Activity: road cycling
Location: Newport, VA (Mountains Of Misery)
Distance: 101.8 miles
Weather: sunny and lovely, 50-73 degrees
Avg HR: 155 (max 188)
My first trip to Mountains Of Misery certainly won’t be my last! It is a wonderful ride, with gorgeous scenery and an epic, mountaintop finish that’s reminiscent of the grand tours of cycling.
Of course, my friends – namely sprite and Sarah – said that it wasn’t really proper holiday celebration to participate in anything with “misery” in the title. And they’re right – for anybody other than me, that is.
So the day dawned early: up at 5:30 am, at the ride start by 6:30, on the road at 7:05 with the second wave of riders. I almost didn’t make the start time, having left my sunglasses on the roof of the car. As the starter yelled out the countdown (“30 seconds…”) I rode across a soft, turf field (“20 seconds…”) to the car, rescued my shades (“15 seconds…”), rode as fast as I could back to the start (“10… 9… 8…”), through the throngs assembled for the third wave (“7… 6… 5…”), over a gravel section (“4… 3… 2… 1…”), and into the back of the pack (“GO!”) where Jonathan and Chris were waiting for me.
From there, the three of us moved up in the pack, passing large bunches of cyclists. Eventually, Jonathan and I were in the lead group, and I ended up leading said group for most of the first 27 miles of the ride. I was especially happy to lead the first, winding, steep descent into New Castle: lots of big, hairpin turns, where my ski racing skills at picking out the fastest line came in handy. Nobody dared pass me on the way down!
From there, I got a bit lost. I ended up falling in with a fast group of riders who were riding the “double metric century” (200 km/124 miles), which has a different course. So instead of a picturesque valley loop, which the English century (100 miles) followed, I went up a steep mountain. I knew I’d made a mistake when the next rest stop came 12 miles too early.
So I used the rest stop to fill my bottles, eat a banana, and calculate how to add the missed miles back in, and backtracked my way for 5 miles into the valley. I was passed by descending century riders until I turned around, then joined the route again.
Back on track, I had a mechanical incident at mile 48, where I realized that my front brake had become loose on its mount – not a safe thing when the real mountains still loomed ahead! I broke out my wrenches, tightened the brake, and was back on the road within minutes.
At mile 57 (where the picture was taken by Birds Eye View), the first real mountain began. It was a 3-mile grind, with maximum pitches around 11 percent – a good wake-up call. I did fine, passing riders as I climbed, and used the rest stop at the top (mile 60) to refill the bottles again (they were mostly empty for the climb), and load up on PB&J and electrolyte capsules. I also picked up a Hammer Gel, which would come in handy later.
Jonathan caught up with me at the summit, and started the descent as I remounted my bike. I caught up with him in less than a minute, as I’m a stronger descender. We rode together until mile 70, when he stopped at a rest stop, and I forged ahead into Clover Hollow. Once again, I passed a lot of cyclists (including a handful of licensed racers who started in the first wave at 7:00 am), saw a rider wipe out in front of me when he overcooked a corner (he was fine, but suffered a big goose egg on his head), and made up good time.
After stopping at mile 83 to use the loo and refill the bottles yet again, I started to cramp. Shit! I managed to ride out two waves of cramp (the second hit at mile 90), and stopped at the last full-service rest area at mile 93 to load up on salt and water, and to stretch a bit. Jonathan caught up with me again, and we both attached the numbers to our bikes (adhesive, Tyvek things that allowed us to reclaim our bikes after the ride – they drove them down the mountain for us as a liability concern). I then downed my Hammer Gel, remounted, and took off with Jonathan for the rest of the ride.
We split up on the last cross over Route 460, where I made it across before the ride marshal stopped the riders to allow traffic to pass. So I got a 1 minute jump on Jonathan, and built up momentum for the beginning of the final climb to Mountain Lake.
Mountain Lake (where Dirty Dancing was filmed) is 1,880 vertical feet above the valley floor, a vertical distance which is covered in 3.2 miles of road. In other words: it’s steep, averaging 11.5 percent grade for the duration, and hitting a maximum of 16 percent. I dug in for the climb, knowing I might cramp along the way. And I did, about 1 mile before the finish, where I stopped for about 45 seconds, stretched, breathed deeply, then forged on to the finish.
At the finish, they do it right: there’s a crowd, music, and an announcer who calls out your name and home city as you power on through the finish line. And that rush made me feel like shifting up a few gears to sprint to the finish – what a feeling! 6 hours and 36 minutes (total time, including stops) later, I’d conquered the Mountains Of Misery!
After that, I waited for Jonathan, who finished a few minutes behind me, and Chris, who finished about 40 minutes after that. My driving mate, Mark, finished in approximately 8 hours and 30 minutes, riding strong the whole way, and other friends also had good rides. We all enjoyed the post-ride BBQ and massages, and drove back to DC very, very satisfied.
So what did I learn this weekend? First, my climbing is better than it’s ever been. Second, I need to be better about electrolytes along the way. And third, it’s joyous to participate in a “miserable” event on a holiday weekend.
You can see more pictures at my Flickr page.