the side of the road, and feel the gentle breeze on my sweat-soaked skin. Ahhhh!
I was especially thankful that those leaves provided a good deal of shade on the route as well, making a sweltering day that much more bearable. The difference between shade and direct sun on a 90+-degree day is fairly incalculable.
Glancing upward from time to time, I saw a handful of hawks soaring majestically on the warm updrafts, stark against the pale blue sky, seeming not at all to mind the rising temperatures.
Glancing downward as I rolled upward at a glacial pace, I saw an equal handful of caterpillars purposefully crossing the rode in my path. I steered clear of all of them, as I hold no malice – and wanted no mess.
I also gave a wide berth to the two snakes I saw roadside that day. One was alive and well, and appeared to be a northern black racer or northern ringneck. It was sunning itself on the side of the road, enjoying the day in its own way.
The other seemed to have strayed just a bit too far into the roadway, as it appeared to be half flat, and all dead. I still veered far around it, as the markings were the telltale pattern and coloration of a copperhead. Just as well he didn’t present a moving target!
Honor Among Thieves
When I finally did see those first two fellow roadies coming down the mountain as I was heading back up my final climb of the day, they gave – and I returned – the knowing nod of a road cyclist who almost feels like it’s stealing to enjoy the totally unique pleasures of such a ride.
Not just the sensory pleasures of what’s going on around you as you overcome gravity one pedal stroke at a time. But that feeling of euphoric accomplishment and contentment when you’ve reached the pinnacle of any good climb – and know that what lies before you is the exhilarating descent on the other side. (At least that’s how I view climbing!)
That nod exchanged between my brethren and me is what I call “honor among thieves.”
John Marsh is the former editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com.