Monthly Archives: August 2012

Media Matters

In a couple days, I will be in the September issue of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine in some capacity. I’m not sure to what extent I will be featured, but I know there will be at least a few quotes, and maybe one or two of my images.

Now seems like a good time to reflect on my recent experiences with the media. There haven’t been many, just some small newspapers and now a small magazine. Contrary to the above graphic, I do not think I am a big deal, but it is nice to get a little bit of attention. They have at least made for some interesting stories.

Longtime readers and my local friends will remember the ‘Push It’ debacle from earlier this year. Long story short, I was pressured to estimate the time it would take me to complete a century ride. I overestimated myself, underestimated the route, and qualified my response with ‘if I push it.’ They ran with that as a theme for a larger feature of the paper. That weekend was bedlam. I heard from a lot of people, including some reputable cyclists I had never met before.

The last one was more recent, and I haven’t discussed it on the blog yet. While I was out in Colorado, I heard from a reporter doing a story for Smoky Mountain News on the Blue Ridge Breakaway. It was my ride of the year for 2011, and I gave an enthusiastic review. It is probably still my favorite ride to date.

I spoke with the reporter for maybe 30 minutes early in the morning from Colorado. Most of the interview went well. He had some interesting questions about the ride and cycling in general. There was the obligatory ‘why?’ question, which I have noticed is commonplace from non-cyclists.

He caught me off guard towards the end of the interview. He asked what I think about while I’m climbing up a big hill (I touched on this in my Loveland Pass write-up). That stumped me, as I hadn’t really given a lot of thought (ha!) to what I think about. Usually I just go with it.

After returning from Colorado, I discussed the question with someone I know who practices transcendent meditation. He said that cycling is a form of meditation, but the journalist was correct that it is rare to obtain a complete state of peace while on the bike. Many people will achieve it once or twice, then continue pushing themselves to try and achieve it again. Some of them never will. Realistically, I probably have not reached this point. There have been many times that, due to pure exhaustion, my thoughts have slowed and I have focused intently on the task at hand. Being hyper-focused on completing the task is not the same as meditative bliss.

Overall I was happy with the piece. After all, he called me an influential blogger. I don’t know about all that, but thanks! He also interviewed BRB’s route director Cecil Yount, as well as Laura and Russ from The Path Less Pedaled. I made a couple errors, including playfully exaggerating something for emphasis, which he quoted verbatim (from the article: “One girl spent about 20 minutes on the ground after she was finished because she was so tired.”).

This upcoming piece in Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine should be the biggest exposure yet. They have a readership of around 250,000, mostly concentrated in the Southeast USA. The magazine is free, and primarily aimed at tourists. I have been reading it over the last few months, and have been impressed. They usually tackle an activity every month, and give an overview of where in the Southeast you can enjoy that activity. For example, the August issue was about swimming, so they listed the best watering holes in the Southeast.

The September issue is going to be about road cycling. The piece where I’ll be quoted is about the toughest mountain centuries in the Southeast. Their editors had chosen six rides that were evenly spread throughout their readership. I had only ridden in two or three, but I knew about the others. I also suggested some rides that they had not mentioned, which should be part of a sidebar.

Fortunately I did not put my foot in my mouth this time. At least I don’t think I did. We’ll know for sure when it is released. Despite my participation, it sounds like it’ll be a useful article. I’ll post the web link on Twitter and Facebook.

Race to the Rock, 2012, Chimney Rock, NC

Climbing through the Chimney Rock Park foliage.

Earlier this year, after doing Tour de Lure, I stopped by Lake Lure on my way back. Chimney Rock was so hypnotic, that I had to check it out. Driving up, I noticed that it would make a remarkable climb, but they had a strict no-bicycles policy. So much for that. I later found out that bicycles are allowed one day out of the year, for the Race to the Rock. I am not a racer, but this was enough incentive to give it a try.

The Race to the Rock is a 25-mile time trial that ends at the top of Chimney Rock mountain. Apparently in previous years, they had riders depart one-by-one, but they changed that to a mass start for logistics and safety reasons.

Despite the fact that I don’t really race, I thought I would make the most of it, and give an honest effort. I had felt sluggish since returning from Colorado, so perhaps doing well in the time trial would give me some confidence. I registered in the Men’s Masters group. This turned out to be the largest percentage of the field, giving the least opportunity to place, but that’s okay. I didn’t expect to win. I just hoped to do well.

The mass start let off from right in front of Chimney Rock State Park at 7:30am. I positioned myself close enough to the front that I could jump onto the lead pack. The goal was to hang on with them as long as possible until the final climb.

The pace was spirited, but not insane. I was able to hang on without problem. I was nearly gapped on a small hill, but was able to maneuver around the dropped rider, and catch up with the pack. We flew through Memorial Parkway, the curvy road on the southern shore of Lake Lure. We powered over the climbs, and leaned through the descending turns, barely tapping the brakes. After five miles, the pace was around 25 mph. I turned around to find everyone else had fallen off. It was just me, and maybe a dozen or so other riders in the lead pack. Things were going well.

We pushed past Lake Lure, and took a left on Bill’s Creek Road. Hmm. This road looks familiar. The moment we turned, I asked a rider to my left whether we would be riding up Bill’s Mountain. “No,” he said, “we’ll turn right before it.” We began climbing almost as he finished the sentence. I looked at the 11% grade reading on my Garmin, squinted to see the course better, and realized we were climbing Bill’s Hill. If I changed gears at that point, I could drop my chain. I tried to power through it, but it was painful. The riders started to move away from me. Finally I was able to get into the little ring, and even started gaining on the group, but it was too late. They were gone.

I rode solo for the next several miles, rolling around more twists and turns on Buffalo Shoals Road. I thought I might make it all the way to the climb without another rider catching me. That wasn’t the case, as a group of around eight riders crept closer. I had been working hard, so when I saw them behind me, I eased off and fell in. It was best to rest and leave something for the climb.

That’s exactly what I did. They kept a comfortable pace, much faster than I could have managed solo, yet nowhere close to what we managed with the lead group. That got me to the climb.

We entered the park, crossed a bridge, and entered a shroud of trees. The trees would be above us for the entire climb, so the scenery from higher elevations would wait until the top. To my surprise, the climb was a lot milder than I had expected. There were some slightly steeper pitches, but few that surpassed the 10% level. Most of the time it was right around 6%, which is just about perfect.

I shifted into my lower gears, and focused on climbing as efficiently as possible. I kept reminding myself that this was a race, so I would want to climb faster than the rest of my pack. That seemed to not be an issue. A couple other riders and I formed a gap between the rest of the group, which wouldn’t really be bridged. We continued upward, and eventually it was just me and a guy wearing a Missouri jersey (who I later found out was Jon). The climb was short, thankfully. I found out later that it took me about 18 minutes.

We could hear the finish line before we saw it. Someone was reading rider numbers and names as they passed. We passed through the parking lot and knew we were about done. Jon kept a steady pace. I thought about pushing to try and pass him, then thought better of it. Another guy did exactly that from behind, passing both of us. Jon caught him, while I didn’t bother. My heart rate was through the roof by that point. I passed the finish line uneventfully, relieved that it was finished.

I was proud of my performance, and thought I could have placed. That turned out not to be the case. I was 13th overall (I think), and 5th in the Men’s Masters category, which I am very happy with. A friend and blog reader, Kevin Meechan was 3rd in the same category, finishing a couple minutes ahead of me. I was pleased for both of us.

Overall the event was spectacular. Setup Events did a great job managing the course and with the post-race ceremony. The views from Chimney Rock didn’t disappoint. After the riders cleared out, we rode the elevator up and took in some of the sights. We then capped the weekend with a nice brunch near the bank of Lake Lure. It was a great time.

Strava GPS Link



France in 2013

Image credit: Gerry Patterson

2013 has been on my mind for the last few months. 2012 has been phenomenal. How can I top it? For awhile, I was somewhat committed to doing Iron Man Florida next year. I even went ahead and made arrangements to volunteer this year, which allows you first dibs on registering for next year. I had even ramped up my running slightly (from 0 to maybe 3 miles per week, very slightly), and put some 5k races on my calendar.

Change of plans. I’m now going to France!

I have wanted to ride in the France alps, and even considered a trip for next year, but that went went on the back-burner once I geared towards Iron Man. Lately I’ve been waffling on going the triathlon route. I can run, but I’m not a runner. I don’t particularly enjoy it. As I started to think about next year’s rides, I felt disappointment that I would skip some amazing cycling, only to focus on running and swimming.

I received an email this week from fellow blogger Gerry. He is a Canadian living in southern France that shares the same passion for hills that I do. He just happens to live near some of the historic, legendary climbs that the pros ride through every year in July. He was putting together a small team for the Haute Route event. Would I be interested?

Yes. Emphatically, yes! I had to first clear it with my wife. I’m lucky to have a cool and understanding wife. She gave her blessing, and I hope she can come with (depends on her school schedule).

So I’m in.

The Haute Route is a 7-day cycling “tour.” I don’t mean that in the casual bike tour sense, where I take my time riding at 12 mph, stopping for every tourist attraction that I encounter. This is a tour in the spirit of the Tour de France. It is a timed event for amateurs that roughly simulates seven stages of the Tour de France. In other words, it will be a world of pain, but I will love it!

This year’s route is from Geneva to Nice, and passes through all of the historic climbs of the French Alps. From what I understand, you name them and they’ll be included. This year has a time trial up Alpe d’Huez. Ouch!

Now that I am going forward with this endeavor, I need to plan my training. Yes, it is a year away, but I’ll need all that time to get prepared. I will be renewing my relationship with Apex Nutrition all the way through the event next year. I may also explore some affordable coaching options. This will be one of the rare years where Assault on Mount Mitchell will actually be a training ride.

France. Galibier! Ventoux! Madeleine! All the rest. I almost cannot believe I’m doing this. In the immortal words of Bart Scott, I can’t wait!

Measuring the Blue Ridge

As I was climbing Mount Evans with a few Colorado locals, I made reference to one of the hills I had climbed in the Southeast. One of the guys turned and looked at me, and jokingly said “You guys have hills out there?” He had a good point. In terms of elevation, the Blue Ridge pales in comparison to its western counterparts. I had practically lived around 10,000 feet for most of my Colorado stay, and climbed above 11,000 several times, including once over 12,000 feet, and the big one came in at 14,100. Many of those climbs were above the treeline, and yielded views that far surpassed anything we have on the East coast.

But the climbing is different. I was reminded of that when I came back and attempted the Blue Ridge Brutal. Instead of long and gradual climbs, we have short and steep. My legs hurt far more after this ride than anything I had done in the Rockies. Not to take anything away from the Rockies, as I loved every minute of my stay, but the Southeast has some pretty amazing climbing if you ask me.

Let me back up a little bit. Earlier this year when looking for good climbing blogs, I bumped into The Climbing Cyclist. To my surprise, Matt’s website was very similar to mine, only he covered the other side of the world — Australia. I enjoyed reading about his adventures, and shot him a quick note to let him know. Of course I also let him know about my website.

As it turned out, he was planning on a trip to the states later in the year. He would be looking for good places to climb. Did I have any suggestions? Of course I recommended some of the climbs in our corner, and his interest was peaked.

I checked his website a few months later, and to my surprise, he had just climbed Mount Baldy outside of Los Angeles. He then headed to New Orleans, then to New York, and finally to Washington, DC.

We emailed again. He was asking about places to climb near his last two stops. He had already spent some time riding around New York City, and would soon be climbing Whiteface Mountain at Lake Placid. I suggested he try some of the climbs in Vermont, but that didn’t work out. As for Washington, I had no idea, but thought he could try Skyline Drive or the Parkway near Roanoke, Virginia if he was willing to drive a ways.

Then I get an email saying he had set aside a few days, and wanted to try the Blue Ridge Mountains. Which would I suggest, Asheville or Boone? That was like asking a loving mother to pick her favorite son. Ultimately I suggested Asheville because it is a bigger city, and he would be relying on local transportation to get to and from the climbs.

As for where to climb, my first suggestion was the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Mitchell. Why go small, right? It would be quite a climb, but it is also the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and is probably one of the best climbs of the Southeast. He toughed it out, made it up to Mitchell, and came back down elated. The next day he decided to head out the opposite direction on the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading up to the top of Mount Pisgah, then back down Town Mountain Road.

While the grades were not terribly steep, Matt found them to have their own unique challenges. One thing he noticed is that there is not a lot of consistency. You will be climbing at the same grade for awhile, then you will reach a flat or even a downhill before climbing again. What Matt didn’t find, was that southeast climbing can be STEEP! In fact, a lot of the climbs up to the Blue Ridge Parkway are tougher than the Parkway itself. He may have found that out if he could have ridden from Brevard, but alas, transportation was an issue.

I highly recommend you read Matt’s take on Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a great read, and a great adventure. Even though he went through a lot of trouble to get here, I’m glad that he was able to enjoy it. The only real negative was that nobody recognized him as Australian, and one could mistook Australia for Austria. C’mon Americans!

Now back to Colorado. The tough part about climbing in Colorado is not really the elevation profiles. They are long, but most that I tried are relatively smooth and easy. Independence Pass was a long, gradual climb, averaging 3% over 16 miles. Mount Evans was a little steeper, averaging 4.5% over 27 miles. I understand there are some steeper climbs around the foothills. Magnolia Road near Boulder is known for being steep. Overall, they still seem to be an easier lot easier lot to climb.

What gets you in the Rockies is the elevation. I was maybe half the climber I had been in the Blue Ridge. Without being used to breathing such little oxygen, I simply could not push myself to muscle exertion. As a result, these rides were mostly slow and methodical. Believe it or not, I actually lost fitness when I got back home, as evident by my performance in last week’s Blue Ridge Brutal where I was 91st out of 135.

I’m not saying that Rocky Mountain climbing is easy in comparison. Quite the contrary! Mount Evans was possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done on a bike! Our climbs are also hard, and not to be discounted. They are simply different.

Blue Ridge Brutal, 2012, West Jefferson, NC

It was a mild and overcast morning when I, along with 280 other riders, departed Ashe County Civic Center for the Blue Ridge Brutal. I’ve now been on a few other timed non-racing events, all of which are careful to call them a ‘ride’ and not a ‘race.’ Not so for this event, which brought the big boys out to play. Congrats to Ryan Jenkins for ‘winning’ with a 4:38 time.

You would think that after trying out some of Colorado’s finest climbs, I would be a monster on a southeastern century. Not the case. I knew almost immediately that I was not the same rider as a couple months ago. In a way that turned out to be a blessing. I decided to ride my own ride. I didn’t want to get caught up in the pack racing mentality and burn myself out. Frankly, this course is just as good as a ‘ride,’ as it is a ‘race.’

The first several miles are mostly downhill, with a few humps just to keep riders honest. I lined up towards the front of the middle of the pack, close enough to get a free, early ride, but not to be in contention. There were a handful of people that didn’t belong up front (myself included), so my being near the back caused me to watch out for gaps. There were a few occasions that I had to sprint to catch up to the pack. I stuck with them as we climbed up Idlewild Rise, which is a gradual climb of about 300-feet. I lost them on the descent at mile 12.

We entered the Blue Ridge Parkway unceremoniously. Most entrances I’ve been on have an on-ramp with a distinctive stone railing (like this image). This one had no sign, no railing. We just turned left, and there we were. I asked a rider next to me if we were on the parkway. It sure looked like it. There was an overlook soon enough that confirmed it.

One thing I really liked was the European way that the volunteers handled the rest stops. I wasn't planning on stopping at the first stop. To my surprise, they handed me a full bottle of water. They were also handing off musettes, which are canvas bags full of goodies. I was not quick enough to grab a bag for myself, but I grabbed the bottle, downed most of it, then chucked it to the side of the road with the others.

We stayed on the Parkway for just over 20-miles. To me, unless you're heading to a Southern Sixer, Parkway climbing is not too difficult. Usually you are going either up or down without ever exceeding a 6-8% grade. Most of the climbs on the stretch that we rode were short, followed by an equally short descent. There was only one time I remember descending that it really felt like I opened it up.

After leaving the parkway and riding a few miles, I was thinking that this was a surprisingly easy ride. I even mentioned this to a fellow rider, who warned me not to get too confident. "The thing about this ride," he said, "is it gets more difficult the further you go."

The course was put together well. Many of the roads in the 40-70 mile range were truly rural, farm roads — my favorite! I saw far more cattle than cars. Unlike a lot of rural riding I've done, the pavement was smooth. This also meant that since I wasn't riding with packs, that I was riding alone in the middle of nowhere for a lot of the time. That said, I was never concerned. The SAG wagon passed by numerous times, and I knew the ride was well supported. I would tell someone after the ride that there were 'yellow shirts everywhere.' At times it seemed the volunteers outnumbered the riders.

As I had been warned, there were climbs to trifle with. The big monster was Buffalo Road, or 'Buffalo Hump,' as I've heard some call it. It is just under two-miles, but is very steep. It begins with an easy grade to lull one into a sense of comfort before it cracks the whip. I noticed the grade being consistently at a 12-13% range for much of the upper climb. Let's just say that I was not a Buffalo Soldier. I was a Buffalo casualty, as that climb kicked my tail.

After descending Buffalo, we turned onto 3 Top Road, where more misery was awaiting us. I'm still not certain whether we were on 3-Top mountain or not, but I know that we continued climbing. We turned left on Highway 194, uphill for a couple miles toward Todd, NC. It wasn't as difficult as Buffalo, but was a lot tougher than the Parkway or most anything else.

Unlike a lot of other rides up here, there were not a lot of lengthy sustained climbs. Many of the bigger climbs were a mile or two. That doesn't mean that it was easy. Not by any stretch. In this sense, it reminded me of Isaqueena's Last Ride, which is almost all rolling hills, all day, save for one big climb. After Buffalo and 3-Top, we rolled around the neighborhoods in the Jefferson outskirts. I remember a particularly steep neighborhood road where I encountered some construction workers. "Only 5 miles to," they yelled at me. Thanks, but this isn't my favorite of those miles, I joked back. They laughed, "I think you'll like the next mile a little more." It was a steep descent, so yes, that was awesome.

The course brought us back along the Highway 221 shoulder. Usually this would not be comfortable riding because of the traffic, but the shoulder was clean and the drivers respectful, so it was not a problem.

After the finish line, where I clocked in at just under 6:30 (unofficial, results should be posted on the website Tuesday), I had a big challenge still remaining.

The cities of Jefferson and West Jefferson are under the shadow of the 4,665 foot Mount Jefferson. The Blue Ridge Brutal allows no more than 50 riders to ride up the mountain. I failed to register in time, and was placed on the waiting list. At first I was worried that I wouldn't be able to ride. That turned out to not be an issue, as only 22 riders gave it a try. When I started the climb, I understood why.

The total climb was 3.3 miles, and gained just over a thousand feet. After riding around the high country for 100 miles, that really hurt. Especially after I had barely touched anything steeper than 6% in a month. The average grade is somewhere between 8-9%, and I was tired. I huffed and puffed, and gradually made my way to the top. According to Strava, I am in 17th place out of 18. Last place is someone who took an hour longer, so I'm pretty sure he walked. That puts me in dead last. I was tired.

The Blue Ridge Brutal lived up to its name. With Jefferson included, it was one of the more challenging rides I have tried in the southeast. I only hope that next year, more people will harden up and give the big hill a try.

Blue Ridge Brutal Strava GPS Link (Garmin shut off with a few miles to go)
Mt. Jefferson Strava GPS Link



Hincapie Gran Fondo Announced

Those who mourned the loss of the annual Marquis de Sade ride will appreciate this news. George Hincapie, Tour de France legend and Greenville superstar, has announced his own Gran Fondo taking place on 10/27/2012. It will feature many of the same quad-killing climbs as good ol’ De Sade.

What makes this ride special is the celebrity of Hincapie and perhaps some of his closest friends. He and his jersey company have become the face of Greenville cycling, and hopefully will continue to contribute to the community for years to come. Hincapie should be riding along with special guests. They have not yet been named, but I expect a lot of BMC riders (maybe Tejay, Cadel?), and perhaps some other tour pros. Since this is Hincapie’s retirement year, the inaugural event should be extra special.

The longer ride is 80 miles and features the toughest climbs in the area. It starts outside of Greenville and heads straight to the Tryon/Saluda area. I have long complained about Skyuka / White Oak Mountain in the past. We’ll be reunited again, as it appears to be the first major climb. After that will be its younger brother, Howard Gap. It appears that they have eliminated the dangerous descent, as we’ll take the higher elevation route to Saluda, alongside Interstate 26. From there we’ll descend Holbert Cove, and come back through Green River Cove Road. Since Tour de Leaves is the week prior, that means I’ll be climbing Green River two weekends in a row. Ugh!

While these climbs will certainly be painful, they should be equally gorgeous. The fall leaves should be at their brightest in late October. That’s a worthwhile trade-off for the cooler temperatures, which from my experience will most likely (hopefully?) require arm warmers and little else.

There have been a lot of rumblings ever since the event was announced. One of the reservations people have is that this is a Gran Fondo, meaning it is timed. That timing chip tends to attract the hardest of the core, but with a 3,500 rider maximum and a difficult course, I expect there to be a healthy mixture of paces. Regardless how fast or slow you are, there will probably be many others right with you. I know that when I’m going up Howard Gap, the timing chip isn’t going to get me to the top any faster.

The other thing is the price. This is an expensive ride. The longest route is $170, and it scales down from there. A jersey is included in the price for the long ride, so there is that, but it’s a lot more than most. Mitchell is close, but with all the logistics to get people and their bikes up and down the mountain, it makes sense. That said, I think the price is fair for this type of event. Copper Triangle was similar. It was close to the same price, also included a jersey, and was superbly organized. I expect the same, if not better, from Hincapie. However expensive, this event could immediately become a major attraction, putting the area on the map for many.

Hincapie Gran Fondo

Back to the Blue Ridge

After gushing about the Rocky Mountains for a couple weeks, I am finally back home, ready to tackle some new, local climbs. This weekend I will be heading back to the North Carolina high country, and will get the opportunity to explore part of a new state.

August 18th was a tough weekend to decide on a ride. As it turns out, three rides that I have wanted to try are all happening on the same day. The Blue Ridge Breakaway was my ride of the year last year. It’s an amazing ride, and I had a blast participating last year. This year they are expanding the event to include a special event the night before with special guest, bloggers The Path Less Pedaled. A lot of people have asked me about this ride after listing it as the best last year. If you are on the fence, I encourage you to give this a try. I cannot make it this year, but it is already on next year’s calendar.

Flight of the Dove is a local favorite. It is a metric century that takes place in Laurens County, SC. While it may not necessarily be my type of ride (brutal mountain centuries), it is extremely popular. Of my local club, about 20 are traveling to participate, a big number given that it’s a 1.5 hour drive. Everyone I know that has ‘Done the Dove’ has raved about it. As much as I like to ride with close friends, I have to skip this one.

Instead, this week I am doing the Blue Ridge Brutal in Jefferson, NC. It has a reputation of being a tough century, which is right in my wheelhouse. Additionally, it is a new area for me. It isn’t far from Boone, NC, where I’ve ridden a few times. Aside from a stretch on the Blue Ridge Parkway, all of these climbs will be brand new to me. That was the deciding factor in my decision. I like climbing new hills.

After finishing the 100-mile century, some riders have the option to ride up Mount Jefferson, a 3-mile climb with a steep grade. I am officially on the waiting list. From what I understand, a lot of people change their mind after 100 miles. That is understandable, but it won’t be me.

We’ll be staying an extra night, returning Sunday. Assuming the legs are in decent shape the next morning, we’re going to venture across the Virginia border. I’ll try a climb or two while my wife explores the area. Most likely I’ll ride up Grayson Highlands, the highest paved road in Virginia with a good view of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia.