Earlier this year, I think it was April, Terry Payne asked me if I wanted to do a Super 600 down in the Blue Ridge Mountains with him in September. Recklessly I replied “WooHoo, let’s do it!” A Super 600 is a 600 km brevet with a minimum of 10,000 meters of climbing and you are allowed 50 hours instead of the usual 40 hours to complete it. Kathy Brouse and Arthur Reinstein did a Super 600 in Oregon earlier this summer. Kathy told me about her experience. She said it was the hardest thing she had ever done and that it made the Van Isle 1200 she had just completed a few weeks earlier, seem like merely a 200 in comparison. Is it me, or is it the sport of Randonneuring, but I got two reactions after hearing about their experience. Part of me was terrified at the thought of attempting something so difficult, and part of me couldn’t wait to do it. Eventually I emailed Terry and told him it would not be a good idea for me to attempt something as challenging as the Super 600. A month later I emailed him again and told him I was in! Ahhh, Randonneuring!
The Southern Appalachian Super 600 has everything you could possibly want in a Super 600. Yes, you go up and up a lot. We started the ride on Saturday morning at 4:30 AM. We went up immediately at the start, 53 kms up to the top of Mt Mitchell. It took us just over 4 hours to get to the summit. Then you go down, down, down. It was exhilarating! You can “take the lane” because you are going as fast as the cars. I would see Terry ahead of me going like a slingshot around the curves – it was incredible! I felt like I was on a roller-coaster ride but I was in charge of the speed. We did this over and over for the next 600 kms – slowly up, up and up, then zooming back down! The road conditions were perfect and even in the dark we could often let ourselves get good speed on the descents.
Terry and I also enjoyed meeting people with their Southern drawl way of talking. Terry would tell them what we were doing and getting their reaction was fun. One woman said “Wauw, ah woodn’ e’en be aybell to waulk tha’ faah” which made no sense to Terry and I because we weren’t walking, we were cycling! Everyone was so friendly and encouraging to us, one man gave us bottles of water when we got to the top of a long climb.
The scenery was spectacular, endless views on every horizon of the tree-covered Blue Ridge Mountains with waterfalls and lakes throughout. It seems that every home, whether it was a mansion up high in the hills or a shack along a rocky creek, the main focus was the porch. It’s all about the rocking chairs on the porch when you’re living in that kind of scenery!
Cycling during the night, Terry and I disturbed a lot of sleeping hound dogs who would wake up and howl at us as we approached. Thankfully they were on chains or behind fences. It seemed that when we did get chased by the occasional dog, it was almost always the harmless spunky wiener type dog. Except once for Terry – but that’s his story to tell.
We were very lucky with the weather. During the day it was sunny and warm – bit like the Ontario summer we missed here in Ontario. It would get cooler at night which was great for climbing up and up. When we went down, we had to wear all our warm gear or we would get completely chilled. On the second night, at the start of a big climb, it started to pour down rain. Not a gentle rain, but a pelting down rain with no real warning – one minute it’s not raining, and then it was torrential downpour! I could hear Terry laughing out loud ahead of me as we were going up – he’s like that – I would recommend Terry as a riding buddy to anyone!
One big difference about cycling down in the States is that there are no 24 hour Tim Hortons everywhere. You have to make sure you always have food with you on the bike. When you do see a place to eat and drink, don’t skip it because the next one may not be soon enough. One of the controls on the first night was a post office. Beside the Post office was a Pub with a huge outdoor patio and a live rock n’ roll band. It was after midnight and the band members looked like they just got off their Harley’s and they were pounding out some great tunes. Terry and I went inside to fill our water bottles. Then we looked at each other and said “Carey Chappelle would not leave here without having a beer – let’s have one for Carey”! We sat among the pony-tailed, bearded bikers in that outdoor patio listening to the band and totally enjoyed that beer!
I love the sport of Randonneuring – there’s no doubt about it. I would recommend a Super 600 to all of you because even to just attempt it, is a great adventure. It’s tough, but that goes without saying. If it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t be Randonneuring. Even with the extra 10 hours, Terry and I had less than 3 hours total at our “overnight” stop, where we did not arrive until 5:15 Sunday morning! Finishing at 4:14 on Monday morning, almost 48 hours later, Terry and I agreed that it sure had been an incredible experience!
Cheers to you all,