The reader may recall that last year the author had a less than perfect experience at the Blue Ridge Breakaway, a mountainous century ride held annually in the area of Waynesville, NC around the second weekend of August. This ride features over 12,000 feet or climbing and traverses a 27 mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, featuring an unlighted tunnel at mile 78.
After last year’s failure, being removed from the course at mile 85 due to falling short of time limits, your author had several goals to accomplish this year.
Of course, the main goal was to finish the ride. The entire length is 105 miles. I broke it in to some sub-goals:
The Haywood Chamber of Commerce puts on an excellent event each year. Although the turnouts are relatively small compared to some of the other “mountain climb centuries” the attention and care from the volunteers is first rate. They are always glad to see us and treat us so well. It truly is a favorite amongst those who have attended it.
Goal #1 – Be rested, fed, hydrated and prepared: Completed
This year I planned to arrive 2 days before the ride, with my family as support team. We chose to stay at the Lake Junaluska Resort, which is where the ride starts and finishes. Our apartment was within 200 yards of the starting area. We could (and did) sit in our porch rocking chairs and watch people arrive and unload their bikes. We enjoyed a sports bar on Thursday night, ate well and saw the sights on Friday, and ended the evening with a pasta carb fest at Bocelli’s, a great Italian restaurant in Waynesville.
Goal #2 – Climb Highway 215 without stopping: Completed
I had a plan and stuck to it. Last year I felt I went out from the gate too fast, attempting to stay with riders I knew, some of whom are considerably lighter, younger and probably in better shape. This year I watched my heart rate and kept it around 130bpm, which is in Zone 3 for me but maintainable. I found some people going my speed and stayed with them, on the flats anyway. Unfortunately there aren’t many flat areas on this course so I found myself watching people go by on the uphills but catching back up and even passing them on the resulting descent.
Throughout the first 50 miles of course my average speed was lower than last year, and as a result I didn’t arrive at the rest stop before Pisgah Forest until 11:40, just 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff.I had found a ride buddy, Jonathan Howell from Columbia, SC, who was a slightly better climber but I seemed to catch back up to him just fine on the descents. We agreed to meet up at the rest stops along the way if we couldn’t stay together. I told him to follow the Pirate’s Code though, and don’t wait for me if I “fell behind.” We had time limits to consider after all.
So at 11:55, rested, fed and watered, we set out for a grueling 10.5 mile climb with no respite. Jonathan soon proved to be faster on the climb and began to pull away. I remained calm. I attempted to keep my heart rate between 128 and 135 bpm. I managed to do that except for the occasional interludes where I stood up to rest my seat. Although I would go slightly faster it would send my HR up to the 140s (zone 4).
It was a long climb at 5-6 mph. The entire 10.5 miles took me 1 hr and 40 minutes but I never walked, never stopped, even when people I know went past me.
The last mile was tough, as it climbed up to the Parkway. It got steeper. I saw 7-9% on my Garmin the whole mile. I may have let my HR creep up as I knew I was getting near the rest stop. I was spent, shaking and fatigued as I drove in to the rest stop but I’m really happy I completed this goal. It was the one I worried the most about.
Goal #3 – reach the highest point and take a picture: Completed, but the day before
Jonathan (who had waited 5 minutes for me at the first Parkway stop) and I started slogging our way up to mile 70. It was harder now, as the gradients were consistently in the 7% range. The occasional downhill allowed us to rest the legs and probably allowed us to make it to Parkway stop #2 without stopping. However, the stop is still a mile short of the highest point, and as you will see below, our ride ended at Parkway stop #2.
Kind of disappointing to miss literally by one mile, but the reason will be come clear later on in the article.
Fortunately, on my training expedition and ride the day before, my family support team and I had visited the sign at the top and taken a few pictures. The girls enjoyed the view in spite of the inclement weather.
Goal #4 – Navigate the tunnel: Completed, also the day before
Since our ride stopped at mile 70 we didn’t make it to the tunnel. However, the day before I had driven out to the Parkway with my team to do some practice, and it included two trips through the tunnel both down and back, just to get familiar. The brighter 200 lumen light was much better than the 75 lumen light I had last year. I was able to see the road and the markings. Unfortunately my practice ride was ended by a lightning storm. Interesting that this happened (see below).
Goal #5 – Make it to the end of the Parkway: Failed
For the second year in a row I failed to see the end of the Parkway. See below for reasons.
Overall Goal – Finish the Ride: Failed
I was glad I got a ride in, and extend my thanks to the two volunteers Janet and Julie who drove me to the finish line.
I’ve been training for this ride, well really since failing at it last year. It had been weighing heavily on my mind for the last 12 months. I was as ready as I could be and looking forward to doing it. However, the weather had other plans. Now I’m planning for another 12 months I guess …
So in summary, I was better prepared for the ride this year, but all the best preparations can’t overcome adverse weather. I’m looking forward to the third time next year, which may be “the charm” after all.