28 miles up, up, up Mt. Mitchell

Borrowed image of Mt. Mitchell SignThe elevation profile for this ride really says it all! I set out to ride from Marion to the summit of Mt. Mitchell and realized immediately that I wasn’t ready for what was ahead of me. (I rode really hard last week and my legs are still dead.) I knew I was in trouble while going over the first little bump in the road, which was at mile 4-ish. I tried to push but my legs fought back with a resounding “THUD.” A smarter me would have turned back, realizing that nothing good was going to come of the ride. But, how long would it be before I had this chance again? So, I mashed on.

My legs eventually came under me and I was able to spin a decent cadence. My pace wasn’t as fast as I hoped, but good under the conditions. As I twisted up the mountain side, I noticed darkening clouds ahead of me–did I mention I should have turned around? First came the wind. Being on a mountain side, it whipped from every direction and ranged from a light breeze to an absolute momentum killer. I actually had to stop once so I could brace myself against a gale force gust. Using all of my [none] meteorological skills, I’d say the gusts were easily 50-60 MPH+. Then, it started to rain around mile 12. I stopped briefly under the cover of a tree to consider “what the hell am I doing?” and to eat a bar. That down pour quickly passed but was only an indiction of things to come. By mile 20 the rain was being driven sideways by the wind, pea-size hail was bouncing off the road, and lightening and thunder rumbled across the peaks. The logical part of me screamed turn around, but the summit was right there. So I pushed on and eventually made my way to the top. It took just over 2 hours to reach the top– avg speed was 12.6 MPH. Overall, I’m happy with how I rode considering the elements and heavy my legs.

As with all journeys, though, getting there was only half the trip. I still had to ride down this rain-soaked beast. Going up, speeds were in the 10-15 MPH range; coming down, it pushed 35-40 MPH–with almost constant pressure on the brakes. I stopped at a tunnel to put on a jacket, which helped cut the burning sting of the cold rain. But, there wasn’t much to be done about the slick roads and loose brakes. The conditions were hazardous and uncomfortable all the way back to Marion. By the time I reached the car, my feet and hands were numb from cold and vibrations, I was shivering deep inside and I had a pounding headache–probably from being tense for 28 miles.

Still, over 5 hours later, I question why I didn’t turn around before the summit. Was it really worth it? I’m sure it will be once I share the story with a few buddies. Tonight, though, I can say that I completed one of the toughest rides I’ve ever experienced. I love cycling.

the image was borrowed from http://www.zepica.com/ and was found by good ole Google. My camera never left it’s dry pouch once the rain started falling.


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