If my Grandpa had lived in the Appalachians when he walked to school I think I would have believed this phrase. Long steep uphills with breathtaking scenery followed by fast and exciting downhills that leave you grinning from ear to ear. Even while your enjoying the amazing downhill stretches, in the back of your mind you know there is another climb waiting for you. The ride the Blue Ridge Parkway left me with goosebumps from a combination of the chilly air and great views.
Day 20, May 19th – Asheville to the Parkway
I left Asheville around 10:30 after making some breakfast and coffee in the hostel and updating the blog. As soon as I got on the Parkway it was uphill to Mount Pisgah where there was a campground, Inn, and convenience store. I chatted with a retired GE employee from florida who I passed on the climb. He is spending his retired years picking back up a healthy lifestyle and biking in exciting locations. Previously 350 lbs and in his mid 60s I’d say he’s doing great climbing these hills. We chatted in rocking chairs outside the convenience store over a bag of beef jerky he shared with me. From there it was mostly small descents followed by bigger climbs. According to my GE friend I had about 27 more miles to the highest point on the parkway.
Since I failed to note my mileage near the peak of Mount Pisgah, towards the end of the day I was not sure where this high point was and decided I better save it for tomorrow and pick out a camping site. I found a decent spot away about 200 feet into the woods from a scenic overlook. I had enough daylight to make some grub, setup camp, and hang my stuff so the bears wouldn’t eat through my panniers. Luckily no bears… I did wake up and 12:30 to hear heavy rustling in the distance. I gave a quick shout and that was the last I heard of it.
Avg: 8.8 mph
Max: 40.4 mph
Elevation climbed: Not sure where exactly I called it today so I’m combining Day 20 and Day 21.
Acts of Kindness: 1 – Shared bag of beef jerky
Day 21, May 20th – Camp spot on parkway to Bryson City
I woke up around 7:00 AM after waking several times in the night… bear paranoia I suppose. I figured I should get packed up before some ranger comes and spots me so I skipped breakfast and got going. It was about a 3 mile climb to the high point (6030? feet) of the parkway. From there I put my warm layers on and had a great cruise down. I was expecting things to flatten out after this decent, but instead around 3000? feet the road headed straight back up. This time only to about 5800 ft elevation. I had to break to filter water and make brunch (w/ coffee) on the way up.
I descended this peak at runaway semi like speed… at high speeds pedaling is near impossible because my gearing just won’t go high enough. Again my smile faded as a realized I had to choose between leaving the parkway and taking the easy road to Bryson or continuing on what appeared to be another climb. Well I’m sure you could have guessed I decided to finish out the parkway. Another climb, but with amazing downhills into Cherokee which gently sloped into Bryson City.
Bryson seems like a pretty cool small river town. I found a brewery to grab a bite to eat and have a rewarding brew before exploring camp options. I ended up finding a horse riding campground out of town. I think the guy who ran the place was a little surprised when I rolled in. Most of the people there appear to bring campers and horse trailers. I don’t think tenters or random cycle tourists come out that way much. I saw online their rate for “camping” was cheap so I figured I could convince them to let me grab a corner to set up camp.
Day 20 & 21 combined Elevation climbed: ~ 9,800 ft
Acts of Kindness: 2 – While I was stopped at a scenic overview to rest my legs and make a decent breakfast an older couple stopped and asked about my trip. I mentioned I was making something decent to eat and as they were pulling away the lady got out of the car and handed me a $20 bill to get something else good to eat later. Wow. How cool are people?!; For the other act of kindness I am lumping together all the thumbs up and smiling waves I got while riding the parkway. Either people think its cool to see a loaded cycle tourist or just get a kick out of watching me suffer. Regardless I enjoyed them!
Day 23, May 22nd – Bryson City to Santeetlah Creek
I woke up around 7:00 and a few times earlier to some chatty horses but overall slept great. It was a damp morning so nothing really dried out. I hadn’t settled with the owner yet so I asked around if anyone knew how to get ahold of him. Everyone at the camp was super nice. Not surprisingly they suggested I should do this trip by horse. Most of them travel from surrounding states to ride in the nearby mountains – I can see why. The owner had went to breakfast so one lady called him up for me and handed me the phone… $10 bucks in the ice deposit box and I was off.
I spent some time charging things up at a diner in town and looking at my route. I charged everything but my camera which died on me today 🙁 I stopped at a grocery store on my way out of town to load up since I wasn’t planning on dining and figured I’d be camping. You may notice photo quality degrade when I switched to my iPhone.
Finally on my way, the sun was high in the sky and beating down on me. I was sweating bullets today. Found myself climbing challenging hills, construction and soft asphalt. When I finally got to the Cherohalla Skyway (a supposedly awesome windy road up and down the mountain) I opted for the less travelled forest service road (gravel) which runs adjacent to the skyway on google maps. I thought this would present more camping options. Well it turns out this takes you by Shanteela Creek which has free campgrounds that seem to be unadvertised by the park service. I stopped to talk with Bill who gave me the low down on the camp areas. I ended up setting just down the way from him. I got a refreshing cold river bath and cooked up a delicious meal before heading off to bed (sleeping bag?) with the natural sleep sound machine of a rushing river. This was a lucky find.
Acts of Kindness: 1 – Bill and Lori Morgan at campground went out of his way to come talk to me and give me suggestions on roads to take… also gave me suggestions for a restaurant and bakery in Tellico Plains. He also offered me a map with the park road on it. I lost service and it was a google maps route I picked out. He has been coming here with his wife and dogs for 12 years.
I’ve got another post started for Day 24 – 26 but I need to get the photos off my phone… I’ll get them off tonight and shoot for publishing tonight or tomorrow morning. I’m In Tennessee! Woohoo! North Carolina was a long state!
Final thoughts on NC – Great state! I think I only had one angry driver across the entire state! I get that every time I ride in Illinois. US bike route 2 could use a bit more signage. Also there aren’t much for shoulders on the roads. Fortunately the drivers seem to be good at accommodating bikers, but a shoulder would definitely be nice! I’ve seen a lot of scenery in North Carolina: Sandy beaches on the coast, wetlands, farmlands, mountains, rivers, and reservoirs (I think I heard there aren’t any natural lakes, just dammed up rivers). My favorite towns were Carrboro, Asheville, and Black Mountain. Bryson City was pretty cool too. If you were in NC and had to pick only one place I’d visit the Asheville area and make a day trip into the Blue Ridge Parkway. So far I’m loving the trip. Hopefully I didn’t spoil myself by starting in North Carolina. Eastern Tennessee is very beautiful too!