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.


  1. sounds like a great ride JD! i'm going to attempt the seizures head slog fest coming up next month, it will be my first time climbing ceasar's head. do you think it's more challenging than paris mountain?

  2. John,
    It's longer, but not as steep. I can do Paris from the furman side in about 14.5 minutes - about a third the time as it took for this climb.

    I was surprised at how much I was able to ride not being in my big cog and small ring. I did ride the majority of it in that config, but there was multiple opportunities to shift to smaller cogs and the one opportunity to shift into the big ring.

    It isn't terrible, just grind it out. Good luck!


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