I should have been worried about this ride. Earlier in the week, what I think may have been a painful acid reflux episode sent me scurrying to my cardiologist in fear that I’d had a heart attack while leaving behind a coating of bronchial sludge in each lung. Also, my Fuji had undergone minor, yet important, modifications including the installation of a new seat and a 3/4” lowering of the seat post. Because of my bronchitis I had not been on the bike since these adjustments had been completed.
That’s me at Jamestown Presbyterian Church before I started as well as my new seat and lowered seat post. I had no idea of the difficulties I would soon encounter:
Excitement displaced the restraint a more temperate person might have felt. Excitement about being back on the bike. Excitement about testing the modifications to see if they made a difference. Excitement about completing my 14th “No Stops” endurance training ride. One that would mirror last year’s Hamil-Kerr Challenge by starting at Jamestown Presbyterian Church on Guilford College Road and ascending Caraway Mountain on the outskirts of Asheboro before looping back to the church.
The thought never occurred to me that taking on a 1.62 mile climb with a 2.8% average grade before charging ahead without respite into the rolling terrain surrounding Lake Lucas might prove Custerian in its mindless audacity given my weakened condition and untested modified mechanical steed.
2,428′ of gain on a 58 mile route with a Level 5 climb up Caraway Mountain is no joke:
At least not until the first hill where my chest tightened and my respiration quickened.
“Oh crap!” I thought. “How am I going to get up Caraway if I’m feeling like this less than 2 miles into this 55 mile route?”
Caraway. A rite of passage for local cyclists. A sometimes boogeyman used to weaken the will and hobble the spirit. The angst associated with these memories came flooding back into my mind. Maybe I would pedal to my half-brother Gary’s house nearby and surprise him with a visit. Maybe I would see my friends Felicia and David out in their yard giving me an excuse to stop and chat as I passed their residence. Maybe I would truncate the route to 25 miles by turning around at the Guil-Rand Fire Station on Harlow Road. The last thing I wanted was to falter halfway up Caraway.
My confidence returned as my chest loosened and my respiration slowed after cresting this initial hill, and I pushed on towards Cedar Square and Sophia. On Edgar Road a German Shepherd mix gave pursuit, which distracted me at least from an upcoming short climb. Closing in on Flint Hill community, I could see Caraway Mountain in the distance and felt the uncertainty return as I labored up the last two significant hills before reaching Caraway Creek.
The big hump in the middle of the frame is Caraway Mountain as seen from a distance:
Caraway Creek marks the beginning of the mountain and the Caraway Velo Club Adopt-A-Highway sign just past the bridge seems to morph occasionally into an “Abandon Ye All Hope” admonition.
Ignoring this intermittent phantasmagoric warning, I found a comfortable gear and began to climb. The chest strain and fast breaths reemerged after about half a mile as I closed in on Camp Caraway. I slipped the chain into the small ring after reaching the steepest and longest part of the ascent a short distance past the camp. Still, my chest constriction intensified as the congestion in my lungs seemed to thicken with each pedal stroke.
Random motivational thoughts raced across my mind as I kept going. I could see Camp Mundo Vista ahead as I rounded another curve. If I could just get to the entrance of Mundo Vista, I would have finished the hardest section of the climb, and the easing of the gradient would make me feel like a cork bobbing to the top of a wave as I sailed up the rest of the hill. But could I get there?
Somehow I did even though my bronchial passages felt increasingly clogged after a tough first 25 miles. And I still had 30 miles to go. But Caraway had been beaten.
Watch the video as I take you on a guided tour up Caraway Mountain:
The route flattened out at the top of the mountain before beginning a long descent to the Lake Lucas dam on Old Lexington Road, giving me much needed recovery time. Of course, what goes down must come up, and all too soon I began another extended climb from the dam to Lake Lucas Road.
Partial view of Lake Lucas. Picture taken from the bridge on Lake Lucas Road:
From that point to Highway 311, rolling hills and lengthy inclines vexed me for the next four to five miles. The pasta I’d eaten prior to the ride seemed a fleeting memory as I felt my strength begin to wane, which prompted me to drop back down to the small ring and begin prodigious consumption of protein bars and Gator Ade while remaining on the bike.
My energy level had returned to normal by mile 35, which was good because my notoriously bad sense of direction tricked me into turning the wrong way onto Branson Davis Road. Almost two miles later, I rolled back into Sophia before realizing what I’d done. I kicked myself for adding what would amount to nearly four extra miles to the route, and as I turned 180 degrees to continue this prolonged journey, I felt a sharp twinge in my right quadriceps. I was starting to cramp.
“A CRAMP?! You gotta be kidding me! It’s 50 degrees, and I’ve been drinking Gator Ade!” I fumed.
Then I remembered. The seat post. I’d lowered it by ¾” after two friends told me my hips were moving up and down with each rotation and hindering the efficiency of my pedal stroke.
¾’ proved too large a drop as both legs were cramping by the time I reached Davis Country Road. Still, I was determined to finish and pushed through the pain even though the hills on Groometown Road and Kivett Drive made me wince and yelp.
That seat post is too low and caused me to experience leg cramps during this ride:
The discomfort eased off near the intersection of Guilford College Road and Gate City Boulevard, and I arrived back at Jamestown Presbyterian Church a few minutes later. I achieved my goal having ridden about 58.4 miles with no stops. My average speed was only 13 mph, but given I was cycling a difficult route alone in a weakened physical state, I’ll take it and officially declare the Hamil-Kerr Challenge to be the 14th NO STOP ride I’ve completed.
Here’s my route including my wrong turn and backtracking on Branson Davis Road:
Want to ride this route yourself and get to the top of Caraway?
The 2017 Hamil-Kerr Challenge is being held Saturday, April 22nd at Jamestown Presbyterian Church. The event is a non-profit fundraiser providing research and support for patients and their families who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Progressive Supra-Nuclear Palsy (PSP), and Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) research. Lunch is included with your registration.
Check out all the details at http://www.hamilkerrchallenge.com: