Sep 2014 05

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On a miserably humid and very hot August 23 Saturday, a small group of our friends joined Masher on an endurance ride to remember. The group of guys, John, Adam, Patrick and Kevin, met up in Lexington at 5:30 am to depart and carpool to southeastern Kentucky for a RAM Cycling Strava club ride in the Appalachian mountains starting in the town of Cumberland in Harlan County. Rolling down Interstate-75 south, then across some rural mountain roads we arrived at the starting point around 9 am and got kitted up, then headed out in search of some climbing agony.


Leaving Cumberland, we headed toward Harlan on an old highway and found our first climb of the day around mile 13 on the Little Shepherd Trail. This road ranks near the top of the beauty category of roads I’ve climbed and was the perfect warm up hill to start the day. It is a 3.5 mile climb with an average grade of 7% and on a very rural road with many switchbacks and much of the pavement was rough and numerous spots with moss, plus the tree cover prevented the sun from drying it which proved to make it a sketchy descent down the other side. As the descent leveled out, we rode into our first rest stop of the day on this unsupported century ride. A brief stop at Turner’s Grocery in Big Laurel, KY for refueling and we headed back up the hill, ¬†in route to the next climb which led us past a local rock quarry and then onto the back entrance to Kingdome Come State Park.


This grueling challenge tested all of us deeply and put some hurt on the legs that would be lasting throughout the rest of the ride. Another nearly 3 miles of up pavement with an average grade at 9% and brief sections hitting 20+%, led us to a beautiful view at a mountain top overlook in the state park where we regrouped before descending the very steep front entrance to the park. This brought us back to our starting point in Cumberland and we stopped at the vehicles for another brief rest and refueling stop. The next climb would be the one that lured us to this area to begin with, as we headed toward crossing Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky. Riding quickly through the coal mining towns of Benham and Lynch (the base town), we began climbing with about a 5 mile warm up at a low grade, then with the final 5.5 miles at 6% to the top. I settled into a slow pace and slowly watched John and Adam disappear from sight as the hurt began to set in. My lack of more frequent climbing lately and the heat and humidity were beginning to lower my motivation, but about halfway up I remembered that I set a goal for this Strava segment and decided it was time to try a push and see if I could sustain. Sure enough, I found the energy and strength to continue the push and soon I could again see Adam. I passed him with about a mile to summit and kept grinding to the top where John had probably just woke up from a nap (joking, kinda).


Patrick had warned us at the bottom not to wait on him as his legs were hurting enough that he planned to turn around at the top. I wasn’t about to quit this good ole fashion ass kicking¬†that Adam planned and routed out for us, but if anyone else had suggested it, I would have turned around at any point past this. So the three of us crossed the mountain and descended the other side into Virginia and stopped at the base town of Inman, VA for another rest and refuel stop. We then rode into Big Stone Gap and found another real test climb up to a state prison that was straight up for nearly 2 miles at almost 9% grade. We turned around at the top and headed back to Inman for one last stop to top off on water and roll out knowing there was only one climb left: the grueling ascent back across Black Mountain.


I was thinking on the way down Black Mountain earlier, it was pretty steep and a little longer than the Kentucky side and I knew it was gonna suck having to come back up it, but I got motivated knowing this was the last climb of the day. I again settled into a nice slow pace rhythm and just kept grinding until I crossed the state line again after climbing nearly 7 miles around 6.5%. This time John had headed on down to the finish and Adam waited for me to summit, then we descended and rolled back to the parking spot together. With almost 97 miles on my odometer, I was perfectly comfortable with stopping, however Adam insisted on riding another 3 miles to get his century. He later thanked us for joining him on his birthday and making it a memorable one. Wow! What I sick way to spend a birthday, I thought, but in reality, it seems just like something I would plan too. I’m glad I got to share the day with you on your bday Adam, and despite the soreness I felt on the ride, I’m very glad I decided to do it with all of you guys.


I was mentally trying to compare this ride in toughness to Clingmans Dome and Assault on Mt. Mitchell, but it’s too hard to rank them, giving the differences in distance, support, weather, and of course the human element (my training before AOMM was much more rigorous than before this ride, plus I didn’t get the exact rest and fueling pre-ride that I needed to be stronger on this day). I guess if I had to rank them, I’d probably still hold AOMM at the top, followed by Mountains of Pain, then Clingmans Dome (only due to lack of added distance when I’ve ridden it). One thing’s for sure, although I endured some pain on all these challenging climbing rides, as soon as I complete them, I can’t wait to do another one!


I have ambitions of assembling a couple of mountain challenge rides next year in both the Appalachians with Black Mountain and the Smokies with Clingmans Dome. Hopefully, I can con a few good friends to join me again and help me make some more great memories on the bike. I’m thankful to have been joined on this one for sure. John is one of those cyclists that guarantees your fitness will improve when you ride with him. Adam is very closely matched with me in ability and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed riding with him on occasion this year. This was only my second ride with Patrick, and he had a gutty performance, I’m very glad he was able to make the summit of the highest point in Ky after the early punishment we suffered climbing.


Stay tuned for the next random ride with RAM Cycling! … masher