Category Archives: Rides

Tour de Paws, 2013, Spartanburg, SC

Here is a guest report from Berry Mobley, my riding partner on the Tour d’Apple a couple weeks ago. You might also enjoy a report from the front of the pack by James Tobias at his new blog, Packfodder.

Tour de Paws is a Spartanburg area ride that the Freewheelers have been hosting since 2002, partnering with the Spartanburg Humane Society. It’s a great ride, one that I rode first in 2005 – although that was the 27-mile route on a mountain bike with slick tires. It’s a great warm-up for the MS Breakaway to the Beach ride which is generally (and also this year) about two weeks later.

This year, I rode the metric, and had a great time. The route has changed this year, so there is about 800 feet less elevation gain on the metric, and the roads have less traffic as well.

The ride starts at Tyger River Presbyterian church in Moore, and they are always a good host. This year there were more than 300 riders for the three routes, 28, 48, and 62 miles. It was good to see a few Columbia people at the start.

I headed out about mid-pack, not really sure how I was going to feel after being Aaron’s anchor last week in Hendersonville. There were lots of abilities, though, and I soon hooked up with a good group. We rolled along pretty well, but the group kept getting smaller at each turn. We got to the first rest stop at mile 15, and it seemed like the whole group pulled in. I was feeling great, though, so I kept going. After the turn, a couple of riders caught up with me and we worked together for a while. One of them was Jim, who I ended up riding with for most of the rest of the day.

The next rest stop was at mile 25, but our small group (about 6 riders) kept going. The ‘back half’ of the metric was an out-and back with a loop, so somewhere before mile 27 we saw the front pack coming at us – fast. There were a couple of chase groups, too. I was in the back of our group of four by then (people who ride with me will not be surprised by that statement) and the first three rode past a left turn, distracted by the oncoming riders. I was yelling “LEFT TURN!” pretty loudly, though, so they didn’t go too far out of the way. I mentioned to Jim afterward that the markings were way better than last week’s ride at Tour d’Apple, and Jim said he’d read about it on SteepClimbs. (Hi, Jim!)

We managed to stay on the course the rest of that loop and got started back, riding with a couple of Finish Strong riders that I talked to about the Ride for Animal Care that we did earlier this year. We got back to the rest stop at mile 39 and I made my only stop of the day. Jim didn’t stop as long as I did, and went on, so I rode with Kim and Becky from the northwest corner of the state. We caught Jim in a fairly big pack after a few miles, and I rode in with him until the last couple of hills. That’s the only ‘complaint’ I have about this ride – it ends uphill! At the end, though, they have drinks, and hot dogs, and chips, and massage therapists, and puppies! I didn’t take any puppies home, though.

I got home and uploaded my Garmin data, and it turns out I was 85 minutes faster than last year. I expect that has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve already ridden 700 miles more this year than I rode all of last year — and I’m at least 20 lbs lighter than last year’s ride.

All in all, this is a great ride, very well supported, extremely well marked, and it benefits a great cause. I’ll be back next year!

Strava Link


Tour d’Apple, 2013, Hendersonville, NC

bearwallow view

Three day weekends are awesome, and even better when they are capped with a wonderful day of riding in the mountains. This Labor Day was the inaugural Tour d’Apple ride, coming at the tail end of the Apple Festival. Several hundred riders converged to tackle a metric or full century around Hendersonville, NC.

All new rides experience growing pains. Mistakes are going to be made. In my opinion, the difference between success and failure is learning from those mistakes, and making adjustments the following year. Just about everything was perfect –- plenty of volunteers, rest stops, and a gorgeous route. However, the main issues had to do with road markings and directions. There was a lot of confusion about where we should be going. I’ve already reached out to the organizers, and they are going to make this their focus for next year. Going forward, I expect this to be one of the top rides in the area.

I began the day feeling good, but not wanting to push my injury too hard. I rode with Berry, a friend from home. His pace is not the same as mine, and he joked that he was my ‘anchor.’ He was protecting me from myself. We would ride together in between the climbs, and then climb at our own pace. I would usually wait for him at the top.

The first major climb was up to Sugarloaf Mountain. It started out gradually, up Lamb Mountain Rd, and then steeply pitched back up after a short descent. The last several hundred feet were a double digit grade, a good test of the legs early in the morning.

Mine responded. I could tell already that this was going to be one of my better climbing days. I waited for Berry at the top. It wasn’t his day, and he was already considering switching to the metric route. Since the routes didn’t converge until after Bearwallow Mountain, I convinced him to finish that climb before making a decision. Sometimes it takes a little longer to warm up.

After some marking confusion, we found our way to Bearwallow Mountain. I may be in the minority, but I really liked this climb. It was quiet, with heavy foliage and a lot of scenery on the way up. The grade was mostly manageable, with a steep section midway through that gets up to 12-13%. Again, I was feeling good throughout this climb. The legs were fresh and flexible. I was still careful not to open it up, and climbed at a comfortable pace.

Climbing Bearwallow Mountain.

Climbing Bearwallow Mountain.

When I bumped into Berry, I found that he wasn’t as fond of Bearwallow. The moment he saw me, he uttered one word – “Metric!”

I understood.

We lost each other on the descent and I waited at the rest stop. And waited. And waited some more. I was starting to get worried. I sent him a text. No response. After waiting a bit longer, I had to go. There was a cutoff time, after all. I found out later that he simply took a wrong turn. His metric ended with 70 miles.

As I rolled through Hendersonville, reality struck. Since I had spent a considerable amount of time off the road, I was well behind the pack. I encountered a group, but I was a little stronger than them. It wouldn’t work to ride together. It looked like I was going to ride the next 60 miles on my own. It turned out to be only the next 20.

The route took us through Hendersonville. From there we traveled through familiar roads. We went down Mine Gap, and zoomed through Zirconia and Tuxedo, to the base of Pinnacle Mountain.

Ugh. Pinnacle Mountain, my nemesis. It has been nearly a year and a half since I last encountered that beast, but I had not forgotten her. I was not looking forward to climbing her again. The cue sheet was not clear which part of Pinnacle we’d be riding. I was just hoping that it would not be the 25% grade.

The climb up there was via Cabin Creek Rd. Just like Bearwallow, it was mostly mild save for a steep section. It totaled four miles, a little longer than I expected. My strength started to wane, possibly because I had been riding for 60 miles by myself, and possibly because the sun out and the temperature was rising. I found myself thirsty towards the end, and grunted through the last mile or so. When I reached Pinnacle Mountain, I was thrilled to turn right.

Thankfully, we turned right.

Thankfully, we turned right.

Guzzling a couple Gatorades at the rest stop got me refueled and refreshed, and I felt strong again for the remainder of the ride. The best news was that a small pack of riders caught me. It was there that I met Laurie from Charlotte, whom I soon found was riding at about the same pace. She had accidentally missed the Bearwallow turn earlier, and added six miles to her ride. We were both behind the big groups, and made for fitting riding partners.

We descended Pinnacle Mountain through Sky Top Orchard, rode through Flat Rock and by the Carl Sandburg Home, before making way to the final climb – Jump Off Rock. This was the climb I was looking forward to the most, but we took an unusual way to get to it. Rather than going straight up Laurel Parkway, we took some side roads that went up and down. Again, the markings were precarious. I had to pull out my iPhone and say: “Siri, give me directions to Jump Off Rock.” I would hear the turn-by-turn instructions as I rode along, which gave me confidence we were heading in the right direction.

When we reached the top, we were surprised it was so desolate. Where were all the riders? Were we that far behind everybody? Not at all. We found out later that most people had missed the turn to get there, and had inadvertently skipped it altogether. Laurie and I ended up with more than 100 miles, whereas most others had somewhere around 95.

The descent back down to Hendersonville was a rush, not too steep, just right. Laurie was tired, having already ridden a century by that point. To her, the ride seemed never-ending. Still feeling strong, I took some extra pulls towards the end.

Despite the hiccups, this was a terrific ride. We encountered apple orchards and scenic mountain vistas all day. I’m confident the organizers will iron out the details and make this a ride to remember. I will look forward to coming back.

Strava GPS Link

IMAGE GALLERY

Flight of the Dove, 2013, Clinton, SC

Tri City group shot

Of all nearby metric rides, Flight of the Dove probably has the best reputation. I’ve heard many people tell me that this is their favorite ride, either because of the organization, the social interaction, or the opportunity to ride extremely fast without stopping. This year I finally had a chance to see what all the fuss was about.

My local riding group, Tri-City, drummed up participation and we had a sizeable turnout. Note the terrific group picture above. This was a good start, as it’s always nice to ride with familiar, friendly faces pretty much everywhere you look.

This year they implemented a little something different – a shooting range. Yes, you are reading correctly. They had a shooting range at a bike ride. Yes, shooting. With guns. Rifles.

Only in South Carolina, right?

You had 5 shots for $5, which would take place at the mile 38 rest stop. Having never fired a gun in my life, I took a pass lest I accidentally endanger nearby cyclists. Berry, a friend of mine, gave it a “shot” and showed off his impressive accuracy after the ride.

Berry, locked and loaded.

Berry, locked and loaded.

I was looking forward to a fast and fun ride. As they made the pre-ride announcements, they warned of some rough roads at mile 19. Noted. I lined up near the front. As we rolled out, I did my best to navigate through the pack to stay with the lead guys. The weather was cloudy and in the mid-60s all day. That didn’t give us much opportunity to see the sights, but was perfect for riding

As a small group of maybe 25 emerged out front, the pace picked up. I had forgotten my heart rate monitor, but I know it must have been through the roof. We were tearing it up, and I was doing everything in my power to hang on. After we would turn a corner, the pace seemed to accelerate.

This was not sustainable. I held on for 5 miles and then purposely backed off. We had been at around 25 mph by that stretch. Too much for me.

I slow pedaled to wait for the next group. I found two triathletes, both of whom were strong riders. We rode as a threesome for a short while, but I could tell that my cold remnants were started to come back, so after putting in a pull, I bid them adieu.

The next group was the big one. I heard the rumbling behind me and waited to be enveloped. As the first few riders past me, I saw familiar faces. “Jump on in, Aaron. We have a good paceline.” Gladly. It was with them that I cruised for the next dozen or so miles.

Remember that warning about the rough road? I had sort of forgotten, but never would have expected it to be this bad. Entire sections of the road were missing. People screamed like bloody murder as we got closer, and the only way to avoid the bad stuff was to veer carefully into the left lane. That’s not an easy task when riding with a 50-person pack. I managed to get into the other lane, but that was not enough to avoid catastrophe.

Pffffft, I heard from my tire. In an instant, I knew I was flat. I saw another guy just a few feet away, also flat. Apparently about 5-6 guys got flats on that same section.

The SAG guy was right there, and he changed our tires in haste. He must have been expecting this. As he noted, until recently this road was among the best in the area for riding. All this mess just appeared in the last week. It was not the fault of anyone but the weather. This type of stuff happens when you have the wettest season on record.

Thanks for fixing my flat!

Thanks for fixing my flat!

As I recovered from my flat, I looked for a good group to ride with. I found one at the next rest stop. Jack, Ricky, Vince, and Jim were waiting. We rode the rest of the way together as a group of five.

Even though this is a fast ride, it is a surprisingly challenging course. There are some hills, and they get fiercer as you get closer to the end. In the last 10 miles, they keep coming and coming. On their own, they are not so bad, but one after another while trying to maintain a brisk pace makes things difficult.

To make the ride a little more interesting, we saw two hand-cyclists and a skateboarder doing the shorter route. Yes, a skateboarder rode 30 miles. We saw him finish later and he practically collapsed. Kudos, dude!

This guy skateboarded 30 miles. Now that's hardcore!

This guy skateboarded 30 miles. Now that’s hardcore!

Believe it or not, I felt great. I could have gone much faster if not for the flat. Maybe not as fast as the lead group, but probably in the 21 mph vicinity. I settled for just under 20.

Our ride ended with a sprint section. I was feeling good and gave it a go. Thinking I had won, I eased back. Then came Jack Daniel, who had previously been complaining about cramps to take the sprint at the last section. “Sandbagger!,” I yelled out. We had fun with it. Always a pleasure to finish a long ride with a few laughs.

Strava Link

IMAGE GALLERY

A Busy Fall Season

Riders in the Ocean

Riders in the Ocean

While it seems that a lot has been happening all year (good and bad), I haven’t had a truly busy cycling season. That looks to finally change this fall, and thankfully I’ve had a good jumpstart in the late summer.

Believe it or not, I have not had a 500-mile month this year, and so far only tallied approximately 1,700 miles since January. August will get me closer to 500, and September could be a 1,000 mile month if things work out. By October, I’ll likely have doubled my mileage for the year.

The rest of the way will be full weekends, busy busy!

This coming weekend is Flight of the Dove out of Laurens, SC, a local favorite metric (plus). It has some hills, but will be mostly fast with a large group of friends.

From Hendersonville, NC, Tour d’Apple will be another mountain century for Labor Day. This is their inaugural event, and I’m looking forward to tackling climbs such as Bearwallow Mountain and Jump Off Rock.

Tour de Round O. This is in Round O, SC. I hadn’t heard of it either. This one should be flat and possibly fast depending on the group I ride with. Or I may go easy since it is bookended by some challenging rides.

Upstate Forever Preservation Ride out of Chesnee, SC. This is the second year of the event, and I hear people really enjoyed it last year. This will be a metric (plus) with a climb of White Oak / Skyuka Mountain – ugh!

A ton of mileage will come via Bike MS: Breakaway to the Beach, where I plan to ride a double century. The goal will be to maintain a 20mph average on both days, very possible given the terrain, but it all depends on what groups I can find to ride with.

Assault on Little Mountain, SC will be yet another century. I’ve yet to ride this one, although I volunteered one year.

Blue Ridge Parkway – the whole thing. I’ve already talked about that.

Gran Fondo Hincapie. This one is a big maybe. I’d love to do it, and kicked myself for missing it last year. I’m going to wait before committing because I might just need some time off the bike after the Blue Ridge trip.


Blue Ridge Breakaway, 2013, Lake Junaluska, NC

Scott, Spongebob and Captain America at the front.

Scott, Spongebob and Captain America at the front.

After making the decision to cancel my travel plans for Blue Ridge Breakaway, I was disappointed and bummed. This event was at the top of my priority list for the year, and with the nasty weather continuing to roll in through the weekend, it looked like a wash out weekend.

I had been emailing Cecil, the Ride Director, about the forecast. As I posted on Friday evening, there were some major systems coming through, and one of them was threatening the event. He noted that a lot of the heavy stuff was pushing into South Carolina, and despite the forecast, they had a surprisingly nice day on Friday. He was optimistic; I was a little pessimistic looking at the same info.

The last thing I emailed him was “I’m pulling for you to have a great day of riding, even if that means I’ll be kicking myself for not going.”

After getting to bed early, I awoke at 2am with some coughing spasms. I looked at the clock and groaned, but since I was awake, figured I would check the radar and see if I would be kicking myself.

What Cecil had observed yesterday was happening again today. The bad stuff was flowing into SC, while the Smokies were going to be unscathed for a lot longer. The chance of rain at the start had reduced to 0%, with gradually increasing chances as the day progressed.

I did some quick math, then bolted out of bed. It was a 3.5 hour drive. I could actually do this thing. Within 15 minutes, I had my bike bag ready, praying that I didn’t forget anything important. Soon enough I was on the road heading to Lake Junaluska. The drive down there was through an ugly monsoon until I reached the NC state line, where it then calmed down.

I arrived at the Visitor Center at exactly 6am. Cecil was behind the registration desk when I walked up. He looked at me curiously, recognizing me, but not believing his eyes. “Cecil, Aaron, I said.” We erupted in laughter and man-hugged. The look on his face was priceless.

I was there, but I was totally unprepared. I had eaten chicken and salad the night before, not the type of fuel for 105 miles of mountain riding. Fortunately with this ride, I pretty much just needed my bike, some gear, and a little sense. The ride is so well organized that there’s not much else to worry about. The only major concern was the afternoon weather, but I was relieved to hear about their comprehensive tracking center and communications. That would come into play later.

We saddled up and several hundred riders left the the Lake Junaluska Welcome Center. It was easy early riding, as we were escorted via police with silver medalist Lauren Tamayo leading us out.

We had to deal with just a small amount of rain within the first 20 miles or so. None of it was very bad, and I think a lot of it was coming up from the road. As we rolled around the mini-climbs, we started to see signs of the sun. Things were looking good.

The sun peered through the clouds as we rode on rainy roads.

The sun peered through the clouds as we rode on rainy roads.

Unlike a lot of mountain centuries, the pack breaks up pretty early. Most of the separation starts at Coleman Mountain, continues through Rush Fork, and then splinters at Hyder Mountain. It is easy to forget about the earlier bumps compared to the later climbs, but they were substantial. Many of these had steeper grades and, to me at least, took more of a toll on the legs. During these early climbs, we were riding with people on the shorter rides (“Trout”, “Panther”, “Rabbit”). The 105-mile century was called the “Hawk,” and we finally set out on our own course as we rode further south through Clyde.

On the south Highway 215 climb to the Parkway, I caught up with John from the Raleigh area. On a climb this long, it’s good to have a companion for some conversation. We chatted it up as we rolled through the mild grades. This climb is not the most challenging in the world, but it goes on forever, and gains over 2,000 elevation. I remember that last time the road had been chewed up, and had been repaved since. It didn’t seem that smooth, but it was certainly an improvement.

As we got near the top of the climb, we approached a heavy cloud cover. We climbed through the mist, into the clouds, and they remained with us most of the day. We had some remarkable views from the parkway, where we could see into the horizon under the clouds on the left side, while the right side was just vast, puffy whiteness.

The next climb would be up to Richland Balsam, the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most of it is up and down, a few hundred feet at a time. The final climb was just about 500 feet at a mild parkway grade. Even though it counts as a climb, it felt like easy riding.

John and I stopped for a photo op at the high point.

The obligatory photo op!

The obligatory photo op!

The big descent followed. I’ve already talked about how much I love this descent, although I’ll admit, it loses a lot of its luster coming down through the clouds. After a lot of gliding, some pedaling for the little bumps, and before we knew it, we were through the dark tunnel and down to Balsam Gap.

The last climb of the day would be Waterrock Knob. Been there, done that, and wasn’t looking forward to it today. Again, it is a mild grade, but it goes on for awhile, about seven miles at a continuous incline. Having John around to chat helped matters, and then about midway through the climb we bumped into Kelly, a website reader who I had yet to meet in person. It was good company for this climb, and that took the bite out of it.

We climbed through a lot of clouds on the parkway.

We climbed through a lot of clouds on the parkway.

As we settled into the last rest stop, a gentleman volunteer said, “Look I don’t want to rush you, but I understand there is a storm system just south of us. You’ll be heading away from it towards Maggie Valley.”

He might as well have shot a gun in the air or yelled “start your engines,” as I was immediately back on the bike, descending to Soco Gap. Here it became real damp and misty, and the moisture was more apparent in the air. I’m not sure how close we were to the weather, but we escaped without issue.

Finally I reached Soco Gap and made the turn towards Maggie Valley. It would be mostly downhill from here. The drop here is steep and you have to deal with some traffic. I remember from the last Breakaway that the road is bumpy and chewed up. That wasn’t the case this year. It was quite smooth and a nice descent. Traffic also wasn’t an issue. They had a huge sign at the side of the road that said “Bike Race in progress. Bicycles sharing highway next 6 miles.” Thanks guys. All the motorists were respectable and kept a comfortable distance behind us.

John and some other guys caught up through the 5-mile sprint from Maggie Valley back to the start line. This section is mostly flat or slightly downhill at 1-2% grade, which was nice, easy riding to finish the route.

Cecil was right. The weather held off, and we were able to have a tremendous ride. I found out later that there were some close calls with storm pockets. They had weather alerts at all the rest stops, just like what I encountered at the last one. The showers got closer as the last riders rolled in, but fortunately the major weather missed us completely. There were no accidents, good riding weather, and the event was yet again a huge success.

Strava Link

IMAGE GALLERY

Boone Gran Fondo, 2013, Boone, NC

This is Ron from Wilmington on Highway 221.

Before I delve into the lengthy ride report, I’d like to talk a little about the timed format of this GFNCS. As I noted in the Preview post, the overall course is not timed. They only time four sections of varying distances, mostly climbs.

In short, I loved this format! And I didn’t realize why until I was on the road, experiencing the difference between this structure and the typical ‘cookie’ rides.

Here’s what I liked most about it:

1. Eliminates the knucklehead factor. Of course there are always going to be some knuckleheads (like the guy that forgot his helmet. Doh!), but this eliminates most of them. The big difference is you don’t get people who shoot out of the gates and make poor decisions in the interest of getting a better time.

2. Sociality. All rides are social, but this format allowed for more socializing than I would expect. Between the timed sections, people would ride easy and converse. To my surprise, I found myself chatting it up with a lot of people I’d never met before. The heavy breathing hammerfest would not start until we passed through the orange cones.

3. Control. This goes with #1. The organizers can place these timed sections at designated areas with low risk. This is the same notion as sprint zones in a group ride. You find an area with low traffic that allows riders to flex their muscles. For the Boone ride, these four sections were on hills. They were good spots with hardly any traffic, the perfect place to allow riders to try to prove themselves.

4. Fueling. The aid stations were situated between timed sections, so there was not a need for riders to weigh themselves down with fuel. Nobody had to carry 5 bottles in order to eliminate stops. Some of the guys only carried one bottle. They would just fuel up at the stops. Since everyone stopped and ate, it also reduced the chances of people bonking on the road.

Because of all this and more, 104 miles of riding and climbing was actually a blast. Thanks to the organizers and volunteers for making it such a treat. Even though the ride was hard, I’ll definitely be trying others in the series.

As for the ride, I’ll say just one word: Ouch! This was the real deal, a true challenging mountain century that throws everything it can at you.

After Reuben made the pre-ride announcements, we set out from downtown Boone. The start was mildly cool with a bit of wind. The roads were damp as an early morning storm had just passed through.

Reuben giving pre-ride announcements as we prepare to head out.

Reuben giving pre-ride announcements as we prepare to head out.

We could not get too comfortable, as the first timed section started right away — Russ Cornett Rd. This would not be the most challenging climb of the day, not even close, but it served as a wake-up call since it came so early. We dealt with some easy grades, occasional descents, and some false flats. The young bucks stretched their legs and attacked the climb, as they should. I rode my own pace, not wanting to blow up too early or hurt myself later.

Russ Cornett placed us at the middle of the Schull’s Mill Rd climb. This is one of my favorite climbs in the area, but I was grateful not to have to ride the whole thing. We skipped the Parkway and turned right onto Hwy 221.

The only times I have ridden 221 were on Bridge to Bridge when weather pulled us off the Parkway. This was the first time I could really see around me from 221. It was gorgeous. There were so many splendid views as we rolled through, up and down, gradually making our way up in elevation. The best part was when we could see the Linn Cove Viaduct straight up in the sky above. Seeing it from below made me appreciate the engineering brilliance even more.

Highway 221 was the second timed section. This time I was a little more warmed up and felt better, but reminded myself that I wasn’t racing. I started at a normal pace. A few people stood up to push harder, passing me instantly. I didn’t take the bait, but stills ended up catching a lot of those people. 221 is gradual enough that it fits my current style of riding, and of all the timed sections, this was probably my best.

We had to deal with some wind as we rolled through Linville and Banner Elk towards Newland. Since I’m recovering from a chest cold that I cannot seem to shed (which turned out to be a lower respiratory infection), and of course, a few injuries, I was tempted to take the shorter route. That temptation didn’t last long, as I found myself turning left on the wheel of Dave, the eventual winner of the Masters 55+ category.

This is Dave, winner of the race and the New Jersey Gran Fondo.

This is Dave, winner of the Masters 55+.

At the next aid station, I met up with Stuart and Karen from Raleigh. We had chatted some on Schull’s Mill and 221, and seemed like a good fit for a riding trio. Stuart was a beast, very strong rider. He would attack the climbs and then wait at the top. Karen was also strong and would out-climb me, but was a slower descender. Another aspect I like about this format is that it allows two people with different paces to ride together. They were great riding companions, and courteously waited at the top of all the big climbs. Refer to item #2 above. We had a great time between the timed sections, as we suffered through a difficult course with a lot of laughs.

The next timed section was Beech Mountain Rd. This is not the same climb as the historic Beech Mtn Pkwy, but instead heads up the backside of the mountain. This climb was my favorite of the day. The grade was rarely punishing, and the scenery exquisite. The most alarming part was a large black snake who had positioned himself in the riding lane on the right side of the road. I was in a zone and almost ran right over him. Stuart almost did the same. The snake was not moving and could have been dead, but I suspect he was only sleeping in the sun.

Beech Mountain was the most rewarding because of the terrific downhill. The upper portion was perfect because it wound around without a very steep grade, the type of descending that makes all the climbing worthwhile. The lower portion was steeper and less curvy, so we bombed down and hit our top speed of 45 mph. It was a rush!

Stuart kicked it into high gear when the Beaver Dam Rd timed section began. I remained behind with Karen. This was a longer stretch, and the early false flat lulled us into a false sense of security. Karen and I rode together easily when the road turned up. She went on ahead while I fought my own battle.

It was a little steeper, but I could deal with the 6-8% grades. If only they would have lasted. As we approached the end of the climb, the road turned up — way up! It was in the 11-12% vicinity. No problem. I can muscle through this, right? I turned the corner, and there was yet another ramp, equally steep. They kept coming and coming for a good two miles. By the time I reached the top, I was a beaten man. Stuart and Karen were sitting down, and I collapsed beside them. Ugh! After a couple minutes to rest my back, we were back on the road. This time we had a gravelly descent, which would be followed by about 10 miles of easier riding.

One of the steep inclines near the end of Beaver Dam Rd.

One of the steep inclines near the end of Beaver Dam Rd.

I loaded up on food and drink at the last rest station, just to stave off any potential bonks. The big timed climbs were out of the way. We knew Mast Gap was ahead of us, but that’s more of a hill than a climb. We had this made!

Or did we?

Holy Mother of God! We did not know what waited for us!

After we rolled through Valle Crucis and the starting point for BSG, we turned left. ‘Where does this go?’ I wondered. The answer was up, straight up. Bam! The road was immediately at 13%. Fine, I can handle another steep hill or two. I inched my way up the first hill, turned a corner, and Bam!, there was more waiting for me. This continued around a few more curves. At one point the grade dropped down to a more manageable 8%, but as soon as I got comfortable, it was above double digits again. I watched the miles tick by, knowing that we were close to Boone, just waiting for the final downhill to the finish line.

One of the brutal quad killers at the end of the event.

One of the brutal quad killers at the end of the event.

A nice lady was watering her lawn and shouted, ‘You’re almost to the top.’ Apparently she had been telling a lot of struggling riders the same thing. After .2 of a mile, the top finally arrived, and a relaxing descent followed.

Was that it?

We turned right onto White Oak Road. Bam! The road turned up again, and kept going, and going, and going. This one was not as steep, but the 8% grades felt like 20% with all the mileage already on our legs. When it did turn up to double digits, it was sheer pain. I thought of stopping a number of times, but held onto the bike, inching upward. I kept grunting and grunting until I reached the top, until finally after a couple miles, I was there. I’ll just say that whoever created the Strava section for those two climbs had it right. That was a brutal finish!

But it wasn’t quite over for me. I had finished the climbing, and had a mile until completing the event. I heard a pop and a hiss, and knew instantly what happened. My rear tire flatted, and and it was a bad one. One mile from the finish line, and I couldn’t even coast in. I got a ride for that last mile, but I’m counting this. 103 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing is a ride for the ages.

Congrats to the organizers for putting on a terrific inaugural event. I expect this one will be popular in the years to come.

Strava Link

IMAGE GALLERY

Boone Gran Fondo Preview

Midway through the climb, heavenly sunlight pierces through the trees.

Over the last few years, Gran Fondo format rides/races have taken the US by storm. They are popping up all over the place, but have been a little slower to penetrate the southeastern market. The Hincapie Gran Fondo that launched last year was the first true event, and it has proven to be a success. There have been many other events with Gran Fondo features, such as Six Gap Century with its timing of the Hogpen Gap climb.

One company that has recently starting staging these events is the Gran Fondo National Championship Series. Next week will be their inaugural Boone event, but they are also holding events in Central Florida, North Georgia, New Jersey, Colorado, and Maryland.

The GFNCS has offered a limited number of half-price discounts for readers of this blog (an offer, not an advertisement), which you can find here.

So what is a Gran Fondo anyway? In short, it is an event for amateurs that is timed. Technically it is a race, and some events will award prizes, but for many it is simply a race against the clock – a way to measure their performance on a segment or challenging ride. The term has been used interchangeably with the French concept of cyclosportive (a la Haute Route).

Boone is an ideal southeastern representative for such a format, as it boasts some of the best century rides in the entire Blue Ridge. I’ve already covered them at length, plus I have ridden many climbs in the area.

The Boone Gran Fondo is going to share some characteristics with those rides, but will offer certain elements (and climbs) that are a little more off the beaten path. There are four climbs that will be timed, and the winner will be whoever has the quickest cumulative time up all of them.

One of the climbs is Beech Mountain Rd, which is not the same climb that used to be a stage finish for the Tour Dupont. It is a little over 5-miles and gains 1,000 feet. Other climbs are Russ Cornett Rd, Highway 221 near Grandfather Mountain, and Beaver Dam Rd. A couple of these are also new to me, so I’m looking forward to tackling them. There are other familiar climbs, such as Schull’s Mill Rd (pictured above). The entire long route will be 105 miles with approximately 10,000 feet in climbing. There are also 20-mile and 55-mile route options.

One would think that this type of format would attract the cycling beasts, and there are plenty, but I’ve found that there’s a good variety of riders. For example, I have no illusions that I’ll be able to contend on any of the climbs, but I’d still like to see how I perform. This is the type of event, like the Assault on Mount Mitchell, that people will ride in consecutive years to compare their fitness. For amateur riders like myself, it is a good goal (or carrot) to work towards.

Speaking of which, I could very well be near the rear of the pack this year. I will probably not be last, but I could easily be in the bottom third. And that’s fine given the year I’ve had. To me, this is more of a ride and a way to experience some new climbs while training for my upcoming Blue Ridge Parkway ride. Next year, on the other hand, this event will likely be towards the end of my peak training period before Haute Route. Then I’ll be looking to prove something.