After a tour this summer, and a couple of centuries, I drifted for a bit, until I decided to try my hand at a brevet (see description here for more information on what this is, or here for even more details). I signed up for the Market Square/Fall Colors 200k, which was a 200 km ride in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. That’s about 125 miles, if you measure in the English system (which the English have abandoned to us Americans). All to be ridden in one day; 13.5 hours, to be exact. There are longer rides, with longer times cutoffs, but that’s a good start.
For a ride of this length, I figured there were four keys. Can’t do much about my weight in the last month, so that leaves drinking enough water, ingesting enough salt, and eating enough calories to keep going. Well, I went 0 for 3, 0 for 4 if you count the weight thing, and still made it! Training, well, no rides in the last week since we were on vacation, but that counts as tapering for the ride – except maybe for the walks in the woods.
I woke up a bit later than planned, pfutzed around for too long getting everything squared away, and was running late to the start, so I skipped a fast food breakfast. That’s OK, I was eating very well for the last few days. There were 15 of us, by my count, rolling out of Knoxville early in the morning (do the Congresscritters who mess up daylight time ever get up before noon?), and quickly into the suburbs and then the countryside to the northeast of town. There we found decent roads, without much traffic for the most part, a view of Mount LeConte, and some hills. It was overcast, but we didn’t see the haze from the Oklahoma dust storm that had covered the area the day before. It was pretty chilly, I’d guess around 50°F, so I had on my tights, jacket, warm headband, and long gloves.
Passing one house, a couple of little yappy dogs came out to give chase. No problem, they’re little dogs, and we’re rolling downhill. Until a big white bulldog cross comes down off the porch, and angles down the driveway to catch us! I yelled as he hit the edge of the pavement, and twitched my steering, which was apparently enough to throw his calculus off just enough that the dumb dog hit my rear wheel. I felt the impact to the wheel, but didn’t stop to look. When Jeff, the rider behind me, caught up, he asked, “What happened back there?” He told me the dog looked like he was out of it.
Jeff and Dave had GPS to navigate by, while I had a cue sheet. The people who put this ride together did a super job of laying out the rides, and printing the cue sheets; the cue sheet was always right, but… There’s a problem with both of these, and it has to do with how the road builders never seem to be able to line up roads just right. West Smith Rd. runs into Tom Smith Rd., and 37 feet up or down the hill John Smith Rd. comes into the other side. Hard to navigate with the cue sheet, since it’s hard to read, comprehend, and remember “West Smith Rd., 3.7 mi; Turn R to Tom Smith Rd., 40 feet; Turn L to John Smith Rd., 2.5 mi” when you’re trying to keep you speed up. But the GPS is a toss-up; sometimes it says turn L, sometimes R, and at least half the time it gave you the second direction to turn first.
We came into the first control, where we had to get our brevet cards signed and timed. This was a good time for speedy nutrition — called a fried cherry pie and some Oreos, and some water for me. Back on the road, and I missed a turn but caught it quickly. Jeff and I turned around and got back on course, but we didn’t know if Dave was ahead of us or if he blew the turn. Silly mistake — stay straight and ride on the flatter road, but by this time we saw the turn up and assumed it was our route! More ups and downs, wandering near Pigeon Forge, out on Walden Creek Rd, and turned up the hill — of course, it’s got to be uphill. Traffic was about as heavy as I’d like to ride in up this hill, with no shoulder, but enough turns to keep everybody’s speed reasonable, and the traffic was still light enough to let them get by. The postman was pretty impressive — I was doing a pretty good pace, and he still managed to stop at the mailboxes, flip the lid down, insert mail, flip the lid up, and drive off before I caught up to him for about a half a mile.
Toward the end of Walden Creek, the road started to kick up pretty good. I think I did the whole 350 miles last summer on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive without needing my granny gear, but granny and I got very well acquainted on this stretch.
Finally to the top of the ridge line, and downhill for a while — except Miller Cove Rd. didn’t seem to descent nearly as steeply. Beautiful scenery, quiet (if rough) road, and a wonderful ride into Walland. We stopped for food and drink, but Dave wasn’t here. Just as we got ready to leave, he pulled up — he missed the turn just like we did, but he had disappeared up the road before we got there! Before we left, I changed to lighter gloves and headband, and took off the jacket, but there was a good breeze, so I left the tights on.
Just out of Walland Center, we started climbing Foothills Parkway. I found out later that the rangers, visitor centers, and motel clerks were recommending that people skip Cades Cove and drive up Foothills Parkway instead — wonder how bad the zoo was in the Cove!? It’s about 9 miles of climbing, 1700 feet, with a bit of a dip in the middle. Gorgeous; the leaves were at their peak starting maybe 1,000 feet above the valley floor, with oranges, yellows, and bright reds of the oaks seeming to glow. Did I mention the sun came out near the top of Walden Creek Rd.? Early in the ride there were some nice views of the Tennessee Valley to the north. I don’t know what the official visibility was, but you could easily see 20-30 miles, to the top of the Smokies, and later over Fontana Lake and the ridges south of there.
Climbing. My good friend granny gear got a lot of use (again). I finished all my water, and the potato wedges I’d brought from lunch. I had salt deposits on my jersey and my tights. If the turkey buzzards I’d seen earlier in a field had wanted salt, I’d have been out of luck! Most of the traffic was reasonably well behaved, although there were a few jerks who must have scared the descending motorcyclists, and the one biker who felt he needed to honk at us with his really wimpy horn to make sure we knew he was passing. Really? You didn’t think we could hear the glass pack racket? Finally made it to the top, after a couple of stops, and took a quick picture just over the top before falling off the mountain.
Down to the bottom, cruised along the shore of Chilhowie Lake, with the wind blasting from the front quarter. Despite the sunshine, it was a bit chilly. My wool jersey was soaked in sweat, and warm except where the wind blew through it. (Where did the wind go when I was going east??) I got into the control with something like 7 minutes to spare, although I think that was off by the hour we waited for sunrise — the Daylight Savings thing again. Chugged a root beer, gobbled down something, filled one (only one!) water bottle, and took off with Dave. Note inadequate fluid and salt, and probably not enough calories either.
Dave and I had a good ride back. We took turns going off course and getting each other back on course; I don’t think we ever missed a turn by more than 30-40 yards, but we must have missed 4-5 like that. There was some steep stuff on the back side, but I didn’t think the course was that bad. It was just that I was trying to cramp on both hamstrings, and both quads, and my left had started to cramp. After a while, we found a church with a spigot; we drank some, filled both bottles, and I popped a second Nuun (more salt!). Things were looking up.
More lovely roads, but not much flat. Mathematically, I guess there has to be a stretch of flat between uphill and downhill, but on much of this stretch, and most of the whole route since leaving the French Broad the other side of Pigeon Forge, if you put two wheels the length of a bicycle apart, they’d both be rolling. In opposite directions on the “flat” parts.
We made Ellejoy Market, the final staffed control, just before dark. Dave excused himself to one of the other customers with, “We just bicycled 100 miles, we’re kind of stupid.” On goes the reflective gear and the lights. Down goes the quart of Gatorade, the V-8, and the iced honey bun. Food of the gods! Note fluid, salt, and calories. Refilled bottles again. Dave pulled out a chocolate bar and shared it with me. Thus refreshed, we rode off into the gloaming. In the dusk it was nice riding, as it was possible to ride the rollers — pushing at the bottom, popping over the top, and coasting down the next hill.
The route was really great, in that we were in the country until we got to within about a mile of the football stadium right before halftime. Of course, that had something to do with getting out the granny the last 3/4 mile of the ridge. It was pretty dark by then, but we were going pretty slow until we hit the street lights of the city. An easy coast down to — one last booger of a climb! and we had made it to the end.
I didn’t make it before sundown. But I finished in 12 hours 41 minutes. I believe the bit about 10,000 feet of climbing. (Surely there’s an easier 200k to start with?) Then again, the first century I completed was 3 States 3 Mountains, so this is in keeping with my “find a challenge” mentality.
The next time I do a long ride like this, I’m going to remember to drink enough, eat enough, and keep my salt balanced. Yeah. And I’m going to lose that extra 20 pounds. Right. Just like I was going to do those things on this ride!
Do it again? Maybe. It may take more than 12 months to forget how hard this ride was. But there’s other rides that don’t push the envelope quite so hard.
Kudos to Bob for his hard work setting this up; and special thanks to Dave for shepherding me safely to the finish!