My first full day of the Mother’s Day Weekend Rally started off a bit early, as I made the mistake of going to bed around 10:00 pm the night before. I typically don’t retire until 12:00 – 1:00 am, as I only sleep about 5 hours a night, so I found myself awake around 4:00 am. I quietly left Debbie in the room and headed to the Delta Queen’s main lounge with my laptop and was able to kill a few hours before it was time to wake-up Debbie for our 7:00 am breakfast.
Breakfast meals on board the Delta Queen were served in The Orleans Room on the lower deck, buffet style. We shared breakfast with some folks from the Atlanta area whom we knew from a few group tandem rides (aka, PEACHES rides) but who we hadn’t seen for a while and another very nice couple who we met at the rally. Towards the end of breakfast our host, Bill McCready, gave his pre-ride history discussion and ride overview… spending a good bit of time talking about the Delta Queen and then about some of the things we’d see during Friday’s ride to Lookout Mountain.
There was a key decision all of the riders would need to make just a few miles into the ride, and that was whether to take the Incline Railway for a scenic trip up the mountain in the funicular or to grind up the 4.5 mile-long Ochs Highway with its mostly 10% – 11% grades and a few sections that kicked up to 12% – 16%. For those who opted to take the Incline Railway, Santana had arranged for the Delta Queen’s valet to porter their blanket-covered tandems to the top of Lookout Mountain in a van. For those who opted to climb to the top — ourselves included — we geared down and headed up the Ochs Highway.
Technical Sidebar: We actually got something of a late start on Friday as we had what turned out to be a minor technical issue with our Santana Beyond’s Shimano Di2 shifting. This may have been a blessing in disguise as it manifested itself just as we began our ride and were not more than 100 yards from the Delta Queen and 300 yards from our truck where our Calfee was sitting in reserve. In short, and as I’ll discuss in my review of the Santana Beyond, the Di2 system is limited to a compact drive with just two chain rings: a 50/34 mated to an 11x32t cassette on the Beyond. This configuration yielded a 28.7″ gear as the bike’s lowest climbing gear. Our Calfee, on the other hand, has a 52/44/30 triple chain ring with the same 11x32t cassette yielding a shorter 24.7″ climbing gear in the 30t small chain ring and 32t rear sprocket. For reference, our second lowest gear on the Calfee is the 30t small chain ring x 28t rear sprocket yielding a 28.3 inch gear which was still a bit shorter than the Beyond’s shortest 34t x 32t gear. As it turns out, we spent at least 15% – 20% of our time in Calfee’s 24.7″ climbing gear on the 4.5 mile climb up to Lookout Mountain and would have struggled to make it up without that one extra, shorter 24.7″ gear. I’m sure we could have made it, but not without stopping a few times or having to stand on the pedals on a few of those 15% and 16% “kicks” near the top of the mountain. Had the Santana had an 11x34t cassette it would have yielded a 27″ gear. With one of the new aftermarket, extra-long rear derailleur hangers to accommodate an 11x36t cassette, it would have yielded a 25.5″ gear, almost but not quite on par with our Calfee’s triple.
The Ochs Highway was a challenging climb even on the Calfee, and there was quite a bit of tornado damage on quite a few homes from the bottom to the top. The road itself doesn’t really lend itself to dual use by cyclists and motorists on a non-interference basis as the lanes were very narrow with lots of blind corners and traffic was a bit more heavy for a weekday than I would have guessed. So, we saw a few back-ups as cars queued up behind our tandem and some of other tandems we saw ahead or behind us on the climb up to the top of Lookout Mountain.
Once on top of Lookout Mountain we made our way to the Incline Railway terminal where we found many of our fellow rally goers on foot headed towards the “Battles for Chattanooga” museum and “electronic battle map theater” next to Point Park: their tandems had been unloaded behind the museum. We found our way to the tandem parking area and decided to head into the battle map show first as sitting in a cool theater and relaxing for about 20 minutes sounded like a pretty good idea. The presentation was really informative and made the Battle of Chattanooga very easy to understand and put into context as rode out over Missionary Ridge to Chickamauga Battlefield on Saturday.
Built in 1957, the diorama was originally called the Confederama at a time when “The Battles for Chattanooga Museum” was located at the bottom, west side of Lookout Mountain. It was moved to the St. Elmo area in 1962 where it remained until 1997 when it was moved next to Point Park.
The Confederama became very popular during the 100th anniversary of The Civil War but by the 1990’s had purportedly fallen into disrepair after the owner passed. The diorama with its 5,000 miniature soldiers, 650 lights and landscape along with the museum contents was purchased by a new benefactor who had the entire display refurbished, rewired and added a new soundtrack. As part of the refurbishment, each of the 5,000 figurines was removed, cleaned or in some cases repainted. While some probably find the whole thing a bit hokey, the factual narrative with a slide show of still photos running on the back wall of the theater that made for a very nice multimedia program which belied its age. It’s noteworthy that between 2000 – 2005, a similar but much larger diorama was developed for the Battle of Gettysburg that’s used in the same way as the Confederama.
After the show we headed into Point Park to look out over Chattanooga: breathtaking as always. After taking a photo or two, we headed back towards the bikes with an eye towards finding some riding mates for the 20-mile trip out along Lookout Mountain, down into the valley and then coming back up the mountain for lunch at the Cafe at the Corner. We started out with four other couples but after just a few miles we suddenly found ourselves unexpectedly at the Cafe at the Corner which was somewhat confusing since we were working off cue sheets without detailed maps. The cue sheet instructions were frequently a bit of a challenge throughout the weekend, but in most instances and with the help of GPS devices, I think most folks found their way without logging too many extra miles.
Regardless, we got our bearings back after seeing our next turn in the distance and headed out with two of the four other couples for the ride out along Lookout Mountain while the other two opted to do something different. However, about 10 minutes later we found ourselves riding alone on Highway 189 and just decided to press ahead to the lunch stop. Along the way we had an interesting dog encounter out on Mount Olive road, and made our way back out to Lula Lake Road through some tornado damaged areas. The climb back up Lula Lake Road to the Cafe at the Corner was a steady, moderate grind and not the most scenic route, but the ride back up Lookout mountain was well worth it for the post-lunch descent back to Chattanooga.
When we arrived, the Cafe at the Corner was somewhat overwhelmed by the tandem riders plus their regular Friday lunch crowd. In fact, we found Jan & Bill McCready had rolled their sleeves up and were helping the staff get folks seated, tables bused, drinks re-filled and otherwise doing everything they could to take care of their rally guests. The lunch was very good and we shared a table with a couple whom we “knew of” through my Website and had a lovely, relaxing time.
The second to last leg of our Saturday route was an E-Ticket ride on the 4-mile Lookout Mountain Scenic Drive descent across the north face of Lookout Mountain, past Ruby Falls, down to the north toe of Lookout Mountain and then down Cumming Highway to Broad Street. We opted to go off the planned route and took Broad Street back into town and then up 4th St. to Walnut St. and across the Walnut Street bridge and Coolidge Park to finish up our ride.
After dropping Debbie off at the Delta Queen so she could grab a shower, I rode the Calfee back to our truck so I could re-swap out Debbie’s Saddle, our water bottle cages and other gear to the Santana Beyond so it would be ready to go on Saturday. At the time we’d assumed it was a dead battery so a 90-minute recharge would quickly solve the problem. However, after getting the bike back on the Delta Queen and giving it a good going-over, the problem ultimately turned out to be a loose connection at the rear derailleur.
After a nice warm shower, it was back to the Delta Queen’s Texas Lounge where we visited with a number of different and always interesting rally goers until it was time to head down to The Orleans Room for a wonderful dinner prepared by the Delta Queen’s chef, who had also prepared the amazing Thursday night BBQ dinner that we enjoyed in the Walker Pavillion. We shared our table with a really neat couple from Colorado who’d we’d met the night before.
Yet another great day…. but this time I made a point of staying up until around midnight, even outlasting Bill McCready who is apparently a bit of a night owl. Thankfully, this strategy would ensure that I’d be able to sleep most of the way through until 6:00 am on Saturday.