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SylvanSport takes on the 15th Annual Assault on the Carolinas

It’s been a rainy, chilly Saturday afternoon and I can’t help but think back to last Saturday, when 1,000 cyclists (and their families and friends) gathered in our small town of Brevard, NC for the 15th Annual Assault on the Carolinas. Mother Nature graced us with sunshine, blue skies, and a warm breeze (maybe even a little too warm at times). This perfect spring day brought out good spirits and helped calm any butterflies that might be stirring in rider’s stomachs.

1,000 riders lining up for the Assault on the Carolinas.

The Assault on the Carolinas is a road ride that offers a little for everyone. Riders can choose between the 100k (65.8 miles), 60k (37 miles), and 40k (25 miles) options. The100k has it all from flats, rolling hills, the infamous Walnut Hollow climb, fast descents, and a grueling 6-mile, 5,800ft climb up Caesars Head near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. The 60k riders will get to test their climbing abilities on Walnut Hollow, which is a local favorite. Walnut hollow is a steep, challenging climb that is 1.1 mile long, with grades reaching 15%. After climbing Walnut Hollow, riders enjoy a nice rolling ride home through the French Broad River Valley. The 40k ride goes through the scenic river valleys of Transylvania County and features some rolling hills and great scenery.

SylvanSport riders lining up at the start.

There are no time chips, no prize purse, and no official results. Just a beautiful, challenging ride with 999 of your closest friends, and maybe some bragging rights if you beat your time from last year. Yet, riders come from as far away as Canada to line up on Main St in downtown Brevard, hear our Mayor give his traditional opening speech, and ride anywhere from 2 to 8 hours through the mountains of North and South Carolina.

Team SylvanSport ready to GO!
Sometimes waiting can be as hard as riding.

SylvanSport represented with 6 riders flying our colors and all doing the full 100k ride. As we started lining up around 8:45am for the 9am start, temps were already in the 50s and people were started to shed layers, looking for someone on the side to toss their arm warmers and vests. At 9am sharp, the ride started and 1,000 cyclists started their way down Main St. Right out of the gate, you could feel that things were a little faster than they had been in years past. Within the first mile, there are 2 sharp turns that are always a little nerve-racking when you have that many riders, in such a small space, going that fast. In about 15 or 20 minutes, your at Walnut Hallow. Aside from being steep and painful, it does a great job of really spreading the group out a bit. After a descent down the backside, you get to ride along several miles on East Fork Rd, which follows the East Fork River. This is one of the prettiest sections of road in the area and better yet, it is slightly downhill and the road is nice and smooth. Hwy 178 take your through some big rollers and climbs and then a fast, curvy descent into South Carolina. The road takes you from 2,700ft to 960ft above sea level. It’s a great downhill run. Here you can feel the temps really warm up. By this time, it’s late morning and starting to reach into the 80s. Some of the warmest riding weather we’ve had all year. Just in time to climb Caesar’s Head. It’s a long grind, so just sit back, relax, and remember, when you get to the top, you still have almost 20 miles before your sitting down with a good meal and cold beer in hand. After Caesar’s Head, the rolling stretch of Hwy 276 always seem to have a head wind (regardless of which direction you are riding). Riding with at least a few other people will make it a painless as possible. A couple more turns and small climbs and your rolling back into downtown to the sounds of cheering, music, and cowbells. The finish area is like a mini festival, complete with a music stage, vendor tents, food, Oskar Blues beer, and lots and lots of people. It’s been a long, hard ride, but all that seems to fade away as you sit with friends over food and beer, sharing stories of where you bonked, where you felt strong, and how your pre-ride strategy went out the window within the first 3 minutes. It was a good day.

Assault on the Carolinas festival area.
SylvanSport mastermind, Tom Dempsey, getting interviewed at the start/finish line.

So, sitting here a week later, on a rainy Saturday, I am counting my lucky stars that I am not out riding 65 miles today. It’s time to get back out on the mountain bike and have some fun on the trails. All the while, looking forward to next year and another great adventure at the 16th Annual Assault on the Carolinas. Hope to see you there…now get out and ride!