2008 30 May

Biking in the Georgia Mountains

Author: Shawn Categories: Story Shelter

My Journey With Three Rabun County Coaches

To make one fact incontrovertible, I am not a morning person. If it’s before 9 a.m., it is simply too early. Some of us just aren’t made for mornings. I once had a poster that said, “If God wanted us to see the sunrise, He would have scheduled later in the day”. Come 9 p.m., however, my second wind kicks in and I’m good until at least 2 a.m.

So all this talk about mornings is about doing something I wouldn’t normally do. In fact, when my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. one Wednesday morning in June, I was sure I was deranged.

Why did I decide to do this? For an opportunity to go out and mountain bike. I joined three heavy-duty athletes who were also Rabun County coaches. These guys went out every morning to run, bike, or swim, or something. Their meet time is 6 a.m. At the end of the summer, they have their own iron man competition.

I wanted to go out with them to see what they do, maybe learn something, and mostly, see if I could keep up. What I didn’t bank on was doing it at an hour I was normally in a deep sleep.

Coach James invited me to their Stonewall Falls run and said I could ride along if I wanted. Ride while they run. Shouldn’t be too bad, I thought. Of course, they are super athletes and I, a sporadic recreationalist.

Bleary-eyed, I drove to meet them. I was barely conscious. How in the world was I going to pull off strenuous demands to my sleeping body?

I arrived at the trail head, parked my truck and took my mountain bike off its rack. Coach James checked it over and gave me some tips. Keep the front wheel light, hunch down over the seat with your posterior behind it on steep descents to prevent tumbling head first over your handlebars. I heeded his words, though I already knew them. At that hour, I needed to hear them.

They discussed our route and decided first to head for the falls. There we would evaluate. They were very considerate but didn’t pamper me. For that, I was extremely grateful. I detest being patronized.

Down the gravel road we went, three bulging men and skinny me on my bike. It was still dark. A few chirps broke the early morning silence along with the crunch-crunch of foot strikes and the steady crackle beneath my fat tires.

We hit the first steep hill as the sun started shooing the shadows away. I got about halfway and my legs could pump no more. The coaches disappeared up the road as I pushed my bike up the rest of the way. Well, this is just great, I thought. I’m going to feel like an idiot. What was I thinking?

I quickly caught up on the other side as I floated down the hill and felt better about myself. That’s the best thing about biking. Catching some speed, air whizzing through your body hairs, sounds blurring past. It’s freedom. Pure and simple exhilaration.

We finally reached the refreshing falls. Funnels of water bustled down the inky rock face inbetween the dark green foliage. The area was a half circle of dirt and rock surrounding a pond with a few picnic tables dotting the fringes. Large droplets of water rushed down from above into a misty flurry where they mingled together to form the pond.

The coaches inquired about me. I was good, I said. But honestly, I still wasn’t awake enough to know what I was. Here and pedaling. Excited to be with some of the best athletes in the county. Trying to absorb something, anything, of the experience, but still under the spell of Morpheus.

They decided to take the short trail. Stay on the trail, when it splits go to the left, they said. Don’t forget to keep your front wheel light. Again, they were caring, considerate, but still no coddling.

The trail was about a half a foot wide and dove straight down. At first, I had to ride my brakes. I didn’t want to run over the muscle-bound men in front of me. Down and down and up, zigging and zagging, ducking under branches, down and up some more. The trees huddled around the rusty red trail casting shadows. Small streams traipsed across the trail and fun was found splashing through them.

The coaches edged out ahead of me and disappeared. I couldn’t catch up this time with sharp narrow turns to negotiate. I felt like I hadn’t seen my coaches for hours. The ups had now become relentless and I was positive I had gone the wrong way somewhere.

I stopped to let my gasping lungs suck in some air and allow my heart to slow down a bit. Sweat poured over my face and my legs felt like cooked pasta. I heard rustling and cracking branches. A small flash of alarm washed over me thinking I might run into something wild and cantankerous.

The bears here are fairly harmless. Small black bears. There were coyotes and mountain lions about, but I wasn’t too worried about them, either. It was the wild boars and the weasels that concerned me. And snakes.

I’d rather not face off with some animal’s mama, so I and my pumping chest pushed on, continuing up. Suddenly, I glimpsed some white above me. Heart jumping into my throat, I stopped. Two coaches were there. Wild and cantankerous indeed.

All right? They asked. Yes, did I go the wrong way? I asked. No, you’re doing fine. Almost to the top. Deep sigh of relief. I wasn’t an idiot after all. They jogged off and I continued to push. Coach Grimmett caught my eye through the trees. Almost there, Shawn, all downhill from here, he said. Oh, there is goddess, I whispered.

They way down was wonderful. Nice tight turns, dirt popping and crunching under my rolling weight, leaves brushing over my arms and legs, more streamlets splashing over my tires. Rays of sunlight shot through the thick trees creating spotlights on the trail and the surrounding trees.

I rode back down the road to our trucks beside coach James. We finished at about 7:15 a.m. Coach James said I did well. From him, that was a compliment.

Looking back, I believe I was less than 10 minutes behind them rather than the hours it felt like. Remember, part of me was still asleep. All in all, it was a blast, though it does feel more like a dream. I rose to the challenge, but then I rarely back down. The coaches were terrific, patient, and made me feel good about all of it.

Thanks you burly three. And if you really meant it, yes, I’ll go again. Someday.

*First published in The Clayton Tribune

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