(a caveat: this one's a little long, bear with me!) After three long years, I can finally announce with joy and pride, "I have been to the mountain top!" Yes, it took me 10 hours, 3 minutes, and 2 seconds, and not a small amount of cramping, but I made it this year! (Can you tell I'm excited?!)
Wow, so where do I start?
We rolled out from the Spartanburg Auditorium at 6:30am, and I don't know what I was thinking when I allowed myself to get in position at the very front of the crowd prior to go time. I managed to stay safe in the madness that is a mass start and left town with crowds passing me left and right. I kept telling myself what I had been practicing in my head all year: "ride your ride." And I did.
I allowed myself to get good and warmed up by staying on the middle ring for the first half hour, not pushing too hard; I had a long way to go and all day to get there. Had plenty of liquid nutrition on board (four bottles of Hammer Perpetuem), a softflask full of Hammer Espresso Gel, and my fully-charged MP3 player with bar-mounted 4-watt speakers! Rocked and rolled down the highway, past Bill's Hill at 2:50, and did not unclip until I hit the rest stop at mile 64; by then, I was out of fluids and had to stop.
Back on the bike, did not stop again until mile 80, where the top of Hwy. 80 hits the Parkway. Boy, the last three or four miles of Hwy. 80 point straight up, I believe! Got a little rain at this stop which felt really good.
Last year, I was about three miles from getting on the Parkway when they closed it to any more riders. So, sort of a "sub-goal" this year was just to get on the Parkway. I knew if I got that far, I could slog it out and make it to the top.
Once you get to the last 20 or so miles of the AOMM, there's your serious climbing. There's more climbing in the last 20 miles than in the first 80! By then, you're getting tired, you've burned through a lot of your inner resources, and here come the cramps! On more than one occasion, I had to dismount so I could stretch the legs and walk a minute. I think the important thing to remember here is "forward motion." Keep moving forward, don't give your body such a long break that it switches from working to trying to heal.
I hit every rest stop from mile 80 on. I got pretty excited when I was sitting at the stop at the entrance to the Mt. Mitchell State Park and heard on a radio that it was 3:30pm and the Parkway was closed to any more riders. Of course I felt bad for those who would be turned back, but I thought about last year and all the progress I had made.
Last five miles.
Got back on the bike, went into the Park (which is straight up for two miles!) and started climbing. It looked like clouds were stuck to the tops of the mountains and just couldn't make it over. It never really rained, but a mist hung about and did a glorious thing: kept my body cooled down so I could finish what I had started.
About halfway up the Park road, it flattens out for a mile or so, and then climbs to the top. As I neared the top and realized I was about to make it, I saw in my mind's eye all those people that have been encouraging me. They were waiting for me at the finish line. At the last right-hand curve, just before the end, it flattens. I never thought I would be able to do it, but I accelerated and started grabbing gears. Adrenaline, I guess. Or the prospect of getting off that blasted bike for the rest of the day!
Thought about a lot of things while doing this ride, especially near the end. Would I try it again? I would finish, check it off of my list of stupid and painful things to do, and move on. But then again, I actually walked part of it. So, maybe I need to do it again, without the walking. I think I will do it again next year, an hour or two faster than this year.
Be blessed, be safe.