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· Lemond Rider
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Although the consensus on the RBR forum was to avoid Newfound Gap because of the traffic, some agreed it was doable if you started early on a weekday. After driving up it earlier in the week, I really wanted to ride it. My other half gave me the okay, but since she would be watching the kids (including two nieces), she gave me a time limit. I wasn't sure I could get to the top in the allotted time, so I figured I would go for an hour and a half, then turn around.

Imagine: over 13 miles, all uphill, at a 5% average grade, for a total of almost 3600 feet of elevation gain. When I say "all uphill," I mean it literally -- there are no flat or downhill sections for 13 miles.

I started from Sugarlands Visitor Center (at 1460 feet). I left the parking lot at about 6:50 AM. I was the only car in the lot other than Park Service vehicles, and I did not see anyone before I left.

The overall grade doesn't vary much, but the first few miles are, by comparison, the easiest. It was about 63F, and I had two short-sleeve layers, but by the third mile in, I was sweating, so I had to stop and remove a layer.

Near the Chimney Tops pull-out, the grade increases for about 2 miles, or so it seemed to me. But I don't think the grade ever tops 7% or 8% - it is mostly a consistent grade the whole way. I didn't need to stand once, though I did just to change things up once in awhile.

Near Alum Caves Trail, I saw a Park Service radio (the expensive 2 way kind) in the roadway. I circled back and picked it up. At the time, I didn't know it was a Park Service radio, I just knew it looked like something the owner would want back, and it was heavy. I left it at the side of the road, as I didn't need to haul another pound or two to the top. About five minutes later, a man driving by shouts from his window "Did you see a radio in the middle of the road back there?" I say "Sure" and he pulls over. I tell him where it is, and he tells me I have less than a mile to go. I am wondering how he knows, but he tells me he rides this road a few times a year (I will see him again later). The next pull-out is familiar, and I know I am near the top.

Two more corners, and there it is - Newfound Gap, at 5060 feet (at the far end of the parking lot, according to Google Earth). 3590 feet uphill in 13.15 miles, in 91 minutes. About 7 minutes per mile.

I didn't bring a camera, although I had planned to. Just forgot, with all the other stuff I had jammed in the panniers. However, I traded photo ops with a group of hikers, and thanks John T., I have evidence.



You can see my sweet ride here. See, I told you I hadn't planned this ride. This is my "tank" bike, not the Lemond. In the pannier, I even had a full size Crescent wrench, which I would need to remove the nuts on the rear wheel if I flatted.

Spent a few minutes enjoying the view, ate a banana, and pointed my wheels down for the fun part. Within a minute, my limbs were shaking, and my teeth chattering. I was freezing. It was probably 50-55F and I was going 40+ miles per hour -- that is quite a windchill, and I was still pretty hot and sweaty. I hadn't brought any long sleeve anything (hey, this is the height of summer, and I really hadn't planned this ride).

So now I am going downhill, limbs and body shaking, at over 40 miles per hour. I need to warm up, or I will shake myself off the bike. So I do the only thing I know that will help warm me -- I start pedaling. Hard. Each time a hit a patch of sunlight, I felt warmer, and it got noticeably warmer as I descended. I was only passed by two motorcycles and one car all the way down. I got down in 15 minutes, averaging a mile every 1:08 (that is apparently an average of over 50 miles per hour). I don't think I was going that fast, but I know I was going faster on a bike than I ever had before.

Back at Sugarlands, I meet the guy again. He says he retrieved it, thanks me, and tells me the radio is a Park Service radio that costs about $1500. Apparently he is a avid, regular volunteer in the park. Nice guy, he tells me the rangers keep a "bike log" in the Center and says I should sign it. He says the bike log was started by some guy in the 1950's (or '60's). So I go in and sign it. Pretty cool looking through it.

In sum, this may not be an epic climb like the Alps in France or Italy's Dolomites or even the Rockies, but still, one pretty sweet ride.
 

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Nice post! We've been down that way many times, but I haven't had my road bike. I usually ride my mtn bike at Tsali in NC. Next time I'm bringing the road bike, getting up early and ride to the Gap. No tanks though!
 

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Terex said:
Nice post! We've been down that way many times, but I haven't had my road bike. I usually ride my mtn bike at Tsali in NC. Next time I'm bringing the road bike, getting up early and ride to the Gap. No tanks though!
I don't think I would want to ride that fast down the mountain. Is it possible to go slower without losing your breaking ability or overheating a clincher tire? What if you had a flat at those speeds, especially the front?
 

· Lemond Rider
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
My fears exactly

At the time, I didn't think I was going that fast. But, generally, no I would want to ride that fast down either.

I had a few concerns regarding the ride down, which your questions capture perfectly:

What if I overheat the rims / tire, or my have a brake cable snap? A not unreasonable fear, as I usually use this bike for cruising around the neighborhood, not high-speed descending. It is about 15 years old, and I have never carefully inspected the brakes, nor had the cables replaced. Probably stupid, but I did a pretty thorough check the night before. The night before and during the initial parts of the descent, I would ask myself, how / where will I bail out, and more importantly, will I have the courage to intentionally crash?

As it turned out, the relatively mild slope of the descent coupled with the amount of wind resistance my setup created (upright position, panniers, wide tires), almost eliminated the need to brake. Basically, I hit terminal velocity, and braked infrequently. On a road bike, this would be a bigger issue. And no cables snapped.

What if you had a flat at those speeds, especially the front? Or lost control due to speed wobble? Fortunately, as I discovered, I had no speed wobble issues, this bike is built like a tank. A flat was my biggest fear, by far. I justified it this way - I cannot control getting a flat, so I am trading the risk of a flat and resulting consequences for the chance to descend at 50+ mph for 15 minutes. Depends on your risk / reward evaluation, I guess. I mostly closed my mind to that possibility, and enjoyed the ride.
 

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I've done that ride several times, and usually have gone on up to Clingman's dome. It's another 7 miles and tops out at 6600 ft. There is one section near the top that is downhill, maybe about 1/4 of a mile. Going back down, this now uphill section is the hardest section of road I've ever ridden! After resting at the top and enjoying the view for a while, as soon as you start heading back down you get really stiff in the cold temps at that elevation. When you hit that uphill section now, your legs just won't work! I mean they're done! 24 miles uphill, a good rest, then a few miles at 45 mph in 50 degree temps [mid summer] on a tired, sweaty body and the legs are flat out toast! But once ou get past that section, you barely have to turn another pedal. Great memories!
 

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We do that ride every June. But this year we rode to the dome then headed down to Cherakee. Then back up and over for a total of 81 miles. The day before we do a warm up and head to Cades cove, ride around the park, then head back to Gatlin. We stay at the Redroof inn. Thats about a 60 mile ride total. Next year we will add something new to it for sure. Traffic is never bad. People can't believe that we all ride to the top. Its pretty cool.
 
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