Tag Archives: mars hill

Hot Doggett 100, 2013, Mars Hill, NC

starting line

At the last minute, I decided to give Hot Doggett another shot. It has been two years since my last attempt, but this is one of my favorite mountain centuries, and I had been longing to ride it again. Despite all the recent rain, the weather looked to be ideal for a ride of this caliber, in the 60s and 70s.

Personally, this would be quite the challenge. I have been trying to shake a nasty cold with little luck. I’ve also been off the bike more during last month, mostly due to vacations, and record setting weather. I wasn’t sure how the legs would feel, but muscle memory would help get me through the ride.

We rolled out at 7:30am, starting mostly downhill, but we couldn’t get comfortable too soon. The roads around Madison county are perpetually hilly. We were going up and down most of the time, and when going up, the grade would occasionally be steep. In the early going, we faced several short climbs of over a mile, and we knew the big ones would be up ahead. I could hear Jeff and John talking about their wattage, making sure to save something for later in the ride. That was the smart strategy, as someone could easily blow up by attacking the ride too early.

My legs were feeling alright in the early going. The bike was a different story. From the beginning, I noticed issues. When I would get into a certain gear, the chain would get close to dropping, and the derailleur would go crazy when I tried to catch it. This was happening during normal shifting, not where chains usually drop when people shift too late into a steep hill. To make matters worse, somehow the derailleur was getting bent into the spoke. After a couple miles, I had to stop to make an adjustment. Once back on the bike, I had to change gears carefully.

I was able to keep riding with only occasional issues. We rolled through Marshall, and I knew the first major climb of the day would be coming before long.

At mile 14.5, it became worse. I pulled over to adjust, got back on the bike, and it happened again. Something was seriously wrong. The entire pack passed me as I tried to get it working. A SAG vehicle stopped to try to help me, but he didn’t have much mechanical skill. He radioed to Tom, the ‘bike wrench,’ as he put it.

A huge shout out to Hot Doggett's SAG support. They were terrific!

A huge shout out to Hot Doggett’s SAG support. They were terrific!

Tom was a lot of help. He put my bike up on the rack, and looked at the derailleur every which way. Something was out of whack. He would make an adjustment, and we would move through the gears to make sure it worked. Every time it hit that gear, the same problem would occur. He was baffled, and I have to give him a lot of credit for sticking with it. Over a long period of time, he got a working adjustment that was enough to get me back on the road. I got a quarter of a mile before it happened again. We put the bike back on the rack, and made another adjustment. This one would be enough to keep me going.

Tom offered to drive me back up to the other riders. I appreciated that, but alone or not, I wasn’t here for short cuts. I came here to ride the course, and that’s what I would do.

The bike was rideable, if not perfect. Some gears would work better than others, while others would act up. Fortunately, none threw the chain into a frenzy like before. It was enough to keep me going, but having stopped for an hour already, I was well behind the last rider. It would be a long ride ahead.

I plugged along to Doggett Gap, the first major climb of the day, and arguably the toughest. The first mile is not so bad, maybe in the 4-6% vicinity. The last three miles were rough, almost pure pain. The average was a 9% grade, but there were many prolonged sections in the 10-12% range.

Passed by 4 classic cars on Doggett Gap.

Passed by 4 classic cars on Doggett Gap.

It was an effort to get up the hill, and I could tell that I wasn’t at my best. I struggled to get to the top, but made it through force of will. The good news was that despite being off the road for nearly an hour, I had caught 4 riders by the top of Doggett. The bad news was that the bike was still giving me fits, and the gearing problems were taking a toll on my legs.

I’ve prided myself on never taking the SAG wagon. Every ride that I have started, I have finished, and that’s been a lot of rides. It was a tough decision to make, and I chewed over the pros and cons while riding up Doggett. Between the bike issues, my head cold, and tired legs, I decided to call it a day. Tony and Grady, some good local fellows who volunteered at the Doggett rest stop kindly drove me back to Mars Hill.

I have to give a huge shout to the organizers. A lot of my friends completed the ride. They were all thoroughly impressed with the challenging course, and overwhelmed by the efforts of the volunteers. I cannot imagine another ride where a SAG mechanic would have stayed with a faulty bike for so long. Thanks to Tom and all the others.

I’ll be back next year, and will exact my revenge on these mountains.

Strava link


Hot Doggett, Part Two

Catch part one here.

French Broad River

French Broad River

After descending Devil’s Fork across the Tennessee state line, having released my demons, I felt almost like a brand new rider. I may not have been as strong as the first mile, but I had some climbing legs in me. I continued forward alone at a decent pace without pushing too hard. A big climb was coming, Sam’s Gap, that I had heard went on for six to seven miles. My expectation was that it would be similar to Caesar’s Head, maybe not quite as tough. I was ready for it.

To my surprise, I caught up with a familiar face. Since I had spent so long at the rest stop, she should have been way ahead of me. I came up on her a lot faster than I should have and looked over to see anguish on her face. She was cramping badly and could barely push the pedals forward. She kept going, albeit slowly and I rode alongside. The worst of her cramping was in the hamstrings, but the pain was spread throughout her body. She was afraid to get off the bike because it might be too painful to get back on. It was a tough today and she was on the verge of giving up.

At one point we stopped. She was ready to cave in and wait for the support vehicle to take her home. I happened to know that another rider was just picked up at the last rest stop, and didn’t expect to see another vehicle for quite awhile. The stop was only momentary. She told me many times to go ahead and finish the ride without her. She would wait for the wagon. We were in the middle of nowhere, in 90+ degree heat and she was cramping badly. There was no way I was going to leave her. When she realized how futile it was just to stand on the side of the road, she suggested we get back on and go real slow. I was fine with that. We continued at maybe 7-8 mph as she struggled. At one point I realized I had three electrolyte pills. She took all three and we went forward slowly.

Her strength recovered a little bit as we moved along. She ruled out the SAG wagon, which I was a relief to me. I had only known this person for a couple of weeks, but could tell she was a tenacious, tough rider, and it would be a major disappointment for her to abandon the ride. She later told me that she had 100% success rate on these tough rides, so it would have been a major disappointment if she had given up.

Approaching Sam's Gap

Approaching Sam's Gap

The big concern was with the last lengthy climb. We pedaled and talked quite a bit. I can be a bit chatty, maybe too much sometimes, but this time I pushed it into overdrive. I recalled an experience when I was ‘bonking’ and someone else talked me through the ride. That helped a great deal, so I tried to do the same for her. We talked about all sorts of things. I tried to tell some inspiring or funny stories (or maybe boring). I just wanted to distract her from the agony and frustration she was going through.

She made progress in the flats and we were maybe in the 12-14 mph range, but I was seriously worried about Sam’s Gap. A lengthy climb might have been too much for her, even though she was doing better than when I first ran into her. Looking at my odometer compared to the cue sheet, I discovered that we were on the climb already. It was just a slight grade in the beginning for a couple miles and we barely noticed we were going up. We kept talking and pedaling, slowly making our way closer to the tougher stretch, while trying not to think about it.

When the climb turned up, it was not bad. At most it was 8% and most of the time it was around 5-6%. It was not bad at all. It just went on for a very long time. We took it nice and easy, continued talking and enjoying the scenery. What was cool was that the top of the climb runs parallel to Interstate 26. It was a joy to get to the top and see not only the Sam’s Gap elevation sign, but also the NC state line. I caught a picture of my travel companion at the top of the mountain, and she had a beaming smile. That was quite a contrast from the expression on her face a mere 10 miles earlier. I was very impressed that she soldiered on and made it. In the same situation, I may have given up.

Top of Sam's Gap

Top of Sam's Gap / NC State Line

There were a couple short hills remaining. A couple of them were challenging, but nothing like we had already encountered. Finally we arrived at the big descent. We were greeted by the sign warning truckers of an upcoming 9% grade. That was music to our eyes. We ducked down and let fly for two, maybe three miles. After climbing in the heat, nothing felt better than descending with the wind in our face.

After a couple more grunts, we were back at Mars Hill College. Finish time was 7:42 — not too shabby given some of the difficulties we faced out there.

Aside from all that happened, this was a wonderful ride and I cannot wait to do it again. This was easily the most efficiently organized big ride I have attended. The rest stops were perfect. I cannot thank the volunteers enough for doing everything they could to accommodate us. The road markings were perhaps the best I have seen on a ride. There was no confusion on where to turn, which is impressive considering how I can get lost crossing the street. The city of Mars Hill really turned out, supported us, and made this seem like a major event. Thanks to everyone involved. See you next year.

Google Maps GPS
Strava link

Hot Doggett Finish line ahead

Finish line ahead

Hot Doggett 100, 2011, Mars Hill, NC

The Hot Doggett 100 turned out to be quite an adventure. It was so eventful that I cannot recap it in a single blog post. This will be part one. I will continue the recap in the next day or two.

We departed at 7:30am from Mars Hill College in Western North Carolina, not too far from the Tennessee border. This was yet another big climbing ride. It consisted of a number of smaller climbs and three moderately difficult category two climbs. The major obstacles were Doggett Gap, Devil’s Fork Gap and Sam’s Gap.

The weather at the start was overcast and foggy with a nice temperature in the low 60s. It had rained buckets overnight, so in the early going the roads were damp with small puddles littered about. My glasses fogged up and I had trouble navigating the beginning portion of the course. I even got yelled at by another rider because I could not maintain a line. Tough to do when I can barely see. Once we got into the country, the roads dried up and conditions eased. We had some nice rolling hills and a few downhills, one of which sped us through the town of Marshall, NC. Through the early going I felt terrific. I paced with a group from Spartanburg and could tell that this would be a good climbing day.

Approaching Doggett Gap

Approaching Doggett Gap

The first major climb was Doggett Gap, which came at about 25 miles into the course. It began easily enough, with a small grade of 3-5% until it turned up and became more like 10%. The total distance was around four miles, most of which was consistently at the 10% grade. It reminded me of an easier version of Cullowhee Mountain that I had climbed during the Tour de Cashiers. I felt great through the climb and maintained a decent, steady pace. The only real stumbling block was when I accidentally dropped my phone while trying to take a picture. That forced me to unclip on a steep segment and I lost my rhythm and slowed my pace. I still felt fine when I reached the top and looked forward to what else was around the corner.

After Doggett there were a series of exhilarating descents through the Pisgah National Forest. I had lost my group after Doggett so I found another foursome out of Asheville. Usually I am a conservative descender in the mountains, but I felt a lot more confident following their line since they had a good feel for these roads and had experienced them before. We glided down the mountains gracefully and it felt amazing. This type of experience is what makes all the training, all the grunting, and all the soreness the next day worth it. Descending mountains such as these is pure bliss.

Doggett Gap

Near the top of Doggett Gap

We rolled across the French Broad River and into another climb of three miles. This wasn’t too difficult. It was mostly straight highway riding, and the grade was around 6% the entire way up. I made it without issue. It was afterward that I started having problems.

My downfall was a stomach cramp and it was nasty. It started somewhere during the middle climb and became progressively worse as we moved forward. We had a series of flats afterward and formed a large pace-line, maybe 10-15 riders. The group worked together well and we maintained great speeds, but I was struggling. A knot was forming in my belly and I was having trouble maintaining my spot in the line. When I got to the front, I could tell that my speed was not good for the group so I backed off and just sat in until climbing resumed.

What came next was Devil’s Fork Gap, which I found out later is also an Appalachian Trail stop. Compared to the lengthy climbs at the beginning and end of the ride, this was short and steep. It usually would not have been terribly difficult if not for my stomach woes. To make matters worse, the sun had come out with a fury. We had been riding in moderate temperatures around 70-80 most of the morning. On this climb the temperature spiked up to 95. The climb was only two miles or so, maybe not even that, but I struggled. When the grade hit 15%, I did everything in my power to keep pushing myself up. I wobbled on the road, moving from side to side, just trying to keep some momentum upward. This was without question the most difficult part of the ride for me. I made it up exhausted and with what felt like a solid rock in the middle of my gut.

Fortunately there was a rest stop right at the top. I knew that I needed a break. My stomach needed to settle. At first I could not eat a thing. Gatorade was too strong. Water helped. I sat on a lounge chair and waited it out. It was probably 15, maybe 20 minutes until my energy came back. The stomach cramp eased and I was able to eat.

The next section should probably remain between me and the mountain. It is all part of human nature, so I may as well share it. As a result of my stomach discomfort, I had a little bit of, ahem, build-up that needed to be released. That also gave me incentive to get back on the bike and away from such nice and friendly rest stop volunteers. Trust me, I had enough poison within me to ruin their day. I was also fortunate to have waited long enough to let other riders pass me. As I took to the next descent, I let things fly in more ways than one. Let’s just say that I had some acceleration assistance that probably netted me an extra 2 miles per hour.

When I reached the bottom, I felt like a brand new rider. Less than a quarter of the course was ahead of me and despite having to ride it solo, I knew I would be able to finish. Then something else happened, which I will talk about in my next post.

Read part 2 here.