Although B2B is not an officially sanctioned race, the organizers conduct it just as professionally (with the exception of neutral support). Cops manage the major crossings, volunteers provide hand-offs at the dozen feed stations, and the event is officially timed with the aid of some magnetic shoe things.
I last did this ride in 1999. Now 10 years older but about 10 pounds lighter I had somehow forgotten how much suffering was involved and figured this was a good time to tackle the challenge, despite falling ill a couple of weeks beforehand.
Due to constant rain and very heavy fog, this year was utter torture for the 299 finishers and 371 non-finishers who braved the elements. I believe there may have been another 130 non-starters who stayed in their hotel rooms enjoying the Golden Girls marathon on tv. While I'm sure I would have felt some sense of accomplishment doing that, I was obligated to finish this ride as we had already driven down from Philadelphia (en-route to a wedding in Nashville the following weekend).
The Grandfather Mountain staff said riders could not enter the park before 3pm. To accommodate both the riders and this odd rule two start times were offered - 10 and 11 am, with slower riders encouraged to start first. To me this was a welcome change from the ungodly pre-dawn start times of most big rides. Riders were advised to start at the later time if they estimated they would be pushing the 3pm threshold.
I was on the fence about which group to join. I saw several very fit looking riders and expensive bikes in the 10am pack. I was still riding the same Litespeed I used in 1999. The word going around was that more rain was on the way (this turned out to be true for everyone). In the end I felt the risk of having an inexperienced rider fall in front of me to be the deciding factor to go with the second group. I knew I would have to pass several of that first group anyway but it would be on the later climbs instead of the early rollers. Ironically I almost got clipped by some idiot drifting carelessly in our pack. At the end there was considerable overlap in finishing times between the two groups.
The two times I did this ride ('98 and '99) I got dropped by the leaders on the 13 mile climb up NC181, then spent the rest of the ride either riding alone or with a couple other guys. Despite my best efforts this year turned out roughly the same except I stuck with that front group for about half the climb instead of just the first couple miles. Remind me to buy a compact crank.
This climb is very difficult psychologically - a relentless slog up a roughly-paved 4 lane highway. I was not very familiar with the profile and prematurely thought I had crested three times - each time putting in a kick over the "top". The fog would clear and I would see yet another rise.
Feeling dispirited and exhausted, I nearly froze to death on the descents of 181 and the Blue Ridge Parkway and was eventually caught by a small group that stuck together until the ascent of Grandfather. I was amazed by how few words were exchanged in that group during the hour or so we traded pulls through the fog and rain, which only got worse as we neared the finish. One guy did say something that stuck with me, "It's like we're riding through a horror movie."
After crawling to the finish in a 39x27, I was very fortunate that Mary Ellen had the foresight to drive up to the summit well in advance to meet me with a warm car. I thanked her by singing the Golden Girls theme song all the way to the hotel.
- B2B '09 Results:
- An account by Bruce Humphries (1st place)
- Some more blog posts on the '09 ride: