Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway

It has been difficult finding an establishment offering wi-fi after I have returned to civilization.  Guess where I am!!  If you said "Panera" then you win a prize that will be decided upon after you fill out the required governmental paperwork. 

I have spent the last two days wearing myself out in the mountains of North Carolina.  Today I rest in and near Asheville.  I might ride this evening, but that will depend on time.

Monday started with a  drive out of Boone onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I parked the Rav at the Moses H. Cone visitor center, loaded up Bruiser, and went for a 52-mile, 2 hr 31 min ride along the BRP.  What an awesome experience!  It was a mostly sunny and extremely windy day.  The sun helped with the views off of the overlooks.  The wind made the high-speed descents somewhat challenging and adventurous.  Along the way I was able to talk to interesting people from all California, Vermont, Florida, Pennsylvania, and, of course, North Carolina.  Everyone was so nice, especially the Harley riders who seemed genuinely interested in Bruiser. 

Like the views and the people, the road itself was most impressive.  I took the time to learn about and photograph the Lynn Cove Viaduct.  What an engineering feat.  This 1243-ft section of roadway is made up of 153 sections that were made on site before being taken to the end of the existing roadway and fit/glued (yes, epoxy!) into place.  A viaduct is a road that is built with this method.  Each section of the Lynn Cove Viaduct is 35 ft wide and weighs in at about 100,000 pounds.  Only one section is actually rectangular due to the S-shape of the roadway around the rocky face of Grandfather Mountain.

I had intended to take a ride to the 5700-ft summit of Grandfather Mountain, but 85 mph wind gusts had closed the road for the day.  Did I say it was a windy day?

 
Ty Capone

Yes.  This is the trail.

No blood = no fun.

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The climbs on the road, at 8-9% incline, hit the edge of my comfort zone since Bruiser has a 21-tooth largest cog on back.  That cog is good for a 12 mph ride with the cadence in the low 80's.  Once, when the incline went to 10-11% (Polar HRM tells me incline) I went searching for another cog - none in the shifter or on the wheel - daggumit! Grind, grind, grind.  The total ascending for the ride was just over 4100 ft.

The high speed descents alternated between thrilling and horrifying depending on what the wind was doing to me.  At 40-56 mph on a light bike, the wind literally owns a cyclist.  Once, just after I noticed I was cruising along at 47 mph, I caught a bug (a fly?) with my mouth.  Because the wind was blowing so hard, I could not spit it out.  After failing to eject the still-alive and fluttering bug three times I had the inevitable thought:  What would Bear Grylls do?  Bite, chew, and grimmace, of course.  Now I know why he makes those faces!  Some water helped to wash down this early snack.

I planned to complete a Green Knob to Mt. Mitchell traverse out\back on Monday, but a hard rain thirty minutes in stopped that trip.  Green Knob is incredibly steep.  At 25-30% incline, the rocky top portion of the seldom used trail was more scrambling than hiking.  Running there was out of the question.  I wisely chose to go back over those slippery rocks while my legs were fresh.

Tuesday started with a drive to the summit of Mt. Mitchell.  The mountain was completely enveloped in clouds while much of the surrounding mountains enjoyed mostly clear skies.  After that I drove back to the Green Knob trailhead on the BRP.  I decided on a light summit pack and hiking clothes because of the high chance for rain and cool temps on top of Mitchell.  The 12-lb pack had foul weather clothes, plenty of food, and a 64-oz bladder of water.

I wanted to test my legs without killing them so close to the races.  That meant that I had to control my 2700-ft "fall" down from Green Knob to the Black Mountains Campground.  It was tough and fun.  I couldn't help but wonder if the guy who blazed the trail even knew what a switchback was.  I definitely did not want to destroy my quads by descending too quickly.  I learned that lesson in CO.

Once in the campground I ate an overfilled PB&J sandwich and emptied the bladder as I ran to get more water.  Then I ran to the Mt. Mitchell trailhead where I hit the lap button on the watch.

The only event I had planned on this trip was the ascent of Mt. Mitchell.  I wanted to test my climbing legs with it.  At 6684 ft it is the tallest mountain east of the Rockies.  The 5.7 mile trail climbs more than 3300 ft.  It has root and boulder obstacles, but most of the path was runnable.  I sweated heavily as I powered up it.  It took 1 hr and 29 minutes to reach the summit marker.  I am not sure if this time was good, but the effort was solid and the legs felt great at the top.  The descent took 1 hr 20 min.  Again, I wasn't bombing down it, but I normally go down a moutain much fast than I go up.  My guess is that I climbed well.

I did see some wildlife yesterday.  I encountered a black bear, a rattle snake, and a grouse.  The grouse, a chicken-like (taste like chicken?) bird that nests on the ground, blasted from beneath a log near the trail while I climbed back up Green.  It scared me the most.

The snake was barely a snake.  I nearly stepped on the 15-in long reptile.  It made a little noise and darted away through the grass fast enough to make me jog in pursuit.  It simply would not stop for a photo.

The bear was also small.  At perhaps 100 pounds, the bear was probably in its second year.  And it was thin.  It paused on the trail and swayed back and forth as it looked at me.  I froze and said nothing as it sniffed the air. (What would Bear do if he encountered a bear?  Must have missed that episode.)  I finally said "Hello" and it disappeared quickly and quietly into the forest.  I have hiked and run thousands of miles in the Appalachians and have only seen three other bears in the backcountry.  So, this was a thrill.  Too cool.

Well, I've got to take a tour of the Craggie Brewing Co.  Hope you ennjoyed the pics. Click on them and then click again to blow them up.  Canon Elf is an awesome camera.  More coming.  ST

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