It's a great ride. You've probably already heard this but the hard part of the ride really doesn't start until after the Johnson campground, which is about 75 miles. From there it's pretty much a climb to the finish. It's a great ride. The only part I really hated was the bus ride back to the campground. It seemed to take forever, and being slightly dehydrated, going down the mountain in a bus made me feel quite nauseous.
Hope you have great ride, good luck and let us know how you do.
It's crucial to get in a group for the first 75 miles. Find one you can keep up with and draft as much as possible. The last 27 miles usually takes as long as the first 75. It's brutal after you get to Marion. It's a unique event. The weather at the top can get crazy despite it being sunny and 70 halfway through. Enjoy.
It's a mass start at 6:30 am and like most mass starts this one is a free for all......the first 30 miles is very crazy because everyone is jammed together 3 abreast. If you're in the back part of the pack you'll get yo-yo'd to death so just be really careful until things smooth out just before Bill's Hill. You should be able to stay in groups until then. It's critical to be with a group after Bill's Hill into Marion-about 30 miles. If you're by yourself just slow down until some others come by. It will save you a lot of time and energy as there is not a terrible amount of climbing between Bill's Hill and Marion. Avoid refueling at Tom Johnson Campground in Marion at mile 72 if you want to save time. There is a rest top before Marion at about 60-62 that is quicker and that should take you up to mile 85 to a rest stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The 5 miles of climbing on Hwy 80 (miles 80-85) is generally steeper than the Parkway, but it is just a grind all the way to the top. When you first get on the Parkway I think there is a sign that says 12 miles to Mitchell and you think that's not too bad. Then you do the math and at 6 mph it is 2 more hours.....It is a great ride that everyone should do at least once. There is not anything very steep but after 80 miles even 6% grades feel like 10%.