Tag Archives: hendersonville

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


Jump Off Rock

Props to Jim for giving us this idea for a unique photo.

When I woke up Sunday morning, my hip and especially my back were a little sore. The prior day of riding had taken it’s toll. My first inclination was to rest. After taking my anti-inflammatory and eating a hearty breakfast, I felt better and decided to participate in the easy ride of the day. It would be a 30+ miler with a short climb to Jump Off Rock.

Seven us departed the cabin in shivering, windy temperatures. We began with a steep descent, which we knew would hurt when we returned later. Even though it was bone chilling, it was a refreshing way to start the day.

This was mostly a casual ride, although three of us tended to get out in front. Scott from Simpsonville, and Jim Parker of Lumberton with his speedy Cruzbike were the frontrunners. I stayed with them as much as I could, which was not a problem early as we got warmed up, but would give me headaches later.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Most of the road was flat and enjoyable until we approached the neighborhood of Laurel Park, not far from Hendersonville. It was there that we started to gain elevation, although very gradually.

After we passed the gated Somersby Parkway (which we initially thought was our turn), the road pitched up to a double digit grade as we climbed up Hebron Road. We turned left at the four way stop, and all of a sudden we were on one of my favorite types of climbing roads. This section of Hebron Road has an easy grade, but is a narrow, winding road, that seems bolted to a mountain ridge. Several times we marveled at the steep drop just off the road.

The remainder of the climb was relatively easy, with a couple steeper sections. We turned onto Laurel Parkway and followed that to the dead end. These were neighborhood roads, not too exciting, but paradise awaited us.

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock, at about 3,000 feet of elevation, is a local marvel. It affords gorgeous views from all directions. We could see a lot of our favorite climbs, including Pinnacle Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a couple people thought they could make out Mount Mitchell in the distance.

I immediately placed my bike along the railing for the conquest picture above. After snapping the photo, Scott grabbed my bike, held it above his head, and told me to quickly take the picture. My heart almost stopped when I realized that a gust of wind could have ended the life of my Cervelo (and emptied my bank account in the process.) I snapped the photo without hesitation, and then beckoned him to put the bike down. However stressful that moment was, the picture came out pretty well.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

We had a relaxing time at the rock, taking our time to enjoy the sights and enjoy each other’s company. It is quite the gem of a vantage point. Scott snooped around and found that the rock protrudes from the hill, most of it unsupported. He said we would be nervous standing there if we could see. I didn’t follow because of my injuries, but I saw some pictures later that made my jaw drop.

The descent was fantastic, and it was again Jim, Scott and I riding together. The rest of the group knew the way back, so we rode as a threesome to the cabin.

There is one stretch of road with time trial writing on the road. That was Jim’s cue to put his Cruz into high gear. Scott jumped behind his wheel and rode easily behind him. I hung on for dear life behind Scott.

As our speed increased, I had a lot more trouble. These were both very strong riders, and I am not yet even close to being in prime form. I hung in there for a few miles before dropping off the back. Not my time yet. They patiently waited for me at the next intersection, dropped me again, and finally we rode back to the cabin together.

The last climb up Lyday Creek Rd was a doozy, as we expected. It was just over a half mile, which ordinarily wouldn’t be too bad, but it was in the way of our post-ride meal. The last pitch was in the 11-12% range, which was a backbreaker (no pun intended), and punctuated what was a much tougher recovery ride than I had expected.

My weary bones held out, and I felt great throughout the ride. I may not be where I was last year, but I’ve improved and expect a smooth recovery.

Strava GPS 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.