After basically spending my week on Zwift’s Watopia, I was looking forward to getting outside for my weekly Saturday morning excursion with the guys. The only thing I was not looking forward to was the 2,500 feet of climbing we typically do over the 28 mile route. I could only hope it wouldn’t be a slugfest at the numerous sprint zones along the way.
I pulled into the shop to find Luis, Matt, and Art just arriving. There were also two other guys I had not met before; Mitch and Adam. We waited for a few minutes to see if anyone else would show. While waiting, we discussed the plans for the day.
Only Art and Luis seemed to have a strong desire to ride a certain route. So, we all decided to repeat last Saturday morning’s route with a little alteration on the other side of Paris Mountain. With that all decided it was time to execute.
Matt and I took the front and we headed out talking as we moved along on a beautiful morning. It was a little humid, but there was also a breeze and the sun was still low enough that it wasn’t using the humidity to boil our already sweating skin. It was going to be a good ride!
The first part of the ride takes you along the base of Paris Mountain. There are no large climbs, but there are numerous rollers that can have a sting if you take them fast enough. Thankfully, I didn’t think we were setting too hard of a pace.
Then we reached the smooth tarmac of Parker Road and we headed up what is called the Evangelical Climb due to a camp along the road. I don’t think I have ever attempted this segment at full gas. It is deceptive in that it appears you could fly along it, but you gain over 130 feet over the mile distance.
It was here I noticed Mitch starting to wain. Everyone else was tapping out a tempo that suited each individual and they were all moving away from the slower rider. So, I backed off and allowed myself to get overtaken.
Mitch was riding a new Giant bicycle with road disc brakes. It was the first time I had ridden with anyone who had a full on road setup with disc brakes. I asked him if his name was Mitch. He replied in affirmative with somewhat of a surprise as if to say, “How did you know?” I told him I had heard the guys in the shop talking about his new ride.
We continued along until we came to the first direct turn since we had been dropped by the others. They weren’t there waiting for us. So, I led Mitch off of Parker onto Phillips Trail.
Phillips Trail is currently packed dirt and gravel as it awaits resurfacing. It makes it a nice diversion from the normal asphalt, but it also has some biting little rises in it. I knew it would take some time for the two of us to make it. I was hoping the guys would be waiting for us as we intersected Patrol Club Road.
They weren’t there. “Man,” I said to Mitch. “I can’t believe they didn’t wait for us!” Surely they would be at the next stop sign. So, we pushed on along the long stretch of Pilot Road to Old Buncombe Road. They just had to be there.
I looked at my phone. There was a text message. “Where did you go?” Matt was asking.
“I had to drop back with Mitch.” I replied. “Pick a stop sign and wait for us. We are just now on Buncombe.” I put the phone back in my pocket and began to pull Mitch in my draft toward the next stop sign at Poinsett Highway.
Ahead I could see some riders. That might be our missing comrades. So, I put my head down a bit and picked up the pace. However, as we got closer, I could see it was a different group.
Once again I pulled out my phone. There was a new message from Matt. It had me staring at the phone in disbelief.
“We are at Philips and Patrol. We will head to Buncombe.”
I then replied to Matt as a plan began to form in my mind.
“How did that happen? We turned right onto Phillips and I never saw you. Just keep riding and we will meet you at Tandem.”
My thought was that I could take Mitch on a short cut and cut off the loop that would take the route out to the Green Valley Country Club. I could do this by turning off of Roe Ford Road onto the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The SRT and the full route would then meet up again at the crepe and coffee shop named Tandem. This way the guys could get in their full miles and Mitch could take his time and get ready for the push back to the shop.
Then something unexpected happened. I pulled out my phone to see Matt’s reply to my message. Mitch and I were now rolling peacefully along the bike path. That peace was shattered when I noticed my message to Matt was hung.
The Message app had not sent it. I closed and reopened the app and all my messages were gone! ALL of them. So, I rebooted the phone and by the time I got the new message composed and sent, Mitch and I were almost in TR proper.
Then came Matt’s reply. “Ha. We are now at Old Parker and Buncombe. We will meet you at Pilot and Old Buncombe. We never turned on Phillips.” Well, that wasn’t going to work.
I tried to salvage my idea. “Sorry. My text messaging crashed. We are on the SRT headed to Travelers Rest. Keep riding along the normal route at a good speed. We will go to Tandem and then backtrack on the route. We will meet you then.”
Mitch and I passed Tandem and then headed along the route as I mentioned. I decided to keep the guys up-to-date with where we were so we could make a proper junction. Then I got another text from Matt.
“We are at Tandem.”
“So you guys did not continue on the normal route? Mitch is having trouble staying up. He would not be able to maintain the pace. We are headed back to you on Sweetgum and McElhaney.”
Finally, we were all back together and we decided to take the direct route to the base of Paris Mountain. A couple of the guys had time constraints and we had already gotten too far behind the clock. Not everyone was happy with it, but we had to do what we had to do.
At the base of Altamont Road, Luis decided to roll on in a different direction to get some more miles. He would later return to the mountain and cross over it to the shop and his waiting truck. The rest of us headed up the 2.2 miles climb.
I was rolling talking with Matt and noticed on the water tower section that I was still riding in my 53 though I was all the way up on my 32 cog. I decided to ride the rest of the way in the big ring. It would give me a challenge.
The slower pace in the first part of the climb had me feeling a little spritely for the last third or so. Another rider who was just descending the mountain when we turned up it had joined us and he was just on Matt’s wheel as I looked back to see a gap had formed. I couldn’t help it. I just had to keep him behind me.
From that point on I rode pretty much at around 350 to 400 watts with that rider slowly pulling himself towards me. Then right before the wall as he was about to make contact, I stood and pushed to the top. I could see his shadow disappear from behind me and I cross the line with a few seconds to spare.
As he crested I called out, “Good job!” And he replied with, “Thanks for the extra motivation!” as he kept rolling. I stopped to wait for my crew.
Matt came up. Then Art followed. Art said he was just going to roll on. He was supposed to meet his wife and extend his ride.
Then Adam came and went. Matt then said that he would need to roll. Mitch had not yet arrived.
I headed down to find him. I did as he was suffering through the dreaded section I call the “Box of Death” (named after a box at the top of the section where I typically begin to feel the full brunt of an effort up Altamont). He was standing along side the road.
I encouraged him to mount up again and turn the pedals just enough to keep the bike moving. There was no need to kill himself on the climb. I’d stay with him.
During conversation along the route, I had learned that this was his first real ride on the Giant and that he had only ridden the shop ride twice. Both other attempts had been the traditional Hour of Power route. Something dawned on me.
“So,” I slowly said. “This is your first climb of Paris Mountain?”
Wow, poor Mitch and his Giant were getting a baptism by fire! All the more reason I wanted to help him to keep the pedals turning. I was offering words of encouragement and finding an excuse here or there to stop.
Finally, we made it.
The way back to the shop was uneventful. Where Mitch had to struggle on the climb, he seemed very comfortable descending on his machine. Before we knew it, we were standing drinking a cup of coffee and enjoying his accomplishment.
“I’m sorry I held you guys up,” Mitch said. “No.” I replied. “I’m glad you came. Otherwise all we would have done was what we always do.” I let him know I was happy to experience his adventure with him.
And I meant it.