Tag Archives: Tryon

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!

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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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