30 Years Of Assaulting Mount Mitchell
1986 Photo By Walter Ezell
Assault On Mitchell
As of this May it's a 35 year-old bicycle ride up the tallest mountain east of the Rockies.
Located in a 1,855-acre North Carolina State Park, Mount Mitchell is 6,684 feet. The summit of Mt. Mitchell is located 5 miles up NC 128 right off the Blue Ridge Parkway.Mile marker 355 is where you leave the Parkway to ascend into the North Carolina State Park.Mount Mitchell is about 35 miles north of Asheville, NC.
The ride was started mostly by John Bryan and Bill Carlisle. The first "Assault" was in 1976. The bike ride leaves Spartanburg and accumulates close to 12,000 feet of climbing before the riders collapse at the top.
The Assault remains one of the hardest and most beautiful cycling events in America. At one time the ride attracted 1800 riders and easily surpass that today. The number of riders is now limited because of the small "park" facilities and number of automobile drivers on the Blue Ridge Parkway and inside the Mitchell State Park. The number of riders today is limited to 1000.
Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains
A Short Summary Of 30 Years "Assaulting Mitchell"
I have ridden the Assault 29 times now. This year of 2010 will be number 30. With that many completions a guy can run the gamut of stories.
My first was the
day after riding from Columbia to Spartanburg. I had missed
the first 5 Assaults by being out of the loop. The year was 1981. I've done every Assault on Mitchell since then. I've completed every one, including on with a broken clavicle.
In 1981 for my first Assault, I had ridden over
the mountains near Asheville
and Waynesville to see a young lady earlier in the year and thought there would be
hard but no big deal. My smallest chain-ring on the front was a 43. My largest on the
rear was a 22 tooth sprocket. Today I use lower gears and I’d feel really silly to use anything
larger on the front than a 34 and nothing smaller than a 27 on the rear. But
way back then I was young and dumb. Those gears back then were too big.
There was wailing and gnashing of teeth but I made it. I believe I was seventh in my first one. I ran out of fluids in Marion, about 30 from the top, and had to stop and gas up. I also stopped at a stream and got water on highway 80. I never saw a rest area that first year. A van stopped and gave me water once.
I’m 60 now.
I’ve ridden Mitchell 29 times total. Kent Clary who died
years ago, and I rode it many times other than “the Assault Day”. Kent would talk me into doing "training rides up Mitchell" and "one more ride" until we had an absolutely terrible ordeal. We would almost freeze to death on our last one for the year.
There are many actual Assaults On Mt. Mitchell that stand out. Maybe they are all equal. I suffered on everyone.
The first three years I thought I’d retire after each one. There were many Assaults I’ve felt slighted a bit until I get down the road a piece and look back.
The first I saw no rest stops. I was given water on highway 80 around Haynes Eyebrow, the hard spot. I had gotten water out of a stream. I limped in. For a couple weeks afterward I had flu symptoms.
In other rides
I’d get to the top and then help hand out food to the finishers. After riding,
getting to the top almost dead on one ride, I got a little joy when after giving
food to one rider he asked,”you know this is hard don’t you?” Yeah buddy- I knew.
The ride changed courses maybe a dozen times.
The riders changed. Peter Springer used to finish first every year. Umpteen-time state champ Chris Hardwick of Columbia finished first once. Don Hartke finished first several times until he lost a friend cycling and hung it up for a while. Jim Doyle finished right in front of Glenn Thrift once. Glenn trained Jim Doyle so well that Jim beat Glenn. Glenn Thrift is/was an exceptional racer and now a coach and USA Cycling official. George Meyers won it 5 times. George is one of the nicest winners ever.
Pros have ridden the Assault and set really high standards. The pros are always smarter than the rest of us. Peter Springer didn't like to draft. There were many of us who "pulled our weight. We actually pulled at the front. We took our turn. The "elite" don't do this. They bring their "hench-men" who allow the "extra" to pull before the hench-men" take over. Occasionally rogue riders have jumped in at the beginning to shed and shred the "extras" off and out of the field. The "hench-men" always protect the "chosen", the "elite", the winners now.
I tried to finish first every year. I just wasn’t up to it. I finished in front of some of the region’s best riders. Yes it was a fluke. But there were some days when I rode with some of the best.
I pointed out the sharp curve at 45 miles out to John Howard and Pete Penseyres on different Assaults. Other riders were schmoozing and I just rode up-side them and told them the facts of life about the bad curves ahead. They both thanked me.
I’ve finished before a national team member and other great riders before.
I’ve also almost finished last. About a quarter mile from the sharp curve at 45 miles, a rider hooked handlebars with me and we did some brake dancing on the highway. Right away I knew my streak of Assaults had ended. I couldn’t move my arm. The left clavicle was a mess. My clothes, helmet, computerized speedometer/altimeter, heart monitor, and bicycle were gone.
I had to go to the hospital. I had to see if this broken clavicle was life threatening. Besides, I couldn’t just sit on the road.
The bones were not life-threatening. I called my bicycle shop that I built from scratch, ProBikes, in Asheville, NC. I arranged for a new bike, clothes, and helmet to be brought down to St.LukesHospital. I sat outside of the emergency room waiting for days it seemed. I was taken back to the spot of the crash. I started from there to finish.
News of my crash traveled quickly through the riders. Nick Dolby was one Assault behind me. If I didn’t finish we’d be tied. For a short while we were tied.
A friend who rode the “Assault on Marion” rode out to meet me and ride with me, to give me shielding from the wind couldn’t keep up.
I couldn’t change gears much. It was painful but I was an ex-infantry Marine in Vietnam and I’d been married twice so the pain was very do-able.
When I got to the Blue Ridge Parkway I thought I’d be turned around and back to the Campground in Marion. They turn people away after some time because, mathematically, the riders can’t finish. I was so late getting there that the ranger wasn’t there to turn me back.. The finish line was bare. Most riders were well on their way back to Spartanburg by bus or car. The buses were all gone. I finished ahead of 2 riders.
This wasn’t my worst day. My worst day on the bike was on Mitchell since then. Maybe it was also one of my best. I was in pain. My lower back and neck were awful. When I stood to relieve the pain I became dizzy.
I don’t like to stop at rest stops or to pee. This “worst day” I lay down twice on Highway 80. I lay down twice again on the Blue Ridge Parkway. That means I was bad enough to lie down four times in the last 25 miles. People who I had finished in front of for decades were looking at me from the buses as I had looked at them for decades riding down on the busses as they were still struggling.
I rode with the flu one year Came down with the flu the eve of the Assault.
We’ve ridden with horses running in our peloton.
I’ve been sick on my stomach, run over a dead cat, lost a water-bottle and cage, had a flat, and crashed all in one ride.
On another ride a year or so ago I was with the lead group going over Bill’s Hill and saw a young man with his chain in his hand. I gave up a better finish to help him with his chain. I had a repair link and a conscience.
Years ago, when allowed, I rode back to Spartanburg after riding the Assault. It was torture, dangerous, and a thousand degrees with no “rest-stops” on our trip back. I crawled into the bed of my truck and slept throwing up intermittently.
A few years ago I had an extraordinary ride when the route went around Asheville because of a rock slide. The distance was 115 miles that day. It was the best ride I had in years and my daughter was able to see me ride.
My fastest finish was 5:38 in 1988. This was the year my daughter would be born.
There were years when I finished ahead of great cyclists and there have been years when I felt the agony of defeat. To many of us it has been a gut check the first Sunday in June, The third Saturday in May, or the first Monday in June. It’s been the world championship or the NC/SC State Championship. It’s been a test to see what condition our condition is in.
Nick Dolby-29 Assaults This year of 2010
The Assault On Mount Mitchell 2009
Last year, 2009, the day before the Assault On Mount Mitchell, I
went to see Mrs. Clary in Gaffney, South Carolina.
Mrs. Clary is the 87 year old mother of my friend Kent who died 12 years before.
I saw his bike in the enclosed patio area just as he had left it 12 years before.
I left feeling sad, but I was glad that I saw her once again.
She calls every year before the Assault on Mitchell to wish me luck.
I stopped at a rest stop between Gaffney and Spartanburg.
I didn't want to see anyone else today/tonight.
I slept in the back seat of my 94 Caddy with rain falling.
Music filled my head-
"Lay your head upon my pillow.
Hold your warm and tender body close to mine.
Hear the whisper of the raindrops,
Falling softly upon my window,
And make believe you love me,
One more time, for the good times."
Leaving Sparkle City
The rain cleared and so did the roads long before we left Spartanburg.
I hadn't ridden a century in months.
I tried to ride a century (100 miles) twice in the last several weeks and pain forced me to quit at 80 miles. The increasing pain is forcing to shorter rides. I purposely, but without any choice as well, took it easier starting out. I wanted to spin all day and save my legs as much as possible.
This is the spot where Peter Springer and I dropped a pack once while riding a local century. Peter and I rode together all day. It was my greatest cycling achievement to that point.
The rolling hills are so pretty in this piedmont. I was dropped. No one in front-no one behind.
All at once the Calvary arrives. They run over my teepee and shoot my horse.
I spin. Bob Scofield has joined the lead pack. I'm joining new packs as well.
It's nice to have some of that wind blocked.
I'm glad these guys have something to smile about.
Eat, drink, and survive!
This spot was indeed so beautiful but you'll have to imagine the light show.
This is past Bill's Hill. I could only take pics occasionally as I wanted to breathe and what-not.
Large group, fast, and plenty of cover from the wind.
A Straight line of riders booking down the road on a beautiful day.
Whoops. A hill came up.
We're getting very close to Marion- probably Sugar Hill Road or closer.
Tom Johnson's Campground in Marion is always a welcome sight.-30 miles straight up to go.
These folks thought it was funny that a rider was taking photos of them.
Highway 80 and a calm before the storm.
This will be the real battle and will last for hours.
Climbing without much relief is the agenda.
I needed to take some pics of the hard climb on 80 but I'd rather someone else do it.
Ouch. The road really pitches up here at Hayne"s Eyebrow. Arrrgh!
Chris Boone, Parkway record holder, left a coke with a lady at 80. She noticed me, my clothes, my hair, she handed it off. I sat. I drank. I wanted to quit.
Thanks Chris. I was doubled over with pain. The coke brought back a little life.
Some pics were too washed out because the setting slipped. I repaired as possible adding gamma.
That's where we're going but I died about 30 miles ago. I wish the pain had.
My back is torturing me. My stomach hurts. There is a pain in my right breast I've never had before.
Some of the pain in my lower right hip switches over to the left.
My neck is terrible- pushing pain through the shoulders and down the arms.
There's a pain from the bad discs in the middle of the back.
The view is majestic.
My legs want to cramp when I stand. I nurse them.
This is just before the 2 mile downhill at mile marker 352.
5 miles to go. You can see 2 riders on the climb off the Parkway. Below is an inset of the above.
Arrrgh. The grade steepens like heck!
The parking lets you know the end is near.
There is now a person directing you into the cones and finish line.
I'm not crazy about the time but it beats coming in later.
We get shuttled down to Marion and Tom Johnson's Campground by buses and then on to Spartanburg. Some folks may not make it back to Spartanburg before midnight.
The Assault On Mt. Mitchell makes a very long day!
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