TUESDAY, MAY 19, 2009
Assault on Mt. Mitchell (not a race)

All century rides say the same thing; “this is not a race.”

It’s ALWAYS a race.

Maybe not for most riders, but there is always a subset of people who consider it a race from the first pedal stroke. I’ve been in small groups with 1 mile to go when someone who’s seen WAY too many professional bike races on TV suddenly bolts from our little group (after sharing none of the pace making) and storms ahead in order to “beat” us by 30 seconds.

The Assault on Mt. Mitchell always makes the point that it’s not a race. This year, though, they even made you click a checkbox on the registration indicating that you acknowledge that it is not a race. OK then, this is certainly NOT a race.

In order to better emphasize that point, the organizers eliminated the mass start of years past, and “for safety reasons” put successive groups in a start order based on previous years finishing times. So faster riders were started 1,2,3,4 minutes before my group.

Organizing the start based on speed sure sounds like some kinda race.

OK, well maybe that still doesn’t turn it into any kind of race for those of us who don’t think of it as one. I mean, let those bozos ride it the way their egos demand and just ride the ride you want.

Yeah, but, this year there is a brand new feature that pitted everyone else against each other (sounds like you’re talking about some kind of race?)

That’s right, an elimination aspect was added this year that turned the whole thing into a “me vs. all the rest of you.”

In prior years, there was a very sensible rule that if you didn’t make it the Blue Ridge Parkway by 4PM, it was not possible for you to safely make it to the finish before dark. Totally reasonable.

This year, they decided to impose (known before, but never enforced) a 750 rider limit who would be permitted to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway to continue on to the finish.

Well, kinda sucks, but in the past, only rarely did many more than 750 of the 1000 who were allowed to sign up for the event finish anyhow.

Except this year, they increased the field to around 1200.


By definition, ~40% of starters will not finish this ride.

With that in mind, I knew I’d have to ride faster than I wanted to, at least until I was safely on the Parkway.

Some people must still not watch the Weather Channel, or even have a TV, or internet access.

It was 50 degrees at the start and predicted to be 50 at the summit at the finish. We’d be riding into Northeast headwinds for most of the morning. The high in Marion, at 75 miles was maybe going to be in the mid-60’s.

Knowing that, there were many riders in shorts and short sleeves at the start. I had on my winter shoes, knickers, a wool base layer and wool jersey with wool arm warmers and a wind vest. I was never too warm and often even felt a slight chill (perfect clothing choices for me).

Knowing my need for a faster ride to Marion and then to the Parkway, I skipped 3 of the 4 rest stops and got to the one in Marion as the rider count just topped 600.

I skipped the rest stop part way up route 80 and made it to the Parkway with time to spare. When I pulled out of that rest stop at 1PM the rider count was at 650. I figure they reached the cut-off by 2 or 2:30. It later occurred to me that with many riders subsequently abandoning the ride AFTER they reached the Parkway, less than 750 would actually finish.

As had been the case all day, the weather was just great. Clear sunny skies and the best views I’d ever seen on the Parkway. Now that I knew I could finish, I took my time and finally could settle down and enjoy the ride.

When I got to the turn off the Parkway that takes you to the summit, there is still 1000 feet of climbing with about 5 miles to go. I began to, for the first time all day, actually pass other riders on the road. Many people were walking their bikes (and at 4mph I wasn’t a whole lot faster). I just settled into rhythm and enjoyed the scenery. Finishing in 9 hours 30 minutes was a decent time for me (it’s not a race) and I probably was less tired than I’d been at the finish of most of the rides.

I had plenty of time to rest while I waited an hour and half for a bus ride back down to Marion and then another hour sitting on a bus in Marion waiting to start back to Spartanburg.