Tag Archives: century

Tour de Cure, 2013, Little Mountain, SC

All the teams and "red riders" ready to ride.

When I chose Tour de Cure for my first century of the year, I expected it would be a glorious sunny day in early May. Not only was it for a good cause (which was my primary reason for riding), but it would be the best opportunity for an easy and enjoyable century.

That didn’t happen. Although the calendar said May 4th, it felt like February 4th in the southeast. I’m not complaining, as some people had it a lot worse (Tour de Cashiers, 3 State 3 Mountain had some of the ugliest conditions imaginable), but it made for a far more challenging ride than I had expected.

The ride started at 7:30 AM under cloudy skies, in the midst of swirling, heavy winds. Base layers and warmers were on order. I rode for Team Doctor’s Care and Team Sandroid (BCBS). After a number of photo opportunities, all the teams massed together at the starting line, itching to pedal. Many of the participants were “red riders,” people riding with diabetes. We were encouraged to cheer them on when we encountered them in their distinct, red jerseys. Glad to.

I found a few familiar faces from the Tri-Cities weekday rides — Jack, Ricky, Wes, Julie, Dave, and 15-year old Russ from FACT. Most had been training all winter long for Mitchell, so they were in far better shape than I was, but they were good riders and great people. Although I wasn’t sure I could hang with them all day, I appreciated the company.

Drafting off Wes and Julie in the early pack.

Drafting off Wes and Julie in the early pack.

The headwind was relentless. Even though I was on wheelsucker duty, it gave me fits. There were a couple occasions where we would be riding along comfortable, when all of a sudden a gust would smack us in the face. It felt like we were instantly stopped in our tracks. Other times when it wasn’t in our face, it was at our side. At one point, the wind made my bike veer at least a couple feet to the left. We had to be careful to maintain our position and not wobble too much — not easy for someone with marginal fitness and a cracked rib.

Getting frustrated by the constant headwind, Wes wished out loud for a tailwind later. Oh no, I joked. You just cursed us. Days like this never give us a tailwind, although I quietly held out hope.

Despite getting a little tired, I was hanging along fine with the crew. Our average speed was above 20 for most of the early going, then dipped down to 19 as we hit a particularly windy section.

At mile 40, the pace was taking a toll. We hit a hill and a tough headwind at the same time. Ricky was at the front, pushing a big gear to motor his way up. I felt a tightness in my legs, and realized I had reached my limit. I moved to the left to let the rest of the guys pass, as I cracked and fell further behind. They were about 50 feet in front of me by the time I crested. I pushed my weary legs as hard as I could, which wasn’t very hard, but was enough to make up a little distance before giving out again. They rolled away, and I was dropped, riding alone for about 5 miles until the next rest stop.

Fortunately these are good people. They waited for me, and we left together. I heard Jack say that he wanted to make sure I stuck with the group. Appreciate that, Jack. You’re a good man.

Oddly enough, I felt great for the next 30 miles or so. Everyone was getting tired, including me, but I was keeping up without my heart rate spiking too high.

When we approached Lake Monticello, I started to get unglued again. Another hill was my undoing, again with Ricky in front. As the grade turned up, I felt myself drifting backwards. This time Jack stuck with me and gave me a good draft as we crossed the lake. He said he was tired and cracking, but I think part of it was him just watching out for me.

Jack giving me a break from the wind.

Jack giving me a break from the wind.

We regrouped again, still fighting a stiff headwind. As we turned onto Highway 213, our fortunes changed. I felt a gust to the left, and instantly realized the direction it was going. “We’re in business!” I yelled. Julie was in front this time, and she hammered down. It felt awesome for a short while.

After we traveled about 100 feet with the wind at our backs, I realized that there was no way I could stay with this pace. I hung in there for maybe half a mile, pedaling for dear life before I cracked. I fell off the group, at first disappointed, then elated. Alone or not, it felt good to have some help. I could see ahead that Jack had also fallen off from the group. I joked later that his was a sympathy drop.

Even though I was alone and the tailwind didn’t last, I felt terrific. I was maybe 10-15 miles from finishing my first century. At mile 80, 85, and then 95, I still had gas in the tank.

Jack waited with me at the last stop, and then we rode together for a short while until we reached the final climb up Parr Rd. There’s a short section with a 12% grade, which never feels good, either at the end or beginning of a big ride. Jack got ahead of me on the climb, then I passed him later as he slowed down to encourage another rider. Nice job, Mr. Mayor.

While I cannot say it was a terrific day for the elements, any day is a terrific day if you can ride nearly one hundred miles. I’m blessed to have recovered enough from my injuries to complete what turned out to be an extremely challenging event.

Thanks to the Tri-City folks for carrying me most of the way!

Strava GPS Link


Six Gap Century, 2012, Dahlonega, GA

A couple thousand of riders roll out in a stream as day breaks.


Over the past couple of weeks, I have been nursing a hip injury that threatened my participation in Six Gap Century, the last event of my season. After some good and bad days, I was pretty sure I would be able to ride.

When I woke up in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I could tell it would be a bad day. It was painful. I took some anti-inflammatory, and iced it for as long as I could. There was no time to waste worrying about my hips or anything else. I had to give it a shot with what I had.

After getting everything in order, it was time for the final test in the parking lot. Could I ride without pain? The toughest part was getting my leg over the bike. I had to stick it out, and tilt the bike under the leg. Still painful, but it worked. Once I was on, I could turn the pedals without much issue. That was fine for the parking lot, but I still had no idea how it would respond on the climbs.

The crowd was massive as we gathered near the entrance of Lumpkin County High School. The announcer asked people where they were from as they passed. There were a lot of Floridians, a few Europeans, and the rest from all over the place. One guy said Mars. Real funny, buddy.

The weather was cool as we attacked the rolling hills heading out of Dahlonega. These were a good first test for my hip. I was able to ride, but not nearly as strongly as usual. The fluid pedal stroke just wasn’t there. Sometimes I would inadvertently twitch the hip, and feel a little pain. I would groan, grit my teeth, and continue on.

The descents were the next big test, and they were even tougher. Since it was only my right hip that was bothering me, I could not lean into the turns in that direction. When the road curved to the right, I was like an petrified, upright stick moving ever so slightly to the left to guide my body. When we turned to the left, I was able to lean all the way, and soar through the turn.

I rode mostly with Jody, a friend from back home. He knew I was injured and was kind enough to stick with me. I knew early on that I was not riding as strong. I told him that he didn’t have to wait. He wouldn’t hear it. All I was doing was complaining about my hip, which he related to a sciatic problem he had endured. The company and conversation helped get me through. Appreciate that, Jody.

Jody says hi.

After 20 miles of rolling hills, we hit the first Gap of the day. It was Neel’s Gap, and was the perfect one to start out with. The climb is long, around six miles, but not terribly steep. It ranges from 4-6%, just enough to get my climbing legs going, and not too much to kill me.

However easy the climb was, that one hurt. I felt the hip most of the way up. Everyone passed me, including Jody. I tried not to focus on it, but that was impossible. About two thirds through the climb, it loosened up enough to give me some mobility. A guy passed me, and I stuck on his wheel like glue, riding up behind him the rest of the way up. Jody was waiting for me at the top.

The descent would be the real trick. I had heard that Neel’s had some technical sections. Could I handle them? I wasn’t sure. It was on this descent that I tinkered with my technique and learned to descend under the circumstances. I had to pull my hip in towards the bike, and contort my upper body into the turn. It probably looked awkward, but it worked.

The next climb was Jack’s Gap, which I had climbed before on my way to Brasstown Bald. It has some steep sections, which I was able to stand up and get over. The rest was rolling and not a problem. There was occasional pain, but I could deal with it. It was nice to reach the entrance to Brasstown Bald, look at the steep road up, and head past it.

Unicoi Gap was next. It was a little easier than I remembered, and fortunately not too long. I remembered how exhilarating the descent into Helen could be, so I gave it a go. I bombed down with confidence, passing a lot of people along the way. The leaning system continued to work.

The next Gap was THE challenge. Hogpen Gap. I had previously not thought it too terrible, but that was with fresh legs and a lot of conversation. The climb feels a lot different at mile 60 than it does at mile 6.

Tougher part of Hogpen Gap.

Here goes. We crossed the US Pro Challenge timing meter, and were officially on the clock (not that I paid much attention to it). The first steep section smacked me in the face. Ouch. Brutal. It hurt, and would continue. I stood up, and did surprisingly well given my situation. I was trying to wait for Jody, who fell a little behind, but slow pedaling is not easy on big grades. I stayed ahead of him until the top.

There’s an old joke that the best cure for a headache is getting a stubbed toe. That’s the same logic for what happened with me on Hogpen. Even though I was limping when I got off the bike, the climb hurt so much that I forgot about my hip. As much as I struggled during the climb, it directed my attention enough for me to finally get my legs back. When I got to the top, however tired, I was back to my old self. I had my mojo back.

After a hair-raising descent down the steeper side of Hogpen, the next task was Gap #5, Wolf Pen Gap. A few more rolling hills, a right turn, and we were there. As far as difficulty goes, this climb was on par with Neel’s Gap. It was a little steeper and a little shorter. For most of the climb, we were covered under a large canopy of trees. It reminded me a bit of Schull’s Mill, Chimney Rock, Walnut Creek, or Highway 80 climbs in North Carolina. It was a pleasantly scenic climb, which somewhat helped to distract from the difficulty. I rode with Jody again, who was having a little bit of trouble with this one. The tables were turned, and it was me waiting at the top.

That left Woody Gap. “Woody doesn’t really count,” we were told a couple times by other riders. The only thing it had in common with the other climbs was the word ‘Gap’ at the end of its name. Even though the climb is 1.5 miles, you only gain a few hundred feet. It seemed more like a couple steep hills rather than a long climb. After descending down the other side, I could tell that it would be far more challenging from the other side.

Six Gap Conquered!

With the Six Gaps behind us, we rolled back towards Dahlonega. The hills seemed to go on forever. They were not too steep, but just kept coming and coming. We continually looked at our mileage and at landmarks for any sign that the ride was coming to an end. We were ready for this day to be over. Finally we descended the small hills on Black Mountain Road, and knew that the High School was nearby.

We crossed the finish line at just under eight hours, in 734th place according to the results. It was my slowest mountain century of the year, but I had a pretty good excuse this time. As Jody reminded me a few times throughout the ride, this was about finishing, not about beating a time.

Strava GPS Link


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



Tour de Midlands, 2012, Lexington, SC

At last year’s Spring Valley Presbyterian Church ride, my intent was to ride with the lead pack. That plan quickly evaporated when a small pack stormed out of the gates and vanished out of sight. I’ve always been a slow warmer and wasn’t ready to chase. It turns out I couldn’t have caught them anyway. I found out later that was the JB Express.

Jeff Brandenburg is a local Iron Man triathlete and one of the strongest riders around. He once finished Assault on Mount Mitchell in the top ten. He prefers to ride in his aerobars in the lead. He rides so fast that others do not complain. They are fine riding in his draft.

For this year’s Tour de Midlands, my last big ride before Mitchell, I knew that the JB Express would be riding out front. My plan was to try and stick with them as long as possible. I also didn’t want to burn myself up too much. With 9 days until Mitchell, I wanted to keep something in reserve.

In the first few miles of the ride, we somehow missed a turn. We ended up at a dead end and had to circle back to the other riders. We then missed another turn and frankly had no idea where we were going. We were sitting in the middle of an intersection, looking at cue sheets, trying to figure it out where in the world we were. Finally one of the SAG vehicles pointed us in the right direction. Even then we weren’t sure. Another rider who seemed to know what he was talking about pointed us in another direction. We took his advice and got there all the same, but that splintered the pack and slowed us down somewhat.

As we crossed over the dam and headed towards Peak, I started to ease in. My heart rate was in zone three and I was comfortably cruising along at a fast pace. Jeff is training for Ironman Coeur d’Alene. His goal was to keep his wattage steady in the low 200s for the entire ride. That meant that although he was riding fast, the effort should be consistent. That was the case most of the time. I noticed that we took hills comfortably, maybe even a little slow. The only time it was a struggle was after cornering, where sometimes I would have to sprint quickly to catch back on.

My one worry was fueling. I had plenty of food, but only two bottles of water. Hydration was going to become an issue at some point. Jeff wouldn’t stop, but as luck would have it, we encountered a train crossing at the Little Mountain rest stop, which allowed us to refill our bottles.

I watched the miles tick by, amazed that I was able to keep up. We passed the 60 mile marker, then 70 miles, 80, and then made the turn back towards Lexington to take this thing home.

At mile 90, Jeff surprisingly moved off the front and Gordon took over. I didn’t know Gordon too well, but assumed he would be keeping the same pace. Umm, no. I hardly noticed the extra effort until we hit a section of hills. All of a sudden my heart rate started rising and wasn’t getting an opportunity to recover. It turns out Gordon is a Cat-2 racer and he was tearing us up. With every hill it hurt more and more.

At mile 96, we hit the toughest hill in the stretch. Mark, who was riding in front of me, gave up midway through the climb. He dropped and motioned me to go by him, and I tried, but the gap had developed and I didn’t have the energy to close. After cresting the hill, the gap had extended. I pushed to try to catch it, burning the last of my remaining energy. The pack was slowed at an intersection and I caught them briefly, but had already spent my last match and didn’t stay on long.

Phew. I was exhausted and not too disappointed to ride in alone at my own pace. My speed average dropped a little bit and I ended with a 21.5 average, which is close to my personal best for a century.

Strava GPS Link