I approached Cherokee Foothills as a tune-up, a last hurrah before buckling in for the Bridge to Bridge ride in two weeks. At first it looked like it might not be challenging. As I discovered when reviewing the cue sheet, it would be just fine. Nothing like a lot of the other rides I have done recently, but good enough to continue my fitness. In the end, this turned out to be a beast of a ride, much tougher than I bargained for.
I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4am, earlier than any human being should be awake unless they are still up from the night before. Soon I was en route to Tigerville, SC, a familiar location for upstate cycling. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and felt great. A big difference this time was that I traveled to this ride totally alone. Of course I always like good company, but it was nice to go at my speed.
After starting at 8am, I hung with the lead pack for the first couple miles. The pace was manageable, but I did not want to burn my candle too early, so I backed off and rode solo. I still kept a good pace. I had an 18 mph average after 10 miles, with nearly 1,000 feet of climbing. These were literally the foothills and they were mostly rolling. Some kicked up to a steep grade, but were over quickly before we were rolling back down again. It was a nice, scenic, leisurely ride down roads I had often traveled before on other rides.
Eventually I caught up to some who had fallen off the lead pack. We rode together and caught up with some others. We ran a nice pace line until we approached the Watershed. As it turned out, most of those in the pack were doing the metric, so it thinned out for the Watershed. There was a lot of confusion at the intersection where the metric route split from the century route. One rider inadvertently started going up the Watershed with his riding partner down below yelling that he was going the wrong way. I caught up with him and steered him back down to his friend.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love the Watershed? It is nice and quiet. Usually the only sounds are other cyclists and water trickling. It is not terribly steep save for a couple of sections, and is pretty much devoid of traffic, not counting cyclists. There are often a ton of them, as there were today.
I felt good on the Watershed and later found from the Strava data that I beat my personal best time. After a strong lower half, I lost some of my mojo on the upper half when the climbs get a little steeper. When I got to e top, I was riding alone again but felt great and enjoyed the ride into Saluda. Once at the Saluda rest stop I caught up with two other riders, Scott and Rich and rode with them most of the way.
After Saluda, we headed north up Highway 176 towards Flat Rock. The traffic was a little heavy on this stretch, but we made it just fine. Then we turned back through Zirconia and back down the Watershed. We came down on a different road, one that I have not traveled before, up or down. The descent was just as fantastic as the way I am used to. It would be amazing if they repaved the roads. Scott pointed out that they probably don’t because of all the cycling traffic.
We hit the bottom of the Watershed and immediately noticed the heat. It was a lot hotter down here and would only get worse. Heat is my Achilles heel and I handled it poorly. I probably did not drink enough and was losing power the hotter it got.
The rest stop was supposed to be at mile 69. We went there and beyond. No rest stop. We found out later that it didn’t exist. Who knows what happened? There were not many century riders, so it is possible they packed up after the metric riders stopped coming by. The cue sheet said they would be open until 3pm and it was not even 1pm when we came through, so it was a little frustrating. Fortunately there was a store a few miles afterward. We rested and refueled. There was another stop at mile 85 and we topped off.
Those last 15 miles were rough. I lost my humor and almost all mental capacity. I just mindlessly peddled along. The last part was again back in the foothills. They were also almost completely out in the open, totally exposed to the sun’s relentless wrath. The hills were rolling like before, but because of the brutal heat, they seemed steeper and longer. I remember Oak Grove Road being particularly difficult. We had nice descents, but the uphills were often in the 9-10% range.
At one time my Garmin showed 100 degrees outside. That was probably exaggerated, but it was easily 95 or higher from noon until 3pm when we finally finished. We came back on Highway 414, which thankfully was not too challenging. I almost screamed with joy when I saw Tigerville Elementary. It was almost over. Soon after we rolled into North Greenville College and got some relief. I practically guzzled water and did my best to eat. It wasn’t until I had spent some time in my air-conditioned car before I started to feel better.
This was a tough one. I ended up with around 6,500 feet climbing. The last 1,000 or so were in high temperatures and unquestionably the toughest.