"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Asheville Camp 2008: "Little Do You Know"

"Little do you know."

That was the theme for Friday's opening ride of Coach Randy Warren's 2008 Asheville Cycling Camp. It's always better that way. The uncertainly is what gets you out the door and up the mountain. And what a mountain. Mountains. Everywhere.

We all arrived safe and sound on Thursday. On the flight in from Chicago were myself, Peter, JT, Josh, Chris, Jeremy, Trish, and Matt. Ed arrived on an earlier flight and Randy was waiting for us at the airport. Everyone ate their footlong at Subway and we found Joe and Ken waiting for us at the Oakland Cottage Bed & Breakfast around 10:30. It was a beautiful house, 2 floors (not including the basement which had no guest rooms) that accomodated us fairly plushly, save the cold showers if you were not the top three in after the day's ride - and you certainly weren't safely removed from anyone else's bodily functions. It was high Arts and Crafts style, from 1910, with lots of hard wood molding and intricate window panes.


A full - and I mean full - breakfast awaited us every morning. Friday the smell of coffee and berry cobbler roused me before 6:30 and I was even the first one to the newspaper. The tranquilness of the scene belied the personal trial and test of fortitude that awaited us all later that morning.

We rolled out a bit after nine, all of us taking a little extra time to get it together. We were fully aware today's ride was to be 120 miles, but the gravity of that number wasn't fully realized as we'd (or maybe just me) never trained in such hilly country. We had a full day with nothing scheduled other than a catered dinner back at the cottage at 6. It was a warm and gorgeous day. We rode through some familiar areas I knew from spending time in Asheville with my family, at one point we were within a mile of my parents' house, just off of a pretty busy thoroughfare we'd taken from close to downtown. From there we headed off into the valleys and hollers beyond Asheville on our way to Mt. Mitchell.

Ed, Asheville Day 1

With a smaller, relatively stronger, and more cohesive group than at San Luis Obispo, we pretty much all stayed together on the flats and smaller rollers. It would also be fair to say the big boys (Ed, JT, Joe, and Chris) were tempering a bit in anticipation of the climbs, but from my perspective at least, Peter, Jeremy, and I definitely had improved our fitness and form over the last month. While the occasional attack would split the group, but we came back together eventually.

Peter and Randy

This all changed at the base of Mt. Mitchell. The peak, the tallest east of the Mississippi, shattered and broke everything about that day. The ride, the timing, our confidence, the weather. Our temper.

Randy told us the climb was basically 3 parts. 8 miles up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (the WPO project of the New Deal and National Park in it's own right), then 16 or so to Mountain...another turn right off the highway on a spur to the summit was in there, too.

As the tempo ramped up, my modus operandi to drop back and find my rhythm early seemed the best option. On much shorter climbs later in camp I was able to match the tempo of Ed, JT, Joe, and Chris, and then only by almost physically grabbing a seat post, but I'd never be able to sustain their wattage on this mother. But soon I was in my zone. I seperated from the riders behind me and caught Ken, then Jeremy, and saw a glimpse of Randy as well, up on the switchback just below the Blue Ridge junction.

I almost missed it. There was a sign just before that said the Parkway was imminent, but then just an unmarked left turn appeared before Hiway 80 bombed down the other side of the ridge after passing beneath a quaint little bridge. It was lucky I was alone. I turned and cranked up the steep pitch and was rewarded with a sign pointing left: "Mt. Mitchell - 16."

On The Way Up

The day remained warm at first. The clouds drifted in increasing number however, and the blue sky greyed with my mood.


I wondered where Randy was. When I'd seen him last he wasn't that far ahead, but coming through the tunnel, a short descent answered my question. I eventually found him, a few miles later, on the side of the road, massaging his cramping feet. I asked if he was OK or needed anything, but nothing was getting me off that bike as I entertained fleeting notions of maybe, just maybe, catching onto at least one of the Fab Four.

The tenths of a mile ticked off agonizingly slow as my speed ranged from about 7 to 9mph on the 6% or so grade. I kicked up a bit when I looked back to see Randy back on the bike and gaining. My seperation held him off.

It was now fully overcast and colder. My heart rate was keeping me warm however and I continued to churn the pedals, making big circles and focusing on my breathing. I tried not to look at my odometer for longish periods to make the gains in my milage seem more fruitful. Le Femme d'Argent by Air played in my head constantly since I passed Jeremy and had been on my own.

I'd completely lost track of the mileage basis by time the spur for Mt. Mitchell State Park arrived. I was entertaining visions of the summit parking lot just ahead out of sight, when the van drove by. I asked the quiestion, and Ben said, "dude, only two and a half miles to the top." It was aggrivating as hell, but then, just 500 yards later, a taunting, vicious, monstrous sign laid it out for me: 3.9 miles to the summit. The pitch of the climb increased, and as I realized I had another 30 minutes on the bike at the pace I was doing at that moment, my scream of anguish reverberated throughout the Appalachians. It did level off a bit, and though seemingly hours more, I soon passed the ranger station, the closed restaurant, the entrance to the campground, and then arrived in the summit parking lot.

I saw Ed rolling my way, looking for other riders. I assumed he'd been there a while with the other three and was getting impatient. When we met, I said, "I wanna die. Get me off this thing. He simply replied, "No fucking way!"

"What?" I asked. "Where's everyone else?"

"You're it!"

Well, that didn't make sense at all. I hadn't passed JT, Joe, or Chris, and had been alone since catching Randy 10 miles earlier. Unless...

Wrong Turn City.

We laughed for a bit, knowing they surely missed the Blue Ridge junction, at the very worst, Ben would round anybody up who needed it. Actually worse would be any extra climbing they'd have to do to just get back to the ridgetop. And then I noticed the apple Ed was eating. I'd been out of food for several miles. When the van passed me a couple of times ago and asked me if I needed anything, I was so deep in the pain cave and determined not to stop lest I not start again, I just shook my head and moved on.

Now seeing the apple, real food, my eyes must have seemed to pop out of my sunked, sallow face, and Ed wordlessly handed it over. It was like biting into Christmas Morning, your first nudie mag, and a unicorn fart all at once.

Endorphins gushed out of the back of my brain and down my body. I took two more bites and grudgingly handed it back. But I must've looked I was on the edge of an orgasm because he handed it right back. I finished it.

Ed had been there for 13 minutes. Randy arrived 7 minutes after me.

It was cold. My arm warmers and vest were in the van. And the van was busy. We were standing outside the shuttered snack shop, shivering. I found that the employee door was unlocked, and in we went. It was warmer, but I was still getting chilled. It helped to wrap my arms around my body, but I was still ravenous. We all had salt lines on our faces. Ed began poking around in some boxes and came up with some beef jerky. I understood Randy's disapproval, but this was life or death here. Protein and salt. Enough said.

Warming up

Gradually, riders began to arrive, and we got the full scope of the drama that had unfolded below me as I labored intensely over my bike. Joe first, then Jeremy. Joe and JT (and use the comments section to clarify, people!) had been dropped by Ed and Chris, and then Ed dropped Chris. All three of them missed the turn onto the Parkway, thinking they would catch back on the descent, before realizing they'd gone to far. Those three had an additional 5 miles of climbing added on to their day. As JT said, it took them deep into the "hurt locker."

Jeremy's tale was even more harrowing. Shortly after I caught him he began feeling light headed and started to get off his bike and that was all he remembered until he came to lying on the ground with Peter slapping his face and giving him water. Peter later said he'd encountered him leaning against the guard rail, with only the whites of his eyes showing and near collapse. Peter may have saved this trip from a major medical emergency.

But Jeremy made it. Peter made it. JT and Chris made it. Trish, Josh, and Matt made it. We all made it to the top of that goddamn mountain. And not without prodding from our van driver Ben. If he'd just let those who wanted into the van...

A few did understandably get a ride back down. Shaky and tired, a 24 mile switchbacking descent might not be the best idea of the underfocused. Ed already long gone, I'd gotten my rest, and three new layers later, Jeremy, Randy, and I rolled out of there. We soon met Joe, and the four of us were hitting the last tricky turns before bottoming out on the flats back into Marion.

I was close to bonking then, and couldn't keep up with the tempo, and watched them roll away with 4 miles to go. Minutes later as they disappeared, I shifted to my big ring, heard a loud metallic pinging, and felt everything go slack. I looked down to see my chain on my foot. The outside edge of my front derailleur had snapped off.

As 120 miles clicked over on my odometer, the rendevous intersection appeared and I steered onto the grass and unclipped both feet while still rolling to a stop. Ed was finishing off a milkshake from the ice cream shack just next to us, and looked at me with a look that said, "get on this train, Jesse James."

"What's in it?" I asked.


It was somewhere around $6 when I paid for it - chocolate, bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, peaches, walnuts, at least - maybe there was some Fois Gras and Gold dust in there as well - but worth every penny. It was chased by a large root beer and a hot dog with everything. In Western Carolina that apparently means ketchup, mustand and cole slaw. It couldn't have tasted any more heavenly.

From there it was a half-hour drive back to Asheville while Randy waited with the bikes and a copy of Velonews. He wouldn't get back for over 2 hours.

As tired as we were, we were up for a while, reliving the day. I posted several pictures, and spoke with a couple teammates on the phone. Since thunderstorms were forecast early the next morning, and I needed a new derailleur, we wouldn't roll until at least 10am on Saturday. We ate plateloads of food, lounged, and laughed. And then slept.

Peter Relaxing in the Study

There's not much else to write about that would touch on emotions or experiences not covered or that were beyond what we experienced here. Each night we were absolutely destroyed by the day's ride. Everyone was whining about the pain and soreness. Saturday was an 85 mile ride to Mt. Pisga, back on the Blue Ridge, and Sunday was another century to Mt. Doggett and back where I experienced the joys of riding 30 miles off the back on my own, without a cue sheet. I threw a little tantrum once at a point I thought I was totally lost, but then sheepishly realized I was right on track, and later not that far off the back at all as I rolled into Marshall. Earlier that day, on a short, but tough climb, I'd managed to stay with the Fab Four all the way up, but come Doggett, was already way behind them, and with them was my motivation to get back to the Pain Cave. Meanwhile, Jeremy and Peter had found themselves off of a front of a group that wasn't working hard, and worked hard indeed to increase their lead to as much as six minutes before finally being caught on the descent leading to Mt. Doggett, the third big climb of the day.

And on Monday's ride, we found ourselves back in Marshall, 23 miles and exactly one hour from check out. That was as intense and focused a paceline as I'd ever taken part of, and we hit the driveway of the B&B at exactly 10:30.

My legs are still sore, but better from the massage I received last night. My shoulder is in a lot of pain actually. I wonder if it is from overuse on the climbs, trying to keep them lower to free up my breathing. It's got chronic problems from 4 crashes on it in the last year - including the car hit and the SLO pileup.

Day 2 Climb, Still Together

I'm back, and while not ready, that was a hell of an off-season. Racing awaits, and I can only do my best. I hope my best is enough.

1 comment:

Tamara Fraser said...

Sounds like so much fun!