Tag Archives: climbing

Tour d’Apple, 2013, Hendersonville, NC

bearwallow view

Three day weekends are awesome, and even better when they are capped with a wonderful day of riding in the mountains. This Labor Day was the inaugural Tour d’Apple ride, coming at the tail end of the Apple Festival. Several hundred riders converged to tackle a metric or full century around Hendersonville, NC.

All new rides experience growing pains. Mistakes are going to be made. In my opinion, the difference between success and failure is learning from those mistakes, and making adjustments the following year. Just about everything was perfect –- plenty of volunteers, rest stops, and a gorgeous route. However, the main issues had to do with road markings and directions. There was a lot of confusion about where we should be going. I’ve already reached out to the organizers, and they are going to make this their focus for next year. Going forward, I expect this to be one of the top rides in the area.

I began the day feeling good, but not wanting to push my injury too hard. I rode with Berry, a friend from home. His pace is not the same as mine, and he joked that he was my ‘anchor.’ He was protecting me from myself. We would ride together in between the climbs, and then climb at our own pace. I would usually wait for him at the top.

The first major climb was up to Sugarloaf Mountain. It started out gradually, up Lamb Mountain Rd, and then steeply pitched back up after a short descent. The last several hundred feet were a double digit grade, a good test of the legs early in the morning.

Mine responded. I could tell already that this was going to be one of my better climbing days. I waited for Berry at the top. It wasn’t his day, and he was already considering switching to the metric route. Since the routes didn’t converge until after Bearwallow Mountain, I convinced him to finish that climb before making a decision. Sometimes it takes a little longer to warm up.

After some marking confusion, we found our way to Bearwallow Mountain. I may be in the minority, but I really liked this climb. It was quiet, with heavy foliage and a lot of scenery on the way up. The grade was mostly manageable, with a steep section midway through that gets up to 12-13%. Again, I was feeling good throughout this climb. The legs were fresh and flexible. I was still careful not to open it up, and climbed at a comfortable pace.

Climbing Bearwallow Mountain.

Climbing Bearwallow Mountain.

When I bumped into Berry, I found that he wasn’t as fond of Bearwallow. The moment he saw me, he uttered one word – “Metric!”

I understood.

We lost each other on the descent and I waited at the rest stop. And waited. And waited some more. I was starting to get worried. I sent him a text. No response. After waiting a bit longer, I had to go. There was a cutoff time, after all. I found out later that he simply took a wrong turn. His metric ended with 70 miles.

As I rolled through Hendersonville, reality struck. Since I had spent a considerable amount of time off the road, I was well behind the pack. I encountered a group, but I was a little stronger than them. It wouldn’t work to ride together. It looked like I was going to ride the next 60 miles on my own. It turned out to be only the next 20.

The route took us through Hendersonville. From there we traveled through familiar roads. We went down Mine Gap, and zoomed through Zirconia and Tuxedo, to the base of Pinnacle Mountain.

Ugh. Pinnacle Mountain, my nemesis. It has been nearly a year and a half since I last encountered that beast, but I had not forgotten her. I was not looking forward to climbing her again. The cue sheet was not clear which part of Pinnacle we’d be riding. I was just hoping that it would not be the 25% grade.

The climb up there was via Cabin Creek Rd. Just like Bearwallow, it was mostly mild save for a steep section. It totaled four miles, a little longer than I expected. My strength started to wane, possibly because I had been riding for 60 miles by myself, and possibly because the sun out and the temperature was rising. I found myself thirsty towards the end, and grunted through the last mile or so. When I reached Pinnacle Mountain, I was thrilled to turn right.

Thankfully, we turned right.

Thankfully, we turned right.

Guzzling a couple Gatorades at the rest stop got me refueled and refreshed, and I felt strong again for the remainder of the ride. The best news was that a small pack of riders caught me. It was there that I met Laurie from Charlotte, whom I soon found was riding at about the same pace. She had accidentally missed the Bearwallow turn earlier, and added six miles to her ride. We were both behind the big groups, and made for fitting riding partners.

We descended Pinnacle Mountain through Sky Top Orchard, rode through Flat Rock and by the Carl Sandburg Home, before making way to the final climb – Jump Off Rock. This was the climb I was looking forward to the most, but we took an unusual way to get to it. Rather than going straight up Laurel Parkway, we took some side roads that went up and down. Again, the markings were precarious. I had to pull out my iPhone and say: “Siri, give me directions to Jump Off Rock.” I would hear the turn-by-turn instructions as I rode along, which gave me confidence we were heading in the right direction.

When we reached the top, we were surprised it was so desolate. Where were all the riders? Were we that far behind everybody? Not at all. We found out later that most people had missed the turn to get there, and had inadvertently skipped it altogether. Laurie and I ended up with more than 100 miles, whereas most others had somewhere around 95.

The descent back down to Hendersonville was a rush, not too steep, just right. Laurie was tired, having already ridden a century by that point. To her, the ride seemed never-ending. Still feeling strong, I took some extra pulls towards the end.

Despite the hiccups, this was a terrific ride. We encountered apple orchards and scenic mountain vistas all day. I’m confident the organizers will iron out the details and make this a ride to remember. I will look forward to coming back.

Strava GPS Link

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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

Grayson Highlands, Virginia

Grayson Highlands

Since I would be up in the High Country a day early, I decided to make my warm-up ride a little more interesting. Usually I will spin for 10-20 miles before a big ride, just to get the legs fresh. This time I decided to do so at a state high point, Grayson Highlands, Virginia, which is about an hour north of Boone.

Since this is a warm-up ride for a mountain century, I didn’t want to overcook. The plan was simply to park at the visitor’s center, drop down to the entrance, turn around and climb back up. This isn’t my ideal way of climbing, sort of feels like cheating, but that was the plan.

As I drove up, I noticed that Highlands Parkway climbs to the base of Grayson, and the last couple miles are relatively steep. I decided to extend the ride a little bit, descend until the road becomes flat, and then turn around to climb.

The descent ruled. Just when you’re barely outside of the Visitor Center parking lot, there’s a view of 5,700 foot Mt Rogers. It didn’t come through on the pictures, but could be seen from the naked eye. I stopped for the photo op before dropping down the rest of the way.

The grade varies, but there are some nice, straight sections inside the park with 8-11% grades. I sailed down those until I reached the lighter grades at the bottom, where I had to keep pedaling downhill.

I turned left on Highlands outside of the park and continued the descent. This stretch had some tighter, steeper curves, which required a little bit of brakes, but it was still a blast of a descent. After a couple miles, the road straightened out and I expected flat. Nope. It was still dropping, although not nearly as steep. It was around the 2-4% range. I kept descending.

The road continued to gradually lose elevation. I was starting to get worried. By the time I turned around, this was going to be a long climb. Soon I was over 10 miles, and had descended over 2,000 feet.

As I passed 11 miles, the road began to turn up a little bit. Before I knew it, a dog darted straight at me. This was a big, white dog, and boy was he fast! He covered the few hundred feet from his house to my bike quick. The road had turned up enough to slow me down, so I whipped the bike around, and sprinted in the other direction. Instantly I was at 25 mph. I turned around, expecting him to be gone, but the guy was still chasing and barking! I yelled “NO!” and beckoned it away. He was within 10 feet of my rear wheel, charging hard before he finally gave.

Phew!

As I drove by later, I looked for the dog and instead saw a huge “Beware of Dog!” sign. Noted.

Now came the climb, and it wasn’t too bad. The grade for those first few miles was easy, in the 2-4% range. This turned out to be great as I needed something to warm up my climbing legs. The real climbing began near the end of Highlands Parkway when the curves began. That started with a stiffer grade, and for a short stretch it was in the double digits before relaxing to 8%. I was careful to watch my pace and keep things comfortable, and chewed the miles away.

This is one of the tight Highlands Pkwy sections.

This is one of the tight Highlands Pkwy sections.

By the time I turned back into Grayson, the sun was out and the view was beautiful. This is a nice climb. The scenery reminded me of Brasstown Bald, only without the punishment. The early part of the climb was not too difficult. Around the middle, after the ranger station, it gets a little tougher. That long 8-11% section that felt so great going downhill didn’t feel as great now. Again, I took it nice and easy, and felt alright.

There is not a natural summit. The climb ends at the visitor center, and from there you can hike about a mile to two viewing points – Little Pinnacle and Big Pinnacle. I changed out of my cycling gear, and took to the woods. It was worth it. The overlooks were gorgeous, and afforded views of nearby Mt. Rogers, Whitetop Mountain, and others in the area.

The view from Big Pinnacle. That's either Rogers or Whitetop.

The view from Big Pinnacle. That’s either Rogers or Whitetop.

It turned out to be a good ride. And another state highpoint can now be checked off the list. I’m ready for the big ride tomorrow.

Strava Link

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Jump Off Rock

Props to Jim for giving us this idea for a unique photo.

When I woke up Sunday morning, my hip and especially my back were a little sore. The prior day of riding had taken it’s toll. My first inclination was to rest. After taking my anti-inflammatory and eating a hearty breakfast, I felt better and decided to participate in the easy ride of the day. It would be a 30+ miler with a short climb to Jump Off Rock.

Seven us departed the cabin in shivering, windy temperatures. We began with a steep descent, which we knew would hurt when we returned later. Even though it was bone chilling, it was a refreshing way to start the day.

This was mostly a casual ride, although three of us tended to get out in front. Scott from Simpsonville, and Jim Parker of Lumberton with his speedy Cruzbike were the frontrunners. I stayed with them as much as I could, which was not a problem early as we got warmed up, but would give me headaches later.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Most of the road was flat and enjoyable until we approached the neighborhood of Laurel Park, not far from Hendersonville. It was there that we started to gain elevation, although very gradually.

After we passed the gated Somersby Parkway (which we initially thought was our turn), the road pitched up to a double digit grade as we climbed up Hebron Road. We turned left at the four way stop, and all of a sudden we were on one of my favorite types of climbing roads. This section of Hebron Road has an easy grade, but is a narrow, winding road, that seems bolted to a mountain ridge. Several times we marveled at the steep drop just off the road.

The remainder of the climb was relatively easy, with a couple steeper sections. We turned onto Laurel Parkway and followed that to the dead end. These were neighborhood roads, not too exciting, but paradise awaited us.

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock, at about 3,000 feet of elevation, is a local marvel. It affords gorgeous views from all directions. We could see a lot of our favorite climbs, including Pinnacle Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a couple people thought they could make out Mount Mitchell in the distance.

I immediately placed my bike along the railing for the conquest picture above. After snapping the photo, Scott grabbed my bike, held it above his head, and told me to quickly take the picture. My heart almost stopped when I realized that a gust of wind could have ended the life of my Cervelo (and emptied my bank account in the process.) I snapped the photo without hesitation, and then beckoned him to put the bike down. However stressful that moment was, the picture came out pretty well.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

We had a relaxing time at the rock, taking our time to enjoy the sights and enjoy each other’s company. It is quite the gem of a vantage point. Scott snooped around and found that the rock protrudes from the hill, most of it unsupported. He said we would be nervous standing there if we could see. I didn’t follow because of my injuries, but I saw some pictures later that made my jaw drop.

The descent was fantastic, and it was again Jim, Scott and I riding together. The rest of the group knew the way back, so we rode as a threesome to the cabin.

There is one stretch of road with time trial writing on the road. That was Jim’s cue to put his Cruz into high gear. Scott jumped behind his wheel and rode easily behind him. I hung on for dear life behind Scott.

As our speed increased, I had a lot more trouble. These were both very strong riders, and I am not yet even close to being in prime form. I hung in there for a few miles before dropping off the back. Not my time yet. They patiently waited for me at the next intersection, dropped me again, and finally we rode back to the cabin together.

The last climb up Lyday Creek Rd was a doozy, as we expected. It was just over a half mile, which ordinarily wouldn’t be too bad, but it was in the way of our post-ride meal. The last pitch was in the 11-12% range, which was a backbreaker (no pun intended), and punctuated what was a much tougher recovery ride than I had expected.

My weary bones held out, and I felt great throughout the ride. I may not be where I was last year, but I’ve improved and expect a smooth recovery.

Strava GPS Link

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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

IMAGE GALLERY

2013 Haute Route Alps – Route Details

haute route 2013

 

In case I needed some motivation to recover and rest, today they announced the route details for the 2013 Haute Route in the Alps. This year the route will be 85% brand new, which means there are a lot of climbs that are not familiar to me.

Gerry has posted a nice breakdown of the route that includes climb specifications. It seems most are in the average 5-6% grade vicinity. Individually that doesn’t sound too terrible, but all of them combined will certainly take a toll.

Some interesting notes:

  • The route begins in Geneva and ends in Nice, just like last year.
  • We’ll dip into Italy for a short loop during one of the stages.
  • Most stages will have end at the summit of a climb.
  • The marathon stage will be on day 3, with a total of 102 miles and nearly 11,000 feet of climbing.
  • The ‘rest day’ time trial is on day 5. This year it is Cime de La Bonette, which I hear is a beast of a climb.
  • Total mileage: 538 (866 km)
  • Total climbing: 70,000 feet (21,000 meters)
  • 7 excruciatingly beautiful days!

Wow! Nobody said it would be easy. In fact, CNN recently published an article listing the Haute Route as one of the toughest endurance challenges in the world.

The only drawback to this being a mostly new route is that some of the legendary, historic climbs are left off. I’ll have to make another trip to cross a few others off the bucket list, such as Alpe d’Huez, Galibier, Courcheval, Ventoux, and more (many of these are too far away to be on Haute Route anyway).

One cool thing is that Bonette, the time trial, is the highest paved road in Europe. I’ve already climbed the highest road in North America, so this will be extra special.

At first glance, it looks like they’ve outdone themselves. This is no joke, serious pain in suffering. There’s a lot of time between now and then. Hopefully I’ll be able to look at some of the stages in a little more detail.


Mount Pisgah and Town Mountain, Asheville

Hello, Asheville. I was there to finally meet Coach Bobby in person. He gives a free bike fit to clients, something of which I had every intention of taking advantage. Mine was feeling out of whack, and I was looking for a good reason to travel to Asheville. It doesn’t take much. While there, I decided to put together a small group to ride up some of the featured climbs of the area.

Joining me were a handful of friends who live in Asheville, and a few others that made the trip from Greenville. Bobby joined us for an easy spin (for him), and he brought a riding partner, Ox, who lived up to the nickname.

The plan was to ride up Mount Pisgah, down through Asheville, up Town Mountain, then back to the car. Easy, right? Nothing in the mountains is ever as easy as it sounds.

The weather was unseasonably warm, but seasonably blistery. Even though the wind didn’t bite early, it would show up later when we least expected (or wanted) it.

We took the long way to Mount Pisgah, up the Blue Ridge Parkway. Overall it is not a very steep climb, mostly in the 4-6% range with a handful of steeper pitches. It started and ended with some tough stuff, with easier spinning in between. Even if the grade was not punishing, the distance was brutal. From Highway 191, where the climbs starts, we were pedaling 15 miles, gaining 3,000 feet of elevation, until we reached the top.

Most of this time was spent in conversation, getting to know each other. Bobby and Ox made great pro riding companions aka babysitters. They would ride back down to check on people that fell back. There were some people who were struggling early, so they lent a hand, literally, by pushing them up the climb. Now that was cool.

Bobby yelled out, “No push for you, Aaron!” Fair enough. He was my coach, after all, not my chauffeur. I was not at my strongest, but that is more due to the strength exercises I had been doing all week. When we were riding on the flats or rolling hills, I was fine, but the climbs were a lot tougher. I grunted up, watching others get a partially free ride, with no complaints.

What made the Pisgah climb more difficult was that nasty wind. It showed back up near the top of the climb, and was squarely in our face for the last several miles. We traveled through a number of tunnels. I kept turning my light on and off, but what I really needed was a windshield. It felt like a hurricane when inside the darkness, and an above average breezy day outside of them.

As we reached higher elevations, we saw ice and the remnants of snow along the side of the road. We were getting close. I could see the tower on top of Mount Pisgah, just southwest of us. Pisgah has such an iconic peak that it looked a lot closer than it was. Even when it was in clear view, we had a few miles remaining. The climb doesn’t take us all the way to the summit, but close enough. We found a nearby overlook for some nice photo opportunities.

Pisgah Conquered!

Next came the fun part. We descended a couple miles on the parkway, then made a quick turn onto Highway 151 the rest of the way down. The parkway descent was at this time a cross-wind and tail-wind, unnerving to say the least. 151 was a dream. It was a technical descent, with tight, winding switchbacks. Usually it would be under tree cover, but the leaves were already gone, allowing views all the way down. I wisely spent most of my time watching the road. Having not been here before, I took the descent conservatively, tapping on the brakes through the turns.

Bobby took us through West Asheville, which was tough, but a different kind of tough. The rolling hills had bite, and came one after another. The roads were smooth, and the descents fun, however short. As we approached downtown Asheville, he let us know that we had just finished with the toughest part. That was a relief, even if it lulled us into a false sense of security.

After coasting through downtown Asheville, we wound up at Town Mountain, the climb to end the day. How hard could it be? We turned left, and the climbing began shortly afterward. Kevin warned me that the lower portion is tough. He wasn’t lying.

The first pitch felt like it was delivered by Nolan Ryan. It was steep, double-digit steep, and continued in that vein for quite awhile. My quads were burning, feeling all the exercises I had done the week prior. Bobby rode alongside me for a short while, and I told him of my discomfort. All to be expected, he said. “That’s why we don’t lift weights during the season.” Good point.

One of my Greenville friends was Jana, who some might remember as being a dog magnet at Issaqueena’s Last Ride. It has not been the best year for her. She was a strong climber earlier in the year, but she has dealt with a lot of adversity since. The accident was only part of it. Her climbing legs were not dusted off, and she started to fall behind.

Bobby came to the rescue! He descended down to her, and again, started pushing her to the top. His red jacket was unbundled and flowing behind him, so in a way he looked and acted like a cycling superhero. He was certainly Jana’s hero. Ox would have made a fitting sidekick, but he peeled off towards home as we passed through the city. Jana and Bobby out-climbed most of us, including yours truly. He didn’t have to do that. Thanks, (Super)Bobby.

Who knew we had a superhero in our midst?

Town Mountain leveled out as we got higher up. The easier grades were more manageable for my winter muscles. I climbed and shared stories with Tom and Kevin. After roughly three miles, there was a false summit, and a descent, before we started climbing easily back up to the Parkway.

The wind found us again as we descended back to the starting point, forcing us to pedal downhill the entire way. I coasted back to the Visitor’s Center, while the others were treated to a little bear scare. Aren’t they cute? I must have ridden right by them. I hear they looked nervous when Tom pulled out the camera. Sorry bears, no porridge here.

Some friends were waiting for us.

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