Tag Archives: bridge to bridge

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)



Last year’s pictures

Eve of ‘The Bridge’


Today was preparation day. After a short road trip, I dropped by downtown Lenoir, grabbed my packet, checked into the hotel, then came back later for the free dinner.

Let me just say that a complimentary dinner really makes for a fantastic pre-ride atmosphere. Many of the big rides, even the ones with hundreds or thousands of riders, are practically a ghost town the evening before. People pick up their packets, then jet to their hotel rooms, and commence with their evenings. When there is a dinner, there is a little more festivity and camaraderie. People get to mingle, and get into the spirit of the event. Well done, Caldwell Chamber.

I was flying solo today, and halfway expected to see some familiar friendly faces. Instead I met a couple of new ones. I met a guy from St. Louis, MO, who is a RAGBRAI fiend. He is aiming to ride a century in every state, and prefers those with patches. He’s succeeded with more than half the country, and should get another patch for his jacket tomorrow. Interesting guy, with a cool and ambitious goal. He talked up RAGBRAI as a week-long pleasure party. I’ll have to head out there someday, although probably not for awhile.

People ate either inside Sweet-T’s restaurant, or outside in the street where a tiny street fair was going on. People were having a great time, smiles all around, and I exchanged pleasantries with many riders. A local musician played some nice, southern tunes to add the evening’s flavor.

I also want to give a shout to Luna Cycles, who put up a nice blog this morning, wishing the riders well, while recognizing the brutality of the event. This being my second year, I appreciated the kind words.

My number is clipped to my University of SC jersey. I’ll be wearing white from head to toe, including the bike. Say hello to me if you pass by, and I’m sure many of you will.

The forecast is now calling for some afternoon rain, all the more reason to ride faster. To all riders: cross your fingers, do an anti-rain dance, and Godspeed tomorrow.

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.

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.

Bridge to Bridge Photo Journal

Since Bridge to Bridge was such a big ride, I could not include all of the photos in the blog post. Like I did with Mitchell a few months ago, I am posting a photo journal for this ride. These were mostly taken from the bike while moving, so the quality is not always spectacular. At the end there is a video of me crossing the finish line.

You can read the full ride report here.

Click an image to view full size.

Early bird gets the worm

Early bird gets the worm

Bridge to Bridge starting line

Starting line

Starting line behind me

Starting line behind me

Early Paceline Group

The early paceline group

The sign should have said '10 mile climb ahead'

Climbing up 181.

Grinding my way up Highway 181.

Foggy hwy 105

Foggy riding near Linville

Highway 105

Highway 105 near Foscoe

This was the usual greenery on Schull's Mill Rd

Schulls Mill Rd

Shull's Mill Road

Schull's Mill Road

fog on highway 221

Heavy fog on 221 / Blowing Rock Hwy

A short, steep and grueling climb ahead.

Still foggy heading up Grandfather

Oh look, the sun. My legs hurt.

Please pass, car. My quads need that lane.

Half mile from top of grandfather

C'mon, we're not there yet?

Three switchbacks near the top of Grandfather

Three switchbacks near the top of Grandfather

I would smile for the picture if this didn't hurt so much.

That's not a smile. That's a groan that shows teeth.

Last climb of Grandfather.

The last hurrah. Can I get a push?

The 3rd speck is me on the last climb.

The actual finish line.

Clouds below Grandfather Mountain

These are the clouds we rode through all day

More clouds on the other side.

Swinging Bridge is not as scary when you can't see the bottom.