Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A REAL THICKETY OF A COMMUTE!

Apr05_Thickety01

(Spring comes to the fields along Thickety Road)

Monday’s unseasonably warm weather was just perfect for my evening commute home after work. It currently seems that we skipped spring and jumped right into summer with our temps being in the mid to upper 80’s the last few days. Of course, this is bad for the fruit trees and farmers as it will bring about early budding and then damage will occur to the fruit crops when the late-spring frosts occur. In fact, we are headed toward a return to more seasonal weather this Thursday when the highs are predicted to be in the 60’s.

We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Yesterday’s ride, after an unpleasant start, was excellent and well worth holding onto for a little longer. My work flow yesterday allowed me to get out and hit the road home just before the end of day work traffic began filling up the local roads. I had a good start from the office and enjoyed the “warm up” spin past the Waynesville Recreation Department and onto Howell Mill Road.

After turning northeast on business 23, a split dual lane highway with a nicely done median of trees, shrubs, and flowers, I had started the short climb to the top of the first hill I negotiate. Traffic was moderately heavy by that time with people rushing home to work. I was riding my usual 2 to 3 feet from the right hand side curb. Given that two lanes run east and 2 lanes run west, traffic was not being impeded by me and was zipping right along.

All of a sudden, this car in the inside lane, having absolutely nothing to do with me or my movement, pulls alongside and the passenger in the front seat, yells out at me to “go ride on a damn track.” The car then sped off. I should be used to this by now but the idiocy of these interactions still gets under my skin. I did manage to avoid responding with the “one finger salute” or by yelling something equally stupid back at the guy. Still, it was an irritating moment in the ride that I would soon pay for as I continued on my commute.

After topping the hill and dropping down through one of the busier intersections in Haywood County, I proceeded down NC 209. This stretch is mostly flat with a small climb that occurs just before you drop down to the Pigeon River. This section of road normally has a nice wide gutter that I can enjoy without having to be in traffic. However, winter debris still populates the gutter so riding closer to traffic is pretty much mandated here.

I soon realized that my quads were feeling heavy and I was enjoying the ride less. It took me just a moment to realize that, although I had not responded outwardly to the interaction with the jerk, I was still pretty much seething inside as I rode along. Without realizing it, I had picked up my pace and was burning more energy than I needed to do at that point. I was only about 5 miles into a 24 mile ride.  My planned route home this date included a decent climb that would require me to me have my energy levels up to snuff. I really didn’t need to burn myself out while expending negative energy thinking about what had just happened.

As I tried to get my thoughts under control and bring my focus back to the bike, I turned onto Richland Creek Road, which runs along the Pigeon River for a mile or so. This two lane road is fairly lightly travelled even at the end of the work day. The N.C. DOT has just replaced a bridge over the river and improved the pavement in that area. As I was crossing the bridge, I thought I saw a knife laying in the roadway. I turned around and circled the object. Sure enough, someone had dropped their Swiss Army-like knife. It had several tools on it and even more bumps and dents from having bounced on the road and probably having been run over a couple of times. I thought about popping it into my tool kit for further examination later but decided that karma might appreciate me leaving it for someone else that had a need for it. I placed it on the bridge railing where it might more easily be seen. It will be interesting to see if it is there on my next trip along that road.

Interestingly, the change in focus helped to dissipate any further thoughts of my previous encounter and I was back to enjoying my ride home. ( Grasshopper, you must but place your focus on the smallest of things in order to see the greatness of the universe – possibly David Carradine, circa 1976.)  I crossed over the Pigeon and turned east on Hyder Mountain Road (State Rd. 1513), which runs to Clyde, N.C. It then becomes Thickety Road. This road is a pleasant two lane road with rollers that is a favorite of local cyclists. Eventually, you come into Clyde proper and pass by Central Haywood High School.

Normally, I would cross back over the Pigeon and take Business 23 into Canton before turning south toward home. Yesterday, I wanted to enjoy the warm weather and get in a nice climb at the same time. The image at the top of this post was taken along this section of the ride. You can see that spring is more noticeable in the lower elevations as the trees on the mountains have yet to put on their fresh light green colors.

Thickety Road winds around following the centuries old contours worn by the Pigeon. I passed some fishermen on this leg of the ride. One pair looked to be a grandfather teaching his grandson how to fish. Only a few years ago, it was not thinkable to fish the Pigeon because of the damage done to the river by the upstream paper plant. Now, however, the Pigeon has come back to life and the warnings against eating the fish have been removed. The noxious odor that used to emanate from the water is also gone.

Thickety Road soon departs the Pigeon for some short climbs through forested areas. There are also a number of small family farms and even a horse ranch or two in this area. I finally came to the biggest climb of the day that crests out at a small country church before plunging back down into the valley and then climbing once again to yet another country Baptist church. The climbs from this side of the mountain will get your heart rate up. I noted my heart rate at 174 bpm on the initial climb. Fortunately, my legs felt good and I pulled across the gaps without contemplating my imminent death due to lack of oxygen.

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Thickety Road crosses over I-40 just west of Canton at exit 37. As you can see from these two images, traffic is still light on the interstate due to the rock slide at mile marker 20, which still has I-40 west out of Haywood County shut down. The prolonged closure has been tough on local businesses that rely on interstate travelers for their economic survival. The closure has also highlighted for more than one visitor to the area how fallible GPS units can be as people try to find ways around the slide without following the DOT posted signs. The problem has been so bad that the NC DOT has actually posted warnings to interstate traffic NOT to trust their GPS units!

After exiting Thickety Road onto Champion Drive, it was a nice 8 mile spin up the Pigeon Valley to home. All in all, an enjoyable commute home came to a close. All that was missing was some more cyclists. I didn’t spot a single rider other than myself on the entire ride.

Until later,

- Zeke

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