Tag Archives: ride report

The 2013 Assault on Mt Mitchell

As a kid growing up, one of the things I enjoyed doing was riding my bike.  In the woods, on the road, anywhere.  I even did some group rides at the time although I was on a mountain bike for them. And I remember hearing of some of the bigger rides in western North Carolina at that point… Bridge to Bridge and the Assault on Mt Mitchell, notably.  So when I really started to get back into riding a while ago, I thought about at some point going and doing some of those rides. Since I’m not really doing any road racing this year due to being a bit too busy with work, I decided to try to tackle some of these long and hard rides that I’ve wanted to do for a few years to keep me motivated and riding hard.

First up is the Assault on Mt Mitchell.  For a bit of background, Mt Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi ending up over 6000 ft.  And about an hour from where I grew up.  So starts out sounding a little intimidating.  The ride itself actually starts in Spartanburg, SC and you then spend the first 75 miles riding along rolling hills until you reach Marion, NC.  From Marion, you go up 5000 ft over the remaining 25 miles.  Okay, lots of climbing when you’re already tired.  This sounds awesome.  I’m in.

Preparation and Pre-Ride

I signed up for the ride back when registration opened in March.  From that point, I received a steady stream of emails detailing the training rides that they offered and suggested including things that covered a lot of the route.  Living about 900 miles away, those weren’t an option. So I basically did a pretty typical set of spring riding for me; stretched out some rides a little more to get more rides in the 80+ mile range instead of 50-60s but no real hill work, etc.

Given that my parents still live in NC, we decided to make a family trip down to see them.  So I shipped my bike via FedEx to my dad’s office (unnerving!) and we flew down.  We arrived on Saturday, I put my bike together and did a little loop on Sunday to stretch the legs and shake down the bike after reassembling it.  All good.  I packed everything I needed, the bike survived being shipped, and my legs even felt decent with the lack of riding I had done the week before.

Of course, up until this point, the weather forecast for the ride on Monday was looking less than great.  Showers and thunderstorms through the day.  Because riding 100 miles in the rain is fun.  Ugh.  Luckily, after riding in some sloppy drizzle on Sunday, the forecast for Monday magically got better.  I’ll take it!

The Start

Given it’s about an hour and a half from my parents house to Spartanburg and roll out is at 6:30, we stayed at the Marriott around the corner from the start on Sunday night. So Monday morning, I woke up super early and headed to the start with plenty of time.  Breakfast was my first rice cake of the day (the classic egg + bacon recipe for this batch) although in hindsight I should have gone for something more.  As I had picked up my packet and number the night before, I didn’t really have to do anything other than get to the start which was nice.  As I did so, the size of the event really started to become clear, around 1000 cyclists all told.

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I made my way towards the front of where people were lining up.  We had the entire street (four lanes) and I wasn’t going to get caught up in the back.  I had modest goals for the event — stick with the front as long as I felt comfortable but mostly in it to finish.  Time wasn’t at the front of my mind as I was thinking of it as a ride, not a race really.  As the countdown got to zero, we took off.  And the front went fast… we were going a sprightly 26-27 mph for the first mile or two.  This was made possible largely due to the awesome support the event provided — a police detail at the front, officers at every intersection to let us through.  And this largely continued for the entire route.

To Marion

As we got going, the pace settled somewhat and I just sat in to draft as much as I could.  <rant>There was a ton of just random braking, though. The smell of burning carbon wheels filled the air more often than not. I think a lot of the braking was due to people crossing the yellow line, seeing oncoming traffic and then trying to rejoin the peloton.  It was nerve racking and quite frankly unnecessary.  And I think it was also the cause of the one person that I heard go down at one point behind me.  If event organizers have made it so that we have full use of a lane rather than just two abreast, people should respect that.</rant>  As a result of the pace and the braking, the lead group continued to shed people.  Given that I wasn’t really trying to be in the front, I ended up on the wrong end of those sheds a few times and had to jump hard to close the gap and rejoin the lead group.

Unfortunately, around mile 60, I got gapped and couldn’t close it.  22 mph for that stretch and I was ready to drop.  Was bummed not to hold out until Marion at that point but I also knew I needed to save some energy for the second part of the ride.  So I ended up in a little group of about 8 people and we did a solid bit of effort working together.  But when we got to Marion, my bottles were empty so I stopped to refill and lost my group.  And I then just missed the second big group moving through and couldn’t quite catch them meaning that for the remainder of the ride, I was going to be doing it basically solo.

Marion to the Parkway

As I headed out of Marion after the stop, I had a difficult time finding a rhythm riding alone for the first time of the day.  I think I definitely would have been better in a group in this section as it wasn’t that intense but I definitely wasn’t at my best.  I kept going and didn’t stop at the next rest stop.  And after that is when the climbing really felt like it began.  That section of Rt 80 was grueling. Luckily, I ran into others who said it was the hardest four miles of the ride. So I believed them and just tried to settle in and keep my legs moving.  But looking at the data from the ride, you can see just how slow it was. I just suffered through it and accepted that the rest of the day was going to be hard. And I just kept watching the mileage creep along knowing that the next rest stop wasn’t that far ahead. Switchbacks, steady climbing… you really can’t find anything like it in Massachusetts. On the plus side, the scenery was gorgeous or at least seemed so to my oxygen starved brain.

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Photos courtesy of Blind Kenny

Finally, I reached the rest stop at the 87 mile point where you turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I stopped and drank some Coke, ate a cookie and refilled my bottle.  Although I had done the first 75 miles in under 3.5 hours, the next 12 had taken me a little over an hour. Of course, this section was about 2000 ft of vertical gain, mostly in the second half.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

The next section of the route was on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’d say that the BRP is one of the classic roads for biking with lots of group rides as well as training camps and the like taking part on various chunks of it. And after riding 11.5 miles of it, I see why. The road conditions are great, there isn’t a ton of traffic and it’s a steady, hard effort.  Although I expected a little bit of a respite based on what I was told on my way up Rt 80, it really didn’t come.  But riding along the parkway including the scenic overlooks and the tunnels made it worth it.  On a few occasions, I wanted to stop and take photos just given the sheer beauty of the scenery… but I realized if I did, I would be unable to get started again and so I just kept pedaling.  This became especially true around mile 90 when I cracked kind of hard.  Luckily, that was also when there was the remaining downhill segment of the day. I was soft pedaling down but was getting cold given the cloud cover and the elevation and so ended up picking things back up a little.  Honestly, other than that I remember little of this section.  I know I was being passed by people and also that I was passing people back but it didn’t leave as big of an impression.  It was just more of a steady slog and a mental struggle to reach Mt Mitchell Parkway

Final Stretch

After 11.5 miles on the BRP, you turn onto Mt Mitchell Parkway for the final five miles.  I was starting to feel like it was in the bag and started to relax a little bit at this point, feeling my energy level pick up a little.  The section to the last rest stop was still kind of grueling though. Not as bad as Rt 80 and you know that it’s shorter so that helps a lot. I passed a lot of people cramping on this section, though. I was pretty happy with having stuffed a bunch of single serving Skratch Labs secret drink mixes into my pocket and using them rather than Gatorade, especially as I saw that. A few people who had seemed quite strong earlier on were definitely suffering here. But I felt like I was getting stronger for the first half here.

The final rest stop was at the entrance to the State Park and I quickly stopped for a little more Coke here as I felt the sugar would help on the final little ascent. But it was a super quick little stop and then I was on my way.  The grade here let up a decent amount and so I was able to stand and really kick it a bit.  As I passed the parking lot with the yellow Penske trucks (used for transporting bikes back down the mountain), I knew I was almost there and so of course that was the one point where I got a twinge of crampiness.  I pushed through it, though and finished strong.

I ended up with an official chip time of 6:34:33 and a moving time from my Garmin of about 6:20.  Since I had hoped to end up between 6 and 6.5 hours, that was right on target.  And my time put me at 131st of the 719 people who completed the race and 10th for my age group. Not shabby at all for my first time doing it.

Post-Ride

After crossing the finish line, my bike was immediately whisked away from me and I stumbled up to where our dry bags were. I changed into something that didn’t have a chamois (hooray) and grabbed some of the tomato soup that was there as well as a bag of Doritos (mmm, salt). I then made my way to the bus to start heading back to Marion.  The ride back to Marion was pretty quiet and I caught up on Twitter and chatted with the guy sitting next to me.  He had done the ride a few times before and finished about 10 minutes behind me.

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When we got to Marion, I wandered over and made myself a plate of food and kind of forced myself to eat it even though I was in the “not even hungry any more” state as I waited for my bike to make it down the mountain.  Kara, Madeline and my mom met me there and then I got my bike and it was on our way back to my parents’ house for the rest of my trip.

Closing Thoughts

So after doing all of it, I have a few thoughts about the ride.  First of all, it is very well run. Police escort out of Spartanburg, every turn well attended (with traffic stopped!), good rest stops (at least, the ones I stopped at).  The route was awesome — great roads, low traffic, lots of good hard climbing but also some stuff that in a group can just fly by. Getting people + bikes down from the top of the mountain to Marion also went more smoothly than I expected.

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Really the only bad I can point to is the behavior of some of the other riders. I saw somewhat rampant littering (gu wrappers, bottles, everything) and even with full use of the lane, people were frequently in the left lane when we were in the large group. Kind of disappointing and reflects poorly on cyclists in general.

Will I do it again?  Probably at some point.  The logistics make it difficult to commit to doing regularly but I’d definitely like to make another pass at it and see if I can get my time under six hours.  To do so would require at least some concerted and different training that I’m not 100% sure how I’d get but I do think it’s doable.

Final ride data is up at Strava as usual.  242 suffer score, Training Peaks gave it a TSS of 471 (both based on heart rate, not power at this point). All in all, not a bad day on the bike.

2009 Seacoast Safari Recap

Better late than never right? Here’s a quick recap from this year’s Seacoast Safari that I had started and has been sitting in the drafts folder…

For the third year, I signed up for the Seacoast Safari ride to raise money for research and treatment of Cystic Fibrosis. As I’ve previously mentioned, this ride has a bit of a personal connection for Team Quad as one of the guys that rides with us, Chris Kvam, actually has CF. Not that you’d know it from watching how strongly he rides. This year, Quad had an even larger team than last year with 26 riders.

For me, the thing that made it even more fun is that I had convinced my dad to fly up and do the ride with me. Originally, the plan was to have him ride my Merlin and I would ride my Cannondale. The previous week’s accident made that not an option. But we found another team bike for my dad to ride and all was well.

Also, Kara served as the official photographer for this year’s event. You can see all of her pictures on flickr

Saturday started off a little bit drizzly, but it looked like the majority of the rain had passed us. The roads were still a little wet, though. I had decided to take it easy and to mostly ride along with my dad which worked out well for riding with a number of the other Quaddies. All was going well with about 10 of us riding together until Jon hit a rock and was thrown off-balance and went sliding across the pavement. Ugh. Not the way to start a charity ride. But we made sure that the paramedics were taking care of him and we continued on. The next mishap, just a mile or two later, was a flat that for some reason was quite difficult to successfully change. Finally it was fixed and the rest of the day went by pretty uneventfully and the sun finally came out. As we got to UNE in Biddeford, we saw Jon standing there after having been discharged by the ER and brought up by one of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation staff. We had the barbeque lunch and then watched some of the coverage of the Tour stage from the day.

Dinner was the typical pasta dinner that has characterized the Seacoast Safari along with an award ceremony and silent auction. A nice impromptu addition to this year’s event was a few people auctioning off their prizes to raise even more money. Very cool! And Team Quad was recognized for the fact that we both had the largest team and had the largest fundraising amount of any team. Overall, the amount raised this year was over $100,000 making it significantly more than previous years.

We headed back to the dorms where we mostly sat around and talked bike geekery and then headed to bed to wake up early the next morning again.

Sunday morning came along and was quite sunny and perhaps perfect from a weather standpoint. We had breakfast and were then on our way. Again, I was content to take it easy and ride with my dad for the majority of the time. A number of other people were content to keep the same pace and so we had a nice group of about 8 Quaddies riding along at a fairly relaxed pace. We took in the scenery, we sang and enjoyed a wonderful day on the bike. At one point, I went to the front of the group and basically sat there for about 12 miles setting a steady pace into the wind. It was a great time and a good way to get a good tempo workout without having to really push it.

We made it back to Newburyport and wrapped things up. Stood around talking with people for a little bit, but at that point, wanted little more than a good shower and so were on our way pretty quickly to do so.

And with that, another Seacoast Safari was wrapped up. A good time overall and the route was just as gorgeous as always. And I think that the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation saw it as a pretty effect fundraiser. Looking forward to next year so that I can ride it again!

Photo by Kara Katz / CC BY-NC 2.0
Photo by Kara Katz / CC BY-NC 2.0

Jeremy vs the Volcano (Haleakala)

The Setup

After looking a bit, one of the things that I really wanted to do while in Maui was a climb up Haleakala by bike. Haleakala is the volcanic mountain which towers over the eastern portion of the island rising to a height of over 10000 feet above sea level. One of the bigger “touristy” things to do while on the island is to actually pay for a van to take you up to the top of the mountain where they set you up with some sort of bike (a cruiser, a mountain bike, or something similarly simple) and let you ride down the mountain. But the thing for a real cyclist to do is instead to start at sea level with a bike and ride up to the top.

The first thing to do was to figure out a route. As it turns out, this is pretty straight-forward. There are a few accounts online including a really good one here. Routes are also on all the usual sites so I loaded one onto my Garmin. Most of the routes are right around 35 miles starting in the beach town of Paia and finishing at the summit. 35 miles, 10000 feet. This is starting to sound like a ride.

Getting a Bike

The second thing to do was figuring out a bike to ride. Option one would be to fly with my bike. The airlines have worked quite hard to make this a pretty infeasible option as they’ve increased the costs of flying with a bike. It’s really pretty sad and unfortunate as (from what I’ve read; this predates my serious riding) you used to be able to box a bike and fly with it pretty easily. Oh well. So it goes. A second option tends to be shipping the bike via UPS or FedEx. But being that we’re talking Hawaii, that’s really not much cheaper as you have to do air shipment rather than ground. That basically left renting a bike

Now renting a bike in a place where you’ve never been before can be a dicey concept. You’re never quite sure what you’re going to end up getting. When I was on the Outer Banks a couple of years ago for my sister’s wedding, I rented a bike and while it ended up being something I could ride, it wasn’t really that nice. A lower-end off-brand aluminum frame with a 105/Tiagra mix. From some looking around, though, it looked like West Maui Cycles rented pretty reasonable bikes. So I called them up and arranged to rent a bike for the week. In terms of road bikes, they rent Cannondales and I was told I’d either get a Six Thirteen or a Synapse depending on which had been returned by the time I got there for the pick up. And the price seemed reasonable too ($200 for the week).

So when we got to Maui, I headed to the bike shop to pick up the bike. I took my own helmet, pedals, shoes and saddle to help ensure I was as comfortable as possible. I also remembered to throw in one of the stem mounts for the Garmin so that I could follow routes. When I got there, the bike they had was the Synapse with an Ultegra/Dura-Ace mix and a compact crank. Not a shabby bike at all. The guys were even nice enough to go ahead and swap the saddle for mine and put on my pedals for me. I did a couple of test rides in the area closer to Kapalua to get to know the bike and until there was a day I had enough time to make the ride up the volcano.

When to Ride

Basically everyone’s account of the ride is that the weather can be a bit of a mixed bag on the island and especially on the way up the mountain so to try to give yourself as many days of a window for doing it as possible. I really didn’t want to go before Kara’s family arrived (Thursday) since I knew it would be an all-day trip and Saturday to Monday were likely to be taken with wedding stuff. So I really only had two possible days — Friday and Tuesday. I had decided to try for Friday. Then, on Thursday I began to track the progress of the hurricane heading for the islands… okay, so Friday is really my only bet now.

Day of the Ride

This of course meant that Thursday night, I slept terribly. Couldn’t fall asleep until later as my body adjusted to Hawaii time. Then, I got one of the random telemarketer + hang-up calls at 4 am. So I missed my alarm going off. I woke up at like 6:30 and had intended to be out of the condo by 5:30 at the latest. Oops. Some quick thinking and packing and I decided that even though it’d be a later start, I’d be okay and that I should still make a go for it if I was really going to have the chance to make the climb.

As I’m driving from Kapalua to Paia I start to realize the things I had left in the condo due to my very hurried packing. The first I realized was the heart rate monitor strap. Oh well, no big loss; I can just go on effort. More about finishing than pacing perfectly anyway. The second is sunscreen. This one’s a bit more important but I decide I’ll find some in Paia before I get started. So I keep driving and get to Paia a little after 8. I look for the best parking place and decide that the municipal lot off of Rt 36 right as you come into town is my best bet. I park and find some crappy sunscreen at a gas station so that I can be on my way. I’ve got the bike, spare tube and pump, GPS, two bottles (one electrolytes, one water), a tube of electrolyte drink tablets (these things are nice if you think you can only find water on your route), lots of Clif Shot bloks, a few clif bars, arm warmers and my knee warmers.

Off I Go!

At 8:15 (rather than 6:30 or so), I’m finally on my way on the route I had loaded onto the GPS. Right away I realize that this is no picnic as the road immediately slopes upward with a pretty steady 5% grade. No warm-up, no stretching… just climbing the hill.

At two miles in, I’m beginning to wonder “what the hell was I thinking?” as I slowly grind along. But at the same time, I’m starting to get into some sort of rhythm of spinning along. Seeing the first group of the downhill riders gives me a little bit of a push and I get even more into a rhythm. But it’s still definitely a rhythm of pain as I can’t quite get to an entirely comfortable position on the bike. Not to mention that it’s quite humid and the wind has picked up a bit. I keep going, just telling myself that I need to keep going until the Sunrise Market — regularly pointed out as the last place to get food before things begin in earnest.

At around mile seven, a couple of cyclists turn off of a side road onto the road ahead of me. They were maybe a quarter of a mile ahead, but it gives me some amount of drive and I begin to pedal faster and close in on them. I speak briefly with them as I reach them, but I continue on feeling strengthened by having seen some others on the road. I considered the idea of trying to stick with them so that I’d have some company, but I know that at this point, I’m better off keeping my own pace than trying to tie myself to anyone else.

But passing the two of them is enough to keep me moving for quite a while. The next section actually has tiny little sections of a brief downhill or flatness which helps me a lot as I can rest even briefly on them. The number of downhilll riders is also increasing. The leaders of those groups as well as the drivers of the vans following them frequently wave or give an encouraging word. So I make it pretty easily to the Sunrise Market at about mile 12 and around 3000 feet of elevation

Given that this is one of the three total places to stop for water, I figure it’s worth refilling my bottle and hit the restroom. By now, it’s hot out so I want to be sure I keep drinking. I’m not stopped that long, but long enough. As I get back on the road, I see a rider down the road a little bit behind me. I make the turn onto the road up to the national park itself and the guy behind me eventually catches up to me. We talk briefly and then he’s off. Again I consider trying to ride with him, but realize my own pace is better to keep.

I keep him in my sight for a little while, but the path of very sharp switchbacks takes him away from my sight after a while. I keep pedaling, looking to just notch off every 500 feet of elevation gain. As I pass the 5000 ft marker, I realize that I’m having to breathe a lot harder — the air really does get quite a bit thinner as you go up in altitude. I grit my teeth and keep going. At this point, I see an occasional car going down or get passed by an occasional car going up, but it’s mostly just me and the mountain. As I reach 6000 feet, it’s kind of cold as I’m now into the clouds (!). I pull out my arm warmers and put them on as I keep riding along knowing that the next stop of the lower ranger station isn’t that far away.
Entering Haleakala National Park

Finally, when I don’t know how much more I can go, the sight of the sign for entering the real area of the national park and the lower ranger station appears. I stop to take a quick picture and then pay my $5 park entry fee and ask the ranger if there’s somewhere I can get some water. He points me to the spigot on the side of the station where I gratefully refill my nearly empty at this point bottles. He also asks if I’m training for the Cycle to the Sun race in two weeks. I’m not, but the thought of that suffering helps to push me on again. Well, that plus the fact that I now paid $5 to enter the park :-)

If the previous leg was hard, this one is mentally mind-breaking. The physical hardship is, at this point, mostly a dull throb. The real pain at this point is the mental effort required to keep pushing forward. I know that I have only about eleven miles to go, but I also know that I still have over 3000 feet of climbing in cloudy/misty/cool conditions while in the clouds. But I’m not going to let the mountain beat me. And so I continue on. My mind concentrates on very few things during this time. Pedaling in small circles. Keeping my eyes on the road ahead of me, but trying not to look up the slope much. That I want to beat the mountain.
Summit Road

As I continue to make my way up, there are now no trees lining the way and the hillside is scattered with just small bushes. In addition, you’re really starting to be able to tell that this is a volcanic mountain. The side is covered in the sort of rocky look that you just associate in your mind with a volcano. Or Mars. I think I zoned out a little and was delerious for a bit of this chunk of the ride. The guy who had passed me eventually passes me going down when I’m about 4 miles from the top and he gives an encouraging word as he passes.

The upper visitor’s center is a mile from the summit and 600 feet down. I pull over slightly and consider for a second stopping there. But I know that if I do, I will never let myself live it down and so I climb back upon my bike and slowly pedal my way upwards. It helps that at this point I’m above the clouds and can see the sun again. As I approach the parking lot at the summit, I get a burst of energy and stand to do some sort of victory yell as I enter the parking lotand I stand to dance on the pedals, unleashing my suitcase of courage with a scream as I enter the parking lot in victory

Four hours and thirty-four minutes. 35 miles. 10000 feet of vertical gain. The single hardest thing I think I’ve ever done on a bike, both in terms of physical effort required but even more from the amount of mental effort. It was like being dropped off the back of the field at a race but orders of magnitude more difficult.

The summit has a fair number of people and some of them look on with disbelief that I did the entire ride up. Some of the others had passed me multiple times as they stopped at scenic lookouts on the way and congratulated me. I pulled out my phone as I sat on the top of the world for some pictures and a brief rest before making my way back down the mountain.
10023 Feet
Holding the bike aloft
View from the summitAnother view from the summit

And then, it was time to make my way down. I stopped at the upper visitor’s center to again refill my bottles and use the restroom. I also pull on my knee warmers as I realize it’s a lot cooler on the way down given the fact that I basically am coasting in a high wind. As I make my way down, I also notice the third thing I had forgotten for the day — my long fingered gloves. Oh well. I start down and also sort of wish I had a wind jacket or a rain jacket as the misting picks up as I hit the cloud layer.
View from 5000 feet

The way down is pretty boring. It’s a mix between coasting, braking for the sharp turns that aren’t banked and feeling the fact that I’d been sitting on the bike for 5+ hours. Also, trying to pedal a little to keep from cramping badly after the difficulty of the ride up. I honestly don’t know at this point why anyone would want to do that much less pay to do it. But it’s definitely still a lot faster. Less than two hours for the entirety of the ride down, even when you include the stops I made including for pictures at 5000 feet.
Another view at 5000 feet

I make it back to Paia and navigate the now significant traffic in town to get back to the car. I gladly dismount and am glad. In the battle of Jeremy vs Haleakala, I beat the volcano.

After doing it and having a little bit of time to reflect on it, I’m even more glad that I did the ride. It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done on the bike. I think it even can count for the use of the word epic. After looking at the times of the finishers in the race which the ranger had mentioned to me, I’m even more glad as I think that my time was quite respectable given that I was doing it solo and not as a race. I might have to do some of the New England hill climbing races as it was a lot of fun.

Equipment-wise, I think I was pretty well prepared. A compact crank was definitely good to have. I can see where a triple could help. Arm warmers and knee warmers was okay for August. I wish I had remembered my long fingered gloves for the way down. A jacket might have been nice, but having to carry it up probably negates the value of it. Leg warmers vs knee warmers is probably a matter of personal preference — it’s six of one, half dozen of the other for me until it’s quite a bit cooler.

Last of all, the route I used is below as well as a link to Garmin Connect where you can export the route to follow yourself if you find yourself in Maui and wanting to ride the volcano.
Haleakala Route Map