Assault on Mt. Marion
y Jane Fratesi

In preparing for a race or organized ride, you may want to read this as an example of what not to do.

Event: Assault on Marion
Date: Saturday, May 16, 1998
Location: Spartanburg, SC
Details: 72-mile hilly ride starting in Spartanburg, ending in Marion, NC.
This ride occurs at the same time and on the same basic course as the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a 100+-mile ride with a big mountain climb at the end.

A couple of months ago I talked Mike Plumb into doing this ride with me and a "decent-sized" group of friends. If we did Assault on Marion this year we'd be eligible to do Assault on Mt. Mitchell next year.

By late last week the decent-size group had dwindled to 1 - me.

Friday evening:

Picked Mike up at airport. Stopped for dinner. Headed up to Spartanburg, a 3-hour drive. ETA in Spartanburg is 11:00 pm.

Shortly before arriving in Spartanburg, we decide to check the ride details and see what time the ride starts - I knew it was at 8:00 or 9:00 am. Ride starts at 6:30. Apparently I knew nothing.

Check into Hampton Inn. Haul tons of junk to rooms. Prepare things. Get to bed about 1:30 am.


Awake at 5:00. This should give us plenty of time to get special needs bag ready (clothing change to send to ride finish), find race start, pump up tires, register for race. No stress. So what if we don't get there when it starts. We're not racing. Just a long ride.

Call front desk for directions to downtown Spartanburg - ride start. "Just take 85 North to exit 5. It heads straight into downtown."

Dress for ride, eat stuff, piddle around, pump up tires. Hear hsssssssssss from Mike's back tire. Punctured tube. Okay, we'll go ahead and head down there. I can register both of us while he fixes flat. Realize we don't have time to pack special needs bags. Head out at 6:00 am.

Head towards downtown. Exit 5 of course does not "head straight into downtown". It bypasses downtown. But I don't know this because there are no tall, pointy buildings in downtown Spartanburg off which to sight. Backtrack. Follow car with bike rack. See police man. Points us in
correct direction.

Park in church parking lot. There are a few other cars with bike racks parked there. Gives me feeling of confidence that I won't get towed.

Unpack stuff. Mike starts fixing flat. Gun goes off. Ride starts. I run to registration. They're packing up. "Hold on! This lady needs to pick up her number. Oh, wait a minute. She hasn't even *paid* yet." Joke with registration folks. Get numbers and t-shirts. Never think to get map.

Run back to parking lot. All other cars are gone. Feeling of confidence at not getting towed disappears. Frustration level peaks.

Rush to get ready. Fumbling, tripping, swearing. Every time I try to put helmet on it pushes hair into my eyes. Wing helmet across parking lot, spewing obscenities. Mike stares. Pick up helmet. Put on.

Start ride 20 minutes late. No cyclists in sight. No police. Nothing. Don't see road markings. Where do we go? No map. Ride a mile or so. Ask Mike where we're going. Voice behind us asks "You don't know where you're going? I was following you." Someone has been following us. He has a
map! Following his interpretation of map, we immediately head off course.

As our new best friend (guy with map) passes me I notice the weirdest thing I've ever seen on a bike. An enormous water bottle cage, about 50 times the size of a normal one, attached to handlebars, where Jetstream would go. In this thing (I kid you not) is a *5-gallon* plastic water jug, the same kind used in a water cooler, turned upside down with a long flexible straw
poking out the top. I stare in amazement. This man has a homemade, 5-gallon Jetstream. And he's going to haul this thing 100 miles (he was doing the Mt. Mitchell ride) up a mountain climb. If it was full of water, it alone would weigh 40 lbs, but he only has about 2-inches of water in it. Mike turns to me and asks "Did you see.....". I bust out laughing and cannot stop. We ride and laugh, letting Water Bottle Guy (WBG) get a little ahead so he doesn't hear us.

After riding a few miles, looking for the first turn (which we've already missed), we have several stops and starts to look at the map. It's getting really frustrating. We're making no progress. I worry that we'll be off course for so long that they'll shut down sag stops.

We stop and ask policeman for directions. He's unsure because map is not incredibly accurate. Talk to him for about 15 minutes. Time ticks away. He finally escorts us back towards course. I try to draft off him, but he apparently thinks he should stay a little further ahead of me, and punches
the gas when I get "too close". Trying to keep his draft wears me out. He stops at gas station. WBG has fallen behind. I'm getting really tired of just trying to find the course. It's getting old. I want to get this thing over with. Mike informs me that WBG has to "take a dump", so that
will be more time we get to wait. Although I consider it, we cannot abandon him at a gas station bathroom. He "helped us out" by having a map. And besides, he sells Merlins and might be able to get me a deal, if I'm ever in the market for one. ;)

We discuss map with a few folks at gas station, and head off in search of course.

Eventually get back on course, 20 miles into it. Obviously, we are bringing up the rear. Whenever we pass a manned intersection, someone shouts that we are the last ones. Broom vehicle starts following us.

Crank along. Mike and WBG are behind me, chatting away. Occasionally hear Mike use "F" word. Apparently he did not notice religious fish symbol on WBG's shirt.

*Finally* we pass some people! Hooray! We're not last anymore! Pass a few more people, mostly folks on mountain bikes, wearing t-shirts and billowy shorts. All are friendly. Pass a couple on a tandem recumbent bike, one of them wearing a Mt. Mitchell race number and the other wearing
a Marion race number. Now how are they going to work that out?

WBG gets lots of attention at sag stops. People run out to look at mammouth Jetstream, take photos, ask questions. No wonder he does this.

Eventually we are no longer in WBG's company. He's back there somewhere. Pass a man and his 8-ish-year-old daughter on a tandem mountain bike. Little girl is in the back, cranking away. Pedals have blocks on them so her feet will reach. Pass them and tell them they're doing great.

In all we probably passed about 100 people, which isn't bad for starting 20 minutes late and wasting at least another 20 minutes stopping for various reasons. Of course many of them were pushing their bikes up hills, or travelling at speeds of about 12 mph.

Finish 75-mile ride in 4:40 or so (I think). Feels great to get it over with.

Dismount bikes and realize impact of not having special needs bags sent up. We have no shoes, no change of clothes, nothing. We have probably a 1-hour wait to catch the first bus back, a 1-hour bus ride back, and no comforts, not even shoes. See people exiting showers, looking refreshed and clean. My face is cracking from dried salt, my clothes and hair are soaked with sweat and my skin feels sticky. I don't even have a hat to hide my mashed, wet, messy hair. I have never felt so unprepared for anything in my life.

Eat free meal, hand bike over to complete stranger (ride volunteer) who will pack it in a Ryder van for transport back down. Good riddance.

Sit on bus for an eternity. Somebody stinks and it's probably us. Ride back to Spartanburg, laughing about the day, and hoping my car did not get towed.

Arrive in Spartanburg, walk to church parking lot in stocking feet. Car has not been towed!!! Everything is okay.

the end.