This post could have also been named:
* No blood, but a lot of sweat and some tears
* A big piece of humble pie
The day started pretty early, we met up at Coach Katie's house to load 14 people with 14 bikes into a van. Our SAG support for this ride was Paul from Black Bear Adventures and Keith from Keith's Triathlon Shop. They kept us safe and fed and hydrated on this adventure and were just AWESOME general!!!
12 bikes on top, 2 in the back... 14 people (incl our guides) with gear made for a tight squeeze.
Food and drink in the front.
The van drove us to our starting point at Green Creek, which is around 25 miles into the AOMM course. We bundled up some, because it was a little chilly at the start at 8am.
The first couple of miles flew by. I had some technical problems because I walked into red mud while taking a pit stop in the woods and filled up my cleats with mud. Well, that lesson I learned the hard way. Also, there were issues with my gearing, but Paul and Keith tinkered on the derailleur some and it was much better afterward.
We had rest stops every 20 miles more or less and having the support van following us along was great, because we were able to shed layers or add layers or change clothing, access to food that we brought along
This is one of our rest stops along the way. In general, the course is just pretty pretty pretty. Plenty to look at. While the big climbs are at the end, there are some good rollers to keep you honest along the way as well.
Around mile 55 for us (mile 80 on the official course), the real climbing begins. Actually all you do starting from then on is climbing until you are at the top of Mitchell. Spare me the details of the 1 mile downhill and 2 mile downhill stretches on the Parkway.... Those are just little teasers where you loose all the elevation that you climbed before and then you have to climb it all over again.
The stretch on Hwy 80 is around 10 miles and while the first couple of miles tick by fairly fast, once the real climbing start, things started to drag out quite some. There are markers on the road "3.5 miles to the Pkway", 3 miles to the Pkway" etc and it just took a real long time to get from one marker to the next.
Before turning on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I made another fuel and water stop at the support van.
While the climbing is just going on and on and on, the views are better than on Highway 80 for sure. On this stretch I really started to struggle mentally. I am not saying that my legs felt all to great anymore either, but mentally it was even worse. In theory of course I know that it's all climbing, but once you are on the Parkway and you climb and then turn a corner and the you climb some more and then make another turn and there is more mountain to climb and then turn another corner and it still goes up and up and up. In the meantime, the number on the Garmin is only moving very slowly.
Up and up we go.
Faking a half smile for the camera, this was also not very far in on the Parkway, so the spirits were not completely destroyed (yet).
It went downhill (mentally and physically) pretty fast on the Parkway for me. Once again, the number on the Garmin just didn't move and I got frustrated and tired and cranky and my feet started killing me, because I was mashing the pedals for the last 1 hour (or possible more)... I was moaning and groaning with each pedal stroke for a little while and just hoping that nobody was around to witness the sadness of it all.
Eventually, I turned another corner and while I was happy to see our support van, I also saw Mount Mitchell still towering over us. I knew there were around 5 miles left to the top and still over 1,000 feet of climbing left... I rolled into the overlook and started to have a good little cry.
At the Ridge Junction Overlook, I called it a day yesterday... I was just so over it at this point.
I think, I would have been physically able to complete the ride yesterday, but I wasn't mentally in it to pedal for another 40 to 60 minutes (not kidding, that was the pace I was doing at this point) to the top.
Some of our group went to the top, some didn't go up and one girl made a wrong turn on the Parkway and ended up with 100 miles for the day. We picked her up again on the Highway 80 turn off and when we got her, she was all smiles still... I admire such a spirit, I would have been a bawling heap on the side of the road for sure.
Overall, this was a great ride. It was a big piece of humble pie, but it was still a great ride and I am glad that I had a chance to ride most of the course and most of the climbing before d-day. Now I know what to expect... I am not saying it's going to be pretty, but come race day, I am going up that mountain all the way.
The icing on the cake of the day, was the amazing group of people I got to spent the day with.... Just a nice road trip with some cycling thrown in... Like 73 miles of cycling in 6h 20m (stops not timed) for me, others did it faster.... Good day... Hard day, but good day.
Pic Credit: Black Bear Adventures and Malone Coaching. Some of them are my own ones.