“Never waste a good climb,” John advised me as we sat around the breakfast table before I left for Issaqueena’s Last Ride. His reasoning was that when you travel to the mountains, you should get as much training out of the climbs as you can. You cannot experience them at home, so take advantage while you can. That’s some sound logic if you ask me. Tom joked back in agreement, “yeah, never waste the opportunity to trash your legs.” This conversation was very much in my head as I embarked on my first major climbing century of the year.
Issaqueena’s Last Ride, out of Walhalla, SC is an unusual mountain century because it never quite reaches the mountains. The majority of the ride is in the foothills. There is only one major climb, Wigington Overlook, which is almost to the top of Whitewater Falls. The rest is just up and down, all day, with short and steep descents, and tough inclines. While there may have been only one major climb, there were dozens of mini climbs, all of which take a toll. The ride is inspired by an interesting legend, which I recommend you read from the event website.
This was day two of a three-day weekend where I stayed at Table Rock State Park (more on that will be coming later), so as much as I wanted to get the most out of the climbs, I did not want to trash the legs. They were plenty trashed already. As I began the ride I went moderately easy. I rode for a bit with Bill, the Tour de Cashiers organizer who reminded me that the jersey I wore was one out of only 100. There were probably another dozen Cashiers jerseys on the ride, as it is the second leg of the Blue Ridge Double.
Not wanting to ‘push it,’ I let the lead pack(s) go and settled into a comfortable pace. Eventually a pack formed and we navigated the hills together. Sometimes there would be separation, but we mostly hung together.
At around mile 25, we had a bit of an accident. I was riding directly behind Jana Morse, a friend of mine from Greenville. After descending a steep neighborhood hill and cresting another, a large dog came out of nowhere. It looked like a Golden Retriever, probably around 80-100 lbs. I saw him coming and I believe Jana did too. I immediately slowed down and veered over the yellow line into the opposing lane. The dog charged directly into Jana, broadsiding her and knocking her off the bike. She fell directly on her backside and slid a little ways. I could hear parts of the bike shatter as she fell. After I stopped and turned around, I saw her laying there motionless.
It was a scary moment. I called the organizers and advised them of the situation. At first they were going to send an ambulance, and then Jana started communicating how she was doing. She is a doctor and was able to diagnose herself. Even though her jersey looked like Swiss cheese, she was fine, just a little scraped up. She brushed herself off and checked out the bike. It was mostly fine too. It was her rear light that shattered. We made some adjustments to the handlebars and she wanted to keep on riding. That was very tough of her. I found out later that she made it to mile 61 and ended the ride just after the big climb. I cannot imagine the soreness she was experiencing and it is impressive that she made it that far.
We continued as a pack until the Whitewater Falls climb began. I thought someone had told me it was an easy climb, around a 4% grade. If I heard that, it was wrong. The climb was very challenging. It hit hardest early on with a grade in the teens, then it leveled off and even descended a little bit. This would continue for the next few miles. The trajectory was mostly up and mostly gained elevation, but it rolled inconsistently and kept me from getting into a groove. It was a tough climb.
We turned left onto Wiginton Overlook Road and what had been a tough climb became excruciating. The road pitched up to a 13-15% grade, sometimes higher, and stayed there. It was short, maybe a half mile, but steadily steep and relentlessly difficult. It was a tremendous view from the top, and I was relieved that the toughest part was over. Only it wasn’t, at least not quite.
The rest of the course was the same rolling terrain I had been fighting with all along. Even the descent down the mountain was interrupted by occasional big hills. After descending most of the way, we turned onto Village Creek Road, a nasty stretch of road with some steep rolling hills. One of them was above a 20% grade.
The last hurrah was a thrilling descent that came seemingly out of nowhere. We plummeted down the road and across a bridge for maybe a half mile. It was exhilarating until we saw what was on the other side. Yep, another nasty climb. This one was steep and about a mile in length. It seemed a lot longer and was probably the second toughest climb of the day.
Despite the difficult challenge and the bad accident, I really enjoyed this ride. The country was scenic, mostly densely forested and peaceful. The roads were marked exceptionally well. The food at the end was delicious, especially the soup. The volunteers were friendly and helpful. I look forward to doing this one again.