Bicycling in the Upcountry

To the Mountaintop

By: Brad Wright for

When it came to cycling, John Bryan was simply a Southern pioneer. In the 1970s, when the idea of a bicycle as a legitimate means of transportation was an afterthought at best, laughable at worst, he used his on his daily commute. It should be mentioned, however, that this was a commute between Spartanburg and Greenville.

He was a founding member of the Freewheelers of Spartanburg cycling club. In 1983 he became one of the first American cyclists to participate in the prestigious Paris- Brest-Paris in France. This 750-mile trek between the cities of Paris and Brest is one of the world’s oldest and most venerated cycling events, a 90-hour challenge only the most accomplished cyclists can undertake. But his greatest achievement came in 1974, when he got a crazy idea and for the first time set out from his Spartanburg doorstep to conquer Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

The next year he was joined by a small group of friends from the Freewheelers of Spartanburg. When they began, their only incentive was the challenge of conquering the 102-mile journey (and, legend has it, a hidden six-pack of beer somewhere along the route). There were no finishers that first year, but with their appetites whetted, the allure of reaching the mountaintop cemented itself in their imaginations and became an annual trial.

From such humble and unassuming beginnings the Assault on Mount Mitchell has grown into a world-renowned event that regularly features over 1,000 participants from all across America and the world.

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