One of the first things I learned is that it is pronounced Chi-ha, as in Chief says “Ha, no self-respecting Indian try to climb that big mountain on silly little bike wearing silly little shorts. That what we catch horses for.” The mountain was named by the Creek Indians and means “High Place”. Boy did they get that right! It is the highest point in Alabama and the Starting Line sure doesn’t feel like it starts out at anywhere near even the second highest point in Alabama. The course starts out with some gentle rollers but it doesn’t take long to find some real climbing.

The area has really accepted that biking can bring in visitors and there was plenty of support evident both in the area before and during the ride. The rails to trails Chief Ladiga trail can also be found in Piedmont. It is a 33 mile no vehicles paved trail that connects to the longer Silver Comet Trail in Georgia. I’ve been on the Atlanta end of the Silver Comet Trail but didn’t realize that Piedmont and the Cheaha Challenge could be found at the other end. The hotel clerk commented that they were used to guests wheeling their bikes thru the lobby and it was no big deal to them. So don’t worry about getting sidelong looks when you come in with your bike or even when you have breakfast in your spandex.

Clip ins and falling over, they just go together. No matter how long you have ridden, they’re always waiting to catch you not paying attention at some point. I think they are at their most treacherous when we’re just clipped in with one foot. It’s like a Judo hold that they all know about. Not even the most experienced rider is safe from their clip ins, right Mike? Of course it helps if you are distracted by a couple of your fellow cyclists. There you are discussing the course and your clip ins realize you’re distracted, your front wheel takes the opportunity to turn toward the low side of the road and your clip ins take you down. I’m not sure if his wheel wanted to head over to the Porta-Pottie or the snack tent for some pickle juice. Maybe it just wanted a cookie. Because you know if you give a wheel a cookie . . . next it’s going to want some Chocolate Milk. And if you give it some Chocolate Milk…

I learned that your Granny Gear can actually feel like too hard of a gear to push. Now it doesn’t happen right away but at some point in your time at Cheaha, you’re going to go to shift to a easier gear and find that you’re out of gears! Most likely you’re going to have to look down to make sure your shifter is working or not just plain lying to you. Then you’re going to have to look back up to see the hill in front of you and then look up some more to see more hill in front of you. Just keep your cadence as steady as you can, maybe stand from time to time and eventually you WILL find yourself at the top. I think maybe there is a life lesson in there someplace too. Just remember what Miley Cyrus says “It’s not about how fast I get there… It’s the climb!”
I learned that the sound of a Criterium going by is something you shouldn’t miss: most especially the professional Criterium when they are really grouped and pushing it. The whirling sound as they flash by is something else. The Noble Street Festival hosted the Criterium races and they had a great course and setup. They even had a Jumbo-Tron style TV set up with camera coverage over the entire course. The races were also streamed over the internet so people could catch it from all over. The host even announced they had someone logged on from Australia. I imagine the Peloton would sound the same put I usually hear it a bike or two at a time as they drop me off the back so I can’t say for sure.

Speed is a relative concept; I believe it is relative to the size of your tire and maybe to how close you are to the pavement. This theory tracks with my inline skating experience where 15 to 20 miles per hour down a hill can be scary fast. That’s cruising speed on a bike with its larger tires but you can find some adrenaline pumping speed at Cheaha during the descents. The nice thing about Cheaha is that it gives you taste of high speed with a straight descent on the way out. This boosts your confidence so you can really go crazy on your way back when you have some descents with curves. The race web site describes them as screaming descents so don’t forget to scream on your way down. I can vouch for the fact that it adds to the experience not to mention really freaking out the guys going the other way.

Girl Scout Cookies should be stocked at all rest stops. At the final rest stop mixed in with those poor wanna be cookies were Girl Scout Do Si Dos! After battling some really strong head winds, nothing lifts your spirits like a Do Si Dos. I think they may be even a better endurance food than the old standard of the PB&J Sandwich. They had PB&J’s at the stops too but I have to say that after encountering the Do Si Dos, they pale in comparison. Cheaha did a super job staffing the rest stops with great folks who did everything they could to help the riders. This included passing out ibuprofen and plenty of food or drinks. I had trouble finishing a water bottle off because of the helpful ladies asking “water or Gatorade” who kept trying to take it from me so they could fill it up for me!

In addition to the folks out on the course, there were also volunteers back at the finish. There were folks clapping for people as they came in and tents set up with lunch (with cold beer!) for the hungry riders. The showers had plenty of hot water and made a perfect contrast to the cold beer which I have to say went down awfully easy. I’m afraid I didn’t catch the name of the guitar duo that was playing at the after ride gathering but it made for a nice ending to a really great day of riding. Many of the riders sat around and discussed the experiences of the day before heading back to their homes. You know, after looking back on the overall trip, I just may need to be “challenged” again next year!
Paul and Charles also joined David for this sufferfest…