Tag Archives: blue ridge mountains

Ride 4 Animal Care, 2013, Tigerville, SC

One of the 17 brutal switchbacks on Green River Cove Rd.

This one wasn’t on the calendar. I had been planning to relax after Mitchell, but during the week got the itch to do a longer ride. I signed up to do a flat century, thinking it was this weekend. It turns out I registered for a century for next week, leaving my plans again empty. Some friends were doing the Ride 4 Animal Care. Since I like to support charities like Animal Care and cycling groups like Finish Strong, I tagged along. I also happen to love the Tryon/Saluda climbs, and haven’t been back there since the injury.

This is the first year for the event, and they had a surprisingly strong turnout. It was a warm and slightly cloudy morning as we rolled out from North Greenville University.

The first climb came early, and it was a doozy. We turned left onto Callahan Mountain road. I saw the familiar words “GRUNT” written on the pavement, and dug in for a tough climb. This one is short and steep. Real steep. Because of the injury, I am still trying not to climb out of the saddle unless absolutely necessary, which hurts me on climbs like this one. Fortunately the lightning fast descent on the other side was a nice reward.

Next on the menu was the Greenville Watershed. My hamstrings were a little tight from the seated Callahan climb. This affected my performance even though Watershed isn’t a very challenging or steep climb. I lost most of my group, and would be riding most of the rest of the way on my own. Once I was across the NC state line, I was mostly warmed up and able to climb without soreness.

They had a rest stop setup in Saluda at the new Bike and Hike shop, which would be used for mile 20 and 43. The shop has only been open for 5 weeks, and is a welcome addition to a terrific cycling town. I wish them a lot of success.

The last two climbs would be the toughest. We descended Holbert Cove Rd, and looped around to Green River. The last 2.5 miles are among some of the toughest climbing in the area. I’ve found that it gets easier every time I ride, although this was probably far from my best performance (Strava did not match the segment). I had long heard that there were 17 switchbacks, but I had never bothered to count them. This time I counted as I rode along. Why not? Yep, 17. The middle section is the steepest and gave me the most trouble, but overall the climb did not bother me too much. The view at the top was fantastic as ever.

The view is always rewarding.

The view is always rewarding.

I knew that the next climb would hurt. We rarely ride up Fork Creek for this reason. It’s just misery. At least we were able to descend 176 down to Pearson Falls, which is always fun, before turning upward again. The early portion of Fork Creek is the toughest, with mostly steep grades around 13-14%. After roughly a mile or so, it becomes less consistent, with some lighter grades (maybe 6%) and occasional double digit pain.

The 13% grades of Fork Creek are not fun.

The 13% grades of Fork Creek are not fun.

I was relieved to reach the state line again, knowing that the big climbing was over. The long descent down the Watershed was a blast, as always, and a relief to the afternoon’s punishment. Hot temperatures waited for me at the bottom, somewhere between 85-90 degrees. That made the last few miles a test, and I was surprised to be hurting on the Vineyard climb near La Bastide (now owned by the Hincapie brothers).

Even though I am familiar with just about all of the climbs, this was a tough ride. Kudos to Vince for picking out a formidable route. I’m glad the inaugural ride was a success, and hope it continues for years to come.

Strava GPS


2013 Schedule


While it is easy to get carried away with my plans for next August, there’s a lot to do between March and July in order to succeed in the Alps. With that in mind, I put together an ambitious schedule for the coming year.

Last year the goal was to ride the four or five toughest centuries in the southeast. I succeeded in that challenge, at least in riding the popular centuries that are argued to be most challenging. However, my list was not definitive. There are lots of rides in the southeast, some of them could be tougher than the ones I attempted last year.

For this coming year, my goal is try out new rides in different parts of the country. The only duplicates on this schedule are Assault on the Carolinas and the Assault on Mount Mitchell, both of which I will ride for my third time. The remainders are all new, and some are further out of town.

These are just organized events. We’re already talking about training rides in between. Needless to say, there will be a lot of climbing in 2013.

Assault on the Carolinas Brevard, NC
Cheaha Challenge Piedmont, AL
Burnt Mountain Century Cumming, GA
3 State 3 Mountain Chattanooga, TN
Assault on Mount Mitchell Spartanburg, SC
Mountains of Misery Roanoke, VA
3 Mountain Madness Winston Salem, NC
Cherohala Challenge Tellico Plains, TN
Roan Moan Bakersville, NC
Haute Route Geneva, Switzerland to Nice, France

These rides all stop at Haute Route. There are other rides I’d like to try in the late fall, such as Tour de Gaps, Hincapie, and I’d like another run at Bridge to Bridge. Whether I do them or not will depend on how I feel.

Measuring the Blue Ridge

As I was climbing Mount Evans with a few Colorado locals, I made reference to one of the hills I had climbed in the Southeast. One of the guys turned and looked at me, and jokingly said “You guys have hills out there?” He had a good point. In terms of elevation, the Blue Ridge pales in comparison to its western counterparts. I had practically lived around 10,000 feet for most of my Colorado stay, and climbed above 11,000 several times, including once over 12,000 feet, and the big one came in at 14,100. Many of those climbs were above the treeline, and yielded views that far surpassed anything we have on the East coast.

But the climbing is different. I was reminded of that when I came back and attempted the Blue Ridge Brutal. Instead of long and gradual climbs, we have short and steep. My legs hurt far more after this ride than anything I had done in the Rockies. Not to take anything away from the Rockies, as I loved every minute of my stay, but the Southeast has some pretty amazing climbing if you ask me.

Let me back up a little bit. Earlier this year when looking for good climbing blogs, I bumped into The Climbing Cyclist. To my surprise, Matt’s website was very similar to mine, only he covered the other side of the world — Australia. I enjoyed reading about his adventures, and shot him a quick note to let him know. Of course I also let him know about my website.

As it turned out, he was planning on a trip to the states later in the year. He would be looking for good places to climb. Did I have any suggestions? Of course I recommended some of the climbs in our corner, and his interest was peaked.

I checked his website a few months later, and to my surprise, he had just climbed Mount Baldy outside of Los Angeles. He then headed to New Orleans, then to New York, and finally to Washington, DC.

We emailed again. He was asking about places to climb near his last two stops. He had already spent some time riding around New York City, and would soon be climbing Whiteface Mountain at Lake Placid. I suggested he try some of the climbs in Vermont, but that didn’t work out. As for Washington, I had no idea, but thought he could try Skyline Drive or the Parkway near Roanoke, Virginia if he was willing to drive a ways.

Then I get an email saying he had set aside a few days, and wanted to try the Blue Ridge Mountains. Which would I suggest, Asheville or Boone? That was like asking a loving mother to pick her favorite son. Ultimately I suggested Asheville because it is a bigger city, and he would be relying on local transportation to get to and from the climbs.

As for where to climb, my first suggestion was the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Mitchell. Why go small, right? It would be quite a climb, but it is also the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and is probably one of the best climbs of the Southeast. He toughed it out, made it up to Mitchell, and came back down elated. The next day he decided to head out the opposite direction on the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading up to the top of Mount Pisgah, then back down Town Mountain Road.

While the grades were not terribly steep, Matt found them to have their own unique challenges. One thing he noticed is that there is not a lot of consistency. You will be climbing at the same grade for awhile, then you will reach a flat or even a downhill before climbing again. What Matt didn’t find, was that southeast climbing can be STEEP! In fact, a lot of the climbs up to the Blue Ridge Parkway are tougher than the Parkway itself. He may have found that out if he could have ridden from Brevard, but alas, transportation was an issue.

I highly recommend you read Matt’s take on Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a great read, and a great adventure. Even though he went through a lot of trouble to get here, I’m glad that he was able to enjoy it. The only real negative was that nobody recognized him as Australian, and one could mistook Australia for Austria. C’mon Americans!

Now back to Colorado. The tough part about climbing in Colorado is not really the elevation profiles. They are long, but most that I tried are relatively smooth and easy. Independence Pass was a long, gradual climb, averaging 3% over 16 miles. Mount Evans was a little steeper, averaging 4.5% over 27 miles. I understand there are some steeper climbs around the foothills. Magnolia Road near Boulder is known for being steep. Overall, they still seem to be an easier lot easier lot to climb.

What gets you in the Rockies is the elevation. I was maybe half the climber I had been in the Blue Ridge. Without being used to breathing such little oxygen, I simply could not push myself to muscle exertion. As a result, these rides were mostly slow and methodical. Believe it or not, I actually lost fitness when I got back home, as evident by my performance in last week’s Blue Ridge Brutal where I was 91st out of 135.

I’m not saying that Rocky Mountain climbing is easy in comparison. Quite the contrary! Mount Evans was possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done on a bike! Our climbs are also hard, and not to be discounted. They are simply different.