Steve O and John S left Carrol at 7:30, an hour ahead of me and a 25 mile head start too, on the long drive to Chattanooga. To keep interest in the drive, I decided to try to catch them. Every time a vehicle passed me, I leapt onto their back bumper and drafted them like Todd Lee on whoever is in front of him. Couple of times caught on to cars going 90+mph. From past experience driving to FL for spring breaks, I always discovered there were more highway patrol cars between here and Cincy then from the Ohio border all the way to FL. Oddly enough, I saw only one in Ohio but also saw only one in KY and none in TN. It was as if all the drivers had advanced knowledge and they screamed down I-75 and I happily drafted behind them. Somewhere around Knoxville, John stopped for gas and I got ahead of them, making the trip in 7.5 hours.
After picking up our packets, we checked in to our hotels and by 5:30pm, John and Steve arrived to pick me up so we could head out to get a bite to eat. At the front desk of my hotel, the clerk suggested the "Fireside Grill", which was RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER and served steak, seafood, poultry, etc... but not pasta. Steve wanted a carbo loaded meal and while John and I were good with the Grill, Steve nixed the idea with a, "I want to carbo load" So, we drove for miles through heavy traffic so "Half Wheel Steve" could eat his pasta. Not a bad place but probably not in Chattanooga's Top Ten restaurant list either. They served small rolls with a green garnish that reminded me of mold but Steve loved the taste and ate many.
The "3 State/3 Mountain Challenge" was reduced to a "3 State/2 Mountain" event as severe hurricane damage on Lookout Mountain caused a change in plans. Too bad but understandable. We drove to the top of Lookout and were greeted with great views but there were dozens of trees down and I heard at least one death in that area. The last thing the area needed were gaily dressed cyclists riding around while power lines are being fixed and people suffering.
There were around 1500 cyclists at the start, including this strange guy waving the "V" for villain hand sign.
We cavorted around for too long and while doing so, hundreds were lining up at the start around the corner of the stadium. We were oblivious to this and finally coasted over to find ourselves well back. I looked for New Albany Dan but could not find him. The image does not do justice to the distance we were from the front. Due to the curvature of the earth, we could not see that far over the horizon to the front of the group. When the signal was finally given to start, we waited and waited and I noted a block ahead, the front of the column was already well around the first turn, while we continued to wait. My plan, since this was not an event that would post my time for my personal embarrassment on the event's web site, was to enjoy the day, the food stops, the volunteers and try to grind through the climbs. When finally we began to move, about the time the lead group was already finishing I think, I became impatient and began passing people just to pick up some speed and soon left Steve and John behind although I suspected Steve was shadowing me.
We left town with the help of many dozens of volunteers who blocked intersections for us. After some rollers and 10 miles or so, we hit the first climb called Suck Creek Mountain. At 5 miles a long climb but with a grade of 3-5%, not difficult, just something to endure. In fact, the challenge was not the climb but working through the hundreds of cyclists clogging the road. It would be ok if everyone hung to the right of the road but so many ride at the left of the lane, at 2mph and can't imagine anyone catching them from behind. It was a wild scene of cutting inside the lane, barging through groups, going left of center. I hung on with 2 guys who rode boldly through the human mass barking out commands to those in front of them.
I skipped the first food stop at only 20 miles and at around 30 miles got in with a nice pace line and heard a familiar squeaking noise, turned and there was Steve. Stopped at the 40 mile rest stop to grab a PB & J and kept going. Took awhile for another pace line to come through but jumped on it as we approached an incline. I asked Steve if this was the big climb and he said yes so I said, "See ya later" and slowed way down. A couple of women rode by and I asked if this was the big climb partly because unless they were a couple of Cat 1's, their pace was extraordinary. In an accent identical to Dolly Parton one said, "This little bitty thing, no we don't call this a mountain down here. The real mountain is ahead." I looked ahead and the road kept going up and I said, "This sure looks like a mountain climb to me." To which they said, "Well, you can call it a mountain if you want but it ain't no mountain." Oh.
A new pace line formed and eventually, got to the foot of Sand Mountain, which was quite a bit more difficult than the first climb. 6-7% grade and 3 miles with a rest stop at the top at mile 60. OK, time for a longer break and I sampled a bit of everything, including cream filled oatmeal cookies. The route then took us all around the top of the mountain with fantastic views to the right. We were up there for 5 miles with lots of rollers and finally coasted down and eventually reached the 80 mile rest stop. From there it was a quick 10 miles back to the city and we were given our own orange coned lined entry back to the stadium with all intersections blocked for us. I crossed the finish line with 89 miles, 5400' of climbing and a time of 5:06. Steve had a time of 4:48 and then rode back out to get extra miles for 100. John had cramping problems and finished at 6:35. Above, the scene in front of the stadium as others finish.