The lo-lite: It took me 30 minutes longer to finish the route this year than it did 3 years ago (the only other time I’ve done this ride). The hi-lite: I totally killed the Snake Mountain climb!
100 miles. 13,000+ feet of climbing. 1,250 riders. This is “Blood, Sweat and Gears,” a benefit for the Watauga County Chapter of the American Red Cross. I was feeling good about this ride. After all, I’ve trained more in the mountains this year than all my previous years combined. Plus, I’ve got a couple 100 mile rides in my legs already this year. I was convinced I could better my previous time of 6 hours and 19 minutes; I even went so far as to think I could possibly break into the 5 hour mark. I was wrong on both counts.
I lined up 30 minutes prior to the start so I was pretty close to the front. Christina and Dirk were ON the start line and there were maybe 100 riders in between us. I was already feeling good. I could just sit in with a large group and let them help me better my time. Unfortunately, the drive train on my bike had other plans.
50 yards down the road, my chain would not stay in a single gear. It just slipped and grinded. Finally the chain fell between the spokes and cassette forcing me to pull over. I watched nearly 1,250 riders pass me as I fought with my chain. Once I got the chain unstuck, I ran through the gears. I’m not exactly sure why or how, but the derailleur limits were off as well as the gear indexing. I did not have a tool to set the limits, nor did I want to take the time in doing so. I resided myself to tightening the derailleur cable to fix the indexing – but would have to pay close attention to which gear I was in or I’d lose my chain again. I only had 100 miles left and almost the entire group had passed me. Great!
I sat in with people where I could but, I estimate I spent at least half of the ride by myself. Still, I thought I’d be strong enough to have a respectable finish. I was feeling good up the first climb, Shull’s Mill, and was finding my climbing rhythm fairly easy. I tried to pace myself knowing what lie ahead, but looking back, I could’ve done better with that. A detour over a gravel road didn’t affect me. I had lots of food and plenty of water. The weather was cooperating, for the most part, and as I hit my one rest stop (at the bottom of Snake Mountain), I was feeling good about myself given my crappy start. A small aside – next time I’ll know to plan my pit stop at the TOP of Snake Mountain so I’m not carrying so much water and food with me on the climb. But, even with 2 full water bottles and a couple of frozen “Smuckers Un-crustable” PB&J’s in my back pocket, I slayed that climb. All the people that had passed me on the lead up to the hill were walking their bikes up the climb. I’d say, including myself, there were about 5 people still on their bikes riding the 20% grade and about 30 off their bike walking along the side of the road. With grades that steep, you just turn your pedals and think of how gnarly the descent is gonna be. And it was. And I slayed that, too, reaching speeds up to 50 mph. I am so impressed with myself, I thought.
And almost as soon as I had the thought, my legs drained. All of a sudden every little incline in the road was a major climb. I looked at my odometer. 65 miles. Sweet, I only had 35 miles of absolute misery to look forward to. I found a small group that was going a good pace and sat in with them for a little while, but I lost them just before we hit the George’s Gap climb. I was toast. The people I had passed on Snake were now exacting their revenge on me. The last 15 miles of the ride were nearly unbearable, but how could I not finish after suffering for so long?
As I hit the last little kicker hill on Mast Gap Road, a lady on the side of the road started yelling, “You can do it! Only 2 more miles and most of it’s downhill!” All I could think was, well the next 50 meters isn’t and I’m dying right now, but thanks.
I’m not sure of my official time yet, but when I crossed the finish line, the clock said 6 hours 51 minutes. Disappointment overcame me as I sat in the shade for a minute with some pizza and a Coke. I was drained. I was dizzy. But, I was still proud for finishing. I got back on the bike and headed back to the car when I heard Christina call my name. Her and Dirk were already in street clothes, sipping beers and eating cookies in the shade of a tree. They both finished over an hour before I did. Ouch.
Back at the cabin, I had a little nap before heading out with Jill, Christina and Dirk to dinner at Black Cat in Boone (delicious, by the way. Highly recommend it). My spirits lifted and with a good meal in my tummy, I allowed myself to start planning for next year.