This year I decided that three days of training and hard riding at Raw Talent Ranch wasn’t going to be enough so I decided to take the whole week off work and head out for some destination climbing before joining everyone else in West Virginia.
Joe Haney and I were aiming to get south to Lynchburg, VA in time to ride Thunder Ridge by nightfall. With Lynchburg about six hours away by car, Joe showed up at my house at 5 AM and we caravan-ed down to Lynchburg. We made a quick stop for a sandwich at Subway then quickly checked into the hotel and got kitted up.
Our planned route was a touch under 80 miles with slightly more than 8,000 feet of vertical. Unfortunately there aren’t many flat roads between Lynchburg and the Blue Ridge Parkway, so just getting to the climb gave us 25 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Luckily, these rolling hills protected us from a sustained headwind. On the way there Joe confessed he hadn’t been on a ride over 45 or 50 miles in 6 months so this was going to be quite an adventure.
We took a quick stop to refill water bottles just outside of the park and stashed the half gallon we didn’t use outside the convenience store for use on the way back.
Once on the Parkway the climb starts almost immediately. It’s remarkable in it’s consistency with the grade sitting between 4-6% for long stretches. We settled into a manageable pace and enjoyed the scenery on the way up. I had a rear flat about 5 miles into the climb that we stopped and dealt with and that led to me replacing the tire with a spare (luckily I brought spare wheels and gatorskins for the trip) when we finished.
The climb led to some pretty spectacular views and an even better descent. That consistent grade made the descending fast and easy. We bombed our way back down, quickly stopped to use the last of our water and headed back through the rollers with the tailwind we had earned earlier in the day.
The ride back to Lynchburg was a real grind; having 25 miles to go after that type of climbing effort was a bit of a routing mistake and both Joe and I were suffering by the time we reached the hotel.
We got cleaned up and went out for a well deserved burger and brew before calling it a night.
Up early, as always, I swapped my spare tire onto my wheel and bade Joe farewell. He was heading back home and I was heading further south to spend Easter with my Aunt in Charlotte.
I made a quick stop en route at a bike shop to see about a pedal problem which they diagnosed (pedal worn beyond repair) and were unable to solve (no speedplay zeros in stock) and then was on to the large family meal.
After a prolonged food and wine coma I roused myself and spent the evening driving to Asheville, NC for some more cycling adventures.
With rain in the forecast for both Monday and Tuesday but Monday looking significantly drier I decided to do Mt. Mitchell Monday as that was my primary goal in Asheville.
Mt. Mitchell has two primary ascents, one starting from Asheville (significantly less elevation gain) and one starting from nearby Marion, WV which has a much lower starting elevation. Being stubborn, I wanted to do the longer ascent (note that I didn’t get a time on the ascent due to some GPS irregularities).
I drove to the Walmart in Marion where we would be starting the ride around 9:45. There I met Jeff Watts, friend and racer from back home, who was vacationing in Asheville with his fiance Tara. They were heading home Monday but Jeff wanted to make time to go up Mt Mitchell so Tara dropped him off and away we went.
Jeff and I cruised about 8 miles to the base of the climb and spent the next 28ish miles going uphill to the summit of Mt Mitchell. This climb has steeper pitches than Thunder Ridge, but is still largely do-able.
The climb breaks down into several pieces, and for me the best part was the bottom section on winding Rt 80. It included switchbacks and views of a small stream that had carved out the valley we were riding in. Once we got up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway the views got better, but the climbing got more monotonous. The long straight sections wore me out a bit mentally and having Jeff there really helped keep the pace high. He and I are fairly evenly matched with me having a slight advantage on the uphills and him having a slight advantage on the downhills.
Once you make the turn into Mt Mitchell State Park the average gradient increases noticeably, but since you only have 4 miles to the summit it balances out. We hit the top and chatted with some other tourists who had driven up and then started our descent.
It rained on us fairly heavily for the first 5 miles of the descent and then dried up for the rest of the ride; great luck since the rain hurts at 40 mph.
Jeff bombed ahead of me on the descents but was kind enough to wait every once in a while to make sure neither of us had gone over the edge. Probably the hardest part of the day came on the way back, which was the 1.9 mile uphill midway through the descent. My legs were pretty chilled when we hit it and both of us were bitching about the interruption to the beautiful descent.
Overall the most striking thing about this ride was just how long the descent was. You don’t really realize just how far you’ve climbed until you go both up and down. We were paid back over and over again for our hard work on the way up as the downhill never seemed to end.
We got back to the parking lot after about 4 hours of riding time. I got changed and we headed over to a local eatery to wait for Tara to come get Jeff so they could begin the long drive home.
Really glad he could make it out as I’m sure the ride would’ve been 10x more mentally taxing to do alone. Having someone else to chat with and hear bitching about the climb definitely made it a lot better day in the saddle.
Spent some time on the phone and found a bike shop that had pedals in stock and went over and picked up some replacements; a bit expensive, but problem solved so money well spent. Stopped for some take out BBQ and called it an early night.
Lots of rain in the forecast for Tuesday, but no real indication as to when it would start or stop as of Monday evening. Woke up to find the best window was going to be morning. Powered through some oatmeal and got on the bike ASAP for an 8 AM start.
The plan was to do Mt Pisgah from Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway and loop back into town from a different direction.
I really struggled to find my legs on this ride. Took me almost 40 minutes to loosen up and start spinning – and even then I was loathe to push myself due to a sharp pain in my right knee (had shown up for a brief cameo the day before) and my general muscle fatigue.
The recurring knee pain and a new noise in the back end of my bike (maybe something wrong in the cassette/derailleur) distracted me from the fog and intermittent showers that I was riding through for most of the climb – but did little else positive for me. I was in a pretty dark place when I finally broke through the fog and got a look back at the climbing done. Talk about a great way to change your mood; suddenly I was back in the zone and the pain and bike problems seemed inconsequential.
This climb was similar to Thunder Ridge from Saturday with a constant grade and great road surface (thanks National Park Service). Several longer tunnels were a bit intimidating since I didn’t bring lights with me and the cars were screaming past but despite one close call I had mishaps.
I had chosen the easier ascent (approximately same elevation gain, but significantly longer mileage, so shallower) and on the way back down I regretted this choice as the steeper way down was still shrouded in fog and rain. Thus I carefully picked my way down the mountain before beginning the spin back to Asheville.
On the way back I had my first major routing problem (Joe and I had minor ones when one of the roads I picked was gravel and gated – but we walked around the gate and rode it anyway), coming to a road that was gated with a barbed wire fence, something I wasn’t going to risk.
Pulled out the cell phone and picked my way home along some regrettably major roads. Back into the dark mental place – checking your phone for directions every 5 minutes really takes the fun out of a ride
Back at the hotel I cleaned my bike up a bit (drive train only) and tried to find the noisy piece of equipment but found nothing suspicious. Luckily I’ll be seeing Ness in two short days and if it’s still rattling hopefully he can solve it for me!
Tomorrow it’s off north to meet Glenn, John, and Mike at Skyline Drive for another nice gradual climb before the steep nastiness in WV starts on Thursday.