This brevet is named after Caesar's Head Mountain, bordering North and South Carolina, and for the feature of crossing this mountain twice (once in each direction). Double the pain, double the fun, right? Audax Atlanta hosts the event starting in Evans GA on the northern outskirts of Augusta. I usually get a mild case of the jitters the evening before one of these long out of town brevets, and this was no exception. It's not too late to back out - just give Kevin a call and he'll understand. No, can't give in to such thoughts - you've trained and prepared. Your emotions will settle down once the ride is underway.
Six of us took off from the Publix shopping center at 4 a.m. Saturday May 24. Temperatures were pleasantly mild. I led from the back, watching as a small string of taillights disappeared up the road. I was determined to not repeat a previous mistake made during a tough 600 - working hard for the first 80 miles to stay with a faster group, only to have nothing left once the real climbing started and thus earning the DNF award. Ride your own ride, finishing is the goal, if you want to sprint, save it for the last 2 miles.
Looking at the elevation profile, one could be excused for thinking there is virtually no climbing except for Caesar's Head. However, a surprising number of rollers are hidden in that profile, and some of them are long enough to make it impossible for an average rider to just "power over the top." Knowing Caesar's Head lay ahead kept me in the mode of conserving energy.
I caught up with Tim C at the 146 mile control (about 15 miles before the real ascent). It was pretty toasty by that point, and with reports of the fast crew running out of water halfway up the mountain, Tim and I each purchased an extra bottle of water. Once we hit the major climbing, Tim was struggling with leg cramps and told me to keep going. Descending toward Brevard NC (the turnaround), some mild showers fell and I stopped at a closed shop next to the road to put on a rain jacket. I got in under the porch just as the rain really picked up. It shortly was a hard downpour, so I just sat it out under that nice porch for about 15 or 20 minutes. Ed B was on his way back from Brevard and pulled in, totally soaked. Tim rode by as the rain stopped, and I followed him by a few minutes. The annual "White Squirrel Festival" in Brevard meant some of our route was closed off to traffic, so that meant walking my bike for a couple of blocks through some throngs. A sit down meal at the Huddle House was followed by the realization that we were as far away from Augusta as we could be, and there was that pesky mountain to deal with. The approach from the North Carolina side is not quite as formidable, and you can't see that far ahead in the dark, but I will admit the sign announcing the Visitor's Center as 1000 feet ahead was a very welcome sight. Descending the steeper side of Caesar's Head in the dark, while shivering, was actually not as hair raising of an experience as I dreaded. Tim descends much faster than I do, so it was a couple of miles after reaching the end of Caesar's Head Highway before I saw his taillight far in the distance.
Tim and I made it to the overnight control (251 miles) at Clemson Outdoor Center just before 4 a.m., where Kevin had a large cabin reserved with a couple of showers, plenty of food, and sleeping arrangements. The fast crew (we saw them screaming down Caesar's Head as we were grinding up) had already been and gone. Ed beat us to Clemson by about 3 hours, but elected to get some sleep and leave with us. Departure time for the final 200K was set for 6:30 a.m., when a few 200K riders would join us. It was essentially a solo ride back for me, but that was fine given the beautiful weather. One incident with a dawg deserves mention. I was coming up to a stop sign when a medium size dog came tearing out of a yard just behind me. I felt it going for my right ankle but managed to kick out of the pedal and flail my leg around to keep the dawg from biting. I did get in a good kick to the dawg's head before I stopped and got off my bike. The dawg and I stood glaring at each other, about 20 feet between us, while I unsnapped my can of Halt! from its clip. Just then the dawg charged me with its fangs bared. About two feet away I sprayed the dawg's face full with Halt! and watched it turn 180 degrees and head for the grass, rubbing its head desperately trying to get rid of the pepper spray. This dawg had a long leash, and must have broken free from whoever was supposed to be tending it. I was the last to finish the ride, so did not get a chance to compare notes with other riders, but Kevin did not say anyone else had an incident (thankfully).
Summary: A difficult but very scenic 600. About 20,000 feet of climbing, concentrated heavily in the middle 40 miles. Excellent support by the RBA and members of Audax Atlanta.
Acknowledgement: All pictures courtesy of Wilmington Rick, who rode this brevet last year.