I had planned this ride for nearly a year since completing it my first time last year. This year a larger group of the Champion City Cycling team made the Journey. Returning members from last year besides myself were Dan Payton, Dan McCarty, George Collins and Paul Basler. This years newest members to complete it were Kevin Holmes, Tony Tucker, Clint Murray, Alix Payton, Colin Payton, Garry Blair (Julie Blair also went and did the Assault on Marion), Aaron Dunaway, and Jerry Evilsizor. We also met Mike Michaelson and Mustafa Nazary there also for the ride. So we were 16 riders strong there.
We headed down on Saturday this time- learning from the debacle of last years (totaling a car and being pressed for time before the race with all the deadlines). This worked out much better. We got down to Spartanburg, SC around dinner time. Unloaded the cars, and got settled in at the hotel. Ended up heading you to eat and to pick up some last minute details for the ride.
Sunday AM came and after our free continental breakfast at the hotel, we headed out on the bikes to spin our legs and get a lay of the land. We found the start of the ride and noted some of the course before we would be attacking it on race day.
After a 20 mile spin we all got cleaned up and went to the Expo center to get our race bibs and information as well as the goody bags. We took in the Expo they had going on there, some even made some last minute purchases of nutrition and clothing. I personally liked the Boyd Wheels booth, even though I could not talk them into a demo set of wheels to “try out” on the ride.
My Expo score for my wife - $180 Carbon shoes for $37
After this we headed back to the hotel and hit Subway up for a quick lunch. Then we had to get 4 vehicles out to Tom Johnson’s campgrounds in Marion. This was so that when everyone was done, and road the bus down we could drive back to the hotel together rather than ride the bus for another 2-1/2 hours. While they were away dropping the vehicles Julie, Garry and Alix made a pizza plan for the team. We ordered a bunch of Pizza and pasta from Pizza hut and ate it in the hotel dining room. Everyone could sit and talk and relax before we had to get up and be ready to go in the morning. It was nice and relaxing. We also checked with the hotel manager that night and they told us they would have the continental breakfast out early in the morning for the bikers before our ride. Very cool.
So Monday morning arrives. The dining room starts to fill with all of the members of the green train. Bikes are being piled up in the lobby waiting for launching. As we begin the fueling process for the day, there is a excitement in the air. A nervousness…… Mt. Mitchell is out there waiting. How will everyone do?
We calm ourselves and mount the bikes and head 2 miles to the start. We snap our traditional group start picture and take our places in the starting pack.
The clock in front of the Spartanburg Memorial Hall is counting down to the start. 10 minutes…. Then 5….. closer and closer then the gun shot – we are off. Everyone is flying. This is were my journey begins.
First rest stop is approx. 22 miles out… the group I am in gets there in less than an hour and no one stops. Next rest stop at mile 42 on top of Bill’s Hill. I determine I need to stop there to replenish the water bottles and stay hydrated. The group gets there before the second hour passes. No one stops but me out the group. I felt odd stopping but I have to do my own race…. I need water and without my race would quickly be over. I do not want to cramp. Off the bike for 2 minutes… I jump back on the road and I am back on my way. My next planned stop is Marion at mile 75. I am now no longer part of any groups… working harder at my own to keep on pace. I need to get to Marion at 4 hours to stay on target for my goal finish time.
The miles go by… some quickly and others not so quickly. I really enjoy the down hills. Somewhere in the 60 mile zone I was on a downhill and I was cranking away by myself. Almost 50 miles an hour. If I were paying attention I could have broken the 50mph barrier, but my eyes were too focused on the road. I rolled into Marion at 3 hours 45 minutes. 15 minutes ahead of my schedule. Zooming along. I still felt good. Refueled the water bottles and ate some more energy gels and power bars. Needed to keep the bonk away. I have not seen any team mates since the start in Spartanburg. That’s odd. I figured I would see someone somewhere. I head out… up to the top of Mt Mitchell.
3 miles later I see someone. Mustafa. I ride up to him and start joking around. I ask what the heck he is doing back here and he got shot out of the lead group just before Marion. Dan P, Colin and Paul all were still hanging in there though and looking strong. When he got shot out the back the chase group was so far back that he couldn’t see any riders for a while and somehow made a wrong turn. He stopped to ask directions on how to get back and they gave him the wrong ones. So when he asks me what mile I am on, I tell him 78, he says he is on 94. He ended up 16 miles out of the way. Crazy. And to top it off he is continuing up the mountain. We are riding along and he is very seasoned rider. He critics some of the things I am doing as I climb and he gives me some advice. Small ring and spin, keep up the cadence. Do not power through or waste any energy at this point. I will need it later. The next rest stop is at mile 82. He has to stop and get water. He tells me to keep spinning and he will catch up and help pace me again. I do not see him again until the end. I am in the worst part of the switch backs now. Steep section from mile 82-87. No breaks, just climbing. I see Clint and George in this section working away. We are all working at our pace all moving upward. Switch back on switch back. Finally reaching the top right before we pop out on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Kevin comes up to me and rolls into the rest stop with me. I gather my water and turn around he is gone.... moving on. He is all buiness. So I jump back on and get rolling. I never see anyone else now until the finish. The miles are now clicking off the computer slowly. Like the kids watching the school clock at this time of year, each second feels like ten.
I get to the park entrance. I know there are only two rest stops left. I can do this. I am still on course for my perfect world goal time (7:15). My legs are starting to feel like they have been beaten with socks full of quarters. I push through. I stopped on the side of the road twice – not at rest stops, just long enough to compose myself and eat some kind of mystery gel that claims power and energy with caffine. I need anything at this point that will make my body go on. Finally passing the last rest stop I know that I am less than 2 miles to the finish. My perfect world time has just passed also. Now I need to get as close to it as possible. There is a false flat and I feel so powerful I see 20 mph for the first time in hours. I can take Lance Armstrong on now… then the hill starts to climb again. There went Lance. I spin. Remember Mustafa telling me to spin. I keep my cadence up and just keep working. I see the parking lots coming. I’m getting excited. Then there they are! Champion City Cycling – Dan, Colin, Aaron everyone cheering me on! It is a blur now. I enter the cones to get my picture at the finish. I see the timing tent people looking for my number. The guy behind me stands and starts to sprint. What? You are going to try to stick it to me now? No Way Jose! I spin harder – click, another gear. I’m kicking for all I have. I crossed the line ahead of him. Who does that. I hope he enjoys his finish picture with my in front of him. Dang dude… was it worth it?
Anyways. I am at the top – finish time 7 hours 29 minutes. Nearly 4 hours faster than last time (and an hour fast than just the ride time alone). After the finish I had to sit there and collect myself. I got emotional. Everything I had was in that finish. Every fiber of my raw being forced me across that line. I wanted to cry. I was so happy.
Now I am experiencing the finish a totally different way. The snack bar is open, people are walking around and joking, watching and cheering other riders in to the finish. It is all new to me and I like it. Last year I finished in the rain and 40 degrees. I just wanted to change my clothes and leave. This year it is nice to see everything. I put on my shirt that says “I paid for this shirt with Paul Basler’s money” and went to find Paul. The bet between us was a blow out in my favor. Thanks Paul for pushing me to better myself. Next year I want to do even better.
I boarded the bus to head back down to Marion. I was looking forward to the free dinner there. Last year it was gone by the time I finished and got back down the mountain. We pulled up and everyone on the bus hit the bathrooms first then to the shelter house for food. Spaghetti dinner with salad or BBQ Pork, cole slaw and roll and Brownies for dessert. Soft drinks, tea and water for drinks. I had a little of everything and a water. We are not sitting there for more than 40 minutes with the skies open up and pour on us. Not just a rain but a monsoon. I mean I had to get a jacket out of my bag because the shelter I was under (maybe 150x80 feet) I was still getting wet in as the wind blew the rain and hit us under the center of that place. I felt bad for Tony and Jerry who were yet to be accounted for at this point. Turns out that Tony was on the next bus and did ride through some rain, but was happy to be done. Jerry road through some rain and HAIL. That is insane. He was doing everything possible to finish. The Sag vehicle was trying to pick him up like a vulture on his prey. They wanted him to get in and be done… but he was less than 2 miles from the finish. Jerry did it. Nicely done my good man. It’s a proud moment of your determination.
Congrats to all my team mates. Everyone finished. Some did it with style, some smashed it, some persevered in a way I cannot even comprehend. But I want you all to know that I am proud of every single one of you. Awesome job! Thank you to Paul for pushing me harder this year - it was totally worth it! Thank you to Mustafa - your words of encouragement and tips made the ride better, I will always remember them. This was by far a better trip and a great experience for the Champion City Cycling Team.