This is the description of the beginning of the course from the website:
Starting you will encounter some short sharp hills before getting out of the Cahaba River area; by mile 20 these are gone. The next few miles are rolling hills
Before long, the sun began to rise. And the sky was lit up all fushia and orange. It was breath taking! We passed through farmland, rolling hills, lush green fields full of cows and horses and the occasional barn or house. The crowd of cyclists started to break up a bit, but six of our seven were still together at mile 30.
And that's when I felt that urge...to pee. But I held on until someone else absolutely had to go. Three of us stopped together and the other three of our team went on ahead in the lead pack. These were also the only three of our team that had done the race the year before. So, it was me, my buddy Ackerman, whom I train with pretty consistently, and Kromer, who is a climbing machine and very, very nice guy that I'd had little riding experience with prior to this double century.
After some rolling hills, we hit some major fog and assumed we were near a body of water. It wasn't until we passed the dam that we were able to see the lake and the people fishing on it.
We paused at mile 40 for the first check-in and to refill water bottles. We were all still feeling quite spry. It wasn't even 7am, so that's pretty normal, I suppose.
We went through some flats and took five minute pulls. Ackerman started giving us a guided bird tour. And we came across wild turkeys. But not very many people.
We stopped again at mile 70, where our SAG was waiting in the parking lot of a small car dealership. We did our business, refueled, and told SAG to meet us again in about 20 miles. Between miles 85 and 92, the roads had been repaved and covered the marker where there was a turn. Just before we hit it, we stopped to ask a couple locals (who thought we were absolutely NUTS) if we were on the right track. We hit a few mile+ climbs that were
And here's how the remainder of the ride is described:
After the back roads you end up at route 78 and the last two significantly long sections of climbing. The first is the run up to Cheaha Mountain. The Park Service recently put its’ famous stone and tar covering on the surface of the road. ... since this is a “scenic” road, there are four steep climbs. A profile has been created, click here; Scenic Highway 281.
Ok, so, this part wasn't so bad. I was still feeling pretty fresh. We'd hit the century mark at about five hours and we'd all been surprised at how great we were feeling. I took off and Kromer joined me. We had also started playing tag with a group of four other cyclists, one of whom was another female. She'd done the 500 mile ride a couple years ago. Sounds insane to me! But, anyway, she's telling us a little about the course and everyone is still smiling...
After this section you start the climb of Mount Cheaha, a longer, steady climb to the highest point in Alabama. A profile has been created, click here; Mount Cheaha.
This is when things turned sour. The sun had come out. My forearms were on fire. I couldn't get my breathing under control. I hadn't eaten in almost two hours. And I was feeling a little dizy. I started to question my ability to even finish the race. I was on the back of my saddle grinding in my smallest gear, willing my legs to turn over. Every time I looked up, I could see Kromer ahead of me. And I swear, he never stopped going up.
And then finally...sweet relief!!! Our SAG was at the top of Cheaha. He had a Gatorade bottle and a water bottle in his hands and was ready to pass them off. But I was ready to cry. And get off my bike. Or quit. I yelled to him "DON'T LEAVE!". It must've been a pretty convincing wimper because he stayed.
I got some fluids and some food and salt tabs. And took a pee. And my mood lifted as I saw Ackerman rising over the crest of the mountain. Unfortunately, his mood was much like mine when I had arrived at that spot - foul. He smarted off something. We all stripped some more clothes and hopped back on our bikes. It was close to 75 degrees at that point. And not a cloud in the sky.
And this was what came next:
A nice decent, with some ups and downs on the way and then back in the flatter lands of rolling terrain, and across another dam, south of the first crossed, same river. Getting close to the finish there are two 1.5 mile climbs, shown on the profile; Last Two Climbs
Kromer and I lost Ackerman on the downhill as he had some technical difficulty with his gearing. We bombed through some rollers. We stopped around mile 135. And while 65 miles doesn't seem like that much in the grand scheme of things, my legs were thinking differently. They wanted it to be over. But my mind knew there was much more to come.
There were potty breaks and reapplications of Chamois Butt'r (which I HIGHLY endorse). And eating of peanut butter crackers. There were cows and horses and even an emu farm!
Kromer and I continued to play tag with that group of four I mentioned earlier. We hit a check point with about 50 miles remaining, just after picking up Ackerman again. We filled up with water there and ran into our SAG just a few miles later. We stopped and I had the most amazing thing of the day...an ice cold Coke!
Kromer and I took off and Ack decided to rest a while. The two of us took turns pulling and worked together those last miles. It was rough. And I was whiney. But at that point, I knew there were only a couple hours remaining. By the time we hit those last two big climbs, my legs were toast. But I was so so so relieved to see the Cracker Barrel parking lot (ie - the finish) at 11 hours 53 mins, just under that 12 hour goal. I was second female (although there were only four of us) and 9th finisher overall. My coach set a new course record (in 10:35!!!) and my teammate, Missy, set a new women's course record in 10:55.
Afterward, we showered, had bar-b-que and hit the sack. I thought I'd not want to be on the bike for days...but don't ya know, I've ridden the last two nights :)