Monthly Archives: May 2011

Challenge of the Centuries, 2011, Day Two, Hartwell, GA


A bright sun greeted us as we prepared for day two of the challenge. Today’s ride went north from Hartwell and did a figure 8, leading us up to Toccoa, GA, where we would face the climbing challenge of Dick’s Hill.

Yesterday I suggested disappointment in the overcast weather. It may be easier to ride, but it obscures a lot of the scenery we travel through. Today can be filed under ‘be careful what you wish for,’ because it was bright and hot just about all day. That would haunt us later.

We started out at a good, steady pace throughout the flat ride towards Toccoa. There were three of us, so we traded off drafting. We were thankful to encounter Tim, who had fresh legs and was training for an Iron Man triathlon. He did a lot of the early pulling. After taking a rest stop at around 30 miles, with the temperature at 80 degrees, I still felt strong, almost as if I didn’t have yesterday’s miles on my legs.

Dick’s Hill was talked about quite a bit yesterday. From the descriptions I heard, I expected it to be something like the Greenville Watershed climb — nothing insurmountable, but still a good workout. As we approached the hill, we could see it from a distance. It looked a lot more imposing than I had expected.


Fortunately, looks can be deceiving. This was hardly a difficult climb. It was a couple miles of around a 5-6% grade, with some flat and a couple downhill sections in between. When I reached the rest stop at the top of the hill, I said ‘was that it?’ I didn’t mean to come off like a braggart, but I thought more might be coming.

The payoff for all that climbing was a nice descent. After doing a number of mountains in the past few months, I have become used to difficult, winding, ‘technical’ descents that require a lot of braking. This one had a number of straight sections and the turns were gradual, so we were able to keep cruising downward as fast as gravity would take us. I achieved a top speed of around 41 mph here just by tucking and coasting down. It was short, but exhilarating.

There was another pretty steep climb waiting for us at the bottom of the descent. It also became immediately clear that the temperature had jumped and was now blistering hot. It was time to work again and that ever-present sun made it tough to turn the pedals.

No problem, I thought. The rest of the way is going to be flat or downhill. We could stand the heat. Turns out I was wrong about the flatness of the course, or maybe it just felt that way after so many miles the day prior. There were a lot of rolling hills, and many of the inclines were around 6% or so grade. These are the types I live for when riding locally, but I cursed every one of them today. In the last 40 miles, we had around 2,000 feet of climbing. That would usually be fine, but today every last one hurt.

I slogged, grunted, pushed, and did all I could to make through those last few miles. Each one was harder than the last, and those last few could have been Mount Mitchell if I didn’t know better.


At last, we returned to Hartwell. Two days, 213 miles, and the last 50 were in 90 degrees. Now I’ll call that a weekend. Now is time for some relaxation.

Google GPS from today

Google GPS from yesterday

Challenge of the Centuries, 2011, Day One, Hartwell, GA


Today was day one of the weekend century rides. We began in the city of Hartwell, GA, just south of Lake Hartwell. We would skirt the lake, ride over the dam, and then do a large southern loop that would carry us near Abbeville, SC, then back to Georgia via Lake Russell.

For the first leg of a double century, this ride was just about perfect. It was not terribly hilly; there were some rollers, but not many with steep grades over 5-6%. I found myself in the bigger chainring most of the ride. The best thing was the traffic. There simply wasn’t any. Even the four lane highway we took near Lake Russell had only a handful of cars, and we had a nice shoulder that worked as a bike lane. It was a comfortable, fun ride without a lot of looking over the shoulder.

The high point of the ride was going over Hartwell Dam. From what I understand, they do not usually allow bicycles to ride over. A sheriff stood guard at the entrance, checking to make sure only registered riders got through. Even though the weather was overcast at the time, the view was terrific. It also had a nice bike trail shortly before and after the dam. The entire bypass was a pleasant three miles.


Even though I enjoyed the ride, I had trouble on this one. My major error was in reading a marker incorrectly and veering off course for several miles. As I was traveling down this country road, I noticed it odd that I had not encountered other riders in awhile. After reviewing the cue sheet, I somehow convinced myself I was going the right way. Finally I broke down and used GPS for what should have been the next turn. To my disappointment, it was six miles the other way. In total, I added about 9-10 miles to the ride. While it was frustrating, it wasn’t the first time I got lost, and certainly won’t be the last.

You can see where I got lost in the GPS map below. I was almost to Iva, SC before turning around, wherever that is.


By the time I got back to other riders, I was well behind. The first thirty miles went fast because I was able to draft with a pack. The last 80 would be slow because all the riders at my pace level were ten miles ahead of me. I hunkered down, found a pace that would keep me fresh for tomorrow, and I kept going.

Riding by myself is not a problem, but today it was tough because every mile seemed to have a headwind. This eventually tired me out. My average speed before the wrong turn was about 20 mph, but it gradually dropped and my heart rate went up when riding solo. Fortunately the weather was overcast until the last rest stop. Afterward the sun came out in full force, but the hard part of the ride was over. I fought it off and made it to a nearly empty parking lot unscathed.

Even though the ride was taxing, I recovered well and feel strong for tomorrow. It will not have the amount of rolling hills, but there will be a steep climb up Dick’s Hill in Toccoa.

Where Now?

The main goal for this year, conquering Mount Mitchell, has passed. I defeated that silly mountain, have recovered, and now I’m ready for new and exciting challenges.

I came to cycling through a running injury. The plan was to rehab the injury through riding and eventually start running again. As I got more and more comfortable on the bike, the running plans were pushed further and further back. As Mitchell got closer, I decided that I would start running afterward. After all that training, my legs are quite strong, especially my quads and hammies. The thought was I would start out slow, possibly using the Couch-to-5k program, and gradually get back into the swing of things. From there I could focus more on running as cross-training, or perhaps take a stab at doing triathlons.

That all sounded good until this week. It got hot, real quick. Too hot to run, sorry.

I did three group rides this week. Tuesday and Wednesday were in 90+ degree heat and I felt it. As I hit a tough hill or tried to sprint, my heart rate jumped up fast. I found myself getting winded quickly and could not ride at full strength for very long. On Thursday the heat had subsided a bit. It started above 90, but cooled quickly and we had a strong wind that took the edge off. I felt great and rode strong.

That brought back memories of last summer’s running, which was hot and hotter. If I didn’t get up early in the morning, I didn’t run. Eventually temperatures will hit 100, probably sooner than later. When that happened last year, I did more running on the treadmill. This year, the last thing I want to see is a treadmill, much less the inside of the gym. Cycling is still tough in the heat, but it is a lot easier than running since you can hydrate easier and you are moving faster.

So no running for now. Since I am in such great biking shape, I will keep on keeping on. In the Fall I may gradually get back into running shape, and definitely will in the winter for cross-training purposes. The question is whether I’ll be running to run, or running to become a better cycler. Right now I suspect it’ll be the latter. And I think I will do Mitchell again and try to beat my time.

Speaking of which, this will be a busy weekend for me. I’m doing a double century in Hartwell, GA, then on Monday I will scoot over to Greenville for the Cycling Pro Championships. Next week my wife and I are taking in a Bed and Breakfast in Saluda, NC, where I’ll certainly mix in some cycling while she sleeps in, and I’ll sneak off to do the Fletcher Flyer on Sunday. Late in the summer I’ll be participating in Blue Ridge Breakaway, and a yet-to-be-determined major mountain challenge sometime in the Fall.

Recovery Week

Over the past week I found that the perfect cure to my Mount Mitchell hangover was rest and food. Too much food, but that’s okay. I celebrated in style by finally eating stuff I wanted. This meant I could be less picky about where to eat and what to order. In fact, I went to a restaurant over the weekend and was disappointed that the menu was too healthy. I was over chicken and and fish dishes. I have enjoyed the break, but it is time to get back to better eating. This doesn’t mean I’ll be on the same training diet as the past few months, but I will try to make smarter food choices to keep fueling workouts.

Ride of Silence

The ride pauses in downtown Columbia for a moment of silence.

I also spent less time on the bike, to a degree. My first ride back was the Ride of Silence, which may be a ride, but isn’t much of a workout. It was a short, quiet, three-mile coast through the heart of Columbia in order to pay tribute to fallen cyclists. This was just two days after Mitchell, so it was the perfect pace for my aching quads. Afterward we had a little social event over burritos while watching PSA adds for the Palmetto Cycling Coalition. It was a nice, relaxing evening.

This weekend I was back on the bike. On Saturday I participated in the Ride for Haiti. I chose the longer, metric century option, which sounds like a lot just after Mitchell, but it was the perfect distance. There were fewer than twenty riders and the pace was relaxed. It was too relaxed for me, as it turns out, as I inadvertently pushed ahead of the pack early and missed a key turn. I ended up taking a different route to get back on the course and made up the distance elsewhere. After that I cooled my jets and rode with a pack for the majority of the ride. With just a few miles to go, I pushed harder again and sprinted toward the end at around 20 mph, just to get my heart rate up and legs stretched. It was also a good test to see how my post-Mitchell legs would respond. Despite still being a little sore, I could sense that I was pushing more power to the pedals.

Water for Haiti

That is me, 3rd to the right, showing off my new Mitchell kit.

The ride was fun and well-organized. Missing the marker was my own fault. I simply wasn’t paying attention to the course. Fortunately I was familiar with the area. If someone else got lost, they may have had trouble, so I credit the SAG patrol for being on the lookout for stragglers.

This week I am back in the saddle, taking part in all the group rides and perhaps a century (or two) over Memorial Day weekend if weather permits.

Mount Mitchell Photo Journal

Usually I include a few photos in my ride summary posts, but there were just so many for Mitchell that they warrant their own post. Note that I took most of these from the bike while moving, sometimes (but not usually) fast. I apologize for the dubious quality of some.

You can read the full ride report here.

Click on the images for full size. Click your back button to return to the page.

Assault on Mt Mitchell Starting Line

Assault on Mt Mitchell Starting Line

The ride to Marion

The ride to Marion

Rest stop at Marion.

Rest stop at Marion. Tom Johnson Campground.

Marion Rest stop 2.

Marion Rest Stop again. They had delicious Coke.

Riding on 80

Riding on 80. Could see the mountains we would be climbing.

Highway 80 dam

Gorgeous dam at the early section of Highway 80.

Climbing on Highway 80

Climbing the switchbacks of Highway 80.

Blue Ridge Parkway sign

This sign meant the climbing was almost over.

Entrance to Blue Ridge Parkway

The entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway from Highway 80

Blue Ridge Parkway tunnel

Tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway

Climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway view

Even with the overcast weather, the views from the Blue Ridge Parkway were gorgeous.

Licklog Ridge Overlook

Had climbed about 2/3 the Mitchell elevation by this point.

Mitchell overlook

This was the Mt Mitchell overlook from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Can't see much. I would be riding up that, into those clouds.

Mitchell state park sign

Almost to the state park entrance.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Turning into Mount Mitchell State Park

Mount Mitchell Road

Tough climbing up to the park.

Mitchell Facilities sign.

We would be riding to the summit, which meant we still had a ways to go.

Mitchell park entrance

Finally the real park entrance. You can see how wet it was.

Last big climb

Last big climb until the end.

Finish line

Me crossing the finish line. Triumphant!

Finish line from the side

Finish line from the side

Mitchell bike racks

Wet and rainy bike racks. Getting ready to transport them down the mountain.

Assault on Mount Mitchell, 2011, Spartanburg, SC

Assault on Mount Mitchell starting line

(extra Mitchell photos here)

After months of training and preparation, the day finally arrived, my first attempt at the Assault on Mount Mitchell. Despite being new to the sport, I had trained well and was fairly confident of finishing strong. I had passed an earlier test and knew I could handle that amount of climbing, plus I had a detailed nutrition and fueling plan that had already worked well on other rides. Still, when looking at the elevation chart and hearing the horror stories of Highway 80 and Mount Mitchell State Park, I was not completely sure. On top of this, during the week prior to the ride, I found myself with a bit of left knee pain. This caused me to taper more than I had planned and I was concerned that that the pain could become worse when I reached the heavy climbing sections.

We left Spartanburg Auditorium in the early morning, under a cloudy sky with the threat of rain later in the afternoon. Not knowing how I would perform, I started right around the middle of the crowd and paced myself with the closest pack. There were some early mishaps, a couple crashes, some sudden stops, but it was mostly a painless beginning. My group kept at around 18-20 mph for the flat, early sections. I could have pushed harder, but I was fine with an easier ride to conserve energy for later.

The first challenge was Bill’s Hill, a short mile-long somewhat steep climb, which served as a good early way to test my legs and see how they responded. The knee had nagged a little in the early going, so I kept it conservative on the hill, spinning easily in my lowest gear. Afterward everything felt fine and I was able to pick up the pace a little bit. The group had separated after the hill, so most of my trip to Mt. Marion was either solo or with me in front.

I arrived at Mt. Marion in 4:15 and feeling good. This was towards the high end of my expectations. I was pleased with the result, but also knew I had room to push myself. At the Marion rest stop I consumed some fuel and caffeine, put on headphones, played my MP3 player, and kicked it into another gear.

Highway 80 up to the Blue Ridge Parkway

I knew that the early portion of Highway 80 was relatively fast before the steep climbing in the last few miles. Feeling great, I decided to ride the section aggressively. I picked up the pace and found myself passing a number of riders. My confidence continued through the tough switchbacks and I made it to the Blue Ridge Parkway still feeling strong, albeit a little tired. I knew that things were going well when I heard people talking about potential seven hour timeframes. At this point my competitive juices started flowing. I transitioned from thinking about completing the race to meeting a time benchmark. My goal at that point was to complete below eight hours, which seemed possible, likely even, from where I stood at the rest stop.

Things changed on the parkway. Unlike Highway 80’s switchbacks with varying grades, the Blue Ridge Parkway is just a steady, gradual incline that ranges from 6-8%, broken up only on a couple of occasions, one of which is a two-mile downhill. On the parkway I got into a grinding mentality. I let the gorgeous vistas and my music distract me as I simply moved the pedals and carried myself towards Mitchell. This climb should have been easier, but for some reason I slowed down and found a number of other riders passing me.

At some point the clouds gave way to a light, intermittent rain that was more of an annoyance than a hindrance. With a moderate temperature, I was not complaining. It could have been much worse. The rain had mostly stopped by the time I reached the downhill, which I approached conservatively because the road was wet and the temperature cold. I had heard often that the muscles tend to cool down during the downhill and cramps can set in. That wasn’t the case for me. Initially they felt stiff, but once I got them moving, I settled back into my upward grind.

Mount Mitchell State Park

When I reached Mount Mitchell State Park, I knew I was almost there. Still pushing for a good time and finding myself adequately fueled, I skipped that rest stop and made my way towards the summit. As we climbed Mitchell, an enveloping, misty fog covered us. It gave the appearance and feeling of rain, but it was more of an ever-present mist. As we climbed further upward, the temperature dropped downward into the low 40s It was a wet, cold, not very pleasant feeling. The climbing is much tougher here compared to the parkway, so it became another, slightly more painful grind of hills ranging from 8-12%.

I kept plugging along and found myself noticeably tired. When the climb leveled off, I thought I was at the summit. I gave everything I had and sprinted to what I thought was the finish line, only to be met by another, steeper hill. This one hurt, but I persisted and made it up. I crossed the finish line in 8:05, tired, weather weary, disoriented, but mostly elated.

Mitchell Accomplished!

Strava link
Google Maps link

So Here We Are

After all the training, all the blood and sweat, the time is almost here.

Yesterday I travelled to Spartanburg, got situated and attended two local events. The first was a documentary from the 1988 Assault on Mount Mitchell. It served as a brief preview of the course we’ll be riding tomorrow, as well as a glimpse into yesteryear. Although it was just a scant 23 years ago, it looked like a different universe compared to cycling today. The only thing in common was that (most) people wore similar bike shorts. Fashion was completely different and everyone — yes, I mean everyone — had a mustache. There were even a few ‘business in front, pleasure in back’ mullets thrown in for good measure.

What was really interesting about this documentary was that people did exceptionally well despite archaic technology compared to today. There were no aero designed carbon bikes, compact cranks, or state-of-the-art bike computers. In one scene, a rider was guessing where he was and how far from Mitchell. Tomorrow most riders will know where they are relative to rest stops most of the time. Of all 1600 or so who attempted the ride that year, roughly 1200 succeeded.

Later in the evening, after checking out the infamous Beacon Drive-In, was the VeloSocial gathering. It was, as you would guess, a nice social mixer with ride organizers and participants. We got to hear about GlobalBike and a brief speech from Rahsaan Bahati, a cycling pro with origins in Compton, CA, who told his rags-to-spandex story. We also got to watch a driving video of the Mitchell course, which was interesting and scary at the same time. I left right about the time the video reached Marion, but was surprised some tough hills leading up to the big climbs. Having overstuffed myself at Beacon, I skipped on the food, but the local beer was great.

All in all, it was a good first day. This morning I had a nice, short ride just to get the legs warm. Everything felt great and I am confident of having a good performance tomorrow. Later today will be packet pick-up and a special expo where I will probably spend too much money. This evening we are driving to Marion to drop a car for the return trip tomorrow and plan to get some heavy pasta to fuel us tomorrow.

To all those riding tomorrow, good luck and Godspeed!