May 21st 2012, thousands of cyclists would gather in Spartanburg and bicycle 101 miles to the top of Mt. Mitchell. This is not a ride to do without some planning, so let me back up…
The Assault on Mt. Mitchell is a ride I have done several times in my past. Beginning in my 20’s, I have ridden this event once each decade of my life. The last time I biked this event was in my early 40’s. It was during my 40’s my life got a little busy and my bicycle began to collect dust. When I turned 50, my doctor placed me on two different types of blood pressure medications. Between that and the fact that I weighed 278 lbs, I realized it was time for a life style change. I knew I needed to exercise more and so I turned to what I have always loved, cycling.
I started bicycling again in April 2011. I went for a 7 mile bike ride. When I returned back home I felt horrible. A short hill almost had done me in. I had never been so out of shape before. I was wondering if it was even possible for me to get back anywhere near the shape I had once been in. My oldest son began to ride with me and encouraged me to continue. We set a high goal to be able to ride the Assault on Marion in 2011, which was only a month away. 7 miles turned into 14, then 20 and so on. I was building, but this was a slow process. Before I knew it, the Marion ride was upon us. My son and I with two other friends decided to use Mt. bikes to ride the 73 miles to Marion. With my weight, a street bike was not comfortable and I needed a more upright position. My weight at this time was close to 250 lbs. It took me 6 hours to go from Spartanburg to Marion in 2011. It was a long time on the bike, but I felt really good about it. I then set my goal to ride to the top of Mitchell in 2012.
I continued to ride, adding mileage and shedding the pounds. I complained to my Doctor about one of my BP prescriptions called a beta-blocker. It was keeping my heart rate down and made me feeling like I was fighting with my heart rate on the hills. When I got my weight was down to 240 lbs, the beta-blocker was removed.
I switched over to riding my Trek 5000. It was very uncomfortable at first and I had to raise the handlebars. I continued to train to achieve my goal for Mt. Mitchell. I have always set myself goals as it helps to keep me focused on target. At this point I had one goal and one material reward set. My goal was to make it to the top of Mt Mitchell in 2012 and the reward was going to be a new bike when I lost 50 lbs. It was around August –September I weighed in at less than 230 lbs and the purchase of a new bike was made.
I was increasing my training adding mountainous climbs, longer rides and continuing to drop more weight. My average speed was increasing and so I began to join a few local group rides. I was now able to average 15 to 16 mph on a 30+ mile ride. To a lot of folks this may not seem like much, but I was very pleased to be making this kind of progress. My son, 28 years of age was still riding with me and whooping me on the bike. There was one time I recall my son and I were on a hill climb and he was asking me numerous questions. I finally said to him “Do you want to ride or talk, because I can’t do both?” as I was gasping for breath.
After a year of training for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, it was now upon me. I had pre-registered and had a room at the Marriott at Renaissance Park. The Marriott is very close to the starting line and the closer we got the more bikes we saw. The town has been invaded by high dollar two wheeled vehicles.
As I tried to check in, I was informed there were no rooms ready. I guess there is some type of local event that weekend and the rooms were slow to be cleaned. While waiting for a room I decide to head over to the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium and pickup my packet and information. There were thousands of packets lined in alphabetical order. I located the “S” table where I had to sign and show a photo ID to pickup my packet. The fellow assisting me was very helpful, offering additional advice for the ride. He suggested making use of the baggage ticket so that I would be sure to have dry clothes on top of Mt. Mitchell or in Marion when I arrive. The trucks were already in the parking lot and being loaded with tote bags. I cannot begin to grasp the overall logistical nightmare of planning an event of this magnitude combined with its unique dynamics. Overall, the volunteers, support crews and organizers did a marvelous job!
I finally get situated in my room so I can now head out for dinner. I take in some pasta and salad, then stop at the local store and get a few bananas, snacks and cereal and then back to my room. One thing I always do is wipe down and wax my bike before a ride. I check the chain, shifting and then oil. If you want the bike to take of you the next day, then you better take care of it the night before. The night before is also the time to get the rider number on your bike and jersey. I was not using the rider number for the tote bag, so I attached it to my bike in addition to the bike number. Often I have seen rider numbers in the roadway during a ride and I did not want to have any conflicts with identifying my bike later. Finally, ready for sleep…
Monday, May 21, 2012 morning comes fast. 4 AM wakeup. I fix myself a small bowl of cornflakes and have a banana. I double check my bike, Garmin, water bottles and so on. Clothed and ready to roll head downstairs at 6 AM. As I arrive at the 7th floor elevator, there were several folks waiting with their bikes. Each time the elevator opened, we could not get in because they were already full. After about 4-5 full passes of elevator door openings we decided to press the up button. The “going up” elevator door opened and it was empty. We were able to get 6 or 7 people with bikes into that space. As we continued our trip up, the door would open 2 more times and I could hear the aggravation in the voices of those still waiting for an elevator. That elevator stopped at almost every floor on the way back down.
Free! I made it to the lobby and then out the main doors. Bikes were everywhere! A cyclist’s paradise. I remember looking around at the variety of bikes and thinking about how much money invested in bicycles that was located in this one place and time. Then I began looking at the cyclists themselves and feeling slightly intimidated. I proceed to get inside the pack and lined up a little more than half way within the group. I stood there for about 10 minutes before the start and made idle chat with those around me. Where you from, what is your goal to the top and so on. I had set my goal at 7 to 8 hours to the top, remembering it took me 6 hours to get to Marion last year.
As the timer counts down those last few seconds of time, all you hear is the sound of thousands of shoes clipping in. When the start kicks off, it was another 15 seconds or so before I was able to begin moving. Alertness is on an all time high for the 1st 20miles. Folks were losing their water bottles causing cyclists to brake and swerve. The one term you will consistently hear is “SLOWING”. It doesn’t take long for you to get tired of hearing this term. I tried to locate a smooth and consistent rider to draft off within a larger group. I found a nice group of about 20-30 riders that seemed pretty steady until Bills Hill. After Bills Hill the group broke apart and dwindled in size.
I was trying to get to Marion as quick as I could yet not burn myself out in the process. I did not stop at any aid stations along the way to Marion. I was happy when I rolled into Marion in 3 hours and 35 minutes with a 21+ mph average speed. At this point let me reflect, 2011 in 6’ verses in 2012 in 3’35”. Now that is personal improvement! My wife (Beverly) was on the edge of the roadway waiting with refreshments. I changed out my water bottles and ate a pack of crackers. I guess 10 minutes or more went by and it was time for the fun part, the climb.
Only 25 more miles, but… They are the most difficult miles of the ride. A little ways into Hwy 80 you start to wonder if this is the climb and begin to think that it is not that bad. It sure doesn’t take much longer to realize you were not on the climb at that time. Heading toward the Blue Ridge Parkway is a tough climb, but you are still comparably fresh on the ride. I opted to bypass the aid station at the entrance to the parkway and continue on. The ride was slowly turning into a hard steady grind of pedal strokes. It was on the Blue Ridge Parkway where I began to feel a little fatigued and I was running out of steam. My legs were feeling the steadiness of pushing uphill for such a long time, but were still doing fine. It was my body that needed fuel. I did not take in enough fuel along the ride. 80+ miles into the ride all I had eaten were a couple bananas, pack of crackers, gel pack and two power bars during the ride. Along with the small portion of cornflakes and banana that morning, it was not enough food.
I knew I was on the edge of Bonking and arriving at one of the aid stations on the Blue Ridge Parkway I stopped for the 2nd time. I ate a few oranges, peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich, Lay Potato Chips. I drank some powerade, a small coke and water. Stretched my legs while doing so and soon I was back on the bike. But it was too late and I had biked too far without taking in fuel. My stomach was full, though my body was still waiting for the fuel to arrive. I would stop 2-3 more times for a couple minutes on the Blue Ridge Parkway before arriving at the Mt Mitchell entrance. Once while I stopped on the Parkway, another cyclist stopped, then looked at me and said “I will NEVER do this ride again”.
At the Mt. Mitchell State Park entrance there is approximately 5 more miles of climb and I’m there. Five miles may be a short distance, but not in time. I was slowly recovering from lack of fuel intake and was feeling much better. I was in a steady spin at about 6-7 mph. There were cyclists both ahead and behind me. After this many miles you can bet that most of the riders around you are your equal in ability. Behind me I could hear a female cyclist talking to a male cyclist. The male’s voice was faint, but the female’s voice was loud and constant. It was fine at first but for some crazy reason her voice was becoming annoying. They were not passing me and I didn’t have enough left in me to pull away. I was trapped, forced to hear her conversation. I finally stopped and waited for them to pass. Normally that would not have bothered me, but the mind goes to new places when broken down and tired.
I rolled across the finish line in 6 hours and 55 minutes. Within that time I had 45 minutes of stop time and burned over 9,000 calories. The volunteers took my bike and placed it on the bike rack to be transported back to Marion. A couple of my friends who I often ride with were already finished and waiting on others to finish. I spoke with Ryan and asked him how he had done. He said he had a time of 5’16” and placed 14th overall! I placed 226th out of the 768 riders that finished. Over 25% of those registered for the Assault on Mt Mitchell did make it to the top.
Beverly was near the finish waiting for me. She had taken the bus ride from Marion to the top of Mitchell. It was great to get out of the cycling attire and into dry clothing that she had brought. They had food at the top, although I didn’t feel like eating. I was ready to head back down and so we got on the bus and waited for it to fill. I guess it took about 20 minutes and we were on our way back down the mountain. As the bus traveled down the entrance to the parkway I was watching the cyclists who were still climbing the Mountain. I noticed two more Melo-Velo riders (my hometown cycling club/team) making their way. Yes, I was glad to be on the bus.
The bus ride was about 2 hours long and we were back in Marion about 3:30. The bus route goes almost into Ashville NC and then back to Marion to keep the congestion down along the Mt Mitchell ride route. Back in Marion it was “wait on your bike” to return. Beverly and I decided to drive into town for an early dinner. When we returned back to the Tom Johnson Campground my bike had still not arrived. It was shortly after 5 PM when my bike was unloaded and I was free to go home.
I am planning to ride The Assault on Mt Mitchell again in 2013 if all works out to do so. I have set myself a goal of 6 hours or less. It only makes sense that as I get older I should get faster, right?
Keep riding and stay healthy and safe!
Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s already a new year, 2013! Time truly flies, it seems like only yesterday we were finishing with George at the “Gran Fondo Hincapie.” I went into this off-season with a head of steam from that great final group ride event, and have begun to train for the upcoming season that will be upon us before we know it. It is awesome to think that we have already passed the winter solstice and already the days will slowly begin to gradually shed more and more daylight. It is also a little scary to think about how soon the first century ride of the new season will be here, followed by what I hope to be my most challenging month ever in May.
What I Learned In 2012
End the season with a great group ride event as late as possible! It definitely helped keep me motivated to work hard going into the off-season, rather than just hang the bike up and get lazy for a couple of months. I came home from a very tough ride in the Blue Ridge foothills craving more, and it has translated to putting in work for this next season. I definitely plan to find another tough ride to tackle near late October, early November.
I’m putting GABRAKY back on the schedule. That is one ride I truly missed last year, that I have done frequently in the past. I wouldn’t dare trade the fall vacation I had with my wife from last year, because it was spot-on, but I will make my plans around that ride this year. I know averaging around 60 miles per day doesn’t sound like a whole lot towards the end of the season, but when you do it for 4 consecutive days over the rural bluegrass landscape of Kentucky’s back roads, it is challenging enough to give you a real sense of accomplishment and I’m always ready for that finish line. Not to mention the cycling camaraderie that is felt by the passionate cyclists I have met on GABRAKY. See you in the fall!
Maybe the most important lesson I learned from last year is to make plans for June and July. As I reflect on my riding from 2012, I notice a big fall off in rides and miles in the middle of the summer. This year I will find rides in those months to keep my cycling stamina strong throughout. I will also utilize a great cycling tip for the busy dad that came to me from my good friend Chris “Schmidty” Schmidt (a.k.a. the Big Dog): when my children play games on the weekends, I should ride my bike to the county where they play and then meet up with the family; and if parents have to go separate directions with children, just simply take your bike with you and ride in between games. Great tip, Schmidty, now I can be a multi-tasker like my wonderful wife. No more excuses.
On The Slate For 2013:
Slate is a great term for my proposed ride schedule for 2013, it should also be somewhat colorful and tough just like the rock. I definitely plan to continue what I started in ’12 by riding with my local club (Bluegrass Cycling Club) out of the Georgetown location on Tuesday nights, along with some of our varying local group rides on the weekends. As far as organized events, here’s what I am thinking for now, of coarse, always subject to change, but I’m confident that I will complete the century routes at these great venues:
1. Redbud Ride in London, KY on April 13
2. 3 State-3 Mountain Challenge in Chatanooga, TN on May 4
3. Assault On Mt. Mitchell in Spartanburg, NC on May 20
4. Horsey Hundred in Georgetown, KY on May 26
5. Preservation Pedal in Frankfort, KY on June 22
6. Old Kentucky Home Tour in Louisville, KY on September 7
7. GABRAKY across the state of Kentucky in early-mid October
I also plan to get some good rides in down in the south central heart of the bluegrass with Schmidty and some of the Lindsey Wilson College crew. There is an outside shot that I may tackle the RAIN Ride (Ride Across Indiana), but it will depend on summer vacation and my summer work schedule before I will commit. I would love to do another ride or two or more in other states as well, but it will have to depend on timing and investment, I do this as a recreational hobby. Please feel free to send us your favorite ride and I will attempt to get there and ride in it, then publish my official review!
You can also send us your thoughts or comments about various rides via Twitter, and consider following our journey: @RAMCycling
Cheers to a safe, happy, and healthy new year with plenty of cycling in 2013!
When I was young, I watched a documentary on Mt. Everest, the highest elevation on earth. I can vividly remember thinking to myself, “one day, I’m going to climb that … how awesome would it be to say ‘I’m on top of the world?!’” Well, as I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown smarter, and I certainly realize that I could probably never afford to even attempt climbing to the top of the world. That knowledge won’t keep me from climbing the highest elevation in the United States east of the Mississippi River, though. That’s exactly what I will set out to do with about a thousand others on our bicycles on Monday, May 20 this year.
At this time last year I had never heard about this bicycling event known as “The Assault on Mt. Mitchell.” In fact, I first learned about this challenging century ride from a new friend Jim Simes from South Carolina when we met to do the “Redbud Ride,” a century bicycle ride in Kentucky in April. He surprised me by accepting my invitation to join me at that ride. And now I will return the favor by accepting his invitation to join him at what some call “the toughest ride in the southeast U.S.”
With official registration set to open in just a few days, the anxiety has already begun to build for me. Luckily, for me, I learned a very valuable lesson on preparation when I traveled to South Carolina in October to ride in the “Hincapie Gran Fondo.” That lesson is: mountains are night and day different than hills! We have some very challenging hills in my home state of Kentucky, but I can’t ride anywhere near my home where I can find 10-15% grades for more than about a mile or two at the most. And yes, we certainly have some 20+% hills around here too, but that’s just what they are. Hills. Not Mountains.
My mindset to complete the “Assault on Mt. Mitchell” is simple: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. I have set some lofty goals for my 2013 cycling season, and I’m glad, because it has kept me stoked to train hard through this off-season. I must admit, though, as much as I look forward to enjoying this season, I’m a little more focused on climbing Mt. Mitchell, than any of the other rides right now. My official training outline is also pretty simple: 1. Lose Weight, 2. Strengthen My Core, 3. Cycle, Cycle, Cycle! And on May 20, when I roll up to the starting line, my plan for success is pace, hydration, and nutrition.
I jokingly tweeted back in the fall that I not only intend to climb Mt. Mitchell, but I planned to finish with a couple of guys Jim Simes and Aaron West who both finished right around 7 hours last year. Believing that, is almost as far fetched as thinking I will climb Everest, but I have no doubt I will complete the “Assault on Mt. Mitchell” and when I reach the top, I will be proud to say, “I’m on top of the eastern United States!”
Join me in my quest to climb Mt. Mitchell, if you dare:
I began to ride a road bike in the summer of 2006, and it became a passion immediately after completing my first big ride event, GABRAKY (Grand Autumn Bicycle Ride Across Kentucky). I was instantly referred to as “ate up” by my cycling friends, and I liked it. At that time I was not familiar with “The Horsey Hundred,” a century ride hosted in my hometown every year on Memorial Day weekend by the Bluegrass Cycling Club, but it was the talk of all the local cyclists as the season came to a close that first year. “You should join us for the Horsey next May,” my close friend Ed Stodola and plenty others told me. Like they said, I was ate up, so that’s exactly what I planned to do. Ride my first century in Georgetown, KY in the 2007 Horsey Hundred!
Keep in mind, just because you may be “ate up” about something, doesn’t mean you’re an instant pro. As the weather began to cooperate, I began to ride my bike, every chance I had. However, I truly had no idea how to properly train for a century ride. The longest day of GABRAKY was 89 miles, so I just assumed that I had another 11 in me, surely. Well my journey over those hundred miles, my first century proved to me that those 11 more miles were a full season ago. I was not yet in good riding shape, not like I was at the end of my first season.
A few lessons I learned on my first century ride: once you complete your first, you will have the confidence that anything is possible on your bike; take advantage of the rest stops, they can be the difference between success and failure; the better you train before the ride, the easier it will be on game-day; sometimes you will need to stay with your friends to pull them along, because there will times when you need them to be there for you.
I took off on the century route for the 30th anniversary Horsey Hundred in May 2007 with my good friend Ed, and he told me early, “We’ll follow the century arrows, and when the 3/4 century route splits, we’ll decide how far we’re going.” I thought, “yeah we’re doing the 100 no matter what.” We set out pretty strong and I was on cloud nine as we ruled the rural roads of north central Kentucky, surrounded by tons of cyclists of all shapes and sizes, riding all types of bikes, wearing all colors of spandex. At the first stop, I was ready to keep going, but taking Ed’s advice, we stopped briefly, refueled, and set back out. We actually skipped the second stop, because both of us still had plenty of water and thought we only had about 13 or so miles to the next stop (the official lunch stop). That proved to be a mistake, because the lunch stop was actually about twenty miles away, the heat was starting to set in, and the hills were beginning to take a toll on my legs. Numerous times I would catch Ed looking back to make sure I was still there, and occasionally slowing up to wait on me. As we pulled into the lunch rest stop, I was whipped, and actually thought to myself, I’m not sure I’ll make it. Again, I heeded to my friend’s advice and got some fuel, then he saved my life (well actually he saved my ride), and said “I’m going to lay down in the shade for a minute. If I fall asleep, wake me up when you’re ready to roll.” That half hour nap under a shade tree proved to be my saving grace.
We saddled up and took back off with plenty of others, but shortly after starting back, we were separated from most of the crowd as the majority of riders complete shorter routes. We cruised along at a pretty good pace for the last forty miles across some beautiful scenery with rolling acres of horse fields lined by wood plank fences (a bluegrass region staple). We enjoyed conversation with ourselves, and I had caught my second wind, thanks to a little rest. I have had similar experiences on some century rides since that first one, in fact,I can vividly recall a heck of a challenge it was to complete the “Wheels O’ Fire Century Cycle” ride in Georgia in the early spring in 2010, which happens to be the first century ride that Renaissance Man completed. It all depends on how hard I train leading up to an event. It’s true, every time. The more you suffer before the “big ride,” the easier that ride will be. Promise.
I am doing a little suffering right now, as I’m planning a big year in cycling. First I will ride in the Redbud Century ride in London, which is the first of four centuries I plan to complete in the Kentucky Century Cycling Challenge. Next, I plan to ride in the Assault on Mt. Mitchell in South and North Carolina, then back to where it all started for Horsey Hundred in Georgetown. Into the summer, I have several rides on the agenda. All with the knowledge in the back of mind: either suffer now, or suffer later, but it’s always worth it, if it’s on the bike!
The next big ride event I will be completing and writing a review for is the Assault On Mt. Mitchell. In full disclosure, I have recently done a little moon lighting, because I was asked by Aaron West, the lead blogger for The Assaults, to help with some of the blogging. Of coarse, I obliged, and have written several short pieces, talking a little about myself, my training, and how I am preparing for such a difficult challenge, in hopes that I may offer a different perspective and some relation to other riders who will be making their first attempt to climb to the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
I stumbled across Aaron’s personal blog titled “Steep Climbs” some time in the last two years, and have enjoyed reading about the rides he has completed, which include Assault On Mt. Mitchell, and numerous other tough climbing events in and around the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains. In one of my blogs for the Assaults, I spoke about the necessity to develop a game plan for success at any challenge, especially one with the magnitude of assaulting Mt. Mitchell. I owe it to my personal viewing group here at RAM to offer MY game plan, then follow the ride up with an official review of the event.
My game plan consists of three main criteria: physical, mental, and the ride! First, I will address the physical aspect. I set out a training plan around the start of the new year that included overall body strengthening, increased flexibility, loss of excessive weight, and consistent cycling time. The strengthening plan includes weight lifting for both upper and lower body, and a challenging core and stretching workout three days per week. To date, I have lost 33 pounds, while adding significant strength, and my road miles are the most of any year I’ve ridden, plus more than I care time in the saddle on my indoor exercise bike.
The mental game plan is probably just as important as the physical, because attitude determines how far anyone will push themselves. To mentally prepare for this challenge, I decided to look at the route elevation profile (this scared the hell out of me), and develop a plan for how I will train now, and what my plan will be for the big day. Also, I chose, against my better judgement, to ride in the A group at our club rides, which rides routes with rolling to moderate hilly terrain for 25-50 mile rides while averaging a pace above 18 mph. I knew I ran the risk of getting dropped early on, but I have made significant fitness gains by riding with this group, and it has definitely boosted my mental confidence.
The final criteria for my personal game plan for success at Assault On Mt. Mitchell, is to set a specific plan for the ride. My entire game plan is somewhat of a guessing game, and this part will include multiple levels based on weather, if I experience any mechanical issues, etc. I have received some great advice for this part of the plan from Aaron, another strong Carolina cyclist Jim Simes, and by reading what others have posted on the Assaults Blog. My primary plan is to settle in with a strong group similar to my club, and get to Marion with an average pace around 18+, while not expending too much energy (trying to stay mid-pack as much as possible, without pulling too often). Upon arrival at Marion, I plan to eat a light meal, while getting off the bike for 30 minutes or so to rest. Once I depart for the Blue Ridge Parkway climb, I will be in for a battle, where the rest of the plan will be to use my mental and physical fitness gains to get me to the top. I will not set a time to beat, since this is my first attempt, but my ultimate goal, given the toughness of this ride is simply to finish! And finish, I will.
Don’t forget to check back here after May 20, for stories from my epic battle in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and see the view from the highest point east of the Mississippi River in the U.S. Please share this article with others, and leave a comment, let me know if you know anyone else training for the Assault!