This past Tuesday, March 30th, was a magnificent day in the mountains of Western North Carolina. It was truly a great spring day. Temperatures started off cool in the morning but quickly warmed. By time for my daily walk from my office to the Smoky Mountain Cafe for lunch, a jacket was not needed and sunglasses were highly recommended. I think that I recall that the cafe had their door propped open for the first time this season.
By the end of the workday, we were pushing the mid-70’s and it was a day calling out for a ride. Upon arriving home, I quickly ditched computers and clothes and dressed for a late day ride. It seems that I stay pretty close to home this time of year and tend to ride a loop through the Pigeon River Valley. Tuesday was no different.
I start my loop at the Bethel Middle School and head down river toward Canton, NC. I noted pretty quickly that there were lots of people out and about walking the track at the school. There also seemed to be lots of traffic as some sort of event was just ending at the school. Throw in the end of workday traffic and good old NC 215 was busier than usual. The good news was that, without exception, all of the drivers were courteous and gave me plenty of room as they passed. I tried to be a helpful “traffic director” and would let them know what lay around the curves and whether they could safely proceed around me. It may have been my imagination but there seemed to be more pleasant hand waving as they passed me on this particular day.
The 5 mile run down to Canton was simply pleasant. As I approached Canton, I passed the local baseball field for Pisgah High School. The parking lots were full as a game was in progress. Rounding the next curve and crossing over the Pigeon River brings you into Canton’s Recreation Park area and it too was teeming with lots of activities. Many people of all ages were out and walking the trail, playing basketball, swinging, and just apparently hanging out.
A right hand turn took me by Pisgah’s softball field and yet another group of parents and friends watching the girls’ game in progress. In Memorial Stadium, there was yet another event of some sort. I imagine it was a soccer match. I mention this because seeing all of these young and old people alike out exercising and being involved in physical activities turned out to be an interesting contrast to a conversation that I would have on Thursday evening. (See “Of Note:” below)
My ride continued on my usual route up NC 110 to the intersection of US 276. The 5 mile run back up the river was typical of this section of road. There is usually more traffic here but the gutters are wide enough so you can ride pretty comfortably out of the flow of traffic. Winter debris is still abundant on the sides of the road resulting in times of quick dodges back into the main roadway but, still, a pleasant safe ride is the norm.
I wanted to extend my riding time so rather than turning northwest on US 276 and toward my home, I crossed over US 276 and began climbing Love Joy Road. The initial section of this road includes a relatively gentle climb above the river. At the top of the climb is a pull-off nice enough to unclip and grab a quick bite of power bar and some fluids. I also took the opportunity to grab some images.
(My Fuji CCR3. The grass still has its winter colors.)
(Looking south on Love Joy Road.)
(Look closely and you can catch a glimpse of the Pigeon River running through farmland just below Love Joy Road)
Love Joy runs about 3 miles in length and is a quiet 2 lane road traversed largely by local home owners and farmers. The Pigeon River Valley is a very productive agricultural area and is the focus of local conservation efforts to maintain it as small family farms rather than turning it over to yet more housing developments and mobile home parks.
Ratcliffe Mountain can be seen in the distance of this image and, if you can note the shaded cove in the middle of the image, you can see the “holler” where my “best half” and I live. The sun “sets” at our house around 4:00 p.m. this time of year. I’m often fooled into thinking it is later in the day than it really is because of shade and shadows involved in living on the north slope. Fortunately, it also helps us stay cooler in the summer!
I reached the southern end of Love Joy Road where it intersects with NC 215. Normally, I would turn back north and return to my starting point. On Tuesday, I felt pretty good and had ridden the only semi-serious climb on Love Joy without problem. I decided that, given continuing daylight, I would turn south on NC 215 and ride toward Lake Logan. The road here has no shoulders and you are running along the west fork of the Pigeon with some 10’ to 15’ drops into the river if you don’t pay attention or, God forbid, you get pushed off the road by a passing motorist. As I began the initial mile of this section, the sun was no longer to be seen as the mountain range was blocking it and I began to have thoughts of turning back. Fortunately, my indecision simply led to a return to sunlight just a couple of curves further south. In short order, I passed the Lake Logan Volunteer Fire Department and received a warm greeting from the local volunteers and then quickly passed by the turn off to the Daniel Boone Boy Scout camp, site of many wonderful memories from my days as a youth in scouting.
I intended to turn around here and head home but I was still feeling good and enjoying the day. Just past the Daniel Boone turnoff begins a climb of some more significant length and grade. While my ride this day would average a 2% grade, the climb to the peak above Lake Logan is a grade of 10% and has certainly increased my heart rate in the past. Having not done many climbs this season, I was curious to see if I would make it to the top so onward I went. I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to get to the top without having to find my “Lance Spot”.
By this point, the sun had dropped in the sky and I knew I needed to boogey on back home as I really didn’t want to be on this 2 lane stretch of highway in the dark. Just prior to beginning the descent, I noted a solitary hawk framed by the deep blue sky as it rode the day ending thermals high above me. It was then that I noticed the peace and quiet that surrounded me and became more aware of the emerging beauty of spring.
(Oliver “Babe” Yount)
Memories of my Dad came back to me as I negotiated the run down the mountain and toward home. I realized that it was 15 years ago to the day that he had died following a year’s battle with metastatic colorectal cancer. Some days, it seems like only yesterday that he was helping me build fence around our home and other days it seems like an eternity since I’ve heard his voice or saw his big smile after telling a good joke.
Oliver “Babe” Yount, along with our mother, was as strong a supporter of children as anyone who has ever lived. His dedication to the 3 of us (Bro Dave, me, and our sister Cindy) knew no bounds. If he wasn’t our actual coach in Little League, he was in the stands offering encouragement and support. It didn’t matter whether it was youth sports, our time in high school athletics or my brother’s years at Appalachian State University as a football player. The Babe was there. His support extended to our friends as well. I have great memories of Babe coaching us and even of watching him in the stands enjoying my brother’s many exploits on the field, court, and diamond.
On this day, as on many days, my heart was filled with gratitude for the lessons our parents taught us about being active and athletic and enjoying the pursuit of physical activities. I know beyond any doubt whatsoever, that even though I’m on the downhill side of my own time on this planet, Babe would still be there interested in my riding and supporting me all the way…
Of note: Last night I had the opportunity to dine with Claudia Nix, our local N.C.Transportation Committee member and co-owner of Liberty Bicycles in Asheville, NC. Claudia is just back from the Bike Summit in D.C. and shared some of her experiences at that event. She clearly is enthused with the energy and directions the Secretary of Transportation laid out. She also talked about how this current generation of children is forecast to live shorter lives than my generation due to inactivity, too much TV/video games, lack of training in how to be physical, and the onslaught of diseases in children previously reserved for adults. Hypertension and Type II Diabetes are becoming common place in children!
We were joined by Heather Strassberger, a regional planner, for the Land-of-Sky Regional Council. Heather works with the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization and has great interest in bike/ped improvements. She had an interesting point of view when she informed us that she didn’t like referring to bicycles as alternative methods of transportation. She said that walking is the ONLY natural form of transportation and that every other method of movement including cars and truck is really alternative modes of transportation. We had an interesting conversation about Complete Streets and N.C.’s alleged movements in this direction. It was a pleasant evening and I will hopefully be able to bring some of their energy back to our local bicycle awareness council, BicycleHaywoodNC.
The sun has crept over the mountain now and our home is flooded with sunlight as this Good Friday starts. The day is young and full of hope. May your weekend be filled with love and joy!