I was reminded of this lesson in life on yesterday's ride. I had looked forward to getting out on what was predicted to be a beautiful spring day and "enjoying" at least a 20 mile ride around the northern end of Haywood County here in Western North Carolina. Sure enough the day dawned clear with an abundance of blue skies. I took care of my duties and was ready to hit the road pretty close to my planned time of 1:30 p.m. My goal for the day was to climb over Rush Fork, a feat that I've not previously attempted. I convinced myself that if I could get over the peak, the rest of the ride would be easy. Ahh, you're beginning to guess which door closed!
My starting point was the Haywood Cafe at the intersection of US 209 and I-40. The starting temperature was 75 degrees and it was beautiful. There was a lot of traffic out and about including many of my motorcycle friends. As I warmed up heading north on 209, my legs felt good, I was adequately hydrated and had made sure to eat appropriately for the ride. The climb over Rush Fork consists of a long grade of about 1.5 miles leading to a short peak at We-Kirk Farm followed by a short dip and then the final climb through about a 8% percent on average grade to the gap. Unfortunately, the "door closed" on me before I made it to the first peak and I came up about .25 mile short of the first peak. At that point, my heart rate was 187 bpm and I was quite lightheaded. I had no legs left and no lower gears to call into play. I decided it was either time to fall over into the lane of traffic or get out of my cleats. I chose the latter...
I walked the rest of the way to the peak and let my heart rate drop back down to something approximating normalcy and, while doing so, enjoyed the views looking back south toward the Balsams and the Blue Ridge Parkway. My lungs and heart had recovered so I fooled myself into thinking I could make the last climb to the top. So I headed north again only to hit the steepest part of the Rush Fork grade and the more impenetrable barrier of having no legs to pull it. I realized that the Rush Fork "door" was definitely closed on me this particular day.
Fighting my disappointment in not making it over Rush Fork, I reversed direction and enjoyed a nice long descent back toward town. As I was descending and trying to remind myself that this time last year, I couldn't ride 2 miles without thinking my heart was going to explode, the "other door" opened for me in the form of Riverside Dr. I peeled off of NC 209 onto Riverside and, after getting by a highly odiferous farm tractor pulling hog excrement, began to enjoy an easy spin along the Pigeon River. Riverside is a two lane road that runs alongside the Pigeon. The river flows on your left and mountain farms dot the right side of the road. The previously burgeoning housing development boom has left its mark along this road as well.
This was a very pleasant spin alongside the river. Only two vehicles passed me on this section of road. The river was up and running high from the recent snows. In past years, the Pigeon has carried a noxious odor that is the result of a large papermill up river in Canton. The company has made great strides in cleaning up their effluent and the river is now becoming more healthy. The malodorous component of the river is no longer present although the rocks are still stained from the tannins giving the river a dark, almost chocolate appearance in places.
After several miles, I came to the intersection of Riverside and Panther Creek Road where I crossed over the Pigeon and started the climb out of the river valley. I was headed back toward Iron Duff and my truck. After reaching the Triangle (intersection of Coleman Mtn. Rd and Iron Duff Rd.) and making the final climb back to the Haywood Cafe, I made a short extension run out NC 209 to be certain that I managed at least 15 miles on the ride.
As I process yesterday's ride and the lessons of the day, I remind myself that out of adversity can come joy, that sometimes falling short of a goal can lead to an appreciation for the distance travelled, and that it is almost always better to stop than to fall into traffic...