There are 10 tunnels on this section of the parkway, one being 1,400ft long and curved. It can get very dark in these things, plus the road can ice up inside them. We decided to stop down at Sycamore Cycles and pick up cheap headlights since we didn't bring any. Front and rear lights are required on the parkway anyway so cars can see you in the tunnels. The parkway was still closed when last checking the night before. The real incentive for stopping at Sycamore Cycles with the bikes in the car was so we didn't have to climb the FREAKIN' driveway again. I think Arik logged nearly 3000ft of vertical on this trip, just on the driveway back up to the house!
We had bluebird skies starting out and temp near 40F. For once I didn't need booties and balaclava for a road ride. Radar showed rain looming just to the west though. We'd have just enough time to get back down before it moved in.
Pennsylvania Rd in the French Broad River valley, about 30 miles in.
35 miles went by just like that riding in the French Broad River valley. As a local pointed out in email communication, the short section of Rt 191 would be the most dangerous part of this 70 mile loop, not dark, icy tunnels. I had no idea what he meant. I soon learned. Zero shoulder and semis going by. Yeah, glad that was over in just a few minutes.
The Parkway gate was still closed as we turned on to it. There were many cars parked there. It soon became evident my easy 25mi MTB ride on Thursday was paying dividends. Arik did back-to-back 100+ mile rides the past two days and was hurting, FINALLY! I didn't think anything could slow him down, not even riding 15 miles on a flat tire yesterday. I punched up ahead so I could stop and take photos without slowing Arik down and causing him to freeze to death. The temperature plummeted as we climbed.
FS-5000 in distance, a gravel road that looks skinny tire friendly. Like to take that route
up some time.
From about 4000ft looking north. Still a bit of snow on 6000ft peaks on TN/NC border.
We lost the bluebird sky, but the cloud deck stayed well above us, affording at least 10 mile visibility. I reached the longest tunnel on the parkway and turned my light on. It didn't get quite as dark in the middle as I expected, but the light certainly helped me follow the reflective line in the middle. As soon as I exited the uphill side, a guy in some kind of three-wheel recumbent came screaming through, like 40+ mph. He was holding a GoPro camera high in the air as he went by. His wheeled rig was making a whiny sound, like maybe it was electric assisted. I don't think he was even pedaling, and the grade was not steep enough for him to be coasting that fast. I wondered if he'd pass Arik in the tunnel and scare the crap out of him. Yep and yep. Arik didn't think there were cars out but heard something coming. Lights were a good idea.
Arik with a couple locals we chatted with briefly.
A few more tunnels up, we caught up to a couple other guys on MTBs rigged up for touring with skinnyish tires. One of the guys, Scott I think his name was, was one of the early organizers of the now hugely popular Assault on Mt Mitchell event. After chatting a bit, we pushed on ahead.
Around 5000ft just before beginning 3000ft plummet back to car.
The park service was out cleaning the parkway up. In fact, they must have opened the gates on 276 and 151 after we got on the parkway, because cars started coming by. Figures, on the last day of our trip they finally open a section of the parkway. I was hoping for a car-free traverse, but we made it at least half way with no cars.
Up at 5000ft, it was breezy and at least 15F colder than below. We didn't care to stick around long and commenced right into the US-276 slalom bomb back to the car. When I came down this on Sunday, we had 50ft visibility. This was also where Arik pinch flatted on a rock in the road the day before. A few of the hairpin turns had loose rocks scattered about. You didn't want to hit any leaned over at 45 degrees and going stupid fast. I've seen first hand how that can ruin your day. Arik has a claimed 30 pounds on me and I was surprised he let me lead out on the steep, curvy upper section. Once things leveled off a bit, he came around and put the hammer down. I struggled mightily to get back in his draft. Hugging his wheel down this beast of a descent spiked my heart rate. I think it was more adrenaline induced, not ventilatory.
We beat the sprinkles back to the car. I logged 71mi, 5200ft in 3.9hrs. This was probably the easiest ride of the trip for me, as I recovered a bit yesterday and there were no anaerobic bursts chasing Arik over rollers. Just maybe I achieved a boost in cycling fitness over the course of a week. That is why we claim to come here, after all.
So here's a tally of seven days' riding. This link should take you to the interactive page at Strava Multiple Ride Mapper. I rode 456mi, 43,200ft in 29.3 hours. Arik rode about 80 miles and 3.5 hours more hours than I did, since I went off-road the day he rode a second hundred miler.
Seven rides superimposed. Click link above to highlight individual rides.
Despite the coldest March in recent history, we managed to pull off a pretty good set of rides. The trend for me has been hitting North Carolina on odd years and Arizona on even years. So next year at this time, look for a desert southwest trip...