My first time up White Oak Mountain was ugly. I never knew what hit me. After wrestling with the mountain for around an hour, I eventually reached top, all the while wondering how I convinced myself to try. It was a great accomplishment, but oh so painful. As difficult climbing up was, descending was worse. I swore never to ride up that mountain again.
That was a few months ago. Some of my pride was left on that mountain that day and I had a change of heart. After doing so well on Mitchell, my confidence had grown and my memory of the first White Oak attempt had faded somewhat. It was time for a rematch.
It was a gorgeous, sunny morning in the mid-70s when I left Harmon Field. I warmed up with the few miles of rolling hills before the mountain. As I turned onto Skyuka Mountain Road, I knew it was business time. I had a belly full of carbs and two bottles full of cold Gatorade at my disposal. I was feeling good and ready.
That changed less than a mile later. As I pushed myself up the steep switchbacks, I cursed the mountain and mostly cursed myself for trying this again. Ouch! The grades in the steepest sections ranged from 14-18%. I looked forward to the short sections of only 8-10%, where I could rest a little and get the heart rate down. I kept turning corners, finding another insane climb waiting for me after each one.
My goal this time was not to walk the bike at all. My secondary goal, which was more of a resolution, was to not stop at all. I met the first without problem. I didn’t really expect to meet the second one. About halfway up, I needed a break. My heart rate had been consistently between 175-185 and my muscles were beginning to cramp. I hunched over the bike and panted while watching my heart rate drop to around 130. After a minute or two, I got back on and kept plugging away.
Fortunately the bottom half is a lot tougher than the top. That said, this part was still more difficult than most mountains I have ever climbed, including Mitchell. I kept going, and going, and going. When I saw the Camp Skyuka sign, I knew I was almost there. A few more grunts and I was there, rejoicing in the majestic, heavenly view from the top. I believe it took me around 40 minutes, hating the mountain in the beginning, loving it in the end.
On my first trip, I went straight down without looking around much. The competitive juices did not allow me to take unnecessary moments (even though it wasn’t a race). This time I took a leisurely route down the mountain. I stopped to look at the scenic vistas and to watch the waterfall. It was also nice to give my wrists a reprieve from the constant braking, which would wear fast after maneuvering steep grades around windy corners.
Pictures from White Oak:
The day was not over yet once I reached the bottom. I circled back around to my car and refueled from the snack stand. From there I ventured into and out of Tryon, as I made my way towards Hogback Mountain.
The only thing I knew about this mountain was from looking at maps of other rides. I had noticed that most rides only go partway up the mountain before turning around and coming back. According to Google maps, the road keeps going a ways, crossing the border into SC, before ending abruptly. I planned to keep going to add a little extra mileage.
With the legs feeling surprisingly strong after White Oak, I kept a steady pace up the mountain. By then it was late morning/early afternoon and the temperature had warmed considerably. It was almost hot, and that did take a toll. This was no White Oak, but was still not a slouch. There were some long stretches in the 10-12% grade range. The rest was around 6-8% It reminded me of slightly easier versions of the climbs on the Tour de Cashiers. Fortunately the climb was not terribly long, only about three miles, and the most difficult parts were at the very end.
When I reached the top, I realized why people turn around. The road dead ends into a gated community. There was a dirt road that might lead to the summit, which I obviously was not able to attempt. The summit looked to be about 400-500 feet higher. Had I not been so tired, I might have been disappointed. Instead I was relieved and glad to be finishes with the day. I enjoyed the wonderful descent. It was not nearly as fast or ‘technical’ as White Oak, with remarkable views of the country down below. The pictures do not do these views justice.