Tag Archives: foothills

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


Tour de Lure, 2012, Marion, NC


Of all the Spring events in which I have participated, Tour de Lure may be the best measure of how one will do on Mount Mitchell. For that, I consider it an essential training ride and I’m glad to decided to give it a try.

The ride starts out of the YMCA in hilly Marion, NC, sitting at the base of the Black Mountains that shadow the town from above. For this venture we would stay away from the large mountains and instead ride around the rolling terrain of the foothills. The long route of 70 miles is difficult and has plenty of climbing, but only one real climb of length.

The rolling hills of Marion were easily the toughest. I had forgotten my Garmin (oops), but am guessing that many of the grades reached the teens. We navigated the grunt hills and steep descents out of the city and then made our way towards the western bank of the lake.

Once out of Marion, the difficult hills subsided and we were able to maintain a decent pace. I found a pack of around 15 riders to work with. There would be a little bit of separation on the hills, but for the most part we were able to stay together until the first climb.

The big climb is called Stone Mountain for unknown reasons. The Stone Mountain in NC that I am familiar with is far away. Many of the mountains in this area have cliff-like, rocky summits (most notably Chimney Rock), which may be how it earned this name.

The climb started out at a gradual grade. Someone asked me near the beginning whether we were on the climb. I was lost without my Garmin and said I wasn’t sure, but believed it was somewhere around this mileage. The road pitched up and the climb became a little more difficult. A few miles later I joked with him by saying that “I guess this is the climb!” For a category three climb, this one was mild. It reminded me a lot of Schull’s Mill Road near Boone in difficulty if not scenery. There wasn’t much to look at other than trees and there wasn’t a view at the summit. It was just a slow ride to the top and then a fast descent.

Nature called and I had to stop at the rest stop after the climb, which meant I lost my group. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After riding solo for awhile, I turned a corner and found myself in a mountain paradise. The route took us through the heart of the scenic towns of Bat Cave, Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. We traveled through the lake valley surrounded by these stony monoliths on all sides, with mountain-blue Lake Lure on the left side of the road and Broad River flowing over rocks on the right side. The Chimney Rock structure was the most notable and imposing of the mountain stuctures, but they were all beautiful. I found myself transfixed by the sights and almost forgot to watch the road. From here I took a couple breaks for photo ops (most of which didn’t come out well) and took my time. I was a tourist and in no hurry whatsoever.

The route circumnavigated the lake’s south shore to the glorious western shore. From here we followed Buffalo Shoals Road, a windy labyrinth that hugged the edge of the lake. There were easy rolling hills here, nothing too strenuous. The one obstacle here was gravel, lots of it. I had to be careful to ignore the lake and focus on the road to avoid the gravel, especially during the windy and downhill sections.

Next came the return route to Marion, which happened to mimic much of the Assault on Mount Mitchell route. We turned onto Bill’s Creek Road. I kept expecting to encounter Bill’s Hill, but apparently we started just north of it. That wasn’t much of a break, as there were plenty of other hills to deal with. After Bill’s area, the big hills stopped for awhile until we came within reach of Marion, when they returned tougher than ever. I remember from last year that some of them reached the 10% range. When we turned from the Mitchell route and headed back towards the YMCA, they became even steeper. The last few I just barely grunted through, and frankly, I was relieved to finally turn into the YMCA.

My finishing time was around 4:15, which is not bad considering I was nursing an injury and did not approach this one aggressively. This bodes well for my Mitchell performance, which I will talk about more in another post.

Strava GPS Link