A few weeks ago, the Masher was able to enjoy a return visit to the Great Smoky Mountains, well part of his journey was enjoyable! The training ride we had planned for early spring turned out much more eventful than we had hoped, and it left us all yearning for another chance to conquer the climb to the highest elevation in Tennessee, after we had to stop at the summit due to inclimate winter weather setting in. There had been some recent discussion among RAM Cycling friends about planning another group ride from the Gatlinburg area up to the top and back down, but too many schedule challenges have prevented the group event. Maybe a spontaneous ride can happen, but not planned at this time.
Masher took advantage of a weekend get-away with his wife (one last break before school and fall sports crank up for the kiddos), and caught a break in the stormy weather long enough to make the trek back up to Clingmans! I departed my cabin in the mountain village of Cobbly Nob around 7:00am, about 15 miles east of Gatlinburg, and rode along Hwy 321 into and through downtown, in route to Hwy 441, which crosses the Smoky Mountains into Cherokee, NC.
The sky was pretty cloudy, and I had already decided that if I rode into rain, I would just turn back this time (to avoid another stuck atop the mountain adventure) and ride back to the cabin, not risking my safety or interrupting my wife’s get-away to rescue me. The local forecast predicted 60% chance for scattered thunderstorms, but I remained optimistic. It was more than humid, as I was sweating heavily only 5 miles into the climbing, and by the time I reached Newfound Gap, nearly seven miles below the summit, my entire kit was soaked, gloves and shorts included. While my solo ride was not a rapid pace pushing myself for speed, I had a strong ride making it all the way to the Clingmans parking lot from Gatlinburg without stopping a single time. I had planned to stop and rest at the Newfound Gap overlook and the traffic was a little congested at the time I rolled though, so I continued onto the Clingmans Dome access rode thinking I would pull off at the first pull out.
Into the clouds I rode, as the fog was very thick in this higher elevation. I guess the visibility was probably 20-40 yards, making me a little nervous about traffic, but the amount of vehicles on this road was much lower than on the main highway. The first pull out came and went, and I thought to myself “I just may make this complete climb without stopping … what an achievement that would be.” Well that’s all it took. Now my mind was set, there would be no stopping, although my legs and butt were very ready to get a break several times over the last seven mile climb. Especially after that one brief downhill/flat portion for about a mile and a half, with only about 3 miles to summit! Nevertheless, I pushed on, and rode strong into the parking lot with a smile on my face, as I reminisced about the first time I rode into this parking lot, thinking I may be suffering from hypothermia.
Immediately reaching the top, I was cooled down a little as I spun my road bike up the pedestrian trail to the sign located in front of the visitor’s center, and felt the stiff breeze pushing across the top of the mountains, as I enjoyed my first rest stop. I calmly ate a Cliff bar, while drinking a bottle of water and basked in the glory of my accomplishment cycling to the top of another mountain, and I relished the many compliments from passers by, as they walked up to the dome. What are the odds of running into someone I went to high school with at the summit? I have no idea about odds, but I bet they increase when you attend a different school every year … and yes indeed, I was greeted by Greg, whom I had graduated with twenty years ago. He and his wife (who also happen to be cyclists and runners, even coach cross country and track teams at schools in KY) were celebrating their wedding anniversary by driving up the mountain and hiking up to Clingmans Dome.
Not wanting to tighten up too much, I changed into a long sleeve dry jersey and saddled back up for the ride home. WOW! My first twenty mile mountain descent was awesome fun! The initial take-off from Clingmans parking lot was fast, and I was a little timid due to some stretches of the roadway still being damp. As I reached Hwy 441, there were a few technical curves rolling past the Newfound Gap and in the next few miles. After that, it is all out fun rolling down the mountain, weaving back and forth, through the short tunnels, and flat out flying. The clouds made it somewhat difficult to see some of the rough part of the pavement, but it didn’t slow me down as I got to the bottom pretty quickly. I would later learn that my top speed was just over 50 mph after I uploaded my ride to Strava. Fun, fun!
The descents I’ve ridden in the blue ridge foothills on the Hincapie Gran Fondo were too steep and too technical for me to enjoy. The Assault on Mt Mitchell I’ve ridden twice finishes at the summit of the highest elevation in North Carolina. The first time I rode up Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains stopped at the top due to weather. After cycling back down this time, I’m convinced, the ride back down is now my favorite part of taking on these challenging mountain climb rides! And, as usual, it has left me yearning for more.
In the middle of August, we are experiencing some of the best cycling weather imaginable. And for me, I have settled into a pretty regular cycling pattern. This pattern includes at least 3 rides per week with a longer ride on Saturday or Sunday. I am well over 3,000 miles for the year and know that 4-5,000 is reachable. This is well beyond my initial goal for the year.
And how has this occurred? I would say it is a direct result of some awesome weather. When have we ever experienced such a great moderate run of temps in July and August? There is nothing like going for a ride on July 4 and having a high temperature of 75 degrees. And this has occurred time after time here in the Bluegrass this year. This must be what it feels like to live in San Diego.
I have continued to improve my average speed and endurance. My cycling skills continue to improve. But the most important thing I have experienced: true friends in the BCC. There are many amazing people in the BCC, but I am fortunate to include some of the top riders as true friends; Rusty, Linn, Gene, Mark, Tim, Oleg, Ken, Stephanie, Adam, and Richard. But I am most fortunate to have the Masher (Kevin) as a true friend who has encouraged me to become the best cyclist and person I can be.
As we continue towards the end of August, I continue to believe this is and will continue to be my best cycling season. I am hopeful that I will continue to improve my speed and endurance. But I am most excited to continue developing true friendships with some amazing people.
Good riding!! And better friendships!
It wasn’t that long ago, I was an overweight husband, out of shape father, aspiring cyclist, poor fitness role model friend, individual often in search of changing my destiny. Happily, I write this blog today as the same person, however, missing some of the previous adjectives! I was recently discussing cycling, running, and fitness in general, at a summer concert at the Old Capitol lawn in Frankfort, KY with a great friend and fellow cyclist Jen Miklavcic, and she mentioned how she thoroughly enjoyed reading our stories on the website. Then, I saw the look of intimidation in her eyes when I mentioned we should get together for a ride sometime, as I thanked her for the nice blogging compliments.
She shared her reservations about riding with me, stating she would be worried that she would “hold me up, or not be able to hang.” I was a little surprised, and assured her that I don’t always race when I ride, as I informed her that I appreciate cycling with friends as a means of enjoying the ride for the scenery, fellowship, and fitness, without always trying to better my average speed. She told me I was basically out of her league, but there were many people that could benefit from learning about where I came from to get where I am now … especially since it wasn’t that long ago that I was also out of my own league from where my fitness is now. So, as she requested, here’s for you Jen, and hopefully a positive reading for others, as well.
Less than two years ago, I weighed between 240-250 pounds (depending on which day of the week it was), I would struggle to complete a century ride averaging 13-15 mph and needing at least a week to recover, mostly riding 20-40 miles at a time and feeling like I was going all out to break a 15 mph pace, often feeling tired and low in energy as I tried to juggle work with all the active things I wanted to do at home with my wife and sons, along with my cycling adventures. I now weigh around 200 pounds and though I’m no body builder, I’ve converted a serious amount of body fat into muscle strength. A normal ride for me now, can be anything from 20-80 miles, in which I will easily average a pace at 17 mph or above, and have recently completed numerous multiple century months (including riding the flatter ones at paces from 16-19 mph). I’ve even been able to cross train some now by also running occasionally. The depressing adjectives that described my person in the first paragraph were real, and now are a lifetime away because I chose to change my destiny by deciding to alter my lifestyle.
In full disclosure, my first decision wasn’t a lifestyle change. Though I wanted to be the opposite of the person I was a couple years ago, I was not committed to the idea of giving up all the things I loved, such as beer, chips, cakes, soft drinks, etc. and replacing them with rigorous work outs, riding harder and faster (getting dropped by the fast group; which ultimately feels like failure). But much like the time I gave up smoking cigarettes (yes, I was once a smoker for nearly 15 years!), when the time was right, when I truly wanted to be the other person, it was easy to transform. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight, and of course, it wasn’t exactly “easy” to do the things I’ve done to be who I am today, but it is much more simple to manage mentally, when I think about who I was and what I’ve gone through to become who I am today.
The two things that keep me motivated the most about living the lifestyle I enjoy now are my mental attitude of thinking “I’ve still got a ways to go” (my wife constantly says “why can’t you just take a compliment?” when I respond with this statement to her encouragement about my improved health), and the other thing that also keeps me going is my inner peace. Make no mistake, all the other changes help too, including the outpouring of compliments I get from friends and family (especially the moments when I have friends try to outdo me on Strava segments or challenge me on a hill climb or county line sprint). Other motivators are personal messages I get, the personal records I achieve on rides, the better endurance and speed I have from improving my overall fitness, the pure joy I have from feeling much more energized as I’m enthused to juggle all the husband and fatherly duties waiting on me after a long, hard day at work.
In closing, the best advice I can offer if you find yourself wanting to be someone other than the true complete person you see in the mirror, is start out with a serious challenge, but don’t focus on the entire big picture … the enormousness of the lifestyle change can be enough to discourage you and easily knock you off course. Instead, listen to your inner peace: focus on minor changes, one at a time, and as you begin to see the results from these changes, you can find the big picture motivation to stay the course, keep the grind going, knowing you like your person better after the results than before! And remember my focus: there’s always room for improvement, so while it’s great to celebrate victories, don’t dwell on them, because you’ve “still got a ways to go!”
Please know this, Jen and any other friends (whether you typically ride 4 mph faster or slower than me), I enjoy cycling with all of you. I get a sense of passion and happiness out of riding with both groups at times. So if I go out and pour my guts out trying to hang on a group way out of my league, or if I choose to spin more casually with a group that thinks I’m out of their league, the most important fact is that we’re riding our bikes, and putting a positive spin on our fitness, both mentally and physically. Yes, I’m happy with the person I’ve become, but I aspire to do more (juggling the balance between content and acceptance is much better than avoiding looking into a mirror). I strive to be a better, more active father, husband, employee, and I dream of being a faster, stronger, cyclist with more endurance and stamina in life. To achieve these, I know there’s always room for improvement, but I’m never out of anyone’s league, ’cause I’ve still got a ways to go, and I’d love to stay the course while enjoying a ride with any of my friends at times!
So sorry for the delay in writing and publishing summaries of these great rides. Horsey weekend fell right after AOMM, in the same week, and I was sorta ready for a mental and physical vacation momentarily, so I just didn’t recap it immediately, then it was no longer a priority. After completing the Preservation Pedal century ride a few weeks later, things were really busy with work and it got pushed aside, as well. I know, both excuses are fairly lame, but please forgive me anyway.
Horsey Hundred weekend rides were on May 24-25, and as usual, around two thousand cyclists of all varieties showed up to ride one or multiple routes on Saturday and/or Sunday. Personally, I rode the century route on Saturday, then the half century on Sunday. It capped off an epic week for me. Completing AOMM on Monday, then a couple moderate rides during the week, and ending with 155 miles over our beautiful rolling, challenging terrain littered with plank wood fence horse farms and bourbon distilleries was epic enough, however I chose to run 4 miles or so after the Horsey century with Toby, Nate and Schmidty (my Ironman friends). Needless to mention, my legs were tired by the time the Memorial Day holiday arrived. The highlight of the ride for me was getting to finish the last 10 miles with my best friend, the Renaissance Man and few other local cycling friends as my group finally caught up to them near Keeneland race track.
I certainly recommend the Horsey Hundred event to all cyclists, whether you ride centuries or you joy ride on trails with your children. It offers a route for everyone and the folks that organize the whole weekend always do a great job trying to cater to all the variety of cyclists, and it is the single event that raises the most cycling awareness in my home town of Georgetown, KY. If only more anti-cycling folks could see the positives that are generated by the tourism and economical boost our community receives from such a great cycling event, maybe they would be a little more respectful and thankful to share the road with us!
Preservation Pedal rides continued it’s tradition of moving location every year, and offered cycling routes on Saturday June 21, 2014 from historic Winchester, KY. This was the third century ride offered in the new KY Century Challenge that was started last year by Adventure Tourism KY. The challenge offers 4 events with century cycling rides, and any rider that completes at least three of the century routes can purchase a special jersey at cost, while riders completing all 4 will receive the jersey free. The ride had an awesome start/finish spot in the heart of downtown and I thoroughly enjoyed the ice cold Ale-8-One beverages served at the finish. If you’ve never had one, it’s a special ale with a flavor of sweet ginger, that’s made and bottled in Winchester. We refer to it as “Kentucky’s soft drink.” I recommend trying it, and it goes down great after any hot day on the bike!
The century route was very nice, with much of it along the Kentucky River basin over very rural roads, lightly traveled. It was my first time riding most of these roads, and I look forward to going back to the area for more cycling rides. Kudos to the Preservation Kentucky group for continuing the event and doing a great job hosting it. All the volunteers are very nice and wanted to converse and educate folks about the historic parts of the ride. I follow their organization on Twitter and occasionally click on the links posted and view the stories and pictures they publish. All the stuff is very interesting when I can find the time to check it out.
The PP ride this year was a little bitter-sweet for me because my grandmother, Ma’amwaw Lucy Pearl (my last grandparent), passed away on the Friday morning, the day before. The way it happened was somewhat of a blessing, and the ride for me was kind of a mental get-away. I certainly enjoyed the time I got to spend on my bike on beautiful scenic KY backroads, especially getting to hang out with most of my cycling friends before, during, and after the ride! However, my heart just wasn’t into the ride, but I’m glad I did it anyway and now that I’ve successfully completed the first three routes in the century challenge, I look forward to riding the last one, as well. It will also be a route on new roads for me as it’s hosted in Elizabethtown, my birthplace town. If (when) I can complete it, I will have managed to finish all 4 century rides in the challenge again this year (I think there was only around 40 that did all 4 last year), placing me in a minority that I’m proud to belong!
Again, sorry for the delay in publishing these great ride recaps, but please put them on your list for next year! They are both great rides that deserve to see more cyclists.
I don’t cycle to add days to my life, I cycle to add life to my days … @KPtheMasher
Renaissance And Masher have landed on the east coast at Oak Island, NC. Today’s ride was a pleasure ride, casually strolling along the avenue parallel to the beach, checking out the local scenery and enjoying the brisk ocean breeze. The majority of the 25 mile ride was along the coast with a brief jaunt across the Atlantic Intercoastal waterway and back, finding a few Strava segments and finishing with one of our own in the last half mile to our condo. See our Strava details on the homepage to view the route.
Why Oak Island? Why not? Actually, we are making our first visit to Oak Island to witness the wedding of my brother later today (July 14, 2014) to his fiance Andrea (Andi) B, as this is where they have vacationed with her family for years now, and they finally decided to tie the knot as she always dreamed of marrying at a beach wedding. So, technically, we didn’t choose Oak Island, but we’re happy to be here. Wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and neither would our bicycles (as usual).
Since we are on summer family vacation, we have not made plans for the rest of our week, but I’m sure it will include cycling, along with beach time, pool time, beer time, sun time, and much needed fellowship time throughout! Stay tuned to our Strava page for future routes here on the island and see if we can crack any segment Top 10s!