Masochism....insanity...abuse...futility; all adjectives which accurately describe the OffRoad Assault on Mt. Mitchell(ORAMM).
I am quite comfortable stating that while I am a fairly seasoned rider with some decent technical riding experience under my belt, this event tested me beyond normal acceptable human limits. This was the most grueling climbing endurance marathon I have ever participated in. I never realized how far one can climb when they simply have to. Pain was everywhere, suffering was everywhere, broken bodies and wills were everywhere. Quitting was not an option for myself after 30 dedicated miles ....To make a long story short, I suffered, survived, and completed my first, and possibly last Off-Road Assault On Mt. Mitchell....unofficial time: 11hrs:??mins... official computer time 8:36:07, therefore with moderate reststop visits, about 9.5 hours(more on that later)...oh yeah, one more thing:climbing sucks.
Personal Computer Data:
Total miles ridden: 65.26
Total Time: 8:36'07
Average Speed: 7.5mph
Maximum speed: 29.4mph
Travel Crew: Brad & Jennifer Phillips, and myself, Joel Watson....
Other participating LCFTFs: Justin & Tina Fisher & family, Nick Latto, Andy Campbell
Breakfast time at the Comfort Inn. 6:30 am and all is quiet in the Continental breakfast lounge. I grab myself a danish, some rather rubbery looking cooked eggs, OJ, and some wickedly watered down coffee...i go back for some toast and more OJ....Some more water back in the room to keep the hydration system circulating...we all get dressed and stagger out to meet the monster. Food Drop bags in place, then shuffle into a good spot to avoid the lockdown at the hike-a-bike at Kitsuma...
GO! I have never heard that many knobbies roaring along on a paved road before...it was an amazing sound! Adrenaline pumped through my body. The rush was overwhelming. My heart rate shot up to 175 instantly! I could not control how incredible and insane this start was! Heartrate check: 184. Myself, being stuck dead in the middle of this fearsome aggressive pack of winners made for an uncomfortable feeling of not making the slightest mistake in formation. One turn led us through a man trying to control the pack traffic into a left turn, but he was too short to see, so many riders almost hit him: maybe he should be up on a large pedestal next year? This went on up most of Old 70...truthfully, I actually felt immediately winded from the immediate grade that the road started taking....I started wondering if I would even see RestStop#1....
Ahh yes...lovely Kitsuma, she sounds like a lovely gentle asian flower, but in reality: demanding, demeaning, and will only give up her gift upon total devotion and surrender...so with that in mind, I briskly rode forward down a bit of singletrack towards a sharp left vertical turn by the highway whereupon an immediate congestion of riders commenced. Heartrate check: 170. At this point I realized I was not far enough at the front of the pack to avoid the traffic jam, so I physically and mentally throttled down and started the humbled march up Kitsuma...and up...and up....damn this hike-a-bike! Heartrate check: 180. Then, when all patience seems to vanish and thoughts of pushing riders out of the way to get ahead enter one's thoughts, you hear chatter from relieved riders ahead..."downhill, finally, alright..about time!..etc". I catch my breath for a moment, and impatiently clip in and start hammering...WOW, hard drops off roots, rocks jutting up everywhere! Quick ascents upward make for another moment of bunched up climbing, but before anyone can mutter a word about hiking, I am clipped in again and flying along bones jarring from the harsh, loose, rooty drops which propelled me forward to about 20mph in the blink of an eye and the slight release of the brakes. I fly across off camber ledges praying not to slip out, forcing my focus to remain on the trail ahead, feeling the presence of hundreds of riders breathing down my back. Hands screaming in pain from the downward pressure of the descent and the constant loading/unloading of the brakes...I let off the brakes and start really making some room! WOW...this is fun stuff now...total devotion and surrender and Kitsuma will bear her soul to you....and just when it starts smoothing out and turning fun and twisty, she takes it back! Heartrate check: 160. aww...i wanted more...ever heard the quote: be careful what you wish for? Arrived at RestStop#1 at the 15 mile marker according to my computer...dazed, I was starting to realize the key to surviving this race is not to race it out...off to RestStop#2
As soon as you set out from RestStop#1, you enter another type of climb up an old dirt road which is run over with mountain foliage. This climb seems to never end and I soon start to understand why this is called a climbers marathon and quickly decide I want don't want to ride anymore....too late possibly...I continue thinking thoughts of bailing after reaching RestStop#2, but RestStop#2 never seems to come...Heartrate check: 185. Wicked cramping sets in...Just when it seems like my legs seriously are done climbing, the road starts to point downward... fast, fast, fast...oh yeah, to hell with quitting, game on! Cramps forgotten. The downhill drops you right into RestStop#2 and I am overcome with adrenaline at the crazy descent I just finished, ready and wanting more. But, minor setback#1 occurs with a harsh reality check about the current state of logistics: no water at the feed station! Ok, getting worried...I calm down and slowly take out my pre-loaded feedbag which does not contain a water bottle, just some gels and energy foods and slowly eat them hoping the replacement water will be here once I am done. 10 minutes later, no water...Fellow LCFTF, Andy Campbell, shows up with the same look on his face regarding the current state of the race...ouch...15 minutes pass. finally...water arrives...frustrated, but not negative, I reload and immediately continue onto RestStop#3 trying to make up for unforeseen lost time.
Curtis Creek Rd.)
Someone at RestStop#2 mentioned this being his 3rd ORAMM attempt which always ended along the Curtis Creek Rd climb. This information worried me. Nonetheless, I had plenty of water, heartrate was 158 and I felt renourished and ecstatic having made it this far! I start the climb...Sweet! This is nice a leisurely climb up a long campground road, why all the fuss? Wow, this road sure is long..holy cow, this road is still climbing...omigosh, are you serious?? Still climbing....climbing....if I see any more gravel I am going to scream...nobody actually cared when I yelled...why are all the riders so silent? I can't stand this anymore...please give me something different to climb...damn it, I am not giving up...up..up...up..pass 2 riders..up..up...pass 5 riders, one at a time....Heartrate check: 180. stop, pee in the bushes, get back on ...up..up..up...up..up...get passed by some chick with groovy tassles on her bike seat...are you kidding me?....up...up...up, pass the tassles chick after she drops to her granny gear....7-10mph, mid-ring up front(this is the key)...up...Heartrate check: 170...up...you get the picture...I finally get off for a bit to walk and stretch my legs since saddle-itis is setting in and I gotta take care of tha' taint....get back on after a mile and ride past some lady who claims I only have 2.5 more miles to get to RestStop#3...awesome...up..up..up...1 mile left...I chug down my last bottle of water to keep the hydration system pumping steadily...all systems normal and operational....Heartrate check: 168. Finally RestStop#3! 1:30pm, I enter the feed zone with adrenaline surging...I grab my feedbag, down my food, look at my watch and tick off 7 minutes. I want to be outta this stop no later than 1:40pm. I quickly get my bottles ready for a refill and minor setback#2 occurs: NO WATER AT THE FEEDZONE! ok...getting panicky, so I ask the attendant when they expect more, to which his reply was: he doesn't know and he doesn't expect anymore anytime soon...Great! Wonderful...adrenaline turns to bewilderment...I turn around to look at what other liquids are available...2 roasting hot cans of RedBull sit amidst a flurry of emptied cans in an overflowed trash container. I finally make the decision to use them when someone runs up and chugs them both into his camelbak...wow, everything cannibalized...this is not good...nothing left at all except for remaining feedbags which were not an option to me...I sit down and try to think of a rational way to solve this issue, all the while, time rushes on....30 minutes...45 minutes...1 hour later, frustrated with it all, and mentions from many about abandoning the race as well as mentions of refunds....the growing group of upset people all walking around waiting for water are handed other's liquids from unknown feedbags...not cool. just wanting to get on with it I take it, reload and go away, not certain what lay ahead at RestStop#4...
Determined not to let technical minor setbacks influence my adventure ride, I started moving along at a fast clip. Beautiful scenery, nice little decent and then, level and up again...oh no...not another gravel road! Climbing again...faster this time...rested, moving along at 10-12mph...really surprising myself...passed riders who had at least 45 minutes on me...moving along so nicely...this climb is just as insane as Curtis Creek! legs burning from the cold restart...heartrate: 175...drop it down to 7-10mph...keep moving don't stop....bam! Heartrate: 160. RestStop#4...oh surprise! They are out of water...and so here I am stuck yet again...man, I am frustrated, but NOT rude...this is obviously a logistics problem...not knowing what lay ahead I wait it out for water again..15 minutes pass, I finish my feedbag grub and look for a nice spot of grass to sleep in, but before any water detail arrives, a generous man named Phillip shares from his gallon of personal water with me! Alright, back in action! 25 minutes later I am back on the road! The only thought on my mind was: I cannot believe I am on my way to RestStop#5!
While waiting it out at RestStop#4, I overhear mention of the brutal downhill awaiting...over 6 miles of it! I don't know whether I should be afraid or very afraid...onwards up the BRP about 1-2 miles...then sharp left right into a mean, vertical hike-a-bike section...then...the moment of truth...the downhill begins....steep, fast, wicked fast if you wanna...ruts, turns, off-camber berms, ledges no safety net...you name it...Heartbreak throws everything it can at you...this descent is only for the serious-minded, seriously mental that is....sharpened focus is the key to survival here, as well as controlling your downhill descent speed...I did suffer a sever cramp in my left quad muscle when attempting to unclip upon arrival at a steep switchback...it almost turned ugly, but I caught myself and simply laid back on some shrubs for about 5 minutes to ease the pain...back to downhill flying I went...I witnessed some of the nicest outlook views from some of the points on the ridge where I paused to give my hands a break from the intense pain. I finish the downhill and cross over some surreal looking railroad tracks and discover RestStop#5...woohaa! I am not gonna even check for water...I catch my breath, get off the bike and spit on my rotors just to hear them hiss, laugh, gently massage my hands to bring them back to life and then set out to finish this beast off...
I speed off again fueled mainly by adrenaline only to meet yet another climb! Blast this race and its neverending eternal uphill battles! Along the way, I meet a couple, Russ & Megan, who had entered the ORAMM because of their friends who had backed out at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances...They were troopers! Onward I climbed...up....up...up...and yes, up...ok, now old 70 again....things are looking great, then I remember...Kitsuma...again...remember what I wished for earlier?..well, I take it back...I didn't wanna hang out with Kitsuma anymore...Strangely, now with little or no energy left in me, Kitsuma seemed a much larger challenge than before. I did, however, manage to navigate up many a switchback before jumping into hike-a-bike mode which left me a bit impressed to know I can handle this trail with some skill. After goofing off a bit and dizzy with completion anticipation, I start the downhill...whoa...I didn't realize how many descents and climbs there were...I noticed a lot of different challenges now that I was entirely spent...the switchbacks were much harder and trickier...I could not believe some of the drops I had taken earlier with little or no thought...you really get to know your limits in this race. Finally, I reach the bottom sweeping downhill of Kitsuma and start charging taking lots of risks to simply end this game...I blast right out of the woods into the campground area and startle a large group of campers who were walking along. I take note of the directions and get on the long road home....
The road to the finish is old 70 back to Old Fort...it is fast and paved...oh yeah, big ring, top gear...kickin it up I reach almost 30mph and love the wind cooling me down. My legs start quivering half from pain half from adrenaline...feeling very much alive....i reach the one mile marker and start really cranking...just when I thought the racing was over, here comes a dude with a yellow jersey on who I had passed looking dizzy 15 minutes ago on the Kitsuma descent...He flies up in front of me, so I start drafting him...he throws a textbook move from the Tour de France at me and proceeds to start shaking me off...I laugh and dart ahead...testing him...he takes the bait and follows...I then proceed to shake and drop him...and then slow down to maintain energy...then he blasts by again...I see the finish coming up fast...I crank like a madman to pass...he ramps up his speed...we end up finishing basically tied(no photo finish)...it was pretty funny battling for something like next-to-last place...but it made the last mile enjoyable... Being close to the last one returning, pretty much everything was gone...the keg was drained, the spaghetti was mushy, but I enjoyed every bit of my mushy dinner and frothy bottom of the keg beer like it was the best meal ever... After explanations as to why it took me so long, we were caught up, loaded up and back on our way to Charleston...
Aside from the minor setbacks based on water shortages: Logistics as well as rumours earlier riders were wasting water by using it as personal shower systems(I truly hope you guys get this problem figured out Todd), I had a great adventure...
Overall, this was an awesome test of perseverance and true mastery of one's bike handling & survival skills...I am happy to be able to honestly say I completed it and now truly know what it is all about.
ORAMM is one hell of an adventure challenge....do it...