Every fall for the past 10 years, we have traveled to Clemson, South Carolina for fall break. Football game on Saturday (sometimes), long ride for me on either Sunday or Monday (or both), and drive back home on Tuesday usually after visiting local apple orchards in the mountains. My bike rides over fall break have all been epics with a mix of sentimental old routes from college with a few new roads and climbs thrown in each year. This year we had so much going on here in Alabama that we weren’t able to make it up to South Carolina, so I planned out an epic with the idea of exploring someplace new to me … and I found it – Cherokee Rock Village on Shinbone Ridge on Lookout Mountain.
Cherokee Rock Village bouldering near the Weiss Lake drop-off.
I set off on a 250+ mile adventure riding from my house northeast past Gadsden to Weiss Lake at the foot of what I would hope would be a new Cat 2 climb from lake level up to the top of Cherokee Rock Village. Even though the climb meets the minimum requirements for a Strava Cat 2 climb of more than 320 meters vertical difference from bottom to top, at only 2.98% average gradient it just barely misses the 3% cut-off.
I have missed Six Gap the past few years, so I was excited when the opportunity to ride it came up at the last minute. I decided to make it an extra epic adventure this year by getting up at 1:30AM, driving 4 hours to the start (the time change heading east means getting up even earlier!), riding two laps of the course (208 miles and 23,000 feet of climbing), and finally driving 4 hours back home to Birmingham. Along the way, I managed to snag the 35+ KOM (barely) in a really exciting showdown with Amos Harvey.
Six Gap Lap 1
This event has grown and grown over the years because I believe riders from all over the South have decided that it is a good testing ground at the end of the season to measure their fitness against the climbs in the mountains of North Georgia. A similar (but tougher!) event happens every May at the Cheaha Gran Fondo Ultra, so it’s nice that riders can bookend their seasons with really tough rides.
One of the things that makes Six Gap tough is the back-to-back timed climbs of Hogpen Gap (6.2 miles) and Wolfpen Gap (3.1 miles) coming after hard efforts up Neel’s Gap, Jack’s Gap, and Unicoi Gap. This year saw a split in the front group on Neel’s Gap. I had slid pretty far back in the pack before the start of Neel’s, so I had been passing people all the way up the climb when I noticed there was a small group ahead. I was worried that this group would get away and be the fast group for the climbs. So I bridged across to that group to find Jan Kolar, Amos Harvey, and Mark Fisher drilling it along with a couple other guys. Over the top and into the start of the climb up Jack’s Gap, a couple more guys joined us to make for a somewhat large front group of 6-8 riders.