Tag Archives: boone

Blood, Sweat & Gears, 2012, Valle Crucis, NC

Blood, Sweat & Gears is a huge ride. Nearly 1,000 riders were bunched in the Valle Crucis Elementary School entry-way, slightly off the main road. I arrived late and found a spot near the back of the pack. No worries. I didn’t want to go too fast anyway. I squinted to see the Mast General Store at the starting line. After a few announcements, the ride officially started. I could see movement at the front of the pack, but it would take another minute or two before I would funnel through.

We started in a dense fog. The forecast was for clear and sunny skies, so I knew it would burn off soon. The massive pack of riders left Valle Crucis at 7:30am, turned onto Highway 105, and made a quick left onto Schull’s Mill Road to start the climbing.

I’m a habitually slow warmer. My muscles are not ready for a climb at mile four, but part of the challenge is taking what is thrown at you. I was not afraid of this climb, having conquered it before (link to B2B). Schull’s Mill is a gorgeous stretch of road. Most of it is under heavy tree cover. I could tell we climbed out of the fog because sunlight pierced through the trees, leaving gorgeous sights like the cover photo above. My legs hurt, but I didn’t care. I pushed through the crowd and made sure to stretch out on the following descent.

The route took us beyond the Blue Ridge Parkway. Not to worry, it would be back shortly. We coasted through downtown Blowing Rock, across the connecting highway, and jumped back on the Parkway a few miles later.

This was a new section of the Parkway for me. It was gorgeous and scenic all throughout, naturally, but this time in a different way. The elevation was around 3,000-4,000 for most of this stretch, which is a little lower than many Parkway sections to the west. There were a number of short rolling climbs, and subsequent descents, all at that lovely moderate 6-8% grade that is characteristic of the Parkway. There was a lot of greenery and even some farmland, with only a small handful of overlooks. I stopped at one for a photo opp. The short, easy climbs went by quickly and soon we were escorted back onto country roads.

All of these short climbs were window dressing for what was coming up. The big climb of the day would be Snake Mountain, and that was all anyone was talking about. I encountered Gary, a rider from Raleigh who had done this ride a few times previously. He told me some great stories about Snake. There was one time when kids were pelting him with rocks at the top, which was nothing compared to the punishment of the 20% grade. I heeded his warnings by taking it easy and leaving something for the punishment up ahead. Ready or not, here it was coming.

There was a short climb followed by a short descent. “This is the easiest it’ll get for a couple miles,” Gary called out. He was right. The climb began easily enough, but I knew from his warnings and what I had heard from others that it would stiffen up soon enough. The more we moved ahead, the steeper it became. It settled into double digits, which were not fun, but I could handle.

I kept on turning the pedals, slowly but surely making my way upward. We went around some switchbacks. Gary had mentioned that when you see those, you think the climb is over, but the worst is to come. After traversing the curves, I faced what many called “the wall.” The pavement was covered in chalk writing, ranging from clever sayings to encouraging words for people I didn’t know. I kept pushing. People were on the left and the right, cheering the riders on. The first people I saw were two little girls. I playfully asked them if they would ride my bike the rest of the way. It wouldn’t fit, they said. Good answer! After a couple hundred more feet of beastly grade, I was over the top.

After descending Snake, we crossed the Tennessee border and then, moments later, we were back in North Carolina. The next big climb was George’s Gap, a grinder as Gary put it. That was about right. It was in the 6-8% vicinity, with enough variety to make you work and give you couple of breaks. At this point the temperature had crept up and I could tell it was having its way with people. A guy was struggling on George’s Gap and asked me how much longer. Guessing, I said three miles. It was closer to one more. Glad to have been wrong on that one.

After that, we had to ride through another gap on Rush Branch Road. There was a short climb, a big descent, and then another short climb. I knew that once we were through the gap, we would be home free. The problem with this climb was that it was totally exposed to the sun, with little shade. At this point the temperature was flirting with 90 degrees and the sun was taking a toll on me.

The miles crept by and I could tell we were approaching the finish. But what’s this? One more climb? Mast Gap was waiting at mile 98. What cruel, cruel person threw in this one at the end of a mountain century? It was short, barely more than a bump, but it was steep — the final punctuation on a challenging ride.

It was a gorgeous, very well organized ride. It was slightly less challenging than I expected, but I’m happy to have passed it regardless. My official time was 6:32, which was good considering I wasn’t riding for time. I was just there to enjoy the experience, which I most certainly did.

Strava Link

EDIT: This was my Ride of the Year for 2012.

IMAGE GALLERY

Bridge to Bridge Preview

Mile High Swinging Bridge

Mile High Swinging Bridge

Here I go again. In a few more days, I will be embarking on my last big mountain adventure of 2011 — the Bridge to Bridge ride out of Lenoir, NC. They call this the “grand finale in the annual trilogy of century cycling events in Western North Carolina.” I’m not sure what the other two are. Mount Mitchell has to be one and maybe Cashiers, maybe Hot Doggett, or maybe Blood, Sweat and Gears. Someone this past weekend told me that Bridge to Bridge is considered one of the ten toughest century rides in the US. That sounds high, but it is possible.

When looking at the elevation chart, it looks similar to the Assault on Mount Mitchell. It should start relatively flat with maybe a few rollers early, then the real climbing will begin around Mile 50. I believe that is when we head up Schull’s Mill Road and up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there it will be typical parkway riding with moderately steep climbs and fast descents, until a super steep climb to reach the top of Grandfather Mountain. The last push of 100 yards will be in the 20% range. I have seen the climb and know that it’ll hurt.

The weather will be interesting. It looks like in lower elevation the lows will be in the 50s and highs in the low 70s. In higher elevation, the highs could be in the upper 50s. The top of Grandfather Mountain could be in the 40s, similar to Mitchell a few months ago. This may be ideal for me since I perform poorly in heat. I’ll bring arm warmers in case it gets too cool, but these conditions could be ideal. Heat does not agree with me, so no complaints here.

One drawback is that I caught a little virus this week. It had me out of work one day and not 100% on the bike. Right now I am feeling a little better, although still slightly congested and it has made its way to my chest. With three days remaining, I am hoping the crud works its way out of my system. As long as it is not in my lungs, I should be alright.

I’m still up in the air on how to approach the ride. For my Mitchell ride, I went out at a moderate pace and didn’t start pushing myself until the climbs. It was a difficult ride, yet I felt afterward that I still had something left in the tank. Of course if I spend that fuel early, I could end up tired on the climbs. The last thing I want is to wear myself and make it tougher at the end, especially since I am nursing a head and possibly chest cold.

I probably will take a similar approach. Now I have improved tremendously since Mitchell and should be stronger, but I’m not going to get overconfident and jump out with the lead pack. I’ll ride at a moderate and comfortable pace and not worry about time. It would be nice to finish faster than my Mitchell time, but it is not something I am going to push to achieve. I will do what my body tells me and enjoy the ride.