I began increasing volume a couple weeks ago, going from right around 100 miles per week to above 200 miles. This past week turned out to be my heaviest workload yet, with 270+ miles between Saturday and Thursday. These were not easy miles either. My ‘recovery’ ride on Wednesday ended up with me fighting a 15 mph headwind up steep hills and running out of gas.
The plan for Saturday was to head back to the parkway and then Richland Balsam Mountain from the Holly Springs, Pickens area just north of Greenville, including the lengthy climb up Highway 215, which I had never attempted before. This would usually be the perfect excursion for me, if not for my wasted legs. Trying to climb with all that volume would be a first for me. I relaxed on Friday and spent a little extra time massaging my sore muscles via a foam roller.
The climbing began almost immediately. We started on Highway 178, crossing Highway 11, and headed towards Rosman via Rocky Bottom. I had been there once before when climbing Sassafras Mountain. Thankfully that behemoth was not on the menu today. 178 is not a difficult climb, but my legs said otherwise on this day. My legs felt like they were lined with bricks, barely moving. With every pitch, I became slower and slower, struggling to turn the pedals, grimacing with pain all the while. Was this the way the entire day would be?
Fortunately the 178 climbs are not terribly long. There are a few breaks with descents and that helped give my muscles some recovery time. My legs would scream every time the road pitched up.
I’m usually headstrong and rarely a quitter, but during those first 1,000 feet of climbing, I seriously considered turning back. I wasn’t sure I had the constitution to get myself up the epic climb ahead. I put off that decision until I could take no more. Fortunately that moment never occurred.
We passed through Rosman and my legs were finally getting warm. I was able to sprint and sustain 23-24 mph on a slight downhill, which is slower than usual, but good for that day.
The next climb would be Highway 215, one that I had heard about a number of times, but for some reason had never attempted. It starts out with rolling terrain and a few easy mini-climbs. The gorgeous views helped me forget my muscular woes. In the early going we were riding between rock formations while overlooking the French Broad River a few hundred feet below. We lost the river as we climbed higher, but then we had distant mountains and scenic vistas from above, eye candy of all sorts.
The big climb began just after a trout hatchery. It was right around seven miles and we obtained about 2,500 feet in elevation. It was not as difficult as I had been led to believe. It reminded me of a slightly more difficult Caesar’s Head Mountain. Most of the grades were in the 6-8% variety, with occasional easier and steeper sections. Even though I had not climbed this particular road, a lot of the far off landmarks looked familiar. It became a game to try and recognize them, and I don’t mind that I was wrong probably 99% of the time.
I felt great when I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway. From here it would just be a short trip, maybe 800 feet total of climbing, until we reached Richland Balsam Mountain, a familiar site that I’m always pleased to visit. The problem was the nasty weather up top. We saw a number of ugly looking fast-moving storm clouds, threatening to get in our way. We weren’t too worried about thunder or lightning, but rather cold. With a forecast in the upper 70s, we were not appropriately dressed for mountain rain. The wind was already plenty cold. Rain would be excruciating.
We plodded along until we saw a huge storm that looked to be consuming the Balsam peak. Gary wisely suggested calling the rest of the climb off. I and the others agreed. We’ve all been there before and will visit again.
After passing back through Rosman, we still had some climbs remaining. I had forgotten from the way up that 178 had some nice descents. Those are not as nice going back up. To my surprise, these mini-climbs were on the steep side, sometimes above 10%. My muscles protested, but did enough work to get me over and back home. Despite my difficulties in getting warmed up, climbing back to the mountains was definitely worth it. Next time I’ll taper a little more.