Geof and I decided to test our climbing legs last weekend by riding the Bicycle for Life 200K up in Hot Springs, NC. 125 miles with an approximate elevation gain of over 10,000ft should be a good dry run for the rando bikes to see if Geof's rig is ready for Texas and if mine is do-able for the Taste of Carolina in September. I put a wide range SRAM cassette on the LeMond so I'd have a "bail-out gear" if I needed one. (I did!)
I met Geof at the camera shop and gave him a ride home, then we piled everything into his Honda Fit (great gas mileage) for the drive across the state. Amazing how much stuff you can fit into a Fit... As usual we got a bit of a late start, and then along the way we made a few stops: dinner, a grocery store, and yes- a Wal-Mart! I wasn't sure if Geof would even set foot inside one but he did ok, and I don't think the experience scarred him too badly. My $10 sleeping bag sure did come in handy, though! When we finally rolled into Hot Springs at 12:30am the sidewalks were rolled up and no one was around at the campground. We set up and crawled into our tents for a few hours' sleep, hoping that we'd be able to find someone in the morning and settle up for camping.
We got up at 5:30am and fixed coffee and breakfast, then started getting the bikes and gear ready for the ride. Before I knew it we ran out of time and it was just about 10 minutes till the ride was supposed to start at 7am! I high-tailed it over to the start and got my registration stuff taken care of. We saw that Chris and Annette Camm were there, but didn't know any of the other riders. I'm not sure what the exact number was, but probably 8-10 total.
The route starts in Hot Springs and immediately starts climbing. Most of the first 26 miles is uphill! Lee and Luke- 2 local Asheville guys took off from the gun, and Geof went with them. The rest of us followed, spread out on the climb and each of us spinning uphill at our own pace. I had to roll my armwarmers down and unzip my vest, the climbing was really warming me up. At the top of the first climb was Tony, ready to shoot a blackmail picture of each of us huffing and puffing our way over the summit. On the other side the vest was rezipped and the warmers pulled up as I tucked into a screaming descent in the cool morning air. On the way down we saw the Fléche riders climbing up to the end of their 360K route. Chapeau gentlemen!
After the descent we started climbing again, and I got together with Geof, Rick, Chris, and Annette for a great ride through beautiful mountain scenery:
At one point we came to a T-intersection with a stop sign, but we were a few miles early for the right turn indicated on the cue sheet. Still, the road sign said Big Laurel Rd, and our next turn was a right to remain on Big Laurel so we turned right. Turns out we were wrong. We climbed a mountain and descended the other side before we finally came upon a road sign that told us the road we were on was now called Walnut Creek. I was able to get a roaming cell signal and slowly load up maps on my iPhone to confirm that we were indeed off course, and by quite a lot. Chris, Annette, Geof, and I turned around and started back. Shortly we came upon Rick and he turned around and joined us. We had no idea what had happened to Lee and Luke, we had seen them make the wrong turn before us, but they never turned around. We climbed back over the mountain and descended again to the point where we had gotten off course. Note to self: I need to spend more time familiarizing myself with the route before a mountain brevet. We got 16 "bonus miles" and added about 2,000ft of climbing!
Back on course it was more uphill until we finally made it to the first control. Good thing, because I was out of water and needed a store badly. We refilled and got back on the road, which of course was headed uphill... After this climb we were given a bit of respite, with another screaming descent. On the way down we spotted Lee and Luke climbing up toward us, not sure how they got there but they were headed back toward the control. We kept riding through lovely rolling mountain scenery and eventually they caught us and slowed to our pace to join us. Soon we entered Asheville where there was once again cue sheet confusion. We trusted in the local's knowledge and went the way Lee and Luke said was correct, and after only a few more bonus miles we found control number 2 and restocked the fluids and snacks again. This time Chris and Annette turned around one of their signature short stops and left before us, we wouldn't see them again the rest of the ride.
The next section had us riding north along the French Broad River until we got to a road that would cross the river and let us turn south again. At this point Lee decided to leave the ride and head on home, he wasn't worried about RUSA credit anyway. Luke stayed with us, so it was him, Rick, Geof and me. We had more confusion when we reached the correct mileage for a right turn onto New Leicester Hwy, but the road was actually called Old Leicester. We turned anyway, but then were unable to find the next turn, a left onto Old Newfound Rd. Once again the iPhone came in handy, a quick check of the map showed that we could backtrack and get on New Leicester Hwy, then take it to Newfound Rd. Back on course again we soon found ourselves faced with another mountain to climb. It wasn't long before Geof and Luke were out of sight around the switchbacks and I was alone with the climb. This one was really hard for me. I needed food- by this time it was around 2pm and we hadn't stopped to eat any real food yet. I spent most of the climb in my bail-out gear (34/32!) spinning along at maybe 5mph. At one point I had to stop in some shade and rest for a minute. I had 2 shots of Hammer gel and half a Clif bar, 2 Endurolytes and lots of water then got back moving again. Just after the summit I came into the small town of Canton and spotted a convenience store. Sure enough, there were Geof and Luke looking about as tired as I felt. We had a nice, long stop and we were eventually joined by Rick as well.
Back on the road we made a few quick turns through town and then fought a mean headwind all the way to the penultimate control at Iron Duff. I was never able to keep up on the little climbs, then I would put out too much effort trying to bridge the gap and get back with Geof and Luke. At one point I made it back up to them, but then just couldn't keep up the pace and was soon dangling out in the wind again. Around this point I was also realizing that in my morning rush I had forgotten to apply sunscreen. The hunger, climbing fatigue, sunburn, and wind were really wearing me down. At the control store I had a long to-do list. Bought sunscreen, water, a snack, and a fizzy caffeine drink. Applied the sunscreen while conversating with a little old lady who was smoking a cigarette out on the bench. Filled my bottles, one with water and the other with Mountain Dew, and I was ready to go.
I had thought that the others would have been making a shorter stop than me, but they were still milling about. I was sure that the worst climbing was ahead of us- the climb up Betsy's Gap, and I figured that the guys would catch me and pass me by at some point, most likely before then. I went ahead and took off, telling them I'd wave as they passed me on the climb! I felt great on this section. Just like on previous rides, as soon as I get out by myself and start riding my own pace I do really well. I think that trying to push hard with the strong guys up the hills and trying to bridge the inevitable gaps is both physically and mentally exhausting. I probably go slower over the whole course from burning myself out like that in the first place. I know I've been in situations where I'm close to the dreaded bonk from riding like that, and I've barely been able to turn the pedals over. Now I was by myself, climbing in my own rhythm, and enjoying the scenery. There were quite a few big hills, and I kept wondering if I was starting the big climb but they would always turn out to be just really big hills.
When I hit the big climb there was no question this was it. Slowly but surely I ground my way up. Turn after turn I'd wonder if I would come around the curve to see the top- only to see more uphill and switchbacks. Still, it was gorgeous up here and there was very little traffic. The sunscreen had helped a bit with my sunburn, my skin didn't feel so hot anymore. I was reluctant to pour any water on my head to cool down, I figured I'd need to drink all that water! I even shot a little solo video:
When I finally got to the top I was surprised that I hadn't seen Geof and Luke. That was a long climb- probably 4 miles or more- and I was going up at about 5-6mph! Oh well, no time to worry about that, it was crazy descent time. I zipped up the jersey and took off. By this time I was really getting the hang of curvy descents on the LeMond. It's a different feel than the Specialized- not quite as twitchy. This descent was soooo much fun! I was sure I'd be picking bugs out of my teeth later from the ear-to-ear grin that was plastered across my face as I flew down the mountain I'd climbed so slowly for the last hour or so. Even when I was down off the mountain and in the valley I was still going downhill, so I was flying and making up for all the time I'd spent creeping along. I sped through the towns of Luck and Trust and then over one last little climb before arriving back in Hot Springs. I didn't see Tony anywhere, so I got my card signed at the Iron Horse and had a pleasant conversation with a gentleman from Durham about randonneuring. He's a cyclist too, and he sounded pretty interested! About 15 minutes after I arrived, in rolled Geof and Luke. Shortly after they showed up in rolled a Dart team that contained John P. and his ear-to-ear grin! We all stood around talking and taking pictures for awhile, then I headed back to camp for a shower. My time turned out to be 12 hours and 7 minutes- not too shabby considering 23 bonus miles in the mountains!