After conquering a Southern Sixer the day before, I found myself with a couple hours to kill and decided to take a stab at another. Richland Balsam Mountain, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, was literally in the back yard of my hotel.
I had already been there on the Blue Ridge Breakaway route, which went along Lake Logan Road near Cold Mountain (another Southern Sixer). We had descended down from that point and then climbed back up Waterrock Knob on the other side. This time I would climb up hard way, the same 12-miles I had descend the first time. Since I needed to get back home later that afternoon, all I could manage would be an out-and-back route, but that was fine. My legs were a little cooked anyway.
I parked at the bottom of the climb near Balsam Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway and immediately started the climb. Without the opportunity to warm up, my legs were a little stiff out of the gates. I found my hamstrings to be especially sore in the early going. What made it more difficult is that the first four miles of this climb are the steepest, averaging a 7% grade. It was quite the chore on cold legs.
I knew right away that this would not be a hammering ride. I was as much cyclist today as I was tourist and photographer. I stopped often along the way up. This was mostly to take in the sights on such a beautiful day. The first time in this area everything just blurred by as I screamed down the mountain. It was nice to stop smell the flowers this time (not that there were many flowers in early March). I got a picture at every overlook on the way up, some of which you can see in the gallery below.
My legs came back about mid-way. This was probably mostly due to the climb easing up. In the first four miles I had climbed close to 1,500 feet and the last eight climbed another 1,500. My leisurely pace continued. I saw that there was a forest near the top named after Senator Roy Taylor, and a nice overlook a little off the beaten path that I would have otherwise not noticed. These are the things you miss when you don’t stop.
Finally I reached the top. There were a couple other people marveling at the “Highest Point on Parkway” sign. They were nice folks and even took a picture of me with the sign (didn’t come out well). When they saw me they said, incredulously “dang, did you ride your bike up that whole thing?” Sure did.
The descent was just as fun as I remembered it from last September, albeit not quite as colorful. I had forgotten about the tunnel and had to stop, pull out my phone and use that to nervously guide my way through the pitch dark. I’ll have to make it a point to invest in better lights later this year.
The 12-miles flew by. I saw my car parked at the overlook and was disappointed. The descent ended there and I wasn’t about to climb back up. I’ll get to experience it again.