On the day in which Levi Leipheimer was in the process of proving that he was the best rider in the USA Cycling Pro Challenge, I was once again, if to no one other than myself, proving that I am no Levi Leipheimer. For that matter…
I’m no George Hincapie, Cadel Evans, no Colombian climber, or Jennifer Jacobson (MY local heroine at climbing. She seemingly finds another gear without effort and leaves me in her dust although I must point out that I was holding my own this year after she reached her 3rd month of pregnancy!)
It was a glorious day here in Haywood County for me to catch up my mileage for August. My mileage suffered greatly during July and August this year. Between non-motivating high temps/humidity and a lot of community oriented meetings, I just haven’t been on my bike. I managed to get in two rides in the early part of the week and was determined to get one in yesterday (Sunday).
What a difference a week makes!
One week ago, the fine folks at Burnette Siding Baptist Church allowed us to use their ample parking space as an aid station for the Blue Ridge Breakaway. It was a busy place as shown in the following image:
(Riders on the Metric Century and Century rides stopped here!)
Yesterday, the view was considerably different as I rode the segment of the same route from Bethel Grocery Store on US 276 up Lake Logan Road to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Note the difference in yesterday’s photo below:
(Burnette Siding one week later…)
I was feeling quite good and my legs were feeling pretty strong at this point of yesterday’s climb. I was about 7 miles into the ride at the point of passing Burnette Siding. I was surprised that I didn’t pass or see other cyclists on such a pretty day. One mile further up Lake Logan Road (NC 215), I passed by the Sunburst Campground and picnic area. The campground was mostly cleared out and there were no families enjoying a picnic. Usually, this is a popular gathering place for folk.
I did spot something of interest! It was green and merged into the greens of the forest quite nicely. Seems my buddy W.T. Greene of Canton had placed a nice little “facility” for public use at the picnic area.
(Ahh! Can you save RELIEF?)
I did not, however, spot any water although I’m guessing that the campground had some spigots. Fortunately, I was well prepared for staying hydrated. After a short break for some “fuel”, I started the real climb of the day.
From this point, the climb increases in grade anywhere between 5% to segments of 14.5%. Traffic was light today so I had long swaths of road to myself – just perfect for the soloist rider to think. As often happens for me on these solo rides, I found myself thinking of my parents – both now deceased. I’m sure this day’s mediations were keyed by my friend Ted’s recent post at BikingInLA. More on that later…
One of my observations was that I really wasn’t attending to the encroaching muscular messages from my legs while I was “off in my head thinking of other things.” Once I refocused however, I became quite aware that my muscles were beginning to send messages about the ongoing climb. I began counting the turns and mileage to my next planned stop at the single arch bridge with its waterfalls. This occurs around the 14 mile mark of this segment of ride.
The top image is looking east through the gap of the trees at the single arch bridge. There is a long drop to rocks and creek as you descend this road and there are usually some people enjoying a brisk swim in a “hole” just below the bridge. On the upper side of the bridge is a boulder strewn waterfall that cascades down the mountain. On this day, the couple seen here were attempting to find a sunny place to enjoy each other’s company. The young lady was making a dangerous and potentially fatal mistake by climbing on the boulders in flip flops. I could just imagine her slipping or her foot coming out of the dangerous footwear, falling and hitting her head, and then landing in the rushing water. I encouraged her to take them off but she just smiled and waved. I watched a view moments until they settled just in case someone needed to get the Rescue Squad. Every year, several deaths occur in our county because people climb in wet places they shouldn’t be climbing.
After they were settled and I had eaten a banana, I decided to start my climb again. When I first started the ride, my goal was just to go until I got tired and not set myself up for disappointment by saying I’d reach the Parkway but then turn back early. I considered turning around here and heading home but decided to push myself to the triple arch bridge above my location. A right hand turn leads to a 12% (or greater) climb of about a mile to the triple arch bridge where you again cross the Middle Prong of the Pigeon.
On this part of the ride, in full sun, I managed to maintain a 6 mph pace and was passed by numerous motorcycles and cars. Everyone was pleasant and many folks either waved or gave me a “thumbs up” signal. I finally traversed the triple arch and, rather than turn around here, I just kept pushing the cranks over. Pretty soon, I was worn out and didn’t think I could go any further but I came upon a group of 5 Harley riders enjoying some beer alongside the road. I was determined not to turn around in front of them even though they had no idea who I was or what I was doing other than apparently hurting myself.
I made it another half mile above them and thought I’d popped for sure. I even turned around and stopped with my front wheel headed home. I took the moment to capture another image on this beautiful day.
(Mile 17 on Lake Logan Road below the Blue Ridge Parkway)
My body and part of my brain was saying “go home, it would be so easy. You need some energy left to get back.” Another part of my brain, certainly NO part of my body, was countering with “Yeah, go ahead quit now. You’re just a mile from the top. You’ll really feel good about yourself if you quit now…” I chose to let this side of the coin win and made the turn back up the mountain determined to go at least to the last steep climb just before the Blue Ridge Parkway. In my lowest gear possible, I trudged on knowing that I was either going to make it to the top or fall over from lack of any further ability to turn the pedals.
I came to the last right hand turn and started the steepest climb yet. There is a short straight stretch followed by a right hand turn where you then see a sign that says “Blue Ridge Parkway Ahead”. Having ridden this before, I knew that to be the lie that it is. While it is true that the Parkway is “ahead”, it doesn’t feel like it at all as there are 3 more curves with the grade remaining at 11% to 14% before you actually get to the crest of the mountain and the BRP.
Two hours and 10 minutes after my start, I pulled onto the Parkway and made it to the Courthouse Overlook. I was rewarded with some beautiful scenery as shown below:
(Looking east from Courthouse Overlook)
(Looking south from Courthouse Overlook)
This climb achieved 5,289’ of elevation and included 2717’ feet of climb over 18 miles with a maximum grade of 14.9%. (Note: stats taken from “My Tracks”) Following a couple of quick phone call attempts to The Navigator to let her know I was o.k. and heading home, I took a final bite of an energy bar, washed it down, put on my wind breaker, and headed back down the mountain.
It was a quick descent back with a minimal amount of pedaling on my part. In fact, other than rolling the cranks around to keep the pedals high on the outside of curves, I mostly had to work my brakes to keep my speed under control. I managed my speed between 25 mph and 35 mph on the way back. There were lots of shadows on the road and I was moving in and out of sunny spots making it hard to spot potholes and surface irregularities.
I was quickly back to Sunburst campground where it became necessary to begin pedaling under power again. During the descent, my legs had begun to stiffen so I had to get them warmed back up before the final short climb of the day. This occurs as you go above Lake Logan. Fortunately, on this end of the trip, the climb isn’t as steep or long as when coming from the north. I knew that I just needed to get over that final climb and it was all downhill back to Bethel Grocery Store.
I managed the last 3 miles by spinning a few revolutions at a time, which was just enough to keep up some speed and then coasting while moving around on my seat. I was well past ready to get off that narrow piece of saddle and more than ready to give my legs a break.
The ride was soon over and I sent out my SPOT message to the Navigator so that she would know that I was safely off the mountain and headed home. I developed a new appreciation for the folks that signed up for the Century ride in last week’s Blue Ridge breakaway. I had ridden only 18 miles up to the Parkway and the Century riders would have already put in about 45 miles at the point I began yesterday. From the point that I crested the mountain, the Century riders had another 32 miles of Parkway riding over two 6,000’ peaks before dropping down a 9% grade 2 lane highway and an eventual return to the starting point.
In the end, I was glad I pushed myself to make it to the top. I could easily have quit at least three times but then I would have had both the physical pain and the mental anguish of knowing that I let myself down. The physical pain goes away after a good hot soak in the tub and a good night’s sleep. The mental anguish stays with me much longer and will present itself more strongly on the next ride.
FARGO VS VAYA?
This is no longer a question… The question is now Fargo vs. Karate Monkey. More to come…