Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Inspiration in Strange Places

About a month ago I was traveling on the Swamp Rabbit Trail trying to get some basic base miles in before a big training ride.  I was purposefully trying to not work very hard, and just go at an easy pace without having my heart rate out of Zone 2.  My goal was to stretch out my legs and make sure I was ready for the ride that I had planned the next day.  The first part of the ride was uneventful, but as the sun started setting it started getting chilly.  I stopped to put on my arm warmers for the last 30 minutes of the ride and I had a very unexpected encounter.  One that took me a month to really let soak in.

For those that haven't followed my journey as I've posted it other places, I've only been cycling for about 18 months now.  I started in September 2011 as an extremely out of shape network engineer moving to a new city and looking to make changes in my life to better myself and my family's condition.  I had friends that had been trying to get me excited for cycling for years, but I wasn't in a position to really get involved until I reached Greenville full-time.  I decided to take the plunge, and it's been a wild and excited ride ever since.   I've found it rewarding in both fitness and enjoyment, and of all of the exercise related activities I've tried (and I've tried a lot), it's the one that has really stuck for me.  

Being so early on in my cycling life, I typically hunt out expertise on a pretty regular basis. I've bought books on riding lean as welll as training plans from friends of mine that are coaches.  I've follow numerous cycling blogs, and I ask a lot of questions.  Thus it's not unusual for me to get information on how to improve my cycling from various sources.  What was unusual was to get it randomly while riding along on the Swamp Rabbit.

As I'm pulling on my arm warmers, this woman rides up beside me and asks/states "it looks like you are getting really serious about your cycling?"  I respond affirmatively, and she begins to explain that she has some advice for me, as she has coached professionally.  She then went on to explain that I needed to "get out of the big chain ring.  There is no need to be in that high of a gear on the Swamp Rabbit".  She explained with enthusiasm that I would not activate my core while pushing in the big chain ring, and that it would be much more beneficial for me to get into my small chain ring and work on my cadence.  

At this point I'm already about an hour into my routine for the day, and I had specific goals in mind.  I wasn't really looking for expertise on training, or advice on what I was doing wrong during a particular workout at that given time.  Thus my attempts to thank her for the advice sounded more like I was trying to get her to leave me alone, and even my mental attitude afterwards was more about disbelief than in self reflection about how I could improve.  To be honest, it took me several more "base mile" trips to really start to appreciate the advice that she gave me.

Over the past month I've made a point to think about that interaction, and what the advice she was giving me really meant.  I've started realizing that while the Swamp Rabbit isn't really a training area for me, I use it as transport to training areas more than as the actual training, I can use that time much more effectively.  I also don't need to rush along, but I can enjoy the time I spend.  I've been making a conscious effort to stay in the small chain ring (39T for those interested) and keep my cadence at or above 90.  In just the month that I've made this mental choice, I can tell that my average cadence has increased slightly, and that I can find myself at 100+ rpm much more effectively than before.  I've also noticed that I'm trimming my mid section some, although I consider this a secondary benefit to the skill improvement on the bike. 

All of this because some random stranger was willing to put up with the "stuck in my own mind" self and offer up advice that made me stronger as a cyclist.  I'm now enjoying the transit road to my climbing destinations more and getting stronger by spinning more;  I'm making the most of my workouts.

How often in life are we stuck in our own rut, and when folks come up and attempt to give us advice are we unwilling to go back and really heed it and make ourselves better?  I may never see that woman again, or recognize her if I do.  I hope at some point I can find the best way to thank her for advice that she may never know that I heeded.  Maybe I can  by passing on that advice to a young rider that will appreciate it more than I did when she gave it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Not the typical "High" for 4/20

When most people think of getting high on 4/20, the end result is not to think about a bicycle ride.  No water purifiers or rolling paper was utilized as a part of the experience!  That said, this year I was invited on a ride to scout the final 30 miles of the Assault on Mount Mitchell, which is where it all starts to become uphill.  

As a recap, the Assault on Mount Mitchell is a cycling event out of Spartanburg, SC.  After riding approximately 75 miles, you reach the base of the Blue Ride Mountains, and start climbing up to the top of Mt Mitchell.  Mitchell happens to be the highest point in the eastern United States, located just outside of Asheville, NC.  The goal is not just to conquer the Beast of the East, but to do it after riding through the foothills for several hours.  

For the sake of this ride, I got to experience the trip starting with semi-fresh legs.  I say semi-fresh, because I had gone out Thursday during lunchtime and worked on some climbing on Paris Mountain outside of Greenville, SC, not intending to do any serious climbing for the weekend.  Originally I wanted to do repeats after work, but when the weather looked transitional, I squeezed as much of a ride as possible into my lunch.  Thus I pushed hard up the mountain.  I was then invited by a few folks I had met during the AOMM training series to ride up Mitchell to get a feel for what I'd need for effort after making it to Marion.  

We set out early Saturday morning, and parked just off of Highway 80 in Marion, NC.  After getting the bikes set up, we started up highway 80 towards the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This ended up being a good warm up section, and we kept the pace reasonable.  The obvious goals today for me were to keep my efforts in check, and to get an idea for the pacing and total effort required to enter the chute during the actual event.  I wasn't out to set any personal records at max efforts.

The final 5 miles of Highway 80 contain a decent amount of climbing to them.  Strava rates this segment as a Category 2 level climb, similar in effort to Ceaser's Head.  The overall grade was reasonable, and I didn't really notice any major double digit gradings on my bike computer as we climbed to the top.  There are 2 switchbacks to deal near the end of the climb, but they were very manageable.  The views at this point were pretty, I noticed a really awesome dam as well as a reservoir and fishing communities on the way up.  

At the top is the junction with the BRP, and we took a real short break.  We made the turn onto the parkway, which to me marked the second segment of the ride.  You spend approximately 11 miles riding along the majestic roadway.  I was captivated by the constant view of the surrounding area.  It made the climb go by quickly.   This section has 3 segments of climbing, and 2 small descents.  Again there were no double digit grades to deal with, and here there were no switchbacks.  There are also plenty of pulloffs to stop at to admire the scenery or just catch your breath if needed.

Fantastic views, and a couple of tunnels to ride through

More fantastic views
At last we reached the first major sign of the goal:  The turn off from the parkway to the Mount Mitchell State Park.  

Turning off the Parkway

To me, this is really when the ride started to take a toll.  The hardest part was keeping the goal in mind mentally, and not getting ahead of myself or my intended pace.  Also, at this point I wasn't thinking about the efforts needed at higher altitudes, and we were almost a mile up from sea level.  Strava states that it is approximately 3 miles from the turn off of the parkway to the actual front gate of the state park.  The climb is considered category 3 by Strava, which is similar in effort to Paris Mountain.  The average grade is slightly steeper than the previous efforts, but again no major double digit grunts to deal with.

Are we there yet?
As we entered the gates, the temperature difference from the bottom was getting to be noticeable.  Several folks that we rode past asked "aren't you cold?", to which we shruged and said "not really."  By this point I had unintentionally created a gap between myself and my riding companions, as I was just attempting to keep a steady pace going.  The downside to this was the mental aspect of not quite knowing how much further I had to go, and what efforts I was going to need.  I made the decision to just keep on the main road to the end, as there were no additional markers stating that the summit was on any of the turn offs.  I also decided to not surge or try to push myself as I climbed.  This definitely was a wise choice.

The Summit was in view!
During the trip up, I had noticed that we had seen ice in the shady parts of the parkway, and that the temperatures were definitely chilly.  It wasn't until about halfway up the summit road that I really took notice of the conditions, though.  The smells and sights climbing the summit were outstanding.  The smell of fresh pine, the crisp  air, being able to see out for hundreds of miles, the sky that was so blue that you'd swear God was using PhotoShop that day.  It absolutely took my breath away.  The pine trees also looked different, to which I noticed that they were dusted with frost/snow on the tips.   The difference in climate was definitely something to take note of, as I would have to accommodate for that as a part of my packing for the trip.

I reached the top with no major incidents, although I did end up having a gentleman have words to me.  He attempted to pass me in a blind curve (on the road to the summit, 6700' above sea level) and was unhappy that I wasn't all the way over hugging the shoulder stripe.  I apologized for being in his way, and offered that passing someone in a blind curve is not the best concept on a mountain road.  Shortly after reaching the top the others in my group arrived, and we took a few minutes to admire the scenery and take some pictures.

I wish we could have spent more time up at the Summit, but we were not prepared for the chilly conditions that we encountered.  I quickly pulled the wind vest out of my back pocket that I brought for the descent, and we headed back to the car.  

The trip down was mostly uneventful, and very speedy.  I did learn a few valuable lessons on the way back, though.  The few places where we had small descents on the way up became small climbs on the way back.  After resting on the descents (we were already going speeds fast enough to need to ride our breaks on the way down, so there was absolutely no reason to pedal), putting effort into the climbs was a little tricky.  My stomach wasn't ready to go from zero effort to climbing like that, especially after a long duration climb that I had gone through previously.  The rapid change in altitude I'm sure didn't help that much, either.   Luckily I was keeping this in mind as we went, and I made sure to continue to eat and drink along the way, and take stops every so often.  Likewise I learned that the 3.5 hour grind to the top was near the limit of what my knee was willing to take, and that I need to be careful with it on the actual Assault.  The last thing I want is tendinitis now, or a flare up during the actual event.  I also had to ride my brakes a bit more than I probably should have along the way down as well, and as such I need to spend more time working on my slow descent skills for future events.  This part isn't going to be as big of a deal for the Assault on Mount Mitchell, as once we get to the Summit they truck us and our bikes down separately.  

I'm glad that I got to opportunity to take on Mitchell before heading up there on the Assault.  Knowing what level of effort is going to be required, and keeping that in mind as I'm keeping pace on the way to Marion will be critical during the event.  I don't think we could have picked a better day to do the run, either.  With or without the Assault, Mt Mitchell is on my "must ride" list for anyone that is serious about riding picturesque landscapes.  The efforts are not as demanding as some of the other hard climbs I've done in the past year, but the long term demand of climbing for over 3 hours will definitely take it's toll.  The view was totally worth the effort.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Stages of Desire: Acquisition

This is a series of posts about getting new wheels.  As I stated in a previous post, I had selected the Boyd Vitesse wheelset as my upgrade to the stock wheels on my Scott S40. After waiting for them to restock the high spoke count wheels I was able to pick them up last week, just in time for the Assault on the Carolinas.  I've had a chance to get about 150 miles on them so far, and I definitely have some first impressions on what these specific wheels do for my rides.  Some of it I expected, although there are a few changes that I wasn't really looking for that I found interesting.

Boyd Vitesse wheels - Fresh from the Factory!

First change:  The ride quality.  I've had a chance to ride a few sections of road that I would consider less than desirable  one of them being Perimeter Road here locally.  This to me is one of the roughest patches of road that I travel pretty regularly.  What I found was that the Vitesses ate up a good amount of the vibrations, and definitely improved the overall ride quality on poor roads.  I expected this, but experiencing it was definitely something new.

Second change:  Stability.  This was not an expected change for me, at least not one that I would have written down.  In fact, it took me a couple of rides to really believe what I knew relatively quickly on the wheels:  I was more stable at higher speeds.  Looking back on it, it really makes sense.  These wheels are stiffer and more stable overall, so the fact that the bike handles and acts better at high speeds shouldn't be a big surprise.  The fastest I've gotten these wheels is about 45mph so far on a descent.  At that speed the bike was stable, but it's also well beyond any speed that I would purposefully ride.  Thus if I end up seeing a speed on my bike computer beyond 40mph, it's purely circumstantial, and nothing I'm looking to top by pedaling faster.

Third change:  Ride comfort.  This one really surprised me.  Right now I have 3 bibshorts that I use regularly, and of them I really only had 1 set that I used for longer rides where I knew I wasn't going to be sore.  For the Assualt on the Carolinas I used a pair of Voler Elite FS bibshorts that I picked up over the winter, and after over 4 hours in the saddle I felt fine and comfortable in the shorts.  This is definitely a welcome change.

Fourth change:  Active muscles used.  This one is harder for me to explain, and I'm still not entirely sure if it's because I'm looking for it actively or if it's just a psychosomatic response on my part.  What I'm finding is that I'm actually maxing out efforts well before I'm reaching my top HR.  By this I mean that I'm to a point where my body says "sit down and spin" before my heart is actually at levels I've been at on the same efforts in the past. What I'm hypothesizing is that I'm using muscle groups differently at this point because of the difference in stiffness of the wheel.  The only bike that I've used so far has been this Scott, so my body was tuned to how it reacted.  My expectation is that in the next 2-3 weeks I'll continue to see improvements on harder efforts as my body adjusts to the new experience on the bike.  

Fifth change:  Efforts required.   This one is the main expectation that I wrote down prior to getting the wheels.  The proof wasn't in the 8% incline that I originally marked, but more in the long 2-3% incline while in a group ride.  These are the sections that I would fade on previously.  What I've found early on is that I was able to keep up with the surges that the group makes on the longer false flats.  My hypothesis on this is that the effort to keep speed at an incline is less of a parabolic curve with the new wheels than it was before.  Thus when the speed creeps up on a 2% climb, I'm not having to increase the level of effort to my max (or beyond) as quickly.  I'll definitely be watching this metric carefully over the next few weeks to see if this stays the same.  I ride a specific segment regularly that has a nice long false flat.  It'll be interesting to see how my average time changes, although keeping variables to a minimum will be tough.   

Other adjustments:  The other main things I've had to work as far as adjustments have been dealing with tire pressure, brake adjustments, and skewers.  The new skewers are fantastic, but I'm working on making sure I have the rear wheel tight enough to not cause extra play in the rear wheel (and thus brake rub).  The new rims are wider than the OEM wheels, and thus I'm having to make adjustments to the brakes so they hit square and don't rub.  The main benefit of the wider rim is that I should be able to run at a lower tire pressure, and see even better ride quality.  I'm still running at 110psi for the most part, although changing to a higher performance tire, and getting them wider (700x25 instead of 700x23) may assist with this.  All of these adjustments are things that I would consider normal with any major change on the bike.  

Summary - I'd say after getting in 4 tough rides, including a metric century, on these wheels that they are a huge improvement over the stock wheels that came with my bike.  They definitely are going to be an adjustment period for me, as I only have experience with a single bike configuration since starting this journey in 2011.  Of all of the changes I could have made on the bike, I have to believe that this will be one of the biggest.  At some point I'm going to have to look at what I want in a new frame, but my current goal is to ride this bike 24,901 miles prior to making another massive change.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2013 Assault on the Carolinas

The 2013 edition of the Assualt on the Carolinas was yesterday, and this is an event that I was really looking forward to.  I knew it was a great route, and I was looking forward to seeing how I fared.  After the last few training rides, I was nervous that I would be strong and feel good at the end of the ride.  The key climb in this ride is Ceaser's Head Mountain.  This is not the most challenging climb that I've done, but the key with this particular segment is the length.  You have to stay strong for 6 miles of varying degrees of difficulty.  If you attack early, you are going to be suffering at the end.

The day started off with the alarm going off at 4am.  Yes, there is a 4 on the "am" side of the clock.  We got the kids up, and had a quick cup of coffee to get on the road.  Packet pickup started at 7am, as we didn't stay in Brevard overnight like we had originally planned.  I wasn't quite ready to eat breakfast that early, so brought some stuff to make at least a good snack before the ride so I'd have energy.  I brought stroopwafels (the snack that Honey Stinger Waffles are based on), some peanut butter, and a few bananas.  I made sure to bring plenty of snacks for the ride itself as well.  

We rolled into Brevard and parked slightly before 7, and I went to go get my packet.  Afterwards, we wandered over to the nearby coffee shop, as we had some time to burn before the ride started.  They had some good breakfast ideas there, and I decided that the "blueberry stuffed french toast" sounded good, and was a good mixture of protein and carbs for early in the ride.

After having breakfast, I had some before the ride started.  I had a chance to do a once over on the bike, and finished getting changed into my kit for the ride.  I was a little nervous that I my brakes were adjusted perfectly;  I had been experiencing some brake rub after putting on the new wheels, and on this long of a ride that could mean issues.  What I found is that I needed to tighten down the skewer a bit more than I had previously to avoid flex between the wheel and the frame.  Once the bike was down, and both it and myself were prepped, I was off to the start line.

Prior to Race Start

I got up there right before 8:30, as I thought the start time was 8:30.  The reality was that the start time was actually 9:00am, so I had an extra 30 minutes to rest before the start time.  I spent that time relaxing, and having a banana.  I was extremely nervous about my fueling strategy, as I had gotten ill on the last 2 training rides for Mitchell.  I had a few goals for today, but nothing was as important to me than feeling strong during and after Ceaser's Head.  It quickly became time to line up and get ready to start.

The thing I noticed immediately on this ride was that the town of Brevard truly comes out for this event.  While I'm still very early on in my cycling life, this event was definitely different from others that I have done.  The community really was involved, and excited to have the folks out there participating.  After announcements and lining up the VIP riders, the ride started out.  We did a loop through the town, and then we rode out into the country.  It was very cool (in the low 50's) when we started out, but I knew it would warm up to the 70's before we were done.  I chose to line up in the front 1/3 of the riders, giving me a chance to see the packs roll out and figure out a pace that would work well for me.

As we started out, I had already decided that I was going to try to stay easy through the first 10 miles, and not worry about trying to stay with the front pack.  It meant riding solo a fair amount early, which isn't really what I wanted to do, but without a pre-established group to ride with that was of similar strength I felt it was wiser to size up the packs than try to hang on early and deal with a potential bonk before the Continental Divide.  

The first climb of the event was Walnut Hollow Road.  It wasn't long, but it definitely let you know if you were warmed up.  The best part of the climb were the people, including the 2 piece band that was cheering us on.

During this time I had gotten into a group that was pacing really well, and I just kept in the back of the group and rested.  The folks in the front actually had us moving closing a gap to another larger group, and such that by the time we reached the climb to the Continental Divide, we had a fair number of people around us.  By this point the weather had warmed up nicely, which was nice for passing the time.  While having folks around you during the climb isn't so bad, as long as you don't get stuck behind someone who is climbing slower than you, having folks around you descents can be tricky.  Personally I tend to descend faster than the average person, some of that is that I enjoy the speed, and some of that is that my heavier weight gives me a gravitational advantage.  What I do NOT do is pass people in places where it's questionable if they have good control of the bike, or in a place where I have to enter the oncoming lane.  This is just asking for issues.  Thus I do not look at downhill segments on Strava as something I will actively attempt to get the best times on.  

This descent is also marked us entering South Carolina, the halfway point of the ride, and a rest stop.  I had mentally thought about where I would want to stop during the ride, and what my focus was.  I wanted to be sure to have plenty of water, but I wasn't all that interested in the food that they may have.  I filled my water bottle with the energy drink, as it was GU brand, and I saw the pb&j sandwiches sitting there.  After thinking it over, I decided that the real food at this point would be good, as we had a fair amount of rolling hills leading up to Ceaser's Head.  

Looking back towards Sassafras Mountain

As I was heading out, I came across a guy that I ride with pretty regularly around Greenville.  We decided to roll out together for the ride up to Ceaser's Head.  We got ourselves into a really good pace line, and worked our way to the base of the mountain.  Before the climb was another rest stop that may decided was a good place to rest up before the climb.  I didn't need more water yet, so it was onto the mountain for me.

As I stated earlier, Ceaser's Head is not the most difficult climb that I've done in the past year.  The major marker of this climb is the length, though.  Strava marks it at 6.3 miles of climbing, with a total ascent of 2058 feet.  I really wanted to be strong on this climb, and my goal was to stop at the top and rest for a few minutes before heading back to Brevard.  I also had to keep in mind that coming down Ceaser's Head towards Brevard is a much more shallow descent than what you climb up, so the rest time was much less afterwards.  I didn't climb up quite as quickly as I had hoped, but this was the real "proof out" of how I'd feel with the new wheels I had gotten earlier in the week.  My expectations were that it would be easier to keep them rolling, especially when I was tired.  These expectations I believe were well met, even if my times didn't show it.  

At the top was a rest area, and I took advantage.  What I really wanted to do was take a nature break, but where we were corraled off to there wasn't an easy place to manage that.  I refilled my primary water bottle with more GU Brew, and had another pb&j before heading out.  It was time to head back to Brevard.

Hail Caesar!

The descent was shallow, which meant that I had to do work while riding.  I had expected at this point that I would find another group to ride with, but much of the descent I ended up riding by myself.  The view was fantastic, and I was making really good time regardless.  

Divide and Conquor

About the time that I made it back into the outskirts of Brevard, I met up with another small group of guys riding in.  I joined up with them, and we worked our way into the town.  Just about the time you reach the end you come to a small climb, and the group that I was riding along with broke up at that point.  After this point it was easy riding into the chute to regroup with the family.  I had considered having some fun and doing a salute of some level, similar to the Peter Sagan celebrations, but I didn't want to do anything like that if I was around other cyclists, for risk of injurying myself and others.  I ended up just coming through sitting up happy and strong.

There was a lot on this ride that I was happy about.  I met all of my primary goals, and finished in an excellent time.  The goals that I was looking for:

  • I didn't bonk.  After feeling ill on big efforts before, I really wanted to be sure that my fueling worked.
  • Start out easy.  I didn't want to attempt to hang on with a group too fast for me early, and end up being miserable later.
  • I didn't bonk.  I kept eating throughout the ride, and kept my thoughts on good fueling throughout the event.
  • Find a group to rest in.  I found groups throughout the event that I could hang with without having to work too hard while keeping up with my goals.
  • I didn't bonk.  I kept my efforts to a point where I could stay strong.
  • Climb smart and strong.  I didn't have any huge spikes in my heart rate, and I kept up with good solid efforts.
  • I didn't bonk.  Trying real food throughout the ride helped a lot.  I attempted to keep the use of gels to a minimum.
  • Lastly - I didn't bonk.  Feeling fresh (and not ill) on the ride made it much more enjoyable.

In recap, the Assault on the Carolinas is now by far my favorite event that I have participated in.  While I'm sure there are other events that are a lot of fun, I intend to circle the weekend every year that this event is running, and make sure that I'm there to enjoy it.  Brevard, NC was recently called the "Cycling Capital of the South", and the town has really taken to the title whole heartedly.  The area is excited to embrace cyclists, and there are rumors that a European Pro Tour rider is looking to buy property in the area.  If you are looking for a ride that is as memorable as it is challenging and enjoyable, make sure that you give this one a try.  Next year marks 15 years that this ride has been running, and I have a feeling it will be running for many years to come.

Did I mention that I didn't bonk?

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013-03-30 AOMM Training Ride Recap

As a part of preparing for the Assault on Mount Mitchell this year, I am participating in as many of the training rides being offered through the Spartenburg Freewheeler's cycling community.

This was the 3rd of 5 training rides being offered, each of them increasing the distance and climbing in preparation for the Assault on May 20.  This ride promised to be approximately 75 miles long, and encompass at least 6,000 ft of climbing.   The featured climb that this ride was adding was Green River Cove.  Steepclimbs.com describes Green River Cove as:
One of the toughest climbs of the area is covered by trees and has 17 tight switchbacks. The grade is between 8-10% in the toughest spots, and steeper if the inside of the switchbacks are taken. Be careful of opposing traffic when climbing. The climb ends near the I-26 Saluda exit.
The part I was looking forward to was that the final 20 miles were pretty much downhill, so if I left it all on Green River Cove, I wasn't going to pay for it on the way back to the car.  Mostly I was looking forward to being rewarded with a massively fun descent down the Saluda Grade.  My major goal for this ride was to be prepared for fueling, and to try to not make any major mistakes that would make me feel ill during the ride.  I'm not going to make any massive changes in fitness in 7 weeks, and knowing how to get the calories I need for a sustained ride effectively is much more my focus.  


The ride left out of Landrum, SC.  We met there, and got our instructions from the ride organizer.  A very large portion of the instruction time was spent on Holbert's Cove, for very good reason.  This is a tricky descent, and it was very clearly stated that you needed to be actively braking throughout, and not trying to speed down.  There is a switchback about 3/4 of the way down that is very unexpected, and if you are not aware of it you will crash into the trees and more than likely need to be air-lifted out by paramedics.  It's happened on the training rides before when folks that are unfamiliar with the route do not pay attention and go barreling down.  After the instructions were done, the A group started out.  The B group took a bit longer to get ready, as we had a few people show up late and weren't quite ready to roll when the A group left, so we waited an extra few minutes and go the show on the road.

The trip from Landrum to Tryon is a pretty familiar route at this point, and for the most part is uneventful.  This is the shortest distance I've used for warm up heading this direction, but after 6 miles we made the turn onto 176 for the Saluda Grade.  This is the third time I've gone up the lower section of the Saluda grade, and there really isn't anything ultra challenging about this section at this point for me.  It's about a mile and a half long, and averages around 5% grade.  My goal here was to keep a steady pace, and to be prepared for the trip up Fork Creek Road.  I did enjoy being able to see the waterfall about halfway up the climb, which is usually obstructed by the trees.  

After making up to Pearson Falls Road, we regrouped and started up Fork Creek.  I am much more familiar with this as a descent than as a climb, but climbing it definitely tests your mettle.  It's not all that challenging, but at an average grade of 6% immediately after the lower portion of the Saluda Grade, it definitely gives you a workout.  It didn't help that we had traffic on the road today, but I'm very grateful that we didn't have a lot of folks descending after situations like this:

Seeing a truck pulling a camper rounding a switchback in the oncoming lane was just nuts.  I'm just glad the traffic coming down was sparse enough that no one got hurt. 

We regrouped at the top of Fork Creek, and continued on to Mountain Page Road.  Instead of turning right on Mountain Page Road and going into Saluda, we descending down the Greenville Watershed to Old Highway 25, and then climbed back up to Flat Rock, NC.  

In Flat Rock we made the turn back onto Highway 176, and made our way to Saluda.  This was mostly downhill section, but there were a fair number of rolling hills.  Once in Saluda we made our first store stop.

It was also at this point that I knew that my fueling plan was not working as well as I had intended.  I had been attempting to make sure to have gels and jellybeans along with my sports drink, but by the time we reached Flat Rock I was starting to not feel the best.  Looking back on it now I'm pondering that I wasn't getting enough calories in, instead of it actually being sour stomach.   At the store stop I refilled 2 of my water bottles, and had a little more to eat of the food I brought with me.  

One of the big challenges I was trying to work out was how to get to the food as I'm going.  What I've found is that opening up these "100 calorie packs" of the sports food while riding... sucks.  The best I've found are the tubes that the Perpetuem chews come in.  I've kept the packaging and reused them for the sports beans, which seems to work pretty well.  The gels aren't too horrid to deal with, and trying to have enough variety in flavor of gels in my flasks may be unreasonable.   At this point I took 2 of the sport beans packages and put them together into one envelope, so I just had to reach for the one thing while on the ride.  I also mixed the caffeinated ones with the regular beans.  For future rides I think I'm going to pre-load them into tubes, and mix the sports beans with normal beans to cut the amount of electrolytes I'm getting from food.  The beans are a nice consistency, and are easy to handle because of the harder shell, but since I'm keeping sports drink with me I don't need a steady diet of them.  

After the store stop we worked our way down Holberts Cove.  This is definitely not just a nice easy drop down to the base of the Green River.  First of all, about 1/4 of the way down there's a nasty .3 miles of climbing at 11-20%.  Definitely enough to make you build up lactic acid quickly, and exhaust your legs.  Second is that the descents come quickly, with a couple of very sharp curves.  When the ride organizer said "you had better be careful", he wasn't just overreacting.  Right before a ~90 degree turn there is a drop that you will gain a LOT of speed on if you aren't careful.  By the time you see the "slow" that someone put onto the pavement, the grade has already gotten steep.  By the time you see the road sign, you are in trouble if you don't have your speed under control.

After the hairpin curve, we made our way down to the base of the Green River, and started our way up to the climb at Green River Cove.  

This section is relatively flat, and today it really looked like a area that time forgot.  There are numerous cabins that line the road here, and during season this is a very popular tubing and kayaking spot.  There were a few folks out to Kayak in the water today, but for the most part we had the road to ourselves.   Once we had gotten comfortable with a nearly flat stretch for about 6 miles, the fun starts!

Green River Cove is known for it's switchbacks.  Steepclimbs.com states that it famously has 17 switchbacks, and while I haven't taken the time to go onto the map and count them, I know that they are marked on the pavement as you go up.  The numbers start at 23, and every turn the numbers decrease until you reach 3.  Why it starts at 3 and ends at 23 I'm not entirely sure, but I know those numbers are there, and I use them to determine just how much further I have to go.  I also attempt to not look up or down too much as I'm climbing, as you can typically see 2-3 levels of the climb at any given point, showing you just how steep the grade is.  The thing about switchbacks that I've found is if you can manage to get through the switchback itself, typically there is a spot of lower grade where you get a small reprieve to be able to spin and recover.  That is, you get a 8% grade to recover on.  

About halfway up the climb you get a longer section that is 10-12% with no real recovery areas on it.  At this point in the climb I really was pondering if I needed to stop.  I had been dealing with nausea on and off throughout the climb, and at this point I was really not feeling like I could continue very well.  I decided I would take it one switchback at a time, and looked down to see that the number on the curve was at around 13.  I really concentrated on those numbers.  I have only had to stop on one climb so far, and that was on Skyuka Mountain Road.  I was determined to not end up needing a second stop.  I slowly made my way the rest of the way up without stopping, and went ahead to the store stop to rest.  I got off the bike, sat down, and had some water.  By this time I was miserable, to the point of pondering if I needed to use the SAG.  

After we were done with the store stop, we worked our way back to 176 to go down the Saluda Grade.  I was the last of the folks in the group to make it to the grade, as I was just taking it easy and trying to keep down whatever I could to stay hydrated.  I knew the descent was fun, though, so I didn't want to give up just yet.  
That plus at this point the ride was mostly downhill, with a few rollers left between me and the car.  I'm glad I pushed on.  I ended up working my way down the grade faster than most of the group, and had another chance to rest at the meet up spot.  Once there I decided that I needed to try a gelpack, and either I'd bring it back up or it would help.  Gladly, it helped a lot.  At this point I was tempted to have another, but I opted for a few of the sports beans and some water to wash it all down, and worked a few more beans as I went on the last few miles.  The further we went, the stronger I started feeling again.  I never did entirely get to the "not feeling ill" point, but I was able to keep with the front of the pack all of the way back to the cars.  

We made it back, and I packed up and headed home.  Overall this was an extremely valuable learning experience for me, and I definitely have some good take away points to work on for my next long ride.  The Assault on the Carolinas is in 2 weeks, and will be my next long ride.  With only 3 more long rides planned before the Assault on Mount Mitchell, I need to take every chance I can get to work in testing of my plan to make sure I can keep hydrated and properly fueled for the entire ride.