Tag Archives: spartanburg

Tour de Paws, 2012, Spartanburg, SC

 
Moments after I posted my September calendar, my throat started to feel scratchy. Uh oh. A number of my co-workers had come down with a particularly nasty virus, and I was worried it was my turn. It was. Thursday was pretty rough, but I went to work anyway. I was in bed most of Friday. I was tempted to skip Tour de Paws, but late Friday I started feeling better, so I decided to give it a shot.

Tour de Paws is a metric century put on by the Spartanburg Humane Society. It has a reputation as being a fast, well-organized ride, and I always enjoy riding out in Spartanburg. Not to mention, pet rescues are always causes that I can get behind.

Initially I had hoped to hang with the lead pack. My expectations were tempered by my illness, but after feeling alright warming up, I decided to give it a go. I made sure to take some cold medicine, added some cough drops to my fueling supply, and lined up not far behind the fast group.

The ride began with us charging down the big hill on Reidville Road. I felt fine in the lead pack’s draft. The heart rate was in the tempo range. If I could stay with them, I would be fine.

Spartanburg riders are among the most disciplined you’ll encounter.

 

After the first few miles, the pack splintered a bit. There were some gaps that formed, and I had to sprint to catch the pack again. At around the five mile mark, the pack was separated even further by some riders who had left early, and were riding two abreast. The group had to move far to the left to get around them, some crossing over the yellow line. By the time we were back in the paceline, the lead pack was 200 feet ahead of us. I charged and was gaining on the pack for a time, yet the distance remained. I would need cooperation to catch them, but none was coming. After a short while I was starting to feel the effects of my sickness. I could not sustain the big efforts that I normally could. The pack was gone.

I found another two riders to work with for a time, but they dropped behind a little bit. I thought I would be riding solo for a time when I was caught by Jim, Liz, and Craig of the Freewheelers. They were all part of last year’s beach ride, and I was glad to ride with some company.

At around the 25th mile, I was not feeling well at all. There was one point after climbing a hill that I even considered calling it a day. I reminded myself that I have never taken a SAG wagon, and now was not the day to start. I shamelessly sat in with the group, taking the role of wheel-sucker, trying to work as little as possible while still remaining at a decent pace.

We rode through quiet, traffic-free country roads most of the day.

 

Our small group grew as others caught us. We worked together as a group of around 15. It was a smooth tempo, not too fast, not too slow, just comfortable. This was ideal given how I was feeling.

I have to give a shout to the motorcycle teams. They were awesome the entire day. They would ride along with us, either behind or ahead. They would get to intersections, and either let us know if the coast was clear, or stop traffic for us. One of the bikers was Richard, who was also on the Beach ride and has ridden in the Tour Divide. It was nice to have support that is so familiar with these types of rides.

The ride ended with us climbing back up Reidville Road. By now it was the mid-80s and humid, and the climb was nearly a mile-long. I felt pretty weak as the climb began at at a steeper grade, but was able to finish strong when it leveled out.

Even though I wasn’t at my best, I was glad to have participated. Next time hopefully I’ll be feeling better and can stretch my legs with the hammerheads.

Strava GPS Link


September 2012: The Last Hurrah

Last climb of Grandfather

While it is easy to get carried away with my distant 2013 plans, but there are still a few things to be done in the 2012 season. This September will be my biggest month of the year, with two of my A events taking place in the middle and end of the month.

First will be a tune-up to hopefully jump-start my fitness. This weekend will be the Tour de Paws outside of Spartanburg. It is a metric century with rolling hills, which is perfect at this point of my training. My plan will be to try and stay with the front pack. I haven’t been riding as strongly recently, so that might not work out. All that matters is that I get quality miles to prepare me for the following week.

After a short taper, I will be revisiting familiar ground. I’ll be back in Lenoir, NC for Bridge to Bridge. I have fond memories of climbing out of the clouds last year, but this time I am hoping for some better weather for the rest of the ride. I’m not thrilled about climbing Grandfather Mountain again, but I know that it can be done.

After that is a free weekend, and there is a slight chance that I’ll travel to Johnson City, TN for their Climbing for a Cause. This would be a good opportunity to check out some of the riding there, but it all depends on how fatigued and/or broke I’ll be that weekend.

The season capper will be a mammoth ride in Georgia. It will be my first attempt at Six Gap Century, which is often mentioned as one of the toughest rides in the southeast. I previewed some of the gaps not too long ago, including Hogpen Gap, which will be the toughest climb of the day.

Phew, I get tired even thinking about it. The good news is that my season officially ends after Six Gap. There will be some other events, but they are going to be casual rides. This will be the last that I ‘push it’ in 2012.


Hincapie Gran Fondo Announced

Those who mourned the loss of the annual Marquis de Sade ride will appreciate this news. George Hincapie, Tour de France legend and Greenville superstar, has announced his own Gran Fondo taking place on 10/27/2012. It will feature many of the same quad-killing climbs as good ol’ De Sade.

What makes this ride special is the celebrity of Hincapie and perhaps some of his closest friends. He and his jersey company have become the face of Greenville cycling, and hopefully will continue to contribute to the community for years to come. Hincapie should be riding along with special guests. They have not yet been named, but I expect a lot of BMC riders (maybe Tejay, Cadel?), and perhaps some other tour pros. Since this is Hincapie’s retirement year, the inaugural event should be extra special.

The longer ride is 80 miles and features the toughest climbs in the area. It starts outside of Greenville and heads straight to the Tryon/Saluda area. I have long complained about Skyuka / White Oak Mountain in the past. We’ll be reunited again, as it appears to be the first major climb. After that will be its younger brother, Howard Gap. It appears that they have eliminated the dangerous descent, as we’ll take the higher elevation route to Saluda, alongside Interstate 26. From there we’ll descend Holbert Cove, and come back through Green River Cove Road. Since Tour de Leaves is the week prior, that means I’ll be climbing Green River two weekends in a row. Ugh!

While these climbs will certainly be painful, they should be equally gorgeous. The fall leaves should be at their brightest in late October. That’s a worthwhile trade-off for the cooler temperatures, which from my experience will most likely (hopefully?) require arm warmers and little else.

There have been a lot of rumblings ever since the event was announced. One of the reservations people have is that this is a Gran Fondo, meaning it is timed. That timing chip tends to attract the hardest of the core, but with a 3,500 rider maximum and a difficult course, I expect there to be a healthy mixture of paces. Regardless how fast or slow you are, there will probably be many others right with you. I know that when I’m going up Howard Gap, the timing chip isn’t going to get me to the top any faster.

The other thing is the price. This is an expensive ride. The longest route is $170, and it scales down from there. A jersey is included in the price for the long ride, so there is that, but it’s a lot more than most. Mitchell is close, but with all the logistics to get people and their bikes up and down the mountain, it makes sense. That said, I think the price is fair for this type of event. Copper Triangle was similar. It was close to the same price, also included a jersey, and was superbly organized. I expect the same, if not better, from Hincapie. However expensive, this event could immediately become a major attraction, putting the area on the map for many.

Hincapie Gran Fondo


New Section: Routes

A lot of the stuff I add to the website are things that I would want for myself. For example, my Climbs section was started because I was spending a lot of time looking for interesting roads to climb when training for my first Mitchell. It grew from there.

The Routes section came from the same place. When I am in the Blue Ridge area, I often don’t have time to seek out group rides to show me around. I am always looking for convenient routes that I can take by myself. I find a lot of them on the internet, and some I make for myself. It would have been amazing had there been a single resource where I could find them all. If I cannot find it, why not create it?

This section was conceived a few months ago when I was training for my second Mitchell. It would have been too time consuming to put together a list of cue sheets like the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club has done to perfection. Instead I decided to use newer technology and use RideWithGPS links. Because people all over use this software, the content is vast and limitless. It also allows people to view the route on a map, see the elevation profile, and download it to their GPS device.

To begin, I asked a few friends if I could use theirs. Special thanks go to Neil Turner, Michael Powell, Scott Baker, John McSwain, and Jeff Dilcher for providing a starting point.

As of right now, we have routes that begin in Spartanburg, North Greenville, Brevard, Sylva, Tryon, Atlanta, and the North Georgia Mountains. In time we will add plenty more.

I am looking for a good source of content for routes out all over the Southeast, but I would specifically like to find some from Asheville, Boone, and Roanoke. If you know of anyone who creates these for your town, please send them my way.

Keep an eye on this section as I expect it to grow. Keep in mind that there is danger in undertaking any of these routes. You’ll notice a disclaimer on every page for a reason. Do your research and make sure you are equipped before trying these. While some are easy, others are epic rides that few people can accomplish on their own.

Steep Climbs Routes

South Carolina Routes
North Carolina Routes
Georgia Routes


Mitchell Postscript

My wife took the video below of the Mitchell start. Now that is a lot of riders!

This has been a crazy and exciting week. After I returned from Mitchell, I received an overwhelming reaction. Many people congratulated by calling, emailing, or Facebooking. Many were impressed with my time. The website also blew up a little bit. I had the top two days of traffic ever on the website, approximately 2,500 views combined (including pictures). Thanks to everyone who contacted me.

I was pleased to congratulate a lot of friends and blog readers who also conquered the mountain, many of them for the first time. Some of them did amazingly well. Others barely managed to make their way up. A couple bailed out on the climbs due to cramps. Hopefully they learned what went wrong and will give it another try. All who participated should be proud. Most people would not even be able to conceive of such an event, much less get off the couch and give it a try.

Even though I am extremely pleased with my results, especially given how much I improved over last year, I cannot help but think that I left a little on the table. I could have done better. The (obsessed) competitor in me has thought about this over the last few days. I have a good idea what mistakes I made and what can be done to correct them.

Get in the right group: This was something I was very conscious of when beginning the race. I tried to get as close to the front as possible. I was probably about 4-5 rider rows back, which apparently was not enough. The front group hammered early and I could see them get further and further away. With many riders in the way, there was no way I could catch them. Next time I will get closer to the front and try to hang on.

Ride with my group: This was a major mistake. I felt pretty good on the way to Marion and had a tendency to outpace my group on hills. After the hills, I found myself on the front, continuing to work hard. When I was just riding in the pack, my heart rate would be low. Surprisingly, I found out on Strava that I was in Zone 4 for 61% of the entire ride. A lot of that was on the way to Marion. After I burnt a few matches during the rolling hills, I fell back from my back and couldn’t hang on. That probably only cost me a few minutes, if that, but it might have added up and tired me out on the climbs.

Drink, drink, and drink more: I had two bottles in my cages and one in my jersey. I didn’t touch the one in the jersey, then ditched in Marion when I needed it most. Next time I will make it a point to drink more. I may even bring along a couple supplements.

Watch the heart: Once I got into my groove on the Parkway, I was able to control my heart rate. I think this is part of the reason I was able to finish strong. When it went above 170, I would slow my pedaling and breath deep. There was one stretch where I made myself recover, watching the heart rate drop slowly to the 160-162 range. Once I caught my breath, I could go a little harder and make up time.

And that’s it. Now that Mitchell is over, I will slow down on the intense training and enjoy riding. There are still some big events on the summer calendar, and I will ramp up my training as I get closer, but I’m not concerned with time. Mitchell is the only ride that I’ll use as a personal benchmark.


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

IMAGE GALLERY

Terry’s Tap Room Ride

As luck would have it, New Years Eve fell on a Saturday and had ideal riding weather. I drove up to Spartanburg early in the morning to participate in their annual Terry’s Tap Room Ride. The local bar is no longer there, but the riding tradition continues. It includes two loops, one 60 miles and the other 40, starting at different times of the day. People have the option to do either of the two, or both to get a full century ride. I chose the latter. A pizza lunch courtesy of the Spartanburg Freewheelers was served in between rides.

Turnout was amazing. I am guessing there were just shy 100 riders in the morning. We all left together from Converse Plaza in a two-column cavalcade, occupying the right lane of a two-lane highway. We would ride together for the first 15 miles or so, then would separate into A and B rides. The pace was a little faster in the early going because we had all groups together. I got distracted in the early going, riding leisurely while talking to some people, and found my group dropped from the main pack. Not knowing that the split-point was coming ahead, I tried to catch up. An SUV was carefully passing riders, bobbing in and out of the right lane to pass cyclists. I stayed behind and drafted at a comfortable speed behind the car. When it passed, I sprinted back to the pack, catching them right before we reached the first stop. Oh well, at least I got some good exercise.

The A group was tempting, but not knowing the roads and not having ridden a lot over the winter, I played it safe and stuck with the B group. Most of the others in the group had also been off the bike, so we took it easy. The pace was advertised as 17-18. It was slightly faster in actuality, maybe in the 19 range. The course had a few rolling hills, but nothing terribly difficult. It looped out to Buffalo, SC, back through Pacolet, and then circled back to Spartanburg. It was comfortable, pleasant riding. I got to visit with with some people I hadn’t seen since the Beach Ride and other friends from the Upstate.

At some point we made a wrong turn. Our course was marked with arrows and a T. There was apparently a marking from another ride without a T that we followed anyway. That resulted in a few more miles added to the early route. We still managed to arrive to the break with time to spare. Of course the A Group had been there awhile. We scarfed down some pizza, refilled our bottles and then promptly got back on the road.

The riders converged for the second loop and we had some A riders, many of whom who have been participating in the Upstate Winter Bike League. Despite their presence, this was a slower pace than the early route. It was also no-drop, so we had to wait for a some laggards on a couple occasions. My lack of recent miles took a toll and I started to get tired, especially at the end where we hit some tougher climbs, including 10-12% grade grunt hill.

The ride had been just about 105 miles with 4,500 feet of climbing. Not bad for the last day of the year! My legs felt great, which I think is due to my strength training in the offseason. My arms and neck were a little sore, but they will get stronger as I spend more time on the bike.

Strava Link

IMAGE GALLERY