(Note: this is a post that has sat in draft mode since May. I’m finally finishing it as part of NaBloPoMo – enjoy!)

Activity: road cycling (special event)
Location: Newport, VA > New Castle, VA > Mountain Lake Resort, VA
Distance: 101.4 miles (two very steep climbs)
Duration: 5:44 (5:41 rolling time)
Weather: cool, crisp, sunny, breeze from south, 51-65 degrees
Climbing: 9,947′
Avg HR: 148 (max 181)
Type: aerobic

For me, Mountains of Misery is a rite of passage every Memorial Day. I participated in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. In 2012, my adductor injury prevented me from riding.

But in 2013? I was back – and wanting to test myself.

Mountains of Misery isn’t a trifling ride. It starts out with a gradual, rolling uphill, one that is usually done at a fairly frenetic pace. A steep, technical descent at mile 25 leads to the town of New Castle, after which the road becomes more level, passing through a lovely, forested creek ravine.

From miles 45 to 57, there’s more valley riding, with more rollers and more pace pushing, because after a left turn, the road rises to Johns Creek pass, a climb that has ramps from 10 to 18 percent before its summit. A quick descent, and the riders are back on VA-42, rolling downhill toward the starting line in Newport.

Just before returning to the starting line, there is a hard right into Clover Hollow – the “lollipop loop,” shortened this year to avoid a particularly dangerous, shaded, pothole-filled descent. After this loop, there are more rollers (including a steep, 1.4 mile climb after a rail crossing) before the “main event” from miles 97 to 101: the climb to Mountain Lake on Doe Creek Road.

In past years, on the longer course, my best time was 6 hours, 17 minutes. Other years, I’d been in the 6:37 to 6:57 range. But last year, at Bridge-to-Bridge, I’d proven to myself that I could ride an event with minimal stoppage time and break the 6 hour barrier.

That was my goal going into Mountains of Misery this year, but there were doubts. I’d missed almost a month of training time due to family matters in Utah. Hilly training rides were quashed by rainy weather. My goal time for the ride was 6:05 (that’s what I submitted during my event registration), and deep down, I wanted to do a sub-six again.

Still, I wasn’t sure. Yes, I’d had a few good climbing rides heading into the event, but… well, I wasn’t really sure I’d pull it off.

At any rate, I was in the second starting wave – the one with the fastest century riders (wave one is the double metric riders – the guys going 126 miles) – so I knew it would be fast from the start.

But the pace wasn’t crazy from the beginning; rather, it rolled up to a nice, fast speed. While I wasn’t planning on being in the “pulling bunch,” I ended up toward the front for a long while, taking pulls with other speed demons, including my friends, Greg Gibson and Chris Ross, some racers from Leesburg, and a triathlete whose riding was vexing: fast on the flats and descents, dog slow on the ascents. He was a nice enough guy, but he was not consistent with the group.

I stayed with the lead group until the Johns Creek climb, where I fell about a minute behind the most lightweight climbers. Greg, Chris and I stopped at the summit to top off bottles and doff warm layers, then worked a tight, fast rotation along VA-42. We were soon joined by some of the Leesburg racers, and we flew toward the right turn that marks the start of the “lollipop loop.”

Our group kept motoring along, up to the high point of the loop, when Greg hit something in the road and flatted. He let out an audible expletive, but we kept rolling. We saw Jonathan ahead, falling off the back of his train (which also had Chris Zegal, another frequent riding friend, in its ranks), and lo – our “bogey” was spotted!

Chris, the Leesburg racers, and I all sped along the the rolling road along the “top” of the loop, then rocketed downhill. We caught Jonathan about a mile before the end of the loop, and he joined us for a short while before stopping for water at the aid station before the right turn back onto VA-42.

I was still feeling quite good, as was Chris, and Chris Zegal caught up to us (we must have passed him at the end-of-loop aid station), and together we rolled toward the base of the final climb to Mountain Lake. At the mile 96 aid station, Chris Ross stopped for water, while Zegal and I kept moving toward the big, final climb: a 4 mile long strain to Mountain Lake lodge, averaging over 12 percent grade for its duration.

We reached the final climb together, and Chris Z. slowly pulled away from me – he has worked on climbing this year, and it showed. I rode my own pace, and did well, neither falling too far behind Chris, nor being passed by many people along the way. At the mid-climb aid station, I asked for my usual refreshments – a glass of water dumped over my head, as well as a cup of Coke – and both were delivered with their usual, friendly, energetic gusto by the Virginia Tech cheerleading squad and some local Boy Scouts.

Still, the steepest part of the climb lay ahead.

And I kept going, pedal stroke after pedal stroke. I felt OK – not fresh, but not on the verge of cramp or wanting to stop. Left foot, right foot, keep breathing, smile, hum a peppy tune, focus ahead – all of it happened. I passed a couple folk who were having a tougher time with the hill, and Zegal’s advantage over me slowly dwindled.

As I entered the finish stretch, one of the fans along the side of the road yelled “stand and sprint!” I replied, “only if you want to see me crash and burn!” My legs were at the limit, close to cramp, but only 150 meters were left. I did increase my cadence, and upshifted as I spun out gears, and eventually crossed the finish line.

I looked at the clock: 5 hours, 44 minutes, well below my 6:05 goal time.


The rest was a blur of activity, as the finish area usually is. The volunteers took my bike, handed me my duffel bag with clean clothes, and I quickly found my bottle of recovery drink – though the ice-cold bottle of water, handed to me by a veteran event volunteer, was like manna.

I cheered on my friends as they crossed the finish. Greg made up a ton of time and finished not long after me. Tim rode strong. Jonathan passed Chris Ross not long before the finish line. Nick and Mark also made their way up, up, up. For all, it was a hard ride, but a rewarding one in the end.