Hello, Asheville. I was there to finally meet Coach Bobby in person. He gives a free bike fit to clients, something of which I had every intention of taking advantage. Mine was feeling out of whack, and I was looking for a good reason to travel to Asheville. It doesn’t take much. While there, I decided to put together a small group to ride up some of the featured climbs of the area.
Joining me were a handful of friends who live in Asheville, and a few others that made the trip from Greenville. Bobby joined us for an easy spin (for him), and he brought a riding partner, Ox, who lived up to the nickname.
The plan was to ride up Mount Pisgah, down through Asheville, up Town Mountain, then back to the car. Easy, right? Nothing in the mountains is ever as easy as it sounds.
The weather was unseasonably warm, but seasonably blistery. Even though the wind didn’t bite early, it would show up later when we least expected (or wanted) it.
We took the long way to Mount Pisgah, up the Blue Ridge Parkway. Overall it is not a very steep climb, mostly in the 4-6% range with a handful of steeper pitches. It started and ended with some tough stuff, with easier spinning in between. Even if the grade was not punishing, the distance was brutal. From Highway 191, where the climbs starts, we were pedaling 15 miles, gaining 3,000 feet of elevation, until we reached the top.
Most of this time was spent in conversation, getting to know each other. Bobby and Ox made great pro riding companions aka babysitters. They would ride back down to check on people that fell back. There were some people who were struggling early, so they lent a hand, literally, by pushing them up the climb. Now that was cool.
Bobby yelled out, “No push for you, Aaron!” Fair enough. He was my coach, after all, not my chauffeur. I was not at my strongest, but that is more due to the strength exercises I had been doing all week. When we were riding on the flats or rolling hills, I was fine, but the climbs were a lot tougher. I grunted up, watching others get a partially free ride, with no complaints.
What made the Pisgah climb more difficult was that nasty wind. It showed back up near the top of the climb, and was squarely in our face for the last several miles. We traveled through a number of tunnels. I kept turning my light on and off, but what I really needed was a windshield. It felt like a hurricane when inside the darkness, and an above average breezy day outside of them.
As we reached higher elevations, we saw ice and the remnants of snow along the side of the road. We were getting close. I could see the tower on top of Mount Pisgah, just southwest of us. Pisgah has such an iconic peak that it looked a lot closer than it was. Even when it was in clear view, we had a few miles remaining. The climb doesn’t take us all the way to the summit, but close enough. We found a nearby overlook for some nice photo opportunities.
Next came the fun part. We descended a couple miles on the parkway, then made a quick turn onto Highway 151 the rest of the way down. The parkway descent was at this time a cross-wind and tail-wind, unnerving to say the least. 151 was a dream. It was a technical descent, with tight, winding switchbacks. Usually it would be under tree cover, but the leaves were already gone, allowing views all the way down. I wisely spent most of my time watching the road. Having not been here before, I took the descent conservatively, tapping on the brakes through the turns.
Bobby took us through West Asheville, which was tough, but a different kind of tough. The rolling hills had bite, and came one after another. The roads were smooth, and the descents fun, however short. As we approached downtown Asheville, he let us know that we had just finished with the toughest part. That was a relief, even if it lulled us into a false sense of security.
After coasting through downtown Asheville, we wound up at Town Mountain, the climb to end the day. How hard could it be? We turned left, and the climbing began shortly afterward. Kevin warned me that the lower portion is tough. He wasn’t lying.
The first pitch felt like it was delivered by Nolan Ryan. It was steep, double-digit steep, and continued in that vein for quite awhile. My quads were burning, feeling all the exercises I had done the week prior. Bobby rode alongside me for a short while, and I told him of my discomfort. All to be expected, he said. “That’s why we don’t lift weights during the season.” Good point.
One of my Greenville friends was Jana, who some might remember as being a dog magnet at Issaqueena’s Last Ride. It has not been the best year for her. She was a strong climber earlier in the year, but she has dealt with a lot of adversity since. The accident was only part of it. Her climbing legs were not dusted off, and she started to fall behind.
Bobby came to the rescue! He descended down to her, and again, started pushing her to the top. His red jacket was unbundled and flowing behind him, so in a way he looked and acted like a cycling superhero. He was certainly Jana’s hero. Ox would have made a fitting sidekick, but he peeled off towards home as we passed through the city. Jana and Bobby out-climbed most of us, including yours truly. He didn’t have to do that. Thanks, (Super)Bobby.
Town Mountain leveled out as we got higher up. The easier grades were more manageable for my winter muscles. I climbed and shared stories with Tom and Kevin. After roughly three miles, there was a false summit, and a descent, before we started climbing easily back up to the Parkway.
The wind found us again as we descended back to the starting point, forcing us to pedal downhill the entire way. I coasted back to the Visitor’s Center, while the others were treated to a little bear scare. Aren’t they cute? I must have ridden right by them. I hear they looked nervous when Tom pulled out the camera. Sorry bears, no porridge here.