Tag Archives: flat rock

Tour d’Apple, 2013, Hendersonville, NC

bearwallow view

Three day weekends are awesome, and even better when they are capped with a wonderful day of riding in the mountains. This Labor Day was the inaugural Tour d’Apple ride, coming at the tail end of the Apple Festival. Several hundred riders converged to tackle a metric or full century around Hendersonville, NC.

All new rides experience growing pains. Mistakes are going to be made. In my opinion, the difference between success and failure is learning from those mistakes, and making adjustments the following year. Just about everything was perfect –- plenty of volunteers, rest stops, and a gorgeous route. However, the main issues had to do with road markings and directions. There was a lot of confusion about where we should be going. I’ve already reached out to the organizers, and they are going to make this their focus for next year. Going forward, I expect this to be one of the top rides in the area.

I began the day feeling good, but not wanting to push my injury too hard. I rode with Berry, a friend from home. His pace is not the same as mine, and he joked that he was my ‘anchor.’ He was protecting me from myself. We would ride together in between the climbs, and then climb at our own pace. I would usually wait for him at the top.

The first major climb was up to Sugarloaf Mountain. It started out gradually, up Lamb Mountain Rd, and then steeply pitched back up after a short descent. The last several hundred feet were a double digit grade, a good test of the legs early in the morning.

Mine responded. I could tell already that this was going to be one of my better climbing days. I waited for Berry at the top. It wasn’t his day, and he was already considering switching to the metric route. Since the routes didn’t converge until after Bearwallow Mountain, I convinced him to finish that climb before making a decision. Sometimes it takes a little longer to warm up.

After some marking confusion, we found our way to Bearwallow Mountain. I may be in the minority, but I really liked this climb. It was quiet, with heavy foliage and a lot of scenery on the way up. The grade was mostly manageable, with a steep section midway through that gets up to 12-13%. Again, I was feeling good throughout this climb. The legs were fresh and flexible. I was still careful not to open it up, and climbed at a comfortable pace.

Climbing Bearwallow Mountain.

Climbing Bearwallow Mountain.

When I bumped into Berry, I found that he wasn’t as fond of Bearwallow. The moment he saw me, he uttered one word – “Metric!”

I understood.

We lost each other on the descent and I waited at the rest stop. And waited. And waited some more. I was starting to get worried. I sent him a text. No response. After waiting a bit longer, I had to go. There was a cutoff time, after all. I found out later that he simply took a wrong turn. His metric ended with 70 miles.

As I rolled through Hendersonville, reality struck. Since I had spent a considerable amount of time off the road, I was well behind the pack. I encountered a group, but I was a little stronger than them. It wouldn’t work to ride together. It looked like I was going to ride the next 60 miles on my own. It turned out to be only the next 20.

The route took us through Hendersonville. From there we traveled through familiar roads. We went down Mine Gap, and zoomed through Zirconia and Tuxedo, to the base of Pinnacle Mountain.

Ugh. Pinnacle Mountain, my nemesis. It has been nearly a year and a half since I last encountered that beast, but I had not forgotten her. I was not looking forward to climbing her again. The cue sheet was not clear which part of Pinnacle we’d be riding. I was just hoping that it would not be the 25% grade.

The climb up there was via Cabin Creek Rd. Just like Bearwallow, it was mostly mild save for a steep section. It totaled four miles, a little longer than I expected. My strength started to wane, possibly because I had been riding for 60 miles by myself, and possibly because the sun out and the temperature was rising. I found myself thirsty towards the end, and grunted through the last mile or so. When I reached Pinnacle Mountain, I was thrilled to turn right.

Thankfully, we turned right.

Thankfully, we turned right.

Guzzling a couple Gatorades at the rest stop got me refueled and refreshed, and I felt strong again for the remainder of the ride. The best news was that a small pack of riders caught me. It was there that I met Laurie from Charlotte, whom I soon found was riding at about the same pace. She had accidentally missed the Bearwallow turn earlier, and added six miles to her ride. We were both behind the big groups, and made for fitting riding partners.

We descended Pinnacle Mountain through Sky Top Orchard, rode through Flat Rock and by the Carl Sandburg Home, before making way to the final climb – Jump Off Rock. This was the climb I was looking forward to the most, but we took an unusual way to get to it. Rather than going straight up Laurel Parkway, we took some side roads that went up and down. Again, the markings were precarious. I had to pull out my iPhone and say: “Siri, give me directions to Jump Off Rock.” I would hear the turn-by-turn instructions as I rode along, which gave me confidence we were heading in the right direction.

When we reached the top, we were surprised it was so desolate. Where were all the riders? Were we that far behind everybody? Not at all. We found out later that most people had missed the turn to get there, and had inadvertently skipped it altogether. Laurie and I ended up with more than 100 miles, whereas most others had somewhere around 95.

The descent back down to Hendersonville was a rush, not too steep, just right. Laurie was tired, having already ridden a century by that point. To her, the ride seemed never-ending. Still feeling strong, I took some extra pulls towards the end.

Despite the hiccups, this was a terrific ride. We encountered apple orchards and scenic mountain vistas all day. I’m confident the organizers will iron out the details and make this a ride to remember. I will look forward to coming back.

Strava GPS Link


Tour de Leaves, 2012, Tryon, NC

I was back in Tryon, NC, ready to tackle the foothills. After reflecting on my embarrassing first time, I was eager to come back a conqueror. Unfortunately, this would not be the day to tear up the course. I had been off the bike for three weeks due to injury, and my coach advised me to ride easy.

It was a chilly, gorgeous morning, with hardly a cloud in the sky. The foliage was almost perfect. There was enough to drape the mountains in vivid oranges and reds, but not too far along in the season for leaves to be showering or scattered across the road.

I met Matt Jaeggli at the starting line, a blog reader and overall good guy. We were going to try to ride together if possible. When in my prime of the season, I might have been a little faster than him. He joked that my injury and time off the bike would probably equalize us to the same pace. I laughed. He overestimated my fitness and underestimated my injury, but we would see.

The beginning part of the route is a big loop around the Tryon area. Most of this is rolling hills. We would pass some tough climbs like White Oak Mountain and Howard Gap, but would stick to the easier road. This was good for warming up.

Matt was strong. I felt myself struggling to keep up conversation simply because I was out of breath. The layoff had really taken a toll on my cardio ability. To make matters worse, the hip became a little sore early on. Matt would get ahead, then look back, see me falling behind, and slow pedal until I caught up. After stopping at the first rest stop, knowing that the toughest climb of the day was ahead of us, I relieved Matt from babysitting duties. I appreciated him waiting, but I needed to ease up. He sped off, and I found out later that he tore up the course, finishing at around four hours.

That left me to face Green River Cove road alone. I have climbed it a few times before, but never in the fall colors like this. The road pitched up, and I was ready. The climbing was starting. Green River is a difficult climb, one of the toughest in the area, with tight switchbacks, and several sections with steep grades. I put myself in a climbing frame of mind. I would stand up for the steeper parts, try to take the outside of the switchbacks, and spin easily up the handful of easier sections. It worked fine.

One of the tighter switchbacks on the course.

As expected, the colors were absolutely magnificent. I try to take a couple photos of every climb, but on this day, I was snapping photos left and right. After turning every corner, a gorgeous, picturesque scene was revealed. It was hypnotic, and it did make the climb seem easier.

I broke my rule and stopped twice on the climb, not for fitness, but for photo ops. The first time was for a tight switchback; the second for near the end of the climb, where the valley is revealed below. The picture doesn’t do justice to the view in person.

Green River got me warmed up. My lungs and legs were back, and the hip wasn’t an issue. I was ready for the second half of the ride.

We skirted Saluda, descended the Watershed halfway down, then took a right at the stop sign to head back up on the other side of Lake Summit, towards Zirconia and Flat Rock. This was new territory for me. I had descended this side, but never climbed. That would be the case for the majority of the remainder of the ride. I had experienced just about everything, but in the opposite direction.

This way up the Watershed turned out to be a little tougher. At first I was chewing up the 3-4% grades like candy. I even caught up with a couple riders. Then came the boom. The road pitched up to around 10% on one section. This took a toll on my out-of-shape legs. Fortunately the climb is not too long. Soon enough we would cross over Highway 25 for another loop.

The watershed heading up to Flat Rock has some tougher grades.

We took a left onto Bob’s Creek Road. Again, this was new territory. This road was continually up or down, mostly up, and we gained only a couple hundred feet of elevation. I was trying to ride easily, but each hill hurt a little more.

We took Green River Rd, which was a little faster, and I was able to jump on a pace line for a few miles. They pulled off near some railroad tracks. I wondered what they knew. I kept going, then noticed that the road looked familiar. Oh yeah, I had been here in the other direction. It was a short climb and a fun descent. Gulp. I knew immediately that a big climb was coming up.

Hello, Mine Gap. I pushed forward, saw the road turn up, and hoped it was only temporary. This was in the 12%, but on my tired legs, it felt higher. I grunted, groaned and cussed my way up, relieved to see a rest stop. It was a short climb, but steep, and totally unexpected!

The hills of 176 were seriously annoying me, and I let out a sigh of relief after seeing the Saluda city limits sign. Now there were only a couple bumps, after which came the fun descent down the Saluda Grade. Those last few miles went by quickly. After the grade was over, it was either flat or slightly downhill the rest of the way. I slowly coasted in.

The long route of Tour de Leaves is tough, especially the second half. It is both a good challenge, and a great way to see the fall colors in person. Fortunately we had a fantastic day for riding, and however difficult, the ride was a blast.

Strava Link


Pinnacle Mountain: The Beautiful Beast

The main attraction of our Saturday ride was Pinnacle Mountain. This was by far the toughest climb I have ever attempted. That was the group’s consensus as well, and we had some experienced cyclists. One of them had 30 years of experience and once had participated in the race across America. We all agreed that this was a beast.

We turned onto Pinnacle Mountain Road from Highway 225 and started out immediately with a steep climb. After we got over the first hump, it leveled off and we climbed approximately a mile to the Sky Top Orchard. We regrouped at the top and someone commented how that wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected. Tom, who had been here before, chuckled. “This is a false summit if I’ve ever seen one.”

As it turned out Pinnacle Mountain is quite a lengthy stretch of mountainous road. In it’s entirety is spans around 17 miles. We covered maybe a dozen, including the toughest part. Aside from the peak, the entire road is up in the sky. We pushed along at between 2,800-3,000 feet, with gentle, rolling hills. Most of the way we could see residential roads to the left that led to gated, expensive houses. To the right we caught glimpses of a vast valley and larger mountains off in the distance. If my bearings were correct, those were the big ‘Southern Sixers’ behind Asheville (edit: a reader points out that it was likely Mt. Pisgah in the distance).

The route was gorgeous and serene. We took our time, absorbed the scenery, took some pictures and enjoyed the conversation. It was not challenging, but we knew that would end in time. We were making our way to the Grandaddy of all the climbs, Pinnacle Mountain.

After riding a ways, we saw the peak up ahead. As you can see in the image above, it did not look too menacing. It was not too much higher in elevation than we were already. The problem is, we kept getting closer and were not climbing. We even descended right before reaching the base of the peak.

The climb began with moderate steepness, probably about the same grade as Howard Gap or Pot Shoals, nothing insurmountable. We rode by a small house with a couple doing yardwork. They greeted us warmly. The climb was still not too bad.

After turning a corner, we faced a wall. The pictures below hardly do it justice. I was a little bit behind some of the riders and I could see many of them stopped in the middle. A couple of them were walking their bikes. These were strong riders. This thing was no joke.

I started up and the grade was instantly punishing. It started in the 20% range and got steeper from there. I’m not sure the exact grade, but after looking at some mapping software, I believe it was between 25-30%. It was insane.

I made it about halfway up and had to stop. The problem was, I could not clip in at such a steep incline. I tried and failed a number of times. Finally I got it by going sideways and slightly downhill, and made my way up. I got to the top of the wall. I was almost to the top and wanted to get some pictures looking down. That is when I saw Neil huffing and puffing up. He was breathing like a locomotive, but did not stop. I got some pictures of him, one of which is below.

The summit was nothing special. It was just a road with a lot of trees around that mostly obscured the view. We gathered together, amazed at the difficulty of what we had just climbed. The entire climb was about 1,000 feet in less than a mile, the majority of which came in the last few hundred yards.


Freezing Fun in Flat Rock, Saluda and Tryon

After last week’s insane climbing, one of the riders suggested that we do it again this week. There were some groans, some nods, and I wasn’t sure if he was serious. It turns out he was. I wasn’t planning on riding this week, but Neil concocted a ride intended to top his masterpiece last week. How could I miss it?

One big difference between this and last week was the weather. This week we had to deal with freezing temperatures and occasional patches of black ice. Fortunately we had sunny skies, so everything looked pretty, even if we felt chilled to the bone.

It was about 25 degrees when we rolled out of the parking lot in Landrum, SC, right next to the North Carolina border. Fortunately Neil started with some grunt hills early on to get our blood flowing and our bodies warmed up. The first was Greenwood Drive, around 20%. That did the trick. My face was still numb when we got to the top of the hills, but my extremities were loose and warm.

The next grunt was New Market Road, which was a bit special for me. This was the first real grunt hill I ever attempted, back when I was a puny, beginning rider. I failed that time, having to walk my bike after about halfway up. This time was a different story. It was in the 17-18% range at its steepest. I made it up with ease.

The next surprise would be Howard Gap. That was the dragon I battled with a few weeks ago, thinking at the time that I would wait awhile before trying again. ‘Awhile’ turned out to be 4 weeks. It was still a beast of a climb, but knowing what to expect made it easier. I also didn’t push as hard this time and kept my heart rate in a comfortable zone.

Neil wasn’t through with us yet. Not in the slightest. We made our way towards Flat Rock. We descended a few hundred feet down Camp Creek Rd, a quiet, somewhat gravelly country road. Then we climbed back up. Compared to the others, this was a walk in the park, in the 6-8% range, one of the more moderate climbs of the day.

We descended again, this time on Pot Shoals Road all the way down to the Green River. This was the area where the serious kayakers would launch their boats, I was told. From there we had a bigger climb, steep and comparable to Howard Gap, but a little shorter and easier. Again, I grunted my way up and awaited the next challenge.

Our rest stop this time was at the Flat Rock Bakery. It was so hot inside that they kept the windows open. The warmth was overwhelming as we entered the building. Between that, the hot coffee and the delicious pastries, things felt a lot better from here on out. The temperature barely creeped above 40 degrees, but the only time it would chill our bones was on the steep descents.

From there we made our way to the Grandaddy of them all, Pinnacle Mountain. At the bakery, Neil had claimed that it was a ‘good, little climb.’ Jana reminded us that Neil’s understatements were legendary. When I asked Jay how it was, he casually let it out there. “Oh, about twice Becky Mountain.” Twice?! Becky Mountain was the one that brought me to my knees last week.

Pinnacle Mountain lived up to the hype and then some. It was such a back-breaking climb that it deserves it’s own blog post. More on it later.

We finished up in familiar territory, up the watershed and then Mine Mountain. Both were a lot tougher than usual, thanks to the steep grades my legs had already endured. Once Mine Mountain was over, I was relieved. That would be the last major climb. My off-season conditioning would not have been able to handle much more. We descended the Saluda Grade and celebrated the meal with a hearty Mexican dinner. Mucho Bueno!

Strava GPS link


Cherokee Foothills Bicycle Tour, 2011, Tigerville SC

I approached Cherokee Foothills as a tune-up, a last hurrah before buckling in for the Bridge to Bridge ride in two weeks. At first it looked like it might not be challenging. As I discovered when reviewing the cue sheet, it would be just fine. Nothing like a lot of the other rides I have done recently, but good enough to continue my fitness. In the end, this turned out to be a beast of a ride, much tougher than I bargained for.

I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4am, earlier than any human being should be awake unless they are still up from the night before. Soon I was en route to Tigerville, SC, a familiar location for upstate cycling. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and felt great. A big difference this time was that I traveled to this ride totally alone. Of course I always like good company, but it was nice to go at my speed.

Cherokee Foothills Start

After starting at 8am, I hung with the lead pack for the first couple miles. The pace was manageable, but I did not want to burn my candle too early, so I backed off and rode solo. I still kept a good pace. I had an 18 mph average after 10 miles, with nearly 1,000 feet of climbing. These were literally the foothills and they were mostly rolling. Some kicked up to a steep grade, but were over quickly before we were rolling back down again. It was a nice, scenic, leisurely ride down roads I had often traveled before on other rides.

Eventually I caught up to some who had fallen off the lead pack. We rode together and caught up with some others. We ran a nice pace line until we approached the Watershed. As it turned out, most of those in the pack were doing the metric, so it thinned out for the Watershed. There was a lot of confusion at the intersection where the metric route split from the century route. One rider inadvertently started going up the Watershed with his riding partner down below yelling that he was going the wrong way. I caught up with him and steered him back down to his friend.

Cherokee Foothills first paceline

First paceline

Have I ever mentioned how much I love the Watershed? It is nice and quiet. Usually the only sounds are other cyclists and water trickling. It is not terribly steep save for a couple of sections, and is pretty much devoid of traffic, not counting cyclists. There are often a ton of them, as there were today.

I felt good on the Watershed and later found from the Strava data that I beat my personal best time. After a strong lower half, I lost some of my mojo on the upper half when the climbs get a little steeper. When I got to e top, I was riding alone again but felt great and enjoyed the ride into Saluda. Once at the Saluda rest stop I caught up with two other riders, Scott and Rich and rode with them most of the way.

Cherokee Foothills Watershed

Riding up the Watershed.

After Saluda, we headed north up Highway 176 towards Flat Rock. The traffic was a little heavy on this stretch, but we made it just fine. Then we turned back through Zirconia and back down the Watershed. We came down on a different road, one that I have not traveled before, up or down. The descent was just as fantastic as the way I am used to. It would be amazing if they repaved the roads. Scott pointed out that they probably don’t because of all the cycling traffic.

We hit the bottom of the Watershed and immediately noticed the heat. It was a lot hotter down here and would only get worse. Heat is my Achilles heel and I handled it poorly. I probably did not drink enough and was losing power the hotter it got.

The rest stop was supposed to be at mile 69. We went there and beyond. No rest stop. We found out later that it didn’t exist. Who knows what happened? There were not many century riders, so it is possible they packed up after the metric riders stopped coming by. The cue sheet said they would be open until 3pm and it was not even 1pm when we came through, so it was a little frustrating. Fortunately there was a store a few miles afterward. We rested and refueled. There was another stop at mile 85 and we topped off.

Those last 15 miles were rough. I lost my humor and almost all mental capacity. I just mindlessly peddled along. The last part was again back in the foothills. They were also almost completely out in the open, totally exposed to the sun’s relentless wrath. The hills were rolling like before, but because of the brutal heat, they seemed steeper and longer. I remember Oak Grove Road being particularly difficult. We had nice descents, but the uphills were often in the 9-10% range.

Sunny Day in the foothills

Sunny day in the foothills

At one time my Garmin showed 100 degrees outside. That was probably exaggerated, but it was easily 95 or higher from noon until 3pm when we finally finished. We came back on Highway 414, which thankfully was not too challenging. I almost screamed with joy when I saw Tigerville Elementary. It was almost over. Soon after we rolled into North Greenville College and got some relief. I practically guzzled water and did my best to eat. It wasn’t until I had spent some time in my air-conditioned car before I started to feel better.

This was a tough one. I ended up with around 6,500 feet climbing. The last 1,000 or so were in high temperatures and unquestionably the toughest.

Strava link