Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Blue Ridge Ramble, Part One: Cherokee, NC to Asheville, NC

It has taken me a while to go through the photos from our trip and it has been a long time since I've posted. We spent the last two weeks of July riding the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive from Cherokee, North Carolina to Front Royal, Virginia. It was definitely epic. All said and done, with side trips, we rode 630 miles with over 60,000 feet of elevation gain. Like I said: Epic. It was amazing and it came off flawlessly. We got sprinkled on once or twice while riding and it rained on us several times in camp, but we never encountered serious bad weather while on the bikes. It was hot, but, well, it was July in the South. We didn't have any mechanical troubles - not even a flat tire.

On the first day of our trip, five of us piled into our car along with all of our gear, two bikes on the back, and two on the roof, and we drove to Cherokee, North Carolina, which is the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The drive went fine. Cherokee is dominated by an enormous casino that would show up in our pictures for about half of the first day's ride. The next morning, Michael, two friends, and I set out from the hotel and began the trek north. The fifth member of our party followed us as far as the turnoff, took some pictures and took the long way back to Maryland with our car. Once, on a backpacking trip in Maine, I thought it was weird to watch our ride take off with us being 100 miles from our car. Watching our friend drive off brought up that same feeling.  We were now over 600 miles from getting picked up two weeks later.

Right out of the gate, the Blue Ridge Parkway demonstrates what it can do. The first climb is nearly ten miles long and gains 4,000 feet of elevation. With stops for pictures and snacks, it took us all morning. The change in the forest along the way was remarkable. We started in dense hardwood forest and ended up in firs and cedars. After a quick  four-mile descent and lunch, we were at it again, climbing to the top of Waterrock Knob (5,718 feet). From there, we just had to descend seven miles to our hotel, so our two friends and I hiked up to the top of the knob (in mountain bike shoes...not ideal). The seven mile descent into Balsam Gap was the perfect end to the first day. The mile we had to ride on the shoulder of US 23 and then froggering across said highway was less than perfect. It was probably one of the least pleasant miles of the trip. It wasn't particularly dangerous, just really unpleasant because of the heavy traffic.
One of our friends getting ready at our hotel the first morning in Cherokee. We each carried between 30-35 pounds of gear on our bikes plus water.
The entrance sign at milepost 469 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Our first tunnel (of 27) of the trip - the Sherril Cove Tunnel. The tunnels were actually something I worried a bit about, needlessly as it turned out. They had nice reflectors in them and white lines on the sides, which made it a lot easier to see the road while riding through them.
Rhododendron maximum (Rosebay Rhododendron). These were blooming all over the higher mountains.
 Riding up towards Waterrock Knob
Lilium superbum (Turk's Cap Lily) along the road.
 The view from Waterrock Knob.
The Balsam Mountain Inn - our hotel the first night. This was an amazing place with a great restaurant. It was definitely the nicest place we stayed on the trip. We made good use of the long, wide porches, which were perfect for relaxing after the day's ride.

The second day promised more climbing. We had to return to the Blue Ridge Parkway via US 23, which wasn't any better in the cool of morning than it was the night before. After another frogger across the highway, we were back in the quiet of the woods again. Michael dropped his chain on the entrance ramp, so the rest of us rode to the top and waited for him. There was a guy leaning against his car talking on the phone when we got there. All of a sudden, a puppy ran out of the ditch, circled my legs and one of our friend's legs and then stood in the road. Just then, Michael arrived. The guy with his car said he had seen it, but couldn't catch it. Michael put his bike down and coaxed it out of the ditch and caught it. It was a little thing that hadn't been out very long. It didn't have any tags and there aren't any houses around there. Michael fed it a little beef jerky and the puppy decided they were friends. At this point, Michael was trying to figure out how to carry the little dog on his bike. It would have been hard, though, and the guy with his car said he would take care of it, so we sent it off with him.

With that, we began another 10 mile climb to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Richard Balsam at 6,053 feet. It took us all morning. The scenery was just spectacular. From Richard Balsam to Mt. Pisgah, we rode through more rolling hills, but all above 4,500 feet. We made it into Mt. Pisgah campground just as the heavens opened. Fortunately, it only lasted 10 minutes. Our campsite was nice. The camp store seemed rather spare to us since we are used to the nice ones in Shenandoah National Park. They did have ice cream, though. We didn't know it at the time, but it is actually one of the nicer camp stores on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where they exist at all.
Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot) with a swallowtail butterfly
 These signs are more fun when descending than when climbing like we were doing here.
The four of us at the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
How can you not take a picture of Rough Butt Bald overlook when on a long cycling trip?
Rudebeckia laciniata (Cut-leaf Coneflower - I think).
A path through a rhododendron tunnel at Graveyard Fields
Looking Glass Rock.

Day three was the descent from Mt. Pisgah to Asheville. Nearly 30 miles, almost all downhill. Before we knew it we crossed the French Broad River. There was a bit more traffic around Asheville, but nothing bad. Our ride took us a grand total of two hours, including stops. We would pay for that the next day, but it was a fun ride down. We visited the Folk Art Center and check into our hotel, which was definitely a contrast to the one two nights before. We stayed in the Motel 6. We spent the afternoon wandering around downtown Asheville and eating too much.
 My fully loaded bike.
We got caught in a quick thunderstorm while we were downtown in Asheville.
A double-decker bus that has been converted to a coffee shop.

More to come...

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