With a big event just a week away, this weekend was supposed to be light and relaxing. Rather than do anything with the bike, I planned to visit some family in Chapel Hill, NC. To my surprise, they decided to rent a mountain cabin instead and invited me to stay. I cannot avoid the mountains even when I try! Naturally I brought my bike and had a couple mini adventures, even if the trip was not dedicated to cycling.
The cabin was in the Boone, Banner Elk, Blowing Rock area, not too far from Grandfather Mountain. That was another coincidence, as I’ll be climbing to the summit next month.
Since I was still in rest mode, I only had one bike ride. There were many areas and routes to choose from, but it was hard to resist the Blue Ridge Parkway. I found a short stretch that begins at Schull’s Mill Rd near Blowing Rock, and rides over the Linn Cove Viaduct right by Grandfather Mountain. I thought it would be right around 20 miles, which turned out to be 24. Because this was the Parkway, it was pretty much either uphill or downhill the entire time.
I parked at the Schull’s Mill rest stop and climbed up to the parkway. It was relatively early in the morning and I started in a light fog. Although the initial fog burned off quickly, it would be back. Once I hit the parkway, I immediately started descending at a 7-8% grade. While this was an easy way to warm up, I knew it would be a tough way to finish. The temperature was in the mid 60s, which is usually ideal for cycling, but going downhill on a lightly misted parkway made for a slightly chilling start. The fact that I have been riding in 90-100 degree temperatures didn’t help matters. The descent continued for a couple miles until it leveled off and then started the slow ascent up to the Viaduct.
The Linn Cove Viaduct is an engineering marvel. As I understand, it was the last completed part of the of the parkway, finished roughly 60 years after it’s beginning. It is a constructed bridge along the shelf of a mountain at around 4500 feet elevation. In addition to the viaduct, there are a few similarly scenic bridges before and afterward.
To get there, I had to climb about 1,000 feet — no easy task. Thankfully the parkway is never particularly steep. I hardly noticed when the climb began as it was very slight. The road looked and felt flat, but the GPS told me it was around 1-2%. That went on more or less for a number of miles. It then kicked up to a more difficult 6-10% climb, which went on for another 2-3 miles. Since I’m within the taper period, I made sure to spin comfortably and keep my heart rate down. This was about the experience more than the performance.
The best distraction to excessive cardio is the type of scenic vistas found all along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This route was absolutely gorgeous. When I first turned the corner that revealed Grandfather Mountain, I was almost blown away by the beauty. As I got closer, I could also see the bridges along the wall of the mountain, some of which were obscured in clouds. I continued to climb and the faraway bridge came closer and closer, until I was upon it. Once I reached it, I was fittingly enveloped in clouds.
Shortly afterward I decided the ride had gone far enough. I had to get back to family activities. It was a great ride and a nice taste of parkway riding. Next week I’ll get another, longer dose, as I undertake the Blue Ridge Breakaway.