I wrote these words with some goals on a piece of tape stuck to my handlebar bag. This would be my mantra for a rematch with Mt. Mitchell, in which I would defend my title as "survivor."
Drove up to the campground at Marion to meet my brother, he would leave his car there so when we came off the mountain we would have our own ride to Spartanburg where my car waited at the hotel. It was a cool but beautiful day, and we were already in Marion, so we drove the route from the campground to the top of Mitchell. We have done this before so the climbs didn't look quite as bad as they had in the past. Boy, were we in for a surprise! Got to the top and it was cloudy and 44 degrees with a little wind. The weather forecast called for about the same thing on Monday and we figured we could handle that. Came off the mountain and hit the road for Spartanburg where we would pick up rider packets at the auditorium and then get in a short spin on the bikes just to loosen up and make sure they were ready for the ride. A quick six miles told us we were good to go, it was time to go fuel up at the Cracker Barrel!
Tried to crash early that night, but I don't know what it is with people. Some folks think since they are staying in a hotel, they are obligated to make a lot of noise late at night. Ended up with little more than a nap, but that stupid little dog finally got all of his barking finished.
Up at 0400 for final preparations, out the door at 0550 for the 3.5 mile (EASY) ride to the starting line in front of the auditorium. In the middle of a crowd of about 1100 cyclists we lit out early for the top of Mt. Mitchell. It would be a long day!
This ride is, to me and many others, the gold standard of how a ride should be managed. All of the support staff were friendly and helpful, the stops were all well stocked, and law enforcement had control of every intersection we rolled through. When I left Spartanburg, I did not come off the pedals for 64 miles; never had to stop for any traffic or signals.
I had done some calculations to make a half-hour better time than last year, but for a couple of reasons, that would not happen. I was not making time like I need to but did well until I got to the serious climbing near the top of Hwy 80. I began to come apart and would have to dig really deep if I was to survive this thing and finish.
Made it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway at about 1:45pm; there is a 3:30pm cutoff here, if you're not on the Parkway by then, you're not getting on, your ride is over. Two years ago I had missed the cutoff by 3 miles; standing there looking at the Parkway this year, I had well over an hour to cover the next 100 yards.
Tried not to sit too long at the stops, didn't want to stiffen up, so I mounted up and hit the Parkway. A mile or two in to it, a Bronco rolled by, the driver shouting at me; it was Paul Harrell, doing support work. Saw him a little later, he pulled me over to check on me and give me a Coke. After 80+ miles and climbing up to the Parkway, that was like heaven in a bottle. Paul is an awesome guy, runs a great shop; if you need a new bike or any accessories, you should go to Harrell's Bicycle World.
The Parkway is tough, but not as bad as the top 4 miles of Hwy 80, or the climb in the Mt. Mitchell State Park. I was shot though; did my best and almost made it to the rest stop at mile 93 when the rain came. The temps had already dropped because we'd gotten up into cloud cover, and now the rain made it worse. Adding insult to injury, the best part of the Parkway leg is a two-mile stretch of awesome downhill coming out of that rest stop; normally I would see ~40mph but had to keep it at half of that because of the wet roads.
After that, it was just pure misery. Sort of. I had to walk some, and had a lot of time to think about the life lessons I was learning. I won't go into all that right now, but it was a great time of introspection. Several times different SAG wagons came by and offered me a ticket out of there, but I stuck to it. Except for once. I was standing in the rain completely alone just two miles from the finish, when I heard a vehicle approaching. I thought, "God, if that's a SAG, I'm climbing in." I think He turned it into a bus before it came into view. Back on the bike. Still exhausted and miserable. But almost there. Again, I pedaled until I couldn't pedal anymore, and got off and walked one last time. It was such a dense fog I could barely see 50 yards in front of me, but I got to the point where I could see the parking lot. I walked to the parking lot, took one last drink, and mounted up to finish my ride. I could hear people talking above me at the very top and as I rounded the curve I heard someone shout, "this way, follow my voice!" I'm telling you, it was nasty. As I crossed the line, the people working there treated me like I was the first one to finish, welcoming me in like family they'd not seen for much too long. I couldn't think straight, but I collected my patch and surrendered my bike, and walked off smiling. I didn't do as well as I had hoped to, but I finished, and I wasn't last. By the way, it was 37 degrees and still raining at the top.
It was a very encouraging time. I got on the bus to fanfare from folks who'd just finished suffering too. We rode down the mountain getting to know each other better and swapping war stories. There was a bond between strangers because of this shared experience.
I began thinking about next year a week or two before this year's ride, recalling how I wish I had trained differently, lost weight, etc., and it comes down to this: I am about 45 pounds heavier this year than last. Crazy, right? I had dropped some weight prior to last year's, but once I finished it I no longer had a goal in front of me. So, I gained back what I had lost and then some.
Here's the deal: eating is what I do. It's how I deal with stress, exhaustion, and anger, it's how I celebrate and socialize. I want to get a handle on this and the older I get, the more difficult it gets. I will spend the next year really knuckling down to beat this. If I can make myself ride a bicycle up a steep mountain in the rain, surely I can lose 85 pounds over the next year. When you get a chance, ask me how I'm doing and hold me accountable. If I am not under 200 (under, not "at") when next year's AOMM rolls around, then I will not ride, but instead will volunteer to support the ride in whatever capacity I am able. There, you read it, hold me to it.
I got long-winded on this, it was an exciting event; sorry. I'll write more about it later as I continue to process all that took place.
Ride of Silence
Tomorrow, May 18th, I will participate in the Ride of Silence in Columbia to memorialize cyclists killed in action. Too many are killed or injured by distracted motorists. A friend of a friend died in Florida a few weeks ago in a hit-and-run; two days ago, another friend was sent to the hospital to be treated for some bad road rash after being hit. Let's bring attention to this and hopefully these incidents will decrease. It's a shame that someone actively pursuing better health should leave this world in such a way.
Be blessed, be safe.