Background on Brasstown
Tell someone you’re going to Helen, Georgia to ride bikes. If they’ve been there, they’ll immediately respond by saying, “You have to ride Brasstown Bald.” They’re not lying. If you show up into town with bikes, they won’t you leave without ascending the most savage climb these side of Mount Ventoux. The legend of Brasstown Bald is well-earned and should result as a feather in the cap of any rider who makes it to the top. And. I. Rode. It.
Getting the Climbing in Before the Main Ascent
Before I left for Georgia, John Duby asked what gear ratios I was running. I replied that I’d be running a 44T up front with an 11-32 out back. Without missing a beat, he replied, “You’re going to die.” He quickly tried to cover his tracks by saying I’d be fine, but the words stuck with me all the way down to GA. On the first day, the gearing was good for the first 90 minutes, but as the fatigue set in, the gear seemed to get bigger and more impossible to turn over. The first day was 67 miles and almost 6,000 feet of climbing. I was so wrecked, that my second ride resulted in me pulling the plug and only doing an hour of twenty minutes. A quick order for an 11-42 seemed like the only way I was ever going to finish Southern Cross on Saturday, as well as make it over Brasstown Bald.
After getting rained out on Wednesday, I talked the dudes into taking on Brasstown Bald. They had already done it earlier in the week, but with my 11/42 fitted, I felt I was as rested and ready as I’ll ever be. The climb itself is 2.5 miles and averages a leg-destroying 11%. The worst part is a pitch deemed “The Wall” that is just one-tenth of a mile but averages 19%. Riding with Sean Kickbush, Al McWilliams, and Cody, I didn’t exactly get a pep talk headed into the climb. “It’s going to kick you in the nuts” was the final sentiment shared with me as I hit the first steep pitches where the Bald began in earnest.
Cody tried to wait for me, but there’s not waiting on a climb that steep. You have to find a rhythm you can sustain, or just resist the temptation of dabbing your toe to keep from falling over. Just when you hit a steep pitch, you think that the worst of it is over. Then there’s a switchback, and the road goes up again. It was the only time I’ve been on a hill so steep that I had to lean forward to keep from wheeie-ing. Supposedly, the view from the top is simply incredible, as it’s one of the highest points in the area. Unfortunately for us, it was so foggy that we could barely see across the parking lot at the top. With the rain and wind picking up, we beat a hasty retreat down the climb and headed home.
It was the hardest climb I’ve ever done. If you’re ever in this part of the world, be sure to add it to your route. Just make sure you have a cassette the size of a dinner plate on your bike before you give it a try.