The forecast was scary. There was going to be a major storm system passing through at some point, with a 40% chance of thunderstorms for all day. That usually means that over a 6-8 hour period there is a 100% chance that some bad weather will occur. Fortunately that turned out to not be the case. The big storm system passed north of us, and no others came. We had to deal with some clouds and wind at the beginning, and the sun came out later. It turned out to be a beautiful day for riding.
Tour de Cashiers is a brutal ride. As I was getting ready, I overheard someone talking about how he feels it is the toughest ride in the Southeast. He said it was tougher than Mitchell, Six Gap, Blood, Sweat & Gears, and any other ride he had tried. Apparently he had tried many. A local disagreed, although he said that a few years ago when it had Charley’s Creek and Buck Creek, it might fit that bill. Either way, Cashiers is an extremely difficult ride, one of the toughest I have ever done. It is easy to forget how tough it was last year, even though I named it the 2nd toughest ride all year.
My goal was to finish fast. This was my final test before Mitchell, my A event, and would help me with preparation. I planned to carry a lot of food and stop as little as possible. I would try to hang with the lead pack until the climbs began and try to “push” my way through them.
Things don’t always work out the way you plan. To my surprise, I had absolutely nothing at the start of the ride. In the first couple miles I found myself falling behind. Then I tried to speed up and catch another pack, but my legs felt like big sticks. It was a feeling I have never felt before. I fell back again into another pack. Soon enough I was pulling them and working harder than ever. I looked down and saw my heart rate was between 190-200, whereas it would usually be 140-150 in this situation. ‘What in the world is going on?’ I thought. This was not right. I fell back again, dropped by all of the packs and rode by myself. I would ride solo like this for most of the day.
I learned a lot in those first 10 miles. The culprit was most likely a lack of fueling, although there were probably some other factors. I ate some of the food I was carrying and almost immediately felt better. I made sure to stop at every rest stop (not part of the plan) to keep myself fueled. From there I was able to get my legs back and soon enough start catching and passing the packs that had dropped me.
The first climb is not really one big climb, but a series of many steep, rolling hills that trend upward. This took us to the scenic Tanassee Gap area and beyond. This was where I found my climbing composure and settled into a group. I was still not 100%, but I was getting there.
There was a nasty accident right before Tanassee Creek. Apparently a rider from Anderson, SC on the Melo Velo Cycling Team took a fast turn wrong and wound up in the woods. He was being stabilized as I passed through. Later I found that he was airlifted to the hospital as a precaution in case there were any internal problems, but he was in stable condition. Please comment if you hear any updates. Hopefully he was not seriously injured.
The next climb was Tilley Creek Road. Last year I had difficulty and found it to be the toughest climb of the day. This time I still found it to be awful, but I had an easier time. I think what hurt me most last year was the heat, my achilles heel. Tilley Creek has a lot of areas that are exposed to the sun. That combined with steep grades makes for a tough time, plus I believe the temperature was 10 degrees warmer that day.
Tilley Creek is where I got my groove back. It was unimaginably difficult and I got passed by a couple riders, but I gained momentum and felt okay when I reached the top.
Walnut Creek Rd, we meet again. At mile 80 I would face the beast. The climb is 6-miles long and starts with a bang. When I hit the first pitch, it was like being smacked with a hammer. It was in the 13-15% vicinity and did it ever hurt. BAM! That continued for awhile. I passed a rider stopped on the side of the road, collecting his breath. “It eases up in a bit,” I promised him. After a few more grunts, it did. The grade becomes a lot more manageable in the middle of the climb, with a couple flat and downhill sections, and some 4-6% inclines.
It was at mile 84 when the smackdown came again. This was just like the beginning of the climb and continued for another grueling mile. As much as I hated this climb on the way up, I felt alright. I was able to alternate spinning my way up, standing up to use my calves, and also pulling on the handle bars to use my upper body. I started passing people and that would continue for the remainder of the ride.
At the top of Walnut Creek there is a short descent, a rest area, and then more climbing. This was just a few hundred feet, but again above 10% grades and not easy after the monsters behind us. I grunted my way through these hills and let out a sigh of relief when I hit Highway 64. Almost done.
I rolled into the city of Cashiers feeling good, not too tired, just ravenously hungry. Even though I struggled, I blew away last year’s time, finishing in under 7 hours. The trout salad at the end tasted amazing. The steak dinner later that night tasted even better.