The Hot Doggett 100 turned out to be quite an adventure. It was so eventful that I cannot recap it in a single blog post. This will be part one. I will continue the recap in the next day or two.
We departed at 7:30am from Mars Hill College in Western North Carolina, not too far from the Tennessee border. This was yet another big climbing ride. It consisted of a number of smaller climbs and three moderately difficult category two climbs. The major obstacles were Doggett Gap, Devil’s Fork Gap and Sam’s Gap.
The weather at the start was overcast and foggy with a nice temperature in the low 60s. It had rained buckets overnight, so in the early going the roads were damp with small puddles littered about. My glasses fogged up and I had trouble navigating the beginning portion of the course. I even got yelled at by another rider because I could not maintain a line. Tough to do when I can barely see. Once we got into the country, the roads dried up and conditions eased. We had some nice rolling hills and a few downhills, one of which sped us through the town of Marshall, NC. Through the early going I felt terrific. I paced with a group from Spartanburg and could tell that this would be a good climbing day.
The first major climb was Doggett Gap, which came at about 25 miles into the course. It began easily enough, with a small grade of 3-5% until it turned up and became more like 10%. The total distance was around four miles, most of which was consistently at the 10% grade. It reminded me of an easier version of Cullowhee Mountain that I had climbed during the Tour de Cashiers. I felt great through the climb and maintained a decent, steady pace. The only real stumbling block was when I accidentally dropped my phone while trying to take a picture. That forced me to unclip on a steep segment and I lost my rhythm and slowed my pace. I still felt fine when I reached the top and looked forward to what else was around the corner.
After Doggett there were a series of exhilarating descents through the Pisgah National Forest. I had lost my group after Doggett so I found another foursome out of Asheville. Usually I am a conservative descender in the mountains, but I felt a lot more confident following their line since they had a good feel for these roads and had experienced them before. We glided down the mountains gracefully and it felt amazing. This type of experience is what makes all the training, all the grunting, and all the soreness the next day worth it. Descending mountains such as these is pure bliss.
We rolled across the French Broad River and into another climb of three miles. This wasn’t too difficult. It was mostly straight highway riding, and the grade was around 6% the entire way up. I made it without issue. It was afterward that I started having problems.
My downfall was a stomach cramp and it was nasty. It started somewhere during the middle climb and became progressively worse as we moved forward. We had a series of flats afterward and formed a large pace-line, maybe 10-15 riders. The group worked together well and we maintained great speeds, but I was struggling. A knot was forming in my belly and I was having trouble maintaining my spot in the line. When I got to the front, I could tell that my speed was not good for the group so I backed off and just sat in until climbing resumed.
What came next was Devil’s Fork Gap, which I found out later is also an Appalachian Trail stop. Compared to the lengthy climbs at the beginning and end of the ride, this was short and steep. It usually would not have been terribly difficult if not for my stomach woes. To make matters worse, the sun had come out with a fury. We had been riding in moderate temperatures around 70-80 most of the morning. On this climb the temperature spiked up to 95. The climb was only two miles or so, maybe not even that, but I struggled. When the grade hit 15%, I did everything in my power to keep pushing myself up. I wobbled on the road, moving from side to side, just trying to keep some momentum upward. This was without question the most difficult part of the ride for me. I made it up exhausted and with what felt like a solid rock in the middle of my gut.
Fortunately there was a rest stop right at the top. I knew that I needed a break. My stomach needed to settle. At first I could not eat a thing. Gatorade was too strong. Water helped. I sat on a lounge chair and waited it out. It was probably 15, maybe 20 minutes until my energy came back. The stomach cramp eased and I was able to eat.
The next section should probably remain between me and the mountain. It is all part of human nature, so I may as well share it. As a result of my stomach discomfort, I had a little bit of, ahem, build-up that needed to be released. That also gave me incentive to get back on the bike and away from such nice and friendly rest stop volunteers. Trust me, I had enough poison within me to ruin their day. I was also fortunate to have waited long enough to let other riders pass me. As I took to the next descent, I let things fly in more ways than one. Let’s just say that I had some acceleration assistance that probably netted me an extra 2 miles per hour.
When I reached the bottom, I felt like a brand new rider. Less than a quarter of the course was ahead of me and despite having to ride it solo, I knew I would be able to finish. Then something else happened, which I will talk about in my next post.