It is Sunday evening and I’m sitting before the computer wrapping up the week of riding, writin’, and rememberin’… This week has been incredible here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. We’ve been blessed with clear blue skies, excellent riding temperatures, and some outstanding views from the seat of the bike. Heck, we’ve had outstanding views pretty much from every seat I’ve been in this week! I must be living in a dream world. Five days without rain this summer and fall is practically unheard of this year.
Today’s ride was another one of those peak experiences. The “Wood-man” and I headed out mid-day for what he titled “an easy spin and ride.” When all was said and done, we’d climbed 2160’ in elevation over the course of 10.5 miles out of our 23.24 little spin. We’d averaged a 4% gradient increase over the course of the ride with a maximum of 12% grade as we summitted the backside of “Madam Rush Fork.” (I’ve previously expounded upon my travails and successes of climbing the sunny side of “Madam Rush Fork”. You can see those entries by clicking on the links below:
Yep, today was a easy spin and cycle day in the Wood-man’s world! We started off at the Haywood Cafe at the intersection of I-40 and NC 209. The Cafe was cooking (pun intended) with the post-Church families beginning to polish off their meals. Given that I-40 is shut down, it was good to see the local business still supporting the Cafe. We then followed Iron Duff Road west through some pretty agricultural areas. This section of the ride is mostly a descent to the Pigeon River as it makes its way to Tennessee through the gorge.
We crossed over the river and turned southwest on Panther Creek. This is dairy country! The road runs through numerous dairy farms with all of their attendant images and olfactory experiences! It also runs along a beautiful piece of the river that is below I-40.
One nice side benefit of I-40 being closed is the quiet. Normally, you would hear traffic sounds from above as you traverse this section of road. Today, you could hear the sounds of nature. This truly was an easy spin section and the “Wood-man” and I enjoyed pedaling along the river on a gentle descent. You really just needed to spin the crank enough to stay upright!
Panther Creek ends with a very short climb up to the intersection of Fines Creek Road and the Fines Creek exit off of I-40. Given the silence of the trucks, I wanted a picture on I-40. After all, how many times do you really get to stand in the middle of a major interstate highway on your bike and not get killed?
(Warning! non-Professional stunt man shown here. Do not try this at home.)
(I-40 west bound… Yep, it really, really is closed!)
After returning to Fines Creek Road, we made our way back northeast toward the intersection of Fines Creek Road and NC 209. Along this segment, you pass by the oldest church in Haywood County, the former Fines Creek School, and more dairy farms. The former Fines Creek School is now home to multiple community events including the very popular Fines Creek Bluegrass Festival held in August of each year.
We passed several vehicles, with out of state license plates, today and the drivers had puzzled looks on their faces. A couple were pulled over looking at maps. We guessed that they had missed an important turn on the trip to Tennessee and points west. In their current direction of travel, they were just going to run into barricades at the I-40 on-ramp.
The “highlight” of the day for me began at the intersection of Fines Creek Road and NC 209. This is the beginning of the climb up “Madam Rush Fork” on the north side. “Wood-man” and I had already had one serious climb along the Panther Creek Road so I was eager to see what strength my legs had left. I positioned myself on “Wood-man’s” rear wheel and kept my head down. I’ve ridden this road many times on my Harley but this was to be my first ‘person powered” 2 wheeled climb. “Wood-man” had been telling me that the north side ascent was easier than the southern ascent. I had trouble settling my mind on this fact as I recall the uphill runs on the Harley. Nevertheless, this was one more self-imposed challenge I was eager to experience.
I discovered or, at least fooled myself into believing, that if I kept my head down and focused only on the distance between his rear wheel and my front wheel, I was really riding on level ground. Never find the contradictory messages being sent from my legs to my brain. Hey, this is easy! Well, O.K., I believed that briefly anyway. Again, I was living in a dream world…
Truth be told though, the northern ascent was easier and we did make it. I stayed on my middle ring and held on to the “Wood-man’s” rear wheel and sure enough we popped through that gap at the top of “Madam Rush Fork” at a heart beat escalating 10 mph. The long rapid descent that followed was merely icing on the cake.
Today was simply one of those great days. Maybe I was delusional or maybe the endorphins were really kicking in. It doesn’t really matter. It was a great day to be out on 2 wheels in the company of a good friend and a cyclist, whom I admire greatly. If it gets any better than this, my brain may explode…