102 miles - 8:42:01
I have approached the summit of Mt. Mitchell almost a dozen different ways; on trail and asphalt. I have run up and down hwy 128, the 5 mile road up to the summit multiple times (Mt. Mitchell Challenge alternate weather coarse, and Pitchell). I have also run to the summit from all sides of the peak on trails. I have driven a car to the summit, the least exhilarating of them all. I would now attempt to ride a bike to the summit. The Freewheelers cycling club out of Spartanburg, SC puts on a bike race dubbed the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, and this would be its 35th year. I had to sign up for this.
The ride is on a Monday to avoid vehicular traffic on the parkway. So all the logistics went down on Sunday, and it got complicated. Long story short, dropped off the bike in Spartanburg, drove up to Marion, parked my car at the Marion finish (campgrounds), hitched a ride back to Spartanburg just in time for the last left over’s of the pasta dinner and called it a night on M’s couch who offered me a place to crash the night before this monster ride.
I woke up at 5am, doubled up on oatmeal because the pasta wasn’t as filling as I would have liked it to be, and rode my bike to the start. There were hundreds of cyclists, all decked out and lined up at the starting line. We took off at 6:30am.
The first few miles were a bit nerve wracking as we were all squeezed in like sardines in each lane. It took 10-15 minutes to thin out and I began to ride in a huge pack. Im new at this riding thing, and wouldn’t consider myself anything more than a novice. So when It came my turn to lead a line, I pushed hard. Breaking the advice of badass cyclists friends Greg Paige and Mike Jackson who told me not to lead early on. I lead with excitement, and pushed hard. A line of 60 cyclists behind me followed along, and like a snake we passed a few solo bikes that we zipped by. After a hill or two I felts my legs get weaker and my pace begin to slip. So I pulled to the left and let someone else lead.
“Nice lead yo,” “sweet pace…” “awesome lead…” a few people complimented. They all zipped by, and I had a hard time keeping up with my pack, and slipped up as a solo rider for a few moments. Only to be picked up by another pack. I did this a few times and realized that I was expending more energy than I needed to while leading, and tried to draft as much as possible. It was going to be a long day.
Every few miles I would see a bike on the side of the street with a cyclist down, either a crash or a flat. Both would be bad news for me, and I hoped for the best. I kept pushing as fast as I could maintain. I filled up water and ate at the aid stations, and just got into a good groove. The weather couldn’t have been better during the morning.
Around mile 55, a rider that was only going to Marion (shorter ride), with a bib # of 2009, slammed his brakes hard while we were in a tight line. My fear became a reality, half way into this adventure. My front tire slammed into his rear tire, and I lost control of my bike making me go down and kiss the asphalt hard. I got banged up, but only a few scrapes here and there. I looked at my bike, and the handlebar was twisted to the left. Rider #2009 stopped and came back to help. “Are you ok?”
I was fine, the bike appeared to be in working order, but didn’t look the same as it did at the start. I was already tired and knew that I had to finish this thing because I might not be back next year. I hoped onto the bike, and slowly made forward progress. I proceeded with caution, which a wise friend taught me. About 10 miles later I noticed that the bike was making a weird sound, and realized it was my brake pad rubbing. I couldn’t tell if it was my front brake or rear brake, I didn’t care so I kept pushing.
At mile 73 I made it to Marion. Here I refueled, and took in more calories. I fiddled with the brakes and couldn’t seem to figure out if it was the front or the rear breaks, and decided to push on with the added resistance. I knew it would be painful as the real climbing comes after Marion. I rolled out of Marion about 4:30 after the gun time and found my way onto Hwy 80, passed lake Tahoma and started a grueling climb.
I was moving anywhere from 4-10 mph and I could feel my quads pulsating. It began to rain, and I could hear everything on my bike, including the rubbing brake pad. Everytime someone got near my bike, or passed me, they would tell me my brake was rubbing on my bike. I didn’t care anymore. I was on a mission, and I wanted the summit. Yet I was still so far away.
Here I took advantage of my ipod, and played the recently downloaded funky beats of DJ Icey. These tunes gave me a boost and I passed my cyclist up the hwy 80 hill, on the parkway section, and all the way up to the summit. While on the parkway the rain got heavier and made for some scary descents. I didn’t want the bike to slide from underneath me and crash again, so I was cautious going down the hills. When I finally reached hwy 128 I knew I was home free. 5 miles to go, and all a climb. I kept passing people on the uphills, and loved every minute of it. The last two miles were surprisingly level and I pumped my legs even faster, and kept passing cyclists and even a few cars that were just behind some cyclists. I crossed the line in 8:42:01. I wanted to carry my bike up to the summit, but they wouldn’t allow that! They took my bike and shuttled it down to Marion to the campgrounds where my car was.
I followed the scent of the great smelling tomato soup and downed 3 warm cups. I retrieved my drop bag, and found Greg who parked his car at the Black Mountain Campgrounds and hiked the six miles up to the summit. Hey provided some more nutritional calories which I was very thankful to scarf up. I then strapped my cycling gear, helmet an all to my running back, and threw on my inov8’s. After hiking up to the summit, I attempted to run down the MST, which turned into a speed hike for the first few miles and then gradually got faster. My legs were toasted, but I wanted to push myself. We made it to the campgrounds in just over an hour and half, and I jumped in the South Toe river soaked the body. I would feel the affects of this even a week later as this was a monster adventure. Greg, thanks for helping out and meeting me at the summit!!