Monday, October 25, 2010

2 States, 3 Dogs, 21 Miles of Climbing & 1 WWII Veteran

(Part I)

Well, the ride that the Wood-man and I undertook Saturday is hereafter named The Wood-man’s Betsy’s Gap Invitational”  and should probably happen annually from this time forward. As the only invitee to this year’s effort, I was pleased to accompany the Wood-man on a 65 mile jaunt…

from Waynesville, NC to Newport, TN on what will most likely be the peak color weekend of this season here in Western North Carolina.

The Wood-man and I have talked about this ride for two seasons. He last did it some 15 years ago when he was younger than I am now. Until this season, I haven’t felt that my climbing legs would allow me to make the trip. To accomplish this trip was one of my early season goals for this year.

We departed the home of Sherry Shazam in Waynesville promptly at the agreed upon time of 11:30 a.m. The skies were brilliant blue with only an occasional white puffy cloud traversing the sky. The surrounding colors of the trees were as brilliant as they will be this year. We departed in upper 60’s temps. The Wood-man in a long sleeve jersey and me with a windbreaker over my short sleeve attire.

Within a couple of miles, I could tell that I was feeling pretty good on this day. There was none of the heaviness in my legs that I was expecting. We had a good “warm up” pedal down Business 23 to NC 209 north. Riding the gutter, we were able to keep a pleasant pace going and came to our first climb of the day.

Approaching Rush Fork

(The Wood-man pedals along the straight leading to Rush Fork)

Rush Fork was our first climbing challenge. Arguably one of the top 3 climbs in Haywood County, it starts with a long straight gentle incline leading to an abrupt increase in grade to the first “peak” at WeKirk Farms. This first segment of the overall climb is one of those climbs where you can’t let curves fool you into believing the climb is almost over. What you see is definitely what you get on the first stage of the two stage climb. (Rush Fork was my nemesis in my first two years of serious cycling. You can read about it HERE and HERE. ) 

After peaking on stage one, you get a brief few seconds of respite with a short descent leading into a left hand curve. Once in the curve, you see THE climb of Rush Fork. Jumping to 12% and more, the climb is simply steep and long to the gap. There are no shoulders to the road – only a guard rail to keep you from falling over the steep embankment. With the sun on our backs, Wood-man and lowered our heads and kept the momentum going. We topped out at 3226’ elevation and began an almost equally steep but much longer descent to Ferguson’s Store (elevation 2628’) and a right hand turn to begin the climb to Betsy’s Gap.

Betsy’s Gap – the challenge…

From the moment you turn right at Ferguson’s Store, you are climbing. There is no leveling out – no rollers – no descent. It is pure climb all the way to the top. It is a beautiful mountain cove through which to climb. The road is popular with motorcyclists and there were lots of them out on this date enjoying the colors of fall. There is a long straight pull to begin with and you can see the old farmsteads dotting the hillsides with some newer built homes further up the mountains. You have a panoramic view of both sides of the cove and it was particularly pretty on this date.  Eventually, the road takes a curve back to the right and continues an incline that traverses a short part of the cove before a sharp turn back to the left. From this point, the road is mostly tree covered to the top and we were riding under a canopy of colors.

Brightly colored NC 209

A Yellow Maple in full color










(The fall colors enveloped us on our climb…)

As beautiful as it was on this climb, I was also aware of the irritation setting up in my right hip. We were approaching the 20 mile marker of our trip and 15 of those miles had been climbing. The road was increasingly curvy and I would lose sight of the Wood-man as he had opened up about an 1/8th to a 1/4 of a mile lead on me. Having learned in the past to go my own pace, I settled in and tried to enjoy the trip rather than worrying about keeping the Wood-man’s wheel.

Nearing the top of Betsy's Gap...

(The ribbon of color continued to the top!)

I finally reached the gap at the Haywood County/ Madison County line where the Wood-man had pulled over. We were at the 20 mile mark of our trip. We stopped briefly to enjoy a cold drink and take in some fuel. The other folks sharing the road this day were all friendly and threw up hands in acknowledgment of us. Well, all of them except those road warriors on “crotch rockets”, who we really didn’t want to take their hands off their handlebars as they leaned into the curves bringing padded knees close to the pavement.

In the Gap - Betsy's Gap that is...

(In the gap – Betsy’s Gap that is… The Haywood/Madison line)

The hard climbing of this trip was now behind us. We were sitting at 3900’ elevation and ready to descend down the mountain through the small communities of Trust, NC and Luck, NC into Spring Creek, NC.

(In part two, I’ll cover the run to Hot Springs, Dogs of Madison County, and the final miles into Newport. I’ll close it out with a mention of that WWII Vet and a real sister act… Please come back and finish this ride with me…)

Until later,

- Zeke


Anonymous said...

I just yahooMapped this. Looks like it would make a great overnight trip. I'll keep it in mind, thanks for sharing, Jack

Unknown said...

Yes, it would... I might even consider a 2 nighter with a stopover in Hot Springs at the campground and a good loooonnng soak in one of the tubs. Next day, would be to get to Cosby and eat at the Front Porch (see part II tomorrow) and then find a way back home perhaps through Gatlinburg and US 441...

Something to think about. You can also come back to Haywood via Cosby and Cataloochee but not on a skinny tire bike! :)

- Zeke