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.