Tag Archives: boone

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

Bridge to Bridge, 2012, Lenoir, NC

Déjà vu!

Last year the forecast for Bridge to Bridge (now apparently called “The Bridge”) was for a cool day with a slight chance of rain. We ended up having dense fog until we reached Grandfather Mountain, where we escaped a massive cloud system into sunny skies. This time the weather was also worse than advertised.

We gathered on Main Street, Lenoir for a day’s worth of riding. I found a few guys from Vork Cycling Team, and decided to try and hang with them through the easier, early sections. They are a little stronger than I am, and have more experience finding good packs. That turned out to be a wise decision.

We left Lenoir a few minutes early, and the pack charged hard. I tried to keep up with them, but I am not an early starter. The pack glided up the first big climb, Poplar Street, which is a mile-long hill right outside of Lenoir. That’s when the pack first saw some separation. Unfortunately I was one of the riders that got separated. I lost sight of the Vork Cyclers, believing they were all ahead of me. So much for that.

At around the 4th mile, I heard a lot of clicking and yelling out. Everyone swerved, and I saw the remains of a crash with maybe four or five bikes down. Water bottles were rolling all over the place. At a glance, it looked like there was nothing serious, but I did not linger. I moved out of the way of the bikes, and got back on. Hopefully everyone was alright.

As it turned out, I was wrong about the Vork team being ahead of me. Brian from Vork showed up out of nowhere. A new pack formed after the crash, and we made steady progress. Brian moved to the front, and started his engines. I stayed on his wheel. We gradually increased our speed until we got sight of the big group. That spurred him on. He kept pushing, getting us ever so closer. Finally he ran out of gas, which left it to me. I continued in that vein, and was getting closer for a bit, but probably could not have bridged the gap. Fortunately another rider took the reins, and we sprinted to catch the pack.

Panting, I thanked Brian and the other guy for the pull. As we slowed down behind this massive group of 50-75 riders, we were able to rest. ‘This feels much better,’ I said to Brian. He nodded. ‘This is the payoff for all that work.’

The other Vork riders were in this pack, so we maneuvered our way around to ride with them. Gregg aka Tater is a tall rider, and stood out like a beacon with a giant blue skull. Chris aka McDiesel, a recent addition to the Haute Route team, was also there. I kept him in sight, so as not to get gapped and lose the group. I also met John, who rides with the Vork guys, but this was his first century ride. What a ride to choose! We kept speeds between 22-23 mph without much effort. We took it easy, and worked within the group while waiting to arrive at the climbs.

Those first 50 miles flew by. I was feeling great when the climb on Highway 181 began, but the mountain has a way of really telling how you’re doing. I realized almost instantly that I did not have it. I struggled immediately. Perhaps I didn’t eat enough during the first 50, or more likely, simply didn’t train enough in the preceding weeks. Hoping it was the former, I chowed down a Clif Bar, and made my merry way up. The Vork guys dropped me. Even John passed me about midway, along with everyone else and their mother. This was humbling, not my finest moment, and the climb went on for an eternity.

12-miles and 2,600 feet later, and I was almost spent. The climb fortunately stopped, but I had little momentum. All of a sudden a guy with an orange jersey blasted by me. I jumped onto his wheel, and he pulled me at least a couple miles. It was enough to get my mojo back. I later learned that his name was Mike. Thank you, Mike!

As Mike and I rolled along, another guy jumped on our wheel. We passed someone else, and they jumped on. I regained my strength, and took the front for a long pull. By the time we turned away from Linville, we had a regular old paceline again. All of a sudden John turned up. I must have passed him at some point without realizing it. He joined the party.

As we rolled down the long stretch on Hwy 105, the clouds became darker. Cloudiness turned to intermittent rain showers. We just dealt with it, kept trucking along. It wasn’t comfortable, but we were fine as long as there was no thunder and lightning. As we passed by the north end of Grandfather Mountain, I looked over and saw it enveloped in a gigantic cloud. Unless things changed, it would be an ugly finish. I was also pretty certain at that point that the Blue Ridge Parkway would be closed.

The paceline remained more or less intact until we turned onto Schull’s Mill Road, and began the climb back up to the Parkway. Some people went ahead of us, some stayed behind. I kept riding with John. Not only was this his first century, but it was his first real mountain ride. Schull’s Mill is a nice and scenic climb, but it is long. I told him just to buckle in, and try to keep from getting too tired. Save a little for Grandfather. We rode and talked. At some points he was getting tired, and I slowed down to let him keep up. At others, he tore ahead of me, and I had to pick up the pace. Most of the time we rode together.

We reached the top of the climb not a moment too soon. The fog was much thicker up here. We were directed onto the rolling hills of 221, and it immediately started raining harder. Now this was uncomfortable! We could already barely see five feet ahead of us. Now we had to deal with rain. There were a few small descents in the early going, which always make me nervous. I rode conservatively, not wanting to do anything stupid.

As expected, the Parkway was closed. No Linn Cove Viaduct again this year. Bummer. We continued on 221, completing the full circle around Grandfather Mountain. I told John that this was probably good, as the climb up Linn Cove Viaduct isn’t a cakewalk. There would be hills, but they were more up and down until we reached Grandfather.

The ride along 221 took forever. It was bittersweet to get to Grandfather. We were nearing the end, but still had to deal with one of the steepest mountains in the Southeast. Here goes nothing.

No clear skies on Grandfather Mountain.

Last year we had climbed out of the sludge into the sun on Grandfather. Not this year. The entire climb was covered in fog, with a little bit of drizzle. To my surprise, it made it a little easier. Not being able to see the next steep pitch was psychologically soothing. We just had to grind out each hill, one at a time, then move onto the other one. Each steep hill hurt like madness. We just had to suck it up and try to keep pedaling.

I kept going, ever so slowly, just making my way closer to the top. John was pushing a bigger gear, so he would sometimes stand up and climb ahead of me. I stopped once along the way for a moment just to catch my breath. I believe John stopped a couple other times, but he did amazingly well for his first time. At the visitor center parking lot, I went on ahead, while he took his time. Everyone has to take this one at their own pace. He was fine.

Even though I couldn’t see them, I was relieved to arrive at the three switchbacks, because this meant the grade would temporarily lighten up to around 10%. What I forgot was what waited for me after that.

Last year I had turned a corner, looked to my left, and immediately stopped in shock at seeing a ramp left to climb. This year I could barely see two feet in front of my face, and forgot where it was. I turned that same corner, and kept climbing, then heard some cheering ahead as someone else finished. The road pitched up, and I realized this was it! The beastly, excruciatingly painful 20% ramp. I alternated standing up, sitting down, moving from side-to-side, doing everything I could to inch my way up that hill.

When I was almost to the finish line, I was able to make out the people. “You’re almost there!” someone yelled. They looked so close, yet they were still so far away. I stood up, and powered with every last bit of strength I had remaining. It wasn’t much and it hurt a ton, but I was done. Grandfather conquered again!

My final time was 6:45, better than last year. I was 145th overall. Even though this wasn’t my best day climbing, especially up 181, I was pleased with the result.

A huge hats off to all the organizers and volunteers. I cannot convey how great it feels to hear words of encouragement when climbing up the mountains. Whether that was at mile 50, 90, or 102, it was all appreciated. Thanks for keeping our hands full of bananas and water along the way, keeping us from having to stop. Thanks for spending your time on a crummy day supporting us and making this a great ride.

Strava GPS Link (elevation understated by Garmin errors)

 

IMAGE GALLERY

Last year’s pictures


Back to the Bridge

Grandfather Mountain’s Swinging Bridge from above the clouds

 

Let’s do it again! This Sunday will be my 2nd attempt at Bridge to Bridge.

Last year’s Bridge to Bridge was an epic endeavor. 98% of the ride was spent grinding it out in nasty, drizzly, foggy weather conditions, while the last 2% was in the bright sun. However painful that climb up Grandfather Mountain was, it was elating to climb out of the sludge and into the sun.

The early forecast looks promising. It looks clear and actually a little cool, which is perfect. It will most likely be in the high 50s or low 60s when we leave Lenoir. When we finally reach higher elevations, it’ll probably still be cool enough to keep riding with arm warmers. I seem to remember there being a good forecast last year, so there’s still a chance it could change. The weather is tough to predict at higher elevations.

Even though my training has been sidetracked by every excuse in the book (illness, hurricane, work, school, long vacation), I still feel alright. My strategy will be to beat last year’s time, which should not be a problem. On the last ride, I had to stop more often than I’d wanted, trying to coordinate with my ride home. This time I’ll be traveling solo.

My strategy will be similar to Mitchell. I’ll find a strong group for the first 50 miles to get me to the climbs as quickly as possible. No, it won’t be the front group, but hopefully not too much further back. From there I’ll just power my way up at a steady cadence, while not burning myself out for the final assault. I’ll eat more and stop less.

Grandfather, with grades in the upper teens and a finish above 20%, will be the real test. Aside from Blue Ridge Brutal, I haven’t tried to climb on tired legs since Mitchell, and have climbed few hills this steep all year. I’ll see how I feel, and give all that I can.


Blue Ridge Brutal, 2012, West Jefferson, NC

It was a mild and overcast morning when I, along with 280 other riders, departed Ashe County Civic Center for the Blue Ridge Brutal. I’ve now been on a few other timed non-racing events, all of which are careful to call them a ‘ride’ and not a ‘race.’ Not so for this event, which brought the big boys out to play. Congrats to Ryan Jenkins for ‘winning’ with a 4:38 time.

You would think that after trying out some of Colorado’s finest climbs, I would be a monster on a southeastern century. Not the case. I knew almost immediately that I was not the same rider as a couple months ago. In a way that turned out to be a blessing. I decided to ride my own ride. I didn’t want to get caught up in the pack racing mentality and burn myself out. Frankly, this course is just as good as a ‘ride,’ as it is a ‘race.’

The first several miles are mostly downhill, with a few humps just to keep riders honest. I lined up towards the front of the middle of the pack, close enough to get a free, early ride, but not to be in contention. There were a handful of people that didn’t belong up front (myself included), so my being near the back caused me to watch out for gaps. There were a few occasions that I had to sprint to catch up to the pack. I stuck with them as we climbed up Idlewild Rise, which is a gradual climb of about 300-feet. I lost them on the descent at mile 12.

We entered the Blue Ridge Parkway unceremoniously. Most entrances I’ve been on have an on-ramp with a distinctive stone railing (like this image). This one had no sign, no railing. We just turned left, and there we were. I asked a rider next to me if we were on the parkway. It sure looked like it. There was an overlook soon enough that confirmed it.

One thing I really liked was the European way that the volunteers handled the rest stops. I wasn't planning on stopping at the first stop. To my surprise, they handed me a full bottle of water. They were also handing off musettes, which are canvas bags full of goodies. I was not quick enough to grab a bag for myself, but I grabbed the bottle, downed most of it, then chucked it to the side of the road with the others.

We stayed on the Parkway for just over 20-miles. To me, unless you're heading to a Southern Sixer, Parkway climbing is not too difficult. Usually you are going either up or down without ever exceeding a 6-8% grade. Most of the climbs on the stretch that we rode were short, followed by an equally short descent. There was only one time I remember descending that it really felt like I opened it up.

After leaving the parkway and riding a few miles, I was thinking that this was a surprisingly easy ride. I even mentioned this to a fellow rider, who warned me not to get too confident. "The thing about this ride," he said, "is it gets more difficult the further you go."

The course was put together well. Many of the roads in the 40-70 mile range were truly rural, farm roads — my favorite! I saw far more cattle than cars. Unlike a lot of rural riding I've done, the pavement was smooth. This also meant that since I wasn't riding with packs, that I was riding alone in the middle of nowhere for a lot of the time. That said, I was never concerned. The SAG wagon passed by numerous times, and I knew the ride was well supported. I would tell someone after the ride that there were 'yellow shirts everywhere.' At times it seemed the volunteers outnumbered the riders.

As I had been warned, there were climbs to trifle with. The big monster was Buffalo Road, or 'Buffalo Hump,' as I've heard some call it. It is just under two-miles, but is very steep. It begins with an easy grade to lull one into a sense of comfort before it cracks the whip. I noticed the grade being consistently at a 12-13% range for much of the upper climb. Let's just say that I was not a Buffalo Soldier. I was a Buffalo casualty, as that climb kicked my tail.

After descending Buffalo, we turned onto 3 Top Road, where more misery was awaiting us. I'm still not certain whether we were on 3-Top mountain or not, but I know that we continued climbing. We turned left on Highway 194, uphill for a couple miles toward Todd, NC. It wasn't as difficult as Buffalo, but was a lot tougher than the Parkway or most anything else.

Unlike a lot of other rides up here, there were not a lot of lengthy sustained climbs. Many of the bigger climbs were a mile or two. That doesn't mean that it was easy. Not by any stretch. In this sense, it reminded me of Isaqueena's Last Ride, which is almost all rolling hills, all day, save for one big climb. After Buffalo and 3-Top, we rolled around the neighborhoods in the Jefferson outskirts. I remember a particularly steep neighborhood road where I encountered some construction workers. "Only 5 miles to," they yelled at me. Thanks, but this isn't my favorite of those miles, I joked back. They laughed, "I think you'll like the next mile a little more." It was a steep descent, so yes, that was awesome.

The course brought us back along the Highway 221 shoulder. Usually this would not be comfortable riding because of the traffic, but the shoulder was clean and the drivers respectful, so it was not a problem.

After the finish line, where I clocked in at just under 6:30 (unofficial, results should be posted on the website Tuesday), I had a big challenge still remaining.

The cities of Jefferson and West Jefferson are under the shadow of the 4,665 foot Mount Jefferson. The Blue Ridge Brutal allows no more than 50 riders to ride up the mountain. I failed to register in time, and was placed on the waiting list. At first I was worried that I wouldn't be able to ride. That turned out to not be an issue, as only 22 riders gave it a try. When I started the climb, I understood why.

The total climb was 3.3 miles, and gained just over a thousand feet. After riding around the high country for 100 miles, that really hurt. Especially after I had barely touched anything steeper than 6% in a month. The average grade is somewhere between 8-9%, and I was tired. I huffed and puffed, and gradually made my way to the top. According to Strava, I am in 17th place out of 18. Last place is someone who took an hour longer, so I'm pretty sure he walked. That puts me in dead last. I was tired.

The Blue Ridge Brutal lived up to its name. With Jefferson included, it was one of the more challenging rides I have tried in the southeast. I only hope that next year, more people will harden up and give the big hill a try.

Blue Ridge Brutal Strava GPS Link (Garmin shut off with a few miles to go)
Mt. Jefferson Strava GPS Link

 

IMAGE GALLERY

Back to the Blue Ridge

After gushing about the Rocky Mountains for a couple weeks, I am finally back home, ready to tackle some new, local climbs. This weekend I will be heading back to the North Carolina high country, and will get the opportunity to explore part of a new state.

August 18th was a tough weekend to decide on a ride. As it turns out, three rides that I have wanted to try are all happening on the same day. The Blue Ridge Breakaway was my ride of the year last year. It’s an amazing ride, and I had a blast participating last year. This year they are expanding the event to include a special event the night before with special guest, bloggers The Path Less Pedaled. A lot of people have asked me about this ride after listing it as the best last year. If you are on the fence, I encourage you to give this a try. I cannot make it this year, but it is already on next year’s calendar.

Flight of the Dove is a local favorite. It is a metric century that takes place in Laurens County, SC. While it may not necessarily be my type of ride (brutal mountain centuries), it is extremely popular. Of my local club, about 20 are traveling to participate, a big number given that it’s a 1.5 hour drive. Everyone I know that has ‘Done the Dove’ has raved about it. As much as I like to ride with close friends, I have to skip this one.

Instead, this week I am doing the Blue Ridge Brutal in Jefferson, NC. It has a reputation of being a tough century, which is right in my wheelhouse. Additionally, it is a new area for me. It isn’t far from Boone, NC, where I’ve ridden a few times. Aside from a stretch on the Blue Ridge Parkway, all of these climbs will be brand new to me. That was the deciding factor in my decision. I like climbing new hills.

After finishing the 100-mile century, some riders have the option to ride up Mount Jefferson, a 3-mile climb with a steep grade. I am officially on the waiting list. From what I understand, a lot of people change their mind after 100 miles. That is understandable, but it won’t be me.

We’ll be staying an extra night, returning Sunday. Assuming the legs are in decent shape the next morning, we’re going to venture across the Virginia border. I’ll try a climb or two while my wife explores the area. Most likely I’ll ride up Grayson Highlands, the highest paved road in Virginia with a good view of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia.


Blood, Sweat & Gears Wrap Up

Me on top of Snake Mountain.

Towards the end of the Snake Mountain climb, I saw a guy with a camera. True to form, I did not pass up the opportunity to ham it up. Remember that this was a grade in the high teens. That sly smile was all I could muster and it was for the benefit of the camera only. After the flash, I was back to my grimace.

Later I found out that the photographer was Jeff Viscount of WeeklyRides fame. I had not met him before, but we have emailed and I know him from reputation. He has done a tremendous amount for cycling in the Carolinas.

There are plenty of other images on his website. If you rode, you might find out how you looked while climbing ‘The Wall.’

Lonnie took some photos of riders going under the Parkway bridge through Blowing Rock.

You can also find a number of images at Mtn Snapshots.

Thanks also to Gary for sending the elevation profile below. It’s hard to believe he is from Raleigh since he seems to know the High Country like the back of his hand.

Thanks to Gary for sending this elevation and climb profile.

A lot of people have asked me where BSG stands up compared to other rides. Even though I said in my recap that it wasn’t as challenging as I expected, it was still a difficult mountain ride, one of the toughest around. Snake Mountain itself is brutal. The one difference about BSG compared to other rides are the small climbs. There are a lot of climbs of a mile or two. Some of them are steep and all add up. The longest climb starts in the first few miles, which is a major challenge for my slow warming legs.

Is it as tough as Mitchell? No, Mitchell is still the toughest ride I have ever done. It better compares to Bridge to Bridge. A key difference is that B2B starts with relatively fast pack riding, with the big climbs not starting until mid-way through the mileage. I would say that Grandfather Mountain is tougher than Snake, and 181 is tougher than Schull’s Mill, but there are more total climbs on BSG. Not all rides are the same, so it is tough to compare them.

The ride was also a lot more fun than I expected. From the start near the Mast store, to the finish beyond Mast Gap, there were a lot of laughs and thrills. This is already a contender for my top ride of 2012. If it was an endless sufferfest, it might not have been quite so enjoyable.

Good times. I’ll definitely be back.


Seven Devils & Hawksnest

It was the day after Blood, Sweat & Gears and we would be leaving the Boone and Banner Elk area soon. It turned out we could not make Cyclo-via, so I wanted a final mountain ride before heading out. Fortunately I found one right next to the hotel.

I have to give John Summerson some kudos for this one. I found it from his Southeast climbing book, which I recommend any serious climber pick up.

The climb started in the nearby neighborhood of Seven Devils. This is a small resort town with an off-season population of a mere 129. The climb started easily enough when I turned from Highway 105, but it wasn’t long until it turned up into double digit grades and stayed there. It was a challenging climb, with a few tight switchbacks and steep pitches. Little did I know how much more would be coming ahead.

After navigating the steep grades for just under two miles, I found myself in the heart of Seven Devils. It really is a small town, an intersection really, with an apartment complex and a Town Hall. There were lots of small roads that led to other houses and resort facilities, which I didn’t try, although I imagine there are steep climbs throughout the town.

I followed John’s instructions for what he calls the Hawksnest climb. This is a ski resort that boasts of snow tubing and the longest zipline in the Southeast. I turned onto Skyland Rd, which would take me almost to the resort. This was a much more moderate grade, maybe in the 3-4% range, with a downhill about midway and one steep hill just to keep me on my toes.

I could see the ski hills up ahead in the distance, and knew this meant my next turn onto Skiview Road would be coming up. I saw a seriously steep road to the right and thought that was probably a driveway. To my surprise and anguish, that was my turn. The steep grade hit me like a ton of bricks. It must have been right around 15%. It stayed in that vicinity for the majority of the climb. After getting past the first pitch, I saw was a retiree couple driving down the mountain. They looked at me curiously as I huffed and puffed slowly my way up the insanely steep hill.

I came across another pitch in the road, with a sign that said blind hill ahead. That can’t be good. It wasn’t. That was easily the steepest section. My Garmin showed that it was mostly in the 18% vicinity with a peak of 20% at the end.

After winding around for around a mile, the road narrowed to one lane. The steepness persisted around the 13-16% range, with occasional breaks to around 10%. There was one last road near the top, which was just a small hill, but John listed it just to extend the climb. This was Divine View Road. This was practically a driveway, as there was only one house on the road. I could tell that the so-called ‘Divine View’ was probably from their patio. I was tempted to cross the driveway if it weren’t for the No Trespassing sign. Not a good idea to disobey those signs in the mountains of NC.

All told, the climb was about 4 miles, of which I averaged between 5-6 mph. I consider it to be slightly more difficult than Snake Mountain, the toughest climb on the Blood, Sweat & Gears ride.

The descent wasn’t much better. With narrow roads and steep grades, I found myself sitting on the brakes, wearing out my hands. I had to stop a couple times. It was a relief to get back to Hawksnest, where the road eased off. Seven Devils was a technical, but manageable descent.

It was tough to leave. The Boone and Banner Elk area is a cyclists paradise. There were so many other climbs I wanted to try out, but alas, I had not the time, nor the legs. Another day.

Strava link

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