Tag Archives: brevard

Jump Off Rock

Props to Jim for giving us this idea for a unique photo.

When I woke up Sunday morning, my hip and especially my back were a little sore. The prior day of riding had taken it’s toll. My first inclination was to rest. After taking my anti-inflammatory and eating a hearty breakfast, I felt better and decided to participate in the easy ride of the day. It would be a 30+ miler with a short climb to Jump Off Rock.

Seven us departed the cabin in shivering, windy temperatures. We began with a steep descent, which we knew would hurt when we returned later. Even though it was bone chilling, it was a refreshing way to start the day.

This was mostly a casual ride, although three of us tended to get out in front. Scott from Simpsonville, and Jim Parker of Lumberton with his speedy Cruzbike were the frontrunners. I stayed with them as much as I could, which was not a problem early as we got warmed up, but would give me headaches later.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Most of the road was flat and enjoyable until we approached the neighborhood of Laurel Park, not far from Hendersonville. It was there that we started to gain elevation, although very gradually.

After we passed the gated Somersby Parkway (which we initially thought was our turn), the road pitched up to a double digit grade as we climbed up Hebron Road. We turned left at the four way stop, and all of a sudden we were on one of my favorite types of climbing roads. This section of Hebron Road has an easy grade, but is a narrow, winding road, that seems bolted to a mountain ridge. Several times we marveled at the steep drop just off the road.

The remainder of the climb was relatively easy, with a couple steeper sections. We turned onto Laurel Parkway and followed that to the dead end. These were neighborhood roads, not too exciting, but paradise awaited us.

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock, at about 3,000 feet of elevation, is a local marvel. It affords gorgeous views from all directions. We could see a lot of our favorite climbs, including Pinnacle Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a couple people thought they could make out Mount Mitchell in the distance.

I immediately placed my bike along the railing for the conquest picture above. After snapping the photo, Scott grabbed my bike, held it above his head, and told me to quickly take the picture. My heart almost stopped when I realized that a gust of wind could have ended the life of my Cervelo (and emptied my bank account in the process.) I snapped the photo without hesitation, and then beckoned him to put the bike down. However stressful that moment was, the picture came out pretty well.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

We had a relaxing time at the rock, taking our time to enjoy the sights and enjoy each other’s company. It is quite the gem of a vantage point. Scott snooped around and found that the rock protrudes from the hill, most of it unsupported. He said we would be nervous standing there if we could see. I didn’t follow because of my injuries, but I saw some pictures later that made my jaw drop.

The descent was fantastic, and it was again Jim, Scott and I riding together. The rest of the group knew the way back, so we rode as a threesome to the cabin.

There is one stretch of road with time trial writing on the road. That was Jim’s cue to put his Cruz into high gear. Scott jumped behind his wheel and rode easily behind him. I hung on for dear life behind Scott.

As our speed increased, I had a lot more trouble. These were both very strong riders, and I am not yet even close to being in prime form. I hung in there for a few miles before dropping off the back. Not my time yet. They patiently waited for me at the next intersection, dropped me again, and finally we rode back to the cabin together.

The last climb up Lyday Creek Rd was a doozy, as we expected. It was just over a half mile, which ordinarily wouldn’t be too bad, but it was in the way of our post-ride meal. The last pitch was in the 11-12% range, which was a backbreaker (no pun intended), and punctuated what was a much tougher recovery ride than I had expected.

My weary bones held out, and I felt great throughout the ride. I may not be where I was last year, but I’ve improved and expect a smooth recovery.

Strava GPS Link

IMAGE GALLERY

Assault on the Carolinas, 2013, Brevard, NC

No turning back now.

After rolling through the outskirts of Brevard, we descended into a flat valley. There was a large farm on the left, a few cows scattered about, with lush green grass nearly as far as the eye could see. The sun was shining bright, highlighting the beautiful countryside. We pedaled together in a massive pack, the flatlands giving us a momentary reprieve from the punishment.

I recognized where we were, and knew instantly what was coming next. After pedaling through the flats for a couple miles, we reached the other end of the valley, and then turned right at Walnut Hollow Road. That would be the first challenge of the day, and the one that I had really been worried about.

As most readers of this blog know, I had been sidelined for months with a freak stress fracture in my hip region. The hip is still healing, and I have only been riding for approximately a month, gradually increasing the mileage and intensity. The Assault on the Carolinas would be my longest ride of the year, my first organized ride of the year, and my first time in North Carolina since December of 2012. Since I was still in the healing process, I was nervous how the day would go, yet still thrilled to be back on the bike.

Walnut Hollow comes early in the ride, about 8 miles in. While it is a tough climb, it did not give me too much trouble in 2011 or 2012. The road pitched up slightly, and I could see dozens of riders ahead of me fighting the steep grade. It gets steeper as you go. At it’s steepest, the grade is around 14-16% (depending who you ask).

There were a pack of locals on the side of the road, somewhere around the steepest section, one of whom had a trumpet and another had a baritone. They were hooting and hollering. I’m still not sure whether they were cheering us along or laughing at our struggles. I’ll pretend it was the former. The trumpet would just belt out a sharp tone repeatedly, while the other guy played the melody of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. It was an amusing distraction from the pain of the climb, but I most certainly did not feel like an Iron Man today.

These guys made Walnut Hollow even more memorable.

These guys made Walnut Hollow even more memorable.

This was tough. I simply don’t have a lot of climbing power at this stage of my recovery, and I’m careful not to ask too much of my hips and legs. I struggled on the climb, wobbling a little bit (sorry to the riders near me). After a lot of panting and a few grunts, I made my way to the top.

After the big descent, we turned onto East Fork Road, one of my favorite roads in the area. It follows a small stream where you can often see a number of fishermen in the water. It is just a relaxing and pleasant journey. We then turned onto Highway 178 to make our way toward the Continental Divide and SC state line.

Highway 178 is a gorgeous road, with a lot of short climbs and some exhilarating descents. While I still had a little trouble with the climbs, I was in prime form on the descents. I remember my first Assault and what a reluctant descender I was. It was even a little nerve-wracking because people would bomb past me. This time the tables were turned. I was the guy zooming down the hills, carefully navigating around the nervous, uncomfortable riders, politely telling them I was “on your left,” and thanking them after I passed by.

The first descent from the Continental Divide to Rocky Bottom, SC, was two miles. A couple short climbs followed, and then came the big 4-mile drop down past Jocassee Gorges, and into the foothills of South Carolina. If I ever make a list of my favorite descents, this will be somewhere near the top. It isn’t too steep. Some of the curves can be a little tight, but they are easy to maneuver through.

Fortunately I had some friends waiting for me at the next rest stop. This would become my longest ride of the year somewhere on Pumpkintown Rd, still with a big freakin’ mountain to climb, and I was starting to feel a little tired. They put together a nice pace-line. I was fortunate to be behind Ricky Soxl, one of the tallest cyclists I know. There wasn’t much wind behind his big frame. That was the only way I could keep their pace. As we got closer to Caesar’s Head, he backed off for some reason, and that was it for me. I dropped off, not wanting to punish myself further. We caught up at the rest stop, but I knew that I would be on my own for the climb.

Our Pumpkintown Rd paceline. Thanks Ricky for the draft.

Our Pumpkintown Rd paceline. Thanks Ricky for the draft.

Hello again, Caesar’s Head. I have ridden this climb quite a few times before, but never had it been as difficult as today. The sun was bright, and the temperature had creeped higher, which didn’t help matters. The most important thing was getting through the climb without hurting myself. I went very easy. People passed me constantly. I carefully watched my heart rate, trying to keep it between 165-175. Since I don’t have the best cardio fitness at this point, that meant I was not going very fast.

My goal was to not stop no matter what. Even though I may not be in peak shape, I still don’t consider myself to be a quitter. Part of getting better is maintaining the mental toughness required to persevere when things are tough. However difficult, I maintained my momentum, and kept turning the pedals until I reached the top. It was easily my slowest climb of Caesar’s Head ever, about 30 minutes slower than my fastest time. As slow as I was, I did not set my foot down.

I reached the top in a state of exhaustion. I was completely spent, but day was not over yet. There were still about 15 miles to ride back to Brevard.

A group passed me as I was struggling in the headwind on Highway 276. I hopped on, glad to have a reprieve from the wind. Pulling us along was a gentleman with an Asheville Racing jersey. We kept on passing people, and they would join the line. I expected him to back off to rest, but he kept on going, pulling us almost the entire way back to Brevard. I passed him on a descent, thinking I had lost the group, then he caught back up with me a few miles later. Whoever you are, sir, thank you for the pulling.

Phew. I finished. Because of my recovery, this may rank as one of the toughest rides I’ve done. I was not going for time, but happened to notice that I finished an hour slower than last year. No complaints there. Just finishing was a win for me.

Thanks to the Pisgah Rotary Club and the entire Brevard community for making this such an enjoyable ride. This is among my favorite rides, and I’m glad to see that it has grown so significantly over the years. See you guys again next year.

Strava GPS Link

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Fletcher Flyer, 2012, Fletcher, NC

The Fletcher Flyer, just outside of Asheville, NC, is a mountain ride without the mountains. They intentionally created the route to include as little climbing as possible. That means they go through a lot of valleys and country roads with breathtaking views at the elevation above. Because of this, the ride is popular, with approximately 1,000 riders registered. The total climbing is above 4,000 feet, which is not very much for the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When I arrived in Fletcher, it was in the low 50s and looked to be a beautiful, sunny day for a ride. I had to dig out my arm warmers, which were only necessary for the first couple of miles. We gorgeous, sunny temperatures all day. It was a nice break from the early summer heat.

Another thing I knew about Fletcher is that it has a reputation for being a blazingly fast ride. I was undecided about how I would approach it. Having just done Mitchell last week, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. If anything, I was looking forward to an easy century. Fortunately they lined people up based on expected speed. The front group was in the 18+ variety. I knew I would do at least that, so I hung around the rear of that section, and planned to ride however felt comfortable.

Before I knew it, we were off, and the hammering started immediately. I found myself in the all too familiar position of getting gapped behind slower riders. The small lead pack gradually rolled away. Fine with me. After the first few miles, we settled into a strong second-group that was rolling at a 21-22 mph pace.

That group continued for quite awhile. We splintered after the rest stop at mile 40, then became a foursome. All of a sudden I look up and see the Carmichael Training Systems logo on my left. Wow, we’re in Brevard. It was strange to encounter such a familiar city on a reasonably flat ride.

Circling around Brevard also meant we would encounter a few hills. I accidentally left my group on a couple climbs and expected them to catch up soon. To my surprise, they didn’t. I rode solo for most of the way around the outskirts of Brevard. I passed by a lot of familiar climbs. Walnut Hollow was the first, which I was ever so glad to turn away from the climb. A few miles later and I passed Becky Mountain. No thanks there. When I arrived at 276, the route went in the opposite direction of Caesar’s Head Mountain. They certainly succeeded in avoiding all the climbs, although I couldn’t help but wonder what an amazing ride this would be if they included a couple.

The pack caught me once the hills leveled off. It was a gigantic pack again, maybe 20 riders. Unfortunately it was short-lived. At mile 60 we hit a rest stop and there was confusion about who was stopping. I thought everyone was, so I pulled off, only to find out that half the pack kept going. At first I thought that was a bummer, but it turned out to be a blessing. This was a rocking group and I was glad to be part of it. Many of them were from Charlotte and knew each other. One guy in particular was a solid leader, advising us to stay together, keep a reasonable pace on climbs, and roll through the rest stops. It worked and we continued a relatively fast pace. We ended up catching and passing the other guys who didn’t rest at mile 60.

We rode together the rest of the way as a unit. Eventually we started catching the metric century riders. With good communication, we navigated our way through without issues. Traffic and the metric riders became a problem as we got closer to Fletcher, which slowed us down and broke our rhythmn. Then one of the members dropped a chain on one of the last little climbs. We waited and she was very appreciative. Frankly, I wanted to finish together with that good of a group. A few minutes was not a big deal.

Fletcher Flyer was a very well-supported, fun ride. The moderate route profile brought together a good mix of casual and hardcore riders. While these rides always get competitive, especially with fast groups, there was a lot more comraderie than most rides. The elevation profile is almost like a local rolling hills ride (like Tour de Midlands), only with cooler temperatures and better views. I’ll do this one again.

Strava Link

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Table Rock Weekend, 2012, The Rides

The weekend was foremost about the rides, and we had a lot to choose from. My goal was to ride and climb as much as possible. This would be my last big training weekend before buckling down and getting set for Mitchell. This was also my weekend to complete the Strava Climbing Challenge (which I did – woohoo!).

People arrived at different times on Friday, so the idea was to split up the group rides into short loops at different times of day. I arrived early enough for the first loop, which would head up Caesar’s Head Mountain. On the way back we stopped at Bald Rock, somewhere I had passed curiously multiple times without stopping. It was cool to finally see what the big deal was. This was a vast slab of rock that curves downward. A few of us took off our cleats and walked carefully in bare feet towards the rocky edge. The view was startling scary — almost straight down. It looked like streets below the rock, but it was just more rock. The entire slab had spray-paint graffiti everywhere. Wherever the eye traveled, it would learn about some young couple’s love for each other.

The Lumberton crew arrived in the afternoon. They wanted to ride Caesar’s Head, so we did it again. Why not, eh? I needed the climbing anyway. For the first loop I rode up casually. The second time I pushed a little more, talking about mountain adventures with Matt from Lumberton. We didn’t stop on the way down. When I noticed that Jim of CruzBike had a recumbent, I was at first nervous. Would that thing be able to climb, and more importantly, could it safely descend? He assured me not to worry, and I was surprised by how well he did. He was just behind me on the climb and the descent. I couldn’t help but notice how he powered over the rolling hills below the mountain, the same ones that stopped the rest of us in our tracks.

On day two I was off to Walhalla for Issaqueena’s Last Ride. The rest of them did a monster ride from Table Rock that went into Rosman, up 215 to the Blue Ridge Parkway, back down 276 to Brevard, and then back to Table Rock. It sounded glorious. I wish I had enough time and legs to do both. You can read John’s summary of that ride at his blog.

The group was not yet back after I returned from Issaqueena. As a coincidence, I saw Tom riding while I was entering the park. He was just swinging by to say hello. Since I wanted a little more riding, we did a little loop around the rolling hills up towards Caesar’s Head. He had to ride home to Greenville, so we parted ways about mid-way and I followed Highway 11 back to the park.

On all three loops to that point, I had taken the hard way back into Table Rock. From the lodge entrance are some tough climbs, some of which reach grades toward the high teens. They all hurt after riding up a mountain. Having not learned my lesson, I chose to take the hard way after my loop with Tom. It was excruciating and I swore not to do it again. The back entrance was far easier, with just a couple moderate climbs.

Sunday was another big loop. This one took us up Highway 178 into Rosman, along the gorgeous East Fork Road and then the backside of Caesar’s Head. Everyone was spent for this ride. We practically grunted and groaned our way up the 178 climbs. I was so committed to riding recovery pace that I didn’t even wear my heart rate monitor. I just took it easy the entire way, spinning at a comfortable and not too painful cadence.

At the Rosman store stop someone mentioned we were going to ride up something called ‘Big Hill.’ They asked if I had been there. I’ve been on lots of big hills, I joked. Which one were they talking about? As Neil put it, I would remember it had I been there. As always, Neil was right as rain.

We traveled down the scenic East Fork Road, which followed a river stream to our right. We encountered a number of fishermen along the way. There was one instance where John yelled “Road Kill!” real loud to alert us of a carcass in the road. Right as he said that, we passed a father and son, who immediately turned. I saw the poor kid’s face turn to fear, as he thought John was calling him road kill. It was sad and funny at the same time. Poor kid.

East Fork was a peaceful, flat ride. I could have sworn I had been on that road before. I still think I had, but clearly not to the very end. I had not been on big hill.

It started with a bang, probably around 16-18%. On my tired legs, that felt like 30%. I stood up and tried to power through it, using my upper body strength to pull on the handlebars and relieve pressure on my legs. It leveled off a little bit to a more manageable 6-8% grade. Phew. I could handle this. Right about the time I started to get comfortable, Neil looked at me and said “this is where it makes you think you’ve done something.” Uh oh. He was right. After we turned the corner, it pitched up again to the high teens and stayed there. I slowly tried to make my way up. In the last 50 feet there looked to be a docile dog on the left side of the road. As I got closer, he showed his fangs and started to chase, forcing me to pick up the pace. Oww. I gunned it and was at the top before I knew it. The dog didn’t chase.

When I got to the top, I saw why they call it ‘Big Hill.’ At the top is the entrance to the Big Hill subdivision.

As we climbed Caesar’s Head, the easy way (ha!), I just tried to keep a decent pace and get through it. John was behind me for part of that climb and he thought I was trying to drop him. Nope. I was just trying to hang on myself.

What a weekend. In total I rode 248 miles and climbed 22,000 feet in the three days. Thanks again Neil for putting it all together. We had a fantastic time.

Strava links:
Friday Caesar’s Head loops
Saturday evening Table Rock ride
Sunday Table Rock to Rosman Loop

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Assault on the Carolinas, 2012, Brevard, NC

Caesar's Head conquered!
 

Hello again, Assault on the Carolinas. Last year I estimated (possibly incorrectly) 1,000 riders. This year they stopped registration at 1,000 and the event was sold out.

Having done this last year, I knew what to expect. Again, the city of Brevard welcomed us warmly, cheered us on, directed us through traffic, supported us at rest stops, provided good food and music, and generally gave us a good time. Of all bike rides I’ve been on, this one makes me feel the most pampered. The weather was very similar to last year as well, only without the threat of rain. It would be clear skies all day with a cool start and a warm finish.

What was different was me, the rider. I have improved quite a bit in the last year. Not to mention, a lot of the roads that were new to me last year are now somewhat familiar. While the initial wow factor might not have been there, I will always appreciate the beauty of the area.

The ride started without a hitch. I positioned myself as close to the front as possible, which turned out to be about middle of the pack. In the early going I found myself boxed in quite a bit. There were riders of all paces, some of which who were blocking the road. I had to break my golden rule and go outside the yellow line a few times. I hated doing it, but I knew that traffic was well controlled.

The first major challenge was Walnut Hollow Road. A lot had been talked about last year and I remember thinking it was not so bad. For some reason on this day, it was much tougher. Perhaps it was because I had not tapered in the week prior, but my legs felt like bricks on the climb. Oddly enough, my time last year was better, so maybe all the mileage over the last week took a toll.

From there we skirted Rosman and hitched onto Highway 178 South across the Eastern Continental Divide, through Rocky Bottom, SC. Knowing the roads here made a big difference. I knew that the mini-climbs were difficult and I was able to anticipate them. Knowing the descents made a big difference as well, as I felt a lot more comfortable and was able to let fly. We passed Bob’s Place with his Road Kill Grill (the oldest continuously operating beer joint in SC, according to Wikipedia), and then continued descending into South Carolina.

From here we navigated the rolling hills around Pumpkintown and assembled a pace group of sorts. I felt great in this stretch. The rolling hills would splinter the group and I found myself pulling quite a bit. As we approached Caesar’s Head Mountain, I decided to ease off and make sure I was recovered before the big climb.

As we turned onto Caesar’s Head, there was some sort of accident that may have involved a car and a bike. Not wanting to rubberneck or obstruct the scene, I didn’t meander to find out what happened. Hopefully everyone involved is okay.

(edit: This was posted on a friend’s Facebook page: A motorist was passing two cars on a double yellow line He clipped an ATOC rider doing about 60 trying to get back in his lane due to oncoming traffic the guy started to leave the scene but was chased down by some Carmichael riders. He received an assortment of tickets for his actions. The rider worked for Carmichael and does not have any broken bones. He lost about three square feet of skin due to road rash. His bike is in pieces but he is great.)

There is the old adage (aka cliche) in cycling that it never gets easier, you just get faster. That was certainly true today. Caesar’s Head was a beast and played its share of tricks. I had just been here a couple months ago, but today it really took a toll. I felt strong in the early going and was able to pass much of my riding group. I continued up the mountain at a decent pace, and then over time I began to tire and just grunt through it.

With a couple miles left in the climb, I encountered the flat section. I love the flat section. It gives me a chance to recover and allows me to pick up some speed. As much as I love the flat, I hate the part that comes immediately afterward. This is where the mountain is the steepest. Grades here are above the 10% range, which really hurts when you’ve been riding up a mountain for miles.

In time I made it to the top. Despite all the pain, this was a personal best for me. I know that I can do better with more rest and better fueling, and I’m sure to get the chance.

I have already been on the summit of Caesar’s Head Mountain a few times, but believe it or not, have never been to the overlook. This time I decided to change that and gave myself a moment to enjoy the view of Table Rock Mountain and the gorgeous countryside below.

From there came the last stretch. I shot out by myself, enjoyed the moderate descent off the backside of the mountain and rode into a pretty tough headwind for a few miles of Highway 276. As I was beginning to tire, a pair of cyclists passed me and I jumped on their wheel. This was just what I needed to jump start my energy. We rode together for a few miles, descended back towards Brevard and passed See Off Mountain.

I crossed the finish line with a time of just over 4 hours. I beat my time from last year by an hour (I had stopped a lot) and a full mile per hour.

Thank you Brevard for showing us such a great time!

Strava GPS Link

IMAGE GALLERY

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