I first heard of Mountains Of Misery about 8 years ago, when I was living in Virginia Beach, and my first thought was, “who in their right mind would want to do that to themselves???” That, of course, was well before my cycling became my passion………..or some might say obsession. Then, when this 50 Rides thing came about it only made sense to check off my home state with one of the more difficult rides east of the Rockies. Right?
Sunday morning dawned with spectacular sunshine, zero wind and………..Holy CRAP! It’s 50 degrees!!! You would think, especially after my Texas debacle, I’d stop relying on weather reports to determine my ride attire requirements. Sometimes I’m not nearly as smart as your average bear. I came prepared for the forecast low of 67 degrees, with merely thin arm warmers to get me through to the warmth of the day. Not adequate for the temps at the start, particularly when you add in moving at 15 mph, in the shade. Yes, 15 mph.
I take quite some time for my legs to warm up and stop feeling like blocks of concrete oatmeal. You riders know what I mean. It took a good 40 minutes for me to actually begin to feel comfortably warm, both leg-wise and body temperature.
My strength as a rider lies in my endurance and ability to spin. If I can spin my pedals, vice stomping/mashing on them, I can maintain decent speeds and be comfortable all day long. Once it comes to requiring shear power, which for me is typically REALLY high winds or grades over 8-10%, my performance drops significantly. Knowing this ride ends with a 6 mile climb, the last 2-3 of which average 10+% of grade, my plan for the day was Conserve, Conserve, Conserve. I was going to need all my available leg strength to get through those last miles so I would intentionally under exert through all the other climbs of the day and not push too hard where there was flat terrain. All the work I’d done over the winter and earlier in the spring has me very confident in my nutrition and hydration regimen. One less thing to focus on or worry about allowing me to really focus on my riding effort for the day.
I stopped at rest stops 1, 3, 5, and 7 as planned. The first was just a quick water top-off and snack. In this regard I learned my lesson from Texas. DON’T PASS UP WATER. By mile 35 I was starting to get rather hungry, so I snarfed down a fair bit of food (1.5 P,B&J sandwich, a few slices of cheese, a pickle, some Sport Legs and a gel) at rest stop #3 (mile 44).
I was a bit concerned all that might bother my tummy, especially since it was getting pretty warm, but I had no issues at all. Rest stop 5 & 6 are the same spot, at the start and end of a 12 mile loop. I grabbed another pickle (more for the taste than any fear of cramping), water and a gel at #5 and only stopped quickly as I came back by to slather on some more sunscreen. Another lesson learned from Texas. You may be able to tell, this ride has been around a while and the support is excellent. Well stocked rest stops with lots of variety and actually located where the course map says they will be. THEY supplied the little extras that earn very high marks from riders like me, such as sunscreen, energy gel, electrolytes, etc.
This 12-mile loop through Clover Hollow may be the most scenic stretch I’ve experienced in any of these rides. It starts following a narrow, shaded stream gully, just wide enough for the stream and road, hills rising straight up on either side. After a few miles you come around a bend and it opens in to a most bucolic valley. If you ever ride in the Blacksburg/Newport area be sure not to miss this gem.
Opening to Clover Hollow
93 miles and I wasn’t miserable yet. In fact, I was feeling quite good. Rest stop #7 was a quickie. Just enough time to refill my water, suck down a gel, let my legs recover from the good climb of the last few miles and get psyched up for the final 8 miles. Now the test to see if my plan had worked. From #7 it’s a nice little downhill for 2 miles and essentially all up from there, gently at first then steeper and steeper. Through mile 98 I was encouraged, thinking to myself if the whole climb was like this there’s no problem. Yep, that came to bite me. No sooner had my Garmin clicked to 99.0 than the grade rose quickly to double digits……….and stayed there.
You would not think it possible to pedal less than 3 mph for 2.1 miles, up grades which reached at least 16%, without falling over but apparently it can be done. As my legs strained harder my heart beat faster, and faster……..and faster. It was finally my heart, pegged near 180 bpm, not my legs which brought me to stopping for a rest. In fact, it brought me to stopping twice in those last two miles. I’ll admit it, I was kinda miserable. The second time fantastic volunteers, with my encouragement, doused my neck with ice water. If it hadn’t been going at max rate my heart may have stopped right there, though after the initial shock it felt glorious. No comparison however to the thrill and overwhelming relief a half mile later of crossing that finish line.
Lo and behold, I LOVE it when a plan comes together. My legs got me through with flying colors and I suffer no disappointment in joining the many who needed a short break or two to conquer that climb up Doe Mountain/Bald Knob. Mountains Of Misery should be on your biking bucket list. It is 01.1 miles through beautiful farm country in southwestern Virginia. With more than 10,000 ft of climbing it is truly a challenge; one worthy of your efforts. Of course, that’s much easier to say now that I’ve crossed that finish line.
Two weeks to recover till I head off to Rhode Island.