A little over a year ago, I got a message from a “Facebook friend”. You know, the kind of Facebook friend you haven’t actually seen or talked to in 25 years, but are still connected to thru the modern day wonders of social networking websites. Now, there may be a lot of downsides and criticisms of social networking, and for all I know it will eventually be the downfall of the human race.
I kinda doubt it, and in this case it turned out to be a really cool thing.
This friend, Scott – who I went to high school with, and ran cross country with, was good friends with, and who now lives in the DC area – contacted me, saying he was going to be coming down to my neck of the woods (forest) to do one of the hilly century rides that hits, among other roads, the Blue Ridge Parkway. He was either going to do Blue Ridge Breakaway, out of Lake Junaluska (Waynesville), or the Blue Ridge Brutal, out of Boone/Blowing Rock area. He opted for the Brutal, and I opted not to join him for it.
Fast forward a year. I got another message, and Scott this time was going to sign up for the Breakaway. Cool! Waynesville is only 30 minutes away.. Boone is 2 hours. This time I was in, especially since I’ve done the Breakaway twice before, the first two of three years. This would make three of four.
Scott and his family had originally planned on camping in/near Lake Junaluska, but with all the recent rain, and a rather unpleasant forecast for the weekend, opted for a hotel in Asheville, just a couple miles from my place. So, I got up at the crack of dawn – before dawn actually, suited up, packed a backpack, hopped on my bike and pedaled over to the hotel in the dark to see my friend whom I hadn’t seen in a quarter century.
And we immediately picked up the conversation as if we had just seen each other the day before. Bikes, bike rides and bike riders are good for that. “So… what are you riding?” We ogled each other’s bikes. “Do you think the rain will hold off?” We talked about the weather forecast. “What’s your ride plan?” “Got a goal time?” And then we spent the rest of the ride to Waynesville talking about the various rides we’ve done, places we’ve gone, and on and on and on.
We picked up our packets and set about getting ready to ride. I also talked briefly to Kent, friend an owner of the oft mentioned Motion Makers Bike Shop, and my other friend Scott (Baker), from Sylva (Webster), who would be riding the century route as well. I also met a couple other local riders who I “know” through Facebook but hadn’t actually ridden with.
Somewhere along the lines of 7:15 after standing around at the start line for too long, somebody said “Go” and we started out.
Now, the Blue Ridge Breakaway, the century option anyway, is like a lot of other mountainous cookie rides. It’s not a race, but can be ridden as a “challenge ride” if you are so inclined; they even have timing chips. Or you can ride it more as a casual tour, with lots of food and drinks and conversation at the various stops along the way. Now, I don’t like stopping, and I don’t like taking any longer than necessary to do a full century, so I opted to load up a Camelbak with a full bladder of 100oz, two water bottles, and do this thing as a challenge.
Knowing full well that I was in no shape to actually “compete”.
My plan was the same as it usually is.. go out with the lead group, hang on as long as possible (usually until the first steep or long (or steep and long) climb, then ride on my own ’til the end.
In the case of the BRB, this is about 15 miles. As soon as it gets somewhat difficult, I drift too far back to be able to catch up on the other side. Scott (the local one) did manage to make it over the top with about 15 other guys. Me and about a half dozen others didn’t make it and spent the next 10-15 miles riding in a somewhat disorganized “group”, not really helping each other, but in the same vicinity.
Scott (the DC one) had a more casual plan. He doesn’t do as much mountain riding so he opted to take it easier and save his legs for the big climbs to come later.
Although I had not planned on stopping and had enough water for most, if not all of the ride, I took a 10 second break at the 30 mile mark to grab a couple snacks. I didn’t even get off the bike, just pedaled up, grabbed, thanked the volunteers and kept going.
At this point I started asking myself questions. The primary question was…
“What the hell are you doing?!”
Why do I do this to myself? I don’t “train” for races. I don’t do intervals or focused ride regiment. I don’t eat right, I don’t sleep right. I don’t taper. And furthermore… this isn’t even a race! Timing chip or not, it’s just a cookie ride. It doesn’t matter one bit to anyone where I finish or in how much time. It doesn’t even matter to me all that much.
So what the hell am I doing, taking off and hammering away at this ride I didn’t prepare for, when I could just as easily stop and talk to Kent, meet some other riders, enjoy some of snacks I paid for, and wait for Scott so we can ride together?
Well… the same reason I signed up for it in the first place.. and the same reason people climb mountains and do all kinds of silly things… because it’s there.
For reasons I don’t fully understand and probably never will, I like riding hard, continuously, with few stops, focusing only on my own ride, thoughts turned inward. But at the same time, without taking it too seriously.. keeping it fun. Enjoying the scenery along the way, and finding balance in life in a more general aspect.
Ride hard, but not too hard. Go far, but not too far. Take a look around, but not for too long.
OK, so maybe I do know why I ride the way I do.
In any case, I pushed on for another 25 miles or so through Haywood Country roads… remembering for the third time what I forgot about the route as it unfolded… the damned thing is hilly. Lots of little hills. Some of them steep.
At mile 55 I stopped at the aid station near Lake Logan… not entirely sure why. I didn’t really need food, and I didn’t really need water. But I decided to take at least 60 seconds to pour out one water bottle and fill it with Gatorade. I grabbed a few more food items, stuffed them in my jersey, and headed back out. Now came the first big climb… 215 up to the Parkway. It’s a gradual build over the first couple miles, then pitches more steeply upward, gaining 2000′ over the next 8 miles. The average grade is very rideable, but the climbing is relentless. Fortunately the day stayed cool and mostly overcast. Along the way a couple riders passed me and I passed a couple others. But mostly I just rode on my own.
Up on the Parkway I stopped once again briefly to put a light on my handlebars – the parkway officials require a reflector or light, since there is one relatively long and dark tunnel. Many riders don’t follow this rule, and nothing seems to come of it, but I prefer to use one anyway, especially with the fog and mists that were present up above 5000′.
The ride from 215 up to Richland-Balsam Overlook at 6000′ felt pretty good.. I made good time and felt strong. I’ve done this segment many times before and know it well. The ride down from Richland-Balsam to Balsam was super fun, and I was glad the rains had held off and we had a dry road surface to descend on.
Then came the last climb… Waterrock Knob. At the base of the climb I was still holding on to faint hopes of finishing in 6:30, but was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. On fresh legs I can make the 8 mile ascent in about 50 minutes. On this ride, with 80 miles already in my legs… it was going to be at least an hour.
I passed by the first water-only stop about a third of the way up. I was on my last few ounces of water, but there was one more stop just before the summit, and besides… from the 90 mile mark the ride is all downhill.
As I climbed the fatigue started to take over and my pace dropped. Not substantially, but enough to confirm I wouldn’t be finishing in 6:30 so I could quit thinking about it.
Honestly, I had no idea how long it took to make the 15 mile descent back into Lake Junaluska. It’s fast and fun for the first 10 miles getting down to about 3000′, but then riding through Maggie Valley, although still mostly downhill, does take a little while and there are traffic lights and quite a lot of traffic to contend with.
In the end I came in at 105.1 miles in 6:47 total time, with 9600′ of elevation gain. According to my Garmin, I had only 5.5 minutes of total stopped time the entire ride. And I swear about a third of that was waiting on the damned red light about 500 yards from the finish line!
The timing chip results put me in at #22 of 134 finishers, although the results are a bit dubious. The one thing about unofficial timing results is that there’s no controls. A number of people signed up for the century ride, put on a timing chip, and then only did the metric route. Similarly, there are a whole bunch of people who signed up for the metric and only did the 40 mile option, skewing those results as well.
That said, there are at least two people in the top 5 that I have on good authority weren’t actually there. The “authority” is four friends who all finished ahead of me, in spots 3, 6, 11 and 13. Between them they know who was ahead and behind them. So at the very least, I was the 20th finisher overall.
Again.. this really doesn’t count for anything, except bragging rights among friends, and just to feel good about putting in a hard effort and seeing results come of it.
Speaking of good results, my friend Scott (the local one), had a stellar “no-chain” day.. finishing in 6:11 and 11th (actually 9th) place. He dropped more than a half hour off his previous best time for the event. Way to go Scott!
The other guys in the top ten spots I mentioned were Darby, Peter, and Patrick, all of whom I have only met on one or two occasions, but are part of the same network of cyclists over in Jackson County. There were some others in there as well that I know peripherally.
My friend Scott (the high school one from DC) rode more conservatively but still had a darned good result for someone who hasn’t done very many of these mountainous centuries before. He came in at around 7:45, which I just noticed in the results is the same time as my friend Tony, whom I met more recently along with Blake whom I also just met. They must have been riding together at some point along the way, at least towards the end through Maggie Valley.
Small world the world of cycling.
Post ride we got some pretty good grub – BBQ, and then stopped over at Bearwaters Brewing in Waynesville for a flight of recovery/celebratory tasters before heading back to Asheville. Was really great to be reunited with a high school friend after so many years and realize we share such similar passions. Now I gotta get up Scott’s way and do some riding on the other end of the Parkway/Skyline Drive.
Another great day out on the bike!