The weekend finally arrived, and it was time to drive down to Lynchburg for the Storming of Thunder Ridge, my first real mountain climb.
After dealing with a work related problem, I left out of Northern Virginia at 11am, headed first to see my Grandfather in Richmond. The drive down I-95 took over 3 hours, and I didn’t get to the hospital until just after 3pm. My grandfather’s been having issues with dizzyness and vertigo, and no doctor has been able to tell him why. He’s been having these spells since 2011, when (what we believe to have been) a tornado toppled a tree into his house, and the pressure gradient from the tornado caused his ears to have problems.
After talking with him for about an hour, I had to get going. After an uneventful ride down I-64 and 501, I made it to the YMCA at just after 7pm to pick up my packet and bag, and then drove the half hour to Appomattox, which is where my hotel was. All the hotels in Lynchburg were fully booked, for reasons no one knew. Liberty University’s graduation was the week before; the only thing people could think of was that this week was the big Prom week for the local highschools, and Randolph college’s graduation.
The Swag Bag had a nice pint glass, the cool T-shirt (though I ordered a Large when I registered, I havw shrunk since, and it’s now too big), and some other things.
I went and had the obligitory before ride pasta dinner at the local strip mall Italian restaraunt. The gravy was good, meat balls weren’t all that. I should have read the sign first and I would have known what kinda greasy spoon I was in:
After dinner, I went back and spent the next 3 hours (quite excessive) getting things in order. I wasn’t sure what the weather was going to be on the ride, so I had brought a huge bag full of clothes and gear.
Made sure to hydrate, drink lots of Powerade, and then finally got to sleep at 11:30pm, with an alarm set for 5am.
Took the time to pack the car up, get my “Pre” bag and my “Post” bags situated in the car, broke down my bike and stuffed it back into the trunk of my G37, and sped off towards Lynchburg.
As you can see, it was overcast, and the pavement was damp. It was in the 70’s at the time. Being that this was going to be a century ride, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to wear, and what I would have space for to carry if I didn’t need it in the afternoon. So I didn’t bring my leg warmers, nor did I wear my Showers Pass jacket. *Mistakes were Made*
After the invocation and some reminders that this was ride was going to be on open roads and to follow all traffic laws, we set off at 7:32am.
I went out slow, having read that you should save your energy in the first half of the ride. Now, when I mean slow, I mean really slow. There were some nice rollers to ride, but because the roads were damp and unfamilliar, I got to the first rest stop at 17.1 miles in, at 1h 15m. I normally don’t ride that slow unless I’m towing Charlotte in the Burley Trailer on my Hybrid (i.e. riding a 100 pound bike).
But the scenery was amazing. It was just… Foggy.
The first rest stop set a tone for the rest of the day. I would eat something, refil the bottles, either with gatorade or water+scratch, have an orange slice, and maybe a banana, use the bathrooms, and get going about 10 minutes later.
Me, approaching the first rest stop.
After leaving the rest stop, there was a stretch down Big Island Highway. It had descent shoulders, and at that point in the morning, was not highly trafficed. The last part down to 501 was a bit scary, with water on the road, I wasn’t so enthused about going fast. Once we reached the 501, it was a short ride up towards the Blue Ridge Parkway and the start of the climb up Thunder Ridge.
The climb starts off easy. A nice 1-2% grade for the first mile and a half. Then you get to a sweeping right hand turn, and the grade pitches up to an average of 5.5%. I settled into my climbing mode: Turn the pedals at around 75rpm, and try to keep the heart rate under 160. The only time this doesn’t work is when the pitch gets too steep, but for the first half up to the rest stop, this worked perfectly.
Now, part of the reason for climbing mountains, is that the views make the suffering worth while. However, Nature gave me a big slap and said None of that, you suffer! The fog descended on the mountain as we reached mile 3.
I had started the climb with a local guy who rides this as a training ride for this Triathlon training, so he would point out that “Here’s a nice overlook, you can see all the way into the valley from here.” — FOG. Overlook… Fog… and More Fog. The only benefit to so much fog was that you couldn’t see the changes in pitch in the road, so there was not negative anticipation; you were just able to pedal.
The next rest stop was halfway up the mountain. After using the restroom and refilling, I got back on the bike and started up the harder part of the mountain.
The rest of the way up was a 6% grade, with some extended parts of 10-11% in the last mile. During those bits, my cadence dropped to the 60s, heart rate went over 160, but not into the 170 (i.e. hard work) range. I passed thru the 3800 and 3900 foot overlooks…I was going to stop to take a picture, but, Fog. Nasty Nasty Fog. If only that was the worst of the weather.
Every so often, there was a sign, or some sort of encouragement. The sign “You *ARE* a climber” tickled me so much I was giddy. I was a climber. In 10 months, I’m riding up a HC climb and not falling over. It was completely unbelieveable to me, and the sign just put that thought into my head for the first time.
Coming around the false flat right before the top, you could hear the rest stop before you could see it. Cowbells, clappers, cheers, and then there it was… The top of the climb. I had made it. And I didn’t pass out, fall over, or die.
While I was standing there, eating and refilling, the skies didn’t so much as open, but started to condense worse around us. It started to rain… Hard. And the worst time for it, as now it was time for the 13 mile descent back to the valley.
Limited sight lines, rivers of water rolling across the road, driving rain, and hypothermia. At around 20mph, everywhere you are wet gets cold. At times I thought I was going to shake myself off the bike with uncontrollable shivering. I had to get into the drops to get enough leverage on the brake levers to control my speed because of the wet roads. But this was only the first part of the descent.
At the turn off onto route 43, there was a truck that was taking people down to the bottom of 43, but it was going to be at least a half hour wait, as it was already full and would have to come back up for me.
Here’s what the state says about Peaks of Otter:
The Peaks of Otter trail system truly offers everyone an opportunity to enjoy the Virginia Blue Ridge at its very best. Trail difficulty and length vary over a wide range — providing challenge to the experienced and unparalleled opportunity for the beginner or physically challenged.
WSET-TV, Channel 13 in Lynchburg had this to say about Rt 43 on the 23rd of April:
An Iowa man is in Roanoke Memorial Hospital after wrecking his bicycle while riding down a mountain in Bedford County.
Joseph Lechtenberg was riding in a group cycling event when he wrecked his bike on Route 43 just below the Peaks of Otter.
Fellow cyclists estimate he was going about 40 miles-per-hour when he crashed down a 10-foot embankment.
A park ranger found Lechtenberg unresponsive and pinned between rocks.
He was flown by Life Guard 10 with possible head injuries.
I have this to say about Rt 43:
This was the scarriest 9 minutes of my life. Ever.
But, I made it down without crashing, and only a few moments of pucker when my numb hands were having problems working the brake levers, and the brakes started slipping.
Shortly after the descent was rest stop #4. MC Hammer was playing on the radio. Did the usual, and rode off towards stop #5. The rain continued in bits.
At Rest stop #5, it was decision time. I had reached it well before the century cut off time, but the rain started coming down even harder, so I decided to ditch the century and ride just the 75. I was cold, but I had the legs for the century, but I really didn’t relish riding in driving rain for another 40 miles.
Eventually as I got closer towards the finish, the rain abated, and even had some peaks of sun. But it got really lonely as I ended up riding the entirety of the last 16 miles back alone. There was a neat neighborhood the route took us through, and after leaving there I put the hammer down to the last 5 miles.
If it weren’t for the weather, I would have enjoyed the Storming of Thunder Ridge much more than I did. The volunteer staff was amazing. Filled with positivity and cheer on such a crappy day. Every one of them helpful and awesome. The rest stops were well stocked, and until I got to rest stop 5, the majority of the traffic I had to deal with were the SAG vehicles. I just wish that there was no fog or rain. I will have to go back and ride the mountain again on a clear day. I’m hoping to go back next year, and finish the century!