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.
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 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?