Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cancelled Appointment Leads To Ride Opportunity

My late afternoon appointment cancelled yesterday and that gave me a chance to get home while there was still daylight available for a quick ride. The temperatures have moderated here somewhat with yesterday being mostly cloudy and 56 degrees when I started my ride. I stuck to the middle and southern Pigeon River Valley (PRV) yesterday. Unfortunately, I forgot to grab my wife's camera so I didn't get to take any images of the ride. I've tried to add some image shots from Google Earth showing the Pigeon River Valley area in lieu of more action oriented images.

Nevertheless, some good images were captured by my eyes! The fields are now beginning to be prepped for spring planting and they attract lots of birds. One particular field is an agri-tourism related effort where corn is planted in a maze. The corn gets harvested eventually but the site also serves to bring in tourists and locals alike to enjoy the corn maze. It is quite an elaborate scheme and has seemingly grown each year. Interested readers can follow this link to get more information on the Cold Mountain Corn maze here. As I rode by the field yesterday, a flock of Canadian Geese had landed and were taking a break on their flight back north.

My ride time yesterday also corresponded to folks heading home so NC 110 was busier than usual. Fortunately, that road has a fairly wide gutter so it is pretty safe riding and folks were congenial enough to give me plenty of room to ride. In places, the gutters are strewn with winter debris so I'm looking forward to NC DOT doing some spring cleaning of their own and sweeping the trash and dead animals from the sides of the road.

I haven't ridden Love Joy Road, which is part of the NC Scenic Byway, since late fall so it was good to get back on that stretch of road. Love Joy starts at the intersection of NC 110 and US 276 and runs north/south of the PRV. This is also part of the Triathlon course that is held in Bethel each year. Love Joy starts with a slight incline that is about .75 mile in length followed by a dip before climbing over a somewhat longer and steeper grade. I was pleased to see that my legs would still get me over the crest. I generally reach my max heart rate on this climb and yesterday held form. My bpm topped out at 183 on the climb.

After the crest, the ride is primarily flat with only a few minor rollers and has some superb views looking across the valley. I spotted what appeared to be a forest fire on up Lake Logan Road. Circling back to Bethel and my starting point was accomplished on NC 215, which is river grade all the way back to the intersection of US 276. I'll get some images posted of this section of the PRV after my next ride on this section.

So, all in all, a good day out to enjoy early spring weather, spot some birds, and enjoy the emerging spring flowers!

Until later,

-- Zeke

Monday, February 23, 2009

Early Monday Random Neurons Firing!

The sun rose on some clear cold skies this morning. When my head hit the pillow post Oscars last night, it was 34 degrees. The predicted cold front arrived with a vengeance overnight. The temperature had bottomed out at 6 degrees this morning. I was lucky enough to be standing in our living room with my first cup of coffee when a single sun beam played out across the horizon directly into our home. Within the narrow range of the sunbeam, you could see ice crystals dancing. It was a beautiful site as they entered into the beam of light from the left, did their enchanting dance, and then exited stage or at least beam right. It was quite mesmerizing for several minutes until the beam moved on and I was left with only the memory of the dancing crystals. I was afraid to make a mad dash for a camera to try and capture the scene as this usually results in my missing the actual occurrence. Instead, I simply managed to have my wife stand with me for a moment and enjoy nature's gift before starting another work week. It certainly made that task more enjoyable.

This weekend did not lend itself to riding so I spent my free time reading on-line and checking out cycling related blogs along with following the Amgen TOC. I found a good blog to add to my reading list (see sidebar) and, at the same time, found the answer to "what happened to Bob Rolls's hair?" For the answer, check out the Fat Cyclist blog now listed. I also found MnBicyclecommuter and have enjoyed my reading of riding up north. I am continually amazed at the depth and breadth of cycling related issues/topics that can be found. My daily reading is REALLY getting long now!

I also found the website for my alma mater's National Championship Cycling Team. Apparently, Appalachian State can do much more than play football when it comes to sports! So the reading list grows and the days get longer! There are only 13 eastern standard time days left until we finally get back to day light savings and some hours of light post work during the week! Come on March 8th!

Until later,

-- Zeke

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cold Weather, Bum Ankles, And Such...

Well, this week's riding has been limited to enjoying the Tour of California in between late evening appointments. I'm not sure I'll ever complain again about riding conditions after seeing the first couple of days of this year's TOC. Wet and rainy... A tip of the old helmet to all of them. Leipheimer's crossing of Lance's back wheel should be training video somewhere. The TV camera angle certainly presented it well. "Look kids, see what happens when you cross the back tire of the rider in front of you..."

I have had some time to ponder on potential new training routes for myself as I try to prep for my late spring - early summer goal of following the "Wood-Man" from Lake Junaluska through Rush Fork, over Betsy's Gap, out to Spring Creek, on to Del Rio, TN and ending at Cosby, TN. To prep for that near 75 mile ride, which would be a personal best in distance and probably other areas for me, I've laid out a 25 mile route that stays on this side of the Smoky Mountains. You can see it here:

The ride starts at the I-40 truck stop where NC 209 intersects I40 (35.34.02 N, 82.57.27 W) and rides a loop across Rush Fork and back to I-40 at the White Oak/Fines Creek intersection (35.40.01 N, 82.59.40 W). From there, I hope to follow White Oak road back to US 276 and the intersection with Coleman Mountain Road. A climb over Coleman Mountain should deposit me back at the starting point. This looks to be approximately a 25 mile ride that includes some decent climbs. The first is a 2 mile ascent over Rush Fork, which according to my calculations has a grade of 6.5%. There is an additional grade of 8.5% to be climbed (approx. .75 mile)beginning at the White Oak Road bridge crossing the Pigeon River. After crossing over US 276 onto Coleman Mountain Road a climb of .70 mile with a grade of 7.5% leads to a long descent before the final climb back to the starting point.

This route is almost entirely rural two lane roads that should offer some great scenery and some breath taking interludes (yes, pun intended). I've ridden this a number of times on my Harley but never when relying on my own power. It should be interesting...

Until later,

-- Zeke

Saturday, February 14, 2009


The day started like any other Friday. Typically, my "non work" day of the week although I always end up working 2 or 3 hours doing end of the week stuff, I managed to grab an extra hour of sleep and woke to a pretty day. I brewed my coffee, heated my breakfast, and sat down to do a little reading on my favorite cycling blogs. After a couple of good cups of coffee and some fine reading and corresopondence catch up, I headed to my Rotary meeting and followed that with my monthly massage. The day was going swimmingly!

My "better half" and I were joining my sister-in-law and the "Wood-Man", my riding partner and friend, in Pigeon Forge, Tn for the weekend. We had a nice cabin on the side of the mountain with all of the amenities. We plugged the address into our Garmin Nuvi 260 and headed out. Little did I know that the curse of Friday the 13th was hiding just on the other end of the gorge. After our GPS unit took us on a very circuitous route to the cabin, we arrived on the western end of the neon horror show known as Pigeon Forge, TN. This shopping mecca was ablaze with all of the latest blinding computerized billboards that could possibly be packed along the sides of the road. Arriving near 6:30 p.m., we spent the next 30 minutes stalled in 6 lanes of traffic trying to negotiate the final 4 miles of highway before our turn-off to the cabin and an expected slice of Smoky Mountain tranquility.

Shortly after arriving at the cabin, the "Wood-Man" and I stepped outside to start the charcoal for supper. I stepped off of the deck into a pile of leaves covering the paver laden walkway below. Rather abruptly, I discovered that the leaf covered pavers didn't extend the full length of the steps. As I contemplated this fact from my now prone position beside the grill, I realized that the popping sound I had heard was my right ankle rolling off of the shortened pavers. Having been through many sprained ankles in the past, I was acutely aware of the swelling that was already beginning in the back of my ankle. The curse 1 - Zeke 0...

Now having the opportunity to reconsider my plans as I used the time tested ankle sprain reducing method of ice on - ice off, I settled in and enjoyed the remainder of the evening and nursed my excitement for the start of the Tour of California. We turned in and hoped for a good night of sound sleep, which more or less we accomplished. Heavy rains moved into the area after midnight but these were mostly just enjoyable on the tin roof of the cabin.

Arising this morning, the 14th, I quietly celebrated the end of another Friday the 13th. Little did I know that events of the previous evening were about to intervene in my ankle icing schedule for the day. Shortly after morning coffee, our cell phone rang. Our pet sitter was calling with the urgent news that our Labs (Zeke and Orla) had managed to get into their medication overnight and had eaten all of it! Worry over their condition resulted in phone calls back home to our Veterinarian, who advised that the dogs should be brought in immediately as the medication, in even small amounts, could lead to liver and kidney failure. To make a long and expensive story short, we had to get our close friend back in town to go get the dogs and take them to the Vet where they were started on activated charcoal, fluids, and had catheters inserted. The dogs are likely to spend the next 4 days under observation to be certain that they don't have some fatal response to their late night cavorting with their medications.

So, I end this entry knowing that my good buddies are safely in the care of the vet, my ankle is responding to 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off, and by golly Lance made a fine showing in the Prologue of the TOC today. The world is back in balance and Friday the 13th is over for...another month!

Until later,

-- Zeke

Sunday, February 8, 2009

February Warmup Allows For Nice Spin Outside

Saturday's perfectly blue skies and mid-60's temperatures made for a very pleasant opportunity to get the bike off the trainer and onto the road for a spin around the Pigeon River Valley. The PRV area is bordered by Cold Mountain and Sugar Top to the east and Ratcliffe Mountain, Pressley Mountain, and Anderson Mountain to the west. Three principal roads (US 276, NC 215, and NC 110) cover the area and provide a very nice network of primarily rivergrade rides. US 276 joins Waynesville to the west with Bethel and Crusoe to the east. Both NC 215 and NC 110 run on a north/south axis. NC 215 borders the Pigeon River on the west while NC 110 is an improved, wide road on the other side of the river.

The PVR continues to be a mostly agricultural area with farming still occurring on the alleuvial plains of the valley. The rich dark soil still provides outstanding opportunities for growing vegetables. A movement of local farmers and growers has begun to advance the cause of purchasing locally grown foods. Seen in this photo are the winter fields where tomatoes and peppers are grown. Most of the loop ridden yesterday features similar views.

This particular loop is one of my favorites as it is easy to get to from my home and lends itself to those times when non-cycling demands cut back on available riding time. I start at Bethel Middle school and ride along the river via NC 215 to Canton. This approximately 5 mile leg terminates at the Canton Recreation Park where I cut back across to NC 110 for the run back up the river. NC 215 is a fairly narrow road with limited shoulder widths. The traffic count on it varies widely with some days being very quiet while other days are quite busy. Picking your time of day is critical for this leg of the trip as the new Bethel Elementary School has really added to the traffic volume right before and right after the school hours. Still, on a good day, this can be a very peaceful ride along the river. While NC 110 carries more traffic volume day in and day out, it is a wider road with wider shoulders and a gutter that provides safe passage almost the entire 5 mile run to the intersection with US 276. Run-in's with irate automobile drivers seem to occur less frequently on NC 110 than on US 215.

The 10 mile loop for this ride can be completed by turning west on US 276 where the road crosses the West Fork of the Pigeon. A short 1.5 mile run back up to Sonoma Road and then back to Bethel Middle School completes this 10 mile loop. For some extra mileage with an opportunity to do some hill work, riders can cross over US 276 at the NC 110 intersection and continue south on Love Joy Road. Love Joy begins with a slight grade rising above the Pigeon River and continues on to the intersection with NC 215 where the road crosses back over the West Fork of the Pigeon. From there a turn back north on NC 215 leads you back to the intersection of US 276 and completes what is closer to a 15 mile loop of the PRV. NC 215 on this section tends to be busy with lots of traffic so staying alert is critical.

This last intersection of NC 110 and NC 215 is the beginning of the PRV's southern end. It is from this point that the valley really begins to open up and the farming community is apparent. At the northern end of the PVR is Canton, NC, home to Evergreen, a paper producing plant, formerly the largest employer in Haywood County. The quality of the water in the Pigeon changes substantially at this point as the paper production process excretes tannins into the water darkening its color. Major efforts have been made in recent years to improve the downstream quality of the water.

On another note, my RoadID arrived yesterday. I am both pleased with the timeliness of the delivery, the ease of registration and getting my medical information on-line for emergency access, and the delivery speed. My RoadID shipped on February 4th and arrived promptly on February 7th. The quality of the engraving looks to be very good. Now, I just hope I don't need to use it!

Until later,


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cold Spell Creates Thoughts On Safety

Here in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, we've had a major return to winter weather over the past several days. Temperatures have been near 9 degrees above zero at bedtime and around 3 or 4 degrees when waking to go to work. Our laid back Labs, Zeke and Orla, have felt minimal need to move out of their cozy new beds. The deep freeze has driven this particular writer to excessive use of caffeine as evidenced by the photo to the left.

One benefit of too much caffeine has been that my brain has stayed pretty much constantly at work. Now, some would argue I'm misusing the term work here and I wouldn't argue the point too seriously. I have had some time to spend cogitating over safety issues and I've found a couple of proposed laws currently in the N.C. Legislature that might provide us all with some enhanced safety. Partially because my coffee intake won't let me sleep and partially because I think these are Bills we should get behind and maybe, just maybe, some of you kind readers will take heed and contact your local N.C. representatives and encourage them to support the Bills.

How many times, have you been out on the bike and noticed the car coming at you being driven by someone with a cell phone stuck to their head or someone trying to text messages while driving directly at you with, oh one, maybe two wheels of their car on YOUR side of the yellow line?

Well, Senate Bill 12 would make it illegal to operate a cell phone or other electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. There are, of course, exceptions for emergencies and emergency personnel and individuals could still use hands free headsets for making their calls. As I read the Bill, texting would appear to be out under all circumstances. This Act, if passed, would become effective on 12/01/2009. The punishment would be a fine of not less than $100.00 plus Court costs.

On a somewhat more global health level, House Bill 2 would ban smoking in all public places or places where the public may enter. It would also ban smoking in any State owned vehicle. The Bill sets limits on how many rooms a lodging establishment may set aside for smoking and puts significant requirements on Tobacco Shops on how they handle second hand smoke. The Bill would seem to effectively eliminate what many restaurants do now by providing one section as "smoking" and one as "non-smoking", which is about as useless an endeavor as one can make. So, maybe there is some hope out there.... Can we say "Let's Keep Hope Alive!"? No, wait a minute, I think that's been used already...

The Bills are still in the legislative process and still winding their ways through the rules. Hopefully, enough support will be garnered to encourage our representatives to support these two Acts.

A quick search on several related cycling terms did not result in any specific current legislation addressing cycling safety. More to come!

Just a quick note that the Tour of California is just around the corner! On a weather related note, we should be enjoying temps in the mid-60's this weekend so hopefully, some riding time will become apparent. For now, I need to bundle up and head home and, oh yeah, I need another cup of coffee...

Until later,


Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Great Day For A Rural Ride...

Finally, all the planets must have aligned up because I was actually able to get out and enjoy a nice, if short, ride today. We're the lucky recipients of some southerly winds while our neighbors up in Kentucky are still trying to dig out of the last ice storm. Today's temp reached an almost balmy 57 degrees with only light fluffy clouds in the sky. This was a great day to get outside.

My better half, Kathy, decided to walk while I rode so we started today's trip at the Lake Junaluska Assembly grounds. Lake Junaluska is the home of the World Methodist Church and has opened their grounds and the lake to local residents as part of the county's overall fitness and recreation activities. Many, many people were out enjoying today's break in winter weather before our next cold system gets here late tomorrow.

My ride started on the assembly grounds and included a short warm up as I rode around the lake to the junction of NC 209, which is a nice wide 2 lane road running into Tennessee. The portion of the road that I was on has recently been resurfaced and has some nice wide shoulders for cyclists. This is a popular road for that reason. Heading north is mostly flat and includes crossing over I-40 and the Pigeon River as it winds its way down the gorge into eastern Tennessee.

The area around NC 209 is still primarily agricultural although development is making its way in this direction as evidenced by all of the local residences dotting the surrounding mountains. You can still enjoy seeing corn fields and the G.C. Palmer dairy as you ride this stretch. After crossing the Pigeon you come to a short climb of about 6% grade that leads up to the Crabtree Methodist Church. After topping the hill, you have a very nice descent past the old Crabtree school and past the Upper Crabtree turnoff. A slight grade comes up next with some gentle rollers until you get to the more serious grade heading to the top of Rush Fork Gap. My trip today didn't include that distance so I turned around at WeKirk Farms and headed back toward the wife, who was finishing up her walk at the Lake. WeKirk Farms is part of an original land grant from King James that remains in the Kirkpatrick family to this day. This is undeveloped private land that is a part of the 2nd largest land holding family in the mountains.

This image is looking north toward Rush Fork Gap. If you continue north beyond the Gap, you drop down to Ferguson's Store, which is an interesting place to take a break. From there you can decide to turn west and head back toward I-40 or turn east and ride across Betsy's Gap and down through Trust and Luck before getting to Spring Creek in Madison County. The ride over Rush Fork and over Betsy's Gap is not for the faint of heart. Both are serious, long climbs. Descents from both gaps should be taken carefully this time of the year as there is a lot of gravel from winter travel on the roads. Hitting gravel at speed in some of the sharp curves would definitely not lead to a happy ending on a ride.

Chicken soup is said to be good for the soul. My bet is that it doesn't have anything on cycling in the spiritual department. This one day was a fine reminder of the joys of riding and while my back and legs may feel weak at the moment, my spirit is definitely light and airy. It takes only a brief ride outdoors on a great day to remind me of what is just over the horizon as we move toward a new spring and new opportunities to enjoy the world around us.

Until later,

-- Zeke