Last year I ranked my rides with two lists. One list was for the overall experience, while the other was for the most difficult. This year I’m going in a different direction. The most difficult list is being shelved, and doesn’t have to be on an annual basis. I’m also excising rides that were not new to me. That means that some of my favorites, such as Assault on Mount Mitchell, Assault on the Carolinas, Tour de Cashiers, and Bridge to Bridge are not present here.
The criteria here is not a judgement of each ride, but rather just my favorites based on the entire experience. Of course, the better the ride is organized, the better the experience for the rider.
It was still difficult to narrow these down to 10. Since my passion is riding, these were all fantastic experiences. Choosing between them is almost as ludicrous as choosing a favorite child, but here goes anyway …
Brutal is a fitting description. This ride had about as much climbing as the toughest centuries I rode, and then they had a bonus mountain at the very end. The roads were quiet and smooth. The volunteers and their yellow shirts seemed to be omnipresent. Handing out musettes on the parkway was a terrific idea. It was a difficult challenge, especially with Mount Jefferson tacked onto the end, but a memorable one.
9. Tour de Lure
What really set this ride apart was the scenery. Through Marion and over Stone Mountain wasn’t much to speak of, but when you turn towards Lake Lure and see the monolithic structures around you, it is breathtaking. The course was more of a challenge than I expected, and it was a good experience and benchmark for me to ride Mitchell several weeks later. This is among the better training ride options for others that are training for Mitchell.
It was flat, fast, and in the mountains. Who would have imagined? It was also a blast, as we traveled through the scenic valleys in the shadows of 6,000 foot monsters like Mount Pisgah. It was well attended enough that there were packs to ride with at nearly any pace. I settled in with a good group, and managed to finish far quicker than expected.
What better way to celebrate independence day than with riding a metric century in the mountains? Unfortunately, my experience at this year’s event was affected by an accident and injury to another rider. After helping out, I lost many of the riders. As a result, we had a comfortable, social ride through the North Greenville, Tryon and Saluda foothills. The best part was the food at the end, which I would rank near the top for any ride.
To nobody’s surprise, this was one of the more difficult rides I experienced. It didn’t help matters that I was riding with a broken hip (which was discovered much later). The starting line experience was among the best as they filtered 3,000 riders through the school parking lot, having riders shout out their hometown on the microphone as they ride by. Support was excellent. The timed climb of Hogpen Gap was a nice touch, not that I had any chance of being competitive.
This was the climax of my foray into Colorado, and what an experience it was! We climbed several passes, finishing with the epic climb up Vail Pass and rolling into Copper Triangle. The ride started in freezing temperatures, but we made the best of it. I rode with and met a lot of people from all over the place, enjoying the blueberry muffins at every stop. The coolest part was rolling into the heart of Copper Mountain resort for a picturesque finish.
4. Fort Jackson Awareness Ride
There may be a little bias for this ride since I helped organize the event, but I feel comfortable including it here after hearing the post-ride feedback. Everyone had a fantastic time. Not everyone can ride on a military base, much less participate in a timed event there. The event exceeded our expectations for riders, and brought out the competitive spirit and camaraderie of the local cycling community. It could not have gone any better. Even though I participated, this was among the most fun experiences on my bike during the year.
This was the most surprising entry. I had not heard much about Issaqueena, but was pleasantly surprised by the entire experience. The course was terrific, much of it in neighborhood roads with rolling hills, with the rest of it touching the foothills near the North Carolina border. This probably had the best markings I’ve seen on a road course, and they had tremendous pre and post-ride meals. My experience was bittersweet because a good friend became injured by a charging dog, but she has now recovered and is climbing better than ever.
Mother nature deserves some of the credit for this ride’s placement. I’ve ridden these hills quite often, but nothing compares to riding them in mid-fall. We were lucky with the leaf color, riding right around their peak color period for the year. I had previously Green River Cove Rd a few other times, but never had it looked this beautiful.
As much as I love mountain centuries, I rarely expect to call them ‘fun.’ Blood Sweat & Gears is a challenging ride, especially around mid-way when riders have to fight the snake. The Parkway, George’s Gap, and Schull’s Mill were all moderate and enjoyable climbs. I’m not sure why this was, but of all climbing events, this one was the most social. I met a lot of people and had a great time talking to them. The organizers and volunteers were terrific, meeting all of our needs throughout the ride. I was tired at the finish, but the atmosphere was festive, like a celebration. I look forward to riding it again.