2012 Rides of the Year

Last year I ranked my rides with two lists. One list was for the overall experience, while the other was for the most difficult. This year I’m going in a different direction. The most difficult list is being shelved, and doesn’t have to be on an annual basis. I’m also excising rides that were not new to me. That means that some of my favorites, such as Assault on Mount Mitchell, Assault on the Carolinas, Tour de Cashiers, and Bridge to Bridge are not present here.

The criteria here is not a judgement of each ride, but rather just my favorites based on the entire experience. Of course, the better the ride is organized, the better the experience for the rider.

It was still difficult to narrow these down to 10. Since my passion is riding, these were all fantastic experiences. Choosing between them is almost as ludicrous as choosing a favorite child, but here goes anyway …

10. Blue Ridge Brutal

Blue Ridge Brutal

Brutal is a fitting description. This ride had about as much climbing as the toughest centuries I rode, and then they had a bonus mountain at the very end. The roads were quiet and smooth. The volunteers and their yellow shirts seemed to be omnipresent. Handing out musettes on the parkway was a terrific idea. It was a difficult challenge, especially with Mount Jefferson tacked onto the end, but a memorable one.

9. Tour de Lure

Tour de Lure

What really set this ride apart was the scenery. Through Marion and over Stone Mountain wasn’t much to speak of, but when you turn towards Lake Lure and see the monolithic structures around you, it is breathtaking. The course was more of a challenge than I expected, and it was a good experience and benchmark for me to ride Mitchell several weeks later. This is among the better training ride options for others that are training for Mitchell.

8. Fletcher Flyer

Fletcher Flyer

It was flat, fast, and in the mountains. Who would have imagined? It was also a blast, as we traveled through the scenic valleys in the shadows of 6,000 foot monsters like Mount Pisgah. It was well attended enough that there were packs to ride with at nearly any pace. I settled in with a good group, and managed to finish far quicker than expected.

7. Fabulous 4th Bike Tour

Fabulous 4th Bike Tour

What better way to celebrate independence day than with riding a metric century in the mountains? Unfortunately, my experience at this year’s event was affected by an accident and injury to another rider. After helping out, I lost many of the riders. As a result, we had a comfortable, social ride through the North Greenville, Tryon and Saluda foothills. The best part was the food at the end, which I would rank near the top for any ride.

6. Six Gap Century

Six Gap Century

To nobody’s surprise, this was one of the more difficult rides I experienced. It didn’t help matters that I was riding with a broken hip (which was discovered much later). The starting line experience was among the best as they filtered 3,000 riders through the school parking lot, having riders shout out their hometown on the microphone as they ride by. Support was excellent. The timed climb of Hogpen Gap was a nice touch, not that I had any chance of being competitive.

5. Copper Triangle

Battle Mountain

This was the climax of my foray into Colorado, and what an experience it was! We climbed several passes, finishing with the epic climb up Vail Pass and rolling into Copper Triangle. The ride started in freezing temperatures, but we made the best of it. I rode with and met a lot of people from all over the place, enjoying the blueberry muffins at every stop. The coolest part was rolling into the heart of Copper Mountain resort for a picturesque finish.

4. Fort Jackson Awareness Ride

Fort Jackson Awareness Ride

There may be a little bias for this ride since I helped organize the event, but I feel comfortable including it here after hearing the post-ride feedback. Everyone had a fantastic time. Not everyone can ride on a military base, much less participate in a timed event there. The event exceeded our expectations for riders, and brought out the competitive spirit and camaraderie of the local cycling community. It could not have gone any better. Even though I participated, this was among the most fun experiences on my bike during the year.

3. Issaqueena’s Last Ride

Issaqueena's Last Ride

This was the most surprising entry. I had not heard much about Issaqueena, but was pleasantly surprised by the entire experience. The course was terrific, much of it in neighborhood roads with rolling hills, with the rest of it touching the foothills near the North Carolina border. This probably had the best markings I’ve seen on a road course, and they had tremendous pre and post-ride meals. My experience was bittersweet because a good friend became injured by a charging dog, but she has now recovered and is climbing better than ever.

2. Tour de Leaves

Tour de Leaves

Mother nature deserves some of the credit for this ride’s placement. I’ve ridden these hills quite often, but nothing compares to riding them in mid-fall. We were lucky with the leaf color, riding right around their peak color period for the year. I had previously Green River Cove Rd a few other times, but never had it looked this beautiful.

1. Blood, Sweat & Gears

Blood, Sweat & Gears

As much as I love mountain centuries, I rarely expect to call them ‘fun.’ Blood Sweat & Gears is a challenging ride, especially around mid-way when riders have to fight the snake. The Parkway, George’s Gap, and Schull’s Mill were all moderate and enjoyable climbs. I’m not sure why this was, but of all climbing events, this one was the most social. I met a lot of people and had a great time talking to them. The organizers and volunteers were terrific, meeting all of our needs throughout the ride. I was tired at the finish, but the atmosphere was festive, like a celebration. I look forward to riding it again.

Snake Mountain

Snake Mountain

Blood, Sweat & Gears

Blood, Sweat & Gears

10 responses to “2012 Rides of the Year

  • Jeff

    They all look like great rides. The only one of those that I’ve done is Copper Triangle. A couple times with a smaller group, and once with a few thousand friends. What an awesome Colorado cycling experience.

  • Frank Burns

    Great post, and some inspiring rides.

  • Jen

    Hi Aaron! I’m a beginner cyclist and I love reading your blog and dreaming of doing these events. Reading about these rides motivates me to keep at it so I can attempt them one day. It’s still a ways off for me, but I had a question. Some of these rides have shorter options, maybe 25- or 30-mile rides with a lot less elevation. Do you think a beginner could take on some of those? I’ve been riding since March, and my longest ride is 50 miles and took 3.5 hours, so I am really slow, but I’d love to start doing some rides. How do you break into these events?

    • aaronwest

      Hi Jen, glad you enjoy the site. Yes, most of these rides have shorter options, and there is not a hurry for you to finish. You might find this post about when I was a beginner interesting. The short answer is yes, you can probably handle. Even if for some reason you cannot finish, the organizers usually watch out for you and drive back anyone that is struggling (called the ‘SAG’ wagon). If you can handle 50 miles, you can definitely handle 30-40 in the mountains.

      We all have to start sometime, and with time and focus comes improvement. I wish you luck with your journey!

      • jennifer heaslip

        Thanks Aaron! I guess you have to start somewhere, right? I remember that post because the Tour de Leaves is on my bucket list, but I would definitely be walking a 17-18% grade! Appreciate the reply.

  • poneal59

    These rides sound awesome. I plan on doing some organized rides this summer.. the two that I am targeting most are the Tour de Cashiers and Issaquena’s Last Ride.. the Fletcher Flyer is another potential choice.

    For now, just need to keep on keeping on and enjoy my first season as a collegiate cyclist! #Cat5

    • aaronwest

      Best of luck with that. You’re in a great location to be a collegiate cyclist. Cullowhee, Sylva and the surrounding areas have some of my favorite climbs. I hope to make it out there at some point this year for some riding when I get healed up.

  • poneal59

    I couldn’t ask for a better place to be, great climbs and screaming descents abound. Hope you get well soon.

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