End of the season epic – Sassafras Mountain
It has been a longstanding tradition dating back to my college days at Clemson to end the season the week after the Michellin Classic (now called the Greenville Cycling Classic) with an epic solo ride. While I was at Clemson, I had a 200 mile loop from Clemson with an insane amount of climbing including Brasstown Bald – the highest point in Georgia – and the climb up to Highlands, North Carolina. The ride would take me about 12 hours (7am to 7pm).
Well, I moved away to grad school and stopped racing for several years. I still managed to squeeze in a few epic rides out in California (e.g., Mix Canyon), which were even more epic since I wasn’t training as much and there was always a real possibility of not being able to finish a 4 or 5 hours ride. I picked up racing again in 2005 and at the same time began teaching at Samford University. Along with that came a 2 day fall break right at the end of the season so for the past three years, we have been heading back to Clemson in the middle of October and I have been able to continue the old tradition of an epic ride while Kristine graciously watches the kids for 5 (or sometimes 6) hours.
For the past three years we have been staying at the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast which is on one of the roads I used in my 200 mile ride! It is also a great launching point for a number of other rides. And it is a very cool farm, too. When we first stayed here, I did a 90 mile loop through Highlands, North Carolina. For the past couple years, I have headed out to Sassafras Mountain instead. Last year, I did an out and back ride that ended up being about 92 miles and over 9200′ feet of climbing (http://www.toonesalive.com/cycling/maps/Richland-Sassafras.pdf).
This year I wanted to ride to Sassafras again, but I wanted to turn it into a loop through Clemson. It ended up being close to 100 miles taking 5 hours 45 minutes. The ride was awesome. I took roads that made up cycling routes from my days at Clemson and the reminiscing of long ago rides was nearly as awesome as the ride itself. I wound my way over to Clemson through Seneca remembering sprints for stop ahead signs, county line, and city limits signs – through the university passing dorms that I lived in when I was a student – then taking the traditional route (map to be posted soon) up 133 through Six Mile passing Six Mile Mountain and Woodall Mountain before making it to the first real obstacle – Beasley Gap (13 minutes of hard climbing in zone 5), a short rest during a 1 mile switchback descent to Rocky Bottom and finally a 35 minute climb up beautiful Sassafras Mountain finally making it to some real fall colors in the higher elevations. It almost doesn’t do the ride justice to try and describe it so I’ll leave it at that, post a detailed annotated map, and encourage everyone to go try it some day. You won’t regret it (if you can make it)!