Friday, March 4, 2011

LIONS’ BREATH ROARS INTO THE MOUNTAINS

 

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(Winds were keeping this flag in full display!)

Spring-like weather has continued to be our norm this week as we negotiate from February into March. With unseasonably warm temps, the riding has been quite nice. I’ve been able to get out and about on my Fuji CCR3 and continue trying to work off some of the winter insulating layer of fat that somehow accumulated since late November. On Thursday, I had a unique and startling experience…

I left my normal starting point at Bethel Middle School in time to miss most of the post-school, pre-end of work day traffic. It is a time period that I try to slot into when possible for both my safety and to reduce some congestion on the narrow 2 lane NC 215. This day, it was somewhat busier than usual with traffic and I was coming upon and being passed by numerous vehicles. At this point, they were all quite courteous and giving me plenty of room when they passed. A few even waved with all 5 fingers as they went by me.

Now, I should mention that one feature of this ride was significant wind coming in from the east. It was making the warm up period more struggle than usual. When I would come alongside open fields, I was doing a 30 degree lean into the wind to stay upright. At other times, I would come around a curve and run into a full on headwind as I negotiated the curves. Fortunately, the trees along NC 215 would provide some breakup of the winds and short periods of respite.

I knew that I wanted to throw in some climbs on this ride so I headed up Stamey Cove on the long climb to the gap at around 3000’ elevation. I made my way there in my lowest climbing gear with the only notable interactions being with 2 loose dogs, 1 helmetless bicycle riding child, 3 adolescent boys with a basketball, and one vehicle coming at me from each direction.

I sensed the stimulation of me and the boys was simply too much for the dogs and I realized that they were coming into the roadway with oncoming traffic so I started yelling “No” and “Stay” at them and pointing so that, hopefully, the cars would see me and slow down or stop. Last year, a little dog ran out to give chase and ran right under an oncoming vehicle getting smashed in the process. I didn’t want to see that again plus the older boys were still in the roadway.

Yep, the dogs came out but fortunately the first car to reach us slowed down and came to a stop as the dog chose to stop in the road directly in front of the car. I continued my spin on up the mountain realizing that all was well behind me. Eventually, I gapped the peak and went into a descent that is characterized by a long straight stretch and two relatively gentle curves that allow you to really pick up some speed. Quickly, you come into a series of “S” curves followed immediately by a deep, almost hairpin, curve.

The winds were really blowing at the gap and I briefly wished that I had my handheld anemometer with me so that I could measure the wind speed. As I was getting into the early, gentle curves of the descent the winds were buffeting me left and right where the trees were breaking up their flow. I was keeping my speed down due to the instability of the bike paired with my less than great descending skills.

Having scrubbed off some speed, I was now coming into the “S” curves and that is when it happened! Out of nowhere, I was buzzed. I guess that the noise of the rushing wind around my ears had masked the sound of the approaching buzzer. I didn’t hear it nor see it as it came upon me from behind me on the mountain. I was just going into a right hand turn and was setting up my curve approach when the sound hit me and scared the hair off of my head – well, no not really, as I don’t have any hair on my head. But, if I did have hair on my head before the buzz, I could certainly claim a buzz cut afterwards!

We’ve all been buzzed before by cars coming upon us too quickly and passing too closely. While that gets your attention under normal circumstances, this wasn’t the normal buzz. It was immediate and extremely loud. No, it wasn’t a Harley with straight pipes or a crotch rocket with its high pitched whine. It wasn’t a diesel truck with modified engine brakes nor was it a low-rider with megaphone exhausts. It was a helicopter!

The local Medevac chopper (known as Momma in these parts) was making a run west to pick up a patient and was flying much lower than normal. I’m guessing that the pilot was trying to get under the turbulence of the winds and was flying closer to the deck than usual.  Timing brought me, a sharp curve, reduced hearing, strong winds, and a low flying chopper all together in one place at one time. Of course, he wasn’t even close to me and what I was really buzzed by was the loud engine and prop noise. Still, I don’t think my heart could have continued that level of fast beating for long!

Fortunately, the rest of my ride on this day was pretty non-eventful other than feeling like I’d ridden double what I actually rode. For early season riding, this has been a good week with time being spent riding around the Pigeon Valley and revisiting some nice climbs including Newfound Gap on the way out of Haywood County into Buncombe County and back up to Lake Logan on the other end of the valley.

Newfound Gap

(Newfound gap – a 9% grade at the end)

I-40 / Champion Drive interchange

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Sunset at the I-40 / Champion Dr. exchange in Canton, NC)

A CORRECTION…

In my last post “Make Capitalism Work For You”, I think I stated or inferred that nothing in the oil refining or delivery system had actually occurred as yet in the Middle East and that the market had driven the price of gasoline at the pump up based purely upon fear. I have since found out differently. In yesterday’s Bloomberg report, I learned that 1 million gallons per day of Libyan oil production had been cut. Out of the world’s 88 million gallons per day of total oil production, 1/88th (is my math correct?) has been disrupted sending consumer prices skyrocketing way out of proportion. Additionally, the Saudi’s have increased production to offset this meager loss.  I also learned that BP recently posted a 4th quarter net income of $5.6 BILLION dollars and that Exxon reported its highest quarterly profits EVER of $9.25 BILLION dollars. Now, that folks is capitalism! For those so interested, a 12 minute video interview with T. Boone Pickens was, for me, quite interesting. Around the 5 minute mark, Pickens makes a point about who to really blame for the price of foreign oil. I think his point is quite compatible with the oft stated goal of cycling organizations to increase cycling as a means of transportation.

See the Video!

 

Have a great weekend!

Until later,

- Zeke

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