A Country & Western Mitchell

     I like all music that’s performed with passion. Therefore I like country as well as the blues, etc. I love Van Morrison. I will play Mr. Morrison’s music and try to emulate him. Impossible. If you are a follower of Van Morrison, you know he’ll rock you, he’ll have you dancing an Irish jig, or even fine tune you spiritually. He does country & western. He recently put out “Pay the Devil”. It has fantastic old C&W including “”Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Hank Williams. It’s the best version I’ve heard. He also has an upbeat “What Am I Living For”. I left for the starting line with this song in my head. It is inspirational.

     I had a good Mitchell last year and was anticipating what I could do the original course that we were back to doing. Last year, 2005 was the year of the 117 miler.

     I had a kidney stone removed April 10. I had a stent installed to the kidney. that was more than a living heck. Want to torture someone? Put a stent in. It was removed on the 21st of April. So I worked and had some good rides with the Major Taylor club the week of the Burnsville Metric, the last of April.

     The week before Mitchell I rode up 80 and to Mitchell 3 times. I was worse each time. I wasn’t recovering well but didn’t think much about it. I rode rollers the last week before Mitchell. I wasn’t feeling strong and needed the rest. I assumed things would fall into place. I was expecting a sub-seven hour ride.

     It was raining. The pack was fast. As in a lot of years there was a top rider that had brought his henchmen to shred the pack. Much to my surprise and chagrin, I was shredded early. I had taken ibuprofen right before getting on the bike. My arthritis in my hips was bothering me. I was falling off the back as Chris Boone came by and asked if I was okay. I quickly said no. I didn’t throw up until I was dropped. Then I tossed up again. I lost my breakfast fuel which was an Ensure. I knew right then that I’d lack fuel somewhere.

     I packed my fuel for a shorter ride than I’d be on. I had the hot discomfort and pain of heartburn. My legs wouldn’t turn over as I wanted them to.      

     Even if I am 57, I can resemble to have , at times, the ability to ride a good ride. It’s a crap shoot. All the stars have to be aligned. My output was not great but I’ll recover and finish fine. I thought.

     I’d ride with a little pain in my right lower back which is normal. I would have the illusion of recovering or maybe actually getting my act together with some energy.
A pack would come by and I’d try to jump on the rear most of the time. I was shredded continuously. There were groups that I couldn’t try for at all.

     There were less than 10 riders in a line and I hopped on. They rotated around a bit as a pace line does. I apologized for not pulling but I was a mess. I just hung off the back. I was trying to cover up as much as possible. A rider ahead of me let a gap open then a little later led me right over a dead black cat. Hindsight is clear. Maybe running over a black cat is unlucky.

     After Green Creek, 20 miles or so I led through some fast country and strung out a bunch of riders that had accumulated. One rider rode hard and dropped the group a bit but eased up when no one went with him. I was one of the first to 108 and then down the long descent toward the camel humps, two hills that I knew would get me dropped. The tough rider asked what I was doing back here as I was riding like a pro. He didn’t realize that the hills would crack me up. I knew and I was only trying to limit my losses. It was a bright spot though. I do try to “show the jersey off”.

     The true deal is that I ride as hard as I can. My 1st year until now I’ve wanted to get the ride done in a hurry. I rode hard with the flu. I rode hard after breaking my clavicle, bike, and going to the hospital once. When there is a short hill and fast ground on the other side, I push it harder. If a friend is along I’ll act accordingly and not lose him (or her).

     When I had moments of energy I used it. I didn’t try to drop anybody but knew all along that I would fall off somewhere.

     Before leaving for the starting line, we had our usual prayer meeting. The last words said were, “now let’s go play hard”.

     About 44 miles out, right past the spot where I broke my clavicle years ago, there are two curves that are dangerous. I’ve been lucky to ride by the likes of RAAM record setter, Pete Penseres, and former world speed record holder John Howard to warn them and then lead them through those turns. Both gentlemen thanked me afterward. It was around the last curve that my water bottle cage broke. I lost my cage and bottle. There was no decision. I had to get the bottle. I would lack nourishment enough. I needed this fuel. Two sandlappers from around Charleston stopped and picked it up and handed it to me. Mike was one name.

     We started Bills Hill together but I was dropped. Bills Creek Road was painful.

     After Bill’s Creek there is some fast ground. I made it a point to be on the back of a pack. I got in a pull before I was dropped from them.

     There was a curve to the right with rocks all over the road. I saw the flat of one of the two guys that were a bit in front. There was no way to avoid rocks. Then I felt mine. Alas! Woe is me. I pulled over on the left side of the road and went to work.

     I’m very fast at changing tires. I’ve been a bike mechanic for 30 years. I always try to do the work for people because I can do it faster than most with less error. No matter how tight the clincher or tubular. I’ve used tubulars most of my cycling life. This tubular was incredibly hard to remove. I had to give my hands a rest for a couple of short pauses. I was in a hurry. I actually got my tire toward completion before the guys ahead with clinchers.

     It was hard to get the new tire on because it wasn’t brand new. I had ridden it once after a flat and quickly replaced it. It had it’s own glue and that made a sticky surface to impede the process. These were a bit deep dish wheels and the valve extender was needed with a lot of pumps. I must have bent the valve as it leaked most of the air and I struggled to get the extender off to save it. This is why tubes and tubular tires come with valve caps- to protect the tube when it’s off the bike- not on. I ran to the guys ahead and asked if they had a pump or another air cartridge. They did not. I ran back and put the bike together and rode but not before checking most of the next cars for bike racks. The tire was low but not low enough to bottom out. I made it to the next SAG stop and was able to beg a pump off a gentleman who was sagging. While there, a friend loaned me his phone and I made a call to Paulette, Josie, and Ashley to if possible have wheels at 80 in case there was another flat. I had no spare at all. I think one message left was that I had a couple of flats but my words matched what I was feeling. I mentally considered my changing of the tire took the equivalency of 2 ordinary changes or more. But I was talking fast and needed to pump up my tires and get on the journey. After all what’s next?

     I rode with a fellow toward Nix Creek Road and Old # 10. He lived just east of Marion. I stood up and pumped the last hill before Old #10. I always have. The policeman was pointing the way and I took the turn about as fast as always. It didn’t work out as well as in the past. The bike slid out and I was doing some break-dancing on the tarmac. The policeman ran over quickly and was very nice. I lay there for a moment, not from pain but just the awe of this amazing day. My clothes were torn but I knew this was just an inconvenience and the real pain would be up top.

My buddy Adam O'Neil took this picture of me in Marion.
I shouted that it was a long day.
I had just had my crash up the hill.

     Even so, I kept a good spirit about it. I could see the future and knew it was going to be really rough on 80 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. There wasn’t much thought about it. It was an absolute given that my resources would be compromised. I thought for a moment about what the message was if I was receiving a message. Was the first message the cat? Regardless, It would have to take more than this to discourage me.

     The song that I was hearing now was not-

“What am I living for, if not for you?”
What am I living for, if not for you?
What am I living for, if not for you?
Nobody else, nobody else will do.”

     I don’t know where it started but the song now playing was a favorite but a little different-

“Oh the faucet, started dripping in the kitchen.
Last night a picture fell down from the wall.
And today the boss said, sorry son, I can’t use you anymore
And tonight the light bulb went out down the hall.”

    The chorus started up when I was dropped the first time and played intermittently throughout the day-

“Things have gone to pieces sent you left me.
Nothing turns out half right, now it seems.
There ain’t nothing in my pocket but three nickels and a dime
And I’m holding to the pieces of my dreams.”

     There was never a sense of desperation or even disappointment. I would finish this “Assault” and I’ve had a lot of great Assaults. I’ve even had bad Assaults that I consider my favorites.

     I guess that, as bad as it could be, what would you trade the memory for?


    Highway 80 was tough and endless. I did enjoy the company of Ken Lovelace and Brenda. for a few miles maybe.. Ashley, Josie Lee, and Josie’s boyfriend were at the junction of 80 and the Parkway. I drank a coke and got a bottle of energy mix. I should have followed my instincts and gotten just a bottle of water and used my gels for the food even if one had burst in my jersey pocket from the fall. The pocket was a mess. I didn’t like the mix for the last of the ride. It wasn’t unpleasant but I would have drunk more water.

     Caroline Camp caught me and we rode together until mm 353 or so (Mitchell is 355). I took turns with a gent on the downhill at 352 and was concerned that my tire might not stay on and didn’t want to take anybody down. Caroline had recently done a 400k brevet and her legs were feeling those miles.

     There were bags and other “biking litter” on the “Parkway”. I imagined that these bags were being accidentally dropped while the rider was pulling out his jacket. It was foggy and cold.

     The chorus kept playing and except for the pain throughout my body, particularly my lower back and right leg, and the lack of energy I was just getting it done.

     I alternated standing up and sitting for the first three miles into the “Park” and imagined putting it in the big ring on the flats as I have a few times. Nope.

     Within a quarter mile of the top I even emptied my water bottle completely.

     I gassed it up as best I could and didn’t see the clock. It wasn’t important. I may have finished around 8 hours.

     102 miles in 8 hours or so. Last year was 117 miles in 7 ½ hours.

     It wasn’t close to my worst Mitchell. That was a couple of years ago. After doing this ride for twenty plus years I had the worst. It took me 10 hours and I had to lie down on 80 twice and twice on the “Parkway”.
I was dizzy from the start. I was dizzy all day.When I went harder I was dizzier.
Cycling is about riding on 2 wheels which are easy to go down on you.
It's about all sorts of factors such age, conditioning, diet, the elements, equipment, rest, and many other components including luck.
Adversity and your reaction to it tempers the soul.

     So if this was somebody’s first Mitchell and a bad occurrence has occurred, heck, you may have had your worst out of the way.
     No matter how hard or gloomy we can paint the picture, it’s still a pretty picture.

I feel animated and I guess that’s what I like most about cycling and the

“Assault on Mitchell”.
It’s beautiful and exciting.

“Somebody threw a baseball through my window.
Then the arm fell off my favorite chair today.
Oh the man, he came today to take all my things away,
If I didn’t get my payments made by ten.


“Things have gone to pieces sent you left me.
Nothing turns out half right, now it seems.
There ain’t nothing in my pocket,
But three nickels and a dime
And I’m holding to the pieces of my dreams.



Our "soupman" on Mt. Mitchell,
Don Patterson,
is recovering from hospitalization.
Get well Don!
We're hoping Joyce Birkenholz
 and Tom McCurry ride soon.

Let's send them some good wishes.


  Back to the Bicycle Inn!