Category Archives: Rides

2014 Blue Ridge Breakaway

I cannot thank Kevin enough for posting such a detailed report of his Blue Ridge Breakaway this past weekend. As I noted in my intro post, Kevin is someone that I’ve been in contact with occasionally over the years and have enjoyed following his exploits over at DoboVedo’s Journal of Journeys. Since I was still sidelined with injury, I asked him if he’d be willing to contribute something for me since I absolutely love this ride. Kevin wasn’t planning on riding until I asked him, and I’m glad that he agreed. The below post is an abbreviated version of his report with a couple of pictures. You can read the entire thing over at his blog, which I highly recommend. I left off some of his personal details, such as his experiences with Tom, his meet-up with Kent from Motion Makers, and yes, even a little bit about how I asked him to write this post.

lake logan

The Blue Ridge Breakaway is an annual bicycle ride starting from the Lake Junaluska Conference and Visitor Center in western North Carolina. The event features four routes of varying distances. As the name suggests, the ride is held in the Blue Ridge Mountains and historically the event’s 105 mile route, called the Hawk, features over 30 miles of riding along the peaks and valleys of the Blue Ridge Parkway. In past years the next shortest route, called the Trout, has been somewhere around 60-65 miles (a metric century), and has not gone up along the Parkway itself. There are also 50 and 25 miles options, called the Panther and Rabbit, respectively.

The only questio was whether to do the Hawk, which I have done every year prior, or do the Trout instead? Normally this wouldn’t even be a debate, I always opt for the longest route or time option in any riding event, but this year they did something a little different with the Trout that had me intrigued. By bumping the route distance up to 75 miles, they were able to use the same Parkway miles as the longer Hawk route. This was accomplished by cutting 30 miles of lower elevation – yet still hilly terrain – out of the beginning of the ride. Ironically, every prior year Scott and I have ridden the Breakaway together, we have joked in the early miles that we should cut the course, knock about 25 or 30 miles off of the route, and head straight for the big mountains. We’d never do it of course, but it was always good for a laugh. And now there was a legitimate route that did exactly what we had joked about.

With the route changes this year, the 75 mile Trout riders were held 15 minutes while riders for the other routes started at 7:30. In the interim, the announcer asked if anybody had ever done the Breakaway in prior years. When many people, myself included, responded with shouted yeses and raised hands he said “OK, you people should not do what you did last year, unless you want to be lost right from the beginning”, which resulted in quite a few chuckles. He then explained the various turns and landmarks for the beginning miles of the Trout route, which would basically take us into nearby Clyde in as few as six miles. After that we would be following the same route as the Hawk riders, sans 30 miles of smaller but still significant hills.

We took off more or less exactly at 7:45. Tom and I started out somewhat near the front of the pack but felt no burning need to stay with them. As we went up the first few moderate grades however, it seemed that although the lead pack of about two dozen riders was going along at a brisk and steady pace, they didn’t appear to be getting aggressive. At least.. not yet. I found myself hovering with that the group in just close enough proximity that it seemed silly not to get into the pack and enjoy at least a little bit of draft. I accelerated just hard and long enough to catch on to the back, and soon enough we rolled in to Clyde.

Over the next 10 miles the route gets relatively easy. It rolls gently with just a minor rise here and there, at an average gain of only 1%, bringing riders to Lake Logan, a pristine little lake in a lush green valley surrounded by mountains on three sides, at an elevation of 3000′. During this time I felt myself getting into a good rhythm and settled into the drops, feeling pretty good. I passed by a few more riders here and there, and figured there were probably no more than ten or a dozen still in front of me. So I started debating how I wanted to spend my day: hammering away or keeping things more chill and enjoying some fun in the sun?

If it had been like that yet again this year, it would be easier to just keep riding hard and get the ride over with. But this year the weather was just about as good as it gets in August in the mountains of Western NC. Mostly sunny skies with high wispy clouds, a gentle breeze, and temperatures starting in the 60s and reaching a normal high in the low 80s, staying nearly 10 degrees cooler in the higher elevations. Picture perfect!

We rolled out and began our ascent up the first major climb of the day.. 215 to the Blue Ridge Parkway. From here we’d be riding about 10 miles and gain roughly 2300′. The climb starts gently for the first three miles or so, and then gets markedly steeper as you enter the Pisgah National Forest Boundary near the Sunburst Campground. From there it stays pretty steady but gets gradually steeper towards the top. Along the way is cascading waterfall in a beautiful setting. Along with Lake Logan, it is one of the visual highlights along 215. I stopped there to capture a few images and also took a few more towards the top.

Tom on 215

Tom on 215

Nearing the top of the 215 climb, you come around a bend you see the “Blue Ridge Parkway Ahead” sign. Just prior to that, one gets the feeling that the grade is going to back off. Things level out for just a short moment and then BAM! the grade kicks up to near digits. “Ahead” seems to go on forever, but a few painful moments later, you do make the turn onto the Parkway.

For the Breakaway, the organizers are kind enough to put an Aid Station at the next overlook, just a quarter mile further up the road. I stopped there to regroup and spent some time chatting with the volunteers. The Blue Ridge Breakaway is one of the most well-organized and friendliest rides I’ve ever done, and it has been consistent every year I’ve done it.

Once on the Parkway, the next 8 miles take riders up to Richland-Balsam Gap, the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at just over 6000′. There are a couple descents mixed in, with a total elevation gain of roughly 1500′.

Upon reaching 6000′ the first big descent of the ride begins. Well.. sorta. It’s 12 miles down to Balsam Gap at 3400′, but there are a few small rises in the early going. Most of them are really mild grades and can be ridden in the big ring. I’ve even done them in 50×12 at times, but not this time.

Once the rises are finished it is 7 or 8 miles of descending with no brakes, no slowing… just pure fun. Although at one point we did see a deer on the side of the road and slowed a bit, just in case it bolted into the road. Fortunately, it stayed put and calmly watched us go by.

At Balsam Gap the climbing begins once again. This is the Waterrock Knob climb, eight miles at a nearly unchanging steady grade. It’s not too difficult, but can feel relentless due to the length, and the curves can begin to look repetitive. I’ve done this climb countless times and know it by heart, so I called out some of the landmarks and clues to Tom, letting him know when it would finally let off about a mile from the top.

Waterrock Overlook

Waterrock Overlook Above

Normally this point of the Breakaway ride is where I start to crack. On three prior occasions, I’ve really started to suffer halfway up Waterrock. On the second of those three I turned the 105 mile route into a 155 mile day by riding to and from Lake Junaluska, so that much was to be expected. The first year, it had poured rain all day long and I was cold and wet and miserable.. the legs just wouldn’t stay warm. Last year wasn’t as bad but I still wasn’t able to go as hard as I wanted to and lost a lot of time in the overall.

This year was so much different. I still felt great and was having a blast riding up what is my favorite section in the entire length of the Parkway. I grudgingly admitted to myself that I really did like doing only the 75 mile option and skipping those first 30 miles. Will I do the shorter route again next year? That remains to be seen. Ego and desire will factor in, but right now I’m thinking “Drop some weight, do the 75 and go for best time.”

(Aaron: Kevin has convinced me to give the shorter route a try next year)

All along I had tried to predict when the fastest 105 mile riders might catch us on our 75 mile route. I figured it would be somewhere around 5 hours and nearing the top of the Waterrock climb. Sure enough, just a few hundred yards from the top I heard a voice behind.. “Hey Kevin!” and it was my friend Nick, who was a bit surprised and elated to find himself alone at the front. We chatted just briefly, and he then disappeared up the road, climbing with seeming effortlessness.

Since Tom had never been up to Waterrock Knob before we decided to take a few moments and add in the quarter mile climb (sorry Tom, I know I said a tenth of a mile!) up to the overlook. The view up there is stellar, looking in both directions off the ridge. The Smokey Mountains were their trademark smokey, but beautiful nonetheless.

At that point, the climbing is done. The only thing remaining is a 15-mile descent down the Parkway to Soco Gap continuing a steep descent down 19 and then a gradual downhill run thru Maggie Valley until reaching the finish line back at Lake Junaluska.

Tom and I started down the super fun 4 mile descent to Soco Gap. Unfortunately, Tom and I didn’t have as much fun on the descent of 19 as we had hoped. The traffic on this 2-lane road between Maggie Valley and Cherokee can be very heavy, and we got caught behind a line of about five cars that was trailing a pickup truck going much slower than normal. As it turns out he was looking to make a left turn up ahead and apparently wasn’t sure where it was. Once we got around that backup though we had more fun on the lower part of the descent and then I put in a long hard pull, taking Tom thru Maggie Valley at a good clip.

We had a grand time finishing out the ride and got back to the visitors center in just under six hours. All in all, it was a really great day out on the bikes. We grabbed some really good food after, chatted, and made our way home. Another Blue Ridge Breakaway in the books.

2014 Breakaway From Afar

Wes and Julie complete the climb up Waterrock Knob.

If you had told me after my January 31st surgery date that I wouldn’t be back up to full speed by August, I might have punched you in the mouth. Honestly, I thought there was a chance I could recover quickly and be ready for Mitchell in May. Alas, that didn’t happen. I put two rides on my calendar as goals for the fall, one of which is my favorite century ride in the mountains, the Blue Ridge Breakaway. While I’ve made progress and should be back on the bike soon enough, to my disappointment, I don’t have the fitness to even think about Blue Ridge Breakaway this year.

How much do I love the ride? As some might remember, last year when the weather report was sketchy at best, I woke up in the middle of the night to see if it had cleared out. It had, and I drove in the wee hours of the morning, rode 100 miles, and drove home later that evening. You can read about that experience here. It was not something I’ll want to do again – the driving that is. I’ll certainly do the riding again.

I am particularly envious this weekend, because the weather may be the best the event has ever had. The low is in the 60s and the high is in the 80s. I imagine that once you hit the higher elevations, you’ll be in perfect temperatures with the sun on your back.

Instead, like I’ve been doing lately, I’ll be living the event through others. Kevin Dobo has a blog called Dobovedo that I have read occasionally. Like me, he has a thirst for the higher elevations. He used to live in Sylva and has migrated to Asheville. We’ve corresponded a couple times on rides, and he seems like a good dude. He has ridden in four of the five Breakaways, and I am officially dubbing him my surrogate rider. I’ll live the experience through him. He’ll post what I’m sure will be an excellent ride report on his blog, and I’ll post some of the high points here, maybe with some commentary. If any other readers want to chime in about their experiences, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll include you in the recap post.

Highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Richland Balsam Mountain, highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway

I’m particularly interested in the ride this year because they have two rides that reach the Parkway this year. In year’s past they have experimented with the shorter routes. At one time the metric was nearly an out-and-back, and the century riders would cross paths with the metric riders about when the big climbs start. This year the “Trout” is a comparable challenge to the full century dubbed the “Hawk.” Rather than 106 miles, is is a mere 76 miles, but with nearly 8,000 feet of climbing, some on the Parkway. The “Hawk” is the granddaddy, which I can personally attest is a tough century and it has some tough, longer climbs and two of my favorite descents in the world. As curious as I would be about the “Trout,” my personality is go big or go home, and I’d be all over the longer route.

Thanks for riding for me again. I look forward to hearing about and envying your adventures. Soon enough I hope to be back up in elevation. Armchair cycling is for the birds.

To all those riding, Godspeed and have a terrific ride!

My Day at BSG

starting line

It has been two years since the last time I participated in Blood, Sweat & Gears, and I’ve been looking for the opportunity to go back ever since. This year it was not in the cards for me to ride, but I got the chance to get involved in a different way. This time it was part of an article I was riding for Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, more of which I can talk about later.

Instead of riding, I spent most of my time spectating. I was able to capture this video of the beginning, as nearly 1,000 riders rolled by to begin their 100 mile trek through the hills of the High Country. It’s amazing that it takes a full three minutes for everyone to get through.

Afterwards I spoke with Ride Director Scott Nelson about Blood Sweat & Gears, the recent Beech Mountain Metric, and the upcoming Blowing Rock Fall Classic.

From there I headed over to Snake Mountain to capture pictures of the riders as they complete one of the toughest climbs in the area. There were plenty of others nearby. They made a lot of noise, which the riders seemed to appreciate. A lot of people had been writing interesting and humorous things with chalk on the road, and they would cheer as riders made their way to the top of the climb. You can see the first to reach the top making it look easy in the video below.

I stayed up there and took pictures of riders as they finished the climb. Jeff from Weekly Rides has done that a few times, and one time he took one of my favorite pictures on the bike. That said, I didn’t see how it would be exciting to stand on a mountain and take pictures for a couple hours. To my surprise, it was a blast. My primary camera is not the greatest at taking action shots, but a good many of them came out well. After it ran out of batteries, I relied on my iPhone to take the remaining shots. There are far too many pictures to post here, so I put together a large album on Facebook that you can see here.

You can also see the photos with nice thumbnails on Feel free to contact me with the image name if you’d like a hi res version.

After a couple dozen riders had passed, all of a sudden a guy starts offering corn dogs as people reached the very top. Just the thought of offering corn dogs is hilarious, but the guy’s enthusiastic spirit kept me rolling the entire time. I have no idea what his job his, but the guy should seriously consider working in sales. A few of the riders made jokes that they would puke the corn dogs right back up after the climb. Most just smiled or laughed as they rolled past, politically declining. To my surprise, a few took the bait. He started with around eight or so corn dogs, and slowly but surely, his stock dwindled. By the time he was down to one, there were fewer takers. Maybe they didn’t believe it was a real corn dog. Eventually history was made as a rider took the last one. A cheer erupted as the last rider claimed his prize.

Mr. Corn Dog

After around noon, I decided to call it a day. If my legs had been in better shape, I could have stayed for the last rider, but I didn’t want to overwork myself. Next year I plan to return. The “Hat Trick” that Scott is putting together seems like a worthy goal for the year.

snake mountain climber

another snake mountain climber

Mitchell 2014: Determination and Camaraderie

The Mitchell summit looked a lot different than the base.

My personal streak is over. I had successfully assaulted Mitchell three years in a row. It was bittersweet for me to miss this ride. On one hand, it felt like I was missing out. On the other hand, I absolutely love hearing the stories regardless whether I ride or not.

Everybody has a story, and they are all interesting. Whether someone has a sub 6-hour time, or whether they barely make the cutoff, they all have to deal with the mountain in their own way.


While I love all the stories, the ones that really inspire me are from the people that have seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome, yet they still manage to beat the mountain. A lot of my favorite stories have been from people who have completed the ride in the 11-12 hour range. One year a friend had cramps so bad that he could not ride, so he walked the last three miles in bike cleats. Another person struggled with being overweight, yet he still managed to push himself up the mountain in time. Those people are the real champions. If I were in the same position, I would be tempted to take the SAG wagon. That said, I can also somewhat relate. Last year I managed my assault dealing with injury woes and not much training time. Even though it hurt more and took longer to get up the mountain, the uncertainly of where I could do it made the satisfaction that much better. My slowest Mitchell was my proudest Mitchell.

This year I was particularly moved by the experience of David Hollingsworth. He was the last place finisher, and had to fight with his body to get to the finish line before the cutoff time. That sort of determination to ignore the pain and complete the challenge is beyond inspiring. I highly recommend that you read his ride report. Congrats David! Seeing your triumph really moves me to get myself healthy to give it another go. He is right that just finishing, whether first, last, or somewhere in between, is winning.

David climbing Bill's Hill

David climbing Bill’s Hill


Like all rides, Mitchell has social value. Even though the nature of cycling is individual, people work together. The large packs help riders collectively get through the rolling hills before the climbing starts, while others will help each other on the climbs.

There is a lot of camaraderie. Nearly 1,000 people line up before dawn, all with butterflies in their stomach, all focused on ending their adventure at the highest point in the Eastern US. They are all in it together. If you go to a concert or any other event with 1,000 people, you’ll never see the chatting and encouragement that people give to complete strangers. Mitchell is in many ways a team event, with somewhere around 800-1,000 people on the same team.

The Columbia Group

The Columbia Group

The smiling faces in the picture above are from my local community. I’m good friends with a lot of them, most of them. Jack Daniel coordinated getting everybody together on the evening before the ride and having them pose together for a picture. A lot of these people would ride and finish together, sharing the pace. I believe all, or at least most, completed their assault. Some accomplished it for the first time, while others repeated and beat their time from previous years.

Kevin Pearl aka ‘Masher’ lives nearly 500 miles away from me out in Kentucky. You wouldn’t think that he’d forge a bond with this group from Columbia, but he did, and I’m pleased to have been the link. I’ve known Kevin for a couple years now thanks to his and my blog, but we first met in person at Mitchell last year. We rode pretty close together and talked until shortly after the climbing began. If my memory is correct, he finished just a little bit after I did.

He met Jack Daniel at the starting line last year. Jack has roots in Kentucky but lives in Columbia. From that meeting, they struck up a friendship and met each other at the top of the mountain last Monday — sharing the experience with each other. Kevin wrote a nice blog post here where he talked about the Jack connection and other connections he made along the way. I like his exchange with a female cyclist, whose motivation was “if I don’t mind; it don’t matter.” I’ve had similar experiences along the way. As you’re struggling and encounter another person struggling with you, it’s easy and somewhat relaxing to share some words of encouragement. It matters.

I heard from another friend, Warren from the Clemson area, who bumped into a friend of mine, Wes, who I worked with on the Blue Ridge Parkway last year. I’ve seen Warren at a lot of climbing events over the last few years and we have struck up a friendship. He had some physical challenges this past year, but he still was able to put in the work and set a goal. I was pleased to hear that he beat his PR. Wes cramped up on his first Mitchell attempt two years ago, finished at close to the same time that I did last year, and blew away that time this year. We have the same coach, so that bodes well for my future. Somehow this pair dropped my name and forged a connection, and they finished very close to each other.

Mitchell is my favorite ride. Even though I couldn’t be there, I still enjoyed the experience living through others. Next year will be my year. Maybe I’ll be healthy enough to try and take out my personal best. Who knows?

Silence is Golden

main street RoS

The Ride of Silence was one that I didn’t want to miss. I’ve made it the last several years and feel it’s among the most important events in our local community, and many other communities across the country. The last few years the challenge has been that it comes a couple days after Mitchell. This year it came a couple days after a setback. Things have a way of working out and I was able to attend. Believe it or not, it was my first ride with the local community since September of last year.

While even five slow miles are important for my recovery, this ride wasn’t about me. It was about coming together as a community to pay respect to those who we’ve lost or have been injured. Because we ride around the downtown streets with a police escort, we get media attention, and that raises awareness. Each time we passed the busiest street in the city, I could sense the aggravation of the drivers who were held up, but some will probably see a news report and make the connection. Bikes are around, accidents happen, and people’s lives are at stake.


We thought about the mother of three who was recently killed while commuting downtown. The reports suggest that she was riding the wrong way, against traffic. And while that means it may have been a mistake on her end, it’s also about us educating the cycling community, regardless whether they are riding for transport or sport. People shouldn’t pay such a price for their mistakes.

While it was great to see and reconnect with a lot of friends, it was really special to meet Doug. The last time I saw him was in July. We were casually talking as we climbed up a hill. As we began the descent, I was about three riders ahead of him. I heard some noises behind me and figured it was a flat or something. No big deal. We powered on, and aggressively descended down a hill. When we got to the bottom, we waited and waited, and nobody showed up. We knew something had happened. We climbed back up and found Doug on the side of the road, with most of the riders baffled, trying to help however they could.

A small dog had come out of nowhere, clipped him, and he hit the pavement. It’s amazing that I was 10-15 feet in front of him, but I didn’t sense or see the dog. Things can happen fast.

The Ride of Silence was his first ride since his injury. I joked that we were the injured reserved, trying to make the team again. As we talked, I was startled to learn that he still has complications from the injury, and that it will be a continual struggle to keep on riding. When a doctor suggested he change his hobby, he asked the doctor about his favorite hobby, playing golf. How would that doctor feel if someone told him he could never play golf again? Good point. Good analogy. It’s difficult to sacrifice what we love, and perfectly understandable that we will fight passionately to get back at it. I can certainly relate to that.

I hope Doug can keep riding. He may need to make some accommodations, but the passion is still there.

Even though this ride wasn’t about me, it was actually a big deal for me to get out and ride five miles in a group. I was nervous, hesitant to jump back on after a scary setback, but also enthused to be among the pack. Some things took getting used to. I don’t have the same balance that I used to have. But it all came back to me quickly. This was a good training ride, a primer for my return, and the first of many group rides that should be coming this summer.

What I was most concerned with was pain. The recent therapy sessions were excruciating. Cycling is a different story. It was not painful. Not in the slightest. It actually felt good, as I got those muscles warm that were lying dormant for so long. I passed the test, and the next one came this morning. Would that pain come back? It didn’t. There was a little soreness, as to be expected, but nothing that my light pain relievers couldn’t resolve.

I’m back, and I’m part of an even stronger community than I could have imagined. We had 160 riders, a new record for the event. Hopefully we’ll get even more next year.

Big crowd, good friends.

Big crowd, good friends.