Bridge to Bridge
This is THE big fall century ride in the eastern U.S. and is second in difficulty only to Mt. Mitchell. September 20th was the tenth anniversary of Bridge to Bridge and judging by the number of entrants its popularity remains high. This year the Park Service limited the number of entrants and only 750 were allowed to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway. It seems silly to me that you can drive a gas-guzzling, exhaust-belching motor vehicle on the Parkway as much as you want but the Park Service feels the need to crack down on bicycles.
The ride begins in the beautiful North Carolina City of Lenoir (pronounced "Len-wah") and loops down toward Hickory before heading back through Lenoir and to the finish line at the top of Grandfather Mountain. The ride is advertised at 9000 feet of vertical gain. This year the course was changed slightly and the total distance to the top of Grandfather Mountain was 103.8 miles.
A large contingent of folks from the Tri-Cities area were on hand for the ride including Bill Collie, David Wall, Rick Offerman, Brian Archer, David Hayter, James Worth, Rick Heppert, Don Horne, Richard Strang, Scott Dietrich, Pat Rash, Susan Rash, Silke Schiff, Larry Peck and others. Many of these folks were doing the ride for the first time.
The weather was ideal for the ride as 894 riders lined up at the Lenoir Mall for the start of the race. The skies were hazy but clear and the temperature was in the mid-60s at race time. I knew the heat and sun would play a large factor in the race as the temperature was predicted to reach the mid-80s.
George Hincappie of the USPS pro team was on hand so everyone knew the pace would be fast. How fast was the pace? I broke away with the lead pack coming out of Lenoir and for the first 35 minutes we averaged 26 miles an hour. The lead pack broke into two packs for a time and I was shed off the back of the second pack while David, Brian, Scott, Pat and several others hung in there. I rode with a pack of 4-5 riders for a short time before were engulfed by a huge peloton. We had at least 100 riders in the second big peloton and the pace remained high. At the 52 mile mark (just at the base of the first long climb) we had averaged 23.25 miles per hour. I found out later that the front group had averaged nearly 24.5 mph over the same course. At the top of the climb (about the 63-mile mark) my average was still 20 mph.
From the climb on I found myself in no-man's land. I would occasionally chat with riders as I passed them, but I found no one to ride with consistently for the rest of the ride. As I turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway I kept reeling in solo riders but no one wanted to go with me so I decided to go it alone. Just past the 76-mile mark I saw Brian Archer stopped along the road. He wasn't feeling good and looked pretty bad. He later regrouped and finished the ride strong. Shortly after that I caught Pat Rash on the Linville viaduct and began the long descent to Highway 221. David Hayter and James Worth and I met at one of the rest stops at about 80 miles. James was having back spasms but David was ready to roll and left just as I arrived. I caught David at the next rest stop again just as he was leaving. About 5 miles outside of Grandfather Mountain David and I hooked up and rode to the gates of Grandfather together. As we turned into the park 5:42 had elapsed and if we could just ride moderately to the finish we'd make our goal of breaking the 6-hour mark. David rode strongly up the climb but I was having a problem with cramping in my quads. I began to walk at mile 102.8. At the last switchback I got back on the bike and tried to make it to the finish line. My quads completely locked up at that point and I was luckily to get clipped out and get my feet down. Both quads had completely locked up on me and I stood in the middle of the road, unable to walk as riders and traffic went around me. Pretty humiliating.. I finished the climb pushing my bike to a 6:05:12 finish for 191st place (my highest placing ever).
The stars of the day were Chris Harkey and George Hincappie who blistered the course in a time of 4:46. This is 2 minutes off of the old record of 4:44 but the course is now 103.8 miles so it's probably close enough to call it a tie with the old record.
The area finishers were: Bill Collie (5:05, 9th), David Wall (5:09, 28th), Scott Dietrich (5:44, 115th), David Hayter (5:59:12, 167th), Rick Offerman (6:05:12, 191st), Brian Archer (6:08, 198th), Pat Rash (6:23;25, 241st) , Susan Rash (6:27:52, 265th), Silke Schiff (6:30, 272nd), James Worth (6:41:20, 311th), Larry Peck (6:42:48, 320th) , Larry Parkins (7:51, 513th), Rick Heppert (8:02, 538th), , Richard Strang (8:33) and Don Horne (9:28, 662nd).
This was the first attempt at Bridge to Bridge for Pat and Susan Rash, Silke Schiff, Scott Dietrich, Larry Peck and Don Horne. Next time you see them tell them "Good job".
Bridge to Bridge is one tough ride. The organizers use the slogan "100 miles of pure hill" to describe the ride. It's very appropriate. That last two miles are a killer especially with the heat and sun that had to be endured for the whole day. The best thing I can say about Bridge to Bridge 1998 is that it's over.