Yesterday, March 29th,was tapped to be an excellent day wrapped between spring rains. It was to be the ham and cheese between the bread slices – the best and tastiest part of the week long sandwich of weather. It turned out to be exactly that as I departed my starting point at Bethel Middle School…
Bright, sunny skies had whetted my appetite all day as I sat with finger to keyboard fixing this medical record, creating that one, and answering email. The walk to and from lunch at the Smoky Mountain Café on Main Street in Waynesville served to get my riding juices flowing. My day’s work finished, I was able to depart at a reasonable time to get in some miles this day.
Knowing the temps in the higher elevations would not be nearly as warm as my starting temperature of 62 degrees at Bethel Middle, I opted for a winter weight jersey with a windbreaker and my Pearl Izumi knickers paired with Smart Wool socks. Sure enough, within the first couple of miles I was quite warm as I pedaled my way up NC 215 toward Lake Logan and Sunburst Campgrounds.
Surprisingly, I felt strong and energetic. Being off the bike for a week had concerned me as to my fitness level. I can usually gauge how well I’m doing fitness wise or, at least fitness effort frequency, by how well I sleep. The last couple of nights haven’t been restful nights and that serves to motivate me to exercise. This day, though, I was spinning easily and making good time.
My first climb came and went uneventfully as I rose above Lake Logan and descended down to lake levels. This was all good warm-up as my real goal for this ride was to see how far I could climb up the mountain for the first time this year. I noticed some remodeling going on at one of the homes that has been vacant along this roadway. Perhaps it is a good sign for the economy of our region on such a pretty spring day!
As I crossed the bridge at the head of Lake Logan, I noted one reason why I had ridden quite easily to this point. I had been supported by a tailwind that was pushing the water in the lake uphill toward the feeder streams. The water was almost white capping at times. While I appreciated the assist, I did hope that it subsided before I made my return on this out and back route.
Earlier on my ride, I was passed at high speed by an AT&T repair truck. If he was going to put out a fire, he was on a good pace to get there early. Turns out there was no fire but an apparent strong desire to do some late afternoon fishing! A couple of mile later, I passed the truck pulled to the side of the road and nary a power pole or home anywhere nearby. There was a fine spit of land with access to the river however! The N.C. Forest Service folks have done some nice work over the winter creating two new parking areas for fisherman and hikers on this section of road. The spaces were vacant today however.
Having passed uneventfully by a house where a dog tends to be loose and give chase, I was enjoying my place in the world at this moment. Riding solo, as I primarily do, has the benefit of being able to focus on the sights and sounds of the world around me. All I heard this day was the whirring of my drive train as I approached the still closed Sunburst Campground. No fisherman, no swimmers, no campers, and most of all, no other road traffic sounds were to break my solitude.
(Late afternoon sun highlights a quiet road..)
(Solitude – my constant companion this day.)
The grade of this ride jumps up notably at the Sunburst Campground, which is right at 8 miles from the Bethel Grocery Store at the intersection of US 276 and Lake Logan Rd. From here, another 10 miles of climbing will get you to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I knew that neither time nor available light would be sufficient for me to make that goal on this day. Truth be told, I didn’t know if my leg strength could get me that far either. So, a more modest goal was to try and make it to the waterfall where the Middle Prong of the Pigeon crosses under NC 215. I had but 6 miles to go to find out.
Along the way, early spring was all around me with waterfalls gushing from above in places that will be mere trickles come August. The primary colors were no longer the spring yellows of the Forsythia and Jonquils that I had enjoyed below Lake Logan but were the greens and browns of late winter interspersed with emerging periwinkle and other ground covers as spring comes to the higher elevation. We’re still a full two months away from the Mountain Laurel blooming at this altitude. A hollowed out log, having fallen from its perch on the bank, tickled a short conversation in my head as to what particular animal might have “denned” in it over the winter months.
As the grade increased and my leg strength diminished, my thoughts increasingly moved from the beauty around me to the effort I was applying to reach my daily goal. More and more, I focused on the data readout from my bike computer and tried to recognize which curve I was experiencing in an effort to gauge how much further I would need to climb.
Soon, my goal became to simply get to the next curve and hope that I would see the crossover of the Pigeon around the bend. The next curve would come and go with a new goal being set of getting to the next curve, and so on. I tried to recall if the cross over was at the 14 mile mark or the 16 mile mark of this journey. An answer was not forthcoming so my mileage readout was of no use. Did I have 3 more miles to climb or 4 more? I had no way of knowing so I hoped for the best and willed my legs to maintain a 6 mph speed.
Finally, I heard the telltale sounds of the Pigeon growing on my left and recalled that in my previous climb to the crossover, I began to hear the river cascading down the mountain just one or two curves before the waterfall. Or, was it 3 or 4 curves? It didn’t matter, the sound of the river was invigorating and my confidence in reaching my daily goal was enhanced.
Sure, enough, around another curve (or was it 3?), I spotted the waterfall and pulled alongside the rock faced bridge crossing the river. Several quick gulps of Gatorade refreshed me and I began to notice the coolness of the air following the fall of the water. A car passed me – the first in 30 minutes. I waved but received only a blank stare back from the driver.
(Enjoying my new 3 panel moisture wicking cap from Walz!)
(My Fuji CCR3 at the waterfall…)
With both daylight and warmth beginning to take their leave of me, it was time to zip up and head home. With an eye toward grit and gravel in the road, I began my descent and very quickly wished I had on a heavier jacket. The now cold air was creating streams of water from my eyes. I focused on my position on the bike and hitting the apex of the curves just right scrubbing speed when necessary before the curves and regaining it on the backside. Soon, short bursts of sunlight were making their way between the mountain peaks and I could quickly appreciate, to borrow from the Beach Boys, the warmth of the sun.
My travel back to Lake Logan was uneventful except for running smack dab into the former tailwind, which was to my sad discovery now a headwind. I found myself pedaling in a lower gear and able only to maintain a speed 3 to 4 miles under my normal 22 mph on this stretch. The wind was adding an extra dimension to today’s fitness ride!
A short climb back above Lake Logan and a brakeless descent had me back at my starting point within another 5 miles. Having reached the wider valley plain, the sun was still high enough in the sky to afford me some much needed warmth as I finished this ride and headed home…
Post Ride Note: In an effort to expand my readership, I’ve been pleased to work with the good folk at Walz Caps to create my own Gr8SmokiesZeke cycling cap. The cap, a 3 panel moisture wicking offering (with racing stripe!), has proven to be a fine cap for both riding and non-riding times. It fits very nicely under my helmet while riding. I have yet to get any sweat in m eyes while wearing it. It dries quickly and wears nicely on the street and when heading to the café! The folks at Walz were wonderful to deal with providing a “first timer” with guidance and suggestions and providing my initial order of caps in a very timely manner. If you are looking for an excellent cap, these will be for sale on this site shortly and, for those local folks, will be sold at Rolls Rite Bicycle shop or by contact me directly at gr8smokieszeke (dot) gmail.com. Cost of the cap is a crisp $20.00 plus s/h charges when ordered directly from me.