Note: I received an email last fall from Bruce Flye regarding my write-up of the 1998 Bridge to Bridge ride. I encouraged Bruce to target Bridge to Bridge in '99 but to also consider riding the Blue Ridge Brutal 100 ride as a good warm up. This is Bruce's report. -DLC
I'm glad I was able to speak with you before the ride. Here's my report - probably excessively long, but hey! It was a hundred miles!
In the year and a half that I've been riding, every so often I've had an experience where I begin thinking 'This HAS to be the most fun I've ever had on a bicycle!' It happened again on this ride.
As I discussed with you by e-mail a while back, I was interested in doing Bridge to Bridge, but I was concerned about how to train for it, living in flat ol' Pitt County. Riding regularly with a couple of strong triathletes, I get lots of distance with some good speed, but no hill work. In an effort to compensate, I began doing some solo rides in northern Nash and southern Franklin counties. I knew full well those hills were not what I would find in the mountains, but they were better than nothing. I also decided to take your advice and do the Blue Ridge Brutal.
Last year, I rode in a metric and a full century, and came away from each a little frustrated with having ridden so far alone in a very non-competitive setting - I actually finished second in the century. I'm not strong enough for USCF racing, but I had hoped these rides would at least offer the charged atmosphere that I used to see in 10k road runs, an atmosphere that really helped you push yourself. That atmosphere was in place at BRB - I hadn't seen so much titanium since the last time I raced a sailboat at Race Week in Key West!
On the first leg down 163, I had the usual dialogue with myself about whether to chase some of the slower fast folks, or just concentrate on finishing. A look at my HRM convinced me to back off a bit, so by the time I got to 16 I was in the middle of a long, strung-out line of cyclists, but otherwise alone. This remained the case until I pulled off the Parkway. Still, the ride was going well - I worked on the ascents, flew down the descents, passed a few people here and there. This was proving to be a beautiful place to ride, and the Parkway itself was grand!
At the turn off the Parkway, I stopped at the SAG station just long enough to fill my bottles, and two groups of riders totaling maybe 20 people pulled up. Hallelujah! A crowd to ride with. Not exactly. Rather than staying together, they pretty well dribbled off one or two at a time. I took off behind a couple, and then we were joined by a couple more, and the five of us hung together until Warrensville. This was almost the setting I was hoping for.
Last year one of my triathlete friends, Bob Morrison, was on the USA Triathlon team that went to Switzerland. Bob returned from that trip to say the uphill portions were not as hard as going downhill. On this leg of the BRB, I found out what he meant. One rider in our group was really good on the descents. Not to be outdone, I decided I could do that, too. It worked OK until the stretch of knotty curves between 113 and the 3rd SAG stop.
I followed him into one blind turn to the right at 35+, and ended up left of center with another blind turn to the left seemingly only a hundred yards away. I knew I was in danger of eating a truck for breakfast, but trying to get back I nearly lost traction with the rear wheel. Our nice pack scattered to get out of my way, and somehow I managed to stay upright. Isn't it amazing how everything goes into slow motion close to a fall? One rider came by with a snide but appropriate dig: 'Personally, I like to hold MY line.'
We stopped at the SAG station, took some fluid and also left some in a not very discreet place, and took off again. By this time, I was feeling pretty good about climbing with my 39/28 gearing. The gentleman who took exception to my lousy cornering came back a little later and offered that I climbed pretty well considering I was from Greenville. Actually, I was climbing more quickly than the rest of them, and the pattern that took us to Warrensville was one of me pulling away a bit on the ascents, and then being passed again on the downhills, where I would hop on the back and stay out of their way until the next hill. This ride was really going well!!
After Warrensville, I began to pull away again. It seemed odd this time, because there wasn't that much of a grade. Then I passed a couple of riders ahead, and became a little full of myself, almost gloating over how strong I felt. I didn't really notice Buffalo Road was changing, and that it was going up more and more, until it became both visually and physically obvious - how did they find THAT hill? I stopped for a minute or two, with the ready excuse that it was time to take off the undershirt and snap a photo. You can believe I had to collect my thoughts before I trudged on at 4 (four) mph. Up ahead, there was a rider zigzagging to cut the grade. If a sailboat is going to windward when it does that, should we say a bike is going to hillward?
Halfway up I stopped again, just to blow and slow down my heart rate. (After the ride, a rider significantly stronger than I told me he got off and walked up about 50 yards - obviously a better idea than just standing there.) Just before the crest, I really needed another stop, but it was so steep I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get back on the bicycle! At the top, I took a break, snapped a couple of photos, and razzed the rider who came up behind me - 'What do YOU do to have FUN?'
After that beast of a climb (my opinion, anyway) various people offered that it would be easier the rest of the way. From Buffalo Road to Todd, there was plenty of rolling but it was manageable. At the Todd SAG stop at I looked at my watch and at the odometer, and decided I might really be able to do this thing in less than six hours. Even though a woman at the stop kept looking at me with a very circumspect expression on her face, I felt great. So I charged off alone, with an idea I could hold the usual Saturday pace of 20+ all the way in.
Railroad Grade is a really cool place to ride. It is narrow in a few places, but there wasn't much traffic. Following the creek all those miles was nice - and flat - and the scenery was good. But, shouldn't all the hills have made for an adequately challenging ride? Why did they have to import an eastern North Carolina head wind?
At any rate, I was believing the hard part was over. I couldn't hold 20 but I was rolling and smelling the finish - until the Fleetwood area. There was that little hard turn to the left and a little short hill, and then my hamstrings woke up after about 30 minutes of relative rest and screamed 'NOT!' More climbing to do, and then a whopping leg cramp set in, forcing me off the road for a minute. I then worked up to the SAG stop and Fleetwood, and found another concerned volunteer - 'Maybe you'd like to sit over here under the shade.' I took a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade, still astride my bike, and took off again.
I have to admit the last ten miles were not welcome at all. Although those hills were somewhat similar to those around Louisburg and Castalia, I was beginning to feel the previous ninety. Grand country, though, under a brilliant blue sky. I paused yet again for a half minute, and the SAG Wagon came by - didn't they do a good job patrolling that course? I was asked if I needed anything, and I replied 'How about a bullet?' Not the best thing to say to hard working volunteers, as I then had to convince them I was fine. A mile later I went by a woman seemingly in similar straits, off her bike and stretching. 'Hey man, how much more is there?' she groaned. It turned out to be two more hills and about four miles. How about the view descending into West Jefferson?!
Prior to this, I had done only two rides in the mountains of about 25 miles each, just about a year ago. Based on that experience, I told my wife that BRB could take me anywhere from 6 to 8 hours. As it turned out, I missed being under 6 by 53 seconds. Once I found out the time it took the 'real' riders, I began to feel pretty good about this thing, and I'm coming back next year!
So, here's where I thank you for your advice from awhile back. The sort of positive feedback and encouragement you offered by e-mail went farther than you can know.
Bruce L. Flye, Jr., AIA
East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina
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