Tag Archives: Tryon

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

IMAGE GALLERY

The First Leaf Tour

Saluda Grade

 

This weekend I’ll return to Tryon, NC for the Tour de Leaves ride. It’s hard to believe this was my first organized event, just a couple years ago. Rather than preview the region, which most readers are probably familiar with anyway, this is a good opportunity to reflect on my unflattering first experience.

I signed up after hearing about it from the cycling club at work. Before realizing what I was getting into, I signed up for the shortest route — the Tour de Leaves ‘Lite.’ This was 31 miles, and did not go over the toughest climbs.

Having never been to Tryon before, I left super early to make sure I found the place. I was the first car to park at Harmon Field. Car after car arrived. Athletic beasts emerged with their expensive bikes. Many riders were from out of town. I marveled that these weekend warriors probably went from town to town just to ride their bikes, like I was doing that morning.

If I only knew what the future held.

After fumbling around with my bike, an inexpensive yet robust Specialized Allez, I scooted to the starting line. I was wearing bike shorts, an Under Armor T-shirt, and a brand new pair of arm warmers. No jersey meant no pockets, so my car keys and cell phone went in a big, brown fanny pack. That pack stayed with me for months, even to the Marquis de Sade ride next season (you can barely see it in the picture here), until I had endured enough chiding to throw it away. On this day, I was caught off guard by all the bright colored polyester. It was like being surrounded by aliens. Who were these people anyway?

The ‘Lite’ riders left together, and this was an easy going group. I rode most of the early going with a trio. We spoke a little, not much. If they snickered at my outfit, I didn’t hear. The course was hilly, but I was able to keep up with these folks.

The organizers had said to follow the fishes to know the route. What in the world? I kept looking for signs in the area, seeing nothing. I thought they would be elevated signs, posted to a fence or something. No fishes, nowhere. If I ended up in front of my little group, I had to stop at intersections, bewildered as to where to go. When I was behind them, they turned without hesitation. How in the world did they know where to go?

Eventually, as I expected, I got tired. The hills added up, and I simply wasn’t used to this type of riding. The other two riders in the trio sped past me. At that point I was worried I would get lost in the North Carolina country. I remember stopping at an intersection, fumbling through the cue sheet to figure out where I was. An older gentleman, who I later learned was over 70, sped on past pointing in the correct direction. How did he know?

City of Tryon

I would finally wise up to the fish mystery at the very end of the ride, when I saw three fishes spray painted on the road pointing to the finish line. At first I wondered why someone would draw such a thing on the roads. I considered reporting the vandalism to the police, until finally making the connection. Doh!

At one point we reached a higher elevation. I have no idea how high it was, probably not more than a few hundred feet from the start, but it was enough to see a view of the colorful countryside. Despite being exhausted, at that very moment is when I became hooked. It was baffling that I had climbed to such heights under my own power, and was rewarded with a breathtaking view.

Towards the end of the ride, we went down a steep descent. Now that was awesome! After the road leveled out, there was amarking that said “Steep Grade, Use Lower Gear!”. This was New Market Road. It killed me! Not only did I not have the fitness, I didn’t have the gearing either. I would later learn (when I took my revenge) that this short hill is a 17-18% grade at its steepest. It was too much for my rookie legs. Maybe a quarter way up, I got off my Allez and slowly walked it to the top. That was humiliating, especially as I got passed by other riders who climbed without issue. I looked back and saw my senior citizen friend a few hundred feet back, also walking. At least I wasn’t completely alone.

New Market both disappointed and encouraged me. I couldn’t comprehend the tougher climbs on the ride, such as Green River Cove, which may have ended my cycling career right then had I tried it.

I didn’t forget Tour de Leaves. It was a great experience, however painful. I worked at improving my cycling fitness. A couple months later I would receive an email asking about training partners for the Assault on Mount Mitchell. Again, I agreed, not knowing what I was getting myself into.

The rest is history.


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


New Section: Routes

A lot of the stuff I add to the website are things that I would want for myself. For example, my Climbs section was started because I was spending a lot of time looking for interesting roads to climb when training for my first Mitchell. It grew from there.

The Routes section came from the same place. When I am in the Blue Ridge area, I often don’t have time to seek out group rides to show me around. I am always looking for convenient routes that I can take by myself. I find a lot of them on the internet, and some I make for myself. It would have been amazing had there been a single resource where I could find them all. If I cannot find it, why not create it?

This section was conceived a few months ago when I was training for my second Mitchell. It would have been too time consuming to put together a list of cue sheets like the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club has done to perfection. Instead I decided to use newer technology and use RideWithGPS links. Because people all over use this software, the content is vast and limitless. It also allows people to view the route on a map, see the elevation profile, and download it to their GPS device.

To begin, I asked a few friends if I could use theirs. Special thanks go to Neil Turner, Michael Powell, Scott Baker, John McSwain, and Jeff Dilcher for providing a starting point.

As of right now, we have routes that begin in Spartanburg, North Greenville, Brevard, Sylva, Tryon, Atlanta, and the North Georgia Mountains. In time we will add plenty more.

I am looking for a good source of content for routes out all over the Southeast, but I would specifically like to find some from Asheville, Boone, and Roanoke. If you know of anyone who creates these for your town, please send them my way.

Keep an eye on this section as I expect it to grow. Keep in mind that there is danger in undertaking any of these routes. You’ll notice a disclaimer on every page for a reason. Do your research and make sure you are equipped before trying these. While some are easy, others are epic rides that few people can accomplish on their own.

Steep Climbs Routes

South Carolina Routes
North Carolina Routes
Georgia Routes


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

IMAGE GALLERY

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

IMAGE GALLERY

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