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?