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!