Tag Archives: assault on the carolinas

Assault on the Carolinas, 2013, Brevard, NC

No turning back now.

After rolling through the outskirts of Brevard, we descended into a flat valley. There was a large farm on the left, a few cows scattered about, with lush green grass nearly as far as the eye could see. The sun was shining bright, highlighting the beautiful countryside. We pedaled together in a massive pack, the flatlands giving us a momentary reprieve from the punishment.

I recognized where we were, and knew instantly what was coming next. After pedaling through the flats for a couple miles, we reached the other end of the valley, and then turned right at Walnut Hollow Road. That would be the first challenge of the day, and the one that I had really been worried about.

As most readers of this blog know, I had been sidelined for months with a freak stress fracture in my hip region. The hip is still healing, and I have only been riding for approximately a month, gradually increasing the mileage and intensity. The Assault on the Carolinas would be my longest ride of the year, my first organized ride of the year, and my first time in North Carolina since December of 2012. Since I was still in the healing process, I was nervous how the day would go, yet still thrilled to be back on the bike.

Walnut Hollow comes early in the ride, about 8 miles in. While it is a tough climb, it did not give me too much trouble in 2011 or 2012. The road pitched up slightly, and I could see dozens of riders ahead of me fighting the steep grade. It gets steeper as you go. At it’s steepest, the grade is around 14-16% (depending who you ask).

There were a pack of locals on the side of the road, somewhere around the steepest section, one of whom had a trumpet and another had a baritone. They were hooting and hollering. I’m still not sure whether they were cheering us along or laughing at our struggles. I’ll pretend it was the former. The trumpet would just belt out a sharp tone repeatedly, while the other guy played the melody of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. It was an amusing distraction from the pain of the climb, but I most certainly did not feel like an Iron Man today.

These guys made Walnut Hollow even more memorable.

These guys made Walnut Hollow even more memorable.

This was tough. I simply don’t have a lot of climbing power at this stage of my recovery, and I’m careful not to ask too much of my hips and legs. I struggled on the climb, wobbling a little bit (sorry to the riders near me). After a lot of panting and a few grunts, I made my way to the top.

After the big descent, we turned onto East Fork Road, one of my favorite roads in the area. It follows a small stream where you can often see a number of fishermen in the water. It is just a relaxing and pleasant journey. We then turned onto Highway 178 to make our way toward the Continental Divide and SC state line.

Highway 178 is a gorgeous road, with a lot of short climbs and some exhilarating descents. While I still had a little trouble with the climbs, I was in prime form on the descents. I remember my first Assault and what a reluctant descender I was. It was even a little nerve-wracking because people would bomb past me. This time the tables were turned. I was the guy zooming down the hills, carefully navigating around the nervous, uncomfortable riders, politely telling them I was “on your left,” and thanking them after I passed by.

The first descent from the Continental Divide to Rocky Bottom, SC, was two miles. A couple short climbs followed, and then came the big 4-mile drop down past Jocassee Gorges, and into the foothills of South Carolina. If I ever make a list of my favorite descents, this will be somewhere near the top. It isn’t too steep. Some of the curves can be a little tight, but they are easy to maneuver through.

Fortunately I had some friends waiting for me at the next rest stop. This would become my longest ride of the year somewhere on Pumpkintown Rd, still with a big freakin’ mountain to climb, and I was starting to feel a little tired. They put together a nice pace-line. I was fortunate to be behind Ricky Soxl, one of the tallest cyclists I know. There wasn’t much wind behind his big frame. That was the only way I could keep their pace. As we got closer to Caesar’s Head, he backed off for some reason, and that was it for me. I dropped off, not wanting to punish myself further. We caught up at the rest stop, but I knew that I would be on my own for the climb.

Our Pumpkintown Rd paceline. Thanks Ricky for the draft.

Our Pumpkintown Rd paceline. Thanks Ricky for the draft.

Hello again, Caesar’s Head. I have ridden this climb quite a few times before, but never had it been as difficult as today. The sun was bright, and the temperature had creeped higher, which didn’t help matters. The most important thing was getting through the climb without hurting myself. I went very easy. People passed me constantly. I carefully watched my heart rate, trying to keep it between 165-175. Since I don’t have the best cardio fitness at this point, that meant I was not going very fast.

My goal was to not stop no matter what. Even though I may not be in peak shape, I still don’t consider myself to be a quitter. Part of getting better is maintaining the mental toughness required to persevere when things are tough. However difficult, I maintained my momentum, and kept turning the pedals until I reached the top. It was easily my slowest climb of Caesar’s Head ever, about 30 minutes slower than my fastest time. As slow as I was, I did not set my foot down.

I reached the top in a state of exhaustion. I was completely spent, but day was not over yet. There were still about 15 miles to ride back to Brevard.

A group passed me as I was struggling in the headwind on Highway 276. I hopped on, glad to have a reprieve from the wind. Pulling us along was a gentleman with an Asheville Racing jersey. We kept on passing people, and they would join the line. I expected him to back off to rest, but he kept on going, pulling us almost the entire way back to Brevard. I passed him on a descent, thinking I had lost the group, then he caught back up with me a few miles later. Whoever you are, sir, thank you for the pulling.

Phew. I finished. Because of my recovery, this may rank as one of the toughest rides I’ve done. I was not going for time, but happened to notice that I finished an hour slower than last year. No complaints there. Just finishing was a win for me.

Thanks to the Pisgah Rotary Club and the entire Brevard community for making this such an enjoyable ride. This is among my favorite rides, and I’m glad to see that it has grown so significantly over the years. See you guys again next year.

Strava GPS Link


Assault on the Carolinas, 2012, Brevard, NC

Caesar's Head conquered!

Hello again, Assault on the Carolinas. Last year I estimated (possibly incorrectly) 1,000 riders. This year they stopped registration at 1,000 and the event was sold out.

Having done this last year, I knew what to expect. Again, the city of Brevard welcomed us warmly, cheered us on, directed us through traffic, supported us at rest stops, provided good food and music, and generally gave us a good time. Of all bike rides I’ve been on, this one makes me feel the most pampered. The weather was very similar to last year as well, only without the threat of rain. It would be clear skies all day with a cool start and a warm finish.

What was different was me, the rider. I have improved quite a bit in the last year. Not to mention, a lot of the roads that were new to me last year are now somewhat familiar. While the initial wow factor might not have been there, I will always appreciate the beauty of the area.

The ride started without a hitch. I positioned myself as close to the front as possible, which turned out to be about middle of the pack. In the early going I found myself boxed in quite a bit. There were riders of all paces, some of which who were blocking the road. I had to break my golden rule and go outside the yellow line a few times. I hated doing it, but I knew that traffic was well controlled.

The first major challenge was Walnut Hollow Road. A lot had been talked about last year and I remember thinking it was not so bad. For some reason on this day, it was much tougher. Perhaps it was because I had not tapered in the week prior, but my legs felt like bricks on the climb. Oddly enough, my time last year was better, so maybe all the mileage over the last week took a toll.

From there we skirted Rosman and hitched onto Highway 178 South across the Eastern Continental Divide, through Rocky Bottom, SC. Knowing the roads here made a big difference. I knew that the mini-climbs were difficult and I was able to anticipate them. Knowing the descents made a big difference as well, as I felt a lot more comfortable and was able to let fly. We passed Bob’s Place with his Road Kill Grill (the oldest continuously operating beer joint in SC, according to Wikipedia), and then continued descending into South Carolina.

From here we navigated the rolling hills around Pumpkintown and assembled a pace group of sorts. I felt great in this stretch. The rolling hills would splinter the group and I found myself pulling quite a bit. As we approached Caesar’s Head Mountain, I decided to ease off and make sure I was recovered before the big climb.

As we turned onto Caesar’s Head, there was some sort of accident that may have involved a car and a bike. Not wanting to rubberneck or obstruct the scene, I didn’t meander to find out what happened. Hopefully everyone involved is okay.

(edit: This was posted on a friend’s Facebook page: A motorist was passing two cars on a double yellow line He clipped an ATOC rider doing about 60 trying to get back in his lane due to oncoming traffic the guy started to leave the scene but was chased down by some Carmichael riders. He received an assortment of tickets for his actions. The rider worked for Carmichael and does not have any broken bones. He lost about three square feet of skin due to road rash. His bike is in pieces but he is great.)

There is the old adage (aka cliche) in cycling that it never gets easier, you just get faster. That was certainly true today. Caesar’s Head was a beast and played its share of tricks. I had just been here a couple months ago, but today it really took a toll. I felt strong in the early going and was able to pass much of my riding group. I continued up the mountain at a decent pace, and then over time I began to tire and just grunt through it.

With a couple miles left in the climb, I encountered the flat section. I love the flat section. It gives me a chance to recover and allows me to pick up some speed. As much as I love the flat, I hate the part that comes immediately afterward. This is where the mountain is the steepest. Grades here are above the 10% range, which really hurts when you’ve been riding up a mountain for miles.

In time I made it to the top. Despite all the pain, this was a personal best for me. I know that I can do better with more rest and better fueling, and I’m sure to get the chance.

I have already been on the summit of Caesar’s Head Mountain a few times, but believe it or not, have never been to the overlook. This time I decided to change that and gave myself a moment to enjoy the view of Table Rock Mountain and the gorgeous countryside below.

From there came the last stretch. I shot out by myself, enjoyed the moderate descent off the backside of the mountain and rode into a pretty tough headwind for a few miles of Highway 276. As I was beginning to tire, a pair of cyclists passed me and I jumped on their wheel. This was just what I needed to jump start my energy. We rode together for a few miles, descended back towards Brevard and passed See Off Mountain.

I crossed the finish line with a time of just over 4 hours. I beat my time from last year by an hour (I had stopped a lot) and a full mile per hour.

Thank you Brevard for showing us such a great time!

Strava GPS Link