I came to the Mountains of Misery for three reasons. First was to continue to build my base for my trip this summer to the Tour de France. Second was to test new methods to keep from cramping since my previous attempts at similar courses with the Blue Ridge Extreme Challenge ended up with cramps in my calves. And third was simply to enjoy my Breakaway From Cancer and enjoy a great day on the bike.
It was a semi-mass start. Riders left the Newport Recreation Center in waves of 50, departing every two minutes. I slipped into the third wave and soon joined up with Paul Spencer and Klara Vrady.
Since I was determined to ride the first third slow and Klara said they would be riding slow, it was a perfect match.
The route was a very lightly traveled route, made all the more amazing when at the end of the day that was how Garmin sent me home. These were great roads for biking but not so great for a 15-passenger van. What was Garmin thinking?
The hardest thing to do was to go slow. I was following my own advice to go slow in the first third but it was tempting every two minutes or so when a new train of riders caught us and went by. I knew I could jump into any of the groups but I didn’t want to burn up the course. I wanted to relax, have fun, and save something for the last climb of the day.
We blew by the first rest stop which was at the bottom of a descent. When you’re flying who wants to brake? But the organizers have to take what space is allocated to them to set up on our behalf even it it is at the bottom of a hill.
The first 24 miles were basically rollers with a sight climb – 700 feet. That was followed by a 5-mile steep and windy descent which was a pleasant surprise. Thank goodness a volunteer was on a curve urging people to slow down. It was quite technical and I probably would have over cooked the turn. Three ambulances were on their way up the mountain and you get a lump in your throat passing them although I heard it was a car, and not a cyclist, that went off the hill.
The first rest area we stopped at was in New Castle. It had the most port-a-johns and the biggest lines. Here I ran into Dennis McDonald and his son, Matt, who are both going to France this summer with my Trek Travel group. I also ran into Sean Walker.
Later on the road we ended up briefly meeting some younger riders from northern Va. who bought their bikes at The Bike Lane in Burke. I didn’t laugh out loud but one carried a fully loaded back pack. He didn’t know about support on this ride so he carried everything with him. But they were to soon leave us as they stopped at the next rest area and we powered on through.
At Mile 60 the first real climb began at John’s Creek Mountain in Jefferson National Forest.
Not Smiling Now
It was a 2.5 mile climb and a nice warm up. There were a few people walking but most were able to will themselves up the hill. On the Blue Ridge Extreme, Vesuvius, a five mile climb, was placed around mile 50, I had cramped and was pleased to know that I made it up this climb without a problem.
At mile 72 we turned a corner and a surreal moment occurred. That looked like my van parked in the woods. It was my van parked in the woods. I didn’t realize until I was past that we were back within 1/4 mile of the start and this is where I had parked. We started a 13 mile loop.
Strangest photo op, which I missed, was passing a house with a dinosaur skeleton on the porch. I should have stopped to shoot it. After the loop we rolled back into Newport at mile 86. After a brief rest stop to fill the water bottles it was the long journey up to the finish. After a bit of a climb it was a nice relaxed descent down to the New River before the real climbing would begin after 100 miles in the saddle.
Getting ready to cross the busy US 460, some volunteers had WATER! and Gummi bears. Mmmm.
Let the climb begin. The last four miles were up to Mountain Lake, which is where Dirty Dancing was filmed.
After 100 miles these legs could keep going on the flats but the climb was formidable. I checked Garmin at times and it was registering 12%. There was a sign at the base “4 Miles to Finish.” I know better at Mount Washington than to look up and here — I looked up.
It looked tough. It was 86 degrees and my sweat was bike dripping off the bike. As I came to one hairpin curve I noticed most of the riders who had passed me two miles earlier were all standing. I went by them. I continued up and there was a rest stop on a curve. I passed it too.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have. I should have taken one last hydration and food opportunity but I don’t like stopping on big climbs once I am underway.
After 20-25 minutes I saw a sign up ahead and thought if it says “3 Miles to Go” I’m going to quit. It said “2 Miles to Go.”
I came to another sharp hairpin and made the fatal mistake — I looked up. All I could see were people stopped or walking their bikes. One guy had his shoes off and was walking. In his socks.
I was out of energy. The legs just wouldn’t turn over the pedals. They needed a rest. I dismounted for a couple hundred yards then got back on. I made it to the top and was only slightly disappointed that I had dismounted once. It was never one of my goals to stop or walk on the climb but I got thinking just how much having the surgery took out of me. I can still use that as an excuse a little while longer.
I was most disappointed in my time. I had hoped for under 8 hours even though this was four miles further than a comparable century ride that I had done before. But when times were posted I could see that I was just below the 50% line. Some of these riders are mountain goats and young – I am neither. And I wonder how much surgery and being old, or both, took out of me.
Just two years ago I did the Blue Ridge Extreme Century and finished 3rd from the bottom. Wow. This was better. Much better.
And while my time was 8:48, I spent 73 minutes off the bike. If I had made my rest stops quicker, say 20 minutes total, my total time would have been under 8 hours. Something to think about if I do this ride again.
Here is the one reason I may not came at the end of the day. We were transported off the mountain in 15-passengers vans and we had the driver from hell. He gunned it down whatever straight section he could find, twice had a front tire go off the road, and braked hard into curves. It was a scary ride off the mountain and will keep me from participating again if this is normal. I didn’t defeat cancer only to lose my life in a van after a great day of riding.
EPILOGUE – After I got back I wrote to the event director because our ride down the mountain was so dangerous. They had contracted with the Boys Scouts, who were in charge of the transportation, and were shocked themselves. They had heard similar complaint from various sources. They will correct this problem. It was a great ride.
Also, one can ride back down the mountain which seems the way to go. No messing with transporting bikes. I waited at least another 30 minutes at Newport for my bike to come back down.