Clingman’s Dome
Apr 2014 08

After the past few winters being somewhat mild, this winter season has been just the opposite. So heading south for a warmer climate and good challenging climb sounded like just the spring break 2014 ticket. After completing Assault on Mt. Mitchell last year, and deciding to go back this year with several friends joining me, I knew we needed to climb more in our training than I did a year ago, therefore riding up Hwy 441 from Gatlinburg, TN to the highest point in the Smoky mountains seemed like a “no-brainer.” The plan was to head to the smokies after work on Friday and settle into a mountain cottage in the Village of Cobbly Nob for the weekend. First thing Saturday morning, we would roll out and head southwest about 12 miles into downtown Gatlinburg, then turn east and head toward Cherokee, NC.

The 4 man group consisted of Linn Laborda, Jim Simes, Tim Stout (Renaissance Man), and Kevin Pearl (Masher). We met up at Linn’s cabin near the exit of the village, talked briefly about our route, plans, the weather, and just general catching up on lost time as we have not all ridden together lately (especially Jim being from South Carolina). Linn had driven up the mountain on Friday to Newfound Gap overlook, about 7 miles short of the summit, and warned there was some snow and ice slush still along the road’s edge nearer the top and also that there was some fog which typically means less than pleasant weather. The collective consensus was that none of us cared to ride in a cold rain but the game plan was to ride to the top, then turn around, descend and ride back to the cabins, about a 70-80 mile round trip adventure. Linn’s friend, Dee, not wanting to be bored in a cabin alone all day, agreed to leave about an hour or so after us and offer SAG along the climb and be the photographer at the top. This gesture turned out to be a saving grace (maybe life saving).

The first section into Gatlinburg was fun, mostly flat with a few small climbs and descents, a pretty fast pace at this point. Not a ton of traffic on the roads yet, thankfully, until we made it to the downtown strip where it was already bumper-to-bumper at 10am. The air was somewhat humid but cool with temps in the mid 50s, sky was overcast and mostly cloudy with some spots of sunshine, we passed the Sugarlands visitor center and headed toward the sign that read “Clingman’s Dome 20” and the climbing began.

In the first couple miles, the group separated a little, and I eventually found myself up front. After having some shin-splints along with nagging knee and back issues this past winter, this would be my first real test on how I’ve recovered from these few injuries, and in the early going I felt fine, finding myself settle into a nice climbing rhythm. About five miles into the climb, the humidity turned to actual moisture. Wetness on my clothes, wet roads, falling in drizzle form at this time. I pulled off on an access road to Chimneys overlook and moments later, Linn pulled in. We ate a quick snack, took in some fluids, and chatted briefly while Jim also caught up. I recall saying “this descent may not be too fun on a slick wet road.” Knowing Tim would climb a little slower than us, but with no quit in him, we headed on, so not to get stiff. The route appeared to be pretty as it winded up the mountain, but by this time it was nearly impossible to get a great view of the scenery because we had pulled into that fog Linn mentioned of, and the drizzle had increased to full on rain, but still it was not slowing us down any. Normally, Jim would have left us out of sight early in the climb, but having dealt with some health issues this winter, he was not in regular form yet, and Linn and I rode off from him again.

Shortly after, Dee in the SAG wagon rolled up to us and stopped ahead. Linn and I both agreed we were feeling good and would continue. She checked on Jim and Tim also, and leapfrogged us by a couple miles. Again, we rolled on, still in fresh form, but the temp seemed to be dropping somewhat as I felt a little chill and could see my breath. And the fog seemed to get thicker and heavier. We decided to pull off briefly the next time we saw her stopped for us and by this time, my legs still felt fine but my lower back was feeling a little sore, maybe from carrying extra weight that I’m not accustomed to as I was wearing a 2 litre hydration pack and had a light jacket and head cover stowed in a pocket on it (also maybe a life saver later on). A brief refuel, and we were back on the road.

The highway included plenty of traffic with us on the climb to the top, but we never had a problem or close call that was uncomfortable. The further up we went, it was clear, the temp was dropping and the weather was changing. We found the patches of snow and ice sludge and had to ride further into the lane in some spots, but still no traffic concerns. As we pulled into the parking lot at Newfound Gap overlook, there were lots of tourists (probably visiting on spring break, like us). This was a pretty cool spot because it was where the Appalachian Trail crossed the highway, and we witnessed a few hikers too. Dee told us that the last time she checked on Tim, he thought he would stop at this point due to the weather. I think at this point we were all a little concerned about how we would get back down because the plan to descend on bikes didn’t seem very safe on these road conditions. So, me and my Marine mentality (accomplish the mission and then figure it out, and the mission at this point was to reach the top), headed back out with Jim and Linn.

Immediately after leaving the overlook, our road turned off to the right with about 7 miles to go to reach Clingman’s Dome, the highest spot in Tennessee, and the second highest elevation east of the Mississippi River in the United States. 95% of the traffic we were sharing the road with continued on toward Cherokee as we continued up. This section felt like the steepest grade thus far on the route and about 3-4 miles up we finally caught a break on the legs as the road flattened out and then tuned down a little. At first it felt good to get some pedaling relief, but then it was clear we had little or no brakes and the bottom fell out of the temperature. After descending nearly a mile or so, scared of running off the side of the mountain, I could barely feel my hands and face at this point. Linn and I came back together shortly after the downhill roll, and we continued to grind again. A few miles later we spotted some caution signs on the road, and around a bend, we pulled into the parking lot at the top. A few minutes later, Jim also showed up and we all looked like hell. It was cold, very cold and windy. I promised them before we started that it would be painful fun, but the view at the top would totally be worth it. That was a lie, the fog was so thick, all we could see was about twenty feet in front of us. It was freezing rain on us and God bless Dee, who was there and took our picture in front of the landmark sign, then turned on Linn’s vehicle with the heat on high and opened the back up so we could stand under the hatch and get a plan to get off this mountain before we became victim to hypothermia.

I pulled out my jacket and hat, threw them on over my rain soaked clothing, and tucked in behind his SUV letting it block the wind and gasping for any heat possible that was blowing out of the vents as my body began to shiver uncontrollably, and all I could think about was we needed to get back down to get Tim out of the weather. Out of nowhere, a cyclist from Cincinnati showed up with his family and they were there to hike the half mile trail around the summit. He spoke to us briefly (probably thinking what dumbasses ride up the mountain in this weather?), then offered to help haul our bikes back down the mountain as he had his bike rack on his car. So we waited on them to return to the parking lot and he loaded Jim’s and my bike up and we headed down to find Tim. Also, by this time, Dee had gotten phone service long enough to get ahold of our wives and ask for assistance getting us and our bikes back to camp. They were graciously on their way. We pulled into the overlook parking lot and were greeted by a kind gentleman known as a “trail angel” (there to aid and assist hikers or anyone in need coming off of the Appalachian Trail) and he told us that he had helped Tim warm up in his truck, then he caught a ride down to the visitor center with a hiker from South Carolina named Phillip. Moments later, our wives showed up and we switched the bikes over to my vehicle and couldn’t thank our gracious Cincy cyclist enough for helping us out.

I think our wives were a little unnerved that we unexpectedly interrupted their spring break relaxation time back at the cottage to drive over an hour away through the ridiculous Gatlinburg traffic to come pick our asses up when we were supposed to be riding back, but when Tim’s wife learned he had taken a ride down the mountain with a complete stranger, they realized we were in serious trouble without their and everyone else’s help. We were so gracious to all that helped us get back to warmth and safety, and a cold beer in the hot tub back at our cabin never tasted and felt so good. Conversation in the jacuzzi informed me of how Tim got tired of waiting on us to rescue him, and set out back on his bike to finish the ride up Clingman’s Dome access road, only to turn back around at the spot where it flattened out (2 miles from the summit) because of his brakes not working and he thought he would be safer to get back down and search for help, or in his words, “lay down in the middle of the road and hope somebody picked him up!”  We were very close to having a serious issue. The thermometer on Linn’s dashboard read 40 degrees at the summit, but with the wind chill, and wetness from freezing rain made it feel well below freezing temps. I drove back up to the overlook the next day with my family and the sky was clear, the sun was out, but the upper elevation was now covered with about six inches of fresh snow. That was indication of the storm that we rode into and with a little luck and help from fine folks just paying it forward, we were able to conquer the challenge, even though we had to alter our plans a little. This day, the views were exactly what I had hoped to see on my bike one day prior and it was evident we would have to come back and do it again, when we could witness the heavenly views and enjoy the 20 mile descent back to town. All the guys agree and are excited and looking forward to it. I’m sure there will be others join us next time too.

Though we all agreed before the ride that none of us wanted to ride in a cold rain, we were all glad we did the ride. Just another experience we’ll never forget. And the saying goes on … We don’t ride bikes to add days to our life, we ride bikes to add life to our days!

* masher

Aug 2014 28

photo (10)

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.



Sep 2014 12

photo (3)

I think since I first found my passion in road cycling, I have been somewhat lured to seek out big climbs and ride them. It probably started out as a means to test myself, prove to myself what I am capable of. On numerous climbs, I’ve witnessed riders have to stop and walk, and it’s always a goal of mine to finish on the bike and never walk. As my cycling passion has evolved, I believe I now seek out the beauty that lies along the roadway and especially at the top of long climbs, and I truly have a heightened sense of faith and closeness to God on the long, grueling climbs, but the challenge aspect is probably still the primary purpose for me to find and ride mountains and long, tough hills. I’m the type of person that wants to challenge myself to get better in everything I do, and while it’s pretty cool to do a 50 mile group ride and average 20 mph, I’d rather do a 70-100 mile ride and not care what my average speed is because I climbed 10,000 feet of elevation, or more!


Most anyone that has ever accepted an invite to join me on a ride that I pick the route, surely knows they will get to endure some hills. They also know, that my unsupported rides aren’t always planned for the “what if” factor. This makes for great bonding time among cyclists, and allows us to work together to solve problems as they arise, whether it’s a mechanical issue, route problem, weather doesn’t cooperate, or if the ride can’t be completed by one or all. This is the aspect that I am asking for help with as I plan a few RAM Cycling group rides next year in mountainous terrain.


My initial plan (and this is very early and bound to change somewhat as I figure out all the details) is to host at least 2, hopefully 3 “Mountain Challenge” rides. These will be century rides with some big climbing involved and I hope to be joined by as many friends of RAM Cycling and personal friends as possible. My plans for the first two will be loops that will ride out from Gatlinburg and cross the Smokies, including a ride up to Clingmans Dome and a route that will start/finish in Harlan, KY and cross the Appalachians via Black Mountain. Yes, since they will be loops, there will be some out and back, which means YES we will come back across the same mountain we climb earlier in the ride. The third location has not been determined yet but my initial thought process is to host one in spring, summer, and fall. There … we’ve all been forewarned. This ride series will test us both mentally and physically. I don’t care if you normally ride with a fast group or a slower pace group, I want you all to know that you are welcome to attempt these rides, since we all climb at our own pace.


The “Mountain Challenge Series” is not a race (not officially, but I know there will be some friendly competitiveness) and the best part is, they will be free! Sure, I could find a charity and really organize this thing to the point that it would take some of the fun out of it for me, then we could donate the profits to the charity, but if you really want to donate to a charity, pick one and do it on your own. This is all about the ride. I don’t want anyone to pay for a RAM Cycling ride ever, we want to raise awareness for cycling and more importantly, we want people to find lasting memories from our rides. I think it’s safe to say that so far, any cyclist that has ridden a ride that I planned, can recall a memory from the ride (maybe not a memory of bliss, but a memory of being on the bike with friends, no doubt)!


Here’s the part I really need help with: Support! I’m very confident that I can plan the route, the dates, and communicate all the details to all that decide to join me, but I know my weakness and it’s providing proper SAG service. I would like to find a few sponsors, such as a bike shop that would be willing to send someone on the rides to help with potential bike issues, a store that could donate water and/or snacks for the ride, or any business that could donate money for purchasing the water and ride fuel snacks. I think it would also be cool to have a cycling kit made up for the riders that can complete all of the rides in the series. Obviously, we would do all we can to promote and patronize any business that would be willing to lend a hand of support and help make these ride more enjoyable for us! I won’t attempt to make a promise that your support for these events will increase your profits greatly, but I will guarantee that we will put your company logo as a supporter on our website and I will sing your praises on our social media outlets, and of course we will include your logo on the cycling kit if we decide to have one designed and made.


Please consider letting us know if you or anyone you know can help make the “Mountain Challenge Series” more enjoyable by your support and more importantly, please consider joining us on one or all of the rides in the series. We will still plan and host our shorter local group rides on occasion as we have done throughout this year, the series is just our way of saying “sometimes you gotta go big, or don’t go at all!” Stay tuned for more details to be published as they become available. I look forward to riding with all my friends at next year’s RAM Cycling Mountain Challenge Series …





Jan 2016 04


I’m very excited to release my 2016 cycling schedule and I have included my personal goals for each event! As anyone can clearly see, I fully intend to make up for some lost time from 2015, and will be happy to have any of my cycling friends join me on any of these rides. A common theme with this schedule and my goals can be summed up with one word: challenging!



Event: Mountain Recon at Mt. Mitchell and Clingmans Dome

Goal: climbing training and route reconnaissance

Event: Masher’s Hilly Hundred 2016

Goal: climbing training/ AOMM prep



Event: Assault on Mt. Mitchell

Goal: Reach the 102 mile summit in under 7 hours



Event: Cherohala Challenge

Goal: Rank in top 25 on the strava long climb segment



Event: RAIN Ride

Goal: finish! 160 miles, one way, one day … Nuff said!



Event: Madara’s Mountians of Pain

Goal: KOM the Black Mtn strava segment climbing KY to VA



Event: Churchill to Keeneland (RAM Fondo)

Goal: Ride my first century at an avg pace of 20+ mph



Event: Oktoberfest

Goal: have fun with friends!


If it seems as though I’m “dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit,” that’s exactly what I intend to do! I am realistic and the 2015 season was a friendly reminder that sometimes other priorities get in the way of my cycling plans, which is why I strategically placed one event in each month, therefor if I happen to have a schedule conflict, I still have 3 weekends each month to find a replacement event. A couple of the rides I’ve listed, have been on my mind since I first heard about them and I’m ready to experience some new venues. A few of the others are some of my favorites from the past. I also have a few challenging fitness goals I plan to achieve including: riding 4000+ total miles, running 200+ miles, dropping (and keeping) my weight below 200! Be sure to track me along the year to see how the rides go and hopefully my 2016 recap will be very entertaining!

Nov 2016 18



I’m focused to ride my bicycle up to Clingmmans Dome (the highest elevation in Tennessee) again next year and hope to take a few friends with me. For nearly two years now, I’ve struggled with knee agony. For a little over a year it was aggravation, swelling, and consistent pain, sometimes dull but sometimes excruciating. And now for a little under a year, in recovery from knee surgery to repair an injury and arthritis, I have found plenty of excuses to why I’m not back. Unfortunately, what I have not found, is enough fortitude to bring back the old masher.


Well, it’s time to let go of the excuses! I see a comeback in my future and I’m not waiting to make a New Years resolution. I have already made a resolution to make a full comeback and I have already set the wheels in motion. Sure, it’s a long winding road to the pinnacle of my comeback, just like it is to the top of the Smoky Mountians. I’ve completed the grueling climb to Clingmas Dome on my bicycle several times now, and I’m well aware that you can’t always see the bumps in the road, nor what lies around the next switchback. It’s a simple philosophy that I used in the past to transform my physical and mental fitness, and I’m confident it will work again.


I recently shared a video of a motivational speaker with my fellow employees at work. The message was one that has helped awaken my sleeping giant within. Of coarse, my biggest hope in seeking the old masher is to rid of my inner giant (meaning lose the excess weight, and the other problems will go away with it)! The speech goes like this…there was a younger, ambitious, excited person who was consumed with the idea of being successful. He was so in tune with becoming successful that he seeked  out an older, wiser, very successful guru and he went to the guru and ask to learn his secret to success. The guru told him if he wanted to learn his secret to success he should meet him at 4:30 in the morning at the beach. The younger, ambitious guy thought to himself why so early and why the beach? Nevertheless, he ventured out in his 3 piece suit to the sands at the edge of the shore way before sunrise and  there he met the guru who was wearing only swimming trunks.


The guru ask the ambitious one if he trusted him and the younger one said yes, but was not too sure in his mind. Guru reached out his hand, and as the protege grasped it, they began to walk out into the ocean. Now the younger one was thinking he should have worn shorts instead of a suit and at the same time, was beginning to think the guru was a little crazy. They went from ankle deep to knee deep to chest deep. Guru ask if he still trusted him. Younger, ambitious one was now not sure and reminded the guru that he wanted him to teach him his secret to success, and was questioning his sanity at this point. Guru ask how bad he wanted to be successful. He answered, “more than anything.”


At that moment, the guru grabbed the younger one by the shoulders and pulled him into the deeper water until he was submerged and held his head down. The younger guy fought trying to come up for air, but the guru continued to hold his head below the ocean as a wave crashed, and then another. Finally, the younger one found the strength the emerge from the water and he opened his mouth and let in as much air as he could. Disgruntled, he ask the guru why he tried to drown him and the guru replied, ” when you were below the surface, what did you think about?” The younger, ambitious one stated all he could think about was breathing! The guru finally shared his secret to success with him: “When you want to be successful as bad as you wanted to just breathe, while you were drowning in the ocean, you will be successful. When you want to achieve anything as bad as you wanted to breathe, you will achieve it.”


I want to be the old masher as bad as he wanted to breathe! The trek to Clingmans Dome on my bicycle will be in late March or early April, however the official journey has already begun. Who’s with me?