Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mars Hill, NC 200km brevet

Apologies again for getting so far behind again. Between riding, weekends away and going to lots of physical therapy and doctor appointments, there's just no time left to blog!

Also after my accident, it seemed I had various collarbone related appointments every other day, so I put off going down to NC for a visit my dad until things settled down a bit. But I'll also admit that my hesitation to go to NC in the middle of summer was also partly due to the heat. If it was miserable in Massachusetts, I couldn't imagine what it was like there.

After a few weeks, I finished up PT, and my dad was starting to ask me more often about coming down, so I booked a flight for the end of July. I then checked to see if there were any rides of interest in the area while I'd be down and noticed a full set of brevets on for the weekend. To make it more enticing the rides were in the mountains of Western NC and this was the route profile of the 200km...

Given that profile, I decided that riding the fixie that I keep at my dad's, wouldn't be the best idea, so I decided to bring down a geared bike. Fortunately, I've got a coupled bike, meaning that it's not too much hassle and expense to take on a short trip.

I just had to take the bike apart, wrap the tubes, put the puzzle in the case, and fly.

Then after a couple of days visiting with Dad, I hopped in his van and drove west. 35 years ago, this drive didn't seem so bad. I went to college in the NC mountains, and used to do this drive a few times a year, but this time around, it seemed much longer than I had remembered - what did I post in January about distances becoming shorter than in my youth - this time was the opposite.

After my long drive, I arrived at Mars Hill College, where Tony, the organizer, had arranged rooms for us. I got settled and headed a block into town to a local pub, where I was delighted to find a local Belgian Triple on tap, which I used to wash down my curried veggie dinner.

Once back at my room, I met a few other folks who were staying the night before the ride. We chatted a while, and then tried to get some sleep before the almost civilized 6AM start.

Tony's rides are set up as 200/300/400 and 600km rides all at the same time. They start out together, and branch off at various points. There were 5 folks planning to ride the 200km on Saturday, and 7 others doing the longer rides. We all headed out together for the first 30 miles, although the first 30 were not very conducive for social riding, as we spread out due to climbing about 2000 feet in the first 10 miles. Still, while climbing, I managed to take part in a few conversations with various folks including Joel Lawrence, who I'd first met back in 1988 when I ran the brevet series in Raleigh. Joel was doing this 600km in preparation for the Endless Mountains 1200km a few weeks away.

However, the climb was over before I expected, and then came the long swoopy descent. The road was damp and sand and gravel had washed into the road along the way, so I took it quite handy heading down. After spreading out on the climb, the whole group came back together near the bottom, and we rolled along the next few flat miles chatting away.

The skies were looking threatening, just as the forecast that I heard on the radio the day before foretold. Of course, silly me, I hadn't paid any attention to the forecast until I was miles away from the fenders I had not installed on my bike after reassembling it in NC. So I must take the blame for all the rain.

It was starting to sprinkle as we came into the town where the longer riders would split off. Just as we pulled up to a traffic light, a train began to cross the road ahead. The 200km route continued straight across the tracks, while the longer routes turned right - before the tracks. There was a drug store on our side of the tracks, and our control was on the other side. The train was slow and looked long. We decided to forage for food and drink at the drug store. The longer riders turned right and continued on their route. After buying food and drink and finding bathrooms, we came out to find the train still moving slowly. Then the sprinkle of rain turned to a heavy downpour! It was cool enough that I put on my rain jacket, despite having a small climb ahead.Finally the caboose passed!

Conversation flowed and the miles passed quickly despite the heavy rain. Rob, John, Mike and Tony were great company as we made our way into Johnson City, where we enjoyed breakfast sandwiches at Subway.

When we emerged, the sun had come out and it started to warm back up. The next segment was flat with a long gradual downhill.

At the next control, Tony suggested getting just water, since the feature of the day, a restaurant called the Farmer's Daughter, would be coming up soon. I'd been eating a drinking all along the way, so I wasn't sure how much room I'd have for a meal. Then we got there and I knew there was no room for this meal. The place serves family style country cooking. You select two meats and they bring out 20 side items to go with them, all dripping with butter. My arteries started to clog just breathing the air.

Mike, John and Rob enjoyed their meal and did their best to do it justice. I promised to keep the pace at digestive after lunch, but may have just pushed it a bit on the little climbs. No one lost lunch, and eventually the country ham kicked in to provide fuel for the later parts of the ride.

We rolled along through beautiful countryside, but I wasn't so good at pulling out the camera. Then we hit the final climbs. Tony had promised 12000 feet of climbing, and we were well below 50% of that still 2/3 of the way into the ride. This was not a good sign for those wanting an easy finish.

The route profile showed three big climbs at the end. The first was pretty steep, but only a few kms long and then was followed by a long gradual descent. We stopped at the bottom for iced coffee, and then began the next climb. It was a bit longer, but at a nice steady gradient, the kind that works well for me - find the right gear and go. This was followed by another swoopy descent and then a sharp drop down into Marshall, where we found another coffee shop. This one looked like a great place to hang out, but we had a ride to finish. I decided it would make a great destination for Sunday, but neglected to check the hours - foreshadowing?

Leaving town, I noticed they seem to like cyclists here...

The final climbs back into Mars Hill were not bad, and I seemed to get a smell of the barn. We finished up and headed up into town for a celebratory drink, before John, Mike and Rob headed home to Asheville. Tony and I had a nice dinner, and then I turned in while he waited up for the 300km riders to come in a few hours later. The 400 and 600 riders arrived in the small hours of the morning, with the 600km folks taking a few hours to sleep before heading back out.

I loaded the GPS with a century route I'd found online, with that coffee shop in Marshall as a destination. It was only 15 miles into the route. I figured I'd just do an out and back for coffee.

The century route was on tiny little back roads and I was in heaven. Despite having a net downhill to Marshall, I had climbed about 1200 feet when I arrived, and sadly discovered that the entire town is closed on Sundays. No coffee for me. Still I had a lovely ride out before turning back along the same little back roads.

Then I had the long drive back to Durham, and time to reverse the process, taking the bike apart and repacking. 

I had a great time in the mountains of NC, and definitely want to return for a longer trip. I must admit that I violated my rule for not driving more miles that riding. Still it was fun to connect with some old friends and ride in a new area, and of course make use of those nice couplers!


  1. Sounds like an awesome trip and I LOVE the idea of traveling w/ a bike as well as on one. Not to mention 20 sides with butter... that one sounded good too, I'll confess

  2. Wow! Glad to hear you had fun ride in these hills! You were right in my backyard! I live in Johnson City now (having previously lived in Brevard and Asheville, NC). Me and a girlfriend have been looking for a century ride to do maybe in the early fall. We might just have to check out WNC. We frequently ride from JC out to Greeneville. I've been wanting to extend that trip out to Asheville HWY and ride through Paint Creek park in Cherokee National Forest. Maybe make a camping trip out of it. Or keep on going out into Hot Springs and around back in Asheville. But then I'll just get homesick and not want to leave. :)