The Storming of Thunder Ridge cycling event was my introduction to group riding. Over the past few years I have developed a passing knowledge of street and trail running culture, but cycling has always just been that cross training thing I do on Tuesdays and Fridays with no goals unto itself except put the miles in and get it done as fast as possible. When the Angels Race Triathlon introduced me to one aspect of competitive cycling I wanted to dig a little deeper with it and try some cycling events.
So when a friend told me about this ride I looked into it and knew it would be a great choice for my first organized group ride. I live 1/2 mile from Mile Post 105 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I go there to run or bike 3 to 4 times a week. Typically my cycling routes take me South to Mile Post 121 and North to Mile Post 85. Anything North of Mile Post 85 has been outside of my cycling range, but still well within my curiosity range, so having the chance to add 20 parkway miles to the lengths of parkway that I've cycled while simultaneously having food/aid stations and mechanical support (should I have needed it) was a no brainer.
Just arriving on the scene I knew I was in for a treat. I unloaded my bike, gave it a good inspection and cruised the lot to see what kinda rides experienced cycling enthusiasts take to these types of events. I was encouraged to see so many Trek Bontragers getting ready for usage. I had been putting off purchasing a road bike for some time and only recently decided on a used Bontrager myself. Seeing so many others on the scene was like a shot of positive reinforcement that I had made a good choice.
As the ride started it was great to hear the sound that so many of my www.dailymile.com friends have described. The sound of several hundred people clipping into our pedals all at once. Hearing that was like a shot of adrenaline letting me know that for the next 67 miles weakness would not be tolerated. Then just in the first few miles I quickly learned how to read the sound of gear changes in the riders in front of me to let me know how to prepare my own gear changes. As a solo rider it was just more feedback than I was used to and I welcomed it.
After a few miles I found myself settled in with a pack and the routine of it all began to feel comfortable. I hardly ever take breaks when I'm out cycling so I was hesitant to incorporate the aid stations into my adventure, but I was doing this with an open mind and I had read somewhere (maybe the SOTR web page?) that taking 5 minute breaks at the aid stations would help me to finish strong. My previous longest ride, a 64 miler on a hybrid between Explore Park and Peaks of Otter with only 2 bottles of water and an energy bar, had exhausted me almost to the point of despair. I didn't want this ride to be anything like that and besides SOTR isn't a race, it's a social ride, so a few short breaks seemed a good idea on many levels.
Aid station #1 (mile 13 maybe?) was like a courtesy stop. I really didn't need a break, but it seemed a good time to fuel up for the next segment. I grabbed a banana and some gatorade then got back on my way. A few miles later and here comes the Parkway and the infamous 13 mile climb with 3100 ft of elevation gain. Now, I may be new to group rides, but I'm no rookie climbing hills, still I had some question going into it if this climb was going to be painful or merely formidable. At an elevation of nearly 4000 ft this was without doubt my highest ride and I didn't know if that would effect me somehow. Fortunately it was well within my ability, but WOW! I will remember that one, 13 miles of slow, steady effort (with another brief break at Aid Station #2 half way up). I stayed in the first gear of the middle chain ring for most of it.
Did I mention the rain? About half way up the 3100 ft climb, right before I got to Aid Station #2, a torrential downpour fell from the sky. A fellow cyclist had just finished saying how glad he was to not have to climb this under a hot sun and next thing ya know WHAM! Torrential downpour for 30 minutes while I climb 1500 ft over 7 more miles. Still, it wasn't too bad and it had about quit by the time I got to the top and Aid Station #3.
I grabbed a quick bite at AS#3 and took off down the mountain. Unfortunately I was to be denied the full reward of a fast descent due to having some inexperience with wet brakes and this section of road. Better to play it safe so I coasted some and kept my speeds down. Even though I wasn't pedaling downhill much, just coasting alone had me going into some blind turns faster than what I thought might be safe, so I ended up riding my brakes rather hard for the descent. Fortunately they held out and I made it to AS#4 at the bottom of the mountain in one piece.
After absorbing a few more calories at AS#4 I took off for the 12 or so miles of rolling hills to the finish. By this time fatigue was setting in and I was ready for it when i got there. It was unfortunate that I had to be at work at 3 so I had to hurry home and get ready and couldn't stay to socialize and enjoy the provided massage, I did make time for the included post race pizza though. All in all a great ride! Hope to do another soon!
Final Results: 67.07 miles in 4 hrs 24 min 59 sec (15.2 mph) excluding 16 min 9 sec at Aid Stations
4 hrs 41 min 8 sec (14.3 mph) including 16 min 9 sec at Aid Stations