Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Ride ...

On an early Monday morning in May, spandex will invade downtown Spartanburg. The riders will start arriving in pitch darkness, some showing up the morning of the event, most staying in nearby hotels like the Marriott at Renaissance Park that hovers over the starting line. 

Some will scramble to get their packet, and get everything settled on their bike -- from pumped tires to the number that sticks to the frame. Others will have already prepared the night before, and will casually chat in front of the convention center, waiting for the moment to get closer. 

As the sun begins to peer through the horizon, the riders will slowly mass at the starting line. Eventually it will be over a thousand crowded together on North Church Street. The slower, casual riders will wait in the back, while the racing teams and A cyclists will try to get as close to the front as possible.

All of the riders face a gigantic countdown clock. As the sun lights up the street, the countdown gets closer to "go" time. The energy is palpable at the last minute. The riders will audibly count the last remaining seconds together, followed by a chorus of cheers, and a thousand clicks as the riders clip into their pedals.

As a number of people told me when I first attempted The Assault on Mount Mitchell, it is a rite of passage for any serious cyclist in the southeast. It is an event that people should conquer at least once, if nothing else than to just say they did. Many, including myself, will argue that it is the toughest ride in the southeast, but can be successfully completed by just about anyone with the proper time, training and preparation.

It is also one of the oldest events, founded in 1975 by John Bryan, who got the crazy idea to try riding from Spartanburg to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest point in eastern United States. It has grown dramatically to become a massive ride and a cycling tradition. 

It is really two rides. The ride to Marion is a little more than a metric century that gets progressively more difficult. The second part is pure climbing, gutting it out until you get to the top. From Spartanburg, the ride starts out fast through flats and rolling hills. The first real challenge is Bill's Hill/Mountain, which is where a lot of the packs will begin to break up. After that is a rolling mess until riders arrive in Marion.

Many will end their ride there, and that's fine. Just getting to Marion is no cakewalk. The remainder will set out on Highway 80, navigate the switchbacks and steep grades before grinding it out on the Blue Ridge Parkway for miles and miles, finally arriving at Mount Mitchell State Park. After a few more miles of climbing, riders will arrive at the finish line, most of them thrilled to have completed such an adventure, while sore from all that it took to get there. The fastest times will be around 5 hours; the slowest as much as 12 hours. 

Are you ready?

Aaron West

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Welcome back!

Welcome back to the Mitchell blog!

Although this place was on hiatus last year. I've been asked to dust, sweep, vacuum, and get it ready again for the 2013 Assaults.

First, a bit of housekeeping. The Assault on Mount Mitchell and Marion will take place on Monday, May 20th, 2013.

Freewheeler members will get the first opportunity to register on February 1st at 7:00am. Members should have already received pass codes via email.

Registration will open to the public on Friday, February 15th at 7:00am.

You can find further details at the Assaults website.

Many of you may remember me from blogging my first Mitchell attempt back in 2011. In fact, my recap is the last post published on this blog. Many of you may also know me from my other home at, where I blog about Mitchell and many other adventures in the southeast.

The moment I finished my first Assault, I wondered what I was thinking in the first place. This thing was hard, and I could barely feel my legs. The next day, as I reflected on my accomplishment, I felt something completely different. You could call it a sense of pride or satisfaction. The journey was over and I had won. Despite the hard work that led me to the top of the mountain, I knew I could do it again. Furthermore, I knew I could do it better.

I trained in the off-season with the goal of improving. Somehow I managed to beat my first time of 8:05 by nearly an hour to 7:07. Again, I was proud, satisfied, and immediately pledged to beat 6:30 the next year. You can read my recap here.

Things don't always work out the way we want. Late in the year, I suffered a stress fracture in my hip. At first I thought it was a hip flexor strain, which I treated with Aleve, ice and rest. I even completed other mountain rides, not knowing I had a broken hip. Eventually, after a lot of trial and turmoil, I got the diagnosis.

This year is different for me because of the injury. I still have the itch, but I have yet to scratch it. I have been off the bike for six weeks now, and will stay off the bike at least a couple more, maybe longer. At some point, I will get back on the horse, but only when I know I am healed and will not cause further damage.

When Mitchell registration opens, I plan to pull out my credit card as I have for the last two years. Since I won't have an off-season to get myself in shape, time goals are out the window. All I care about is finishing, whether it takes six hours or twelve.

We all have our stories. Many will try the Assault for the first time. Many more have already done it, and will try to beat their best time.

My plan is to talk about my progress, hopefully get some others involved, and point out options for people training. There is already a ton of valuable content on this blog and others that will help us accomplish our goals. Since this blog is for the riders, I encourage feedback and suggestions. This blog is for all of us to reach the same goal.

Happy Training!

Aaron West