Tag Archives: lake lure

Race to the Rock, 2012, Chimney Rock, NC

Climbing through the Chimney Rock Park foliage.

Earlier this year, after doing Tour de Lure, I stopped by Lake Lure on my way back. Chimney Rock was so hypnotic, that I had to check it out. Driving up, I noticed that it would make a remarkable climb, but they had a strict no-bicycles policy. So much for that. I later found out that bicycles are allowed one day out of the year, for the Race to the Rock. I am not a racer, but this was enough incentive to give it a try.

The Race to the Rock is a 25-mile time trial that ends at the top of Chimney Rock mountain. Apparently in previous years, they had riders depart one-by-one, but they changed that to a mass start for logistics and safety reasons.

Despite the fact that I don’t really race, I thought I would make the most of it, and give an honest effort. I had felt sluggish since returning from Colorado, so perhaps doing well in the time trial would give me some confidence. I registered in the Men’s Masters group. This turned out to be the largest percentage of the field, giving the least opportunity to place, but that’s okay. I didn’t expect to win. I just hoped to do well.

The mass start let off from right in front of Chimney Rock State Park at 7:30am. I positioned myself close enough to the front that I could jump onto the lead pack. The goal was to hang on with them as long as possible until the final climb.

The pace was spirited, but not insane. I was able to hang on without problem. I was nearly gapped on a small hill, but was able to maneuver around the dropped rider, and catch up with the pack. We flew through Memorial Parkway, the curvy road on the southern shore of Lake Lure. We powered over the climbs, and leaned through the descending turns, barely tapping the brakes. After five miles, the pace was around 25 mph. I turned around to find everyone else had fallen off. It was just me, and maybe a dozen or so other riders in the lead pack. Things were going well.

We pushed past Lake Lure, and took a left on Bill’s Creek Road. Hmm. This road looks familiar. The moment we turned, I asked a rider to my left whether we would be riding up Bill’s Mountain. “No,” he said, “we’ll turn right before it.” We began climbing almost as he finished the sentence. I looked at the 11% grade reading on my Garmin, squinted to see the course better, and realized we were climbing Bill’s Hill. If I changed gears at that point, I could drop my chain. I tried to power through it, but it was painful. The riders started to move away from me. Finally I was able to get into the little ring, and even started gaining on the group, but it was too late. They were gone.

I rode solo for the next several miles, rolling around more twists and turns on Buffalo Shoals Road. I thought I might make it all the way to the climb without another rider catching me. That wasn’t the case, as a group of around eight riders crept closer. I had been working hard, so when I saw them behind me, I eased off and fell in. It was best to rest and leave something for the climb.

That’s exactly what I did. They kept a comfortable pace, much faster than I could have managed solo, yet nowhere close to what we managed with the lead group. That got me to the climb.

We entered the park, crossed a bridge, and entered a shroud of trees. The trees would be above us for the entire climb, so the scenery from higher elevations would wait until the top. To my surprise, the climb was a lot milder than I had expected. There were some slightly steeper pitches, but few that surpassed the 10% level. Most of the time it was right around 6%, which is just about perfect.

I shifted into my lower gears, and focused on climbing as efficiently as possible. I kept reminding myself that this was a race, so I would want to climb faster than the rest of my pack. That seemed to not be an issue. A couple other riders and I formed a gap between the rest of the group, which wouldn’t really be bridged. We continued upward, and eventually it was just me and a guy wearing a Missouri jersey (who I later found out was Jon). The climb was short, thankfully. I found out later that it took me about 18 minutes.

We could hear the finish line before we saw it. Someone was reading rider numbers and names as they passed. We passed through the parking lot and knew we were about done. Jon kept a steady pace. I thought about pushing to try and pass him, then thought better of it. Another guy did exactly that from behind, passing both of us. Jon caught him, while I didn’t bother. My heart rate was through the roof by that point. I passed the finish line uneventfully, relieved that it was finished.

I was proud of my performance, and thought I could have placed. That turned out not to be the case. I was 13th overall (I think), and 5th in the Men’s Masters category, which I am very happy with. A friend and blog reader, Kevin Meechan was 3rd in the same category, finishing a couple minutes ahead of me. I was pleased for both of us.

Overall the event was spectacular. Setup Events did a great job managing the course and with the post-race ceremony. The views from Chimney Rock didn’t disappoint. After the riders cleared out, we rode the elevator up and took in some of the sights. We then capped the weekend with a nice brunch near the bank of Lake Lure. It was a great time.

Strava GPS Link



Tour de Lure, 2012, Marion, NC


Of all the Spring events in which I have participated, Tour de Lure may be the best measure of how one will do on Mount Mitchell. For that, I consider it an essential training ride and I’m glad to decided to give it a try.

The ride starts out of the YMCA in hilly Marion, NC, sitting at the base of the Black Mountains that shadow the town from above. For this venture we would stay away from the large mountains and instead ride around the rolling terrain of the foothills. The long route of 70 miles is difficult and has plenty of climbing, but only one real climb of length.

The rolling hills of Marion were easily the toughest. I had forgotten my Garmin (oops), but am guessing that many of the grades reached the teens. We navigated the grunt hills and steep descents out of the city and then made our way towards the western bank of the lake.

Once out of Marion, the difficult hills subsided and we were able to maintain a decent pace. I found a pack of around 15 riders to work with. There would be a little bit of separation on the hills, but for the most part we were able to stay together until the first climb.

The big climb is called Stone Mountain for unknown reasons. The Stone Mountain in NC that I am familiar with is far away. Many of the mountains in this area have cliff-like, rocky summits (most notably Chimney Rock), which may be how it earned this name.

The climb started out at a gradual grade. Someone asked me near the beginning whether we were on the climb. I was lost without my Garmin and said I wasn’t sure, but believed it was somewhere around this mileage. The road pitched up and the climb became a little more difficult. A few miles later I joked with him by saying that “I guess this is the climb!” For a category three climb, this one was mild. It reminded me a lot of Schull’s Mill Road near Boone in difficulty if not scenery. There wasn’t much to look at other than trees and there wasn’t a view at the summit. It was just a slow ride to the top and then a fast descent.

Nature called and I had to stop at the rest stop after the climb, which meant I lost my group. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After riding solo for awhile, I turned a corner and found myself in a mountain paradise. The route took us through the heart of the scenic towns of Bat Cave, Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. We traveled through the lake valley surrounded by these stony monoliths on all sides, with mountain-blue Lake Lure on the left side of the road and Broad River flowing over rocks on the right side. The Chimney Rock structure was the most notable and imposing of the mountain stuctures, but they were all beautiful. I found myself transfixed by the sights and almost forgot to watch the road. From here I took a couple breaks for photo ops (most of which didn’t come out well) and took my time. I was a tourist and in no hurry whatsoever.

The route circumnavigated the lake’s south shore to the glorious western shore. From here we followed Buffalo Shoals Road, a windy labyrinth that hugged the edge of the lake. There were easy rolling hills here, nothing too strenuous. The one obstacle here was gravel, lots of it. I had to be careful to ignore the lake and focus on the road to avoid the gravel, especially during the windy and downhill sections.

Next came the return route to Marion, which happened to mimic much of the Assault on Mount Mitchell route. We turned onto Bill’s Creek Road. I kept expecting to encounter Bill’s Hill, but apparently we started just north of it. That wasn’t much of a break, as there were plenty of other hills to deal with. After Bill’s area, the big hills stopped for awhile until we came within reach of Marion, when they returned tougher than ever. I remember from last year that some of them reached the 10% range. When we turned from the Mitchell route and headed back towards the YMCA, they became even steeper. The last few I just barely grunted through, and frankly, I was relieved to finally turn into the YMCA.

My finishing time was around 4:15, which is not bad considering I was nursing an injury and did not approach this one aggressively. This bodes well for my Mitchell performance, which I will talk about more in another post.

Strava GPS Link