19th Annual Assault on Mt. Mitchell

Doug Meade
(25 May 1994)


The Assault on Mt. Mitchell is a 102 mile ride from downtown Spartanburg,
SC to the summit of Mt. Mitchell (NC), the highest point (elev. 6648') east
of the Mississippi River. The total climb is approximately 11,000 feet.

This year's Assault was a ride with a little of everything that cyclists
both love and love to hate: crisp, clear, cool mornings, wind, sun, smooth
roads, scenic Blue Ridge vistas, good food, screaming descents, challenging
climbs, courteous drivers, the comradery of fellow cyclists, and ALL forms
of precipitation.

Now for my experience.


I arrive at the starting area with plenty of time to spare. As the 6:30
start time approaches I begin my usual pre-ride routine: shorts, jersey,
sunscreen, sunglasses, helmet, shoes, ... but something doesn't seem quite
right. After two months of pleasant riding weather, this morning is rather
cool. It's bound to be windy and cold at the summit. Should I change to
the long-sleeve jersey or stay with the jacket? Two year's ago I almost
froze while waiting for my support to arrive at the summit. Not wanting
to repeat that experience, I decide to wear the long-sleeve jersey. By
the time I return to the start area I realize I have made the wrong
choice. I still have five minutes before the start. Plenty of time to
change jerseys and put on the jacket.


As I finish pulling the jacket over my head, the back of the pack is
pulling away from the start area.



So much for trying to ride with the lead pack.

The first 500 yards convince me that I had to put as much distance
between myself and this group of accidents-waiting-to-happen. (Anyone
who's ridden in an event like this knows what I mean. It really is
amazing that there aren't more accidents in these groups.)

Within 5 miles the traffic thins considerably, but I found very
little help in my pursuit of the lead pack. Lot's of people wanting to
go for a ride in my draft, but none interested in sharing the work.
(At 6'6", you can understand why I attract this. I just wish I had a
way of charging for the ``service'' I provide. :-))

Around mile 30 the hills start to build. The first climb is Bill's Hill
at mile 43. (Don't ask me to define the difference between a hill and a
climb, but trust me that there is a difference.) By this time I know I
have made the right choice in clothing. After a quick stop to stuff the
jacket in a pocket and refill the bottles I am back on the road.

The next 10 miles are beset with chain problems. First, I drop the
chain during a shift. Next the chain reminded me that I have not lubed
it since changing the cassette two weeks earlier. Oh well, 60 miles on
a dry chain can't be all that bad. Can it? As soon as I re-pass most of
the people who passed me while I was stopped for the first chain stop,
the chain jams. This has never happened to me before. Is it due to the
chain being dry? Did I err in my replacement of the HG pin? Or, is this
a sign of things to come? A quick check yields no obvious cause, so I
assume it is just a random event. Fortunately, that is the last of my
mechanical concerns.

I stop for more water and some bananas at the rest stop at 73 miles,
which is the finishing point for the 1st Annual Assault on Marion.
My time to this point was 3:50; not as fast as I had hoped, but not
bad considering all the time I spent working through the field. I
later learn from Jim Chubon that the lead pack had rolled through in
a leisurely 3:20.

Total climbing to Marion is 5,500 feet. That leaves 5,500 feet of climbing
for the last 29 miles. NO PROBLEM!

This part of the ride can be broken into three segments. We begin along
NC 80 from Marion to the Blue Ridge Parkway (the TdP descended along this
road, in fact this is where Frank Andreu made his Sports Center highlight).
The road starts out as a gentle climb, becoming progressively steeper as
you near the Parkway (check out the ride profile for the Banner Elk-Asheville
stage of the TdP). I pass a lot of riders during these 12 miles. Many
of these people had stayed with the pack to Marion, but have already
conceded the 30 minute lead they held on me only 10 miles earlier.

The second segment is the 12 miles along the Blue Ridge Parkway from
NC 80 to the entrance to the Mt. Mitchell State Park. The first 6 miles
are a continuation of the climb up the watershed. By this point Mt.
Mitchell is in sight. However, it is also obvious that you have to
return more than 500 feet of elevation before beginning the final climb.
The descent is a fast 2 miles, then only a 4 mile climb stands between me
and the final 5 mile climb through Mt. Mitchell State Park. (I prefer
to think of this as two separate climbs, even though it is really just
one 9 mile climb.)

A few riders pass me as I near the entrance to the Park. After a
beautiful morning, the weather appears to be preparing for a mid-day
siesta. It is still sunny with scattered high clouds, but the temperature
is falling noticeably and the (head)wind is steadily increasing. But,
there are only five miles to the finish!

Five miles. That's about the distance from my house to the starting
point of the Tuesday ride. I usually leave the house at 5:45 for a
6:00 ride (or leave by 6:00 for a 6:00 ride that doesn't start until
6:20). But, after 97 miles, I know these 5 miles will take the better
part of an hour to complete.

This climb is steeper than the Parkway or the watershed (NC 80). I
continue in my established cadence, catching and passing a few riders.
I had intended to ride the final 29 miles without stopping, but I am
starting to become quite cold. I decide a 30 second stop to put on my
jacket is necessary and will not count against my goal. Shortly thereafter
I am greeted with words of encouragement from Brad Poindexter, the
24th finisher in 5:50.

About 2.5 miles from the finish there is a ``flat'' stretch. It's
not really flat, but it's as close to level as I've seen in more than
20 miles. I am passed by some of the riders I just passed before my
legs remember that they can push something larger than a 40" gear.
About the time I resume my normal cadence, the final push to the finish
has begun.

Spectators (ok, most are support people looking for their riders) begin
to appear on the rocks overlooking the road. A local TV cameraman is
playing leap-frog with me. I ask if it would help if I rode slower. He
said my speed is no problem. (I don't think he understood the point of my
question.) Each group of people is trying to encourage me by calling out
their guess of the distance to the finish. I know better than to believe
anything until I can see the finish line. I cross the finish line, notice
the official clock reads 6:51 and am handed an index card telling me I
am the 145th finisher.

After one lap of the parking lot Jim Chubon finds me, and shows me the
way to my ride off the mountain. (Jim's parents had sagged for Jim, and
were waiting for their passengers before returning to Marion and the
rest of the Chubon clan.) Jim was the 54th finisher, in 6:09. The tights
nd gloves that I carried with me all day are much appreciated, but the
air temperature is as low as a COLD winter day in Columbia.

That's the end of my ride. But wait, that can't be the end of the story.
I haven't said a word about precipitation.


While waiting for Dale Larkee, owner of the sag vehicle, the clouds close
in around Mt. Mitchell. Before long visibility is quite low, and a few
drops of rain are noticed. This ends as quickly as it starts. The next
set of clouds are much darker, with stronger winds. This time we are
greeted with lightning, thunder, rain, sleet, hail, and/or snow. And
it didn't stop! Dale finishes in 7:36 (#245), in the middle of the storm.
He said he had been riding in the rain/sleet/ hail/snow for more than
30 minutes. WOW!!

By the time Dale changes into dry clothes the storm has ended and the
skies are clearing. As we drive back down the Parkway, many riders are
continuing their push towards the summit. The road is mostly dry. Most
riders look relatively dry and definitely tired. I wonder how much of
the storm, and with what type of precipitation, they have endured.

This year's ``winner'' was Skip Spangenburg, from Travelers Rest, SC, in

I had a wonderful time. The scenery of the Blue Ridge Parkway is
absolutely fabulous. I strongly encourage anyone with a love for the beauty
of nature to visit this part of the country. The road surface is great,
traffic is considerate (the speed limit is 45mph and there is no commercial

I hope you've enjoyed this account of my adventure. Other Carolina
Cyclers who participated in this year's Assault(s) include: Woody Graham,
Linda Larkee, John Hamilton, Henry vanPatten. I look forward to seeing
more of us on next year's rides!