Sunday, March 24, 2013

Climb to the Clouds

The forecast for Sunday suggested we wouldn't be riding today, or at least I wouldn't be. Several hour rides in 40F rain isn't my idea of a good time, even if I traveled 1500 miles to ride here. Arik was less apprehensive.

We awoke to torrential downpours, as in a roaring sound in the house. That pretty much clinched it for me. Glad we got a hard bonus ride in on Saturday. We hadn't planned on riding Saturday.

Moping around the house, the radar seemed to indicate that the massive storm moving across the country just might lift enough to the north to give us a break in precip. I quickly put a route together for the day on and loaded our GPSs. We were going to take a gamble on a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a section I hadn't ridden yet. Most of the BRP is closed right now.

Heading southwest skirting around Brevard, it was still lightly drizzling out and the roads were wet. We kitted up in full winter riding gear, as in booties with plastic bags under them AmFib tights, heavy thermal layers, balaclava, lobstah mitts, Goretex shell, etc.  The drizzle stopped, and after an hour, the roads even started to dry.

Heading up Hwy 215, Arik set a pace I knew better to follow. It is a long climb, and Sassafras Mtn the evening before left my legs a tad damaged. After half an hour of climbing, we reached the cloud deck. This was probably the thickest fog I've ridden. Visibility was no more than 50ft. Fortunately, only two cars passed us in the last half hour. Descending in this would be interesting.

Arik climbing Hwy 215. 

The grade tested 10% a few times. Somewhere along that stretch, I caught Arik and kept going. With the fog, we could have been 50ft apart and never know it. I forgot how much of the total climbing to the ride's high point was on Hwy 215. Almost all of it. We were more than a mile high reaching the parkway at Beech Gap.

Junction of 215 and BRP, Beech Gap I believe.

Rolling along at 5500-5700ft was surreal. I'm sure the views are incredible from the numerous pull-offs, but we couldn't even see the tree tops, let alone the horizon. There was a fleeting instant where the sun started to poke through and you could faintly see some nearby peaks. I waited for a clearer moment to take a photo, and the instant was gone. Back into deep abyss.

Devil's Tunnel

Wall of white haze exiting tunnel.

The 1200ft descent on the parkway was treacherous. We soon realized why they close it this time of year. No snow up there, but the numerous benchcut sections were littered with large chunks of rock and ice falling from high up. If you went over 15mph, you'd never see it in time to stop. Sections were minefields of hundred pound slabs of rock and ice. Would have been nice to bomb this section.

Blue Ridge Parkway

As we dropped, the temperature dropped. Don't understand this. It wasn't colder further down on the climb. Maybe colder air was moving in. Soaking wet and doing no work picking our way down, we got cold. The air temp was 32F by the time we got down to Hwy 276.

Visibility was still very poor on Hwy 276, but we had really nice pavement and knew this road would be clear, as it was not closed. Arik took some pretty nice lines around the many sweeping switchbacks. It took a leap of faith to carry that kind of speed with limited visibility. Soon we popped out below the cloud deck and could really let it ripped.

Arik is bigger than me and can put out big power. This is most evident on descents. He pulled away and there was nothing I could do about it. A few minutes of hammering downhill suddenly put me into a world of cramping misery. There's always a first time for something, and cramping up on a descent was a first for me. It got so bad I had to stop, let my hamstrings and inner thighs relax a bit and take in more calories. Arik was now long gone. I could do nothing more than soft pedal the remaining 10 miles or so.

Looking Glass falls where I stopped to stretch.

The drizzle started moving back in as I approached the house. I was dreading the climb back up to the house, something like 450 feet in half a mile. Just whacked. Our minivan can barely make it up this hill. I thought surely I'd be walking up. But no, apparently I soft pedaled long enough to recover some. Of course, Arik had to better his time from last night by one second.

I finished with 69mi in 4.2hrs with 6000ft of climbing. The fog really killed our average, not being able to recoup all that climbing by letting speed run out. Was great to stay mostly dry on a day that initially looked like a complete washout, and I got to ride another piece of the parkway I hadn't ridden yet. Might be only time this trip to ride up there with snow in forecast next three days.

Brett is not going to be able to make it. The bug he picked up just before the trip is messing with him in a bad way. It is one thing to cough up green, but a whole other thing when you start coughing up red. Get well soon, buddy.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Again, too bad about the weather. The 215 climb is one of my favorites. It is very scenic, especially in the last couple miles before you reach the parkway.

For what it's worth, the weather is unusual this year. I have been on the parkway before in late March and able to bomb down the descents without worry.