Tour de Mountains 100 Mile Ride: a Non-Race Report

So, if you have nothing better to do than to read my posts, then you may know that I injured a lumbar disc earlier this spring. For months, everything hurt except riding a bike. For that I am quite grateful, and for that my best hope for participating in organized sport this summer has been the organized ride.

Not being one to aim for the stars, I decided that my first ride for the season would be the 100 mile option for the Tour de Mountains in Sparta, NC. This ride starts and finishes just 30 minute from my mom’s house. It was a good excuse to go up for a visit. Really, I had no business attempting 100 miles last weekend, given that the longest ride I had done in the last two years was only 60 miles. And I have only done two 60 mile rides in the last two years.

It wasn’t pretty (my riding, not the ride), but I did it anyway. And here is what you can expect if you do it too:

Tour de Mountains is a challenging ride.

This ride isn’t famous like some others in the area, but it should be. I can confidently say that this was the toughest 100 mile ride I have ever done, and I have ridden few mountain centuries. The ride included 10,000 feet of climbing (not elevation change, just the up part), many many miles of rough pavement, and about 25% of roads frosted in a thin, barely visible glaze of sand and gravel.

My pride and joy at Tour de Mountains mile 64. Top of Nile Road, one of the “bigger” big climbs.

What makes the course especially challenging is how the climbing is distributed. Many “epic” rides have several long mountain climbs, which are followed by long descents and connected by relatively flat sections of road; in other words, all your elevation gain comes from gradual, long ascents.

At Tour de Mountains, the climbs are just long enough to suck away your momentum (and your soul) but short enough that A.) they are steeper and B.) there is no room to get into a rhythm and C.) you don’t get much recovery time from the descent.

Plus, about 50% of the road surfaces were that chunky, grainy pavement that steals energy. The vast majority was not dangerously gnarly, with the exception of the climb and descent on Doughton Mountain, about 20 miles in. However, it became tiring after awhile; I even had sore chest muscles after the ride from the vibrations.

Finally, since it is less popular ride (maybe about 100 riders total for all distances), you may spend a good portion of it riding alone if you aren’t purposely riding with a group. This means you have to deal with all the wind resistance without sucking someone’s wheel (although I did get about 10 miles where a triathlete pulled me along 🙂 )

This ride really highlights what a difference terrain, solo riding and road conditions can make in your pace and energy output.

The race support is first-class.

This is the kind of small-town, friendly, non-pretentious ride experience that many of us want. Registration was easy, the course was very well marked, and the aid stations were awesome. Here’s what you get:

  • Breakfast: coffee, granola, yoghurt, fruit, and maybe donuts too?
  • A t-shirt: cute design (although I would prefer a color other than black…too hot and I really want someone to do a kelly green t-shirt)
  • Six aid stations: the volunteers at each were so friendly and helpful, and the aid stations were well-stocked with fruit, water and gatorade (they let you put powder in your bottles and mix it up, which is nice because you could control the concentration), peanut butter crackers, cookies, etc.
  • A post ride meal: they had spaghetti but I didn’t feel like it….plus by 4:00 the good spaghetti had been picked over by the faster and shorter-distance riders.
  • Showers: but I am gross so I just washed my face and changed clothes.

The route is very pretty and traffic is uber-light.

This was a fantastic route. Well, for the first 85 miles until I started yelling at the tarmac and wondering why we were still going uphill. But that may have been the fact that I hadn’t ridden this long in forever.

There is virtually no traffic, save for one <10 mile stretch on Hwy 221, which has a wide lane and cars easily passed, and in the afternoon in Sparta (which by most people’s standards doesn’t count as traffic). In fact, the few cars that did pass seemed extra-courteous.

The route takes you through Allegheny County, up into Grayson County, Virginia, and back. I didn’t exactly know where I was, although we did pass through a town called Ennice, NC, which I didn’t know existed until then. There are numerous vistas, and you will pass over the New River a time or two. The “biggest” climbs take place about 20 miles into the ride, and 65 miles in, if you are doing the 100, but the marginally less big climbs in between add up.

Overall, I had a great time. If anything, it was really nice for someone else to figure out the route and not to have to worry about finding water or food. About halfway through, my feet started to hurt very badly. Like they were being dipped in acid. Either I need new shoes or my fit is off somehow.

Executing a proper recovery after Tour de Mountains.
Executing a proper recovery after Tour de Mountains.

It took me over 7 hours. This surprised me. Past 100 milers have taken me anywhere from 5:45 hours (at Beach to Battleship, and that’s 112 miles, but it’s all flat) to 6:45 (for Blood Sweat and Gears back in 2005). So I was baffled and humbled. But then again, this was a tougher ride than any, I had no back to draft off of, and I didn’t give a crap how fast I was riding.

Immediately after finishing, I was most interested in taking off my bike shoes, and then  swore off 100 mile rides in the future. And then I went tubing with a beer the next day.

So that is why I am planning to do the Hot Doggett 100 mile ride in July.

Yours in stupidity,






3 thoughts on “Tour de Mountains 100 Mile Ride: a Non-Race Report

  1. once again, amazed at your fitness but mostly your tenacity. also your writing skills. i laughed out loud that you used “traffic” and “Sparta” in the same sentence.

  2. Love the tan lines from your bike shorts. LOL. 100 Miles over near Virginia, eh? Man…I’d like to do a walking marathon one of these days. Got to get a few other things checked off my list…
    Anyways, awesome post. Egads, I just LOVE your writing!

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