2015 Assault on Mt. Mitchell–Baptism by Fire and Rain!

“My wife, Helen, said I was crazy – she told me that when we were picnicking on Mt. Mitchell in western North Carolina and I said I’d like to climb the 6,684 foot high peak on a bicycle.” – the late John Bryan, Founder of the Assault on Mount Mitchell.  From the History of the Assaults webpage

The Assault on Mount Mitchell is a 103 mile bike ride, but like no other “century ride” that I know.  Founded by the late John Bryan, the route winds from Spartanburg, SC to the top of Mount Mitchell via Marion, NC,; Highway 80 and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  What makes this ride so (in)famous around the world is not only the elevation gain (close to 11,000 feet!) but also the fact that much of the worst climbing is at the end.  Below is my account of attempting for the first time – and by the Grace of God – finishing, this epic adventure.


Ready … Set … Go!

I had set two alarms the night before, and tossed and turned just about all night.  It’s a good thing I found some decent sleep on Saturday night; as for Sunday night, my fight against pre-event adrenaline was just about pointless.

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4am is just too early to think.  Thankfully, I had everything lined up and packed in the car the night before.  Just a small, quick breakfast and busywife and I were out the door and on the road to Spartanburg (what made this day even more special was she was going for the Marion Assault while I was taking on the challenge of The Mountain).

We arrived at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium just before 5:30am, one hour before the start.  Time enough to get everything together, a short warm-up and of course one last trip to the row of plastic outhouses:

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For it being so early in the morning, I was already charged up and literally aching to get going.  Coming off a training taper from the previous week, I could sense all the energy of months of preparation just waiting to be released.

As the countdown to the ride start reached the final minutes, I looked around and noticed quite the crowd of riders all joining in on this big event.  There is something intangible about such a large group of people, from all over the country, lining up for a bike ride.  An epic bike ride, for sure.

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It took me awhile to get comfortable with finding a starting position.  Last year, when I rode the Assault on Marion as a way to understand the Mitchell ride, I misjudged where to be and wasted precious energy trying to “catch” groups ahead of me.

This time I decided to err a bit too far forward in the pack, determining that I would have the self control to drop out of a group if the pace was too high.

Once again I learned that I’m terrible at managing my starts!

The rush of riders was amazing to watch (again) as we all thrust forward with the energy of months and months of anticipation.  I spotted the elite group far ahead, as they almost immediately strung out the mass of riders and big gaps began to form before the first turn.  The course had been slightly changed for 2015 due to bridge construction on the “original” route and our first turn was a sharp right onto a two lane road.  I knew this would squeeze the groups and thankfully I didn’t get caught up in any rider traffic – quickly we made the next left and were back onto a four lane road where more shuffling for position occurred.

That little voice in my head reminding me about “our agreement” before the start was trying to make itself heard, but the burning fire of adrenaline kept it silent – as I got eaten up and spit out by a number of groups.  Odd the phenomenon of self-deception – you are aware of what information your brain is gathering for you to process (heart rate – above threshold!  Warning!) … yet your rational abilities to rein yourself in have apparently been – suspended.

Eventually reality ushers in truth.  For me it wasn’t until 42 minutes in, close to the NC border, as I finally came to terms with yet another pack dropping me off (who are these people and what do they do to get this fast?).  Later I would pay for burning some of my matches…

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I think what helped me “come back to earth” was another rider who was struggling alongside me to keep up with the group.  Just about the same time, we looked at each other – and gave up chasing.

It was incredibly difficult to just “slow down.”  I knew there were hundreds of riders behind me, and I had to trust that fact.

Taking a few moments to get the HR down:

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Enjoying the relatively cool morning (although humid) and the sunrise greeting us:

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I could see a massive group approaching from behind far in the distance..

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…and soon enough I was swallowed up again.  Finally, I was with a group of riders that I had the ability to work with.  This group stayed together (more or less) to the second aid station, and I was very thankful for that.  I pulled once, and the rest of the time I had a relatively lazy spin in the middle of the group, holding down a very reasonable heart rate and effort level.

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Saying goodbye to a great group at the second rest stop, 43 miles into the ride.

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My plan was to push through to the stop at Bill’s Hill, take a quick break and then continue on to the church at the 82 mile mark, right before the real climbing starts on Highway 80.

Just after the second rest stop, watch out for the sharp right hander.  This one gets many people, and I was glad to see the precautions the organizers put together at this curve.  Cones to keep traffic separated, EMS on hand and a guy right at the curve with a megaphone warning everyone.

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I have to admit I caught the curve wide open without any other riders and took the opportunity to enjoy it.  This ride is all about the climb at the end so why not enjoy some speed when you’ve got it?

Being careful not to burn up while riding alone I managed my way to the start of Bill’s Hill and focused on a fairly slow pace to rest stop #3 at the top and a much needed break.  Not often do I ride 48 miles without a break!

Approaching the turn:

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Trying to keep the HR down in manageable territory:

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Almost there…

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Time to take a break.  I knew that Highway 80 and to the top of Mitchell was going to make this look like a cakewalk.  I was at rest stop #3, the top of Bill’s Hill in just over 2.5 hours and felt like I was on track for a pretty good time to the top.

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I took the quickest “gas and go” I could – eat something, restroom stop, stretch my back, refill bottles with water (thank you to the great volunteers for filling my bottles!), add Accelerade mix and back on the road.  Next stop, rest stop #6, Sunnyvale Baptist Church.

Recalling my experience last year on the Marion ride, I knew that there were some big rollers in between here and Marion.  Last year I struggled towards “the end” and had to take an unscheduled stop at the rest stop at mile 63.  Was I going to run into the same problems again?

On the way to Marion I took  the approach of conserving as much as I could, and did my best to not ride alone.  I would get dropped by a group of riders who would climb faster than me, but then I’d catch them on descents and be able to have a group again for the flats.  When groups would leave me, I’d slow down and let another catch me.  The strategy mostly worked out until too many rollers left me dropped off without seeing any sign of another group behind me.  I wrestled with the same mental battle of “should I bridge this gap?” and “don’t burn yourself up!”

Thankfully, before I made any more mistakes, we hit road construction.

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At first I hated to see this.  I’ve got time to make, and I can’t afford to sit here and wait!  However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  This bunched up all the riders I had been trying to stay with, and after only 5 minutes of waiting (I was at least smart enough to take this time to stretch / eat / drink etc.), the Gate Keeper indicated we were allowed to proceed (maybe a bit melodramatic – so the construction guy flipped the sign from Stop to Slow but doesn’t something this momentous deserve a better description?)

This group pulled together almost all the way to Marion, where I rode on my own through the last turns and the exhilarating descent Greenlee road along the river.  I was feeling great and as I turned onto Resistoflex and crossed the bridge, I saw that I had almost matched my time last year to Marion!

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I felt invigorated from seeing the clock at Marion – having beat 4:30 and feeling totally in control at this point.  Last year I finished at this point just about exhausted.  With the exception of burning a few matches in the first 42 minutes of the ride, I had kept my HR below threshold the rest of the way to Marion.  Now I had confidence that I had the energy for the push to the top, and thought that there was a distinct possibility I could come in under 9 hours at the finish. (Later I would compare my rides and noted that my HR averaged a few bpm less this year than last for almost the same ride time – happy to see a fitness improvement and the result of training!)


The Pain Cave Begins

Soon after passing Marion, the overcast day gave way to the sun – and my nemesis, heat – began to take it’s toll.

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I had seen this route last September, and knew after the flat there were rollers, but also shade and relief from the direct sun.  I set a relatively slow pace, caught a few riders for a draft here and there, and focused on making it to the church, knowing it was my next planned stop.

Once I saw the dam for Lake Tahoma I knew the shade wasn’t too far ahead.

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The Lake Tahoma Casino:

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Finally out of the sun again.

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Made it to the church!  82 miles so far and only two stops so far, just as planned.

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Thankful for every one of the volunteers that were out today.

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The heat was making its presence known … jumping into this creek would have been just about perfect at this point.

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82 miles in and still feeling fairly ok, but something just wasn’t quite right.  My stomach was a bit unsettled … when this had happened before, I thought that my system was telling me that solid food wasn’t working anymore, and I had to focus only on liquid.  I decided at this point to hit the pause button on the cookies and fig bars and go with only Accelerade.  Water refill, added drink mix, restroom stop and another quick back stretch and off I went to where the real climbs started.

Later I would realize that I was actually having trouble with the Accelerade itself – the whey protein component was no longer agreeing with my system – and what I was fighting from this point all the way up 80 and partway down the Parkway (along with fatigue) was actually a “bonk” as my system wasn’t absorbing what it needed…

I pushed away from the aid station and focused on the enormity of the immediate task at hand – climbing 80 up to the Parkway.  Riding the last straight stretch of road I would see all day, the mountains loomed:

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Appearing to be curious more than anything, I spotted a deer that looked as if she was watching all the cyclists riding by and wondering to herself why humans would do such a thing:

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All day – and truthfully, all week – prior to this point, I had this climb in my mind.  I wanted to save myself for a good push up 80, and felt that I still had some matches saved from the previous 82 miles and was ready.  True, I blasted away some energy at the start but I think I recovered well, rode with some good groups and conserved the rest of the way to Marion.

Which is exactly why I was confused with my performance as soon as I was into the first serious grade on 80.

Pictures do not do justice to show what was probably 6-7% grades and higher.  Uphill…

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and looking back down.

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I felt that I was ready and chose my next to last gear (saving granny for later) and tried to fire the legs up, use some more HR and set a good pace for the climb.  Except I had nothing.  Just about NOTHING.  My closest analogy is like trying to drive a turbocharged car with the turbo off – no boost.  I tried to dig down for some heart rate and power and it was as if Scotty kept yelling back to me from the engine room that we had nothing more!

As I was wrestling with my own personal dilemma, I noticed many riders experience their own version of the Wall, the Pain Cave, or even – The End.  I saw groups of riders sitting on the guardrail, long looks of despair on their faces.  Guys with their heads in their hands, sitting down as if in major grief.  Then a few guys would pass me going down the mountain, … Lord no I did not just see that.  It’s one thing to see people stopped, but yet another to see people that have thrown in the towel and are riding back to Marion.

Without warning, the previously unthinkable happened to me.  My body couldn’t handle the push – and I just stopped on 80.  Almost unannounced … in the middle of the lane.

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The grade was too steep, the effort too high – for whatever reason, I made an unscheduled stop, the first of many.

A thousand things tried to roll through my mind at this point.  “I’ll never make 8:30, and I’ll probably miss out on beating 9 hours” … “why can’t I get my HR over 150?” …. “It’s getting really hot” …

Then I did something that I don’t normally do in tough situations.  Instead of bellyaching to myself and directing all sorts of anger at innocent bystanders, nearby animals, my Lord above … I surprised myself with a simple thought:

“Let’s just make sure we finish this thing”

I swallowed my pride, clicked into my lowest gear (yep I’ve got an 11-32 cassette on my road bike and very happy to have it!) and pedaled on – low cadence, low HR, no power and all.

I made what seemed like countless stops on 80.  Nothing of any significant length, but just enough to gain composure each time.  The mercury kept rising (later I would see from my ride data that 93 degrees was the high) and then I noticed a few clouds that were working their way over the Blue Ridge.  I called out “Lord bring me a rain shower!”  I constantly worried about cramping.  Heat brings on cramps for me if I don’t get my hydration and electrolyte intake just right.

From time to time I couldn’t help but recall #3 from the BikeLaw Cycling Collective Manifesto:

Cycling is not suffering. Hunger and the plague are suffering. Cycling is a joy, even when it’s hard.

This sure is hard.  But in it’s own way, enjoyable.

The battle continued on until I saw a very welcome sight – the sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Another rest stop was ahead!

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By now I was dealing with a moderate headache (of course, I was dealing with a bonk, but I hadn’t put two and two together yet) and was looking forward to some Coke at the next stop.  Sugar and caffeine would be a huge help right now.

At the stop I saw plenty of riders who looked as gassed as I felt.  A couple guys were literally laid out in the grass, some were playing with their phones … it was somewhat surreal.  Are these guys done or just taking an extended break?  Aren’t we all burning daylight here people?  The clock is ticking!

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As I gathered myself from the climb, I got back into part of my routine – fill bottles, add mix, stretch, restroom break.  Still not feeling that great and not sure why as I hadn’t had anything solid for an hour or so (another clue McFly, hello?).  No solutions to that just yet – let’s grab some Coke and keep pedaling.  I’m fairly sure I can handle the Parkway section if I just had some Coke…

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Nope, sorry we’re out of Coke.

Look at all those empty bottles!

Now I want to send a message to the poor folks volunteering at the rest stop at the top of 80.  I’m sure you had to bring the bad news to a few hundred riders that day, and I noticed your slight wince as you expected me to say something not very nice.  I chose to say nothing, and I hope that you can understand that I totally appreciate the fact that you were there (Momma always said, if you can’t say anything nice…). At the risk of failing Momma’s rule, and making a poor volunteer decide never to come back – I kept my mouth shut and reached for plan B.

A caffeine GU packet in my seat bag.

I had no idea if I could handle a GU with my stomach making odd noises but something had to be done for this headache and I needed a sugar boost.

Just then I noticed dark clouds coming over the mountain (see the “No Coke” picture above!), and showers began to move in.  I had been so hot climbing 80, I was thankful for the answered prayer.  I unpacked my vest, zipped up and started up the ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway and more climbing.  I exchanged a wave with the Park Ranger directing traffic and we both agreed this was much better than burning in the heat.

I had no idea exactly how much rain “relief” I was going to get!

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The showers turned into moderate rain here and there, and although I had to get over the initial “I am getting wet!” response, it was very welcome to exchange the heat for a 20deg drop in temperature.  Cooler weather = less chance for cramps.  I’ll take it.

Visibility wasn’t too bad, and I was thankful for a strong rear and front light to be seen by the car traffic.

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Looking down off the ridge, I could only imagine what riders behind me were experiencing.

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As I mashed away in granny gear, many riders would pass me at a pace I knew I was capable of, but today could not sustain…

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When this would happen I just had to ignore the rampant thoughts of “why” and focus on what I could do.  I can still make a little power, and I can still continue up the mountain.  Just color me blue and call me The Little Engine – I’m going to make it to the top of this Mountain!

The rain let up for a short time, and I took more breaks.  The Parkway isn’t as tough as 80, but it has it’s sections – which forced me to take a couple breathers.

I stopped at the bottom of this short climb…

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… then yet again at Hewat Overlook.  Off in the distance I couldn’t tell what was coming – fog, rain or worse.  (Yes, it would be worse…)

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I was really struggling at this point, and it was quite difficult just to get onto the bike and push on to the next rest stop, at Green Cove Overlook.  Two hours ago I left the church on 80 and I have felt each and every pedal stroke, unable to make good power.  What kept me going were the words often spoken by our church Pastor when relating to the Daily Walk of the Believer – “if you don’t quit, you can’t lose.”  How appropriate, here and now.

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The deepest of depths

Psalm 71:20 New Living Translation (NLT)

20 You have allowed me to suffer much hardship,
    but you will restore me to life again
    and lift me up from the depths of the earth.

By the time I made it to Green Cove Overlook, I felt simultaneously closer than ever to my goal, and about to fall apart.  Rolling along at 4mph (or whatever was just faster than walking) was demoralizing, and I just didn’t know how much more of that I was able to handle.  Did I even have enough energy to make it to the top?  I rolled into the rest stop and out of all the voices in my head vying for my attention, I had a brief few seconds of lucidity…

“Accelerade has protein in it … is the whey protein messing me up?”

Desperate times, desperate measures .. I took quick action, and dumped all my bottles and refilled with just water.  I might have been able to deal with Gatorade, but wasn’t sure about the taste.  What I knew was that I was hungry for trail mix and quite a few other things.  So I ate up a bag plus a banana, and probably had a few cookies in there too.

Taking a few moments to compose myself, I had a few positive thoughts about the road ahead.  I’ve been here before, and it’s not that many more miles.  The next rest stop at the turn to NC 128, the last big grade to the park entrance gate, the false flat and you are just about there at the finish.  It’s not so bad right?  I still have plenty of time to finish.

Just as I was thinking about moving on, the real rain moved in.  Stinging, pelting, wondering-if-hail-is-next type of rain.  An in your face ferocious mountain thunderstorm.

Everyone huddled up under the easy-up.  All of us were shivering.  Someone offered me a seat.  I thought “yes! thank you so much” – I said “No – if I sit down there’s no way I’ll get back up.”

Ironically, the hardest thing I had done all day was to step out into the rain, check my gear and get back on the bike.  Waiting any longer and more excuses would have overwhelmed me. Just as was about to pull onto the parkway and into the deluge, another rider pulls into the rest stop.  I thought it very odd that right there and then, when he could have been turning to a volunteer for many a need, looking for shelter and food, he instead looked right at me and said:

“Get out there man, get up the mountain and Finish Strong.”

This was my “Come to Jesus” moment.  I really had no choice.  I had decided years ago I was going to do this ride before I turned 40.  This was my day, this was my year – and everything in between me and the finish was inconsequential.  Already shivering, I gritted my teeth and pushed through the driving rain and the two mile descent.

The next two miles were some of the worst riding I had ever experienced.  I was glad to have had years of motorcycling riding under my belt, and countless experiences of getting caught out in rainstorms.  You have to learn to trust your tires (good tires are a must!) and be very smooth with your inputs to the bike.  I was also thankful for the times I forced myself to train in some wet weather.  I knew about the (very) delayed action of my rim brakes at speed, and not to get too freaked out by the sensation of my front wheel plowing through the water and further soaking my feet.  I’m riding on water – it must be a miracle!

By the time I reached the bottom of the descent, I was shivering cold.  Gripping the bars was more like holding on for dear life.  The rain was so hard I thought Noah was going to float by at any moment.  I didn’t need my water bottles, as I could literally drink from the sky.

There was no stopping.  Stopping meant getting even colder.  Moving meant staying warm.  Move, then.  It’s all there is.

One brief moment where I had enough clarity to snap a picture.  Just about completely soaked at this point:

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From when I left Green Cove Overlook to when the storm finally let up was about an hour.  At one point I felt like I was right in the middle of the storm – thunder and lightning were no longer separated events but more like sumo wrestler twins scaring the snot out of you just about every moment.  When was I going to get smashed by them?


Finish, and Finish Strong

For some reason, my bike computer was one mile ahead of every rest stop (according to my minimal cue sheet – taped to my bike stem).  So for every anticipated stop, I had to think one more mile before I could reach it.  When you’re climbing at such a slow speed, one mile is a significant amount of time!  By the time the rain slowed down and I caught a break in the clouds, I wasn’t too far away from rest stop #9 and the turn onto NC128 – but did I have to go yet another mile to reach it?

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All at once, I had one of those “angels” moments … I didn’t hear them singing, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if they were.  The rain stopped and the clouds started to part.  Another rider caught up with me, and instead of watching him ride away – I kept up and we started chatting up our ride experiences thus far.  The road grade evened out and I was able to push above 10mph … then we reached rest stop #9 exactly where my odometer said it would be.  What kind of time warp did I find?  Can I find it again to the top?

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I’ve got to hand it to the kind people at this stop.  They were some of the most encouraging people I’d met all day.  I can’t imagine what it takes to be fired up all day for each and every rider, with all the weather that had been coming through.  Standing around in low 60 degree weather with the rain pelting you – not at the top of many favorites, I’m sure. To the guy in camo with the dog, thank you.  You got me fired up for that last charge up the mountain.

At this stop I felt that my change in nutrition strategy was a success.  (But didn’t really figure it out until later – funny how serious contemplation is suspended until the challenge is complete – but it’s the challenge itself that brings on the contemplation).  No more headache, no more digestive problems – not spilling over with energy but definitely felt capable for the last miles up the mountain.

Next up, NC 128 – the road to the park.  Some of the steepest grades of the whole ride are here, just before you reach the gate to the park.  The section right before the gate was on my mind – would I have to get off an walk it?  I had been able to avoid walking up to this point – would the cramps continue to stay away?

As I made the last turn, I couldn’t help but get emotional.  Praising and thanking my Lord for the strength to reach this point, having been so doubtful so many times before.

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The sun would peek in and out of the clouds and warmth would soon take over from what had been a cold couple of hours.

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On my way to the summit, I saw plenty of SAG vehicles loaded down with riders, passing me on their way to a bus ride back to Marion.  Seeing this now was motivating.  I am going to finish this ride!  I am not going to end up in the SAG!

A few breaks along the way and I reached the steep pitch just before the gate.  Must … keep … going …

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Made it to rest stop #10, past the gate, no walking!

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A welcome sight – 2 miles to the summit.  Once again seeing my speedometer climb above 10mph!

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Beautiful view…

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Taking a moment to appreciate the logistical madness of this event.  Rows of Penske trucks waiting to transport bikes and who knows what else at the end of the day:

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After the restaurant, the road kicks up one more time, in a last ditch effort to defeat you.  Stay strong and push through it!

After the last, small climb, what remained was the one turn between me and finish line.  Standing there was my wonderful wife, who had finished Marion and hopped on a bus to the top of Mitchell in time to cheer me on and finish.  The best, most fantastic part of the ride is what she made it at the end – cow bell ringing and cheering me to the finish.  I felt so good, I clicked up a few gears, stood up on the pedals and did my best sprint to the end, belting out a victory yell to top it all off.

Crossing in 9:52, I met my “fallback” goal of beating 10 hours to the finish.  Just after crossing and settling myself down, I snapped a pic looking back at The Finish:

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Exhausted, yet inspired.  From the depths to the highest of highs – I now understood that simply to finish The Assault on Mount Mitchell is an achievement all on it’s own.  I gave thanks for the finish, and I knew the Tabernacle was with me all the way to the top.

Isaiah 4:5-6 New King James Version (NKJV)

then the Lord will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.

To the late John Bryan, the man who started it all – I bet you never knew what this would become, and what it would mean to so many people.  Thank you.


Enjoying the Moment and the Journey Home

After the ride finish, I’m sure many choose to hop a bus and head back down the mountain.  Having enjoyed this special moment in the company of my bride, we decided to take some time to appreciate the day.

After all that pedaling, just a few steps are between you and your dry bag and hot tomato soup!

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First, a big Thank You to the nice lady who wrapped me up in a blanket to stay warm:

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the countless drivers and workers coordinating bus rides:

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The guy working the tomato soup station:

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It really does taste that good…

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hoards of volunteers moving, staging, attaching bikes for transport:

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and many more people working the finish line, ham radio operations for communications…

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After changing into dry clothes and getting in a good stretch, my wife and I chose to walk up to the actual summit and the observation tower.  Why would anyone in their right mind want to do this after riding 103 miles “to the top?”  A few reasons – 1) I wanted to be able to say I made it “to the top” 2) A friend who deals with cramps has told me that a walk after a ride is helpful vs. sitting down for a long period (the bus trip down is not short) and 3) Because it’s there.

It really wasn’t that hard walking up this.  Just don’t ask me to ride my bike anymore, please.  (I recall first learning about AOMM and thinking how much a bummer it is to not be able to ride down and enjoy the speed of gravity pulling you down.  Now I know why.  I was so happy to hand my bike off to a perfect stranger.  In fact, I think someone could buy very expensive bicycles for pennies on the dollar if they had cash and a truck at the top).

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We made it!

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Views from the top:

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Looking down towards the finish:

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and a closer view as another rider completes the challenge:

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We walked back down to the parking lot and ran into friends Dave and Mike – Dave made this youtube vid of his experience – congratulations guys on finishing!

On the bus we go for the journey down the mountain:

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From here a 2 hour “school bus” ride down the mountain got us to Marion.  The bus takes a route back towards Asheville and then east to Marion.  Once there, they still had some BBQ dinner left and I ate it up as I was just getting my appetite back.

Another 2 hour ride back on a nicer tour bus to Spartanburg.  Our “in-flight” entertainment was “Casablanca” and it was a great diversion from bus ride boredom.  Our driver timed things perfectly, as we arrived at Spartanburg Memorial just at the end of the movie.

Bikes were waiting for us in Spartanburg and the staff made retrieval seamless.  On to the car and off we go towards home.  At this point my appetite came back with a vengeance!  There isn’t anything remotely healthy open at 11pm.  Wendy’s on the way home, maybe it was better than nothing, maybe not.

Home.  Shower.  Midnight.  Bed.


Parting Thoughts

Deciding to ride AOMM, finding a training plan and sticking with it, the EPIC ride itself and decompressing from the whole event is simply a massive amount of information to process.  With that disclaimer, here were some thoughts that still stay with me days after the event:

Work on a couple of lists for the event.  What to bring in your car, what to wear, what to pack and in which pocket it goes.  Rehearsing for the ride is a big help – and make no changes in equipment without having tested it well first.

Wrap your dry bag contents in a plastic bag (maybe double it up).  Pack snacks in your dry bag, and some cash for snacks at the top too (wondering, why not more than tomato soup and bread at the top?)

As I finished in ~10h, with some dawdling at the top this meant back at Spartanburg at ~ 11pm.  Take the next day off if you can … plan a day at the spa for that day too!  One tip: for some reason I have trouble sleeping not only before big ride events but also after.  A mild sleep aid (e.g. Benadryl based) works wonders…

What I did right:

  • I had my bike tuned up well and had zero mechanical issues.
  • Dropped 5lbs of fat before starting my AOMM training block
  • All my preparation with lists paid off as I lacked for nothing but wasn’t loaded down either on the ride.
  • Buying an excellent rain vest was a great decision.
  • Had a backup plan for caffeine.
  • (Mostly) set a good pace for Marion leg.
  • My training plan worked out well – I found The Time Crunched Cyclist “Leadville 100” plan to be good prep for AOMM as well. My ride time was “only” 8:13 (Strava link). ..
  • After years of trial and error, I finally have figured out the solution to my bike cramps.  Combining SportLegs with electrolyte pills such as Elete Tablytes kept the cramps away all through my toughest training days and on the day of AOMM.  That is a victory in itself!
  • Married a fantastic woman who – after riding the 75 miles of the Assault on Marion – went through the trouble to meet me at the top.  This was a motivator in itself – knowing she was there waiting for me!

What I did wrong:

  • This was my first century (I know – I’ve heard it a ton of times not to do AOMM as your first century, and I didn’t plan it this way!)  I had planned on one in April but chickened out on it due to really bad weather (little had I known it would have been great prep for the rain of AOMM!). If I had done a century, it would have exposed my Accelerade problem after big miles.  In retrospect, I should have done one last year and no depended on fitting one into the spring training plan.
  • Looking back, I think I was slightly over-trained going into the event and should have started tapering sooner and respecting the need for rest.  I think I underestimated rest as a component of training.  I also probably packed too much of an 11 wk plan into 8 wks (due to some scheduled surgery).
  • Once again, I tried to maintain too fast a pace at the beginning.  One of these days, I will learn.

What I’m changing:

  • Drop 15 lbs of fat before my next AOMM (yes I’ve already been convinced to revisit in 3 years, I must be especially crazy)
  • Fine tune the training plan and respect the need for rest
  • Switching to Skratch Labs for on-bike liquids (no whey protein and more natural than most everything else I’ve seen)
  • Enter more centuries for the experience
  • Continue with cyclocross in winter, but with a training block beforehand.  ‘cross kept me from losing fitness in the “off season” like in years past, and this time I want to go into the season with some training instead of just jumping in.

Looking forward, I hope to be able to put together a better plan and a good ride next time and beat 9 hours.  There may be a chance of finishing under 8 one day.  Whatever the final time, as one of my friends has put it, I’m very happy to have entered the “family of finishers.”  Truly, for everyone who has reached the top, it is an accomplishment beyond words.

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