Since I did not get into the Mt. Mitchell Climb, I decided to sign up for the Brasstown Bald Buster Century on May 17th to get some good climbing in. This did not disappoint. With advertised climbing of almost 14,000 ft and a chance to climb a Cat 1, Cat 3 & a HC (with 25% grades) was too temping to resist.
Here is my day:
I left my house at 5:00 a.m. and arrived at the start at 6:30 a.m. When I left my hometown it was 58 degrees; when I got to Helen, GA it was 41! I am glad I took armwarmers. In fact I couldn't feel my fingers for the first 10 miles! I checked in quickly and got set up to ride. As they started the prerace speech, my bladder told me he wasn't going to make it to the 44 mile sag stop (my first planned stop; they had one at 22 also). So I ducked into the porta potty. Well instead of long welcome speech / thank you speech, it was thanks for coming, be safe, enjoy and they were off. By the time I got out back to my bike I was one the last bikes leaving. I hammered to try to catch the lead group passing a lot of the 80 mile riders and other social groups. WIth a couple cars on the road, it was almost 6 miles by the time I caught them; they were flying! In the back of my mind, I am figuring I can't maintain this pace for 80 miles & the do 8000 ft of climbing, so when the group broke up on the first big hill, I found a group of seven and we pacelined up and rolled to the 44 mile stop. Refilled water bottles, took a picture, sent a text message, went in the porta potty, came out to watch my group leave. So back to hauling butt trying to catch them. We had one tri - guy who would hammer down and carry the group at 24 to 25 mph but once he rotated off the front, I started gaining on them. We had picked up some guys at the rest area and after about 8 miles split into two groups. I kept rolling with my group until the 65 mile mark when tri-guy & I decided we sit up, talk a bit & save our legs for the climbing that was coming. We hit the 77 SAG stop in plenty of time (you have 5.5 hours to get there - we were around 4). Then the climbs started. The first one was Hogden Gap, which went on for 8 miles with the steepest grades around 15-17%. It just kept going & going & going; but felt accomplished once you got to the top and the view was excellent. The descent was awesome! Fast, with big swooping turns until an elderly couple pulled out in front of me to drive 25 mph and enjoy the view! Oh well, I got up to 48 mph & really didn't need to go much faster than that. During the Hogpen Climb, all the groups basically broke up so I was on my own for the next 13 miles or so. I saw a couple riders but they were individuals and I was kind of in a zone / my own pace, so I just kind of did my thing. At about mile 92-93, the Jack's Gap started. I wasn't a hard climb, just an annoying 4-5 mile climb where you were just spinning a bunch & felt like you were getting no where. At this point, my legs where just burning & I am trying to talk myself to the finish.
I got to the base of Brasstown Bald and knew I just had 3 miles to go & I was going to finish it somehow. My legs had started to cramp, so I stretched a little, dumped all the crap that I wasn't going to need, made sure the water bottles were ready & took off up the hill. It's intimading just from the start. You immediately start at 15 to 18%. You are out the saddle just grinding. You see one guy in front of your and make no progress. After what felt like forever, I look up and see mile marker 1 - 2 to go! Using any grade under 10 to rest the heart & get a drink; it is frustrating seeing you speed between 3.8 & 4.5 mph. Then you get to the wall; about 100 yards all over 20%. I looked down once to see my speed at 1.8. The guy in front of me was going so slow, he just fell over. I would have liked to stop and check on him but I knew I would never get started again. By the time I got there, he was up walking up the hill. We laughed about it on the ride back down to town. After the wall it settled down some, and got up to the vistors lot where the ride ends; you actually don't go to the top-top of brasstown bald, but it was plenty for me. We rode the van back to town, lunch was included so we had some drinks and talked about the ride. I was really cool & rewarding. I am in pain today, but proud of what I did.
A couple notes regarding the ride.
First, I was extremely impressed with the route. It was good road, low, low traffic. There were one or two roads that were busy, but you weren't on them long & I would think it would be a challenge to find a 100 mile route with a busy road or two. But the pavement was good & extremely scenic. The ride was extremely well supported with 7 SAG stops with bananas, oranges, peanut butter sandwiches, cookies, etc in addition to water & gatorade. The stops were manned by the charities who received the proceeds from this event & they we quite a cheery crowd (southern hospitality). Even the support vehicles had drinks in them & you saw them every five miles or so. I think there were 4 & they just kept riding the route checking on everyone. Hogden Gap is definitely a tough ride & Brasstown is hard but short. The toughest part about Brasstown is you already have so many miles on your legs; those grades just bite you. Make sure you have climbing gears. I rode a compact (34) with a 25 in the back. A 27 would have definitely made it much easier, but I survived with what I had. I saw a couple tri bikes & they were all walking up Brasstown on my way back down. Afterwards, I found out they had 27's but 42s in the front! (oh my!) My computer registered the climbing at almost 11,000 ft, which a little lower than advertised, but I think a lot of promoters do that. It is a little pricey (I think it starts at $70 & then goes up to $105), but it covers the normal stuff (t-shirt, support & lunch) but I guess for liability reasons, you have to take their transportation back down Brasstown & it's 18 miles back to Helen. They pack your bike seperately, but do so very professionally. By the time we finished lunch, our bikes were back; so efficient also. Overall, I thought this was a great ride & would highly reccommend to anyone looking for a challenge. They do have an 80 mile ride that does not have all the climbing at the end which is a great ride also or you could do the 80 & then do Hogden Gap which would probably be 90 by the time you are done with still a lot climbing. Helen is a neat little town (reminds me of little Germany) and had a lot of stuff going on yesterday. If you have any questions, let me know.