'99 Assault on Mount Mitchell

Ride Summary by Tom Sheffield

bicycle chain

The Assault on Mount Mitchell (AoMM) is NOT A RACE! This year a new record (~4:55) was set for completing this "classic cycling event". Although I'm sure that the winner had already returned to Marion by the time I finished, I'm pleased to say that at least this year I was already on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) before the first rider crossed the finish line near the top of Mt. Mitchell.

I began preparing for my 2nd AoMM shortly after completing the 1998 AoMM race in 271st place at 7 hours 17 minutes and 51 seconds. Kurt Massey convinced me that my preparation should include numerous "Long Slow Distance" (LSD) rides, so beginning in November, we started riding at least 1 Century per month. The mild Winter, in addition to some other willing LSD participants, combined to make AoMM my 7th Century of 1999.

Preparing for AoMM is difficult, not only because it's nearly impossible to duplicate the course and conditions, but also because the training period (Winter and early-Spring) coincide with the cold and flu season. This year I missed 3 weeks in March due to a bad virus (I guess that "free" flu shot was worth the cost!) and woke up with a sinus cold on 5/16, only a week before the race.

In April (4/22-25) I visited my friends Chip and Joi Scardo in Franklin, TN. The Tennessee hills you encounter on roads like Waddell Hollow and North Berry's Chapel and in Percy Warner Park provide a good measure of your early season fitness.

The next weekend (4/30-5/2) I attended the "North Raleigh Road Dogs" AoMM training weekend in Asheville. That weekend was very beneficial. Thanks to Mike Wallace for making the arrangements. We rode a challenging course each day, finishing on Sunday with the Marion to Mt Mitchell portion of the AoMM race. I had an excellent ride that day, getting to the top in 2:47. I figured that I could probably come within 15-20 minutes of that, even after riding from Spartanburg to Marion during the race.

On 5/8 Tom Fissle arranged an impromptu Century ride with a good turn-out, that I found to be very beneficial. On 5/16 Kurt and I drove to Hanging Rock for a final tune-up. We've ridden the course several times since I got the directions from Ed Downing, and knew that it would be a sufficiently challenging training ride. Kurt modified the course slightly last summer, so that we ride up Sauertown once, Pilot Mt. twice, then Hanging Rock 3 times. That results in 9150' of climbing over a 73 mile course, or ~125'/mile. This was the first time I've been able to complete all 3 iterations on Hanging Rock. As a result of the weekends in Tennessee and Asheville along with my good experiences on 5/8 and 5/16, I felt ready for the AoMM race.

My experience at the Spartanburg Fairfield Inn on Friday night brought back memories of living in a dormitory at UGa. Some people got up at 3:30am and were yelling to each other in the hallway. Odds are that they were bicyclists (were there any non-cycling visitors in Spartanburg on 5/21?), and I have no idea why they would get up that early. Anyway, I met a bunch of Road Dogs downstairs around 6am and we rode to the start.

The beginning of the race was totally different from last year. Perhaps it resulted from the pre-race warnings of "arrests and fines" for those guilty of either "riding to the left of the center line" or "indecent exposure". At any rate, I was never in the "lead pack". In fact, I lost sight of the "lead pack" (that, I've heard, contained many Road Dogs) before the first one-lane bridge (about 12 miles into the course). I was in a large (~100 bikes), fairly well behaved (some of the usual and anticipated accordion-type pace), double paceline containing fellow Road Dogs like Mack Edwards, Jon Supler, Wendy Skelding, David O'Neil, and the McCabe tandem. I remember Mack telling another rider that we were averaging 23.8mph at the 30 mile mark. The size of this pack got smaller, as we dealt with some hills (before Bill's Hill). Regrettably, I dropped this pack off-the-front (a move I practice quite often during my training rides) while dealing with cramps in both calves that started while I was climbing Bill's Hill.

At this point, I started to consider abandoning the race when/if I got to Marion. Lots of unproductive thoughts entered my mind and there were some interesting conversations between the "Good Angel" and the "Bad Angel". However, for nearly an hour I had trouble figuring out on which shoulder the "Good Angel" was sitting. During this time I was participating in a paceline of 6-8 bikes that was frustratingly slow, but probably just what my body needed. By the time the pace picked-up when we were joined by another 10-12 bikes that came out of the 60m Rest Stop, the cramps had gone away (another Tums testimonial). However they were on my mind for the remainder of the ride, and I rode more conservatively than I had originally planned.

Based on conversations with AoMM veterans, I had decided before the race to stop only once at the intersection of NC80 and the BRP. When I passed the campground in Marion, I heard someone yell "Road Dog" and looked back to see (I think) Bill Leyland lying in the grass near the water coolers. Although he probably didn't intend it as an invitation, it was mighty tempting. I reached Marion in 3 hours 30 minutes, averaging 20.5, which was a pleasant surprise. I rode through a brief and refreshing rain shower around Lake Tahoma. The climb up NC80 was productive, as I managed to pass quite a crowd as I rode past the Rest Stop on the hill. At the top of NC80 (4:40 into the ride), I spent 4 minutes at the Rest Stop refilling my bottles and chasing a couple of Tums with a couple of cookies.

The first long climb on the BRP is where I could really improve my time. Both years I've felt that I lost many minutes grinding along at 6-7mhp on this section. On the positive side, I don't recall (selective memory?) many riders passing me on this section, so I must have been doing OK amongst my peers. I took it easy on the 2 mile downhill and made reasonably good time on the next climb. At this point I met another friend that was suffering from a severe headache, so I gave him a couple of Ibuprofen tablets (which gave me something to do while grinding along at 7-8mph).

On Sunday of the Training Weekend, I rode from Marion to Mt Mitchell without using the little ring of my Ultegra triple. After that, I had some delusions of using a 39:26 for one of these rides. An AoMM veteran had told me that "If you have the gears, you'll use them, and it will probably slow you down." As I entered Mt Mitchell State Park (6 hours into the ride), I counted my blessings on every one of the 30 teeth on my little ring. Yes, it probably cost me some time, but it allowed me to finish the race.

I finished the 1999 Assault on Mt. Mitchell race in 6 hours and 38 minutes. Some of the Road Dogs were waiting at the finish and offered their congratulations. In my mind, the handshakes were my own acknowledgement to each of them that they won the race this time, but WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR! :>)

Page maintained by Tom Sheffield and last revised on Friday, November 5, 1999.
[ NCBC home page ]