Tag Archives: mount mitchell

Mitchell Readiness Check

mitchell highest peak

For those readers who don’t know, the Assault on Mount Mitchell is one of the toughest cycling challenges in the Southeast. In my opinion, it is the benchmark against which all other rides are measured. It is our local rite of passage. It is my A event, the one I want to complete every year. Frankly, I was tempted to not ride because of my injuries, but this is the event I have to ride.

The ride begins in downtown Spartanburg. It ends 102 miles away at the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern United States. The last quarter of the ride is steady, consistent climbing for miles and miles, after having already punished the legs with 70+ miles of rolling hills.

Here is a visual PDF map of the route.

Here’s where I am:


Somehow I have managed to ride 699 miles this year, most of which have been over the last two months. I also squeezed in maybe a few hundred towards the end of last year before shutting down to recuperate. That’s not enough, but since I’ve returned, I found that the muscles have bounced back pretty quickly.

The last two weekend rides proved to be good tests. I rode with people who have trained a lot harder than I have. While I had trouble keeping up at their level of fitness, I was at least able to mostly hang on. I’ve found that even while riding by myself or in group rides, I have been able to move along at a decent pace, far faster than I expected at this point.

The lack of cardio training, however, is easily apparent. I have not done a single interval or anything like it all year. When I push too hard, I get winded. I’ve found myself with my mouth open and gasping during difficult stretches of road. This will catch up with me on Monday.


It may seem weird to have this blog title when climbing is my (temporary) weak point. Because of my lack of cardio and the injury, I simply don’t have the legs and heart for serious climbing. When the road turns steep, my pace slows dramatically. Gravity hurts right now.

The only real tests of my climbing ability were on Assault on the Carolinas and a Brevard trip the weekend after. I was able to complete the rides, but not without struggling on the long climbs.

Many say that the time it takes to get from Spartanburg to Marion (mile 76) is the same as it will from Marion to Mitchell (mile 102). For me, that probably won’t be true. I could see myself getting to Marion in 4 hours if I find a good group. It could then take me 5 or longer to get the rest of the way. Climbing will not come easy.


The injuries this year have been severe. I’m still nursing the broken hip, which is probably around 65-70% right now. Occasionally it will get sore during rides. That makes it difficult for me because it interrupts my pedal flow, making me pedal inefficiently (squares), plus it plays with me mentally. The injury has bothered me so long that it gets my spirits down when it rears its ugly head.

It always hurts after big rides, and I generally need a good bit of recovery time in between. The harder the ride, the more time I need. After a few days, it calms down and feels better.

That means that this week I will need an extra long taper period. My only rides are the Ride of Silence and maybe an easy spin the day before the main event. I’ll have to be careful not to cause any excess soreness, while still keeping the muscles loose and warm.

I also have a broken rib, but it has healed enough that it is not really a factor. The only time it bothers me while riding is on long descents. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I won’t have to deal with those on the Assault.


My lowest weight during offseason training was 148. With the injury layoff, the weight came back fast. I reached 161 before I was able to resume training again. Since then I’ve been teetering between 156-158, which is close to the same weight for my first Assault, and a little heavier than last year. All in all, I’m not in terrible shape here.

My Projection:

There is a chance I will not finish the ride this year. I’ll be smart about it. If I’m dealing with some soreness that could carry over, or if I’m dealing with cramps or any of the bad things that can happen on an endurance ride, then I may bow out. Knowing me, it would have to be a pretty big problem before I call it quits.

If I am able to ride the way I want, then I am predicting a finish in 9 hours. That said, I will not be thinking about time in the slightest. If I need a break, I will not hesitate to stop. This year, just finishing is the goal no matter how long it takes.

Hopefully this will be me again.

Hopefully this will be me again.

Breakthrough Week

It has now been nearly seven weeks since my last ride. The time off has been a roller coaster, sometimes with extreme pain, sometimes with absolute boredom. Fortunately, it looks like I am finally closer to the end of my recovery than the beginning.

After two weeks of making hardly any progress, major strides came this week. On Tuesday, I noticed that something felt different. I had more flexibility, mobility, and less soreness. A dull ache existed, at times worse than others, but it was drastically better than it had been a few days before. That was my first breakthrough day. It became even better on Wednesday, Thursday, and then Friday. It feels remarkably better now.

I’m not out of the woods yet. On Monday I will visit Dr. Ekman again, probably get an X-ray, and a direction for treatment. It is possible I’ll need another MRI (Ugh!). My guess is that the fracture has mostly healed, but there are some other soft tissue issues underneath the labrum that still need to be dealt with. There is some lingering soreness, and I can tell that my hip still is not quite right. I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll be able get everything working in harmony again, and that I can begin training on the bike soon.

In two weeks, I will register for the Assault on Mount Mitchell again. That seems like a bold commitment at this stage of the year, but one I am prepared to make. Even if I cannot train like I have the last couple of years, this is the ride I want to do every year. I’m banking on having enough carryover fitness to make it to the finish line, however slowly, without focusing on time. Any training I can manage until then will be a bonus.

Speaking of Mitchell, my friends in the southeast might be interested to know that I am now blogging for the 2013 Assault. The first post is up now, and more will follow. Much of my material will not be new to readers of this blog, and a few things will be cross-posted over the next few months. I’ll be an editor of sorts as well, working with a few others for different perspectives and tips, varying from beginners to professionals. Even if you do not ride in the Mitchell event, you might find the material useful to prepare for any sort of endurance event.

Finally, I’d like to give a couple shout outs. It was a tough decision for me to bail on this year’s Haute Route plans, even if it was the right decision. I want to thank Wes for backing out with me. We had planned to do the ride together, were going to train together, fly together, and be roommates during the entire event. We both deferred our registrations and plan to participate in the 2014 event.

The final shout out is to the Vicious Cycle team. Wes and I left them in the lurch by backing out. Fortunately they were able to find a couple replacements rather quickly. Keeping in the spirit of internationalism, they added Julian from Edinburgh, UK, and Patrick from Sydney, Australia. They now have a great looking kit, which I’ll be following for this year’s event.

Measuring the Blue Ridge

As I was climbing Mount Evans with a few Colorado locals, I made reference to one of the hills I had climbed in the Southeast. One of the guys turned and looked at me, and jokingly said “You guys have hills out there?” He had a good point. In terms of elevation, the Blue Ridge pales in comparison to its western counterparts. I had practically lived around 10,000 feet for most of my Colorado stay, and climbed above 11,000 several times, including once over 12,000 feet, and the big one came in at 14,100. Many of those climbs were above the treeline, and yielded views that far surpassed anything we have on the East coast.

But the climbing is different. I was reminded of that when I came back and attempted the Blue Ridge Brutal. Instead of long and gradual climbs, we have short and steep. My legs hurt far more after this ride than anything I had done in the Rockies. Not to take anything away from the Rockies, as I loved every minute of my stay, but the Southeast has some pretty amazing climbing if you ask me.

Let me back up a little bit. Earlier this year when looking for good climbing blogs, I bumped into The Climbing Cyclist. To my surprise, Matt’s website was very similar to mine, only he covered the other side of the world — Australia. I enjoyed reading about his adventures, and shot him a quick note to let him know. Of course I also let him know about my website.

As it turned out, he was planning on a trip to the states later in the year. He would be looking for good places to climb. Did I have any suggestions? Of course I recommended some of the climbs in our corner, and his interest was peaked.

I checked his website a few months later, and to my surprise, he had just climbed Mount Baldy outside of Los Angeles. He then headed to New Orleans, then to New York, and finally to Washington, DC.

We emailed again. He was asking about places to climb near his last two stops. He had already spent some time riding around New York City, and would soon be climbing Whiteface Mountain at Lake Placid. I suggested he try some of the climbs in Vermont, but that didn’t work out. As for Washington, I had no idea, but thought he could try Skyline Drive or the Parkway near Roanoke, Virginia if he was willing to drive a ways.

Then I get an email saying he had set aside a few days, and wanted to try the Blue Ridge Mountains. Which would I suggest, Asheville or Boone? That was like asking a loving mother to pick her favorite son. Ultimately I suggested Asheville because it is a bigger city, and he would be relying on local transportation to get to and from the climbs.

As for where to climb, my first suggestion was the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Mitchell. Why go small, right? It would be quite a climb, but it is also the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and is probably one of the best climbs of the Southeast. He toughed it out, made it up to Mitchell, and came back down elated. The next day he decided to head out the opposite direction on the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading up to the top of Mount Pisgah, then back down Town Mountain Road.

While the grades were not terribly steep, Matt found them to have their own unique challenges. One thing he noticed is that there is not a lot of consistency. You will be climbing at the same grade for awhile, then you will reach a flat or even a downhill before climbing again. What Matt didn’t find, was that southeast climbing can be STEEP! In fact, a lot of the climbs up to the Blue Ridge Parkway are tougher than the Parkway itself. He may have found that out if he could have ridden from Brevard, but alas, transportation was an issue.

I highly recommend you read Matt’s take on Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a great read, and a great adventure. Even though he went through a lot of trouble to get here, I’m glad that he was able to enjoy it. The only real negative was that nobody recognized him as Australian, and one could mistook Australia for Austria. C’mon Americans!

Now back to Colorado. The tough part about climbing in Colorado is not really the elevation profiles. They are long, but most that I tried are relatively smooth and easy. Independence Pass was a long, gradual climb, averaging 3% over 16 miles. Mount Evans was a little steeper, averaging 4.5% over 27 miles. I understand there are some steeper climbs around the foothills. Magnolia Road near Boulder is known for being steep. Overall, they still seem to be an easier lot easier lot to climb.

What gets you in the Rockies is the elevation. I was maybe half the climber I had been in the Blue Ridge. Without being used to breathing such little oxygen, I simply could not push myself to muscle exertion. As a result, these rides were mostly slow and methodical. Believe it or not, I actually lost fitness when I got back home, as evident by my performance in last week’s Blue Ridge Brutal where I was 91st out of 135.

I’m not saying that Rocky Mountain climbing is easy in comparison. Quite the contrary! Mount Evans was possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done on a bike! Our climbs are also hard, and not to be discounted. They are simply different.

Assault on Mount Mitchell, 2012, Spartanburg, SC

The Assault on Mount Mitchell is hard. Insanely hard. I had forgotten how hard it was. If you want evidence, just check the results. Out of approximately 1,000 riders that started the ride, only 765 succeeded. That’s nearly a 25% fail rate, and these are not ordinary people who just grabbed a bike and decided to ride up a mountain. These are people that trained for months, focused on this one goal.

I bumped into a first-time rider at the hotel and he asked me for any tips. I said that you shouldn’t think of it as impossible. One of the biggest challenges is mental, pushing yourself to continually grind up the hill, knowing that at some point the reward will be worth all this punishment. That was good advice, but I reflected on it as those last miles slowly ticked by, as I noticed every passing tenth of a mile, reassuring myself that the end was getting closer. Hopefully I didn’t tell this guy the ride was easy, because it definitely is not. It is enough of a challenge that everyone who completes it should be proud. This is something that not everyone can do.

I was confident for this year’s Assault. I had my plan. I had put in the work. This would be my day.

The most stressful part of the ride is in the first 20 miles. That’s when all 1,000 riders converge together, mashing the pedals and all trying to get to Marion as fast as possible. Mistakes are made. People get sloppy. There will be plenty of ‘jerks,’ as Paul puts it. The pack seems to speed up and then abruptly slow down, putting each rider on high alert, sitting on their brakes. “SLOWING” is heard every minute or so. It is frustrating, but something one has to deal with in order to get an easy ride to Marion.

At mile 10, I fell victim to someone’s poor preparation. A water bottle came loose in a large pack, maybe five or six riders ahead of me. Everyone immediately slowed, swerved, and did everything possible to keep their bikes upright. The guy immediately in front of me swerved to the left of me, and then onto me. THWACK! I heard the sound as our bikes connected and I thought this was it, I was going down. Miraculously I stayed on the bike. All of us did and the pack kept going.

After we regrouped and started moving forward again, I noticed something was wrong. My left handlebar was crooked, pointing to the right and sitting a little lower. At first it seemed awkward and difficult to ride. The steering was fine. The brakes and shifters worked. I just had to keep my hand crooked to the right and lean a little differently to keep it balanced. I was able to ride through it with only minor discomfort. I chugged along.

I was feeling great early. I had missed the lead pack, but settled into one that was keeping a good enough pace. We were at 22 mph when we reached Bill’s Hill. This would be the first big challenge. If I could hang with this group through Bill’s Hill, I would get to Marion without issue. To my surprise, it didn’t seem too difficult this time. I climbed up comfortably either with or ahead of most of my pack.

I arrived in Marion at around 3:35. That was perfect, right where I wanted to be. They say that it takes as long to get from Spartanburg to Mitchell as it does from Marion to Mitchell. Last year I had made up time on the climbs, so at this point it looked like a good bet for me to break seven hours.

Unfortunately I made a crucial error at Marion. I had left some Gatorade with my wife and forgot to refill my bottles. All they had at the rest stop was water. I filled part of a bottle, figuring that would be enough to get me up Highway 80 to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Highway 80 starts out flat with some easy rollers. It’s a gorgeous ride along Lake Tahoma, but seems like forever until the climb begins. I was still feeling fine and skipped the rest stop just before the climb. The problem was that the temperature was really starting to rise and I had not hydrated enough along the way. I was getting thirsty. Soon enough, that meant I was getting tired.

I tried to conserve water, knowing it probably wouldn’t be enough to take me through the climb. I got slower and slower. The riders that I had been with before all passed me. People behind them passed me. I was bonking. The road has markings for every half a mile remaining. At 2 miles, I began to wonder if I could continue. I had nothing. An eternity later it said 1.5 miles to go. Are you kidding me? I ran out of water with a mile to go. It was a long mile. Finally I reached the top and guzzled as much water, Gatorade and Coke as I could, while filling both bottles all the way.

The elevation on the Parkway didn’t help the temperature much. It was still warm and sunny. I could feel the heat intensely. I tried to push at a good pace and simply couldn’t keep it. More people passed me. Around midway through the parkway, after having sufficiently hydrated and fueled myself, I started to get the magic back. My pace picked up and I started passing people again.

I was thrilled to find the short, 2-mile descent. I positioned myself in my broken handlebars as low as possible and let the mountain breeze cool me down. I felt amazing when I started climbing again, like a new man. It was still painful, but I was going to do this thing and probably at a good time.

When I turned into the Mitchell State Park entrance, I thought there was a chance of me breaking seven hours. Reality struck as I noticed my speed during the steeper sections. It was in the 4-5 mph range, not fast. I grunted my way up, slowly and surely to the finish line.

I looked down to find myself covered in bugs. It looked like I was wearing black arm warmers. They were everywhere. I continued to climb, going by the restaurant and then to the final summit, just a few hundred feet.

Mitchell accomplished, again! My final time was 7:07. While I didn’t break my goal of seven hours, I beat last year’s time by nearly an hour. I’ll take that. And I’ll wait awhile before I start thinking about next year. Who am I kidding? I’m going for 6:30 next year.

Strava GPS Link


Mitchell Training Plan

Mitchell Facilities sign.

The clock is ticking. 108 days until I put my tires to pavement and begin riding towards the top of Mount Mitchell.

My off-season training program worked great and I can already tell that I’m stronger on the bike, but I cannot stop there. I now have almost four months to train. Besides, training is the best part.

Here’s what I’ll be doing:

Weekly Spin Class: This is something new that I haven’t tried before. A group of us hired a personal trainer who will lead us on a road cycling and hill climbing exercise program. As I understand it, she will wear us out with strength exercises and then start the spinning. The emphasis while spinning will be on resistance to simulate mountain climbing. I expect lots of grunts and groans for this class. Since this will include a strength program, I will stop lifting on my own time. This should be plenty to maintain my lower body strength and then some! This will also be a good transition from my own weight program to getting in better bike shape.

Cross-Training: Running has worked and I’ll keep at it. The difference is I’ll be keeping it shorter and running faster. What I’ll try to do is a mile at a time and keep at a certain speed. Right now I can probably sustain an 8-minute mile. I will warm up and recover on elliptical machines.

Weekday Riding: Daylight savings time is just around the corner. Until then I’ll try to squeeze in a few short 20+ mile rides in the late afternoons. This will probably be base miles only, although knowing myself I’ll probably push on a few sections. Once the time changes, I’ll be able to stretch my rides out a little more. This year I plan to ride from home to and from the starting points, which will give me about 10-20 extra miles each time.

Base Miles: For the next few weeks my rides will be easy, with the goal just to accumulate miles. I’ll take care of a lot of these in one shot when we head to Santee for President’s Day weekend. After that I’ll do short weekend group rides of 30-50 miles at a time. When the season begins I’ll ride in a couple centuries to get additional miles.

Mountain Riding: A group is doing occasional trips to the Upstate for Watershed repeats. I’ll try to tag along for some of those. I’ll plan to focus on speed for the first trip up and go slower on subsequent trips. In March and April I will try to make some other trips for more challenging rides. These will probably be unofficial Freewheeler rides.

Everything Else: It is easy for me to neglect upper body and core. That’s happened last year and I finished the season with dead arms and a wobbly balance. My time will only allow for two short workouts per week at the gym. This is when I’ll try to squeeze in these important supplemental exercises.

If I do all of the above, I’m going to kill it at Mitchell. That’s a big if.