Tag Archives: nature

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.

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Swamp Rabbit Trail, Greenville, SC

swamp rabbit north

With a couple free days in the upstate, I needed a ride that would be interesting, and not so strenuous that it would impact my injury. Day one was washed out completely, leaving Friday as my only opportunity for some riding.

I chose the Swamp Rabbit Trail for a few reasons. First of all, I have been on the trail before, but always as a way to get somewhere else (like Paris Mountain). It is flat and pleasant, and it takes you from the heart of Greenville to the outskirts at Traveler’s Rest. Because of obstacles like road crossings, bridges, tight turns, runners and plodding mountain bikers, you really cannot get any amount of speed. On top of all that, the trail makes Greenville stand out as a southeastern cycling community, and I wanted to pay tribute by experiencing it all for myself.

I parked not too far from the Greenville Zoo to begin my journey, not realizing that this and downtown would be the most crowded sections. I navigated through the dog walkers and sightseers near the zoo, and entered the confusing downtown district area of Falls Park. This was great for warming up because no matter how much I wanted, I could not go fast. It was also frustrating because I wanted to get around everyone. There were lots of starts and stops.

The other side of Falls Park, downtown Greenville.

Falls Park, downtown Greenville.

The trails are tough to follow through downtown, and I missed a couple of them en route to the northern Swamp Rabbit Trail. Finally I picked it back up and began the trek toward Traveler’s Rest. The northern part was not nearly as crowded, and I was able to get a little speed. There were only the occasional walker and slow biker that I had to maneuver around.

While the trail is mostly flat, heading northbound is ever so slightly uphill. We are talking modest grades of 1-2%. They were made a little more difficult on this day because of a 10 mph headwind. That was enough to get the heart rate going and make this a challenging, if not overwhelming section.

As I approached Traveler’s Rest, I could see Paris Mountain in the horizon. It was tempting. I was feeling good, and the injury was not bothering me. Moreover, I had the itch to push harder. That’s the itch that I shouldn’t be scratching. As I headed north, I shelved the idea of climbing the mountain, at least going in this direction. I would head to the end of the trail and decide when I came back.

This marks near the end of the north trail.

This marks near the end of the north trail.

The trail ends unceremoniously just north of Traveler’s Rest. According to the mile markers, there are more than 20 miles of trail remaining, but apparently they are not yet paved. They will be pretty cool when (if?) they are finished, as I imagine they would drop you off not far from Caesar’s Head Mountain.

As I made my way south, my pace picked up because of the slight descent, and I had a tailwind at my back. My heart rate dropped, and I was able to appreciate the sights. This felt like coasting. No complaints.

Paris Mountain beckoned again. I was still tempted, but decided against it. When I’m in climbing shape, I’ll make up by riding up both sides. Next time.

After buzzing through Greenville’s industrial and commercial district, I was back in downtown. Now the sun was shining bright and the tourists had multiplied. My BSG kit stood out among the polo shirts, khaki shorts and cameras. Again, I just wanted to get by. There was one instance where I had to walk my bike down a steep grade because of the throng of pedestrians in front of me. That part hurt. Eventually I made it through, and was back to the zoo area.

Now south of the city, I had just a little bit of trail left to navigate. I came across the Hincapie Path. That was cool. Did he donate, or just lend his name? I’m not sure.

Hincapie path is a short section of the southbound trail.

Hincapie path is a short section of the southbound trail.

Once past the zoo and the dog park, the south trail was not as congested. In fact, it was often desolate. I was able to lay down the hammer yet again, obstructed only by the winding trail that often would bank along the road, and sometimes share space with sidewalk.

As the trail passed by Greenville Technical College, I was surprised to see a few hills. These were nothing compared to Paris Mountain, but they were enough to give me a little test. I noticed one of them had a 6% grade, nothing fierce, and the hill at the very end of the trail was at 10%. Steep grades are still a challenge for me at this stage of my training, but I’m going to have to get used to them.

The trail ended again without warning, this time at a busy intersection. As I made my way back, I realized that this was actually quite a ride. By the end, I had 31 miles, and felt pretty amazing.

Well done, Greenville. I hope the community continues to embrace the trail, and that it can be developed further. I’ll definitely be back.

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Haleakala, Hawaii, Cycle to the Sun

This guest post is from Jonathan Musgrave, a reader who lives out in Colorado. This is an inspiring, truly epic ride, one for the bucket lists. I’m green with envy! You can follow Jonathan on Twitter at @orijonal. Thanks, Jonathan, for sharing this with us.

My journey to Haleakala began on a frigid early August climb up Fremont Pass near Copper Colorado. Somewhere along the climb, I met a chatty rider who had traveled to Colorado many times for this ride, the Copper Triangle, from his home state of Hawaii. I ignorantly joked that climbing the Rockies must be a big difference from the flat riding he was used to back home. He laughed politely, and began telling me about Haleakala.

Haleakala means “house of the sun.” It is a massive volcano that rises straight out of the Pacific Ocean to form 75% of the landmass of the Hawaiian island of Maui. The peak is 10,023 ft above sea level, with another 19,680 feet of mountain hidden beneath the ocean (at 29,703 total ft, Haleakala is 675 ft taller than Mt Everest). According to legend, the demigod Maui roped the sun and forced it to shine in this place longer than anywhere else on the island (research has confirmed that the mountain does enjoy an average 8 minutes more sunlight than the rest of the island). What makes this particular volcanic mountain different from others is the road to the summit. It is the longest, steepest paved road and the shortest distance from sea level to 10,000 ft on the planet. When Aaron registered the domain steepclimbs.com, he had to purchase the rights from the demigod Maui (fact checking is currently underway on this tidbit…).

It just so happened that this year marked my wonderful wife’s 30th birthday. In lieu of gifts, she prefers trips for her milestone birthdays, so the big ‘three-oh’ meant a return trip to her favorite destination, Maui. Having just scheduled the vacation weeks before the Copper Triangle, and only a matter of days before I announced the surprise to my wife, I knew during that climb up Fremont Pass that I would ride Haleakala on our trip in November.

The road to Haleakala’s summit starts in the sleepy beach town of Paea. Renowned for its close proximity to the 120 foot waves of Jaws, the town’s most famous resident Willie Nelson, and the “culture cloud” that follows Willie –- Paea is the Boulder, CO of Hawaii. I was fortunate enough to rent an Orbea Orca bike from Go Cycling Maui, a local shop owned by Donnie Arnoult, former Colorado resident and host of the annual Cycle To The Sun race up Haleakala.

Donnie felt like a friend before I ever shook his hand. Over the phone he helped me reserve a bike from his shop and gave me ample and accurate preparation info. In person, he was like an old college buddy talking about bike gear, and giving me fresh apple-bananas he picked for me that morning off the banana tree in his front yard. According to Donnie, it is not advised to attempt climbing Haleakala without eating at least one apple-banana (named because they “contain the deliciousness of both an apple and a banana in one wrapper”).

I made a conscious decision to ride this at a purposefully casual pace. For one, I was attempting a bigger climb than I had ever done before. I also had only one shot at this climb –- if I blew up half-way through the ride, there was not the luxury of attempting it another day. More than anything else though, I was doing the ride unsupported –- I was on my own for hydration, nutrition and tech, so I carried everything I would need. Because I tend to ride hardest when I ride by myself, executing this deliberate pace would take some discipline. Before the ride, I completely removed speed from my Garmin’s display. The only screen I had to look at contained elevation, average pace, distance and grade.

House of the Sun. The name implies constant rays of sunshine. Having completed the ascent up Haleakala, I feel like “House of the rain, clouds, fog, vog, and some sun” would be a more accurate handle (though it just doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way, and I would hate to anger a demigod). Names aside, the climb is a veritable tour of ecosystems featuring beaches, sugar cane filled plains, rainforests, hardwood forests, dry high plains, and lunar-like volcanic wasteland.

“It’ll feel like you have a midget standing on your handlebars blowing delicious oxygen directly into your mouth.” They were the words of wisdom my cousin Mark begat to me as he described the difference between riding at a mile-high vs. riding at sea-level. He was right. The first seven miles were very constant 4-5% grades that felt just like riding in the Rockies, and that midget was firmly affixed to my handlebars. The oxygen was delicious. My heart-rate was low, legs had full power, and I was feeling great. Here, the road was like riding through a green tunnel with 12-foot walls of sugar cane on each side. I had to consciously avoid staring at their mesmerizing rhythm, swaying and bending in the trade winds. Along the way, Velominati had stamped their emblazoned cog in the bike lane with elevation milestones every 500 to 1,000 ft – each one of these was occasion for a mini party in my head. These intermittent reminders to keep breathing, drinking and eating, made me feel like a coach was riding along with me.

Keepers of the cog!

“Right at the rodeo.” I repeated these simple instructions from Donnie a thousand times until I reached the only right turn on the route. The consequences of missing the turn are an agonizing 1,700 ft of additional climbing. After passing through the town of Makawao (mack-a-wow), I easily spotted the sign for the rodeo and made the turn. For the next 7 miles I continued my journey through the various ecosystems of the mountain and arrived at the town of Kula, my only scheduled stop. A fresh Camel-bak of water, 2 bottles of electrolyte drink, a few photos later and I was off.

Immediately after leaving Kula, I took final turn into the Haleakala State Park. A 10% constant grade up a relentless series of switchbacks was waiting to welcome me to the park. My time on the trainer was paying off, my legs felt great, and I powered up the hills at a brisk pace. Soon I broke out of the last wooded forest of the climb, and I realized the profundity of the name “house of the sun.” The rapid switchbacks finally ended, and I enjoyed 5% grades in a long straightish traverse across the NW face of the mountain.

Throughout the whole ride, I watched packs of visitors on bikes coming down the mountain. Think your dad, his dad, and a swarm of 20-30 tourists ranging from the Deep South to south-east Asia on full suspension mountain bikes simultaneously grabbing two fist-fulls each of squeaky mechanical disks. They didn’t seem to understand why I was riding up the mountain. I could see the compassion in their faces as they looked at me, and assumed I was separated from my group and going the wrong way. Velo infractions aside, they were a welcome source entertainment and even passed on the occasional cheer of encouragement.

Just past 6,500 ft, the ride took on an entirely different character. I passed through the toll gate for the park and paid my $5 fee. Immediately I began a new series of broader, steeper switchbacks and started pedaling into a cloud of vog. Donnie had warned me about this stuff; it’s a fog created by the sulfer dioxide issuing out of active volcanos on the big island. Trade winds carry the stuff north-west for the other islands to enjoy. Though normally affecting only the kona (southernly aspect) of the other islands, Donnie’s vog tracking iPhone app indicated that the wind direction today would create a vog problem on the climb – potentially decreasing the breathable oxygen by 35%.

Vog is nasty stuff to cycle through – think being downwind at a bonfire meeting an army of commercial-grade humidifiers ganging up on you. The high altitude was familiar to me, but the added oxygen loss from the vog zapped the power from each stroke I took. By 7,500 feet, I was through the vog, and both breathing and muscle strength was restored. The temperature had fallen from 80 degrees in Paea to around 60 degrees here.

From 8,000 feet to the summit, I was enthralled in the otherworldly views of my surroundings. Looking down on the vog and cloud layer gave me an ethereal feeling I couldn’t shake, and on every side I saw a landscape forged in volcanic ruins. It really felt like being on another planet. There were very few cars up this high, and the road had just been repaved –- like the ice right after the Zamboni at intermission. There’s no question that 8,000 to 10,000 feet was the most challenging portion of the ride. Grades are usually steepest at the tops of mountains, and this was certainly no exception.

The signs for 9,000 feet and 2-miles to go came in such close proximity that it startled me. Thankfully the 9k sign was out of place, and the 2 mile sign was correct. Nonetheless the torture of the last 500 feet and 2 miles was intense. The very summit of the mountain is concealed until the last turn with .6 miles to go, but if you haven’t been up the road before, you’ll probably assume the space-station-looking observatory visible from the 2-mile sign is the top. I had aspirations of cranking out those last few miles, and even making a challenge out of the “last brutal effort” Strava segment at the end of the road, but instead I was I was more focused on just completing the climb than I was setting a land-speed record.

The view from the summit was humbling. To the East, you can see for the first time, a wasteland of brown and orange cone shaped mini volcanoes protruding from the volcano’s crater. To every other side you can see the expanse of the Pacific Ocean beneath a ring of clouds. Further to the South the two highest peaks from the big island are visible – each is over 13,000 feet. My wife who had enjoyed a well-deserved day at a nearby spa met me at the top for a small lunch and to enjoy the beautiful view.

The descent was a once in a lifetime experience – 36 miles of carving switchbacks and beautiful views. More than anything else, I was warmed with a sense of accomplishment and pride as I ate up every vertical foot I had just recently conquered. Back in the shop, I was welcomed with backslapping hugs and cheers from Donnie and about five of his surfer dude friends. It was like coming home! Most of the major rides I have done in Colorado have been part of an event, and the event jersey felt like an award I had earned. This could be no different, and Donnie helped me find a jersey from this year’s Cycle to the Sun ride to take home as a souvenir. I’ve only been cycling for 7 months, but I know that this ride is one that will always have a special place on my mental trophy shelf.

The summit!

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