Wednesday, September 2, 2009

TWO WEEKS – TWO GOALS ACHIEVED!

I mentioned in my last post that I felt that I had ascended from a plateau where I’ve felt stuck the early part of the summer. I just didn’t feel that I was progressing in my stamina or climbing skills until the past 3 or 4 weeks. I was struggling to get up climbs that I thought I should have mastered already. Well, I’m pleased to say that I’ve bitten off two of my goals within the past two weeks.

Last week, I finally managed to top the first climb leading to Rush Fork Gap. I had the distinct feeling that my heart was going to burst and save someone the trouble of spreading my ashes. My heart rate was popping along at 183 bpm when I finally topped the climb. My top heart rate should be 165 bpm for my age group. (Note to cardiologist: I’m probably not going to have a heart attack.)

RushFrk_DidMake

(Photo – my own. Three quarters way to top of first Rush Fork Climb)

The “Wood-man” has been telling me that part of my problem with this climb was psychological and that I just needed to get out there and “git er done.” I think there was truth to his statement. I had tried and failed 3 times previously to make it up this first incline. I would start dreading the attempt long before I managed to get to the beginning of the climb. I was determined this time that I was going to make it. I was riding with “Cross Country Stan” that day so I just latched on to his rear wheel and followed him up the climb. I think he must have experienced a tailwind of sorts as I felt like I was breathing so hard near the top, I must have been pushing him ahead! At any rate, one goal down – more to come!

RushFk_1st(Photo courtesy “Cross Country Stan” at top of first Rush Fork Climb)

Our Tuesday ride this week kept dwindling down in numbers until I thought I would be riding by myself. Fortunately, “Big Ben” pulled in just as I was starting to clip in and head out for a solo run. “BB” normally rides with the Thursday evening power group so this was my first opportunity to ride with him. “BB” is a member of our local advisory council and has spent many years on a bike. He is quite a bit younger than me and MANY pounds lighter so I was looking forward to this opportunity to ride. Along with interests in cycling, we also share career interests as well. Although, I’m at the end of my career and he is near the beginning of his. Still, it is enjoyable to be in his company.

We headed out along the local greenway and made our way to NC 209, which if you read this blog more than once, you’ll discover is becoming sort of a backbone of rides for me. The northern end of the county offers some fine two lane, low traffic count rural byways that traverse some beautiful agricultural areas in Haywood County. Our start time was 5:15 p.m. just after work and there was definitely a touch of early fall weather. The air temps were down and the air felt crisp for the first time. Alan, over on Eco-Velo, commented in his August 28th posting “Another beautiful sunrise this morning. Fall is coming…” It seems like only last week he was commenting about the gorgeous sunrise where he lives and that “spring was coming…” This summer has seemingly slipped away at a faster pace than preceding summers. I know that we circle the big light in the sky at the same pace as we did when I was a child but, my experience of those same 365 days just seems to be getting faster and faster as I start my own personal journey toward winding down my time on this globe.

From NC 209, “Big Ben” and I jumped over to Iron Duff Road and followed Coleman Mountain Road on its winding course over the mountain. Riding alongside “BB”, I managed to meet my second summer goal, which was to get past Jack Pine Dr. and spin my way to the top of the mountain. I’ve typically stopped at Jack Pine, which is about halfway up the mountain on the eastern side and caught my breath and let my heart rate return to something approaching normalcy. There is a nice view there so it hasn’t been punishment to pull of. In fact, I’ve taken the opportunity to grab a picture there in the past.

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(Photo – my own: Image taken from Jack Pine Dr.) 

This day, though I pedaled on by Jack Pine and crested the top of the mountain looking down on I-40. From the top of Coleman (35.34.52 N, 82.59.11 W, elevation 2936’), it is a nice long descent almost all the way to the intersection of Coleman Mountain Rd. and US 276. A nice long stretch starts the descent and leads into a slight left hand curve as you pass under I-40 before enjoying another short straight stretch. This segment runs into a series of “S” curves that are tighter and require that you pay close attention to the road. Of course, you only need to do that if you aren’t worried about becoming a hood ornament on an oncoming farm truck or finding a need to avoid plugging yourself into a slow moving tractor from behind as you round the curves. This is, after all, farm country!

Making a southerly turn onto US 276 leads riders onto a well maintained split 4 lane highway that runs the length of Jonathan Valley. By this time of the evening, the sun is casting long waves of light across the valley and the whole valley is encompassed in golden, warm light. In his book Serena, author Ron Rash’s character Rachel Harmon comments as to how the mountains sinking into the shadows of night provide her with a comforting and sheltering feeling. Riding up this peaceful valley, it is easy to adopt her viewpoint.

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The image above shows Coleman Mountain Road descending to US 276 (35.35.30N, 83.00.31 W, elevation 2515). You can then see the lower end of Jonathan Valley in the image. Largely a farm community, this section of Haywood County is under threat of being developed into a Pigeon Forge, TN like shopping district. The likelihood of this ever occurring is questionable but, the topic does keep raising its ugly head periodically.  It doesn’t take much to get a strong debate going over individual property rights and wise use of the remaining land. But, that is a topic for another day and another forum. On this particular day, the valley was the location of an excellent sunset ride in some excellent farming areas.

After intersecting with US 19, “BB” and I made our way back east in heavier traffic before turning south toward Waynesville and Russ Avenue. The final climb of the day starts at a traffic light at the intersection of Mauney Cove Rd. and US 276. This is a well paved 4 lane road that continues on to the “fast food – neon lights” northern end of Waynesville. In short time, we were back at our originating point and wrapping up the ride. 

So, two weeks – two goals achieved… Time to set some new goals for the fall riding season but mostly it is time to simply enjoy the pleasures of being outdoors with friends as we fly along the countryside…

Until later,

- Zeke

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