Many of you know that for the last 6 month I have been training for the 41st Annual Assault on Mt. Mitchell. This ride has been on my bucket list for maybe 15 years or so.
Historically, it was difficult to get in to the ride – requiring being part of a lottery, and doing the Assault on Marion first. But once they moved the ride to a Monday, it became a bit easier to get registered.
Somehow I got on the mailing list for this ride and for some crazy reason, I decided this past October, that it was time to mark this one off my bucket list and get registered. So I signed up, hired a coach, and went to work. May 16, 2016 was going to be my time to see just what this old grandma could do.
After six months of training, under the expert guidance of former club member, and certified cycling coach, Olga Weeks – Steve and I headed to Spartanburg, SC on May 14. Steve had signed up for the Assault on Marion – and had graciously spent time training with me throughout the winter. I had also talked my friend Bobbi Davolio into going with us.
Monday morning, May 16 promised to be a beautiful morning. Steve, Bobbi, myself and about 600 other cyclist struck out at 6:30 that morning from Spartanburg, SC toward Marion, NC and eventually that 28 mile climb up Hwy. 80, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the final destination – the top of Mt. Mitchell – the tallest peak this side of the Mississippi – sitting at 6,684 feet of elevation.
The weather was perfect, the wind was at our back – and the first 74 miles were a blast. We arrived in Marion about 5 hours after we had started. Took a break, refueled, and then we headed for the mountain. I had a dragon to slay, and I was anxious to get to it.
Little did I know the dragon was me…..
I was still riding strong and felt good as I pedaled up hwy 80 and arrived at the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway itself. Hwy 80 was a good bit steeper than I had imagined it would be – but once on the Blue Ridge, the grade settled down to the 6-8% range. Certainly doable – but the more I climbed, the more I began to doubt myself.
I started counting the 1/10th of a mile as they ticked off my Garmin around mile 92. I kept thinking, surely there would be a flat spot soon, or maybe even a downhill for just a little bit – but every time I rounded a curve, I would see more uphill – nothing terribly steep – but it just kept going and going and going.
By mile 98, I was truly battling the dragon. I kept accessing how my body was feeling, and I was still feeling strong – but I was so ready to be finished. As I approached the sign for Mt. Mitchell where you turn off the Blue Ridge, I decided I needed to stop and stretch. I took off my shoes, as my feet were beginning to hurt a little, so I lay down in the grass beside the Mt. Mitchell State Park sign and stretched a little – and battled the dragon a lot. I knew there were 5 more miles of climbing a head of me.
With some encouragement from an unknown cyclist – I climbed back on Ruby for the final five miles. But at mile 100, I cracked. I got off the bike and began to walk…and cry….and then another cyclist rode up to me – and I made some comment about “the walk of shame” – know how much teasing I’d get from Yukio, once he know I was walking. The cyclist said back to me - “No! No shame – look around you at the beauty of this place”. And I did. And it was beautiful – and I was at just the perfect spot to throw my bike over the ledge. J
After 8/10ths of a mile of walking, I came to the last rest stop – with 2 more miles to go to the top of Mt. Mitchell. The volunteers there knew I was struggling. They gave me a coca cola, some potato chips, and lots of encouragement.
Another cyclist pulled up beside me as I was struggling to get back on my bike. He let me know that he’d done the ride before, and knew what lay ahead. He assured me that I had come this far, that I could finish this ride easily. We looked back at another rider slowly approaching us – kind of a heavy guy who had on my favorite jersey of the day. It had donuts all over it and proudly exclaimed “Fat Bastard”. I looked back at my new friend and said, “Surely, I can beat this Fat Bastard to the top”. He laughed and said – “that’s my son”.
So a little embarrassed but a lot encouraged, I joined the Fat Bastard and his father, and slew that dragon known at Mt. Mitchell.
My goal was to finish between 8 and 9 hours – and I nailed it with a bike time of 8:59:38. It was an amazing day, filled with beauty, joy, anguish, frustration, and a whole range of other emotions I have been unable to name. But the best part of the day was the text I received from my daughter telling me she thought I was a ‘bad ass’ - and then the text I received from my husband telling me he was proud of me.
I guess I am kind of proud of me as well. As Richard Virenque once said – “the best rides are when you bite off more than you can chew, and live through it.”