I've been blessed enough to be able to attend all of the events to date. After riding both the (then) 75-mile route in 2012 and the 40-mile route last year, I already had an idea of the course and the challenges that I would face. I have not attempted the major climb on the long route since the inaugural event in 2012, so I was anxious to see how I would fare versus my 2 year younger self. What I couldn't anticipate were several factors that made this a year that testing myself against Skyuka was not going to be in the cards.
There were several factors that I could have controlled, and a few that I couldn't. Weather was predicted to be wet by late morning, so I knew that it was going to be dicey trying to navigate the descent from the climb. I also had started coming down with either allergies or a cold, which was limiting my ability to breathe. As the ride started, I figured that I would just have to see how I felt when I got to the bypass, and see if it was worth attempting. I told myself it would depend on the group, and I'd probably be swayed by the decision that was made when we got there.
The group for the long route was smaller this year than it had been in 2012 (the long route starts an hour before the 20- and 40-mile route), and it quickly split into two different groups. As it would have it, I found myself in the front group, and doing pretty well. Unfortunately my heart rate monitor was not working properly (I'd get it fixed by about the halfway point - helps to have all the parts to the strap attached), so I didn't realize just how much effort I was putting into staying with this fast group. The new Soma Smoothie was performing great, and I was happy to be hanging on (and even taking a turn or two pulling) as we moved along. We skipped the first rest area, as most of us had plenty of fluids being so early in the ride (we got to the first rest area less than an hour after the start).
The issue was that the effort was really more than I should have been putting out early, and I paid for it before getting to Tryon. About 25mi into the route I knew I needed to back off, as I wasn't feeling very well. I had figured that another group would be only a few minutes behind us, which had a few other folks that I'm used to riding with. If I just backed off some I'd be picked up by them was my logic. What it ended up is that we had put in at least 15 minutes (maybe close to 30) on the second group very quickly. At this point I was pretty much riding on my own. To compound issues, one of the hardest climbs in the ride was coming up - New Market Road. This road is notoriously hard, to the point of having a message spray painted onto the tarmac stating to get into a low gear. I downshifted, but not enough, and once you hit 20%+ grades I know better than to attempt to shift any further, so I was down to standing. About 3/4 of the way up the grunt, I just couldn't turn the pedals, and that cold I was fighting started to win; I had to get off the bike. Walking the bike up a hill is not something that I'm accustomed to, but it was apparent that trying to start back up on that steep of a hill wasn't going to be practical. It was only a short distance before the main grunt subsided, and I was able to get back on the bike and keep moving. It did give me a good indication that trying to climb Skyuka would be challenging today.
Making my way to the second rest stop, I was still riding solo. The main group wasn't too far ahead of me, from what I was told by the woman working the stop, but the weather was not looking all that inviting. Looking down the road towards Skyuka, the mountain itself was covered by clouds. I started to worry that the descent was going to be wet, and trying to navigate it by myself was going to be difficult at best. I opted at that point to do the bypass, which cut about 6 miles off the route, but was still a very pretty travel route. I don't fully regret not attempting Skyuka, as I wouldn't typically experience this road otherwise.
The third rest area was being staffed by my family, which I have to say is always an awesome experience. It happened to be my youngest's birthday, and the fact that she was willing (and happy) to be helping the riders with water and snacks really made me proud. I actually surprised them by being the first person to ride up to their stop, which surprised me as well. I took the opportunity to take another long break, figuring that maybe I could meet back up with the front group and not have to ride solo the rest of the way. After hanging around for about 15 minutes I had to move on or risk not having any real energy for the back half of the route. I didn't hurry through the next section, as I kept hoping that the lead group would move through and I'd be able to latch on. It also gave me the opportunity to take a few shots as I rode through the Greenspace of Fairview, a privately held property protected by Upstate Forever. To me, this loop is the gem of the ride.
The last of the rest stops is housed in one of the barns on the property, and I took another few minutes there to take a break, relax, and hope that one of the other groups would come through. After spending time chatting with the folks working the aid station and taking a few more pictures, I started back on the road when I saw some folks ride through. I was hopeful that maybe I could hang on with them for a while.
As it turns out, the group that came by was a couple of the really fast folks. I hung with them for a little while, about 12 miles, but then ended up having to let them ride off as I knew that I couldn't hold with them all the way to the finish.
The final leg of the trip was through more farmland, and outside of the need for a rest stop around mile 60-65 was fantastic. The weather started to get warm, so I was glad I took the time at the final rest stop to make sure that I had plenty of fluids. One of the folks from the front came past me close to the end and had missed the final rest stop, and thus was out of water. I had extra that that point, knowing we only had a few more miles to go, so I gladly shared. It wasn't long before the telltale climb to the red barn was in sight. At the finish a meal was provided that included chicken, pasta, salad, and several desserts. In keeping with the spirit of Upstate Forever, the meal was served on stoneware that can be washed and reused.
While the 2014 running of the Preservation Ride didn't include Skyuka Mountain Road for me, it was still an extremely enjoyable experience. The scenery showcases how beautiful upstate South Carolina is, and the ride is challenging and fun. Each year they improve the route to accommodate the requests of the riders, and it's awesome to see how it has evolved from the inaugural edition. If you are looking for a great ride, you will not go wrong with the Preservation Ride each year. While it isn't a "Gran Fondo" and may not have past and current professional cyclists show up and party, it is a challenging course and supports a fantastic cause.