Sunday, March 7, 2010

A SUNNY SUNDAY SPIN

A hint of spring weather to come provided an opportunity this weekend for local cyclists to finally get out on roads that are no longer ice and snow covered although some significant amounts of salt brine still remain in a few areas. I managed to get out for a nice Sunday ride today and had the help of my “best half” in documenting it.

This ride actually had its beginnings last Thursday night when I dropped my bike off at my local LBS to get my new Shimano Ultegra 12-27 Cassette installed. John, owner of Rolls Rite Bicycle Shop, told me he would have it ready by Saturday and would give it a good “once over” to make sure brake pads, etc. were in good shape. As it turns out, we headed out of town early Saturday morning to see our niece play in a softball tournament in Spartanburg so the “Wood-man” graciously agreed to pick up the bike for me and even deliver it to our house so I could ride today. My first order of business today was to document the arrival of the new cassette.

 

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(New Cassette mounted and ready to ride! It won’t stay this shiny very long…) 

Let the ride begin…

I coordinated today’s ride with my wife’s schedule so that she could grab some images for me. We started at the usual place of Bethel Middle School smack dab in the middle of the Pigeon Valley. I headed north on NC 215 toward Canton per my usual route. Kathy would “leap frog” me and get setup for a picture as I made my way alongside the Pigeon River. Traffic was moderately heavy today as lots of folks were out enjoying the mild weather. I started the ride at 57 degree.

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(Brief stop at intersection of Stamey Cove & NC 215)

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(Running along NC 215 near the new Bethel Elementary School)

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(Arriving in Canton at the Recreation Park)

The section from Bethel to Canton is all river grade and unless you catch a headwind, it is normally a pleasant warm-up for a longer ride. Knowing that part of Bridge St. is impassable due to road work, I headed south on Business 23 to skirt around the Evergreen Paper Plant, which is Canton and Haywood County’s largest employer. This ride can be odiferous at times depending upon the current weather system. The byproduct smells of making paper are not always the most pleasant. Locals refer to it as the “smell of money” -  a reference to the importance of the plant to the local economy. In my youth, I can recall the skies being green due to air pollution coming from the stacks and you didn’t dare want to get in the river below the plant. Fortunately, years of work by the plant ownership and employees have resulted in vastly improved air quality and the river is coming back to life.

After circling the plant and getting back to my planned route, I enjoyed the first of my climbs for the day. After all, I’ve got to try out the new cassette with the extra climbing gear! North Main St. climbs for about a mile with an average grade of 3.6% until it intersects with Newfound Road. The last 75 yards of the climb is closer to 7% or 8% grade.

Newfound Road continues north and crosses over I-40 at exit 33. There is a nice prolonged descent from Newfound past Plains United Methodist Church. From that point on, you are climbing again. My goal was to check out my “winter climbing legs” and see if I could still make it to the top of Newfound Gap where Haywood County meets Buncombe County.

Just past Plains United Methodist Church and the neighboring cemetery, the climb to the gap begins and covers roughly 1.76 miles to the county line and an elevation of 3039’. The average grade for the full distance is only 4% but the final approach to the gap has a 11% grade for the last .8 mile. By the time I had the gap in view, I was on my smallest ring and crawling in my new lowest gear.

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(The gap is in sight!)

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(Is there a gear left?) 

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(YES! – 3090’ accomplished!)

O.K., so now you’re halfway – what now?

As we all know, what goes up, must come down! I sucked down some fluid, put my wind proof jacket and my heavier gloves back on and headed home. On my way up the mountain, I passed a friend’s home, who was entertaining on her deck. I waved but received only a small acknowledgment in return. On the way back, though, it was a rousing round of waves as the folks were showing their best southern manners. I also passed another cyclist on my swift descent. He had about a half mile to go to the top. I didn’t recognize him but I also didn’t have much time to study him in detail either.

My “best half” passed me on her way to check on her dad’s home and I was passed by a big pickup truck pulling horses. The ride back into Canton was pretty uneventful and I was, quite frankly, beginning to feel the “winter rust” in my legs.

They start them young…

My ride home was punctuated with an interesting encounter with what appeared to be a 7 or 8 year old boy straggling behind two people, who I assumed to be his mother and older sister. I was crossing the bridge on the aptly named Bridge St. when this little person sporting some kind of cross between a Mohawk, mullet, and pony tail literally screamed at me “GET OFF THE ROAD!” Now, I’ve been making some significant effort to not respond when yelled at but this was just too much for me to pass by. I braked and they came alongside me. I looked at the young boy and said to him, “What did you say?” I didn’t say it meanly or with any untoward emotion but I think he wasn’t expecting a response from me.  What had been a grin/smirk on his face changed pretty quickly to a wide-eyed apprehensive look as he took shelter behind his mother. I don’t think she was aware of his behavior because as I rode off, I heard her say “WHAT DID YOU SAY TO THAT MAN?”

The final leg…

From that point, it was mostly a matter of turning over the pedals for the last 6 miles back to Bethel Middle School and my ride home. As I started up NC 110 to the intersection with US 276, I became really aware of how tired my legs were and took particular note of aches beginning in my left knee and ankle. Fortunately, this is still pretty much river grade riding without any climbs. I knew that if my wife stopped, as she caught up to me for the final time this day, I’d be sorely tempted to call it a day and climb into the truck. She did pass me and kept right on going! She saved me the decision of quitting or finishing. So, finish it was and I did.

Final thoughts on the day…

I’ve got to admit to being pretty pleased with this ride. I was concerned that my condition has dropped off so much over the winter, that I’d be dropping way back in managing climbs. Today showed me I’ve “wintered over” fairly well. I really, really like my new cassette paired with my new tires. My Fuji CCR3 is treating me well. I took some motivation today from a great video clip, Commuter Dreams, Best Commute Video Ever featured by Kent Peterson in his Sunday, March 7th post. I encourage you to check it out. Today’s ride was also fun for me because my “best half” shared it with me by making time to take the images you’ve seen in this post. We’ve been watching the Oscars tonight so I’ll close with an Oscar inspired sentiment – “She still sees me in better light than I deserve.”

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Until later,

- Zeke

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