On March 23rd, I started my first of three training rides leading up to my upcoming cross country bike race called “Race Across America” which starts at 12:00 pm on June 13th. I cycled 220 miles from Reston VA to Lynchburg VA on the first day. I started my day at 430 am from my house in Vienna. VA and stopped for coffee and water in Middleburg VA, about 30 miles away. Great spot called the “Common Grounds” and with 27 degree temperatures at 6:30 it felt pretty good to warm up with a hot coffee. About an hour before reaching Front Royal it started raining. With below freezing temperatures, it was more like sleet. The waterproof jacket I brought worked but my pants and shoes were soaked. I met up with my crew, Jim Strang and Tom Massie and we stopped at the Dickey Ridge ranger station on Skyline Drive to change into dry clothes. Leaving at 10:00 am with the sun up, clouds long gone and temperatures warming to 60 degrees.
It was my biggest climbing day vertically EVER - ascending 20,000 feet - almost 4 miles in one day. The grade was steeper than Colorado which average 6% grade. Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway average 1,000 feet of uphill very 10 miles. I took a few 10 minute naps around lunch and dinner also a 5 minute nap around 9 pm before ending the day at midnight and cycling 220 miles. That evening we were graciously hosted by Stuart Massie in Lynchburg. Around 1 am my crew and I, ate homemade lasagna, which is the perfect food as it is full of carbs. I went to sleep around 1:30 am and woke up at 4:30. My amazing crew Jim and Tom stayed up till about 3 am cleaning up and setting up my bike for Saturday morning.
The next day, I started at 5:30 am. I rode from our host’s home to the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway which is around 13 miles from Stuart’s house. Upon arriving I was greeted by “Thunder Ridge” a 12 mile climb up a 3,000 ft mountain. My crew caught up with me at mile 50 around 11:00 am. I packed enough food and water to make it alone for five hours. I need to eat about every 15 minutes. During an 18 hour ride you have to force yourself with nutrition. After 8 hours, you don't really want to eat anything. In fact, you get tired of eating after every 15 minutes but you HAVE to. This is because your stomach has been converted into a “blast furnace” and you can’t power your legs without fuel.
To pass the time, I listened to the audio books. Like the recent book from Thomas Friedman entitled 'Thank You For Being Late'. The weather was 60 degrees and overcast, great riding weather. I wrapped up training ride day 2 at around 10pm, just a mile short of the NC border, then drove 75 miles to Boone, North Carolina. I was disappointed that I could only cycle 160 miles - 16,000 vertical feet today. The hills were brutal and Friday’s ride was draining - but that's why we call this a training ride - so we can learn what is working and what isn't. My original goal was another 220 miles, but in hindsight that was unrealistic.
On Sunday I started my day around 430am leaving Boone and heading south on the Blue Ridge Parkway with the hopes of riding to the VA border. I pedaled about 60 miles and 6,000 feet of vertical under some extreme rain and foggy conditions. At one point I could only see about 100 feet in front of me. Jim and Tom caught up with me at 11:00 at the top of a ridge and I decided to call it quits. As much as I was physically prepared to ride another 100 miles, the conditions were deteriorating. Fog, rain and slick pavement in the mountains are simply a really poor trifecta.
This was the most climbing I have ever completed (42,000 feet) over a 2 ½ day stretch. I was asked the question: "How does the ride you completed last weekend compare to riding throughout the Rockies?" It was more challenging because the Rockies are 30,000 feet of vertical over two days at max 6% grade with long climbs and long descents and some flat cycling in between. Last weekends training ride was all hills, all day and 42,000 feet of climbing over 2 1/2 days at 6-9% grade. The air is thinner in the Rockies and a much higher altitude which is a factor as well.
This training ride was a really good test for me mentally and physically. I had not cycled back to back to back - three days in a row with big mileage and very little sleep since 2012. I really felt it both mentally and physically. I underestimated how difficult it is to ride 3 consecutive days riding hills without ANY breaks. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive have almost no flat sections. You’re either climbing or descending - nothing else. It's mentally exhausting because if you don't pay attention on a downhill going 35 miles per hour - the consequences will be very stiff. The climbs are hard because they take up a lot of your physical energy. So you're teeter tottering between physical energy (climbing) and mental energy (descending) and there is little time at all to relax !
Our next test begins on April 21st when we ride from Reston to Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland and then on to West Virginia. Much of the route will be on the Race Across America course. Another 3 day event with RAAM crew team members Steve Gurney, Joe Knill and Brian Daum.
Photo's Credit to Tom Massie