When last I left you, Wolfpen Andy and I had just enjoyed a nice long train ride behind a tandem and 3 cyclists and were making the right hand turn onto Coleman Mountain Road and the first moderate climb of the day for all routes of the Blue Ridge Breakaway…
After crossing Jonathan Creek on Coleman Mountain, we were still riding along behind the “train” and beginning the very early rise of the climb to the peak above I-40. I was still on last wheel and then, I wasn’t… The tandem and accompanying cyclists, including Wolfpen Andy, were still motoring on up the mountain at a pace I knew I wouldn’t survive and get to the top. I quickly dropped back into my Kent “Mountain Turtle” Peterson personae and began to “hasten slowly”.
Coleman Mountain has a couple of small inclines and dips before the main part of the climb begins and you cross under I-40 before making a right hand turn to a straight stretch leading to the top. Wolfpen Andy had dropped from the “train’s” wheels and we rejoined just as we went under I-40. I saw my first cyclist of the day on the side at that point. This person had popped just before the underpass, which is about 1/3rd of the way up the climb.
As we made our way to the top, some distance had opened between myself and Wolfpen Andy and I decided to go ahead and begin the winding descent to Iron Duff Road intending that we would hook up again at that point. The top of Coleman on the Iron Duff side has about 5 curves in the top half and is rather serpentine around the point where Jack Pine Drive joins to Coleman Mountain. I had good speed going down and did not have to avoid other cyclists as there were none in front of me. The tandem train was long gone and I was not to see them again.
I was enjoying the descent but got just a wee bit hot into one corner and my heart jumped up into my throat as I tried not to panic and trust the bike. All worked out well and I finished the descent with good speed. At the intersection of Coleman Mountain and Iron Duff Road, I checked for Wolfpen Andy but he was no where to be found.
(Note: In a phone call Saturday evening, Wolfpen Andy told me was descending Coleman behind me when a cyclist blew past him and was way too hot for the curve at Jack Pine. He lost control and went off the road into the bank and assorted bushes, vines, and trees. Wolfpen Andy stopped to check on him and help him to the side of the road. He stayed with him until the motorcycle support arrived before he resumed his ride of the 40 miler.
My best friends live on Jack Pine and I was telling them about the accident at their drive. Nick said he was glad that the cyclist wasn’t hurt seriously but that he’d have to wait for 2 to 3 days to see all of the outcome of that crash. Being familiar with the specific bank and location, Nick advised that it was full of poison oak! Our fallen comrade may be itching up a storm by the time you read this!)
Betwixt and Between seemed to become my theme for the remainder of the ride from this juncture. I rode the full descent to the Pigeon River and the right hand turn onto Riverside alone having no cyclists behind nor in front of me. It was pretty much a solo adventure for the rest of the day. I made my way up Riverside and enjoyed the smells of barbecue being cooked along the way and then made my way up Crabtree Church Road before coming upon a lone cyclist making his way to the top. Just before the peak of the short climb, we were greeted by fans 3 deep along the side of the road cheering us on. Well, actually, it was a father and his two daughters and he was standing behind the two of them. Still, they did cheer us on!
Crabtree Church Rd. intersects with NC 209 and the first water stop of the day was immediately on our right at Crabtree United Methodist Church. All routes of the ride were to come by this position so it was a large stop manned by many volunteers. Everyone was greeted warmly and volunteers offered to hold bikes while the participants refreshed themselves with food, drink, and visits to the portajohns.
(Friendly volunteer watching over my bike!)
(The first aid station of the day laid out with goodies!)
The first of the Century riders had not made it to this point as I departed but we were soon joined by the young man on his 18” bike referenced in part one of this story. He was still going strong! I’m not sure he had worked up a sweat at this point.
After a short break and refresher, it was back to the course. I followed out two cyclists, who were unfamiliar with the course. As we pedaled along NC 209 to Golf Course Road and then Big Branch, I gave them a short introduction to the remainder of the 60 mile route. In short order, we were climbing up the backside of Hyder Mountain Road and I found myself again riding solo. I recall a nice greeting from a resident as he was putting out his American flag on his second floor deck. Topping Hyder Mountain was a moderate climb leading to a steep downhill descent and the Pigeon River. It was at this point, the 40 milers and 25 milers would return to Lake Junaluska. The century riders and metric century participants turned east on Hyder Mountain Road and spun along the riverbanks of the Pigeon to Clyde, NC where the second aid station of the day was located.
It was at this point that I found out about what appeared to initially be a serious accident. Riders were required to stop at all traffic signs/lights and this location was a major intersection of travel from Waynesville to Canton. A rider had stopped at the traffic light in order to cross over Carolina Boulevard and begin the approach to Stamey Cove. It is unclear to me exactly what happened at the traffic light but the most common report that I’ve received is that a truck pulling a horse trailer pulled up on the left of the cyclist. When the light changed, the truck proceeded to turn right in front of the cyclist and shortened the turn dragging the horse trailer across the curbing and pulling the cyclist under the trailer.
It is not clear at this point why the truck driver proceeded as he did and I do not know whether he was charged with any traffic offense. The good news is that the rider was transported to the hospital and treated for abrasions and other non-life threatening injuries. He was later released and was reported to be home and doing well on Sunday.
The next section of the ride was the most difficult climb for the metric century riders. Well, to be more accurate, it was 50% of the most difficult climb because the planners of the route had us climbing Stamey Cove on the outgoing leg and on the return leg. The two sides are both difficult although their characteristics are different. Along this short stretch before the climb began, I enjoyed a brief conversation with a cyclist, who was riding in support of her friend. The friend was struggling mightily at this point and we had not yet arrived at the climb. We soon parted ways and I made my way up the initial steep climb. On the Clyde side of Stamey Cove, you have an initial steep climb into a left hand hairpin turn and then a LONG steady climb to the top.
I was just short of approaching the hairpin curve when I heard “on your left” for the first time in quite awhile. It turned out to be the lead pack of century riders. I was “hastening slowly” up the mountain and they passed me like I was standing still, which wasn’t far from the truth. It was a humbling experience to be passed so easily on such a steep climb. They were gone and out of sight rather quickly leaving me to my solo ascent of the climb free to wonder if I could have ridden at that pace in my 20’s.
The gap was in sight and I was again greeted by a local resident, who was leaning over the deck of her railing and appeared to be enjoying the morning. I inquired as to her state of being and she inquired as to mine. We both agreed she probably felt better than I did at that moment! The gap was soon under my wheels and I was shifting to the big ring looking for some speed downhill.
The descent to the Pigeon River was swift and fun and my legs were able to recover nicely. A short run up NC 215 and then across Wells Road soon brought me to NC 110 about one half mile short of the third aid station. At this point, we had run along and over the Pigeon River at least 3 times since beginning the route. Soon enough I pulled into the local Church of God parking lot and the aid station where the Navigator was working.
A local Girl Scout troop(?) was greeting riders at the entrance to this aid station with signs and lots of energy. The aid station was slightly below road grade and difficult to see without the presence of the Scouts. The Navigator told me later that a gentleman of Hispanic heritage saw the girls and thought it was a car wash. He pulled in and was trying to inquire about getting his car washed. Unfortunately, his English was worse than the Navigator’s Spanish. I’m sure it was an interesting attempt at conversation before he finally figured out he wasn’t getting his car washed!
After a short break and pick up of my water bottles from the Navigator, I was back on the route and headed to the aid station at Lake Logan, which was the turn around point for the metric century riders. It was along this next section after the Church of God aid station that I would begin to see the first of the returning metric century riders leaving me to ponder my relative position among riders on the metric century ride.
I was lucky to catch the rear wheel of 3 riders doing the century route and benefitted from their pull the rest of the way to the NC 110 and US 276 intersection and the beginning of Love Joy Road. As we started a short climb, I knew my time with them was over and said my good-byes and thanked them for the pull…
(In part 3 of my report, I’ll cover the return trip to Lake Junaluska, the most serious crash of the day, a dramatic change in weather, and oh yeah the post race rescue efforts that were made…)