Category Archives: Climbs

Jump Off Rock

Props to Jim for giving us this idea for a unique photo.

When I woke up Sunday morning, my hip and especially my back were a little sore. The prior day of riding had taken it’s toll. My first inclination was to rest. After taking my anti-inflammatory and eating a hearty breakfast, I felt better and decided to participate in the easy ride of the day. It would be a 30+ miler with a short climb to Jump Off Rock.

Seven us departed the cabin in shivering, windy temperatures. We began with a steep descent, which we knew would hurt when we returned later. Even though it was bone chilling, it was a refreshing way to start the day.

This was mostly a casual ride, although three of us tended to get out in front. Scott from Simpsonville, and Jim Parker of Lumberton with his speedy Cruzbike were the frontrunners. I stayed with them as much as I could, which was not a problem early as we got warmed up, but would give me headaches later.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Most of the road was flat and enjoyable until we approached the neighborhood of Laurel Park, not far from Hendersonville. It was there that we started to gain elevation, although very gradually.

After we passed the gated Somersby Parkway (which we initially thought was our turn), the road pitched up to a double digit grade as we climbed up Hebron Road. We turned left at the four way stop, and all of a sudden we were on one of my favorite types of climbing roads. This section of Hebron Road has an easy grade, but is a narrow, winding road, that seems bolted to a mountain ridge. Several times we marveled at the steep drop just off the road.

The remainder of the climb was relatively easy, with a couple steeper sections. We turned onto Laurel Parkway and followed that to the dead end. These were neighborhood roads, not too exciting, but paradise awaited us.

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock, at about 3,000 feet of elevation, is a local marvel. It affords gorgeous views from all directions. We could see a lot of our favorite climbs, including Pinnacle Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a couple people thought they could make out Mount Mitchell in the distance.

I immediately placed my bike along the railing for the conquest picture above. After snapping the photo, Scott grabbed my bike, held it above his head, and told me to quickly take the picture. My heart almost stopped when I realized that a gust of wind could have ended the life of my Cervelo (and emptied my bank account in the process.) I snapped the photo without hesitation, and then beckoned him to put the bike down. However stressful that moment was, the picture came out pretty well.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

We had a relaxing time at the rock, taking our time to enjoy the sights and enjoy each other’s company. It is quite the gem of a vantage point. Scott snooped around and found that the rock protrudes from the hill, most of it unsupported. He said we would be nervous standing there if we could see. I didn’t follow because of my injuries, but I saw some pictures later that made my jaw drop.

The descent was fantastic, and it was again Jim, Scott and I riding together. The rest of the group knew the way back, so we rode as a threesome to the cabin.

There is one stretch of road with time trial writing on the road. That was Jim’s cue to put his Cruz into high gear. Scott jumped behind his wheel and rode easily behind him. I hung on for dear life behind Scott.

As our speed increased, I had a lot more trouble. These were both very strong riders, and I am not yet even close to being in prime form. I hung in there for a few miles before dropping off the back. Not my time yet. They patiently waited for me at the next intersection, dropped me again, and finally we rode back to the cabin together.

The last climb up Lyday Creek Rd was a doozy, as we expected. It was just over a half mile, which ordinarily wouldn’t be too bad, but it was in the way of our post-ride meal. The last pitch was in the 11-12% range, which was a backbreaker (no pun intended), and punctuated what was a much tougher recovery ride than I had expected.

My weary bones held out, and I felt great throughout the ride. I may not be where I was last year, but I’ve improved and expect a smooth recovery.

Strava GPS Link

IMAGE GALLERY

Assault on the Carolinas, Redux

top of walnut

We arrived in Brevard Friday for our 4-day weekend. Two cabins, 21 total people, and overflowing dishes of food. It was a cyclist’s paradise.

The weather looked to be gorgeous for Saturday, very similar to the forecast we had at last weekend’s Assault on the Carolinas. There were three ride options for Saturday, a small, medium and large. The large was an enticing 100-miler that would travel up Mount Pisgah. The medium route was an abbreviated version of the Assault on the Carolinas, and the small went to a nearby waterfall. Pisgah was tempting, but I knew that it would be too much for me at this stage. Even the medium might be too much, but I opted for that knowing that I could potentially bail out around the Continental Divide.

We modified the route a little bit, beginning at a baseball field outside of Brevard, and taking a couple more scenic roads along the way. We also added a few miles, and I think overall ours was a slightly tougher version.

The big question was how well my injuries would handle another tough day of climbing. At first, it wasn’t looking so good. The cold weather particularly affected me, and I was riding stiff, feeling like I had a knife in my back.

Walnut Hollow happened, again. Ow. I found that Walnut Hollow is tougher when you can see where you are going. On AOTC, there are a sea of people climbing with you. All you see is polyester, which hides the steep grades ahead. Seeing what is ahead has a way of getting into your heads, which I think makes it a tougher climb.

I wobbled my way up, just like last week, hoping that would cure my pain. Not quite. As we rode on East Fork and Middle Fork, I started sitting up higher on my seat to ease the pain. It didn’t help. As we reached the intersection of Highway 178, I felt like I was done.

The others went on, and I stayed. I needed a break. I leaned against a pole for what seemed like an eternity, although it was probably no more than 10 minutes. For awhile I contemplated packing it in, giving up, maybe even riding back the way I came (including Walnut Hollow, ugh!).

This was almost my bus stop.

This was almost my bus stop.

I’m glad I got back on for a couple reasons. First, as I began climbing up Highway 178, I finally started to feel better. I put on a little more mustard in the hopes of catching my riding mates, which I think helped to warm my bones up. Second, it would have been a shame to not get the opportunity to descend Joccassee Gorges again.

Here is the full descent video that Jack, friend of mine, took last week. I wasn’t quite as daring as some of the guys that passed him by.

Eventually I caught up with the rest (in truth, they waited for me). After being bombarded by a motorcycle gang with 75-100 riders, we turned off of Highway 11 onto Saluda Rd, taking the quieter, scenic route to Caesar’s Head.

As I began the climb, I wondered why in the world was I doing this again. Caesar’s Head handily beat me up last week, yet here I was, pedaling away.

I took solace in the fact that I felt better this week compared to last week. I could tell that I was pedaling smoother up some of the easy grades. Once it got steep, I was practically worthless, and just willed my body up the hill. Me and the mountain had a few words on the upper portion, most of which cannot be repeated here. I made it, and found that I had beat last week’s time by several minutes. Progress is good, I guess.

As we headed back toward the baseball field, I was in a bonk-like state. My stomach was growling and I found that I had little energy left. I guzzled some Gatorade, which seemed to help me get the rest of the way home. I also have to thank Jana, who pulled me all the way across Wilson Road back to the car.

Strava GPS Link

IMAGE GALLERY

How Steep is Too Steep?

tirreno adriatico

Earlier this week, the Tirreno-Adriatico (“Race of Two Seas”) buzzed around blogosphere and social media because of a brutal 6th stage. There were a number of stories, some of them inspiring (link to Phinney), and others downright painful.

The most notable aspect of this race was a 300+ meter climb with a 27% grade. It was more of a ramp than a hill. The riders had to endure this monstrosity three times. Some of them ended up walking their bikes up, while others had to tack from side to side. Peter Sagan was one of the few who stayed in the saddle, winning the stage in the process, which was a testament to his bike handling skills as much as his athletic prowess.

The stage was so brutal that race director Michele Acquarone apologized via twitter, although many others felt that the stage was legendary, an instant classic.

I’ve encountered a few climbs that reach that much of grade, a couple of which might exceed it. Not to compare myself to one of these pro cyclists (note: my gearing is a lot easier than theirs), but I am able to identify with how they felt. The steepest hills have a way of making you honest.

We ignored the warning signs and continued anyway.

Brasstown Bald

The three most similar climbs that I’ve conquered are Brasstown Bald, Grandfather Mountain, and Pinnacle Mountain.

All of them have a short section with an insane grade. Brasstown’s is described as a ‘Wall,’ while Grandfather is more of a ramp. Pinnacle is simply a monstrosity, and I think it’s steepest section is the roughest of the three. Pinnacle is the only one that knocked me off the bike and forced me to walk.

Neil Turner makes his way up

Pinnacle Mountain

In order to triumph against a climb of this magnitude, it requires a lot from the rider. Naturally, athletic ability is the most important thing. You need to have the fitness to keep your heart rate manageable. A friend warned me when we were approaching Brasstown to take it easy before reaching the steepest grade, otherwise you simply won’t make it.

Another aspect is bike control. When facing a grade above 20%, there is the potential to simply topple over. There have been a few occasions where my front wheel has left the ground for a brief moment. I found that if I lean forward in a certain way, the wheel will remain grounded. The rear wheel can also come off the ground. At least that’s what I am told, as it hasn’t yet happened to me.

Once the steep section of the climb has begun, there is no stopping. If you stop, it is highly difficult to clip back in. That was my problem on Pinnacle Mountain. My heart rate was racing high enough that I needed to stop (in my defense, it was January). On that steep of a hill, there is no way you can clip in without some deft maneuvering. I had to push off from one side of the road, move sideways, clip quickly, and then turn my wheel back upward to resume the climb. It is not easy, and took me a number of tries before I got it.

How steep is too steep? Clearly this 27% was the limit for these pro cyclists, which is saying something. Even though I have ridden a few times at a similar grade, the most I can climb comfortably (for lack of a better word) is in the 18-20% range. A good example of that is some of the steeper climbs in the Boone area. Some of the roads around Hawksnest were in the upper double-digit vicinity. By no means am I bragging here, because it is not pretty, but I found with those climbs and others that once the rhythm is established at a steep grade, that I can tune out and keep grinding for a good while.

View from the stands of the last climb

Grandfather Mountain

Of course my real comfort zone, at least as far as keeping my heart rate in check, is just south of double digits. Anything over 10% and I have trouble keeping in a tempo zone, which is where I prefer to climb. When the climb hits the teens is when I start getting anaerobic. While it can be done, it probably isn’t the most ideal workout for me.

So what type of grade do you consider too steep? Would you have been able to climb this hill in Italy?

(image credit: Velonews)


The New and Improved NC Climbs

The initial climb on Pinnacle Mountain

 
The winter project was to clean up the Climbs sections. Many of the pages had grown uncontrollably, had become unwieldy, and made the information disorganized. The NC Climbs page was the worst culprit, as it was just a long, scrolling page with climb after climb.

My first goal was to chop up that page and make it easier to read. To be honest, I finished NC a couple months ago, and simply forgot to tell everyone. So I am telling you about it now.

The new and improved North Carolina Climbs section is up and running. Several geographic areas have been given their own page, with detailed descriptions of the climbs, with Strava and content links. Since this is an autobiographical project, some areas are more comprehensive than others.

You can view the new section here, or explore the specific areas below, ranked from the sections that I think are the best:

1. Tryon/Saluda – this is the closest thing to my backyard in NC, and measures up against anywhere when it comes to cycling climbs. While I don’t have all of the ones in the area, the signature climbs and some hidden gems are all included.

2. Boone Climbs – I’ve encountered quite a few of the climbs in the area due to the sheer amount of organized rides in which I’ve participated. There are a quite a few I’ve missed, notably Beech Mountain, Reynolds Parkway and others, all of which will be crossed off the list someday.

3. Brevard Climbs – Nestled between North Greenville and Asheville, Brevard has some terrific climbing, either at higher elevations as you approach the Blue Ridge Parkway, or lower elevations near the SC border.

4. Asheville Climbs – It feels like I haven’t been to Asheville much, so I was surprised to find so many great climbs in the area that I’d conquered. Since that’s where my coach lives, I expect to get back there plenty more as I begin training again.

5. Sylva Climbs – If the climbs were measured based on epicness (epicity?), then this area could go head to head with anywhere. Down here I’ve found there are a lot of long, not quite as steep climbs, although I still have a lot of ground to explore in the area.

6. Cashiers Climbs – This area overlaps some with Sylva, but I know there are so many unexplored climbs in the Franklin and Highlands area that at some point it’ll be a more comprehensive list.

I’m currently working on the South Carolina Climbs area, which I hope to have finished soon. The other, smaller pages, will be finished shortly after that. I’ll keep all of these sections updated as I discover new playgrounds.


2012 Climbs of the Year – Top Ten

As noted in the post for Climbs 20-11, there was no clear criteria for how to rank these. Somehow I ended up ranking most of the “epic” climbs near the top. These are the longest, toughest, most brutal climbs, the type that I would swear never to ride again after reaching the summit. These are also the climbs that I end up being the most proud, the ones that really feel like an accomplishment.

And now for the top ten ..

Highway 215 from Blue Ridge Parkway

Highway 215 from Blue Ridge Parkway

10. Rosman to Blue Ridge Parkway (Hwy 215) – This is a road that I had ridden nearby many times, but never taken until early this year. It is a fantastic climb, beginning near Rosman and ending up at the Blue Ridge Parkway, not far from Devil’s Courthouse and Richland Balsam. There are some mini-climbs at the beginning, and the real climb begins after passing Balsam Grove. It is nearly 8-miles of consistent uphill. As you get higher, the views get better.

Snake Mountain

Snake Mountain

9. Snake Mountain – The toughest climb on Blood, Sweat & Gears was a back-breaker. It starts out easily enough that many will not realize they are climbing at first. Near the middle and toward the end, it ramps up — way up! The grade reaches above 15%, and some have argued it gets to as high as 20%. At this point, many people will simply get off their bikes and walk. This is called being snake-bit, according to the locals. Thankfully, I didn’t get bit, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle to the top.

Hogpen Gap

Hogpen Gap

8. Hogpen Gap – I had the great fortune of riding this climb twice in the year, and they seemed like very different experiences. The first time was on a 3 Gap + Brasstown route with a friend, where we started with Hogpen. I was surprised that it was not as difficult as its reputation. The second time was on Six Gap Century, and it practically killed me. It makes a big difference when you’ve already climbed three other gaps.

Loveland Pass

Loveland Pass

7. Loveland Pass – This pass in Colorado is an alternate way toward Breckenridge and Frisco without going through the Eisenhower tunnel. It’s also the long, scary, winding way. I rode up it from Keystone, CO, by the Arapahoe Basin ski resort, and all the way to the summit. It is an 8-mile climb with an 8% grade almost the entire way with no breaks. The summit is just under 12,000 feet altitude, right above the treeline.

Sassafras Mountain

Sassafras Mountain

6. Sassafras Mountain – I should mention that the road to Sassafras has been paved since I climbed it, but I expect it to be just as difficult now. When it was our turn, the road was chopped up and steep. What makes this climb so difficult is that there will be sections with a 20% grade, then a flat or even slight downhill section, then another steep incline, and so on. You cringe every time the road up turns up, just praying that it’ll be a little easier, but in most cases, it isn’t. They are now building some facilities and visitor’s center at the summit. That and the paved road should make it an interesting climb next time.

Pinnacle Mountain

Pinnacle Mountain

5. Pinnacle Mountain – This is the climb that came out of nowhere and just kicked our collective tail. It isn’t long, but it may be the steepest road I’ve encountered. It starts off at a moderate grade, maybe 6-8%, then you turn a corner and literally see a wall before your eyes. I’m not sure the exact grade because my Garmin stopped recording after awhile, but somewhere between 25-30% for several hundred feet. It was crushing, and just about everyone in our party had to stop at some point for a break. While the summit doesn’t afford too many views, the long stretch of road before you approach the final pitch is very scenic with a lot of smaller climbs.

Independence Pass

Independence Pass

4. Independence Pass – This is one of the long, not-very-steep climbs that Colorado is famous for. From Twin Lakes, it was about 15 miles at an average of 3.5% grade. The further you get, the tougher the climbing gets and you have to deal with altitude. At just over 12,000 feet, this was my second highest climbing elevation on the Colorado trip. The views are spectacular, mostly above the treeline. Climbing this by myself was the closest thing to having a religious experience on a bike. I was just blown away by the beauty and the physical exertion to get there. This was also the scene of my greatest photo op. When someone offered to take my picture, I lifted my bike up in the air and felt like screaming in triumph. It was a great experience.

Brasstown Bald

Brasstown Bald

3. Brasstown Bald – It is not surprising that many of my finalists are the highest points in their respective states. That’s the case with Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Unlike many of the gaps around the area, it is relentlessly steep. It has a wall of its own that is above a 20% grade. I remember having to concentrate during my climbing to make sure my bike did not flip over. The grade was so steep that my front tire wanted to leave the ground. The road takes you a couple miles until the parking lot at the visitor’s center. There was another 500 feet to go, but bicycles are strictly not allowed. The park ranger absolutely refused to let us go. It’s always disappointing to have to stop before the top, but the climb to the parking lot is plenty challenging.

Clingman's Dome

Clingman’s Dome

2. Clingman’s Dome – Another state high, this time in Tennessee, although our climb started in Cherokee, NC. This is another long, gradual climb, easy at the beginning, hard at the end. The entire climb was 22 miles where you gain a whopping 4,500 feet in elevation. We took the highway to Newfound Gap, where we turned left into the park for the last several miles. We climbed during the off-season when the park was closed to traffic. This is probably the best time to ride assuming the weather conditions cooperate. There is an overlook at the very top with some splendid views, but the last few hundred feet in the park is extremely tough, in the upper double-digit grade. It is well worth it, as the observation tower might be the best in the Blue Ridge.

Mount Evans

Mount Evans

1. Mount Evans – It should come at no surprise that the highest point in America is my climb of the year. This climb redefines the word epic. It was majestic. You begin the climb from around 7,000 feet at Idaho Springs, and finish at above 14,000. What had made my climb more challenging was that I had been at 300 feet altitude a couple days before trying. We rode before I had a chance to acclimate, and I was worried about potential sickness, but fortunately I did fine. It wasn’t until the very end when I reached the summit that I started to feel a little drunk. The total climb was 28-miles. It was again, not very steep, maybe at 8% at the most and averaging around 3-4%, but we gained a shocking 6,700 feet in elevation. This is an experience to remind you how great it is to be alive, and what amazing things that man is able to accomplish.

300 to 14,130!

300 to 14,130!

Thanks for sharing this with me. I expect plenty more climbs next year, although I’ll need some time to heal from my injury first. My goal is to make it out to Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and of course, France.

Happy New Year!

Independence Pass