Sunday, July 26, 2009


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ORAMM. The Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell. 65 miles and 11000 feet of climbing in the Pisgah National Forest just east of Asheville, North Carolina.

Absolutely brutal.

I've done it 3 times in the past. The first time I rode conservatively and suffered phenomenally over the last 20 miles. I only finished because I didn't know which way to go if I wanted to bail. The second time, the course was different and not as difficult. I still suffered, but I had it, and I felt like I could have pushed harder. The third time, it was back to the original course. I pushed harder, felt great, but despite having plenty of energy, cramped horribly for the second half and didn't walk straight for 3 days. This year, my goal was to push as hard as I could, but not cramp.

Mitchell is interesting. There are 5 rest stops, several long downhills and several very technical climbs. If you take short pits, descend well, and climb technical stuff well, you can eventually beat much stronger riders. You'll switch places all day, but eventually you'll get by them. That was my strategy.

Saturday afternoon I drove up to Old Fort and arrived just in time to sign in.

Old Fort is so named because there was once an actual old fort nearby. Now there's a museum. The race starts at the museum.

 Old Fort Museum

I'd hoped I could throw down my tent in the field at the start. I could not. The nearest camping was up Curtis Creek Road. A while back I added all of the ORAMM roads and trails to my trails site, so as fate would have it, I actually knew how to get to Curtis Creek Road from there.

The primitive sites were all taken, so I ponied up 5 bones and stayed at the official Curtis Creek Campground. Something odd was on the picnic table. A rock? It looked like a rock. But it was soft and flexible. A potato! Heh.

A family of weirdos was set up next door. The mom kept saying strange things. The two teen boys were whinier than my 7 year old. They seemed to be having a good time though. Weirdos or not, a family having a good time together outdoors gets my high five. Still, it was a good thing that I didn't have to listen to them because it was dinner time.

My Father's Pizza in Black Mountain is fantastic.

 My fathers pizza

Half-cheese, half-pepperoni. All yum.

I'd planned on eating breakfast at Hardees, but I was camped a bit far away for that. A quick trip through Ingles and I was covered.


I slept ok. Not great, but ok. I only sleep really well when I'm worn out. Still, I got probably 6 good hours and I felt good in the morning.

Curtis Creek itself.

 Curtis Creek

Across the creek there was this weird little building.

 Stone Building

During the race, I saw a plaque and a trail leading to it. I'll have to go back and find out what it really is some day.

Time to ride. The parking lot was full, but I didn't see anyone I knew.


The field.


I saw Patrick Jones on the starting line. I used to hang out with him at the GAP races way back. There's a 50% chance that he thought I was my brother.


5 minutes in I was already in trouble. My legs had that my-blood-is-raping-my-blood-vessels feeling. Unspeakably painful. Not enough warm-up and I should have ridden to work Friday.

Halfway up Old 70 Patrick rode up next to me. We talked for a while. He moved on. My legs started to feel better but I was getting passed non-stop.

Rolling into Kitsuma a friend of a friend of mine passed me. Phonetically his name is pronounced "Von-nee". I have no idea how to spell that. Vonny? Vaughny? (Update: it's Vonnie). At any rate, he's a buddy of Steve Julain's, another guy I used to race with a bunch. Steve was way back behind us on a singlespeed and we didn't see him all day. Vonnie rode on past me. But! I can climb the hell out of Kitsuma and apparently not very many people can. La, la, la, right up the switchbacks, past like 30 people walking, including my new friend. The first descent was a mess. There's a really technical section and 10 people were walking it. I rode through them, but one guy, trying to get out of my way turned his bike sideways, blocking the whole trail and I had to go around him to the left, on a risky line. The rest was uneventful. Kitsuma is rough. Riding it feels like getting punched in the kidneys.

No gatorade at the first rest stop, just Heed. Heed tastes like liquid dust. I'm not a big fan, but it'll do. I saw some guys who'd passed me earlier. Quick pit and I was out before them.

On Heartbreak Ridge I rode most of the switchbacks, but it didn't help me. A couple of folks passed me walking and I didn't see many other riders. My legs were feeling OK now. On the back side, a girl was sitting down just past a downed log, looking distraught. At first I thought she'd crashed, but it turned out she'd just dropped her chain to the outside, over the pedal and couldn't figure out how to fix it. I'd already stopped, so I fixed it for her, took off, rounded a corner, hopped a log, washed out in the soft sand on the other side, crashed, bruised my hand and smashed up my left knee. So much for karma.

Climbing up to Star Gap, I continued to get passed. The girl who's bike I fixed passed me, and a million other riders.

Loose doesn't begin to describe the descent from Star Gap. I sketched a lot. A LOT. One guy was able to hang on to my wheel though. The two of us passed to either side of the girl who's bike I'd fixed and freaked her out. I figured we'd drop her, but she just grabbed his wheel and followed us all the way down, sketchy drifting and all. Awesome.

Quick turn at the next rest stop and again, passed a bunch of riders who'd gotten by me.

Next up, Curtis Creek. Go climb this road. There is nothing nice about it. I felt alright at first, but not for very long. I always forget about the actual pain of Mitchell. A couple of miles in and my knees were hurting, my hips were hurting, my back was hurting, bad. BAD. I forget about that. I remember the level of effort, but I forget about the actual pain. Vonnie caught me, so did a bunch of other guys, but I got past them at the rest stop and on the next descent.

And so it was. Back and forth. All day.

Down to the Black Mountain Campground, back up to the parkway. I was using every climbing technique I knew. When I'd switch, I'd feel relaxed for a while, then eventually I'd have to switch again. Eventually, nothing felt good. Just constant suffering. I got passed on the climb, but didn't even need to pit at the top.

Up to Heartbreak Ridge, down the ridge itself. Kitsuma is a kidney puncher. Heartbreak is a hand slammer. No cramps yet, though. And I got a little recovery in my legs. As hard as the ride was, I was still on target.

Quick pit. Up Mill Creek Road. A little faster, and of course, more pain. Some of the same guys passed me again, but not all of them. Hmmm. Vonnie passed me again in the Kitsuma parking lot. The irony. I climbed the switchbacks a second time. Up on the ridge, I climbed a section that a bunch of folks were walking. I would never see them again. Yes! I'm finally dropping people, 5 miles from the end :) On the descent, my fingers were sore. My triceps were getting sore. My kidneys were sore. I could smell my brake pads burning. I actually let it go a little more than usual just to keep from having to grab the brakes.

I still felt pretty good at the bottom. My hands were ringing but my legs were good, so I put my elbows on the bars and TT'ed it on back to town. There were 3 guys ahead of me that I recognized, but there was nothing I could do to catch them.

I have no idea how I did overall. I didn't get into the top 10 and I finished in just over 8 hours. Not sure how that compares to earlier years, I'll have to look that up. I did accomplish my goal though, I pushed it as hard as I could and didn't cramp. I never felt strong though, not once. Gonna have to work on that, the Fool's Gold is coming up.

The free post-race spaghetti was the best tasting spaghetti ever. The bath I took in the creek was the most refreshing bath ever. The drive home wasn't too bad. I didn't get sleepy. But my legs hurt the whole time. I did get treated to some sunbeams, which looked stunning in real life.


I'm feeling OK now. I should be able to get a recovery ride in tomorrow. We'll see.


  1. Steve finally made it in after 10hrs 12mins, 2 flat tires, and 1 broken spoke. We'll be at Dauset in September and Unicoi in October. Hope to see you then. Oh yeah, it's spelled Vonnie.

  2. Sorry about the misspelling. I'm a genius :)

    Next time you see Steve, high five him for me for hanging in that long.

  3. Great report! I'll have to put this on the list next year.