Sunday, September 27, 2009

3 weeks to go

I'm looking at the calendar and I see we have exactly three weeks to go before we depart for Austin. I am really getting stoked about this trip! In the last few days, I logged 174 miles on my bike. This is to be our last long mileage weekend. From here we'll taper the mileages down to give our bodies some recovery time. The theory is that we'll fully recover over the next three weeks and be as strong as we are going to be when we leave from Greenville Memorial Hospital.

This weekend actually started for me on Thursday when I took a day off to climb Caesar's Head. It was a great ride and I really love the climb. I'm going to be looking for some other long climbs like that one, although I may not have a chance to ride them before our trip.

The next long ride was a night ride scheduled for 80 miles starting at 8pm Friday evening. Jeni, Perry, Taylor and I decided to log an extra 21 miles before the rest of the P3C3 team arrived. This of course so we would have a full century on the night - we would meet at 6pm.

It was raining pretty hard when I arrived at the Donaldson parking area a few minutes before our 6pm meet time. I was not looking forward to starting off in a hard rain, but we got lucky and it really let off as we waited for Jeni to arrive. I think she brought us good vibes because it let up just about the time she arrived.

We did the short Donaldson route at a pretty easy pace. Perry and I played around a little on some of the hills by pushing the pace, but mostly it was a relaxing ride. It took us a little over an hour and when we returned to the cars, the P3C3 group was assembling and getting ready to ride.

Of course, with an 8pm start time, it was dark when we left Donaldson. I won't even try to repeat the entire route from memory, but I did recognize the route for about the first 20 miles or so. Once we got to Possum Kingdom, we hung a right and headed into unknown territory (for me anyway).

One significant thing that came from this night ride - it was pretty surprising for me too. We saw at least 4 live snakes warming themselves on the pavement. One of them was a very large copperhead. I think Perry ran over that guy! Jeni also ran over at least one, and I about took Perry out (Sorry Perry!) when I swerved to miss a smaller snake later in the night. That is more snakes than all I have seen while out on my mountain bike - that's the surprising part for me! No-one was bitten, so they just provided some heebie-jeebies that eventually turned into laughter.

It was a fun ride. At one point, we did a brief stop where Joe and Big John decided to hop into the SAG vehicle. Tedd tells us - just a little ways up here and make a right on Dairy Road. Ok, so Dustin puts on his afterburners and takes off the front. I hold near him just so no-one is riding by themselves. We keep looking for Dairy Road, but alas, it doesn't come. The group comes back together and Jeni, Perry, Jerry and I were up towards the front. Tedd says 'just a little bit up the road'. Still, no Dairy road.

It continued this way for a number of miles - finally we stop at another stop sign and Tedd once again says 'Just a little bit more and then on the right'. So, we go a little bit - no Dairy Road. A little further, still no Dairy Road. Finally we smell the Dairy farm and we come to the intersection of Dairy Road. It was pretty funny. We had a good laugh about that 'just a little further'....

At one point, we turned left at a stop sign - Tedd calls out 'Look for [whatever] road on the right'. Ok, so off we go. Jeni, Perry, Jerry and I end up off the front a bit and I was out there leading the way. We're riding and [whatever] road. We keep riding and riding some more - maybe about 3.5 miles or so before we come to the intersection of Hwy 252. We stop and the others are not far behind us. Turns out we missed the turn. Seemed like our SAG team of Jennifer and Kim did realize the mistake and had managed to stop some of the group, but the rest of us were further ahead. They caught us right as we turned around.

So, what happened is we should have turned right at that stop sign. No biggie really, so we got a few extra miles in. We got back on track and continued our ride.

As we began to get back into recognizable territory, light batteries were wearing down and the rain started picking up. We still had 20 miles to go and it came down on us pretty hard for a while. I stopped to put my rain jacket on at one point - it was actually pretty cool once you got wet.

It rained on us for something just under an hour maybe - I don't really know how long. It did let up as we rode up Reedy Fork road. Perry and I once again played around on those rolling hills with our little friendly competition. He hammered me a few times, I hammered right back. It was really fun.

As we turned onto Perimeter road, we thought we would be heading with the wind. And we did for about 1/4 mile - then it became a crosswind that was quite hard when we went around the end of the runway! Perry and Jerry had gone off the front while Jeni and I rode together. Screaming something about Wind (and FIRE!). It was a fun ride with really good people. Perry, Jeni and I ended with something around 107.5 miles.

Saturday night we had a big dinner at Ron's place. It was fun, although it rained cats and dogs almost all night. There was lots of good food and of course the camaraderie. Ron and several others talked about the trip logistics, plan, etc. We'll depart from the Hospital at 3pm on the 18th. We have to arrive 2 hours prior to get some photos taken and other last minute things completed.

Throughout the night, the energy was really high. Everyone was in good spirits (and it wasn't because of the spirits either!). It was really nice to have a number of Veterans there (folks who did the ride last year). They shared some really good insights with us rookies. I left Ron's house really excited - and if you've been keeping track of my blogs about this event - this is part of the reason I changed my plans and joined this team.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

...this could be heaven or this could be hell....

To put you in the right mood for this blog, go ahead and let this video load. Just as it did when I rode the Assault on Mt. Mitchell earlier this year, The Eagles 'Hotel California' was running through my brain as I climbed up Caesar's Head today - Specifically, when home-boy starts up with the double necked guitar - that guitar riff is what is running through my head on a nice long climb.

It was a great ride. Courtney, Gavin, Perry, Taylor and I talked about doing a ride as we were having dinner after Tuesday's ride. Perry had suggested the climb up Caesar's Head. I knew I could not miss this opportunity as I had yet to make this climb. I checked my schedule at work and decided I could afford to take a vacation day to do this ride.

As you know from my last blog, I love climbing so for me this was going to be heaven. Others might think it a bit hellish. What better way to get a good climbing fix than to get out and do Hwy 276 up to the State Park. Perry wanted something around 50 miles and I thought I could put together a route that would give us just under 60 miles out and back to Caesar's Head.

Earlier this year, I had done the Greenville Spinner's 'First Fifty' and had a great time. I knew this route took us right to the base of the climb so I searched mapmyride to find the route - labeled here as the Final Fifty.

We met at the Publix parking lot (off old buncombe road, near Furman) at 8am and headed out shortly after. We cut through the Furman Campus and picked up the route. We weren't looking to set any records getting to the base of the climb, so we rolled along at a comfortable pace. The Upstate is a beautiful place, and this route takes you along some very beautiful rolling countryside dotted with some very incredible houses.

As we rode along, I was looking for the route markings that we used on that ride earlier this year. I thought I saw some faded orange hand-painted arrows I recognized and they were sending us along the planned route so I didn't argue. When we got to Hunt's Bridge Road, the hand painted arrows told us to bear right, but the planned route actually should have beared left. I followed the arrows and this got us into a slight detour.

When Hunt's Bridge intersected with Earls Bridge Road we did a stop for a map check. Our que sheet said to turn right on Earls Bridge Road, so we did. Unfortunately, this turned out to take us about 6 miles out of our way. Of course we didn't realize how far out of our way until we were headed back. Not a major problem, as we were able to get back on route easily enough.

We followed Pace Bridge road to cross over Hwy 288 and link up with Marked Beech Road. This took us to Moody Bridge Road and across to Pleasant Grove road. The views of the mountains from this road are truly spectacular and today was an exceptionally clear day. Someone had even painted 'WOW' on the road to wake up those cyclists who might not be taking a look around.

This road connected us to Hwy 11 and we made a SAG stop at the EXXON station. We all topped off our water bottles and had a little snack. We were now at the base of the climb and we were all looking forward to it. Instead of turning right on Hwy 11 and then left on 276, we went straight across Hwy 11 and connected some roads to put us on Hwy 8 just below it's intersection with Hwy 276.

As we made the left turn from Table Rock Road I checked the time on my computer. It showed 10:35am. This was our marker for the climb. As we started up the climb, Taylor's youth and enthusiasm had him going off the front. Even after we made the left turn onto Hwy 276, he stayed out front for a little while.

It was well understood that all of us would make the climb at our own pace. I was surprised at Taylor's early push. I did my best to ignore it so I could find my own pace. It was about this time when the guitar riff started up in my head. It seems that my pedaling pace and the time of that song fit well together. At least in my head they do.

Soon, I was on Taylor's wheel, and shortly after that I went around him. I had found my zone and the Eagles were my soundtrack. I know I was pushing myself, but I'm not sure if I was going as hard as I could. I have driven this road countless times, but this was my first time to climb it on my bike. It felt good and I was very happy to be there. However, although I knew the road from a vehicle standpoint, it is very different when I'm the horsepower (or the BillyGoat power as the case may be ;). I know I was keeping something in reserve - especially early in the climb. I didn't want to blow up.

A few miles up the Hwy, there is a pull off next to a little bald that offers a great view. I was feeling good as I passed this spot and I looked back and could still see someone (not positive but I think it was Perry). I tried to forget about competition and just ride for myself. Although that is a difficult thing to do, I think Don Henley and his boys allowed me to forget about competition and just keep with my rhythm.

About half way up, there is a false flat. I tried to keep my cadence solid and ended up shifting up to the big ring for a while. I still was holding a little in reserve - I think I missed the sign that says 'Caesar's Head - 4 miles'. I really only knew where I was because of my familiarity with the road.

As I neared the top and got into the switchbacks, I knew I was getting close. I tried not to dwell on the elapsed time, but I could see that I was making good time. After the switchbacks, there is a restaurant (not sure if it is still open or not), but it came into my view just after I passed the 40 minute mark. I felt good that I should make the visitor's center in under 45 minutes.

As I came upon the sign showing 1000 feet to the park entrance, I was still only at about 41/42 minutes (I was using only the clock with hour:minute so I could only be accurate to about 1/2 minute). I gave it a strong push and crossed the entrance at what I have to call 43 minutes (it could have been less if I had a more accurate time measurement, but it wasn't, so I am taking 43 instead of something less). I did a short cool down lap through the parking lot and went to the end of the parking lot to cheer everyone else on.

Soon, Perry came into view. He was pushing hard for the last bit and he crossed the line at 47 minutes. He came back to join me and we talked briefly about who was coming next. Courtney is a strong climber, but Taylor is an unknown. He has only been riding for a short time but has proven himself to be quite capable. Perry said the last time he saw anyone behind him, it was Taylor. Unless Courtney or Gavin caught and passed him, he would be next.

Sure enough, just a few minutes after Perry's arrival, Taylor came into view. We cheered him on and he gave a good push up to the entrance at a time of 50 minutes. Our little cheering party was now 3 strong and we didn't have to wait long before Courtney came into view. We yelled our encouragement and she pushed across the line at 53 minutes.

Gavin would be our rear guard for this climb. We couldn't know how he was doing on this climb, but he has proven himself a strong rider in the several weeks we have known him. As I watched my clock, the 60 minute mark was creeping up on him. At about 57 minutes (by my clock), he came into view. We yelled encouragement and he began his final push. I had one eye on my clock and the other on him. My clock had switched over to 11:34 shortly before he crossed the line. I marked him at 59 minutes, but he had also tracked his time and he had himself clocked at something under 59 minutes. He earned it, so he get's the 58 minutes as his climbing time.

We took a nice break at the visitor's center, refilled our bottles and had a snack before we started our way back. Gavin and I led the pack on the descent - we had a great time. I'm still trying to get a good feel for how much I can throw the bicycle around through fast turns. A 20 lb (or whatever it weighs) bike is a lot different than a 400lb motorcycle in how much 'throwing' you can do. It was fun and I reached a top speed of 44mph.

We re-traced our route back to the Exxon, and took another quick break. From there, the ride back was as beautiful as the ride out. As usual on a moderate distance ride, we were all a little quiet - well, except for Courtney. She started belting out 'The final Countdown'. It was awesome! It gave us a boost when we needed it. Obviously, she was feeling good about the climb. I think all of us were feeling really good about it as well. Since I'm in a youtube mood, I had to find this song for Courtney - so, here's the video. I've selected this particular one because of what she does for a living....

However cool it is to watch those guys, I have to post this one as well - dig that big hair!

I took a little more care with the map on the way back and trimmed off the 6 extra miles we did on the way out. We finished up at 66 miles. A few miles more than intended, but none-the-less a great ride. Topped off by a great lunch at Kerrie's Deli and Pub.

So, along with my fellow riders, I also have to Thank the Eagles. After all, they provided today's soundtrack for a great climb that was indeed heaven.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A kid, his bike and a long climb...

I love climbing. I need to get that out now - just so you can understand where I am coming from. I love climbing on my bike (road or mountain). It's on the climb that I experience the true joy of riding. While climbing is great even in a pack, it's absolutely best when it is just me, my bike and (preferably) a long climb up the mountain.

Labor day, my mom came in town. Family always trumps anything else, so I did not join either of two P3C3 rides on that Day. The larger group, led by Tedd, did an epic ride from Furman up to the back side of Ceaser's Head. They got in something over 6000' of climbing in a route just under 80 miles.

The other group was made up of my P3C3 team-mates Jeni, Ed and Perry. They left from Ed's place on an epic 107 mile route with over 7000' of climbing. Jeni texted me later that day to say 'my ass hurts'. I was jealous as that might be the biggest ride they will do before we depart for Austin next month.

I was fortunate to be able to get out for a great ride on thursday from Oakview. A great group for sure. At that time, I didn't know the plans for the weekend other than what Tedd had posted about Walnut Grove and the Little House on the Prairie. I knew they would get some climbing in, but they were leaving from Simpsonville and while there are some hills, I was fairly sure I needed something more sustained.

Thursday night, Courtney, Gavin and I talked about riding together. It wasn't until friday night (about 9pm) that we had a plan together. That plan was to meet at Tigerville Elementary at 630am on Saturday morning. I spent a few minutes reviewing routes I had ridden in the past from that location and made my decision.

The route we would take included: Packs Mt, Callahan Mt, The Saluda Watershed, Mine Mountain road and down to Pearson's falls road, up the Saluda grade (on 176) to a break at the Bakery. Also to be included was a loop I had read about on the other side of I-26 from Saluda. I had read this loop was about 20 miles. It included Holbert Cove Road and Green River Cove Road. On the map, Green River Cove Road had a series of switchbacks that I knew would satisfy any craving I had for a nice climb!

From the elementary school, we headed south on 253 to pick up some roads that would take us to the south side of Packs Mountain. I had never done Packs, so I was in for a surprise! It was dark when we left at about 645am so we were all running with lights. The fog was pretty thick in spots, but the traffic was very thin. As we rode through the beautiful countryside near tigerville, the sun was coming up. It really was an incredible morning.

There was no need for our headlamps any longer as we made the turn on to Bramlett Road and then the left onto Bomar Road. As we came around a turn, what a sight! It looked like the road went straight up! At first, I thought it was someone's driveway, but soon I realized that was our ascent up Packs Mountain. There was a time or two I was unsure if I was actually going to be able to ride up that road! It was tough!

All three of us were able to make that climb - thankfully it was quite short. We had a little more climbing to make it to the actual summit of Packs Mt but it was quite easy in comparison. The downhill on the other side was fast and fun, but ended at a stop sign that seemed to sneak up on us a little. Thankfully, there was actually enough road to get a full stop safely.

From there, we headed along South and North Packs Mountain road to tie us in to N. Barton road. We skipped back over to Tigerville road and headed towards Callahan Mt. I selected this route because I wanted to take them over Callahan mt, but I wanted to get that short climb that is to the right on old Hwy 11. The climb up Callahan Mt is always fun and I think everyone enjoyed it. Rocketing down the other side makes it worth it.

We took the right to make the climb up through the watershed. What a great morning. Very little traffic, still a little cool as the morning progressed. This is the climb I really needed - something that went on for a nice sustained distance. There are certainly more difficult and longer climbs in the upstate, but I really enjoy this ride through the watershed. As I climbed I really started to feel great - I wasn't sure I could feel much better after Packs and Calahan, but this climb really put me into a good place.

After crossing the state line, we made the right turn on Mine Mountain road. This is a fun road as well and has a couple of nice climbs and one killer descent as you make your way towards Hwy 176. This is a really nice climb that drops you right into the town of Saluda. I enjoy this climb and met Kip who had done a cross country bike ride with his wife last year. Great guy. He and I talked about the Austin trip a little before I went on ahead.

We made a quick stop at the Bakery for a raspberry thing (very tasty!) and to refill our bottles. We talked a little about the loop I had heard about. We decided to head under the interstate and see what Green River Cove Road was all about.

It was all about switchbacks for the first 2.5 miles! Unfortunately, we descended these switchbacks first, but as I rounded the first and saw the second, I knew I had to climb this road. We re-grouped at the bottom and decided to head down the road (which paralleled the river) until we felt like turning around. It's a beautiful road and it was a great relaxing ride for about 9 miles or so before we turned around.

We rode together most of the way back up the road until we got to the switchbacks. I think everyone was as excited as I was to do this climb. It was beautiful! As the road would make a right hand switchback, I would attack the very steep section in the middle of the turn. I had a great time on this climb. I'll have to go scout the route for the full loop that ends with this climb. That will be really fun to do.

Once again, we re-grouped at the top and rode back to the Bakery to top off the bottles. We decided to take the 'classic' Bakery route back to the Elementary school. It was great just riding along, chatting with my friends - very relaxing.

I as started this blog earlier this week, I had to get the route up on
Map my ride. The distance is a little off as we went out Green River Cove Road and turned around - in my map, I didn't quite get the turn-around quite right. I marked what I think is pretty close to the Bakery, but it could introduce some error as well. None the less, the route described is pretty much what we did on Saturday.

Unfortunately, I'm a bit disappointed with total climbing on the route. It turns out that the walnut grove ride had about the same (maybe even more!) climbing on it. I was pretty sure we would have more altitude gain than 4200 feet! That said, I did get what I needed and that is some longer sustained climbing. The climb up the watershed is a true classic and it is about 7 miles or so of decent climbing. The other hills we hit were fun, but not quite as sustained. The real gem in this route is the switchbacks coming up Green River Cove Road.

Next time I do this route, I'll add some more into it. Coming up the back side (next to camp old indian) of Callahan mountain is a nice climb, plus there are a couple of other places I can add in some more altitude.

In the end it really was about 3 kids, their bikes and some really nice climbing - you really can't ask for a better day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday's at Oakview

For the past month or so, I've been meeting up with Perry and Gavin and a bunch of other folks for a ride out of Oakview on thursday evenings. This is a pretty fun ride. There are some guys who can really lay the hammer down on this ride and sometimes it is just about hanging on for dear life.

My first week out there, I sat in the back and just tried to get a feel for the dynamics of the group. These are a bunch of people who are strong riders and tend to average in the 20 - 21mph range (or more) for the 35-40 mile ride. Of course if the ride starts out with two groups, the faster group probably averages faster than that, but I can't say I've gone out with the faster group.

This week, we went out as one group, and at the end of the ride I showed an average of 20.7mph. Really a very respectable pace for a bunch of normal people. Ok, I'm sure there are plenty of folks in Greenville who have the strength to average more than that, but hey, I'm going to take credit where I can and say that I'm proud to be able to hang with (and do my share of pulling) this group.

What is neat about this group is the fact that the group size is about the same every week. There are people who drive to the meeting place, but there are more people who live in the nearby subdivisions who ride to the meetup location. All of the people who show up for this ride are strong enough to keep this pace. If they are not, they push themselves hard enough that in a few weeks, they are hanging with this group.

As with the Donaldson route, as I have become more comfortable with the route, I take more and more opportunities to get out and pull the group. Tonight I did my share of pulling. It's mostly because I really love it. Getting out in front of a group and pulling that group along a really nice, hopefully fast section of road is an awesome feeling. Of course, while I am out there, I'm constantly wondering if I am going as fast as I think I am.

Sometimes in this group, the pace drops a bit. Of course at other times, the pace really cranks up! I'm a guy who would rather maintain a steady average 20mph for the entire ride than have a surging average (i.e. avg 15mph for a while, then 24mph for a while). However, group dynamics being what they are, sometimes you have to go with the flow. Tonight I felt it was a little more like a steady average than a surging average.

There was some guys out there tonight who normally ride in the faster group, but they took it easy on us for the most part. They let us 'slower' peeps pull hard in the sections where they might normally hold back a little more, then in the fast / sprint sections, they ramped it up big time. This is ok with me. I like to work hard even when I am sitting in. We had some sections where we were averaging probably in the 25mph range. And not for a little tiny section, but for a few miles. Really fun with different people pulling the group along.

There is a nice long section with a sprint zone at the end. When we turned on to this section, a small group broke away. A number of people bridged to create a slightly larger group, but the main peloton was a little slower off the line. We set up a rotation up front (not by any specific organization, but just by folks doing what comes natural to a bunch of experienced cyclists) and didn't let the break-away get too far out front. I was near the front of the peloton and Perry was in front of me. It seemed that each successive rider who pulled the peloton in that section pulled a little harder than the last. As expected, pretty soon the break-away group was dropping riders off the back.

The peloton kept pushing and pretty soon Perry was out front. The man truly doesn't know his own strength. I knew we would gain on the breakaway with Perry up front. Sure enough, he poured on the steam and began reeling them in. I was up next and did my best to keep the pressure on the front group. I felt like we pulled them back a little more before I had to drop off. Behind me was Gavin who did an outstanding job of gaining more ground on those guys. Of course, that group was still spitting peeps off the back.

At about the half mile mark (from the end of the sprint zone), Gavin was still out front and the breakaway was getting pulled in (the peloton was really close). I had dropped back a bit (maybe to 10th position in the peloton) and other riders who know the road better started making their move. By this time we were close enough to the breakaway group that these guys were not worried about blowing their load without gaining on the breakaway. Perry had a great sprint and ended up third, I managed to move past some folks to be about 8th or so. It is a fun section of road that usually ends up very fast for the entire 5 miles (or so).

After that, we took a slightly slower pace for a short distance to give everyone a break, but soon the pace was picking up again. there is a very cool section along hwy 417 where we can really get a head of steam. I did some pulling through this section and tried to keep the pace high. Others who pulled in front of me and behind me also did a great job of keeping the pace high. When we turned on to Anderson Ridge road, I think the adrenaline was really pumping through everyone.

The ride is not over when we make that turn, but it does seem to back off just a hair. At that point, we are getting within a few miles of the finish, and we all want to have some opportunity to cool down a bit. That doesn't mean the pace is easy though. If there is one thing I've learned about these Thursday nights at Oakview - you have to bring your 'A' game - even if you are riding in the 'B' group!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

If you're looking for inspiration...

Yesterday the P3C3 team had a great ride from Great Escape Bicycles in Spartanburg. Jeni, Perry, Ed and I arrived early to rack up 25 miles so we could target 100 for the day. It was a great ride on a new route and in the end we had to add an additional 5 miles to really get that century.

Last night, I went to bed early (after a nice afternoon nap;) and slept in. I had planned on getting out for a ride this morning, but alas, I decided to be domestic and clean the house. I'll get out for some exercise later this afternoon, but was content to take Dexter for a walk this morning.

After my domestic duties, I sat down to offer some thanks to some folks who have made some anonymous contributions in support of my Challenge to Conquer cancer adventure. I am very thankful for the many people who have made some very generous donations in my name. THANK YOU!

As I was writing the notes, I had to visit the Challenge to Conquer cancer website several times. I have read all the blogs from last year's teams, but I started reading them again. What an incredible experience the P3C3 team had last year. A good number of people who participated last year are also participating this year. I'm proud to be associated with these fine people.

If you want some inspiration, please go and read their blogs.