A few days after riding Clingman's Dome (the highest point in Tennessee) I rode Mt. Mitchell (the highest point in North Carolina). That was four years ago today. The bulk of the climb was quite similar to Clingman's Dome: not very steep, winding roads, not much traffic. However, Mt. Mitchell threw in a few surprises that made it quite a bit more challenging.
Just outside of Asheville, NC we turned onto the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a 500 mile scenic drive (no commercial traffic allowed) through east-central Appalachia. Once again, I rode my trusty Thundercougarfalconbird, while Melissa drove Iris the support vehicle. The road turned upward immediately as I rode away from Asheville.
The first few hours (yes, hours) went smoothly. This part of the climb was not very steep. I settled into a steady pace. This climb (35 miles) was much longer than the two other mountains I had previously ridden, Clingman's dome (20 miles), and Mt. Tam (10 miles). To put it in comparison, it dwarfs the climbs typically done in professional bike races (where 10 miles is a long climb, and virtually no climbs are longer than 12-15 miles). Of course, it wasn't that steep though. Yet.
Around 5,000 ft altitude I noticed for the first time it was actually much more difficult to breathe. Around 5,500 ft I encountered a fairly long downhill section which caused me more worry than relief. Every inch I descended would be another inch I would have to climb again to reach the top. Before long the road went up again. Then back down again. Crap.
Finally, I reached the turn off of the Blue Ridge Parkway into Mt. Mitchell state park. This is where things got interesting. The road immediately hit 9% and stayed that way for 1.5 miles or so. After hours of climbing a moderate grade, this steep section really hurt. Fortunately, the top was very near, and I made it without incident.
After a brief rest at the top came the fun part: 35 miles downhill (well, except for those two stupid dips which I had to ride up on the way back).
At one point I noticed a few cars backed up in the road, so I had to slow down. I wondered what was going on. There was nothing blocking the road so I gently eased around the stopped cars and continued on my way. As soon as I reached the front of the group I looked over to my right and noticed about 20 meters away from me was a bear walking along the side of the road. I coasted along as I stared at it, not believing my eyes. I was used to seeing dogs while cycling, maybe even deer, but this was a first for me. Anyway, I quickly came to my senses and hauled ass out of there. I had no desire to become this bear's lunch.
|Date:||2005-08-11 8:50 AM EDT|
|Road Elevation:||6585 feet|
|Climb Distance:||34.25 miles|
|Climb Ascent:||5956 feet|
|Climb Average Grade:||4.3%|
|Climb Maximum Grade:||9%|
|Ride Distance:||69.9 miles|
|Ride Total Ascent:||7472 feet|
|Ride Maximum Speed:||48 miles/hour|
|Ride Start:||Asheville, NC (2194 feet)|
|Ride End:||Asheville, NC (2194 feet)|