I think I alluded to something big happening this weekend, but since it was a really last minute trip, I didn't want to give too many details if it fell through.
Ryan had been planning this ride for a while. It was a 70 mile ride that included a ride up to the top of Black Mountain, KY's highest point at over 4000ft of elevation. Our initial plan was that we would go as a family, and I would be able to do touristy things with the kids while Ryan rode with friends. We had booked a room in an really quaint hotel in Benham, KY, which has a rich coal mining history, the Benham Schoolhouse Inn. There was also a coal mining museum, so we figured I could stay busy enough with the kids. There was also a night 5K glow run on the Friday before. However, as things got closer, it turned out that we didn't really knows anyone going. So, this is where my parents came to the rescue. They were thankfully available for the weekend, and I was able to do the ride as well. When Ryan asked me if I wanted to ride, I for some reason thought the ride was 50 miles. I figured I could make it through 50 miles since I had been riding a decent amount on the mountain bike on the road. I had everything all lined up for my parents to come when I realized it was 70. I told myself that I am generally ill prepared for my cycling events, so it should just be more of the same. My running fitness is really great right now, and "they" say that 1 hour of running fitness translates into 3 hours of cycling fitness, so the fact that I can "comfortably" run for 2 hours made me feel more confident. It was 70 miles, so that should take me around 4 hours, right? I could do that. Sure. No problem. Forget the fact that I hadn't ridden my tri bike since early September, and my longest ride before THAT was at Muncie, in mid July, and 56 miles. 70 miles is only 14 miles longer than that, so not a big increase.
We drove out to Cumberland, KY, and Benham was just minutes outside of it. We found our hotel and it was super charming. It was a former schoolhouse turned into a hotel. The classrooms had been converted into the guest rooms. The lockers still lined the hallways, and the gymnasium was now a banquet center that could handle events up to 250 people. It was built in 1927, so it was a bit newer than the really cool elementary school that I went to from kindergarten through 5th grade, Emerson Elementary, but still a beautiful building. Here is a photo of Emerson from Bing. It was built in 1896, and I attended the school in 1986, when it turned 90. I also felt the need to share this info with the lady who handled our check-in. She was super friendly and very intrigued by my story, which I appreciated. She was excited to learn that we were there for the ride, and asked if we were going to drive up there beforehand to check it out, because I think she thought we were a bit nuts for trying to bike up it, despite being incredibly sweet and friendly.
Here are some photos from the Benham Schoolhouse Inn. The pictures from the website all lit up at Christmas look very cool. We didn't take a picture of our guest room because it really wasn't all that exciting or different from any standard hotel room, except that it was an older building.
We arrived at the Pine Mountain Grill and it was a good choice. The funny thing about this place is that it contained the full range of attire. There were ladies in formal wear (homecoming or a wedding?) and a guy in denim overalls. We didn't have to wait long for a table for two, despite the parking lot being packed when we arrived. They had a cute little country store in the front that we browsed while we waited. It reminded me of the store at Three Cedars in MI. Ryan and I were both able to get some grilled chicken and some carbs for dinner, plus a side salad from a salad bar. We also opted to get dessert. They had a maple blondie sundae that I just couldn't pass up. I figured the ride tomorrow was going to hurt plenty bad, and that a dessert this evening wasn't going to make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, and that I had better just enjoy this meal. It wasn't a huge scoop of ice cream, mostly just a large warm blondie with the maple cream on it. It was worth it. We headed back, and the sky was so clear that you could see an amazing amount of stars. I feel like we live in the country in Oldham County compared to Detroit, but WOW, these stars were so bright, I felt like we were out in the desert somewhere. Being up on the mountain, there weren't too many trees to block out the view either. This evening alone was worth the trip, no matter how bad tomorrow's ride went.
The next morning, we got up at 6am, had breakfast with a couple other people who were riding, and then headed out to get ourselves registered. It was a small ride, as expected based off the number of facebook likes for their posts. Ryan found one guy from Louisville that he knew would be out here, and Susan, one of the Landsharks was here with a friend too. Here we are before the ride.
It was a pretty straightforward route, two out and backs from the start/finish area, without many turns. The first section was out for 23 miles, and then back to a sag stop, and then we had the climb. The first section went pretty quickly. We headed out mostly downhill and I stayed pretty much with Ryan and another lady until we stopped. She didn't stop as long as we did. Ryan needed to find a restroom and I wanted to refill water and I ate a honey stinger waffle and a GU. The return trip was a bit harder. I could tell that it was gradually uphill, but still not too bad. I felt pretty good, but I struggled to stay with Ryan, dropped my chain at one point (and had an ambulance make sure I was really OK while fixing it, I should have asked for an alcohol wipe for my hands), and then Ryan followed me in to the stop back in Cumberland. I ate my bonk breaker bar, used the bathroom, and tried to clean up my hands from dropping my chain. We took a quick picture with this bear. They had them all over the area, and some were decorated differently. The one by the current school had cute handprints on it, and I really liked that one, but we didn't stop with either the car or the bikes there for a picture.
This was when it got really hard. Ryan and I had discussed that we would not stay together on this part of the climb. He was going for time, and had just signed up for a STRAVA account and wanted to get KOM on this climb. Funny. We stayed together for a very short amount of time. I kept telling myself it was only 12 more miles, because once I got to the top, it was all downhill from there. I was tired, and already using a bunch of my lower gears, so I was getting stressed. I thought to myself, well, if I don't make it up, I can just turn around and go back early. That was the nice thing about the out and back route. It started with this gradual climb, and then the last 6 or so miles up to the top were just brutal. It took me forever to do this. I looked down and was going around 6 miles an hour. Oh My! It was going to take me an hour to get to the top at this rate!!! The nice thing is that it wasn't crazy steep, just forever long, and there were a few flatish places on the sides, so I felt confident that if I stopped to take a break, I would be able to restart again. At MMM last year, there were a couple sections that my chain dropped, and I couldn't get restarted once I fixed it because of the grade. I think I took 3 breaks. I didn't walk with my bike, just because it seemed dangerous to be walking my bike and when I was stopped, I was at least completely off the road and attempting to recover. I felt a lot better for a few minutes when I took these breaks. I went back and forth passing and then taking a break and being passed with a couple of guys. I knew Ryan was at the top because I saw guys riding down. It was like climbing in spin class but like for the whole class! I would stand up for a few strokes, and then sit down. It was the hardest ride I have ever done. Oh, and did I mention that by bottom two gears wouldn't work? My rear derailleur wouldn't let me stay in my 27 or my 28! Crud! I was worried if I messed with it myself, I would really mess things up and not be able to finish. However, it was incredible once I got to the top. I had Ryan waiting for me, and we were at the highest point in KY. The ride organizers were up there, and we were at the Virginia state line with a scenic overlook. It was awesome. I felt so proud that I had done it.
Then, we had the ride down. Since I crashed on a descent in May, I really rode the brakes on the way down. I probably need new pads now! It was so much faster going down and up, and the hardest thing was just controlling my speed and bike. My legs were toast, and I just didn't want to cramp up because I would have to actually pedal for about 5 miles or so to get through Benham and into Cumberland to the finish. It was a lot easier than I thought. Some kids on the side of the street commented on how fast I was going. My total ride time (moving time) was 4:26, with about another hour of stopped time, between the sag stops, breaks, and photo ops. Ryan and I were the first couple to the top, and I was the first female. That felt pretty cool. Ryan also scored some KOM awards on Strava, and I even got a QOM! There was a lady who did a few segments faster than me, but I did the overall climb faster than her. They had a lunch for us with pizza, pasta salad, breadsticks, and treats. They had my favorite, iced sugar cookies, as well as Halloween candy. They even had medals for us! That was pretty cool because a lot of the cycling events don't give you anything for finishing. My parents were waiting on us to return, so we didn't stay long, and got on the road fairly quickly. I am super glad we did this. The area seems a bit economically depressed, with lots of closed and vacant storefronts, so it was nice to be able to do a beautiful ride and help out their local economy. It was a small ride, and I really felt like they did a great job keeping track of all of us via two way radios and I felt very safe the whole time. The route was simple to follow and well marked, and cue sheets are provided. I would definitely recommend this ride to anyone who is looking for a challenging climb.
On another note, when I was at the top of the Black Mountain, both Ryan and I got a couple incoming voicemails. Cell service was spotty, and at the summit, my phone picked up two voicemails. The first was from Warren, MI. I had won the drawing I entered for the free Detroit Free Press Marathon race of my choice! It is two weeks away, so I had figured they would be notifying people soon, and I also figured that not too many people had entered the contest since the end date was three weeks prior to the race, and they were giving away 55 spots! I have until Tuesday to call them back and get registered. I can pick the full marathon, half, or International Half. I will be selecting the International half. It is an amazing race with both the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit Windsor Tunnel. It will be tight to fit this into my race schedule, so it will likely be for "fun", if I can actually run a race for fun. It is a week after the Iron Horse, so that will be back to back 13.1s. I've done this before, and it is tough, but it will at least help me keep my mileage up before the LSC half.