how NOT to ride 97 miles on a bike

This is the email I got from Mark Pittman earlier in the week.

More info. Sounds like a climb fest!
When : Saturday May 2nd at 8:00 am
Where : The Landrum Ingles located at Exit 1 on Hwy I26 West
Ride info : We're planning on heading up Saluda Grade to the Watershed and up to the Tuxedo area where we will make our way over to the climb up Caesar's Head and then work our way back . I think the route is about 90 miles with plenty of climbing . Climb at your pace and regroups as usual at the top of climbs and as necessary . Figure on about 6 hours total ride time . This ride will be a steady pace ride and we would like to keep moving as much as possible so come prepared to work as a group. Store stops : one for sure and possibly two quick stops.

For some reason after getting the specifics of the ride, I was still game for giving it a go. The thing is, I am supposed to be training for the Mt Mitchell Assault later this month. Like most people doing the assault, I haven't gotten enough miles in.

The group got started a little bit late, because there were 2 girls inside using the bathroom. I was kinda annoyed that we were waiting on them, but as we waited I realized that I needed to take a leak as well... I was just too proud to say so. We headed out of town with a group of 21 riders, and just thinking bout going to the bathroom had made my bladder swell. We turned down a road then went along some railroad tracks, and some yeehaw behind us in a car started laying on the horn like a real jerk for us to get over. Went he went by, we realized that he was a fellow cyclist, just a little late for the start. He sped by us and park in a small lot up ahead and unloaded his bike. We stopped for less than 30 seconds to allow him to get his bike off the car, and I took the opportunity to run into the woods and relieve myself. The guy in the car waited on me, but the rest of the pack went on. Fortunately he is a strong rider, so we were able to pull the pack in within just a few minutes.

The first thing I noticed as we chugged along on the flat, was that there didn't seem to be any weak riders. The 3 female riders, who I had expected to struggle throughout the day, were at the front of the pack. I typically cruise on the flat around 18-20mph. This ride was going more like 22-24. Things might get tough! Mark and I stayed fairly close to one another, but didn't talk much because it was becoming evident that there would be work to do!

Our first real climb was the Saluda Grade. This starts in Tryon, and climbs forever up into Saluda. We were about a mile in, when one of the females attacked! She stoop up in the pedals and completely left us all. I tried to pick up my pace, but there was no way I would be able to compete with her speed. I was incredible! I felt pretty good all the way up the climb, and arrived in Saluda within the top 6-8 riders. I knew that I may have pushed it too hard early on. Mark was not near the front like I expected, and when he arrived a few minutes later, he was red in the face, and shook his head in disgust when I asked him how he was feeling.

I have inserted a video of a guy climbing the Saluda Grade in an Audi. He is doing 60+ mph at times. Imagine struggling up this thing at 6-10mph.

We picked up a few additional riders from the Bakery in Saluda, and climbed out of town on what I know to be the return path for the Bakery run. Most of these riders were getting away from the roads they are familiar with, but I was beginning to feel comfortable, because section is part of where I have ridden often. After a long, fast descent back to the base of the watershed, I felt strong. Here is where Mark decided to call it a day. We would be climbing into the Tuxedo area, then on to the worst part of the day climbing Ceaser's Head. He decided to head back from here, go over Hogback Mt. then return to Landrum. All in all, I think he did 70mi... which is not too shabby of an effort.

As I climbed up toward Tuxedo, I still felt strong. However, I was a little concerned to be out with all these riders, none of which I knew personally, and none of which seemed to be easing off at all. We all lined up to go down Hwy 25 for a stretch, and really flew once we turned down Gap Creek Rd! There were times we were even getting over the 50mph mark. It was here that we dropped someone named Ralph, and lost them all-together. This shook my spirits again, because I really did not want to be left out there alone with a really long ride back. We took a break at a gas station near the base of Ceaser's head, and at this point we were around 50miles into the ride.

I drank 2 more bottles of Gatorade, topped off my bottles again, and rolled on out. This is where my ride went bad... really bad. Apparently, the combination of too much Gatorade, not enough water, and too much effort early on had done my body in. Early into the climb I felt my left leg begin to cramp, then a few minutes later, the right leg. I knew I was in trouble. The females I had been concerned about holding us back all beat me to the top. I had become dehydrated, and the rest of the day I would have to spin as lightly as I could to avoid overexertion. The hill is 6miles straight up, and I barely made it under an hour. I was the last one to arrive at the rest area.

The nice thing about doing these rides is that everyone is willing to wait for you. The problem is, the strongest riders get to rest the longest, and the weakest one (me) don't get to rest at all! The rest of the day is a blur for me, because I had my head down and focused only on keeping up with the pack. To my credit, I don't think I made them wait on me at all through the Dupont forest, or on into Flat Rock. I suffered silently. One of the guys asked me, "Are you feeling ok? You look salty." Sure enough, I had begun to look salty because of the amount of sweat my body was producing in order to cool down my core temp. (It was an overcast day. I would have not made it if the sun had been out.) I spoke up next time we were near a gas station, because I was out of fluids, and we still had 25-30 miles to go.

I was able to get my bottles filled, and away we went again. I was able to get my speed back as we left Flat Rock, but when the climb came to get back into Saluda, I was toast once again. The riders regrouped at the Bakery and headed on DOWN the Saluda grade. This was a ton of fun! I have ridden a motorcycle for years, so taking some risks on the downhill didn't intimidate me too bad. We had two motorcycles pass us on the small hill before reaching the decent, and two of our guys PASSED the motorcycles on the way down. It is just way easier to maneuver a lightweight bicycle than a car or even a motorcycle. I stayed with the leaders all the way down.

Then the road flattened out again. I was fine until the climbing began, and again I felt as though I was on the verge of major muscle cramping episode. With some pain, I reached Tryon, and headed towards home. We came to a T in the road, and the ride leader said we were to go left. There was a ton of complaining, and half of the group turned to the right instead. Apparently the left turn would require even more climbing. Reluctantly I turned left and gritted my teeth all the way home. At the base of each major hill I found myself hating my decision, but when I finished I would be able to say I had ridden the entire route.

I got back to the parking lot with a ride time of 5:50, just under the 6 hr mark like promised. Our actual time out on the road was closer to 7 hours, but I needed every break we got. During the day I had consumed nearly 2 gallons of Gatorade in all, and 1 bottle of water. Even drinking that much, I had lost 3.5 lbs in sweat. I won't drink so much Gatorade next time. I will get more H2O in me. By the way, only one rider decided to do the additional 10 miles round trip up hogback mountain and back to get over the century mark for the day. Yep, you guessed it!

It was a girl.

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