Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blue Ridge Ramble, Part Two: Asheville to Glendale Springs, NC

Day Four: After the speedy, exhilarating descent into Asheville from Mount Pisgah, we had to pay it all back and then some. This time, instead of climbing all morning, we climbed all day from Asheville, which is one of the lower points on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to Mount Mitchell, which is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains at 6,684 feet.  We only had 32 miles to ride, but it was almost exclusively uphill except for a relatively flat section near Craggy Gardens. To make it better, the last five miles, the road from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the top of Mount Mitchell, was steeper than anything we had ridden to that point.

In spite of all of that, this was one of my favorite days of the ride. As we were leaving Asheville, a guy caught up with us and rode with us for a while. He does the climb from Asheville to Craggy Gardens Picnic Area as his regular workout. It is 15 miles and the road climbs at least 2,500 feet over that distance. He was 73 years old! The scenery was second to none on this section. We once again climbed from hardwood forest up into the cedar and fir forests of the highest peaks. Craggy Gardens is a large rhododendron bald with views nearly all the way back down to Asheville. We took a long break there to eat our lunch. From Craggy Gardens, the parkway follows the ridgeline, winding in and around the high peaks. I really liked this section. We had great views at various points on both sides of the road.

The climb up to Mount Mitchell is legendary. There is even an organized ride called Assault on Mount Mitchel. Much is made of the steepness of the road from the parkway to the top of the mountain in the guidebook that I used. It is definitely steep, but it definitely wasn't as bad as everything I had read or heard about. We had to deal with a bit of road construction on it, which wasn't pleasant, but other than that, it was just an hour of steady climbing. We set up camp in the campground that is a mile below the summit and got to ride our now much lighter bikes the last mile to the summit.
We left Asheville in the fog. Pretty quickly, we climbed above it. This is looking back on the city.
My bike in the morning light.
One of the many signs along the parkway.
Michael riding near Craggy Gardens.
 Michael and I went for a walk at Craggy Gardens. It was just a spectacular place.
Michael and Derek at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center. We actually attracted quite a bit of attention here. We ate our lunch sitting on the wall and just about everyone who walked by our bikes stopped to look at them and many people asked us questions about our trip.
 I went ahead of the guys at one point so I could take pictures of them riding.
 The benchmark at the top of Mount Mitchell.
Michael and I at the summit sign. The summit was crowded even though it was a weekday.
Sunset at Mount Mitchell. After shooting this picture, we watched lightning flash across clouds far to the east.

Day Five: Descending Mount Mitchell was five miles of fun. We couldn't go all out because the road construction had left some random patches of loose gravel on the road, but we still enjoyed the effortless reward for making the climb the day before. We had lunch at the Little Switzerland Cafe, which, if you are ever in the area, definitely make the stop. Our appetites had kicked in by this point and it was nice to eat something other than beef jerky and energy bars for lunch. We also stopped at the North Carolina Museum of Minerals. I think my expectations for the museum were too high. I was hoping for exhibits on the geology of the area. There wasn't much on that. They did have some information on the history of mining in North Carolina, which was interesting and some nice mineral samples. I was just looking for some context on how the mountains we were riding through formed.

Our destination that night was Linville Falls Campground. The campground is nice. I asked about a camp store (there isn't one) and bear boxes. The woman who check us in said that they didn't have any trouble with bears there because everyone who camps there stores their food properly. I'm sure she wasn't counting the family near us who was nowhere to be seen, but their food was sitting out on their picnic table. Another family came in that night near us and they took their coolers into their tent with them when they went to bed. Proper food storage, indeed.

When planning our trip, I was looking forward to seeing the waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Linville Falls is one of the more famous ones. What I realized that night is, after riding for hours and hours, I probably wasn't going to hike even a couple of miles to see a waterfall. Linville Falls isn't a long hike, but it just wasn't going to happen after a full day of riding. From Linville Falls north, our days got longer, so it was even less likely as the trip went on. We'll just have to go back at some point.
 Flowers blooming at one of the overlooks near the Mount Mitchell turnoff.
 Michael approaching a tunnel.
 An underpass at Little Switzerland. The stonework along the entire parkway was impressive.
Drying our clothes out at Linville Falls campground after doing a bit of laundry.

Day Six: This was one of the hardest days of the trip.  I don't think any of us anticipated it, either. After the really big climbs we had done earlier in the trip, the elevation profile looked deceptively moderate, just lots of big rollers. They turned out to be steep rollers and by this point in the trip, the temperatures had ticked up into the 90s. It also had one of the busiest sections of the parkway that we encountered from Julian Price Lake to the Moses Cone Manor. By the time we rolled into Glendale Springs, we had been on the road for almost ten hours, which might be the world record for slowest pace over 57 miles. It was still a pretty ride, but we were all glad to be done when we got to our hotel that day.

The reward for that day's ride: A friend's aunt and uncle came and picked us up, took us to the grocery store for supplies, and then to their house for dinner. It was such a treat after a long, hard day of riding.
The Blue Ridge Parkway near Linville Falls Campground.
One of the highlights of the day was the Linn Cove Viaduct. This was the last mile of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be constructed. It wasn't completed until the 1980s.
Looking back on the Linn Cove Viaduct in the distance.
The Moses Cone Manor. Moses Cone manufactured fabric and clothing. There is a beautiful craft shop on the first floor. The second floor was actually open while we were there. Cone Mills still exists, although I don't think it is owned by the same family anymore. They make fancy denim in North Carolina (I've actually made jeans from Cone Mills denim).
 This section of the parkway is more populated than the sections further south. We rode through more farmland and we started seeing country churches. One thing that impressed me all along the trip was how varied the landscape is.
Looking back on where we had come from near Glendale Springs.

More to come...

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