Thursday, September 16, 2010

A RETURN TO THE S.C. LOW COUNTRY!

After what felt like days and days of getting ready for a short mini-vacation, the Navigator and I have arrived on Hilton Head Island for a few days of R&R as the summer season winds down. We’ve returned in the company of the Wood-Man and Sherri Shazam – the Navigator’s sister. We made a similar trip last year and enjoyed the infrastructure for cycling activities. From what I’ve seen so far, the cycling activities have certainly not diminished. I’ve already spotted 3 separate bike shops and lots of folks out cycling on the separated bike paths. Of interest, are all the stops signs warning cyclists and pedestrians alike that cars have the right of way. It makes for a lot of stop and go riding.

Before we arrived here…

Back home, the first tendrils of fall’s outreach were making themselves known. The skies have been incredibly clear and the overnight temps reaching into the upper 40’s making for some fine sleeping weather. Day time temperatures are still reaching the low 80’s and my evening commute home was outstanding.

This past Monday evening, I left the locale of my new office, which is within a stones throw of my old office,  and headed home via NC 209 as is my usual. However, this time, I extended the ride down NC 209 crossing over I-40 and turned back onto Big Branch in order to climb the backside of Hyder Mountain.

Big Branch looking toward Chambers Mtn (Big Branch looking toward Chambers Mountain)

As the ride home progressed, Chambers Mountain was always to my left and prominent in the landscape. Chambers is easily identifiable because it has become the home of seemingly every known radio tower in Haywood County. Its towers often gleam silver in both the rising and setting suns. On this particular ride, I was surprised that I had nearly ridden all the way around the base of the mountain having been on its western, southern, and eastern sides.

At the top of Hyder Mountain, sits Fincher’s Chapel. Its steeple prominent on top of the highest point of this climb. It is especially noticeable from the Clyde side approach as that is the steepest approach to the gap and the church sits right beside the gap.

View of the Balsams(View of the Balsams along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Fincher Chapel) 

This image taken from the gap doesn’t do justice of the 12% gradient approach to the gap. The descent to the base of Hyder Mountain is fast with a couple of sharp curves requiring close attention. The penalty for enjoying the scenery too much on the way down is a trip through barbed wire and perhaps “sleeping with the goats” instead of the better known “sleeping with the fishies” from crime novels.

“The ribbons of my ride”…

From this point, I was back on my usual trip home that I’ve written about many times. However, on this particular day, in addition to being cognizant of the prominence of Chambers Mountain, I also found myself contemplating “ribbons.” No, not the pink, yellow, red, green, multi-colored ribbons used to signify various charitable causes but, rather, the metaphorical ribbons that accompanied me as I made my way home.

I’m speaking of two “ribbons” in specific: Interstate 40 and the Pigeon River. Both are ribbons of sort and would appear as such from views from outer space. Both wind their ways through Haywood County and both have had tremendous impact on the commerce and qualities of life of the citizens bordering their “flow” through our community. Unquestionably, both have provided financial rewards by providing long term income to generations of Haywood County citizens. Of course, both have their detractors as well. The Pigeon, once almost a “dead” river due to paper mill discharges, has been blamed for high cancer rates downstream in neighboring Tennessee.

But, I digress… On this day at this time, I found myself focusing on how each ribbon accompanies me on significant portions of my commute home. I-40 is a constant presence by way of noise generated by passing vehicles as I first cross over it at the intersection with US 209, run alongside it as I make my way to Clyde, run under it on the leg to Canton, and then finally cross over it again as I approach Canton. The Pigeon River actually accompanies me for almost all of the ride on this route.

I first pick up the Pigeon as its path leads it around Hyder Mountain but this is a short crossing only just past the intersection of I-40 and NC 209. I leave the river until after the climb of Hyder and pick it up again at the base of Hyder. The river, at this point, well below the paper mill in Canton, is always the color of tea, which is the result of the tannins used in the production of paper and is enhanced by the permanently stain rock below the water. On occasion, a stench still assaults the nose as I pedal toward Clyde and Canton. I often refer to the stench as “smelling the money” to somehow minimize the noxious affect of paper production.

A short section of my route takes me away from the river briefly but I’m soon reunited with it in Canton at the paper mill. As I circumnavigate the mill, I come back alongside the Pigeon above the mill. The water is clear and fresh at this point before it gives itself up to the rinsing of wood pulp as paper is made. The final 5 to 8 miles of my commute is fully alongside the ribbon known as the Pigeon River. I’ve been blessed to see see it throughout all the seasons, before and after flood stages, and at times of local drought. As I approach the end of this night’s ride, I find myself grateful for the “ribbons” in my life…

“If I can walk it, I can climb it” revisited…

In my recent post, I posited the thought that “if I could walk it, I could climb it” as being important in my evolution as a cyclist. In that post, I indicated I had only tested this hypothesis on a maximum of a 12% grade. Well, I decided I had better continue to test my theory for accuracy.

To do so, I’ve now concluded my last couple of rides by riding from the base of our road up the mountain to the house. In the past, I’ve relied on the Navigator to pick me up and save me or, more accurately, my legs the trouble of climbing our road. This is not a good road by anyone’s estimation. A former wagon track, the road services  3 homes and the fortunately UNDEVELOPED mountain above us. We do what we can to keep it passable by our vehicles. Keeping it in road bike shape has not been anyone’s idea of good way to spend money.

The road is unequal parts of old pavement, river rock, gravel, leaves, dirt, and more than one or two holes. As it turns out it is also a grade of 15%. I can now report that despite a spinning rear wheel costing me momentum, “if I can walk it, I can climb it” remains true. Fortunately, the 15% grade is only .2 of a mile to our drive. So, staying with the theme of “ribbons in my life”, this particular “ribbon of broken road” has helped me continue to evolve and build my climbing muscles. When I crest the drive to our home, that deck sure does look inviting!

Back to the Low Country…

This brings me to the end of today’s epistle as the Wood-Man just called it. We’re heading out to get some protein before we ride!

Zeke dockside in the Low Country(The Navigator catches Zeke writing dock side on Hilton Head) 

Hey, it’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it!

More later from the Low Country!

-Zeke

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