Friday, May 1, 2009

Beech Was A Bitch

Our plans were disrupted again today. This time it was a large storm front moving through the area mid morning. Brett and I opted to hold off riding a bit. We planned to head southwest and ride a Brasstown Bald loop. But southward had gloomy prospects for a dry window. Northward look like it would clear by noon, but I didn't really have any ride ideas ready. E-quaintence recommended a Roan Mountain loop. I had never heard of it. A brief look suggested it was a worthy climb, something on the order of an Alpe d'Huez or Whiteface Mountain in New York. A loop entailed many miles of highway with minimal hill content. An out and back looked more appetizing. Nearby was Beech Mountain, one that Lance Armstrong trained and raced up in the Tour DuPont. We could tack this or another nearby climb on, Grandfather Mountain, if legs and weather permitted.

We left the hotel in pouring rain. It rained the whole drive up to Elk Park, near the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. Breaks were appearing as we arrived though. Then the sun came out. If we pulled another ride off dodging the rain, that would be sweet.

Roan Mountain from Elk Park

The five miles on Rt 19E to Roan Rd (Rt 143) was not an ideal cycling route. Rumble strips on the shoulders, randomly on and off again? 60mph dump trucks 3ft away? Brett was not happy to say the least. But once we got on Roan Rd and into the climb, traffic was near nil. Brett started an interval on his PowerTap again. Silly biker. Our legs were fubar from yesterday's ride. The grade went to about 8% and stayed there for what seemed like indefinitely. We saw a car maybe every 15 minutes. Sweet. Except this pace was not conducive to doing Mt Mitchell as planned the next day.

Looking down Rt 143 from around 5000ft level. Spring up here is weeks behind the valley.

We reach Carvers Gap at 5500ft, not quite yet into the clouds. The right turn at the state line takes us to the summit in less than two miles. This brought us into the cloud line. There will be no view at this summit. Two for two on viewless summits this trip. From when the grade kicked up to the summit took 59 minutes. I was in lower end of threshold training zone during this time.

Looking up Roan Mountain. As we climb, trees became bare.

There was nobody up here. We put the shells on to prepare for the 3600ft plummet. Got to like the climbs and descents around Asheville. This one was another 10+ miles of no pedaling speeds often over 40mph. Very little braking was needed. We suffered the five miles of 19E back to the car to replenish.

Carvers Gap at 5500ft on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. We thought about bombing down into North Carolina and then come back up for second climb of the day. But I would surely run out of fluids and fuel.

Beech Mountain track.

Brett was very reluctant to do Beech Mountain. He thought it was much steeper. I didn't really know;) I had no time to research either of these climbs. I knew of Beech, but no stats. I knew it gained approximately 2500ft. We gave it a go. I think it was only 10-11 miles to the summit from where we were parked. It was now warm and muggy in the valley. I scarfed down about 500 calories at the car and dumped remaining fluids into my Camelbak.

Six miles brings us gradually up to the Beech Mountain resort access road. Man, our legs were in no shape to push the gears we brought up that grade. It was unrelenting. Sustained 10-12% sections killed us. There were many heinously steep switchbacks heading up to the resort. We finally reached the top of Rt 184, but this was not yet the summit. Skiloft Rd through condos provides the route. Just like the walking path to high point of Clingman's Dome yesterday, this gem of a ribbon of pavement was the climax of the climb. It switchbacked furiously around condos, hitting grades greater 20%. This was like the summit of Mt Washington, except 5x longer. The end of pavement could not have come soon enough. We made it... barely.

Switchbacks on Skiloft Rd. How many can you count between the condos?

Finally, an incredible view. This peak was only at 5200ft, and it was mostly sunny now. The view across the valley to Grandfather Mountain was breathtaking. The view came at considerable cost on the body though. Beech Mtn turned out to be a bitch to climb. I can see why Lance would train on this one. It was much steeper than the other climbs we've done so far. Traffic kind of sucked though. Seems there is new construction going on at the resort. It was now 11 miles back to the car, almost all down hill.

We finished the ride with 64 miles, 7120ft of climbing, in 4hrs, 5min riding time. Tomorrow is up in the air. The forecast is most pessimistic yet. We are the most trashed. Brett has no interest in doing Mt Mitchell on Saturday. I have no interest in a recovery day. Not sure how this will work out yet.

Looking back down the climb from summit of Beech Mountain.

1 comment:

Big Bikes said...

I have this running joke with my buddy Chris from NC that Mt. Mitchell is a myth created by southerners.

I don't know how many times the guy asked some Northerner what the highest mountain on the east coast was. They would invariably say Washington and he would correct them.

The day we tried to drive up to Mitchell, "the road just happened to be closed". I never even got to see the thing. I still think it's made up. I'll believe when I see your GPS reports.