Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Carolina Climbing

We picked a dubious weather week for some road cycling in Brevard, NC. Heading down last Saturday, there was high probability of rain every day Monday through Friday. At least it wouldn't be cold like it was in 2012 when I last came down here. That trip saw flurries some mornings, and the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed due to wintry conditions. The Parkway provides some of the finest early season riding in the southeast. Tourism season doesn't ramp up until May, so the Parkway is essentially a ridge top bike path. Now just if the weather would cooperate enough to let us complete some big loops without getting drenched or electrocuted.

After building the bikes up Saturday, Brett and I were able to squeeze in a classic loop that is the core of an organized ride called "Assault of the Carolina's." It passes over Caesar's Head in South Carolina, the state's highest point.  The 51mi, 5100ft loop did some damage. It was a bit more than a bike "shakedown" ride.

We rented a house outside of Brevard. It sits 1000ft higher than town at about 3200ft elevation. Rides from the house entail 1300ft total climbing to get back up to the house. About 300ft of this vertical are at 17-19% grade. Yeah, that'll feel great after a long day in the saddle. I think Arik, who unfortunately couldn't make the trip, deliberately picked this rental because we bitched about the other house we've rented a couple times. It had a 400-500ft climb up to it. That'll teach us...

Sunday was the only 0% chance precip day of trip. We had to go long.  Tom arrived late the night before, so three of us headed out from the house. The planned route was another classic, the 215/276 loop which entails two major climbs up to and over the Parkway.  90+ miles and 8000ft of climbing. Unfortunately, a portion of the Parkway between 215 and 276 is being worked on and closed, precluding other route options that traverse this scenic section. That climb back up to the house? Brett cramped up horrifically approaching it, and I nearly had to push my bike up the 19%. I did not bring a compact crank but did have a 32t cassette on back. Oh boy, the rides are going to get more interesting as the trip progresses.

The next couple days we did shorter, closer to the house rides due to high threat of rain and storms. The rides averaged about 50 miles and over 5000ft of climbing.  Not what we hoped for, but none of us are really into riding in the rain with the extra bike maintenance it entails. Shorter does not mean easy. It means you can go harder.

Wednesday's weather looked promising for a longer, higher elevation ride. Brett really wanted to give Mt Mitchell a go, via the Parkway from Asheville. This ride would require a short drive to the start. This was on my bucket list too, as the last three trips for me this ride was impossible. Two of the years the Parkway leading up to Mt Mitchell was closed due to a land slide. In 2012, it was snowed in. No risk of that on Wednesday. Temp in Asheville was expected to break 80F. There was risk of afternoon storms though. I wouldn't want to get caught up there in the storms that moved through here the afternoon before.

Tom headed off to Charlotte area to see friends, so it was just Brett and I. Our pace was pathetic. I think I lost my roadie legs this winter. You'd think a week of big vertical on the MTB in Arizona a few weeks ago would have given me a boost, but you'd never notice. Wow, was I tired. Tourist pace it was going to be.

We started out below the fog deck, dark, misty and dreary. A thousand feet of climbing brought us to mostly blue, sunny skies. It was very humid but not yet too warm. The Parkway was deserted. A car would go by every 15 minutes or so. It was just the wind and our heavy breathing breaking the silence.

Turning off the Parkway onto the Mitchell summit road, the headwind was fierce. It was getting noticeably colder too, borderline needing layers even climbing. The summit was in and out of the clouds. Seems the previous two times I've climbed Mitchell via a different route, views from the summit were fickle.

The summit area was nearly deserted, the shops not yet open for the season. No water either, so I was very glad I took a third water bottle up in jersey pocket. We poached the footpath to the observation deck. The summit was in the clear! After quick obligatory summit photos, it was time to zip on the shells and rocket back to town before any weather materialized.

The decent rocked! There's a section that drops nearly monotonically 3000ft without need to scrub speed by braking. There are three short tunnels on this section.  Brett and I agreed this was one of the best descents we've hit in the greater Asheville/Brevard area. It was a great way to end a 68mi, 7400ft day.

We have two more days of riding left. Friday looks like complete washout, but we've had other days look this way and turn out ok. We may go for broke on Thursday and do another big one. I'll leave you with a few photos from the Mitchell ride.

At 3200ft on the BRP, about 1000ft above Asheville. Just above fog deck.

Brett clearing one of three tunnels on this section of the BRP.

Around 5500ft. Mt Mitchell in distance just off Brett's forearms, completely socked in.

Neat trees with fungus at around 5500ft on Parkway.

Brett approaching summit

View south from summit deck. At times clouds obscured view.

The obligatory pose. Had the summit to ourselves for several minutes.

On descent, looking back at one of the tunnels. Definitely a wilderness feel here, even on a road bike.

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