Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The “Wood-man’s” and my foray into the low country of S.C. is a thing of the past. I’m back home and eager to climb something. I didn’t realize how much I would miss climbing until I was cycling around the island this past weekend.

Yesterday, “Big Ben” and I were the sole participants in our standing Tuesday ride. We’ve moved up the start time to 4:30 p.m. due to the shortening daylight hours. It was also the last chance I’ll have to ride this month so I was certain that I didn’t want to miss it.

We started out at my office in Waynesville and headed east on a loop that we’ve been riding regularly. Our starting temperature was notably cooler today being around 63 degrees when we started. A windbreaker was definitely in order as we warmed up.This route gets us out of the end-of-workday traffic fairly quickly and onto to some good rural roads. About the time the legs get warmed up, we start a climb up and over Poison Cove Gap and an elevation gain of 200’ from 2800’ to 3001’. 

Dropping down from the Poison Cove Gap to Stamey Cover road, we picked up speed as we lost approximately 356’ in elevation. The cooler winds became “biting winds” as  we descended near 35 mph. From this intersection, we had a relatively flat roll, along with some folks in a hurry to get somewhere, into Clyde proper. We had good timing and caught the green of the traffic light as we crossed over Broad St. to get to Hyder Mountain Road.

This 2 mile run is mostly flat with a couple of rollers along the Pigeon River as it makes its way toward Tennessee. The river doesn’t carry its former stench from the paper mill upstream in Canton anymore and is a very pleasant path to take from Clyde to Lake Junaluska. We arrived at the bridge where the road crossed over the Pigeon with plenty of fall sunlight lighting our way. Here in Western North Carolina, the leaves are in the earliest stages of transitioning to their annual show of colors. At this point, we stopped and took a photo of “Big Ben” for his listing on the BICYCLEHAYWOODNC website.

BigBen2(“Big Ben” Hill on a sunny afternoon)

We were at a cross-roads. We could proceed south and west, as is our norm, and follow the farm road back to NC 209 or we could turn north and climb Hyder Mountain Road. “Big Ben”, the “Wood-man” and others climb this steep mountain road with some frequency. I’ve been over it on a Harley… This has been one more of my goals to conquer this riding season so we headed up the mountain. I promised “Big Ben” I would go as far as I could make it. I warned him that if it was too much for me, I’d just turn around and meet him out on NC 209 when he looped back.

I was in for a very pleasant surprise. With my heart ONLY reaching 173 bpm, we crested the top at Fincher’s Chapel and I had knocked off one more of my mountain top climbs for the year. The climb goes from 2500’ at the river to 2833’ at Fincher’s Chapel .85 mile away, which is only a 7.92% average grade for the full distance. The initial climb is less than that with the final 1/8th mile significantly higher in grade percent.

We stopped at the top to enjoy the view and let my heart rate drop back to something approaching normalcy. I’m not really sure “Big Ben” ever broke a sweat. We also grabbed some more images looking north from the top of Hyder Mountain.












Without focusing on the two world class male models in the images, you can clearly see that we had a great day for a ride! I had the chance to show off my snazzy new ASU cycling jersey. No, that is NOT Arizona State University but rather Appalachian State University in beautiful Boone, NC.

Our ride continued as we dropped off the mountain, intersected with US 209 on the north side of I-40 and paced ourselves back to town for a total of about 22 miles. Our timing was good as the sun was just setting and the air temperatures dropping below 60 degrees. You may follow this ride on MapMyRide by CLICKING HERE!

All in all, it was an excellent wind down from work and I was able to enjoy topping another mountain. This summer I’ve managed to top Coleman Mountain, Water Rock Knob, and now Hyder Mountain. I’ve made the first approach to Rush Fork so I’m guessing the final push over Rush Fork is on my horizon. Time will tell…

Until later,

- Zeke

Monday, September 28, 2009


I’m home and safely ensconced back in my mountains now. I’ve had a day to consider my time at HHI and to reflect upon my experience as a cyclist and tourist. I thought I’d share some final thoughts with those of you’ve, who have been kind enough to read my postings during this trip.

1) A+ to the planners and managers of Hilton Head Island for their efforts at integrating cycling into the normal highways and byways of HHI. You truly seemed to be able to get to anywhere on the island that was public via cycle. You could probably get to some private area as well but that turned out to be a “no-no.”

2) Cycling contributes to the economy of HHI. I was highly impressed by the number of rental cycles that we observed while on the island. There were families with children, couples of all ages, and lots of singles riding rental bikes. The business near our humble abode at Palmetto Dunes must have had 500 bikes ready for rent. They also had a few tandems and mountain bikes. Most of the rentals were single speed with coaster brakes, fat tires, and cruiser bars. On our first ride on the island, we met a couple, who appeared to be in their 70’s, riding a tandem and they were followed by a guy on a crank forward. I actually saw few road bikes on the island.

3) Traffic bore watching on the bike paths. There seemed to be as much two way traffic along the William Hilton Parkway bike paths as on the roads themselves. Throw in a smattering of pedestrians and joggers/runners and the pathways were busy! The bike paths on the western side of the island were not near as crowded.

4) It was difficult to find a stretch where one could “air it out.” The bike paths were frequently interrupted by access to businesses and roads and serious attention had to be paid to avoid accidents. The signage for both cyclists and autos was excellent at these intersections and there was lots of notice that cars had the right-of-way ALWAYS!

5) 2 out of the 3 security guards with whom we had contact had no sense of humor… I’ll leave it to you to decide if this was a good or bad thing.

6) The automobile owners on HHI are clearly used to cycles interacting with them. A number of times, intersecting traffic would stop and allow us to pass in front of them AND THEY WERE PLEASANT about it! Perhaps familiarity, in this context, breeds mutual respect. I tried to make eye contact with each driver and make sure I said “thank you.”

7) There is some GREAT eating on HHI… ‘nuff said on that topic!

8) I miss my mountains and climbs. I think I’ll have an even better appreciation for my next leg burning churn up the nearest mountain! I cleaned the chain tonight and rinsed down the frame to get rid of any residual salt. I’m ready to ride!

Until later,

- Zeke

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Day 3: The “Wood-man” and I continued our exploration of the island yesterday with a nice little 24 miler utilizing the impressive network of bike paths that the Hilton Head planners have created. Thus far, I’ve yet to find a public place on the island that can’t be reached by bike path.

We set out from our current place of residence at Palmetto Dunes and headed west along the William Hilton Parkway, which is a very busy split dual lane highway that moves traffic rapidly across the island. It doesn’t take long to really develop an appreciation for the bike paths as they keep you safely separated from the high speed traffic.


We pedaled approximately 10 miles along the paths finding only short sections of path where we could pick up our pace. The paths do an excellent job of providing alternative transportation but aren’t what a cyclist would look for to do training runs. We rode to the end of the paved bike paths near Mile 1 of the Parkway. Realizing we had gone as far as we could in this direction, we headed back to look for Spanish Wells Road, which runs along the western edge of the island according to the highly illustrated map we used to navigate our way on the island.

This section of bike path turned out to be the prettiest and least busy of the areas that we rode. The paths in this area were well groomed and without obstruction similarly to the paths in the busier sections of the island. Notably, less people were riding these paths than those along the William Hilton Parkway. We crossed one marsh with some excellent views on a wooden bridge.


Our ride continued along Spanish Wells Road until we intersected with Marshland Road. Marshland cuts back northeasterly across the island and took us to Mathews Drive, which then returned us to William Hilton Parkway. We found several longer sections of bike path along Marshland that allowed us to air it out on the bikes. We declared it interval training and was able to get in a few quick, hard sprints. This area of the island appeared to be the residential section for local service and other workers. This was definitely not a “touristy” section of the island. We passed lots of mom’s awaiting the arrival of school buses with their kids along this section.


At Mathews Drive, we had a choice to make: turn left or turn right. Given a 100% chance of not being wrong, we chose left and followed Mathews back to William Hilton Parkway, which ended up putting us back on the section we had previously ridden that day. Had we turned right, we would have intersected Wm Hilton Parkway approximately 1 mile above our temporary abode.


We will hopefully get to explore the southwestern end of the island before our stay comes to a close.

A disconcerting end to the day: Upon our return to our very nice rental unit, we discovered that some unscrupulous room-mates, who shall go unnamed here, had raided the fridge and left us only 1 cold libation each. A quick cell phone call confirmed that our “roomies” were still on the beach and needed assistance returning “their” cooler to the room. We gladly complied as we harbored the secret thought that perhaps a “cold one or two” had managed to hide in the bottom of the aforementioned cooler. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the 6 pack –err case.

Of course, one door closes and another opens. This turn of events provided the opportunity to try out their rental bikes with monstrous (to me) Fuji seats, single speed, and coaster brakes. A quick pedal down to the local general store replenished supplies and all was well once again on the lagoon. We reduced our carbon footprint and added another mile or so to our day’s total. But, then things got complicated…

While in the shower and soaped up prepping my bald head for the evening meal, I felt a sliding sensation on my left ring finger followed by the sound of metal hitting the shower enclosure. Realizing that my wedding ring had just slipped from my hand, I quickly began trying to locate it. I was tracking it by sound because I couldn’t see it. I realized that it was headed toward the giant maw of a drain, which must have been 10’ across at this point. I realized another sound was prominent as well. It seems that I was emitting a series of sounds that drew my wife’s attention from her nap. In a moment of incredible prescience, she opened the bathroom door and stated emphatically, “You lost your wedding ring, didn’t you!” It wasn’t really a question – more a statement of the known.

Yes, that golden symbol was gone. It has been on my finger for 26 years, 9 months, and 7 days. It has been off only 4 times – all of which were mandated by health care officials when I was having a surgical or medical procedure. My sense of loss was acute. I was and continue to be impressed at how my hand somehow doesn’t feel proper. But, it is a symbol and only a symbol. Hopefully, a phone call or two and a visit to our local jeweler will get a new symbol headed my way…


(Self-snapped image from the sunny shores of Hilton Head Island)

Until later,

- Zeke

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Day 1: After dropping off Zeke and Orla at the kennel, we made our way over the next 4.5 hours to Hilton Head Island, SC for 4 days of R,R&R. (rest, ridin’, and relaxin’). I’ve never been on HHI so I was eagerly awaiting the experience. Friends, who have stayed here before, all speak highly of the locale and their stays on the island.  Upon arriving, first impressions were of a very busy multi-lane approach with an obvious planning requirement that eliminates neon signs and appears to require earth tones on the buildings all of which are offset from the main drag. There is plenty of buffer between the shops and the main thoroughfare.

Our first introduction was to the toll road that brings you on to the island. Just as we paid our toll and moved through the gate, I spotted my first cyclist. He was the first of many that we’ve come to see. Cycling is, by all appearances, an integral part of moving around this island. I noted bike paths on the way to the realty office to get our keys. Things began to get complicated…

After making a few wrong turns and meeting a couple of security guards, we finally ended up at our rental unit. It turns out that it is, in fact, important to understand the difference between the South Gate and the North Gate. Our unit is quite nice and was pleasantly cool upon our arrival.


We noted quite quickly that there ARE LOTS OF RULES HERE! The rules cover everything from noting that cyclists must ride with the traffic at all times and cyclists must ride in the bike paths and stop at all intersections because cars always have the right of way. Good enough – Clear simple to follow rules. I like it but,then things began to get complicated…

It turns out that the sometimes the bike paths ONLY go in the direction facing the traffic and your only other alternative is to ride in the roadway in order to ride with the traffic. After being redirected by the Guard at the North Gate, I quickly began to determine that the rules weren’t quite so simple and easy to follow. Nevertheless, we had a nice rental unit.


After unpacking and getting situated, the “Wood-man” and I broke out the bikes and headed out to work out some travel related kinks in our legs. The cycling infrastructure here is very notable as it keeps cyclists separated from the fast moving traffic of the island’s main road, which is a split lane thoroughfare. We enjoyed a nice 6.93 cruise along the bike paths as the sun was setting.

Golfing is what appears to be the principal draw to this island. I lost count of the number of championship golf courses developed by professional golfers that we passed. We even popped off the bikes long enough to walk over and touch one of the greens. It was smooth as a baby’s “you know what.”  I’m not a golfer and even I appreciated the quality of the green.

Day 1 ended with an outstanding meal at the Santa Fe Cafe, one of HHI’s oldest restaurants. My encrusted salmon with avocado topping was outstanding as was my better half’s grouper. We truly dozed off happy and satiated as the day drew to a close.

DAY 2: The girls headed to the beach earlyIMG_2461
















and the “Wood-man” and I sat around drinking coffee and talking cycling among other things. Around noon, I’d reached my optimal coffee intake so we sucked down a sandwich and decided to ride to the Lighthouse on the island. “Wood-man” charted out our path and we began meandering along the bike paths because “cyclists must stop at every intersection” and “cars always have the right of way. (Rule 1.000a of the rule book for cyclists on HHI)




As noted, the bike paths are everywhere and you can literally get pretty much from “point A” to “point B” on bicycle. Cyclists make good use of these paths and we met many coming and going.


The “Wood-man” and I negotiated our way to the appropriate road to approach the Lighthouse. This is where things got REALLY complicated. As we were riding down the road, we came to a Guardhouse where the road split: one lane was for residents, which we weren’t and one lane called for $5.00, which we didn’t have. The “Wood-man” moved on through the gatehouse with the result being that the guard’s adrenaline seemed to flow more freely. Being in second wheel, I was clearly and steadfastly informed that cyclists weren’t allowed unless they were residents. Again, a clear and simple rule to follow… I stated my agreement and stopped where I was and waited for the “Wood-man’s” return… and waited… and waited.

After several minutes, I reached the  conclusion that the “Wood-man” wasn’t going to return. Knowing that the high flow of adrenaline had forced the Security Guard to call in reinforcements, I determined that perhaps being where I was at the moment was not in my best interest. I decided that “leaving no man behind” didn’t apply in this situation and removed myself to a safer more serene setting to await the “Wood-man’s” eventual return or capture.

Some 10 minutes later, the sound of loud voices reached me and I realized that the “Wood-man’s” return was imminent. Indeed, only moments later I see him spinning by on his big ring as he exited the grounds of the residential area. I quickly returned my helmet to my head and went after the Big Man! Unfortunately, he was gone and there was no sign of him anywhere so I determined I would return to our abode and await his arrival.

After crossing over the split lane highway and proceeding away from the scene of the “Wood-man’s” hasty retreat, I moved along smoothly on the surface highway. This is where things GOT REALLY, REALLY COMPLICATED. It seems the reinforcements had arrived and well, I was a cyclist in the vicinity of the recent dastardly invasion of privacy. The pursing forces in their 4-wheel vehicle with flashing blue lights had spotted me. They turned. They gave chase. They caught me!

The ensuing “yes you did – no I didn’t” dialog between myself and the head Security man went on for several minutes. Realizing that I wasn’t in a win-win situation, I politely said “yes sir” a number of times and felt lucky to have avoided incarceration in the fine State of S.C. After all, he had clearly informed me that the rules of S.C. were clear and simple – trespass and incarcerate!

After we came to a mutual understanding that I was clearly and simply an ignorant N.C. resident, we parted ways and I was secure in the knowledge that I should probably never ever approach this side of HHI again. (Note to self: this brings to two the locations from which I am forever banned. The now defunct local drive-in at home being the first.)

There being no sign of the “Wood-man” I returned to our really nice rental unit and awaited his return. Having covered 10 miles and about an hour of very low speed riding, I was happy to unclip and disembark my cycle. The “Wood-man” returned shortly and we toasted our day’s nefarious adventure. Shortly thereafter, our “better halves” returned from the beach and we took them to rent a couple of beach cruisers so they too could enjoy cycling at its best.


Stay tuned: On DAY 3, the “Wood-man” and I intend to rent kayaks and attempt to improperly paddle down the wrong side of the lagoon…


Until later,

- Zeke

Sunday, September 20, 2009


September 17th, is a day that holds special meaning for me as it is the date of my mother’s death due to multiple myeloma - a nasty damn cancer anyway you look at it. It is the day before my parent’s wedding anniversary so my siblings and I have always found some sense of peace that Mom was reunited with our Dad on their anniversary. He died in 1995 due to the results of metastasized colorectal cancer. It is fair to say that my family, as has so many families world wide, has been “slapped upside the head and then stomped on by cancer”. I have no doubt that one reason I ride is to minimize the chances of cancer winning if or when it comes calling on me.

This past Thursday, September 17, 2009, will now hold a slightly different place in my memory. The “Big J” and I, in our ongoing quest to increase our mileage and climbing abilities, took on Water Rock Knob, a 6000’ mountain here in Haywood County, North Carolina. Water Rock Knob lies between Balsam Mountain and Soco Mountain along the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 451.2. If you pass through Balsam Mountain Gap on US 23/74, you descend to Waynesville, NC on the eastern slope or Sylva, NC on the southwestern slope. Passing through Soco Gap takes you to the Cherokee Boundary to the west or Maggie Valley to the east. The Boundary of the Cherokee Indians aligns with the gap on Soco.

Departing my office in Waynesville at 5:15 p.m. and at an elevation of 2649’, “Big J.” and I headed west to begin the first annual trek of the “Joey Massie “Yes, I Can” ride, which had been postponed from Tuesday, September 15th due to rain and nasty, nasty riding conditions. We warmed up along city surface streets before ascending on to the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway at exit 100. From this point, we began ascending to our ultimate goal of reaching Water Rock Knob, which was 13 miles away and an elevation gain of approximate 3000’. There would be no grade less than 2% or more than 8% from this point to the top.

Upon first reaching the “gutter”, that area between the rumble strips and the guard rail along the 4 lane split highway, we were greeted with the beginnings of a late afternoon shower. The day was already cool and damp and had been overcast for hours. We discussed turning back as the clouds seemed to have the valley socked in but, the desire to ride and perhaps some misplaced optimism carried us along. Within a couple of miles of the initial 8 mile ride to the top of Balsam Gap, we ran out of the falling rain and were left only with the wet road spray of passing 18 wheelers and autos as the work day crowd made their way home within their enclosed dry vehicles.

This stretch of road is straight for the most part with only 1 or 2 slight curves to take your view off of the coming climb and the certain knowledge that you’ve still got a mountain to climb to start your climb of your mountain! Taking turns breaking the wind, we reached the access road to the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Balsam Gap. (Note: see link to left. Today’s superhighway runs alongside the rails seen in this image from WCU’s Hunter Library collection. See also More Balsam Gap Info.)  Turning south on the Blue Ridge Parkway toward its southern terminus 18 miles away, we began the 7 mile climb to the gap where the BRP passes Water Rock Knob. The summit of Water Rock Knob is actually slightly higher than the roadbed. From this point, we had steady 6% to 8% grades to spin and mash our way up to reach our eventual goal.

As we made our way up the mountain averaging about 6 mph, we began to climb above the cloud cover and were presented with vistas of Jackson County to our south. Being later in the day, the clouds to the east were white and reflective of the late afternoon sun. We began to catch glimpses of the sun as it appeared to be making its daily run to the horizon. My hope for catching the sunset was not gone completely at this point for watching the sun set over the Boundary from the Water Rock Knob parking area is truly a spiritual adventure when you can catch one of the quiet beautiful times on the mountain.

As the climb began to take its toll on my 56 year old legs, my goal began to be “make it to the next turnout” rather than “make it to the top.” We were also remaining vigilant about the time of day because we didn’t want to be caught on the mountain after dark. “Big J.” kept running our calculations on time and distance and we kept convincing ourselves that we would descend much more rapidly than we were climbing. We calculated average speed, remaining distance to the top, and time for return to my office. We felt confident we had the variables covered and could do it. After all, this WAS the National Joey Massie “Yes, I Can” ride!

Two and one half miles from the top, we could see the gap where the BRP passes the entrance to the Water Rock Knob parking area. We could see the cut on the mountain where the parking area is and, more importantly, we still had light from the setting sun. Despite having maintained sustenance in the form of power bars and Gatorade, muscles were now cramping, my lower back was aching, and my wrists were hurting from supporting my weight from the bottom of the valley. I was beginning to understand the phrase “ride into the pain.”

We had been presented with great views above the cloud banks, had noted the earliest signs of the leaves beginning to put on their colors, and had been blessed with an absolute minimum of passing traffic. Mondays and Tuesdays are great days this time of year to ride the Parkway as most of the visitors have gone home with the start of the school season. It is not at all unlikely that you can drive entire stretches of the BRP and not see another human being.

We had passed the Woodfin Cascades, seen in this link in a winter image, and had enjoyed the views of Yellow Face Mountain (Note: Click HERE for more Yellow Face detail.) “Big J.” and I had declared that no matter how far we made it on this trek up the mountain, we would declare victory. We were now within sight of our goal and, with a final time/distance/ can we do it? calculation, we agreed that we weren’t getting this close to the top and quitting.

We began our final climb to the top with renewed energy and recovered legs. Within about a mile to go to the top, Mother Nature and/or the engineers who build the BRP took pity and a blessed drop in grade occurs. We were riding parallel to the cliff face that supports the Water Rock Knob parking area. We were both almost fully recovered and riding easily toward the gap. Our initial plan, assuming a successful reach of the gap, was to proceed down the western side of Water Rock Knob to Soco and then return home via US 19 through Maggie Valley.  We determined that we were beginning to seriously approach dusk and felt that returning home the way we came was faster and smarter.

As we approached the final curves leading to the gap, we began to be aware of the clouds topping the mountain and sliding as if they were silk down the mountain face toward the road bed – a beautiful sight indeed. Little did we know that this was a foreshadowing of what was to come. We reached the final curve and the signage that announces the parking area. It was covered in cloud. The temperatures had dropped to 61 degrees at the top and we were cooling off rapidly now that the climb was over.

As we donned our windproof jackets and I called my “better half” to let her know that our route plans had changed, the increasing density of clouds made visibility a real challenge. “Big J.”, in his bright yellow jacket, and I, in my High Viz jacket, were difficult to see with a mere 10 yards separating us.We determined we needed to make haste and get back below the cloud cover in order to descend while light remained as we had only one red tail light between us and no headlights. I took second wheel as I had the Planet Bike Superflash taillight on my Fuji CCR3. The front end Planet Bike Beamer3 headlight was safely ensconced in my desk drawer at home.

We started back down to Balsam Gap and, rather than visibility improving, it was actually getting significantly worse. As we had been climbing the mountain, so had the clouds! We were in a “white out” situation and unable to see each other if more than 5 yards separated us. We constantly called out to each other trying to ascertain the other’s location. Of course, we were now descending slower than we had ascended due to the lack of visibility. Our only guidelines became the yellow center line of the highway. At times, the guidelines disappeared only to reappear shortly. Under the best of conditions, the yellow lines are faded as this section of the BRP hasn’t been repaved in what seems like years.

What had been leg fatiguing 7% ascents had now become arm and wrist fatiguing 7% slow speed descents sapping the muscles of my hands as we were in a constant brake and release pattern. We would find short stretches of pavement where the downhill side of the road was dry and the uphill side was wet and that small difference provided some slight improvement in knowing where we were on the road. Still, we had to ride the center line in order to have any guidance at all down the mountain. This, of course, put us as risk of not being seen in time by either upcoming traffic or, more dangerously, traffic in our own lane of travel. We only hoped that traffic in our own lane would be able to pick up the outstanding flash of the Planet Bike taillight.

At one point, “Big J.” and I lost complete touch with each other. He could not hear me calling out to him due to the noise of the wind and his own brakes. I was in a similar state of being. He finally pulled to the left side of the road and waited to determine my location. Just as I heard his voice, I passed him by. Just as we acknowledged each other, squealing brakes were heard behind us. The lone other traveler on the mountain had come upon us, seen my flashing light, and braked too hard on the wet pavement. Fortunately, there was enough room for all and the driver proceeded toward his or her destination. I think we would have accepted a ride down the mountain had it been offered at that point!

We decided that, as I couldn’t see “Big J.” at all but he could follow my taillight, I would take the lead for the remaining trip down the mountain. We had no accurate knowledge of where we were as there were no visible landmarks that could be seen. The occasional turnout would go by on our right but generally it was recognized too late to safely get into for some rest. We continued to call out to each other to be sure we were still in contact. I finally had to let “Big J.” know I was going to get into an overlook to rest my hands because my ability to brake was diminishing. We managed to locate an overlook with enough time for both of us to access it. As we sat resting our arms, the second and what would be the last traveler other than ourselves passed us. I doubt that the driver of the pickup even knew were on the road.

As we descended down the mountain, thoughts of hypothermia began running through my head and I started wondering what might happen if I broadsided a bear or elk. I was pretty sure that they didn’t have a snazzy Planet Bike lighting system on board. The hypothermia was a more likely culprit to cause problems next to our simply running off the road and down a ravine or cliff. We weren’t creating warming energy on this segment of the ride as it was all about braking. I’m certain that our adrenaline levels were high though.

We finally passed an overlook on our left and knew that it was the only one on that side of the mountain and that it was located close to the “bottom”. In short time, we came to the intersection of the access road and the BRP at Balsam Gap. As we approached the Gap itself and the intersection with the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, we dropped below the cloud cover only to discover that it was DARK! Night had fallen while we were descending the mountain.

Now, you might think we were out of danger at this point. We recognized otherwise because this section of highway is a high traffic area where cyclists are not respected but seen has an impedance to traffic flow even though it is the only recognized bikeway from Haywood to Jackson County in this area. Our good friend “The Wood-man” was seriously injured on this very section of road almost exactly 1 year ago when he was run off the road by a trucker, who objected to his use of the road. “The Wood-man” was pushed into the rumble strips running along the highway and this set up an uncontrollable shimmy in his front end, which led to a disastrous intersection of man, machine, and guard rail.

“Big J.” and I didn’t want to chance the 8 mile descent into Waynesville under these conditions so we began calling friends and relatives we thought we could convince to come get us at the Gap and save us the descent of the remaining mountain. Unfortunately, no one was available to answer their phones and we were left with the decision to try to safely negotiate the return to town.

We crossed over the Expressway during a break in traffic and positioned ourselves in the “gutter.” We traded  positions and “Big J.” took the lead with me and my trusty taillight announcing to travelers we were on the side of the road. There are no street lights on this section of the mountain so we were at the mercy of passing headlights to illuminate any barriers to safe travel in the “gutter.” I heard numerous crunches and felt numerous jolts as we made our way down the mountain. I kept wondering when one us of would flat…

Thankfully, we safely made it to exit 98 on the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway in west Waynesville and were greeted with multiple bright lights as we approached Wal-Mart and surrounding businesses. Our unintentional 4 hour ride had ended safely with us back in town and needing only to return to my office. “Big J.” dropped off near his home and I proceeded to my truck to call my spouse and announce “Honey, I’m baaaack!”  32 miles, 6000’ ft in ascension/descension, 4 bottles of Gatorade, a couple of Power Bars, and one outstanding adventure had come to a close.

With the exception of a lack of lighting, we were pretty well prepared for this unplanned extension of our ride. I’ve ridden the BRP in “white out” conditions before but that was on my Harley with lots of power and lights and in the company of many other motorcyclists. Having no lights and no visibility on a 15 to 17 pound self-propelled machine was an adventure of another sort. I was pleased we “kept our heads about us” in what was a very dangerous situation. Still, I sent out more than one thanks to God for our safe return.

Whether your assessment of this adventure was “that was stupid!” as pronounced by my relieved spouse or “that was crazy!” as assessed by my masseuse the next day, it was an adventure that will hold a special place in memory for me on each upcoming September 17th…

 View Interactive Map on

Until later,

- Zeke

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I have been very aware the last two weeks of how the days are already getting noticeably shorter as we head toward the fall of 2009. I know that it is a function of where we are in our trip around the big “light bulb in the sky” but I think I’m more attuned to it this fall because my post work rides have increased in mileage and time during the month of August and now continuing into September. As “Big J” and I wrapped up a 30 miler after work on Tuesday, we were both commenting that it was time to start carrying some clear lens with us because it was actually seeming pretty dark with our normal sunglasses on as we returned to my office, which serves as our current starting point and ending points. In another week, I’ll need a light on the front bar to get home!

Tuesday’s ride was the continuation of a theme – ride northern Haywood County and increase our mileage. From my office, it is a very reasonable 10 miles along Howell Mill Road, US 19, and NC 209 to the turn-off at the old Crabtree Community School. From there, we had a great 5 mile in, 5 mile out late afternoon ALMOST sunset ride through some of the richest farmland around. The Upper Crabtree section is truly representative of Appalachia and some of the great scenery that “outsiders’ get to see in movies like “Nell” and “Cold Mountain.”

The road into the Upper Crabtree cove section is 2 lane paved rural roads that can be busy as folks return home from work. Typically, by the time we are turned around and headed out, we pass very few cars. The ride in is mostly a slight uphill grade with moderate climbs toward the end of the paved section. This, of course, means that ride out is a fun downhill descent that is just plain enjoyable. On this section, you can spot old time Appalachia and signs of coming trends in alternative energy in the form of a wind mill in the gap of Crabtree Mountain.

As with all farm roads, you have to be wary of slower moving farm implements, faster moving 4 X 4’s, and the occasional Australian Blue Heeler, who is in need of something to herd. One particular such dog bears watching as he doesn’t announce himself by barking. He gets down into a low slung aerodynamic tuck with his chin on the ground and his butt in the air. You can just see the tension getting ready to launch him at us. Fortunately, we know where he lives!

Tuesday night’s ride really treated us to some wonderful views as we exited the valley. (I regret not having my camera with me…) The sun was setting and the long waves of light gave the surrounding western and southern slopes a great golden quality. After exiting the valley and turning back south on NC 209 toward home, I experienced a unique sensory experience. We were riding the gutter of NC 209 and I kept noticing this bright illuminating light that had a very silvery quality to it. Next, I noticed to my right our very clear shadows as we cruised along the face of the rock cliff that NC 209 abuts. Normally, seeing one’s shadow wouldn’t be worthy of mention except this time the shadow was on the northwest side of us and that was also the side the sun, were it viewable, would have been as well. As it was there was only rock cliff and NO light source to our northwest. Under those conditions, our shadows should have been on our northeasterly side.

I continued to study the situation and finally realized that a very large billowing cumulus congestus cloud was above us and to our north, which would have been over our left shoulder and to the rear. It was catching the rays of the sun and bouncing them back toward us creating the silvery light that resulted in our shadows pacing us on the wrong side. The light was so brilliant our shadows were easily seen. In the space of a couple of miles, we had gone from wonderful golden sunrays to brilliant reflected silvery light. I’ll bet that not many people riding home that evening in their autos noticed this naturally occurring situation!

A lesson relearned…

This ride also provided me with a relearning experience of another, more embarrassing type. “Big J” and I had stopped at a stop sign to catch a drink and let our legs recover after exiting the Upper Crabtree area. The stop sign was on an ascent as we headed home. Being ready to head out, I clipped my right foot in, pushed forward on the pedal to get my left foot clipped in and…

Well, the next thing I recall is a nice view of the sky from my now prone position on the roadway. Turns out I didn’t get that left foot clipped in, didn’t have the leg strength in my right leg to push up hill and maintain my balance and momentum. Once again, I discovered that GRAVITY WILL PULL YOU AND YOUR BIKE DOWN when you aren’t properly balanced. Oh well, “Big J” lifted my bike off of me, a nice fellow in a passing car slowed to see if I was o.k., and I brushed my butt off and headed DOWNHILL to get my momentum going so I could go UPHILL…

We returned home in a slight drizzle as we rode the shores of Lake Junaluska and made our way back to my office to end our little 30 miler. All in all, yet another excellent ride!

Until later,

- Zeke

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I mentioned in my last post that I felt that I had ascended from a plateau where I’ve felt stuck the early part of the summer. I just didn’t feel that I was progressing in my stamina or climbing skills until the past 3 or 4 weeks. I was struggling to get up climbs that I thought I should have mastered already. Well, I’m pleased to say that I’ve bitten off two of my goals within the past two weeks.

Last week, I finally managed to top the first climb leading to Rush Fork Gap. I had the distinct feeling that my heart was going to burst and save someone the trouble of spreading my ashes. My heart rate was popping along at 183 bpm when I finally topped the climb. My top heart rate should be 165 bpm for my age group. (Note to cardiologist: I’m probably not going to have a heart attack.)


(Photo – my own. Three quarters way to top of first Rush Fork Climb)

The “Wood-man” has been telling me that part of my problem with this climb was psychological and that I just needed to get out there and “git er done.” I think there was truth to his statement. I had tried and failed 3 times previously to make it up this first incline. I would start dreading the attempt long before I managed to get to the beginning of the climb. I was determined this time that I was going to make it. I was riding with “Cross Country Stan” that day so I just latched on to his rear wheel and followed him up the climb. I think he must have experienced a tailwind of sorts as I felt like I was breathing so hard near the top, I must have been pushing him ahead! At any rate, one goal down – more to come!

RushFk_1st(Photo courtesy “Cross Country Stan” at top of first Rush Fork Climb)

Our Tuesday ride this week kept dwindling down in numbers until I thought I would be riding by myself. Fortunately, “Big Ben” pulled in just as I was starting to clip in and head out for a solo run. “BB” normally rides with the Thursday evening power group so this was my first opportunity to ride with him. “BB” is a member of our local advisory council and has spent many years on a bike. He is quite a bit younger than me and MANY pounds lighter so I was looking forward to this opportunity to ride. Along with interests in cycling, we also share career interests as well. Although, I’m at the end of my career and he is near the beginning of his. Still, it is enjoyable to be in his company.

We headed out along the local greenway and made our way to NC 209, which if you read this blog more than once, you’ll discover is becoming sort of a backbone of rides for me. The northern end of the county offers some fine two lane, low traffic count rural byways that traverse some beautiful agricultural areas in Haywood County. Our start time was 5:15 p.m. just after work and there was definitely a touch of early fall weather. The air temps were down and the air felt crisp for the first time. Alan, over on Eco-Velo, commented in his August 28th posting “Another beautiful sunrise this morning. Fall is coming…” It seems like only last week he was commenting about the gorgeous sunrise where he lives and that “spring was coming…” This summer has seemingly slipped away at a faster pace than preceding summers. I know that we circle the big light in the sky at the same pace as we did when I was a child but, my experience of those same 365 days just seems to be getting faster and faster as I start my own personal journey toward winding down my time on this globe.

From NC 209, “Big Ben” and I jumped over to Iron Duff Road and followed Coleman Mountain Road on its winding course over the mountain. Riding alongside “BB”, I managed to meet my second summer goal, which was to get past Jack Pine Dr. and spin my way to the top of the mountain. I’ve typically stopped at Jack Pine, which is about halfway up the mountain on the eastern side and caught my breath and let my heart rate return to something approaching normalcy. There is a nice view there so it hasn’t been punishment to pull of. In fact, I’ve taken the opportunity to grab a picture there in the past.

Ride040809 001

(Photo – my own: Image taken from Jack Pine Dr.) 

This day, though I pedaled on by Jack Pine and crested the top of the mountain looking down on I-40. From the top of Coleman (35.34.52 N, 82.59.11 W, elevation 2936’), it is a nice long descent almost all the way to the intersection of Coleman Mountain Rd. and US 276. A nice long stretch starts the descent and leads into a slight left hand curve as you pass under I-40 before enjoying another short straight stretch. This segment runs into a series of “S” curves that are tighter and require that you pay close attention to the road. Of course, you only need to do that if you aren’t worried about becoming a hood ornament on an oncoming farm truck or finding a need to avoid plugging yourself into a slow moving tractor from behind as you round the curves. This is, after all, farm country!

Making a southerly turn onto US 276 leads riders onto a well maintained split 4 lane highway that runs the length of Jonathan Valley. By this time of the evening, the sun is casting long waves of light across the valley and the whole valley is encompassed in golden, warm light. In his book Serena, author Ron Rash’s character Rachel Harmon comments as to how the mountains sinking into the shadows of night provide her with a comforting and sheltering feeling. Riding up this peaceful valley, it is easy to adopt her viewpoint.


The image above shows Coleman Mountain Road descending to US 276 (35.35.30N, 83.00.31 W, elevation 2515). You can then see the lower end of Jonathan Valley in the image. Largely a farm community, this section of Haywood County is under threat of being developed into a Pigeon Forge, TN like shopping district. The likelihood of this ever occurring is questionable but, the topic does keep raising its ugly head periodically.  It doesn’t take much to get a strong debate going over individual property rights and wise use of the remaining land. But, that is a topic for another day and another forum. On this particular day, the valley was the location of an excellent sunset ride in some excellent farming areas.

After intersecting with US 19, “BB” and I made our way back east in heavier traffic before turning south toward Waynesville and Russ Avenue. The final climb of the day starts at a traffic light at the intersection of Mauney Cove Rd. and US 276. This is a well paved 4 lane road that continues on to the “fast food – neon lights” northern end of Waynesville. In short time, we were back at our originating point and wrapping up the ride. 

So, two weeks – two goals achieved… Time to set some new goals for the fall riding season but mostly it is time to simply enjoy the pleasures of being outdoors with friends as we fly along the countryside…

Until later,

- Zeke