Sunday, February 13, 2011

RIDING IN TWO SEASONS

Today, Sunday February 13th, was the good weather day that yesterday was supposed to have been. A spring-like weekend had been forecast for our area and everyone was all abuzz talking about it on Friday while we waited for the last of the cold air to move on out. A low pressure system moving in from the southwest was supposed to be bringing in temps in the upper 50’s yesterday under blue skies. Well, the blue skies were abundant but my thermometer seemed to hover in the low 40’s. Still, there was hope for today and that hope was well rewarded with today’s great weather. It was riding time…

Zeke's Fuji CCR3 at Lake Logan Causeway

(Beautiful skies behind Zeke’s Fuji CCR3)

On this gorgeous Sunday, I started my ride at the Bethel Middle School and headed up NC 215 or, as it is also known, Lake Logan Road. I timed my ride to hopefully avoid most of the “coming home from church” folk. Lake Logan Road is a narrow 2 lane road with minimal to no shoulders but is also part of the N.C. Scenic Byway. As I started out, spring was definitely in the air. The temperature was closing in on 65 degrees and I was feeling warm in my knickers, light weight long sleeve USA Cycling jersey, and my Pearl Izumi light weight wind breaker. I planned on this being sufficient layers on such a great day.

The first 10 miles of this ride were essentially all climb although the grade is actually not much at all as you are running alongside the West Fork of the Pigeon River. So, it is a constant pedal but not a hard one until you get to the climb above the Lake Logan dam. By that point, my legs were warmed up quite nicely and I had been riding mostly in the sun, which had worked up a nice light sweat. I was feeling pretty smooth on the bike considering that I haven’t ridden hardly at all since November of 2010.

My timing appeared to be paying off as there were actually few vehicles on the road. I really expected more since the day was so pretty and so many people have been “enjoying” cabin fever for the last couple of months. With one exception, the few vehicle that passed me gave me plenty of room and were not-unfriendly. My only somewhat close call came when what appeared to be an older teen or young adult female in a compact red pickup decided to pass me in a blind curve despite me giving her hand signals to stay back as there was an oncoming car that I could see but she could not. Fortunately, the oncoming car slowed, as did I, and we didn’t really have a close encounter of the painful kind. Still, it is a reminder that you can’t let yourself get distracted by the pretty scenery and such.

The climb above the dam came and went without incident. My heart didn’t explode from the effort and I actually made the climb easier than I expected. This climb has grades of 12% with a false middle that can throw you off if you aren’t familiar with the climb. From the bottom, you can see that the road appears to level off and that the climb is over. Unfortunately, for those fooled by this illusion, the road grade merely drops a little before again increasing for the second half of the climb. When you see the red gate at the top of the hill, you can count on being near the end of the climb. It takes a couple of times for folks to realize this and keep themselves geared mentally for the full climb. On last year’s Blue Ridge Breakaway, I passed some riders, who thought they had topped the climb and then found to their consternation that they were only about halfway through. I thought perhaps they were sailors when I heard their verbiage assessing the remaining portion of the climb.

Once you top the climb, you are rewarded with pretty scenery of the lake through the tall trees of the forest. Today, I was quite surprised to find that Lake Logan is still frozen! There is only a current running through the middle of the lake that is not frozen over. I would have expected that the last few days of improving weather would have thawed out the lake.

Frozen Lake Logan

(No ducks were observed frozen to the lake ice!)

I grabbed a couple of quick pictures, sucked down some Gatorade, and headed on up NC 215 again running mostly along at river grade. Traffic had picked up some but was still not approaching the busy levels this road gets in the summer on the weekends. The most frequent companion I had on this leg of the ride was a young man appearing to be around 12 or 13 years of age riding a dirt bike up and down the highway sans helmet. I guessing that the local folks along this road realize that odds of getting caught by a County Deputy Sheriff or NC State Trooper are fairly minimal.

I passed a church and graveyard as I continued my pleasant spin up the road. I was surprised at one point to have a Golden Retriever baring down on me from behind. It was one of those stealth attacks that you often don’t see or hear until the last moment. Fortunately, I heard his dog tags clicking and fortunately I was still in climbing mode so the wind rushing by my helmet wasn’t blocking other sounds as it would have been on the downhill leg of the ride. I spoke harshly to the dog and it stopped its attack and I swear had this “who me, what, you think I was going to bite you? “ look on his face. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was insulted at the suggestion… I heard his owner calling to him and I’m pleased to report that he decided her voice was more attractive than my legs must have been.

I arrived at Sunburst Campground along the Pigeon River to find it still closed for the season. The gates were closed and locked as was the upper end, which is a picnic area. We are hopeful this will become the turn around point for the Blue Ridge Breakaway on August 20th. Riders coming to this point and returning will be completing the Metric Century route. We are in discussion with the N.C. Forest Service about use of the area on that day.

Sunburst Campground and Picnic Area

(Hopefully, the turn around spot for the 2011 Blue Ridge Breakaway Metric Century route)

As I continued past Sunburst, I really entered the second season of my ride this date. Where temperatures had been in the mid-60’s and sunny only 9 miles away, I had now climbed into the areas hidden by the overhanging cliffs and ridges of the mountains. The Middle Prong of the Pigeon runs along this section and it still had ice clinging to the rhododendron and other flora along the river banks. The condition of the road deteriorated quickly with snow and ice covering the outer edges of the road. Chat and salt covered the center of the road and the few dry spots. The road bed itself has had a tough winter with all the freezing and thawing with the resultant upheaval of Mother Earth twisting and buckling the road. This road was in bad shape last season and is definitely not better as we approach a new riding season. Given the tough economic times and budget cuts everywhere, I doubt we’ll see any significant repair and/or repaving this year.

Beauty abounded on the sides of the road. I pulled off to capture some images of the frozen icicles still dotting the road sides.

Feb13_LLogan_Icicle01

(Icicles were abundant along the roadside)

The still camera image here doesn’t capture all of the activity behind the ice. You could see the melting water and run-off from behind easing its way down the inside of the icicles. In constant motion, the falling water could easily put me into a trance-like state as I enjoyed its acquiescence to gravity.

My bike computer thermometer was indicating a drop of 10 degrees since the start of my ride. At 55 degrees and in my light weight apparel, I decided returning home was the smarter move to make on this day. Surprisingly, there were no teaming throngs of fans lining the roads and offering me used newspapers to protect my chest  and core from the cooler temps as I headed back down the mountain.

The ride back was as pretty as the ride up, just faster. The rogue Golden Retriever was no where to be found this time. I spoke to a couple of a fly fishermen, who were out in the river casting about. I wished them well and received waves in return. The water of the river was crystal clear with just a touch of green to it indicating, to me anyway, that it was very, very cold. The snowpack is now melting and there were numerous waterfalls cascading off the mountain and into the drainage ditches along the highway.

As I was returning to Bethel Middle, it dawned on me that I had started this ride in one season – perhaps an early harbinger of spring 2011 – and journeyed backward into winter all in the space of a couple of hours and 20 miles. Rides like this is what inspires me to keep going. I’m already planning my next route…

Until later,

- Zeke

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