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Sunday, March 30, 2008

An epic ride

When someone has that ride where circumstances conspire to create as much suffering as possible, that rider tends to describe the ride as "epic." Well, I had an epic ride on Saturday and I'm still eating!

I signed up to participate in the Palmetto Peloton Project's Pleasant Ridge Rider's Challenge. It was planned as a 100 mile plus ride. This would be perfect to help me meet my challenge of finishing a century each month March to August.

The the route had to be changed do the ride would not conflict with the Assault on the Carolinas. The planners didn't want the P3 riders to end up in Brevard! So, the ride was changed to a 70 miler.

I figured that shouldn't be a problem. I'd just do the scheduled route and then tack on the other 30 miles at the end. 100 miles... not a problem.

What I didn't count on was the route being reconfigured to make that 70 miles pretty tough. Had it not been the end of March, I would have not decided to go on with those extra miles. No matter what happened in the official ride, I was going to have to ride those last miles.

Right as we lined up it began to rain. Before we got out of the park I was already starting to get wet. Thankfully, I had my windbreaker on. It really was not so bad.

This first part of the ride took us along River Road and then basically along the normal Bakery Run up through the watershed. The group rode along together chatting and loosening up the legs.

As we neared Flat Rock, the group broke up and about eight riders went off the front. For the rest of the ride these were the riders I was in contact with. It was a pretty good group. On the climbs we would stay together, but on the downhills we would separate as some of the riders were not as comfortable with descending on the wet roads.

By the time we reached Saluda, I was in a group of three riders. We made our first stop at Holbert Cove Road. About six of us connected at that point before one rider left on his own. Two other riders and myself left after him perhaps two minutes later.

While I was feeling good at this point, I was told that the next ten miles or so were going to be tough. This would take us to Green River Cove Road. This would be a 5 mile climb up a 10% grade. I wondered how bad it could be... then I found out.

I wasn't pushing it at all, but I was putting distance between myself and the other two riders. I think they may have known something I didn't know! Then before I knew it I saw some paint on the pavement "10% next 5 miles."

I shifted to my easiest gear and decided regardless of what the other riders did, I was going to take my time. My goal was 30 miles longer than theirs. I knew if I pushed it now, I would pay for it later.

This road was incredible. It was just one switchback after another. As you continued to climb up you could look over the edge and see three or four stretches of the road. You continued to climb up straight sections and then you would kick up hard for 10 feet or so as you made the turn to your left or right to start climbing the next straight section.

Finally, I reached the point where I started to ask myself, "How many more of these am I going to have to do?" Then I looked over the edge and saw the other riders begin to catch me on the lower switchbacks. Then they caught me. Actually, before we reached the top, I was caught be four or five riders.

I was proud of myself for not trying to chase them down. If this was the worst the route was going to throw at me, I was sure I could make it for the 100 miles. The question was, would it get any better or would it be worse?

My thought was it was going to get better. Certainly we would soon begin to head down Hwy 25 back through the watershed. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I had set myself up for disappointment.

The good news is that the rain wasn't that bad. It would come and go and never very hard. The fact that we had ridden through coves, the wind was not so bad. Then I messed up...

As I was enjoying a downhill Hwy. 176, I nearly passed my turn onto Pearson Falls Rd. Thankfully, one of the awesome volunteers was there to get my attention and point me to the proper route. My trouble didn't end there because as I started on the road, my Garmin 305 started freaking out on me. Every time I pressed the mode button the device would go dead.

At that point, I missed the turn onto Fork Creek Road. I continued down Pearson and suddenly the road ended in a gravel road. Okay, so this isn't right. I turned around and figured at worse I would have to go back to 176 and ask for directions.

Before I got there, I saw Fork Creek Road off to my right. I took it. I knew it was only about six or seven miles before I could head home on Hwy. 25. However, while I felt good about my time on Green River, I was starting to wane here fifty some miles in. This stretch killed my time.

I hoped Mine Mountain Road and Mountain Page Road would be better. Still, it never seemed to get better. All of this climbing was starting to take a toll.

Finally! I made it to the portion of Mountain Page Road that would lead me to the watershed downhill. When I got to the end of it, I stopped to put on my rain gear again before the descent.

From there to River Road it was time to regroup. On River Road I wondered why it seemed longer on the way back than it did leaving! A lone rider was ahead of me and I just set my sights on catching him. Just before Hwy. 11 I caught him and we rode in together talking as we went.

He was from Rochester, New York and he had a lot of good things to say about Greenville and the Upstate. That made me feel pretty good. Just wish we could have given him a little better weather.

As we made the final climb into the park, I kept playing with my Garmin to see if I could get some sort of read on the distance I had. I figured my wrong turn had added some miles. Best I could tell, I was at 72 miles when I turned around and headed back out of the park.

I won't bore you with too much about this portion. I was pretty bored myself. My plan was to head out from the park 14 miles then turn around and come back. That would put me at 100 miles.

I turned off of Hwy. 11 onto Hart Cut Road. On one particular shallow climb I got chased by several dogs. It helped my speed for a few yards, but by the time I slowed down, I was lightheaded!

Hart Cut wasn't long enough. I turned around and then turned onto Parnell Bridge Road. That took me up to Talley Bridge and the Bates Crossing. I road up Bates Crossing until I hit Hwy. 25 near Hwy. 414. I turned around and rode back to Hart Cut. I recalculated and realized that I still didn't have enough.

Now my left leg started to threaten cramping. I was scraffing PowerBars and sports beans. I was nearing the end of my water. I found if I just relaxed and spun I could work the cramp out. This continued as I tried to get in those last miles.

I made another turn off of Hart Cut onto Goodwin Bridge and rode almost to Bates Crossing again. Then I turned around knowing that I was heading in for the last time. Wow, that last 8 miles was a bear. I wasn't looking forward to that last climb back into the park.

The parking lot was nearly empty of cars. I didn't see any people. I rode straight to the bathrooms. As I approached the shed I saw the volunteers putting away all the stuff. I pulled up and asked if they had any lunches left. I was ready to eat a cow!

Well, March's century is out of the way. My plan now is to do charity rides in April and May. Most of these rides do not go 100 miles. I'll have to stretch them out like I did this one. June, of course, will be the Assault on Mount Mitchell. I'll worry about July and August after that!


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