Tag Archives: asheville

Hot Doggett 100, 2013, Mars Hill, NC

starting line

At the last minute, I decided to give Hot Doggett another shot. It has been two years since my last attempt, but this is one of my favorite mountain centuries, and I had been longing to ride it again. Despite all the recent rain, the weather looked to be ideal for a ride of this caliber, in the 60s and 70s.

Personally, this would be quite the challenge. I have been trying to shake a nasty cold with little luck. I’ve also been off the bike more during last month, mostly due to vacations, and record setting weather. I wasn’t sure how the legs would feel, but muscle memory would help get me through the ride.

We rolled out at 7:30am, starting mostly downhill, but we couldn’t get comfortable too soon. The roads around Madison county are perpetually hilly. We were going up and down most of the time, and when going up, the grade would occasionally be steep. In the early going, we faced several short climbs of over a mile, and we knew the big ones would be up ahead. I could hear Jeff and John talking about their wattage, making sure to save something for later in the ride. That was the smart strategy, as someone could easily blow up by attacking the ride too early.

My legs were feeling alright in the early going. The bike was a different story. From the beginning, I noticed issues. When I would get into a certain gear, the chain would get close to dropping, and the derailleur would go crazy when I tried to catch it. This was happening during normal shifting, not where chains usually drop when people shift too late into a steep hill. To make matters worse, somehow the derailleur was getting bent into the spoke. After a couple miles, I had to stop to make an adjustment. Once back on the bike, I had to change gears carefully.

I was able to keep riding with only occasional issues. We rolled through Marshall, and I knew the first major climb of the day would be coming before long.

At mile 14.5, it became worse. I pulled over to adjust, got back on the bike, and it happened again. Something was seriously wrong. The entire pack passed me as I tried to get it working. A SAG vehicle stopped to try to help me, but he didn’t have much mechanical skill. He radioed to Tom, the ‘bike wrench,’ as he put it.

A huge shout out to Hot Doggett's SAG support. They were terrific!

A huge shout out to Hot Doggett’s SAG support. They were terrific!

Tom was a lot of help. He put my bike up on the rack, and looked at the derailleur every which way. Something was out of whack. He would make an adjustment, and we would move through the gears to make sure it worked. Every time it hit that gear, the same problem would occur. He was baffled, and I have to give him a lot of credit for sticking with it. Over a long period of time, he got a working adjustment that was enough to get me back on the road. I got a quarter of a mile before it happened again. We put the bike back on the rack, and made another adjustment. This one would be enough to keep me going.

Tom offered to drive me back up to the other riders. I appreciated that, but alone or not, I wasn’t here for short cuts. I came here to ride the course, and that’s what I would do.

The bike was rideable, if not perfect. Some gears would work better than others, while others would act up. Fortunately, none threw the chain into a frenzy like before. It was enough to keep me going, but having stopped for an hour already, I was well behind the last rider. It would be a long ride ahead.

I plugged along to Doggett Gap, the first major climb of the day, and arguably the toughest. The first mile is not so bad, maybe in the 4-6% vicinity. The last three miles were rough, almost pure pain. The average was a 9% grade, but there were many prolonged sections in the 10-12% range.

Passed by 4 classic cars on Doggett Gap.

Passed by 4 classic cars on Doggett Gap.

It was an effort to get up the hill, and I could tell that I wasn’t at my best. I struggled to get to the top, but made it through force of will. The good news was that despite being off the road for nearly an hour, I had caught 4 riders by the top of Doggett. The bad news was that the bike was still giving me fits, and the gearing problems were taking a toll on my legs.

I’ve prided myself on never taking the SAG wagon. Every ride that I have started, I have finished, and that’s been a lot of rides. It was a tough decision to make, and I chewed over the pros and cons while riding up Doggett. Between the bike issues, my head cold, and tired legs, I decided to call it a day. Tony and Grady, some good local fellows who volunteered at the Doggett rest stop kindly drove me back to Mars Hill.

I have to give a huge shout to the organizers. A lot of my friends completed the ride. They were all thoroughly impressed with the challenging course, and overwhelmed by the efforts of the volunteers. I cannot imagine another ride where a SAG mechanic would have stayed with a faulty bike for so long. Thanks to Tom and all the others.

I’ll be back next year, and will exact my revenge on these mountains.

Strava link


Mount Pisgah and Town Mountain, Asheville

Hello, Asheville. I was there to finally meet Coach Bobby in person. He gives a free bike fit to clients, something of which I had every intention of taking advantage. Mine was feeling out of whack, and I was looking for a good reason to travel to Asheville. It doesn’t take much. While there, I decided to put together a small group to ride up some of the featured climbs of the area.

Joining me were a handful of friends who live in Asheville, and a few others that made the trip from Greenville. Bobby joined us for an easy spin (for him), and he brought a riding partner, Ox, who lived up to the nickname.

The plan was to ride up Mount Pisgah, down through Asheville, up Town Mountain, then back to the car. Easy, right? Nothing in the mountains is ever as easy as it sounds.

The weather was unseasonably warm, but seasonably blistery. Even though the wind didn’t bite early, it would show up later when we least expected (or wanted) it.

We took the long way to Mount Pisgah, up the Blue Ridge Parkway. Overall it is not a very steep climb, mostly in the 4-6% range with a handful of steeper pitches. It started and ended with some tough stuff, with easier spinning in between. Even if the grade was not punishing, the distance was brutal. From Highway 191, where the climbs starts, we were pedaling 15 miles, gaining 3,000 feet of elevation, until we reached the top.

Most of this time was spent in conversation, getting to know each other. Bobby and Ox made great pro riding companions aka babysitters. They would ride back down to check on people that fell back. There were some people who were struggling early, so they lent a hand, literally, by pushing them up the climb. Now that was cool.

Bobby yelled out, “No push for you, Aaron!” Fair enough. He was my coach, after all, not my chauffeur. I was not at my strongest, but that is more due to the strength exercises I had been doing all week. When we were riding on the flats or rolling hills, I was fine, but the climbs were a lot tougher. I grunted up, watching others get a partially free ride, with no complaints.

What made the Pisgah climb more difficult was that nasty wind. It showed back up near the top of the climb, and was squarely in our face for the last several miles. We traveled through a number of tunnels. I kept turning my light on and off, but what I really needed was a windshield. It felt like a hurricane when inside the darkness, and an above average breezy day outside of them.

As we reached higher elevations, we saw ice and the remnants of snow along the side of the road. We were getting close. I could see the tower on top of Mount Pisgah, just southwest of us. Pisgah has such an iconic peak that it looked a lot closer than it was. Even when it was in clear view, we had a few miles remaining. The climb doesn’t take us all the way to the summit, but close enough. We found a nearby overlook for some nice photo opportunities.

Pisgah Conquered!

Next came the fun part. We descended a couple miles on the parkway, then made a quick turn onto Highway 151 the rest of the way down. The parkway descent was at this time a cross-wind and tail-wind, unnerving to say the least. 151 was a dream. It was a technical descent, with tight, winding switchbacks. Usually it would be under tree cover, but the leaves were already gone, allowing views all the way down. I wisely spent most of my time watching the road. Having not been here before, I took the descent conservatively, tapping on the brakes through the turns.

Bobby took us through West Asheville, which was tough, but a different kind of tough. The rolling hills had bite, and came one after another. The roads were smooth, and the descents fun, however short. As we approached downtown Asheville, he let us know that we had just finished with the toughest part. That was a relief, even if it lulled us into a false sense of security.

After coasting through downtown Asheville, we wound up at Town Mountain, the climb to end the day. How hard could it be? We turned left, and the climbing began shortly afterward. Kevin warned me that the lower portion is tough. He wasn’t lying.

The first pitch felt like it was delivered by Nolan Ryan. It was steep, double-digit steep, and continued in that vein for quite awhile. My quads were burning, feeling all the exercises I had done the week prior. Bobby rode alongside me for a short while, and I told him of my discomfort. All to be expected, he said. “That’s why we don’t lift weights during the season.” Good point.

One of my Greenville friends was Jana, who some might remember as being a dog magnet at Issaqueena’s Last Ride. It has not been the best year for her. She was a strong climber earlier in the year, but she has dealt with a lot of adversity since. The accident was only part of it. Her climbing legs were not dusted off, and she started to fall behind.

Bobby came to the rescue! He descended down to her, and again, started pushing her to the top. His red jacket was unbundled and flowing behind him, so in a way he looked and acted like a cycling superhero. He was certainly Jana’s hero. Ox would have made a fitting sidekick, but he peeled off towards home as we passed through the city. Jana and Bobby out-climbed most of us, including yours truly. He didn’t have to do that. Thanks, (Super)Bobby.

Who knew we had a superhero in our midst?

Town Mountain leveled out as we got higher up. The easier grades were more manageable for my winter muscles. I climbed and shared stories with Tom and Kevin. After roughly three miles, there was a false summit, and a descent, before we started climbing easily back up to the Parkway.

The wind found us again as we descended back to the starting point, forcing us to pedal downhill the entire way. I coasted back to the Visitor’s Center, while the others were treated to a little bear scare. Aren’t they cute? I must have ridden right by them. I hear they looked nervous when Tom pulled out the camera. Sorry bears, no porridge here.

Some friends were waiting for us.

Strava GPS Link


Measuring the Blue Ridge

As I was climbing Mount Evans with a few Colorado locals, I made reference to one of the hills I had climbed in the Southeast. One of the guys turned and looked at me, and jokingly said “You guys have hills out there?” He had a good point. In terms of elevation, the Blue Ridge pales in comparison to its western counterparts. I had practically lived around 10,000 feet for most of my Colorado stay, and climbed above 11,000 several times, including once over 12,000 feet, and the big one came in at 14,100. Many of those climbs were above the treeline, and yielded views that far surpassed anything we have on the East coast.

But the climbing is different. I was reminded of that when I came back and attempted the Blue Ridge Brutal. Instead of long and gradual climbs, we have short and steep. My legs hurt far more after this ride than anything I had done in the Rockies. Not to take anything away from the Rockies, as I loved every minute of my stay, but the Southeast has some pretty amazing climbing if you ask me.

Let me back up a little bit. Earlier this year when looking for good climbing blogs, I bumped into The Climbing Cyclist. To my surprise, Matt’s website was very similar to mine, only he covered the other side of the world — Australia. I enjoyed reading about his adventures, and shot him a quick note to let him know. Of course I also let him know about my website.

As it turned out, he was planning on a trip to the states later in the year. He would be looking for good places to climb. Did I have any suggestions? Of course I recommended some of the climbs in our corner, and his interest was peaked.

I checked his website a few months later, and to my surprise, he had just climbed Mount Baldy outside of Los Angeles. He then headed to New Orleans, then to New York, and finally to Washington, DC.

We emailed again. He was asking about places to climb near his last two stops. He had already spent some time riding around New York City, and would soon be climbing Whiteface Mountain at Lake Placid. I suggested he try some of the climbs in Vermont, but that didn’t work out. As for Washington, I had no idea, but thought he could try Skyline Drive or the Parkway near Roanoke, Virginia if he was willing to drive a ways.

Then I get an email saying he had set aside a few days, and wanted to try the Blue Ridge Mountains. Which would I suggest, Asheville or Boone? That was like asking a loving mother to pick her favorite son. Ultimately I suggested Asheville because it is a bigger city, and he would be relying on local transportation to get to and from the climbs.

As for where to climb, my first suggestion was the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Mitchell. Why go small, right? It would be quite a climb, but it is also the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and is probably one of the best climbs of the Southeast. He toughed it out, made it up to Mitchell, and came back down elated. The next day he decided to head out the opposite direction on the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading up to the top of Mount Pisgah, then back down Town Mountain Road.

While the grades were not terribly steep, Matt found them to have their own unique challenges. One thing he noticed is that there is not a lot of consistency. You will be climbing at the same grade for awhile, then you will reach a flat or even a downhill before climbing again. What Matt didn’t find, was that southeast climbing can be STEEP! In fact, a lot of the climbs up to the Blue Ridge Parkway are tougher than the Parkway itself. He may have found that out if he could have ridden from Brevard, but alas, transportation was an issue.

I highly recommend you read Matt’s take on Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a great read, and a great adventure. Even though he went through a lot of trouble to get here, I’m glad that he was able to enjoy it. The only real negative was that nobody recognized him as Australian, and one could mistook Australia for Austria. C’mon Americans!

Now back to Colorado. The tough part about climbing in Colorado is not really the elevation profiles. They are long, but most that I tried are relatively smooth and easy. Independence Pass was a long, gradual climb, averaging 3% over 16 miles. Mount Evans was a little steeper, averaging 4.5% over 27 miles. I understand there are some steeper climbs around the foothills. Magnolia Road near Boulder is known for being steep. Overall, they still seem to be an easier lot easier lot to climb.

What gets you in the Rockies is the elevation. I was maybe half the climber I had been in the Blue Ridge. Without being used to breathing such little oxygen, I simply could not push myself to muscle exertion. As a result, these rides were mostly slow and methodical. Believe it or not, I actually lost fitness when I got back home, as evident by my performance in last week’s Blue Ridge Brutal where I was 91st out of 135.

I’m not saying that Rocky Mountain climbing is easy in comparison. Quite the contrary! Mount Evans was possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done on a bike! Our climbs are also hard, and not to be discounted. They are simply different.

Fletcher Flyer, 2012, Fletcher, NC

The Fletcher Flyer, just outside of Asheville, NC, is a mountain ride without the mountains. They intentionally created the route to include as little climbing as possible. That means they go through a lot of valleys and country roads with breathtaking views at the elevation above. Because of this, the ride is popular, with approximately 1,000 riders registered. The total climbing is above 4,000 feet, which is not very much for the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When I arrived in Fletcher, it was in the low 50s and looked to be a beautiful, sunny day for a ride. I had to dig out my arm warmers, which were only necessary for the first couple of miles. We gorgeous, sunny temperatures all day. It was a nice break from the early summer heat.

Another thing I knew about Fletcher is that it has a reputation for being a blazingly fast ride. I was undecided about how I would approach it. Having just done Mitchell last week, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. If anything, I was looking forward to an easy century. Fortunately they lined people up based on expected speed. The front group was in the 18+ variety. I knew I would do at least that, so I hung around the rear of that section, and planned to ride however felt comfortable.

Before I knew it, we were off, and the hammering started immediately. I found myself in the all too familiar position of getting gapped behind slower riders. The small lead pack gradually rolled away. Fine with me. After the first few miles, we settled into a strong second-group that was rolling at a 21-22 mph pace.

That group continued for quite awhile. We splintered after the rest stop at mile 40, then became a foursome. All of a sudden I look up and see the Carmichael Training Systems logo on my left. Wow, we’re in Brevard. It was strange to encounter such a familiar city on a reasonably flat ride.

Circling around Brevard also meant we would encounter a few hills. I accidentally left my group on a couple climbs and expected them to catch up soon. To my surprise, they didn’t. I rode solo for most of the way around the outskirts of Brevard. I passed by a lot of familiar climbs. Walnut Hollow was the first, which I was ever so glad to turn away from the climb. A few miles later and I passed Becky Mountain. No thanks there. When I arrived at 276, the route went in the opposite direction of Caesar’s Head Mountain. They certainly succeeded in avoiding all the climbs, although I couldn’t help but wonder what an amazing ride this would be if they included a couple.

The pack caught me once the hills leveled off. It was a gigantic pack again, maybe 20 riders. Unfortunately it was short-lived. At mile 60 we hit a rest stop and there was confusion about who was stopping. I thought everyone was, so I pulled off, only to find out that half the pack kept going. At first I thought that was a bummer, but it turned out to be a blessing. This was a rocking group and I was glad to be part of it. Many of them were from Charlotte and knew each other. One guy in particular was a solid leader, advising us to stay together, keep a reasonable pace on climbs, and roll through the rest stops. It worked and we continued a relatively fast pace. We ended up catching and passing the other guys who didn’t rest at mile 60.

We rode together the rest of the way as a unit. Eventually we started catching the metric century riders. With good communication, we navigated our way through without issues. Traffic and the metric riders became a problem as we got closer to Fletcher, which slowed us down and broke our rhythmn. Then one of the members dropped a chain on one of the last little climbs. We waited and she was very appreciative. Frankly, I wanted to finish together with that good of a group. A few minutes was not a big deal.

Fletcher Flyer was a very well-supported, fun ride. The moderate route profile brought together a good mix of casual and hardcore riders. While these rides always get competitive, especially with fast groups, there was a lot more comraderie than most rides. The elevation profile is almost like a local rolling hills ride (like Tour de Midlands), only with cooler temperatures and better views. I’ll do this one again.

Strava Link