Tag Archives: jefferson

Jackson Brevet, 2013, Braselton, GA

Robert to his bride, "Are you ready?"

I remember when I first set foot into Disney World. It wasn’t the elaborate theme parks that immediately caught my eye. It was the distinct attention to detail. Once within the Disney compound, the landscape was carefully manicured, everything seemed clean, and it felt like a place of paradise. Every step beyond that enhanced the experience. Even when doing nothing, it was an escape just by being inside this carefully orchestrated world that by contrast, was so foreign to the one in which we live.

I found myself thinking about Disney often when riding in the Jackson Brevet, at least in terms of putting on a ride. While riding in the middle of nowhere Georgia, you are on a route that was meticulously planned by Robert W to honor his wife Kelly by raising money for aplastic anemia research. The markings are ever-present. The rest stops are fun and vibrant. The pre-ride announcements are actually engaging, and at times, moving. Even with a last minute detour, the mileage was exact — a rarity in the world of charity rides. This was his baby, and it showed while we punished ourselves by riding 102 miles on a hot day.

The ride was released in stages, but Jack and I were fortunate enough to participate in the lead out group. This was just a few riders that followed Robert, Kelly, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, and others. We rode slowly, waving to the Braselton locals who came out to see us off. It was a celebratory way to start the ride. After settling in with the peleton and riding a few miles, Robert showed up at an intersection to high five riders as they pass by. Of all the rides in which I’ve participated, this one had the most involvement from its host. And that’s a good thing.

The passionate ride organizer.

Robert Wilhite, the passionate ride organizer.

The riders were divided into three pace groups: 20+, 16-19, or anything below. We rode at the front of the 16-19 crowd, not wanting to push too hard, but ended up settling in with the 20+ crowd.

We were pleased to join a group being paced by the Sky Blue team. They were strong riders, who were clearly riding below their ability in order to pull the group. We were glad to have them, and the first 40 or so miles whirred by seemingly without effort. There were plenty of hills, but they were not the punishing variety that I am used to. The grades were sometimes 1-3%, which is barely noticeable in the right group. I looked down at my Garmin at one point, and found myself surprised that we had climbed so much.

One of the things I loved about this ride was the rest stop contest. Whoever had the most decorative rest stop would win a prize. The volunteers took it a step further by acting out their theme. There was a rock n’ roll stop where a guy was dressed up like a rock star (was it Elvis? Jimi Hendrix?). The winning rest stop was a version of the Wizard of Oz. They had people everywhere dressed up in Oz themed costumes, even a scarecrow. A dog wandered onto the “set” and they screamed that they finally had their Toto! When you’re pushing yourself to your physical limits, it’s nice to have something fun and distracting, and this really added to the ride experience.

The winning rest stop. There's no place like ... rest stop #4.

The winning rest stop. There’s no place like … rest stop #4.

The roads were terrific. We were far out in the country, with hardly any traffic, and they were almost always smooth as silk. That’s probably a credit to Georgia DOT as much as it is the guy who chose the route. We need to put some of them to work in the Carolinas!

Around mile 60, things started to get difficult. The sun was out in full force, and the temperature was slowly rising. It didn’t help that the hills started to have more bite, or maybe it just felt that way. We were climbing a lot, and with each hill, it was becoming tougher to keep up with my pacemakers.

Heat has never been kind to me, and we rarely had any shade on this route. I was already cracking by mile 70. We hit a steep hill shortly afterward. The initial pitch wasn’t long, maybe a quarter mile or so, but it reached a 13-14% grade that hurt. That was it for me and the group. I simply couldn’t handle such a pace in these conditions.

I felt myself in cramp territory, which is a rarity for me. I muscled it out to the next rest stop. Their theme was the famous Varsity restaurant. They didn’t have the grease, but they DID have pickles. Those hit the spot, and got me fresh again. Jack and I waited for the next group.

I was feeling rejuvenated, ready to go again, and stuck with this group another 10 or so miles. Then the hills struck again. A guy in front of me fell back with debilitating cramps. I slowed to make sure he was alright, which was just long enough to let the group go. Sigh, I wasn’t catching them again. As the temperature rose even further, it wouldn’t matter.

This was the last group I latched onto, and dropped from.

This was the last group I latched onto, and dropped from.

As we approached the last dozen miles, I was in no mans land. Occasionally I was able to draft off a larger fellow who called himself Diesel, but he couldn’t stay with me on the hills. I limped to the finish line, pleased to complete my third century in an injury-ridden year, but still exhausted and spent.

Again, I cannot thank the organizers enough. Jack and I agreed that this was logistically the best ride we had ever been on. In some ways, we felt spoiled out there. We just had to ride our bikes and they did everything else. The volunteers were terrific, and made a tough day a lot easier. We’ll be back.

Strava Link (inaccurate elevation, should be around 5k)


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



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.