We got up on Saturday morning in Little Switzerland to the sound of falling rain, though it wasn't raining quite so hard as it had at times during the night. Josh, who I was rooming with, got up and headed outside to the porch, and I followed soon after so we could head on over to breakfast. Vick joined us over there. He'd gotten to ring the dinner bell at 7:30 am (you never know what you can do until you ask). Everyone else from our group started filtering in, and the subject of conversation was, in large part, the weather. I don't mind so much riding in the rain, but I really don't enjoy starting a ride in the rain. As John B. says, it really brings the motivation level way down. Still, I stole a chance to look over some motorcyclist's shoulder at the lobby computer to see that it might be a little clearer by the time we got to Asheville.
Eric N. drove his wife Dianne up to meet us. He thought they were running late, but it turned out that they arrived pretty much right when everyone else was about ready. Dianne rode with us from there while Eric drove on to Asheville to get some supplies and drive on up to the Pisgah Inn (where we stayed Saturday night). We rolled out in the rain with Josh and I taking the lead up the first climb through the first of seventeen tunnels we went through that day. Vick and Meryl soon joined us and passed us, and then Jim passed us, and then we got to a downhill and I passed them back, et cetera. It didn't take long, though, before I was soaking wet, rain shell or not.
The first fifteen to twenty miles was a rolling ascent up toward the turn off of the Parkway up to Mt. Mitchell (who remembers the trivia question about Mt. Mitchell?). I had been riding up front with Elle as we approached the pull-out where the van usually stops, but when we passed by the van Elle stopped before I realized it. Then others stopped as they got there, and soon it turned into the 'official stop'. I found out when Meryl came riding up to where I'd stopped to wait to see where everyone was. I wasn't about to turn around and ride back to it at that point though, so I figured I'd just have to make do with the food I had with me until lunch. The worst thing was that Meryl told me it had been a PayDay party as the van passed us by.
Ah, the PayDay bar. The perfect cycling candy bar. No chocolate to melt in your pocket, it's a little sweet, it's a little salty, what's not to love? Imagine my great joy when I got to the usual pullout and John was standing there with a PayDay in hand for me. Happy Happy Joy Joy.
Vick caught up with us just after that and they started to pull away from me up the last little bit of a climb. I was still just a few yards behind them when Vick decided to take a detour through the drainage swale on the side of the road. The water was flowing about 2-3 inches deep, and he was leaving an impressive wake. They got out of sight of me before we crested the hill, but it didn't really matter. Josh and I are definitely the fastest descenders in the group, and since he was a ways back it fell to me to take the lead on the ten or so mile long drop into Asheville. I caught them on a little roller just before the big drop, right as Dianne caught up too. At this point the rain stopped and the roads started to look drier. Dianne and I started the drop together, but I was out in front for the most part (though she did catch me when I stopped for a picture about halfway down the mountain).
John passed me in the van just after that and I spent two of the next five miles keeping him just in sight, but I slowed to go through a longer tunnel and he dropped me. I was by myself for the rest of the descent to the lunch spot, but Dianne and Josh soon followed, with Vick and Meryl coming in soon after that. Lunch was at the Asheville Folk Art Center, but I really don't know much about the place other than that it has a parking lot and a bathroom.
John and Jim traded out as they do everyday at lunch, so John led the group out from Asheville, admonishing us to try to stay together until we crossed the French Broad River and the real climb began. But what do you think happens when you put a guy with fresh legs in front of a group that's already ridden 40 or more miles? The group split a couple of times ("Um, John, we're gapping them..."), but since Vick (an accomplished rider) was staying back with the slower group of five, and the front four of us were OK with our pace, we ended up deciding two groups was OK. We got to the bridge over the French Broad, and I checked my voicemail (it was John H.) while John B. took a natural and Elle looked for a spot to take a photo of the river (I think). Josh decided to go ahead up the climb since he knew he'd be passed quickly.
Moments later the rest of the group arrived and buzzed right past without stopping. The whole group was past me before I knew it, so I started the climb playing catch-up.
Now, I've done this climb twice before, and both times it was in direct sunlight and hot, hot, hot. On Saturday we did the entire climb in fog. Not as scenic, I'll freely admit, but I preferred the fog. This climb is a long one, stretching from just before mile post 394 to just beyond mile post 408 and climbing over 3,000 feet. Most of it is a fairly consistent grade, but the last two miles is ... well, we'll get to that.
I started the climb and passed Jan and John pretty quick, and then passed Josh. Josh has hurt his knee before on this climb, so I think he just wanted to take it as easy as possible. It took a while, but I caught up to Tanya next. I gave her a quick little friendly push, but doing so sapped my momentum and it took me another minute to catch and pass her. At that point I had Elle within sight for a long time - at least a mile without gaining any ground. I finally caught a bit of a break when the grade flattened slightly through a tunnel and I was able to shift up a gear for a few minutes. Still, I only caught her when I did because the front three of Vick, Meryl, and Dianne stopped to take a photo.
We started off again and I was quickly dropping back again. Elle was able to hang in there with the others, but I knew I'd have to ride my own pace or risk cramping. I caught them again at another photo-of, followed by a tunnel in which an RV decided to do something stupid and try to squish Vick in the process (thankfully without success). When they dropped me again I didn't see them until I got to the top.
Somewhere around mile post 406 the grade increases. It isn't a dramatic change that you see, but you feel it in your pedalling effort. I was soon pedalling below my comfortable pace, but I couldn't do much about it except climb out-of-the-saddle for a few moments once in a while, but too much would have caused catastrophic quad cramps. I stopped at one point during mile 406 for a bite to eat, and Eric came driving down the mountain while I was there. He turned around and offered me a sugar-free Red Bull, which I would normally avoid, but at that point it was just what I needed. I slammed it and started cranking slowly up the hill again.
At Mile post 407 I stopped again to massage my thighs a bit and have another bite or two from my Clif Bar. I'd started noticing just before I stopped that some knee pain was starting to creep in, but I knew I still had another mile plus to go anyway. Tanya caught me as I started off again and we rode into a heavy cloud together. I think I got a little ahead of her slowly, but when I reached the top of the climb and looked back I couldn't see her (but then, visibility was maybe forty feet). I got to the turn-off to the inn, noticed how hard it was to see, and figured I'd better wait to make sure Tanya made the turn and didn't blow right past. She came into view about two minutes later (she'd stopped to photograph the 408 mile post) and we rode in to the Pisgah Inn parking lot together.
I'll skip to dinner at this point. The Pisgah Inn has an excellent restaurant - one you wouldn't expect to find so far remote. It was while sitting there eating and socializing that I realized I was rubbing the outside of my knee absentmindedly. I didn't think too much of it until five minutes later when I was adjusting myself in my chair and my knee popped.
I limped away from dinner hoping that it would resolve itself, but it was still painful in the morning as I limped to breakfast. This is where I get to the mixed results part advertised yesterday. I had a great time on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sunday I had to make the decision to be intelligent and not try to ride on a bad knee and make it worse. That absolutely, positively sucked. The only thing that kept it from being a completely depressing day was that Eric was headed back to Knoxville and could take me with him. I can't imagine how frustrating and depressing it would have been to have had to sit in the van all day and watch everyone else enjoy a ride I couldn't do (actually, I can - I've had to do it before, but under slightly different circumstances - and it still sucked).
So I saw everyone off and Eric and I headed back to town. As it was, I was able to see Mrs. Guy early and actually make it to a wedding shower for John H. and his fiancee, Cindy. (BTW, when did they start inviting men to these things?). Still, I would rather have...oh, I should just stop it before I even go there.