My Assault On Mt Mitchell 2010

I started out the morning in good spirits, because I had laid everything out the night before, pinned my number on my jersey, stuck my bike number on the bike, and filled my bottles full of Gatorade. I found last year that doing these minor details on the morning of the ride take up a lot of prep time when you are so anxious about the ride.

Last year, in 2009 I did the Assault with Mark Pittman and Andrew Turner rode with us to Marion. This year however, i would be on my own the whole way. On my own that is, with a thousand other riders doing the same thing. My strategy in 2010 was different, in that I saw from last year that I had lost a great deal of time at SAG stops. This year I wanted to stop less, even if it meant riding slower so as not to get as fatigued. If my bike was rolling, I would be gaining ground. If I was at a SAG stop, I was gaining nothing. I also changed my nutrition this year. I brought most of the food I would eat with me. This included Cliff bars, Gatorade Gels, and a 5 hr energy drink.

In 2009 I took a bunch of cell phone footage of the ride, and tried to document the experience. I had every intention of doing the same thing in 2010, but I rode in large groups for much of the way to Marion, and I needed both hands on the wheel. After that, I was too focused on the climb to care.

The ride was much organized much more smoothly this year, and at 6:30am we promptly off on our way. No waves of ability riders or anything like that. This morning we were just told to go have some "fun." I tried not to get caught up in the adrenaline of passing too many people too early. I found this out a year ago as well. If you appear to be a strong rider early, a group will form on your rear wheel and let you do all the work for them until you tire out. I would not be the sucker doing all the work this time around. I did choose to bridge the gap forming early between the main pack and a fairly large group going out ahead. Once I used the burst of energy to do this, I just sat in easy in the middle of the new pack and tried to do as little work as possible.

Things were going good, and I was feeling great until BAM! I hit a pothole that sent one of my water bottles bouncing off into the grass. I though about it for only a split second, then eased off the road and ran back for it. If my goal was to not stop at the SAG's, then I would need every bit of Gatorade in that bottle. I couldn't believe how many riders went whizzing past in the 20-30 seconds it took me to retrieve the bottle. I bet 150-200 riders passed me, and just like that I was alone. Oh no!.... stopping may have been a huge mistake!

I got back up to speed, and began the work of reeling back in the fast moving pack disappearing ahead of me. I was not going to be able to catch them alone. I looked back to see the main field surging towards me about a half mile back. I decided to ease off and wait for them... I did not want to do all the work alone and tire myself out. I kept waiting and waiting, then when it was about to swallow me up I put my head down and pedaled as hard as I could to get up to speed. It is kinda like coming up the on-ramp on the interstate.... the hardest part is merging into traffic.

I was able to do it. I got into the top 15 in the pack anyway, and again tried to let my body recover from the toll it had taken on me to make it back into a group. We gradually picked up the pace, and started catching and passing riders who had fallen off the pack up ahead that I had been in previously... Then it became obvious that the riders up front were doing all they could to catch the other pack. More power to them! I would just let them do the work, and hang on as long as I could!

Then BAM! another bump, and my water went careening off the road again! Are you kidding me! I stopped again, now really unsure of what might happen. I ran to pick it up this time, so that I would be back on the road before losing any more time. Now, there were no more big groups coming. I did however, jump in with a group of 3 which became 4 then 6-10 riders. This was a much more manageable group, and we all had a similar pace that we wanted to ride. In this group I took my turn at the front, before returning back into the pace line and catching my breath.

I stayed with these guys until mile 42 where many off them pulled over at the SAG stop. Sticking to my plan, I rolled on past the SAG and connected back with some of the original riders I had been with. I stayed with them all the way to the top of Bill's Hill where I took my 1st SAG stop at mile 47. Bill's Hill wasn't nearly as bad this time around. I just pedaled through it and went on my way. I was reminded of 2008 when I was only going to Marion. That year I attacked the hill because I had nothing to lose, and passed riders all the way up the hill. That was fun! I held my stop to 4 minutes, got the fluids I needed and got right back on the bike. This is the hardest part. Getting on the bike when you know you haven't rested yourself yet. But really? How do you expect to get rested. You can't get on the bike and pedal.

From here it was rolling hills all the way into Marion. Around the 65 mile point I realized that the guys I was with were pushing it harder than I would be able to maintain. I also had a contact about to blow out of my right eye because of the wind in my face. I eased off, stopped quickly to readjust my contact lens, and rode into Marion alone. I stopped at the Marion SAG. This would be my 2nd stop, where I drank the 5 hr energy drink hoping to get a little boost up hwy 80. From here as you can see on the map below. It just goes up and up. I had taken me 4 hrs to cover the 75 miles into Marion, and it would take me almost that long to climb the remaining 25 miles or so.

From here, the story line gets really boring. I hit the base of the climb at Hwy 80 and tried to lock in at 6 miles per hour. Then, I tried to do this continuously for the next hour. Yup. That's right, struggle each pedal turn to keep moving at 6mph. Like how fast my girls could ride when they were 2 years old!

I took my final SAG stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway. From here the climb is not as steep, but fatigue had set in to the point that I could get over the 6mph barrier. Same story... just plod along hoping you don't give out before reaching the top. Some guys passed me like I was sitting still. Others passed me multiple times, because they would stop at the SAG's but I would keep on rolling.... Like the tortoise and the hare.

As the miles turned slowly over, I spent a lot of time thinking about Josiah. I remembered riding the Assault in 2009, 2 days before he would be born, and all the anxiety that surrounded his entrance into the world. Then I thought through all the "mountains" Josiah climbed in his short lifetime. I knew that no matter how hard this ride was for me, it is just a blessing that I am able to do something like this.

Erin's Dad likes to remind me that Josiah just kept pedaling. It didn't matter how steep the climb, how difficult the gears on the bike, or how tired or thirsty he might have been. Josiah just kept pedaling until the very end of his life. So... that's what I did. I pedaled harder faster and stronger. In the final 2 miles I began to realize I would still have gas in the tank at the end. I picked up the pace even more (like up to we're flying now!) I began passing people in the final stretch. People who had gone by me even an hour beforehand. I stood up on the pedals for the final 500 yards and tried to push it through the finish.

I couldn't. I eased off 20 yards from the top, sat down and turned the pedals a few more painful revolutions. The clock read 7:46 - a personal best. Sure, tons of people beat me up the mountain, but I had a fantastic time.

Maybe I can use this verse in my post next year.

Isaiah 41:15 "Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff."


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