Tag Archives: Saluda

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

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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

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Hincapie Gran Fondo Announced

Those who mourned the loss of the annual Marquis de Sade ride will appreciate this news. George Hincapie, Tour de France legend and Greenville superstar, has announced his own Gran Fondo taking place on 10/27/2012. It will feature many of the same quad-killing climbs as good ol’ De Sade.

What makes this ride special is the celebrity of Hincapie and perhaps some of his closest friends. He and his jersey company have become the face of Greenville cycling, and hopefully will continue to contribute to the community for years to come. Hincapie should be riding along with special guests. They have not yet been named, but I expect a lot of BMC riders (maybe Tejay, Cadel?), and perhaps some other tour pros. Since this is Hincapie’s retirement year, the inaugural event should be extra special.

The longer ride is 80 miles and features the toughest climbs in the area. It starts outside of Greenville and heads straight to the Tryon/Saluda area. I have long complained about Skyuka / White Oak Mountain in the past. We’ll be reunited again, as it appears to be the first major climb. After that will be its younger brother, Howard Gap. It appears that they have eliminated the dangerous descent, as we’ll take the higher elevation route to Saluda, alongside Interstate 26. From there we’ll descend Holbert Cove, and come back through Green River Cove Road. Since Tour de Leaves is the week prior, that means I’ll be climbing Green River two weekends in a row. Ugh!

While these climbs will certainly be painful, they should be equally gorgeous. The fall leaves should be at their brightest in late October. That’s a worthwhile trade-off for the cooler temperatures, which from my experience will most likely (hopefully?) require arm warmers and little else.

There have been a lot of rumblings ever since the event was announced. One of the reservations people have is that this is a Gran Fondo, meaning it is timed. That timing chip tends to attract the hardest of the core, but with a 3,500 rider maximum and a difficult course, I expect there to be a healthy mixture of paces. Regardless how fast or slow you are, there will probably be many others right with you. I know that when I’m going up Howard Gap, the timing chip isn’t going to get me to the top any faster.

The other thing is the price. This is an expensive ride. The longest route is $170, and it scales down from there. A jersey is included in the price for the long ride, so there is that, but it’s a lot more than most. Mitchell is close, but with all the logistics to get people and their bikes up and down the mountain, it makes sense. That said, I think the price is fair for this type of event. Copper Triangle was similar. It was close to the same price, also included a jersey, and was superbly organized. I expect the same, if not better, from Hincapie. However expensive, this event could immediately become a major attraction, putting the area on the map for many.

Hincapie Gran Fondo


Fabulous 4th Bike Tour, 2012, Tryon, NC

I love Tryon, NC. As long-time readers of the blog know, I’ve been here quite a few times. Of all the nearby hills, it is by far the most bang for the buck. More importantly, I just love it here. It did not take much convincing for me to sign up for the Fabulous 4th Bike Tour.

This one starts from Harmon Field in Tryon, does a small loop through Landrum and back, then heads through South Carolina, up Callahan Mountain and then the Watershed. It ends with a screaming descent down the Saluda Grade. This year’s ride was organized by Katie Malone, former director of the Assaults, and she did a fantastic job.

I am still in casual riding mode. I am not concerned with any sort of time or mileage per hour, just that I get a good workout and enjoy myself. My strategy has been to see how I feel, and let that dictate my ride.

After some minor mechanical issues, I started feeling a little frisky this morning. After a little back and forth, I settled into a relatively fast pack of maybe 15-20 riders, who I drafted with for around a dozen miles.

We were cruising along and the unthinkable happened. We were on a slight bank in the road, dodging some stray rocks on the road, when one rider turned at almost a 90 degree angle. He barreled off the road, flew off his bike and barely missed a tree. Holy smokes (that’s not what I really said!).

I flipped my bike around and was the first to see him. He was laying in a pile of bushes and was stone cold knocked out, but in a weird way. He was snoring, loudly! Yet this was not just any kind of snore. He was also hyperventilating. I wondered if he was in shock.

I was completely unprepared on how to handle this. I called 911 immediately. Fortunately a friend of his, Charles, came by and was able to lend a hand. Charles kept the rider, Brian, situated while I tried to talk to the emergency dispatch. The toughest part was figuring out where we were. A SAG motorcycle vehicle stopped by, and he was able to offer some assistance. Tomek from Epix Gear also stopped by and helped. A couple other riders also stopped.

As I was talking to the 911 operator, Brian started regaining consciousness. At first he was confused and wanted to get up. Charles kept him down, sometimes forcefully. After hearing he had been in a bike, the first question he asked what ‘What’d I hit?’ I was a few riders behind when the accident occurred and had a good view, but was not positive why his bike went left. I assumed he hit a rock or something, and explained as much.

Brian continued to try and get up. He was agitated, confused. He had some other medical conditions that were bothering him. He had a little bit of road rash and claimed that his knee and shoulder did not feel good, although it was pretty clear that there were no broken bones. Occasionally he would try to get up again, and Charles held him back. ‘What’d I hit?’ he asked again. He asked other questions repeatedly. He clearly had a concussion.

I was talking to the 911 Operator, while also talking to the people around that were trying to pinpoint our location, and also trying to help Charles keep Brian calm. I would answer his questions about what happened, albeit with less and less detail.

‘Do you hear an ambulance?’ the 911 Operator kept asking. Nope, nobody did. We kept waiting and keeping Brian as subdued as possible. All of a sudden, a ton of emergency vehicles showed up. There were ambulances and firetrucks from both NC and SC. After briefing them on what happened, we got out of the way and resumed our ride.

After having spent 30-40 minutes off the road tending to the accident, we were miles away from any pack. Tomek graciously offered to drive us closer, but we declined. It just wouldn’t feel right not riding the entire thing.

Fortunately a couple of my friends had stopped with me. We rode together and chatted. It was a nice, easy social ride in beautiful country. We caught up with some triathlete friends who I hardly get to ride with. We spent most of the time riding with them. We would pass them occasionally on climbs and always on descents, but we waited up.

The last 50 miles pale in comparison to what happened at mile 16. We just got lost in conversation as we maneuvered around the course. The roads were new to Team Schmitz, so I playing tour guide and enjoyed the scenic country through them.

Brian turned out to be okay. I saw him walking around at the end of the ride. I believe he had some road rash and a minor concussion. He got lucky.

Strava GPS Link

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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

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Howard Gap, revisited

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This week I found myself again heading to North Carolina, this time to the Western side around Franklin and Sylva. There would be a few hours for me to kill, and I first planned to climb Clingman’s Dome. Unfortunately Mother Nature did not agree. A huge weather system materialized during my allotted time, so there went that idea.

Plan B was to get a shorter ride along the way before the storm arrived. I decided to take another stab at Howard Gap, which I had previously failed when attempting on tired legs. So I headed out early enough to beat the storm. When I arrived at Harmon Field, it was cloudy and overcast, but the rain had not yet arrived. According to my radar it was close, but far enough for me to get a short ride of around 20 miles.

I prepared quickly and got on the road. Rather than warming up on some flats, I headed straight to the climb, eager to finish up before the rain.

There was a short and steep hill a little ways before the major climb, which was around 11-12%. That was my warmup and it was tough. It made me wonder if my off-season legs were up for the challenge, but I soldiered on nonetheless.

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The climb began slowly, around 6-8%, which was great as it allowed me to get in a rhythm. Early into the climb it turned upward, almost straight upward, and continued at a prolonged, constantly steep grade. It was always in the teens. The highest grade I noticed was 18%.

Yikes. This was tough, both physically and mentally. Part of the problem is that you can see a long ways ahead of you, and can tell that there are no breaks to the grade. It is completely disheartening to turn a corner and see yet another stretch of 200 yards or so at the same incline.

I pushed and pushed, slowly but surely. This was a short climb, but it still seemed never-ending. As I got closer to the top, I could hear the hum of cars on Interstate 26. When I got high enough to see them, I knew I was close to the end, after another few handfuls of steep climbing.

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Phew. I made it to the top and gave my aching legs a break. I figured there would be time before the rain came, and really didn’t want to attempt descending Howard Gap in this weather. Instead I rode several miles of rolling hills until I reached the town of Saluda, where I would then turn onto 276 and descend via the Saluda Grade.

That seemed like good plan at first, until I started feeling raindrops after about a mile. Hmm. I considered turning around and taking the short Howard Gap route, then thought better of it. Even in heavier rain, Saluda Grade would be much safer even though it would mean an additional 10 miles of wet riding. It wasn’t pleasant, but that was the way I went. My Saluda descent was the slowest ever. I even stopped a few times to let off the brakes.

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By the time I reached the car and checked the radar, I realized that this was simply a pocket of rain. Note the blue dot in the radar image below. The big monstrosity was still a little ways away. However unpleasant, it could have been worse. Besides, it was worth it to conquer something new.

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Garmin Link


Taking the Scenic Route

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Today was my travel day. I left early enough that I had plenty of time to get to Franklin. As I sped down the freeway and crossed the state line into North Carolina, I was practically hypnotized by the Fall colors. Rather than speed through the mountains, I decided then to take some time and make an adventure of it.

The adventure started by stopping in Saluda for lunch at the bakery. Of course I have made this stop many times, but seldom off the bike. As I ate my sandwich, I watched other cyclers struggle their way to the counter. The one thing they had in common was they were freezing, looking for warm beverage. Yeah, I know how that goes.

This was also a reminder that I’m a cold wuss, and feared that I was underprepared. The next stop — REI, where I picked up a couple other layers and a nice, heavy windbreaker jacket. While this was an impulse buy, it’s something I’ll need if I plan to ride over the winter.

The adventure really began as I approached Asheville. I’ve travelled highway 74 more times than I can count now. It was too beautiful of a day for the ordinary route. I took an early exit and hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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The drive was heavenly. I stopped at a couple overlooks to breathe in the scenery. I kept going, admiring the golden yellows, ruby reds and pumpkin oranges that highlighted the mountains above and below.

After traveling a couple dozen miles, I passed through the Devil’s Courthouse and immediately recognized familiar territory. This was the same route I had taken in the Blue Ridge Breakaway ride. It was cool to revisit the same climbs and descents and see how they look with color. I passed by the Richland Balsam overlook, the highest point of the parkway, and began the 11-mile descent. Needless to say, it wasn’t nearly as breathtaking in the car, pretty colors or not, but it was still cool to revisit the area. The blind tunnel seemed to go on forever. No wonder I struggled so much. I passed the stretch where the mother bear and cubs had been last time. They were probably somewhere warmer today.

It was tempting to climb up to Waterrock Knob, but I knew I had to grab my packet in Franklin and pick up my brother in Sylva. We grabbed some dinner and still had some daylight left. At first we drove around the mountains just to talk.

As we kept going, we came closer to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Why not? We got back on and climbed the 10 miles to the top. When I told him I had taken my bike up here, he said I must be some sort of masochist. Yeah, something like that. When we got to the top it was below freezing. At first it didn’t feel too bad. We watched the sun set as long as we could stand it. The cold caught up quickly. My brother was wearing shorts, so he was done.

I wanted to take the short hike to the top. My brother waited in the car. I’ll be back in two hours, I joked. It was a quarter mile to the overlook and half mile to the peak. The walking trail was quite the climb. It is hard to estimate on foot, but my guess is 20%. Soon I found myself breathing heavily and getting colder. The sun was dropping and I didn’t want to hike back down with it much darker, so I cut my losses at the overlook. The peak will have to wait. I sprinted down the hill, not really by choice. Probably have some lactic acid stored thanks to this jaunt.

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It was a fun adventure, a nice prelude to tomorrow where I’ll be spending more time out in nature.