Tag Archives: year in review

2011 Rides of the Year

With a brand new year right around the corner, it is a good time to wrap up my three-part best of the year series. Click to read parts one and two.

This year I had the opportunity to participate in a number of wonderful rides. Some were a lot of fun. Some were just hours of suffering. Some of them were both fun and miserable at the same time.

It is difficult to rank the rides since they are so different. You cannot really compare a flat ride near the coast to a tortuous ride at mile-high elevations. I have divided the rides into three categories.

2011 Favorite Rides of the Year

These are the rides that I enjoyed the most, whether it be for the best scenery, an exciting environment, or just the thrill of the ride. You’ll notice that many of my my mountain expeditions don’t fall under this category. That doesn’t mean they are not fun. They are, but they are more of a challenge that I work for. They also enable to be in top fitness that helps me enjoy the ‘easier’ ride.

Blue Ridge Breakaway

1. Blue Ridge Breakaway – While this was a challenge with a couple long climbs, it was not nearly as difficult as Mount Mitchell, Bridge to Bridge, or any of the other big mountain rides. That’s not to say it was easy. Not by any stretch. But it was exciting and the long descents down the Blue Ridge Parkway and then Maggie Valley were exhilarating and the best single experiences I’ve had on a bike this year. Not to mention this was probably the most organized ride I participated all year.

2. Bike MS: Breakaway to the Beach – This was also a challenge because it required endurance to ride 200 miles in a weekend, but that is not why it is here. It is my favorite because of the camaraderie in working with a team. Even though we got caught in the rain on that first day, we had a lot of fun with it. Beer after riding Saturday and a walk to the beach on Sunday didn’t hurt.

3. Assault on the Carolinas – Like Blue Ridge Breakaway, this was a challenge, but the scenery was overwhelming. This one also had a lot of crowds who cheered us as we left and came back, plus had a party with a live band and good food afterward. The city of Brevard really brings it for this event and made it one of the most memorable.

4. Freewheelers Beach Ride: Spartanburg to Charleston – This ride can be described in one word: EPIC. It’s not everyday you can ride across the state for 250 miles at near 20 miles per hour, laughing and having a good time all along the way. It felt great to start in the hills and end up at the beach in a beautiful cabin.

5. After the Bridge Run Ride – This ride was insanely flat and fast. I was still rough around the edges and would improve a lot over the months to follow, but this was an exciting test of my abilities. I held on with the lead group as long as possible, then waited for friends and rode back with them.

2011 Toughest Rides of the Year

Blue Ridge Parkway sign

1. Assault on Mt. Mitchell – This is a tough call. All of these are very difficult and some had tougher climbs than others. I’m going with Mitchell as the final one because that long, grueling climb was a beast on tired legs. It lived up to all of my expectations and my legs were almost dead when I reached the top.

2. Tour de Cashiers – This has more total climbing than any other ride and a lot of people had told me that it’s a tougher ride than Mitchell. It was no slouch, but I still say it is a hair below Mitchell. Even though the climbs are insane, you get to descend and take breaks in-between.

3. Marquis de Sade – It lives up to the name. The Freewheelers throw in the most difficult climbs in the Tigerville/Tryon/Saluda area. White Oak Mountain and Green River Cove were among the toughest climbs all year. Mini-climbs like Packs Mountain and Callahan were no slouches either.

4. Bridge to Bridge – Aside from Grandfather Mountain and the long climb up 181, this was not bad. This year was a easier because the weather forced us off the Parkway and we missed the Linn Cove Viaduct climb. The other climbs were either moderate or rolling.

5. Hot Doggett 100 – Compared to the others, this ride was under the radar. I knew it had climbing, but had no idea it would be so difficult. It wasn’t just the major climbs, but there were steep mini-climbs all over the place, even towards the end of the ride down from Sam’s Gap back to town.

2011 Local Rides of the Year

I write a lot about the mountains, but not many people know that I reside in Columbia, SC. Although I tend to commute for a lot of my adventures, there were some great rides at home.

1. Bike MS: Breakaway to the Beach – This is a local ride in a loose sense. It begins in Camden, just outside of Columbia, and ends at a NC beach.

2. Tour de Lake – This was a nice route across the dam and then around Lake Murray. There was also an option for people to ride around just half the lake and take a boat back, which a nice, different touch.

3. Ride2Recovery/SVPC Habitat for Humanity – I am including both of these together because they were the same route and shared many of the same organizers. For Columbia, this route is a nice challenge with some good climbing.

4. COPS: A Ride to Remember – Even though an unusually cold day scared away some of the attendance, there was nothing cooler than following a police cruiser for 60+ miles.

5. Colon Cancer Challenge – This was the first major local ride of the year, which goes around the Peak and Little Mountain area. Because it was so early, we had a good crowd and I found a good riding group.

2011 Climbs of the Year

I have already covered my personal year in review for 2011. Now is a good opportunity to live up to the website name and talk about specific climbs. I’m often asked if a certain climb is longer or more difficult than another, so it seems the best way to highlight climbs is to list them by both length and difficulty. That is exactly what I have done here. Note that a lot of the distances vary based on GPS readings. I used Strava segment pages to estimate most of them. A couple of those are split into two segments, so they will be two links for the same climb. I have also linked the titles to the corresponding blog posts where I accomplished the climb.

Climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway

2011 Longest Climbs of the Year

1. Mt Mitchell – 27 miles. The actual distance of the climb is arguable since the pitch first begins a few miles from Marion, plus there is a short descent midway through the parkway climb. If you ask my legs for the 4 hours it took to cover this mileage, they’ll say it is a single climb. Strava

2. Lake Logan to Blue Ridge Parkway – 11.1 miles. This may have been a relatively easy grade, but it was lengthy and kicked up at the end. It was one of the more enjoyable climbs because of the scenic lake and waterfalls on the way up, plus I had some good company. Strava

3. Full 181 Climb – 10.7 miles. The first major climb of the Bridge to Bridge ride was a beast. It was not terribly steep, but seemed to go on forever. Strava

4. Waterrock Knob – 7.2 miles. This was almost 6-8% the entire way, which isn’t tough on it’s own, but can take a toll over a long period of time. This took awhile. I think it may have been closer to 9 miles after the climb was finished. Strava

5. Watershed – 6.5 miles. I have said often here that this is my favorite climb. That hasn’t changed almost a year later. I climbed this a number of times and enjoyed each one more than the last. Strava

6. Caesar’s Head Mountain – 6.4. This was my first major climb without stopping. Let me tell you, it was a beast. Strava

7. Sam’s Gap – 6.3 miles. I think this may have been slightly longer than the Strava reading. Again, I had some good company, so this didn’t feel as tough as it might have been. Strava

8. Walnut Creek Road – 5.4 miles. This was the last major climb of the Tour de Cashiers. Spray painted at the very top were the words ‘Well Done!’. Indeed. Strava 1. Strava 2.

9. Price Lake, Blue Ridge Parkway – 5.3 miles. I was surprised by the length of this climb when reviewing the ride in hindsight. It seemed a lot shorter. This was on my return from climbing Linn Cove Viaduct. Strava

10. Hogback Mountain – 4.8 miles. This is one of the two ways to go up Hogback Mountain and is slightly longer than the School Street climb. Strava

Last climb of Grandfather.

2011 Toughest Climbs of the Year

1. Grandfather Mountain – 2.1. It may seem surprising to rate a relatively short climb at the top. Trust me, Grandfather is a beast. The entire climb has a grade in the upper teens, some of which pushing 20%. The very end of the climb, as you can sort of tell from the image above, is almost straight up at 20%. Strava

2. Mt Mitchell – 27 miles. This is a close second to Grandfather, almost a tie. The only thing that keeps Mitchell at second is that it doesn’t have a very steep grade except for certain sections of Mount Mitchell park. It is just a long, arduous grind to the top. Strava

3. Skyuka Mountain Rd / White Oak Mountain – 3.8 miles. While this isn’t as steep as Grandfather, it isn’t too far behind. The lower part of the climb gets to the upper teens and the upper section ‘levels off’ at around 10%. Strava

4. Howard Gap – 1.1 miles. Short and steep. The climb kicks up from about 8% to 15% and doesn’t let up until the top. I failed the first time and barely succeeded the second. Strava

5. Full 181 Climb – 10.7 miles. What this climb lacks in steepness, it makes up in length. It just keeps going and going at close to a 10% grade for miles and miles. Strava

Cullowhee Mountain

6. Tilly Creek / Ellijay – 3.7 miles. This was the first big climb of the Tour de Cashiers and in my opinion the toughest. It is like a longer and less intense Howard Gap. It stays at around the same pitch and has long stretches that play mind tricks with you. Strava 1. Strava 2

7. Waterrock Knob – 7.2 miles. Most Parkway climbs are not terribly difficult, but this one turned out to be a lot tougher than I expected. This was partly due to the length, and also the 8-9% grade. Strava

8. Caesar’s Head – 6.4. Caesar’s Head is a combination of lengthy and brutal. What makes it more difficult is that it does not have the same grade the entire time. Just when you get comfortable, it kicks up a few percentage points and makes you sweat even more. Strava

9. Lake Logan to Blue Ridge Parkway – 11.1 miles. Again, the length is the tricky part here even though the beginning of the climb is relatively modest. It gets really challenging towards the end, just short of the parkway when you are ready to be finished. Strava

10. Walnut Creek Road – 5.4 miles. This is the last major climb of the Tour de Cashiers and many will argue that it is the most difficult. It is no cakewalk, to be sure, but I thought it was a lot easier than Tilly Creek. There are breaks and leveling off points to allow you to recover during the climb. Strava 1. Strava 2

2011 Year in Review

It has been a terrific year, far surpassing my expectations and goals. I started the year as a cycling novice. In fact, the first name of this blog was actually ‘Cycle Rookie.’ I was training for something that seemed extraordinarily ambitious for a cyclist of my limited experience, The Assault on Mount Mitchell. A number of people even tried to talk me out of it.

Not only was the event literally a steep climb, but it was also a figurative steep climb for me to get myself into training shape. The latter was the more of the reason for what became my blog name, although the name became more fitting in time. It just so happened that during my training for this event, I discovered a passion for something in myself. I have always enjoyed both being out in nature and also physical exercise. Cycling was the perfect marriage of these interests and I was hooked on the first climb.

My first taste of the mountains was the Marquis de Sade ride. I halfway expected or feared that I would not complete the ride. I had heard and read horror stories of the tough climbs and even though I had trained well to that point, I had no idea what to expect. White Oak Mountain was easily the toughest thing I had ever done in my life athletically. Green River Cove Road was a close second.

Me on top of White Oak Mountain

The Marquis de Sade ride left me with a thirst for more. I followed it a few weeks later with the Assault of the Carolinas in Brevard, NC, which was my first attempt at Caesar’s Head Mountain — another killer! This ride had some breathtaking descents that made the climbing more than worthwhile.

After a number of other local rides, I headed back into the mountains to get more training. Saluda became my destination of choice and I made a few trips there during the year.

There was one last hurrah before Mitchell, and it turned out to be comparable in difficulty. The Tour de Cashiers was a bear. It was not the same type of ride as Mitchell, but had more cumulative climbing. A couple of those climbs gave me trouble, but they turned out to be the perfect tune-up for the main event two weeks later.

Walnut Creek Rd.

Walnut Creek Road, the last climb of Tour de Cashiers

Finally the main event arrived. Even though I approached it carefully and cautiously, I still surprised myself with a strong performance. I finished the Assault on Mount Mitchell in just over eight hours, about an hour quicker than I had hoped for. Even though the weather was not perfect, it was a feeling of elation when I crossed the finish line. Months and months of training for a singular goal, and I succeeded with flying colors. It felt amazing.

After Mitchell, I was on the fence about what to do next. I rode locally quite a bit and traveled some, completed my second double century. Finally I settled on main summer goal, which turned out to be the Hot Doggett in Mars Hill, NC. That was also quite an experience, but of a more difficult kind. I had my own struggles, which I got through, and then I helped a friend through a difficult time.

Afterward I made a few more trips to the mountains, including the Blue Bridge Breakaway, which turned out to be my favorite ride.

Blue Ridge Breakaway

When I planned my fall schedule, I loaded it up with some insane events so that I would finish the season with a bang. The first major challenge was very much like Mount Mitchell. It was Bridge to Bridge, which finished at the top of Grandfather Mountain with a 20% grade. Ouch. It hurt, but I made it up intact.

Last climb of Grandfather.

The next event was the MS Ride, a double century and my first experience on an extended ride with a ‘team.’ While this was less of a challenge, it was a blast and a great way to spend a weekend with friends.

The grandaddy of them all, as it turned out, was not a T-shirt ride. It was a ride with the Spartanburg Freewheelers across the state, from Spartanburg to Charleston. We left at 4:30am and arrived on the beach at 8:30pm, exhausted and elated.

Again, what an amazing year. While I’ve had some great experiences in my life, I don’t believe I’ve ever had such an adventure-packed year as this one. Now that I have an idea what is out there for me to accomplish, I expect plenty more adventures to come.

5,500 miles on the bike
17 century rides
3 double century rides
10 organized mountain rides
254,000 elevation feet gained
200,000 calories burned

Also to my surprise, a ton of people started reading this silly blog this year. Traffic and subscribers gradually went up every month and that seems to be continuing. It is nice to be out on a ride, meet someone and hear ‘Are you that guy with the blog?’ So far the feedback has been positive. Thanks for sharing it with me.