We've had three perfect riding days so far. Yesterday's 6-gap ride in Georgia was not without issues though. Have to share that story another time. Sunday we hit Mt Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Brett and I climbed Mitchell a couple years ago. This would be Dave's first.
We parked near Marion, a low point along the loop I had planned. It was more than a vertical mile net gain to the summit. In 2009, it rained, forcing Brett and I to take an all-paved route to the top. Today I had a special treat in mind. We'd take Curtiss Creek Rd up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), parkway to summit road, then BRP back down past Curtiss Creek to Rt 80. Curtiss Creek Rd is a one-lane gravel road, gaining nearly 3000ft to the BRP. There was 8mi of 8%, with 3mi of 11% embedded in the middle. Only Dave had a triple crank.
Starting off on US-70, Brett and Dave were killing it, at least from my perspective. I immediately recognized I was in trouble. I had climbed 50% more than either of them did over the last two days. Brett did nothing on Friday, and Dave's ride was cut short with at least 5000ft of climbing to go on Saturday. I let them go knock each other out.
We had checked out the gravel with the car before committing to the route. It was nicely packed at the bottom. Riding however, it didn't take long before I realized this was going to be a very, long climb. The steep parts were wicked loose. I had biggish gears for 12% grade in loose gravel, trashed legs, and it was impossible to stand and pedal. My Garmin showed long sections of 12-14% grade, momentarily breaking 18% a few times. The gravel was of the sharp, crushed granite kind. I thought surely of the three of us, at least one would surely flat.
One of many switchbacks on Curtiss Creek Rd.
It wasn't too warm out, but it was hazy and much more humid than the prior two days. I was soaking wet upon reaching the BRP where Brett and Dave waited. For the last hour, there were zero cars, and the only thing I heard was my heavy breathing and stones ricocheting off trees after being pinched by my tires. 3000ft down, another 3000ft of climbing before reaching the summit. I asked everybody to inspect their tires for cuts. You don't want to have a blowout later while leaning at 45 degrees around a curve at 40mph. We were all good, or so we thought.
About 15 minutes later, Dave's rear tire pretty much exploded. He had a sidewall cut and the latex tube burst through it. Dave was now two-for-two on wheel and tire mishaps during a ride. No problem through. A dollar bill (to boot the cut) and a new tube later, we were rolling again. We were extra paranoid now and double checked our tires. This blow-out could have been disasterous if it happened on the descent.
At least Dave picked a pretty place to flat.
My holding back earlier in the ride paid off. On the four mile summit road, Brett imploded. I got a second wind and held a solid tempo pace to the top. The temp at the summit was in the 50's. A cloud deck was building and sinking. We didn't want to stick around too long. Many cyclist were on Mt Mitchell today. Some were practicing for the Assault on Mt Mitchell time century ride.
The summit road from Mt Mitchell summit.
Coming back down Mt Mitchell is one of the finest descents anywhere. First you plummet 1600ft or so on the summit road. Then another 2000ft on the BRP. After a 500ft climb, the bombing resumes on the BRP to Rt 80. Rt 80 is an insane switchback fest. Brett led. For once, I was actually was a little scared descending behind Brett. He's usually super cautious.
The summit getting socked in just after we left.
All good things come to an end. Soon we were back to US-70. We finished with 58.3mi, 3.8hrs and 7080ft on the Garmin. That makes over 22,000ft of climbing for me in three days, some of it at pretty high intensity. Needless to say, I'm pretty cooked. Brett is saying easy endurance pace for Monday. I'll believe it when I experience it. Those slow twitch guys have an uncanny way of recovering from big volume. Monday will likely be a BRP loop or an out-and-back to BRP high point at 6100ft starting from Brevard. Hoping the weather holds for a couple more days.