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.
The views in the valley were breathtaking as the mountains were covered in clouds and light drizzle, but the valleys were sunny and beautiful.
By the bottom of Hogpen Gap, there was just five of us left in the front group. One rider in our group had a 39×23 gear as his easiest gear, so he came off immediately on the steep lower slopes of Hogpen. Jan came off a few hundred meters later, leaving just Mark, Amos, and I together across the top of the lower section. After the downhill, the second section starts out steeply and I tried to keep up with Mark for 100 meters or so past where Amos had come off the pace. I thought I could use Mark to pace me as far as possible up the climb, but I didn’t last long on his wheel and ended up getting passed by Amos who wisely had paced himself better at the bottom part of the climb.
I did everything I could to keep Amos in my sight for as long as possible, and I believe I may have even started to pull back some time on him on the rolling sections at the top as he ended up finishing only 43 seconds ahead of me with Mark another 30 seconds ahead of Amos. Still, I thought for sure my battle for the 35+ KOM was over because the Wolfpen climb is normally not long enough to make any significant time gaps.
But at the bottom of the Wolfpen climb, Mark set another blistering pace. Amos and I both came off together this time, and I figured we’d end up climbing the rest of the way to the top together behind Mark – until I looked back and saw that Amos had just come off my wheel on one of the longer straight stretches of the climb. This gave me a little glimmer of hope that maybe I could make up the time I had lost on Hogpen. I drilled it hard, and then noticed that I had started to close the gap to Mark up ahead. This motivated me to push even harder, eventually hitting a maximum heartrate of 193 bpm – which is the highest heartrate I’ve seen in a year or two. By the top, I knew I had given it everything I had – but I wasn’t sure if it would be enough to make up the time I had lost on Hogpen. Thankfully, it was, and I was able to take home the Six Gap 35+ KOM for a third time.
Amos and Jan caught back up to Mark and I shortly before the Woody Gap climb, so it made for a nice fast roll-in back to the finish in a total time of 5 hours, 15 minutes.
Six Gap Lap 2
I knew that I was pretty spent from the hard efforts on Hogpen and Wolfpen, but I really wanted to try to complete two laps of the course in under 12 hours. My original plan was to ride the course in the same direction, but turn around at the bottom of Hogpen, Wolfpen, and Woody gaps to climb them from the opposite direction making for a grand total of 15 gaps plus Brasstown. By the time I had made it to Neel’s Gap, I had already trimmed my ride plan down to just Brasstown and reversing Hogpen. By the time I made it to Brasstown, I decided to just do a 2nd lap with nothing extra at all. I was tired. My second lap ended up taking 6 hours, 26 minutes – and the grand total for the day was 208 miles and close to 23,000 feet of climbing.
I was not the only one out there riding two laps of the course. My friend and fellow RAAM racer Erik Newsholme also went out for a second lap of the course, but he opted to ride the course backwards the second time. This was great because it meant that we would pass each other somewhere out in the course. We ended up running into each other at the top of Hogpen, which was definitely a highlight for the second lap especially since I had the hard part of the course finished. By the end of the ride at R and R ranch at the bottom of Stonepile Gap, the sun had set and it was getting dark. There was no traffic out, which was good because I didn’t have a headlight. I ended up finishing the ride in the dark, holding my phone out in front of me with the LED flashlight blinking to warn cars of my presence. Thankfully, there wasn’t any cars, and I arrived back to a completely empty high school parking lot except for my car at one of the parking lot and Erik’s truck at the other end!