Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 16 -- Assault on Mt Mitchell


Six Irregulars and two game, enthusiastic, helpful wives piled into two cars to set out for Spartanburg, SC on Sunday, May 15. In one car, Harvey, Smitty, Ivan, and Ashley, Harvey’s other. In the other Ag mobile was Ags, Tito, Iva, and Kim, Tito’s other. The wives were the designated drivers, and let me say thanks to both of them.

The first car was staying in the ride headquarters at the Marriott. The other car stayed down the street at Courtyard. We drove over to the Marriott to get our ride packets. The Marriott had the “expo” with several vendors in attendance. This is where we got our race numbers and packets. One vendor was PowerBack. This is a contraption that attaches to your seat post that gives a small back rest. The claim is that you can push against it with your back to aid in climbing. None of us bought one. We did stock up on gels, pills, powders, and other potions.

After leaving the expo, we went upstairs and found the first car guys and gal in the hot tub by the pool. After discussing “race strategy”, the second car guys decided to go ahead and have dinner. The others were going to relax in the hot tub awhile longer. Smitty went to get some brewskis for the hot tubers. Tito, remembering his last experience in Marion, brought his own food for Kim and him. Ags and I ordered off the menu on the pool deck. We met a nice couple from Columbia doing Assault on Marion. Their longest ride had been 50. So the 74 to Marion was going to be a first for them. P.S. Ags knows a lot about a lot of different towns. Consult him for restaurant choices when traveling.


Seven hundred riders gathered for the 6:30 AM start in front of the Marriott. We six met up at the start. The mass start was slow and unnerving. Pay attention ! It would have been easy to go down. Almost immediately, the other five were going faster than I cared to go. I chose to ride on my own. Therefore, this account is mainly about me. My only knowledge of what happened with the others is what I was told after the ride. I say on my own, but there were plenty of wheels to suck.

The most dangerous part of the ride was the double pace line on Parris Bridge road once getting out of town. This was a flat, fast 20 mile stretch. Slow down, speed up, slow down, speed up with everyone bunched up. Suddenly, two bikes down ahead. Both riders were up and moving about but in obvious pain. Several others stopped to help. All the others gawked but kept on going.

About 40 miles, I had to pee. It was only two miles to the next sag stop, but I had to go. I decided to use the BobH European stop but no dismount method. About mid stream a group flashed by. One woman yelled as she went by “I didn’t need that”. I figured she must have been an American, not used to our continental methods. I knew one of the women in that group. Much later in the ride came upon her. I apologized for offending whoever that was. She said no problem. She rides with men all the time and is used to it. In my next large group ride, I’ll get well off the road anyway. ;-)

The most significant climb before Marion was Bill’s Mountain at 46 miles. This is a one mile steep switch back climb that gives one a nice preview of hwy 80. It also gave me a good chance to use my 32 cog that got a lot of use north of Marion. Thanks to Gary S owner TLC Bikes for this set up. I don’t think I could have finished with 28. The trip to Marion was by no means easy. Aside from Bill’s Mt there were a lot of steeps. On the recent Raven Rock Ramble, I hit 74 miles about 4.5 hours. Today, I rolled into Tom Johnson campground at 74 miles in 5:10. I learned later that the others hit Tom Johnson at 4 hours flat.

Tom Johnson is the finish for Assault on Marion and is the staging area. It’s about a quarter mile from the intersection of hwy 70 and 80 where the climb starts. Everyone was wide eyed with anticipation of the upcoming trial. Everyone was wondering how their legs would react, could they finish, how much pain would it be. Statements like “now it begins” and “now to start all over” were common. We only had 28 miles left, but 5,500 feet of climbing.

Now I was on “familiar” ground. I was so glad I had ridden this twice. Hwy 80 is steep and curving. My normal speed was about 5 mph working hard. The final half mile to the Blue Ridge Pkwy is known as the Devil’s Staircase for good reason. The fun part is looking back down at the switchbacks from which you just came.

One might think once on the Pkwy, that you are home free. Not so. The Pkwy is up and up. It’s kinda like the first part of Sauertown before the right turn. I will say that no where along this route do you encounter Pilot or Hanging Rock grades. But, this is unrelenting. You see a turn ahead that you think will flatten out for a little rest, but instead it kicks up. At the mile 350 marker is a two mile 40 mph downhill where you give up all the elevation you just gained and freeze your sweat. The temp at mile 350 was 49 degrees. Following that is three UP miles to the Mt Mitchell gate. At 5 mph, three miles takes a long time.

Finally, there it is. The start of the Mt Mitchell climb. This is a five mile climb. The first three are as steep as anywhere on the course. The last two has a flat section but then kicks up again for about a kilometer to the finish. I had been looking at the mountain on the way noticing a dark cloud covering the summit. As soon as I started up, the rain started. It felt like ice. I cheered one young man who asked me if it was like this all the way. I told him about the 2 mile gate. He said “you’ve made me a happy man”. My hands began to freeze. I took my hands off the bars one at a time and tried to make a fist with little success. Two days later, the tips of my fingers are beginning to regain feeling. One person was picked up by sag with hypothermia. I encountered others walking their bikes up. On and on. Finally, I made it to the two mile gate. I even got into the big chain ring briefly. What relief. Then the final kilo and the pain starts again. 4 mph. Turn, turn. Stomping a 32 cog. Visibility is about 20 feet in thick fog. My computer passes 102 miles with no finish in sight. I see another man standing by his bike. I tell him it can’t be far. He says “yes, it can”. Then suddenly out of the fog is a vision of a man saying “100 yards to Nirvana”. I ask him if he is a mirage and he laughs. There’s the finish line. Someone takes my timing chip, my bike, and gives me a space blanket. The temp is 42 degrees, rain, fog, with a slight “refreshing” breeze evaporating my sweat.

Link to my Garmin stats:

Post Ride

There had been a lot of discussion as to whether Kim and Ashley could drive (i.e. would be allowed) to drive to the summit. The protocol is that your bike is trucked back to Tom Johnson and you ride the bus back to Tom Johnson. Obviously, if Kim and Ashley are at the summit, no bus required. They still take your bike however to prevent riders from trying to ride back. My brain had become disconnected from all logic pathways. It was only functioning to maintain respiration, heartbeat, and body temperature. I was stumbling around looking for my dry bag which the organizers take to the top of the mountain so the riders can change. One of the park rangers started yelling to get on the bus. The bus is leaving. Little did I know that Kim was in the Ag Mobile with Ags and Tito who had finished long before not 100 feet from where I was. Rather than riding in a warm comfortable car with dry clothes, I boarded the bus in my bike gear for a two hour ride back to Tom Johnson. Ags had my clothes bag in his car.

Upon arriving at Tom Johnson, it was windy and cold. Sunny. But, windy and cold. I still had my space blanket. No Tito, Ags, Kim. They were at the top of the mountain waiting for me to finish. They waited until the last rider finished about 6:30 PM looking for me. I had finished about 3:30 PM. I apologize to them for my lack of normal reasoning.

Finally, they get back to Tom Johnson. We retrieve my bike from the holding pin. Off we go to Raleigh stopping at the Waffle Shop for steak and eggs. I’m in my bed at midnight. A LOONNNGG day.

Ags – 7:29 Great ride.
Smitty – 7:56 Another great ride.
Harvey, Ivan – 8:54 Harvey beat last year’s time by nearly an hour and a half. Ivan was Harvey’s escort.
Tito – 8:55 Important to note that Tito had sustained a knee injury the previous week and did this ride with left leg less than full force.
Iva – 9:40 and proud to finish

Some amazing results: the winner did this in 5 hours ! How that can be done, I have no earthly idea. That is a game with which I’m not familiar. The winner of our age group (60-64) did 6 hours ! Geez. How did he do that. Some guy in his fifties did 5:15 beating the featured rider, Rahsaan Bahati, a 27 year old pro and former national champion. Bahati is a crit guy mainly. But, still. The 65 year old winner did it in 6:38. Tito and I and some other guy were the only people from the Triangle area over sixty.

Thanks again to Kim and Ashley for their company and making this trip a lot easier. Thanks to my fellow Irregulars for their fellowship and support. Thanks to the race organizers and volunteers.

See you in 2012 when I’m 65.

Edit, May-23rd.  Smitty, claiming "better late than never," today provided the following:
We left Raleigh in two groups of four.  Our car had IvaN, Smitty, Harvey and our support driver Ashley.  The other car left Raleigh a couple hours after us with Ags, Iva, Tito and their support driver Kim.  We made plans to try to meet up in Spartanburg to hang out.  We were at our hotel relaxing in the hot tub later that afternoon when the second group arrived.  We talked some strategy for our ride the next morning and made plans to meet in the morning at the start.  We couldn’t get our act together to get all of us to dinner at the same time, so each car did their own thing.  I tried a couple of times to contact Karen and meet up with her for dinner and or the ride but had no luck there (I did see her briefly about a half hour before the start). 
We all got together a few minutes before the start at 6:30 and it was cool and cloudy with a good chance for rain later in the day.  We managed to all cross the start at the same time.  That was the last time I saw Harvey, Ivan and Iva until the finish.  I guess that in the crowd we got separated.  I was able to keep Ags and Tito in sight for most of the first forty miles or so.  Ags and I both stopped at the second rest stop while Tito continued on.  My strategy for this year was to shorten my time at the rest stops as much as possible and Ags was on the same page.  We were back on the course a few minutes later and not far up the road the first real hills of the day started to come in to play.  Somewhere between that rest stop and Marion, Ags and I passed Tito.  At one point after that Tito pulled up beside me and pointed out that Ags was leading the peleton. 

The three of us pulled in to Marion (70% done mileage, 30% done effort) within minutes of each other and after a quick break all left for Highway 80 and the first really tough climb of the day.  Harvey later told me that he and Ivan pulled into the Marion rest stop just a few minutes after we left.  Once we hit the climb on 80 that was the last time I saw any Irregulars on the course.  Ags left me in the dust on the climb and I thought I might be able to regroup with him at the rest stop at the top of Hwy 80, but no dice.  Tito must have dropped off my wheel somewhere around there too. 

From that point on I was in survival mode to the finish, grinding up 80, the Parkway and its long, long climbs and finally Mt. Mitchell itself.  There is a false flat almost at the top of Mitchell and hitting that recharged me and I was able to pass quite a few riders between there and the finish. 

The weather held out all day for me.  I had some wet roads to ride on the descent down from the Mt Mitchell overlook about 10 miles from the finish and it was foggy, cold (40 degrees)and misty on Mitchell, but no real rain to deal with.  For riders finishing later I think they may have had rain on the last climb. 

It was awesome that all six of us were able to finish the ride, and in really respectable times to boot.  I have heard rumblings to the effect of “that’s it, not doing that any more” from some of the crew. Truthfully, I was thinking the same thing at the finish.  With a few days gone by, I am looking forward to next year and beating my time from this year.

Bib First + LastName Gender/Class City ______St Total Time 

943 John ___Agnew _____M __45-49 Raleigh ____NC 7:29:42.975
753 Paul ___Smith _____M __45-49 Raleigh ____NC 7:56:28.899
698 Harvey _Haigler ___M __45-49 Raleigh ____NC 8:54:22.261
993 Ivan ___Spronk ____M __50-54 Raleigh ____NC 8:54:24.141
972 Ernest _Craige ____M __60-64 Chapel Hill NC 8:55:53.452
967 Iva ____Anderson __M __60-64 Raleigh ____NC 9:40:02.796 


  1. Excellent write-up, Iva.

    You covered what appears to be all the important elements (I wouldn't really know as I've never done the ride): pre-ride; then squirrelly riding; nature ... breaks; hill climbing pain; mountain slogging pain; cold rain pain. Augmented by "stolen bag" confusion.

    Well done to you. You know they would have had to SAG me off the roads for "too-much-time."

    Well done to the other five -- I hope they chime in with some meaningful comments.

    Well done to "Snappet" and Kim.


  2. A blog follow-up on Iva's thorough AoMM account: May I add a comment on Ranger Bob Miller? He totally entertained me & Kim for a half hour in the Balsam Room,
    the summit museum. We met Bob's black bear, Monroe and a ground hog. And we heard a speaking wooden, life-sized statue of the man who discovered Mr. Mitchell's body at the base of a waterfall. I should speak a bit about the 11
    cups of steaming hot tomato soup Ags and I slurped. But the taste was indescribable
    Tito (posted on his behalf by Iva)

  3. "... when I’m 65."

    I just got it -- a salute to the Beatles.