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Whitney Stanley 11/14/20

Where to even begin? I have been wanting to ride the Death March Revival route for years. Being a local to the area, it is essentially all of my favorite shorter gravel routes, all slam packed into one ride. This year was finally my year...

Where to even begin? I have been wanting to ride the Death March Revival route for years. Being a local to the area, it is essentially all of my favorite shorter gravel routes, all slam packed into one ride. This year was finally my year. My year to say yes! It felt like everything lined up in order for me to do this route.

It began at 6:30am on Saturday, November 14th. I had been so excited leading up to the ride, knowing I was going to get to ride with one of my closest friends, Jennifer. We hadn’t had an all day bike adventure since we had done TNGA together in August. Friends that have become like family in the bikepacking community began to arrive at Mulberry Gap for the start. It was so good to see them all, share some laughs, and wish them luck on their own adventures!

I rolled out with Jennifer Davenport, and my other favorite Jennifer, Jennifer Braddock aka BRAD-ASS! It was cold, but we knew we would quickly warm as we began the 6 mile climb to the top of Potato Patch and the sun began to rise. It was absolutely beautiful to watch the sun peak over the trees and light up the Cohuttas as we made our way up! We stopped at the Bear Creek Overlook to take a few photos, and just take in what a perfect day it really was for this kind of adventure.

We next made our way to the top of potato patch and made the right heading towards west cowpen. As we came to the first big descent, something major happened. A few years ago my papaw passed away of cancer. We were all very close, this being my dads father. After he passed, my dad, who is also a bike fanatic, would be riding his bike and a hawk would drop down and ride beside him for miles. This would happen almost every time he rode. As I went with him, even I would see this hawk and the way it hung with my dad. It was unreal. He believed that it was his dads spirit. This being said, as I reached the top of that 6 mile climb and took the first descent, the hawk found me! It dropped down in between my friend JD and I, and took the first downhill with us! I had to just take a second to wipe a few tears, and appreciate the moment. He was giving us his blessing for the day to come it felt like. Both JD and I were in total awe.

As we continued on the gravel, I noticed Jenn had stopped. I stopped with her, and she looked like she didn’t feel well. A red bull overdose was the culprit. She thought in the moment she would have to drop. But like any good friend would do, we worked through it together. I refused to go on without her, made her shove a sandwich in her mouth, and talked her through her low. Within minutes we were back at it! The sun was in full glow and the temps began to rise. There literally wasn’t a cloud in the sky!

The next section was a combination of beautiful overlooks, rolling gravel, and the coolest little iron bridge. Then came a climb. A huge climb. I’m unsure of the name of the climb, just that it was after cottonwood path campground. It was long, twisting, turning, and I had to take a few snack breaks along the way. But man was the descent after it fun! I knew we were getting close to home turf for me.

The next section led us close to the Ocoee and to one of my absolute favorite sections of gravel, Tumbling Creek. The area is a little slice of heaven, as it winds along the river. The climb was steady, and I was enjoying it. On this climb in particular my knees started acting out. They were like girl.. we haven’t been climbing this much lately.. whatchu doin?! But I did as any endurance athlete would do.. I pretended they weren’t hurting at all and just pressed on.

As we passed jacks river trail head and dally gap, we were truly in home turf. Jennifer Davenport and I both live just minutes from Watson Gap, so these were the roads we ride all the time. The sun was starting to set, and we decided to stop at one of our favorite overlooks, and have a little dinner before the final push home. Food takes on a whole new meaning when your traveling by bike, and that was the best turkey sandwich and red bull that I’d ever had in my life. We got to watch the sun sink over the mountains that we are so fortunate to call home.

The night fell and we knew we had about 20 miles left to go until the finish. Going into it, we both knew the section from Jack River Fields back to Potatoe Patch would be a struggle. It was dark, cold, and our legs had had enough of climbing. We made it to the mountain town trailhead sign and basically took turns having emotional break downs. It’s kind of amazing how raw and real it gets out there and how emotional you can become. I had my breakdown first. Everything was hurting, I was cold, and I just needed a second to get myself together. Jenn talked me off a ledge and shoved food down my throat, and told me how awesome the 6 mile descent back to the finish would be. I came out of it, and on we went.

As we neared the last big climb, it was Jenn's turn to have an emotional breakdown. I returned the favor, fed her, told what a phenomenal human she was, and we got back at it. The last big climb was the only one on the entire route we had to walk. Our bodies were just done. We walked that climb, talked, and I’m pretty sure she sang “On a Boat” by T-pain to me. But hey, it worked!! You do crazy stuff out there folks!

FINALLY we got to potatoe patch and came into service. We got the most loving text from our best friend Kate Gates that read “Get down the mountain bitches, I’ve got dinner for you!”. That was the final push we needed to descend that 6 miles to the finish. It was freezing, my brakes were going out, but there was food and Katie Poo waiting on us at the finish. As we came into Mulberry Gap, Kate was standing at the top of the horrible driveway, cheering us to the top! We DID IT! 88 miles of solid gravel, and 12,000 ft of climb. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day out there. There were highs and lows, as all adventures have, but overall, the day just couldn’t have been better! We didn’t go out for time, we went out for laughs, time on the bike, and a true adventure. That’s exactly what we got! If you ever have the chance to do this route, do not think twice, JUST DO IT!

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JENNIFER DAVENPORT
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