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Mountains of Misery 2012

I have a mighty tale of intrigue, adventure, and excruciating pain. A few months ago my good buddy, Keith, sent me an email calmly asking if I'd like to join him on a century. For the uninitiated, a "century" is a 100-mile long bicycle ride. As you can imagine, 100-mile on a bike is a long and painful trek. This particular ride (aptly named: the Mountains of Misery) was beyond painful ... It is renowned for being extreme. Many consider it one of the toughest centuries on the East coast. And, by agreeing to join Keith, I ended up finding why.

This event is called "Mountains of Misery" and the acronym is MoM. Any ride called MoM can't be that bad ... Right?

The ride starts just outside Blacksburg, Virginia in Newport. It travels up and down a few local mountains and has an elevation gain of more than 10,000 feet. As if that wasn't enough, the very end of the century ends with a 3.5 mile long hill that gains almost 2,000 feet.

According to my watch's calculations, we made 10,823 feet of elevation gain over 102 miles. Also, we burned 8,000 calories over the 8 hours and 57 minutes of extreme hill climbing.

As usual, the first 10 miles of the event were very tough for me. I think my body needs to adapt to the fact that it is about to get into something drastic. From there, I would say the next 80 or so miles were cake (except a few minor details; which you'll read about momentarily). The last 10 miles were beyond my limits, with the final 4 miles being some of the toughest miles of my life. But, before I bore you with the details, let's talk about how I trained to get here...

I started training four months prior to our event. I did 43 bicycle rides and accumulated 1,200 miles over 86 hours of training. Perhaps most impressive is that I climbed more than 56,000 feet of elevation gain during that time. I utilized a standard regiment that had me adding 10% to my miles each week. My final training distance was an 80 mile long ride, followed by a 50 mile taper ride. Looking back now, I would have done even more miles near the end, and more importantly I would have been even better at keeping up with my maintenance days; which ranged from one to two hours long

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With our training done, there was nothing left except to do it. So, we loaded up the car and drove 4.5 hours down to southwest Virginia. As Andrew and I pulled into the Blacksburg area, we were surrounded by mountains ... And, I was starting to get a feeling in my gut ... A feeling that said, "uh oh."

Once there, I put my racing number on my bike and bib.

We had a fantastic pasta dinner that was provided by the MoM directors and then Keith, Andrew, and I drove out to the final hill to get a peek at what we'd be facing the following day. Needless to say, the hill was amazing and terrifying. We headed back to the hotel while talking excitedly about the wonderful day we would endure. Sleep came easily.

We woke, got ready, and loaded the bikes for the short trip to the start line.

Andrew, me, and Keith just before the race began. (look how happy these idiots look ... before the ride!)

There were about 550 riders, and the event started in waves. Since Keith rides at a faster pace than me and Andrew, we knew we wouldn't see him. However, our wave was before Keith's, so we'd at least see him pass us. Our wave started and we got underway. Less than a mile in, Andrew had his chain pop off and he fell over while clipped in. This is only funny, because this was Andrew's third century attempt and I worried that he would be out another century. However, he picked himself and his bike back up, fixed the chain and got back into a groove.

About 12 miles in, Keith came up on us like a bullet train with a long line of drafting riders. They were cooking! We said, "Hello" as he blew past us.

The event information says that there are only two real climbs; which was very funny to me, because it felt more like 42 climbs! You can see the elevation chart from my Garmin data here:

The event was very well coordinated with rest stops approximately every ten miles. Andrew and I carried enough water and treats that we decided to only stop at every other water stop. Everything was going fairly well until about mile 39 when the road changed to a loose gravel situation. This went on for a miserable four miles or so, and I couldn't help but think that my buddy, Pete, must have been one of the route coordinators. HA!

Just past the halfway point we came up to the first of the two "climbs" (it stands out on the above elevation chart at ~60 miles in). The funny thing is that there is a tiny elevation gain over a mile leading to the climb, and for a moment I thought that was the climb. I smiled as I thought, this ain't so bad. Than it hit me. A two-mile behemoth that rose more than 1,000 feet lay before me. It was the toughest hill that I'd ever experienced on a bicycle (little did I know that I would face an even tougher one in a few hours).

Putting down my head, I stared at the few feet of road in front of me as I struggled to pump one leg and then the other. This went on for an eternity. Focusing on the street I noticed that there were one-inch diameter wet spots all over the place. I was curiously checking them out when a large droplet of sweat built on the tip of my nose and then dropped and splashed on the asphalt. In that moment I realized that these wet spots were previous rider's sweat drops. Probably some tears mixed in there too. As I challenged myself to continue up this horrible hill I had an epiphany: I was literally following a trail of fellow rider's blood, sweat, and tears. Sweat formed at the edges of my eyes and stung them, forcing me to blink and squint. I couldn't risk taking my hands off the handlebars for fear of falling at this awful slow pace (something along the lines of two or three miles per hour).

I was fighting my way up and felt I could make it. After making the final switchback turn I was strong and pressed even harder. The heat and humidity were taking a toll and I dug deep. I mean depths that I had only seen attempting to climb Mount Rainier in years past. Then, without warning, my left hamstring locked up and I could not bend my leg. I nearly fell over, but quickly unlocked my right pedal and was able to get my foot down before toppling. I dismounted momentarily and realized my leg was blown. I was only about 150 yards from the top. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized that I would need to march a walk of shame to the top of this hill. My hamstring was so bad that my leg was stiff and straight and I limped the whole way to the top pushing my bike beside me.

At the top, I hung at the rest stop for a bit and let my hamstring simmer down. Mounting and pedaling I left this hill behind and my legs felt good.

A little while later, I ran into Suzanne, Keith's wife. She explained that Keith had had an accident. Apparently he was run off the course by a truck. Suzanne said that Keith was shaken up and battered up, but he was going to finish the ride. Also, one of his rims was bent and his handlebars sustained some damage. I can't imagine what Keith was going through, but I know his determination to complete a ride.

The remainder of the ride was mostly a trudgefest. I had to fight through a few descent-sized hills and even struggled on some of the flats. I simply kept pedaling.

This should be the end of this story, yet there is a final part that cannot be overlooked. The dreaded final hill that gives this ride its namesake, MISERY. As I said before, this hill climbs nearly 2,000 feet in about 3.5 miles. The good news is there's a rest stop halfway up it. However, even that was not enough to give me the strength to make it all the way. I was completely out of steam. I was overheating. I was hurting. And, I stopped pedaling at the sign that said only one-mile remained on the hill. Again, I found myself marching the walk of shame. I walked 3/4 of a mile and came to a group of supporters that offered to get me back on my bike and push me to get me rolling again, so I could ride across the finish line. My mind said, "no way" but I agreed. I painfully put my leg over the bike and clipped in, while they held my bike steady. Then with a push, they sent me up the hill. I immediately felt muscles in my legs that I'd never felt before. Words like “Sartorius” (the longest muscle in the body) sprang to mind as my legs SCREAMED in agony. I could see the finish line and a hundred people all cheering me up the hill. It was surreal. And, I wasn't sure I could make it ... But, I did. I mustered just enough to cross that line and then collapsed into the arms of supporters who caught me and helped me unclip from my hated bike.




I managed to find the food station and quickly sat down with a hamburger and potato salad. Within a few minutes, the rest, food, and soda was kicking in to bring me back to reality. I had done it. True, I walked up some of the hills. But, I did finish MoM, one of the toughest centuries, under my own power.

I managed to complete this ride in 10 hours and 29 minutes. Because some of that time is wasted resting, stopping, filling water bottles, emptying bladders, and so on, my actual in the saddle time was 8 hours and 57 minutes.

This was the most beautiful ride that I've ever been on. The scenery was breathtaking. The support staff was among the best I have ever seen at any race or event. And, the pain and suffering were there too. I would not try to scare you away from doing this ride, but I will warn you ... Do not attempt this ride without some intense training under your belt, and a deep level of will and determination. If you do take on this challenging ride, more power to you!

For what it's worth, the 15 year old guy who won the race (it's not a race) finished in 5 hours and 24 minutes; which was about half of my overall time!!! Read the story here.

Checkout the ride's information gathered by my Garmin 910XT watch here.

And, You can find out more about MoM here.

See you on our next adventure,

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Posted by Vaughn Ripley

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I had no doubt you would do it. You, and my other riding buddies, are an inspiration. Sorry I couldn’t suffer with you. there is always next year.

  2. Vaughn, your readers should also know that you did it on a standard double, which is considerably more difficult than what nearly all of the other riders used.

  3. My fault for us not being there to cheer you guys across @the finish line. Told Keith I didn’t think you’d make it b/c you looked too “refreshed” at mile 70. Who knew?! (Thurmont, MD is hosting a century ride in Sept.; isn’t that right next door to you? (hint, hint!) )

  4. Congrats on finishing! Quite a ride. Definitely beef. And the way you start your tale reminds me of the 60-miler I did a couple years ago for Bike MS. My story went: “The first 50 miles were pretty good…”

    I love the garmin data, which tells me even more of the story. Like laps 9-12, which correspond to miles 40-60… you speed slowly drops off. And that final lap, with an average speed of <3mph. Love it!

  5. Vaughn — I hate you! I love you, but I also hate you. The fact that you rode for 8h 57m is insane and the same goes to all of the other riders. I get cramp in my leg after sleeping for that amount of time, let alone riding a bike up what sounds like Mordor! I thought Frodo had it bad.

    Great job finishing the race — maybe one day we can be miserable together.

  6. Hi Vaughn, You might remember meeting my husband Lee and me at about mile 74, on the loop with a couple of climbs. We rode with you for a while. We’re from Hagerstown, Maryland. We really enjoyed reading your blog; oh, how it sounded so familiar! We’ll be doing the Civil War Century Sept 8, as that is the ride where I met my husband in 2006 at mile 75. If you do it, maybe we will see you there. Congrats on finishing the ride; we were ecstatic to finish it ourselves.

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