Mountains of Misery & Wilderness Road Ride
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You Forget the Pain

This article originally appeared in the Roanoke Times. We would have just linked to it, but we can’t find it online. So we’re republishing it here.

Kathy Rohr "feeling the pain" at Mountains of Misery

By Mark Taylor

NEWPORT – Ten hours and 100 miles into Sunday’s Mountains of Misery bike ride, life on the steep and twisty road to Mountain Lake was, well, miserable.

Of five cyclists on a 100-yard stretch of road, four were on their feet pushing their bikes toward the finish line.

Only Kathy Rohr was pedaling.

Although this was Rohr’s first attempt at the Mountains of Misery, she was intimately familiar with the brutal course and the toll it takes.

For the past five years, she drove the course as a support worker, encouraging riders to finish and providing motorized rescues for those who couldn’t make it.

“When I watched people go up that final climb, I just said to myself, ‘I can do that,'” said Rohr, an active member of the New River Valley Bicycle Association. She never stopped to consider that at 59 she was two or three times the age of many of the riders.

So, just a couple of weeks after retiring as an instructor at Virginia Tech, Rohr pulled in to tiny Newport with her bike.

She didn’t get there before finding herself in a familiar role.

Rescuing someone.

Taking a break from cycling and pulling a van out of the mud!

Volunteer Ed Hokanson had gotten a big van stuck axle-deep in roadside mud.

Kathy Rohr pulls Ed Hokanson out of the mud

Rohr pulled a towing strap out of her Jeep Grand Cherokee, hooked it to the van’s bumper, hit the gas, and Hokanson was unstuck.

A metallurgist who taught in Tech’s material science and engineering department, Rohr pulled the magnetized “Support Vehicle” sign off her door.

“I guess I don’t need this anymore,” said Rohr, tossing it into the backseat, a leftover from her role the previous day during the Wilderness Road Ride.

As Rohr joined the some 350 other riders getting ready to tackle the event’s 101- and 128-mile options, she was confident but cautious.

Rohr started riding at 45 to lose weight – she lost 40 pounds the first summer – and vowed to follow friends’ advice and just keep her own pace instead of riding with certain people.

“I’ll probably be with different groups throughout the day, probably working my way toward the back,” laughed Rohr, who was hoping to finish the ride in 10 hours.

Event director James DeMarco predicted that Rohr would be fine.
Rohr and Geno Iannaccone drafting one another.

“She’s pretty hard-core,” he said. “You can just look at the way she struts around.

“She has confidence. And to finish this ride you have to have confidence”

Now in its seventh year, the Mountains of Misery Century Challenge includes an almost preposterous amount of climbing, with a cumulative elevation gain of 10,000 feet that finishes on a sickeningly steep three-mile pull to Mountain Lake.

Many consider it among the nation’s toughest century rides, which is why it attracts masochistic riders from Virginia and beyond.

At a touch past 7 a.m., Rohr was in the middle of the pack as the riders rode out of Newport on Virginia 42 toward New Castle. Although one rider crashed early and broke his collarbone, most had it pretty easy on the gradual 28-mile ascent into Craig County.

Two hours later at the rest stop in New Castle, Rohr, who is married with two adult sons, had barely broken a sweat.

“I still feel great,” said Rohr, who was riding with friend Geno Iannaccone of Blacksburg. “It’s scary.”

The fun would soon come to an end.

After a short loop through the woods outside New Castle and a ride through Johns Creek valley, the riders would reach the day’s first serious challenge, a short but steep climb back up to Virginia 42.

Things got ugly before Rohr and Iannaccone reached the climb.

First, it started raining hard.

Then, Rohr clipped the tire of the rider in front of her.

“I was trying to catch a draft, he braked and I lost,” Rohr said. “When I went down, I thought it was over.”

It was over for Shawn Altizer of Cedar Bluff. About the time Rohr was crashing, the 27-year-old rider was crossing the finish line at Mountain Lake in 5 hours, 14 minutes and 55 seconds. The fastest woman, 38-year-old J.P. Palmer of Blacksburg, finished about 90 minutes later, just ahead of the 128-mile ride’s fastest, 25-year-old Dan Pearis of Blacksburg.

Barely halfway through the ride when she crashed, Rohr wasn’t ready to quit.

After rinsing and bandaging her bloodied knee and elbow, she was back on the road. On the steep climb she slowed, but still made it up the mountain in good time.

“My legs wanted to cramp, but I talked them out of it,” said Rohr, who had covered 60 miles in just under six hours.

Kathy Rohr pedals to the Mountains of Misery finish

Most of the next 30 miles were flat or downhill with just a few short climbs. Rohr and Iannaccone stuck together at a comfortable pace. They cruised back through Newport, did a 12-mile loop near the town, then rode along Spruce Run to the New River near Eggleston.

Then, determination etched on her face, Rohr turned up from the river and started the final 10-mile pull to Mountain Lake.

When she reached the final section of the climb, Rohr saw the familiar sight of exhausted cyclists pushing their bikes up the mountain.

Riders pushing their bikes toward Mountain Lake

No longer a cheerleader and forced to put all of her efforts into her personal mission, Rohr was silent as she rolled by the struggling riders and moved steadily up the mountain.

Then, as she approached the finish line, her stone face finally softened and Rohr smiled. She even let out a subdued “Woo hoo!” as she crossed the line at 10 hours, 16 minutes.

Rohr hopes to spend more time on her bike now that she’s retired, but she’s not yet committed to riding the Mountains of Misery again.

“I’ve got to get over this one,” she said, smiling faintly. “But they say it’s like childbirth.

“You forget the pain.”

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