April 2, Saturday: Wheels of Fire Century (101 mi) / B Event / COMPLETE: Did the full century with Dougie. Had a great time although the headwind on the way back in was a bit of a booger. Midway in jumped into a nice paceline from some racers from North ATL (Team Agnostino if I recall correctly). We were holding a mid-twenties avg over the ridgeline. Overall really nice day and felt good coming out of it. Not sure I could have doubled down on it but probably could have eeked out another metric at a similar pace I think.
So it was time to start getting serious. The “A” event for the first half of the season was the Assault on Mt Mitchel. Mitchell is essentially is a rolling ride from Spartanburg, South Carolina to the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, for the first 75 or so miles, followed by a roughly 25-30 mile climb up Mt Mitchell, the highest point in the Eastern US. Needless to say, we needed to get into good climbing condition. The Wheels of Fire was the first step in doing this. It has some of the most climbing South of ATL (Blazing Saddles being probably the only other significant climbing route in the area). So Diesel and I start out intending to ride this one at a pretty good effort, not “race pace”, but not casual either. It’s a cool morning but forecasted to warm up nicely. We roll out hitting “Heartbreak Hill” (or is that “Heart Attack Hill”?, not sure) right off the bat. The ride touts this hill as being “the” tough challenge for the ride”. I think they do it mostly because I believe nearly all of the distance (i.e. 10, 25, 30, etc., metric and full century) ride over this one so it’s the big draw to make the ride sound really fierce for all involved. It’s a climb, no doubt, but in comparison to some of North Georgia’s finest mountains, this is really a molehill. The ride does however serve up some climbing fun, but in the way of rollers, miles and miles of relentless rollers, all packed in at the very end, after you have a good 80 or so miles in the legs. The weather, while being good for temps, but became really aggravating in the early afternoon as a headwind kicked up while we were grinding through those rollers. Diesel and I made it in just fine, but it was a head down grunt at the end to try and escape the headwind, yet still attack enough to carry through the rollers. Lots of walkers on the final stretches as it just hacked folks down in what is generally the toughest part of any century, miles 85 to 100, I guess the equivalent of the “wall” for the marathon runner. Anyway, we felt pretty good after getting back in, trying to assess where we were fitness wise. We needed to feel comfortable, in my opinion, that we could have continued on for maybe another 50 miles or so, in order to have confidence that Mitchell wouldn’t kill us. I’m not sure that we were 100% at that point, but we were doing good.
Why “rolling the dice” you may be wondering? I haven’t referred to a die in my write-up yet, although one could perhaps guess that rolling referred to the wheels on the bike. I’m really referring to the gamble taken when committing to this particular ride. I has a really nasty history of occurring on particularly bad weather days for whatever reason. I’ve heard stories of cold, of rain, of the two combined into sleet. We got really lucky this day though, minus the headwinds coming back in of course. The next ride however, we wouldn’t be quite so lucky. In fact, it would seem more appropriate that the Cheaha Challenge were called wheels of fire this particular year. In actuality, the wheels of fire is because the local fire departments sponsor the rest stops on the ride, each one having a particular theme (i.e. BBQ, luau, etc.) and each trying to out-do the other.