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Bikestock 2007 Review: Mt. Airy, NC Bike Ride Skate

eebee's picture

Here's the 'feelings' report about Bikestock 2007; 'data report' to follow!


The 2007 Bikestock bike-ride portion left the Blackmon Amphitheater parking lot in downtown Mt. Airy, NC, around 8am on Saturday, August 4th, 2007. Being Andy Griffith's hometown and real-life model for the fictional 'Mayberry' on the Andy Griffith Show, the local Police who were helping marshall the course out of town were in for some groggily lame, early morning Barney Fife jokes from a few bike ride participants. This did not amuse them as they were in the midst of finagling some last minute logistics regarding some wedding guests due to arrive later in the day, who would be expecting to park their cars where the bike riders had parked.


As usual, I hadn't really given much thought about the impending hilly challenge, or the fact that the ride left from a place called Mount Airy and headed North into Virginia towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of the organizers promised "Don't worry - we made this course as flat as we could, so it's not that hilly", and stupidly I translated that in my mind into my version of not that hilly: slighly undulating roads.


The uneven-surfaced roads out of town with steep downhills into intersections or railroad tracks, were real brake-pad erasers, and we used 'em (brake pads). We turned onto the paved bike trail, reached the end and turned left onto an uphill on West Lebanon Street that took us 1.2 miles up to Hwy 52. This was where I first started cursing my lousy muscles and ineffective hill training. Noticing we had been climbing more than descending, we had a few more very steep uphills in the first 10 miles out of town towards the mountains. One thing I was happy about, however, was that after one hour my average heart-rate was only 154, which is a happy number for me on a long-distance, hilly skate. Although these bikestock ascents were killing me, the thought entered my mind that perhaps I'd finally broken through the heart-rate training progress barrier. I still felt like crap whilst climbing, though!


Blake and I had been mulling over whether to try for the full 72 miler, and whether we could keep a pace to get us through before the course support went home at 3pm, or whether we should plod along for 35 miles and be proud of ourselves regardless. After complaining about 3 times that if I felt like crap after only 16 miles, and how the heck could I do 72, I was relieved to hear Blake exclaim "Oh those are the Blue Ridge Mountains we can barely see over there! Maybe we shouldn't do the 72 in air this bad". The weather forecast had predicted temps well in to the 90s, with a fakefeel of 101 deg F. It was a 'yellow' day, air-qualitywise. The close-yet-faint, hazy mountains sure looked spectacular from up there on Piper's Gap Road crossing into Virginia, and I started to feel a little uplifted by the view, until we took a 45 degree switchback left on to Gatorback Hell Road, I mean, Chestnut Grove Road, which ran by the first rest stop around mile 17. Right before the rest stop we had been slingshotting in contention for penultimate position with another Bikestock participant, who was on a heavy, non-racing bike. The sagwag was right behind us. So when we set off again after the rest stop, leaving a handful of riders behind us, we were a little reassured that we weren't last. Unfortunately, the gatorback road continued for another 2.5 miles, and it was the kind of Gatorback that on a long downhill, makes you glance down at your feet to check they are still at the bottom of your legs because you can't feel them any more. This very rough and hilly road contained a dangerous downhill for skaters, which was enough to convince us not to come back next year if it's on the course again. The uphills had me wading, skates-on, through the still-wet grass, gravel and mud to get up the hills. Each time I tried to venture back out on to the road, since Blake was making it look so darned easy, I kept stumbling as I couldn't get any roll to propel myself uphill. The ditch-wading had transformed my bearings' whirring sounds into clunking, trickling sounds, but I didn't care. I was going way faster walking in the ditch than skating on the road. It was during this spectacle that the slowest bike-riders caught us and passed, leaving the sagwag politely lurking behind me, hazard-lights flashing in quiet embarrassment    :-).


Amid the hopelessness and self-hatred, I mumbled several times about just jumping in the sagwagon and being done with the whole day. Finally Blake yelled something about the North Carolina State line at the top of the hill and in my mind flashed the thought: "State line equals different pavement equals the chance for smooth pavement!!!", and I was rejuvenated enough to haul myself out of the ditch and onto the road.


Well relativity and all that...I suddenly felt proud to have come a measly 20 miles of partly horrible pavement and mountain hills, found my stroke and got happy. The descent back towards Mt. Airy was both hair-raising and awesome. It would've been a lot more fun and much less brake-pad erasing, had we known the roads and understood that the fast downhill blind curves had safe run-outs, all except one intersection, aptly named after my thigh muscles at that point: Toast Road.


Once back down towards the town of Mt. Airy, it was clear to me just how hot the day was shaping up to be, already at 11am. It was the kind of sunshine glaring down on your helmet, broiling your brain inside your skull, making you rip off your palm-sliders and read the cue sheet wrong. I remember being panicked all the way down a 1+ mile descent, convinced we had missed a turn and would have to turn around and trudge all the way back up it again, even though I knew I had been obsessive about reading each and every sign post off to the left or right, and fixating the rest of the time on the pavement for the ride's bright green spray-painted directions.


About 3 miles before the finish I was hit by Gatorade-Gag, and found myself insanely craving plain, ice-cold water, instead of the sugary electrolytes in my camelbak, which by now felt like an electric blanket on my back. The little country stores at the top-of-the-hill/nasty-pavement intersections on the outskirts of town seemed like heavenly mirages drawing me in. It was a dilemma - do I go into the store to buy ice cold water and possibly prolong being out in the heat by 10 minutes, or do I keep going, risking giddiness, and get to the cold water at the finish? I opted to risk brain- and organ-damage and keep going. We had to go back up the railroad track crossing hill, which everyone found challenging, including the cyclists. We managed approx. 35 miles in about 3 hrs 25, and I am very proud of that, given the heat and elevation profile.


Mind-game lesson learned from this ride: If you know you have been hill training, eating sensibly, getting adequate rest, and find an unfamiliar course beating you up...don't be so hard on yourself or conclude your training has been futile, because the chances are you're doing a tougher course than you realize, and possibly also in extreme weather conditions. Using 'excuses' for a less-than-optimal performance is okay, because it keeps you in a positive attitude and you will finish the course more easily than if you're trying to lug a cumbersome attitude with you the whole way.


Jack's picture

Great Report

You made me feel like I was there Elizabeth, and to be truthful, glad I wasn't. Kudos to you both for gutting it out!
eebee's picture

Bikestock Organizers were nice to us

Thanks, Jack. And to be truthful back, you would have been glad not to be there purely from a point of view of having to listen to me whine for the first 18 miles :-). I forgot to mention that the Bikestock organizers were gracious to us all the way through, and the sagwagon driver was very tactful and skilled, making sure not to aggravate any other motorists. He gave us a good buffer once we got off the gatorback, leaving plenty of room for motorists in a hurry (which there weren't, since this was up in the mountains!) if they had to speed around us. So thanks to the organizers for letting us join in.

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