Before our trip, I mapped my route using Google Earth and Google Maps. Soon after I began my ride, I discovered that I definitely had picked a good route; I saw pavement markings from an organized ride that had used the same roads that I had selected. The roads were wonderful, winding through a rural area with very little traffic. Just a few miles into my ride, I saw this windmill right next to the road:
The most beautiful thing I saw on the ride, however, was too fleeting for me to photograph. It was the bright sunlight gleaming off of a readheaded woodpecker - glorious!
A few miles later I saw this barn with a vintage-looking Rock City sign:
As I continued around the corner, I was amused to see this updated sign on the side of the barn:
After a while I saw some small apartments that reminded me of student housing. At first I was confused because I didn't know of any colleges in the immediate vicinity, and I hadn't even made it to the next town of any size, Trenton, Georgia. Then I made an astounding discovery; this was a hang gliding park! A number of people were in the large grassy area adjacent to the housing units. They were doing tandem flights on ultralight aircraft. I was totally intrigued and wheeled my bicycle over to them. They were very friendly, and this guy was happy to let me take his picture. He was like a surfer dude with wings:
He jokingly told me that cycling is dangerous and instead I should go for a ride with the ultralight group.
Thus far, I hadn't encountered any significant climbing because I had been riding in a valley. It was the same ridge and valley geology as at my May century in Rome, Up the Creek Without a Pedal. Unbeknownst to me, however, my elevation was about to increase - majorly. The lovely valley road came to an end, and at that T-intersection, I saw this eye-catching sign:
In cycling and in life, sometimes you just have to deviate from your planned route. When I learned that it was only 3.62 miles to Crazy Woman Road (very bottom arrow), I thought...must...go...there. I climbed something like 500,000 ft, got to the top of the road, and checked my GPS, which directed me to somewhere in Arizona. So, I decided that any road I ride on is Crazy Woman Road.
I wanted to make sure to be at the finish line to see Robert, and so it was time to retrace my route. After zooming back down Burkhalter Gap Road, I turned onto the valley road again. I did stop long enough to take pictures of a few things had attracted my attention when I rode by the first time. This patch of black-eyed Susans right by the road was breathtaking:
This USGS gaging station, located at Lookout Creek, may not be breathtaking, but I found it quite interesting because I often use USGS hydrologic data in my work:
The climb up Raccoon Mountain was also pretty significant, but I was expecting that one. Water is pumped from the Tennessee River at the base of Raccoon Mountain to a reservoir at the top. Electric power is generated when the water is released through turbines to flow back down to the river. As I ground my pedals, climbing higher and higher up Raccoon Mountain, I imagined how my potential energy was increasing just like all that water being pumped up to the reservoir. Crazy woman!