As I sip on my first cup of coffee of the day and rewind the events associated with yesterday’s first ever Blue Ridge Breakaway, I’m finding it hard to locate a place in the story to start. Not only was it the first ride held in Haywood County in many, many years but it was my first effort at a metric century. Successful completion of this event has been one of my goals for this riding season.
This morning, I am sore and stiff. I have a headache, my lower back objects to any bending at the waist, and my knees pretty quickly second any objections made by other parts of my body when I try to move. I love it! I take it as a sign that I rode hard and didn’t leave anything on the course.
Yesterday’s ride culminated in many months of work by a vast group of volunteers. The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce was the driving force behind the ride as they hoped to bring in cyclists to our area. As I’ve said many times, we are blessed with some excellent riding country here in Western North Carolina. The Chamber was joined by other community volunteers including BicycleHaywoodNC, our local bike advocacy group, Rotarians, Girl Scouts, and numerous businesses that hosted and “(wo)manned” water stops.
The ride incorporated almost all of the geographic region of Haywood County when you look at the routes. Other than the main retail centers of Waynesville and the very eastern end of the county around Canton, roads had to be blocked, cleaned, and security provided. It would be interesting to know the cumulative total of miles covered by this ride.
Planners of the event had hoped for 200 riders. As of mid-day on Friday, the registration was at 240 and there were still about 5 an hour coming in via the website. We also knew there would be some last minute walk-ins. 300 riders was not looking like it would be a stretch by 4:00 p.m. on Friday.
The weather forecast for Saturday had been all over the board throughout the week. One day we were at 20% chance of rain and the next 50% chance. Most often, the forecasters are really expecting a late afternoon thunderstorm when they are giving out a 50% chance of rain. They are betting that as the day heats up the storms will fire up in the muggy afternoon.
Saturday morning dawned with overcast skies and pleasant cool temperatures. While the clouds looked foreboding, the cooler temps were definitely welcome. I arrived at the site of the start/finish at Lake Junaluska’s Wheldon Gym and was greeted by full parking lots and a grass field already packed with cars. Participants were out and loosening up their legs as I was directed to a parking place and began my own final preparations. I was greeted by many people – some I knew and others I did not. On one hand, they were strangers and on the other hand they were comrades in the upcoming ride. All were pleasant and smiling as we began our day.
Just as I was locking up the vehicle, I discovered my first “rookie” mistake of the day. In my meticulous planning on Friday evening, in which I got everything ready to go so that I merely had to shower quickly and dress on Saturday morning, I had prepped my two Camelbak water bottles filling them with Gatorade and placing them in the refrigerator. I discovered that was where they remained as the clock ticked down to start time. I quickly called the Navigator and asked her to bring them with her to the water stop she would be working. I then set out to locate a water source that would hold me until I got to my own bottles some 24 miles away.
Fortunately, “Wolfpen Andy” was warming up and graciously loaned me a bottle saying one would do him on the 40 mile circuit he was doing. Water bottle crisis averted, we made our way to the starting group and just enjoyed observing the mass of riders around us as the announcements were made at the head of the group. We spotted a unicyclist, a couple of tandems, and people of all ages with the youngest having the appearance of about 7 or 8 years old and the oldest having the appearance of, well, a number of years of accumulated wisdom!
Very shortly, we heard the start and, in a moment or two, our group began to clip in and move out. With the mass start, it was crowded. Fortunately, I didn’t see any crossed wheels or anyone going down as we made our way to US 19 and the early climb of 2.5 miles to the juncture with US 276 (Jonathan Creek). The crowd began to spread out quickly in the right hand lane of the dual highway. Law enforcement and motorcycle support were excellent and kept the faster moving auto traffic away from us. This road is a long straight stretch that afforded us views of the early leaders. The numerous red blinkies on the bikes of those ahead of us provided an interesting contrast to the gray skies and semi-darkness of the dawning day.
The group of riders, who self-selected themselves in the under 12 mph group, were off and gone and you could only see them as small dots in the distance. The majority of the riders were still massed although the thinning process was well underway within 1.5 miles. Wolfpen Andy and I were riding along and noticed the aforementioned young man of 7 or 8 years old. He was riding what looked to be about an 18” bike and his legs must have been pushing 200 rpm! He was drafting his Dad’s (I assume paternity here) rear wheel and doing a great job riding in the group. His line was straight and he was focused. If he can maintain his interest in riding, I wonder what he will be able to do in a decade or two!
After last week’s exercise in getting dropped on this road by Cross Country Stan, Ken, and Christina, I was focusing on riding within my limit and trying not to get caught up in the adrenaline rush of the moment. Wolfpen Andy and I were maintaining my hoped for 12 mph pace for this segment. We were passing and being passed as we made our way to the top of the climb.
After topping the hill and merging onto Jonathan Creek Road (US 276), the crowd had really stretched out. Those faster cyclists,who started in the rear, were making their presence known as they continually called out “on your left” and quite often added “how ya doing?” One such passing group was led by a tandem ridden by a couple with Mellow Johnny jerseys and 3 female cyclists. Wolfpen Andy and I jumped on their rear wheel and we immediately jumped up from 19 mph to 23 mph as we cruised down the flat stretch of highway. We became the “passers” and enjoyed the lift from the tandem.
Very shortly, we made the right hand turn onto Coleman Mountain Road and started the first significant climb of the day, which further created gaps in the riders.
(End part one… Additional posts coming with pics! Next up… Climbing Coleman, crashes, water stops and more!)