Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Southern Comfort

So we finally headed South this winter. I have wanted to put in some fair weather winter miles for many years but time and money -- or lack of both -- always seemed to be an impediment. This year was no different really, but in early March Tricia and I decided to hit the road anyway. Seventeen hours later we were deep in the Appalachians in sunny South Carolina.

The long drive actually went by pretty quickly as the states -- New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virgina, Tennessee, North Carolina -- come up pretty quickly and the scenery is impressive. It's hard not to let your mind wander while driving through Gettysburg or crossing the Mason Dixon Line. That said, it seems like we could have stopped after about 9hrs and spent the week riding in Virgina. The Blue Ridge Mountains begin there and the weather and riding looked spectacular. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs for nearly 500 miles straight to South Carolina -- our eventual destination. Whatever the case, we soldiered on down the Blue and the Gray Highway for another day.

And I'm glad we did as South Carolina did not disappoint. The area we were based in (North West corner of the state near Greenville)is fascinating. We were in the real deal rural South and it was like stepping back in time. This was not Wakefield. Folks living in shacks that looked like they were abandoned 100 years ago. Goats in the yard. Burned out 1950s cars by the roadside. Pick up trucks piloted by stereotypical shirtless good ol' boys and of course the ubiquitous confederate flag. It was all kind of charming and terrifying at the same time. Either way, we were treated with nothing but the finest Southern hospitality wherever we went. It seemed like everyone we met was genuinely happy to have us visiting.

And we did a lot of bike riding. In fact we logged something like 700 mountainous kilometres in 6 days. Trish and I arrived with the objective of hitting all the highlights right away in case the sunny 27 degree weather took a turn later in our trip. We basically rode our ourselves into the ground immediately with a 160km jaunt that took in many of the major mountain features in the area. The road riding in the Blue Ridge area is the finest I've ever experienced. Granted, I'm not exactly a world traveller (see the time/money thing above) but I can't think of anything I'd change about the rides in the area. Everything is paved perfectly, traffic is minimal and even the bikers on Harley Davidson's wave at cyclists. And the terrain... twisty mountain roads with climbs in the 30-60 minute range, the steepest grades I've ever seen, rolling country roads through gorgeous valleys... It's all there.

The climb up Sassafras mountain in particular remains burned in my memory (and legs!) Apparently it's the steepest thing in the area -- and I don't doubt it. For reference, imagine the 20% plus gradient near Mont Cascade for 40 minutes or so. Devastating. I believe the steepest grades in Gatineau Park are around 8% for a couple of minutes. Parts of this climb felt more like a leg press workout than bike riding. Pushing against the pedals and pulling on the handlebars in a 39x27 at 10kph. Moving all over the saddle looking for a couple more watts. Giving up and standing on the pedals like working a stairmaster. Unreal.

But that's what we came for. And that's what we'll come back for next year.


Matt Surch said...

Your post somehow snuck in without me noticing Rob...weird. Great write-up! What a trip, seems like you got in a ton of quality on the bike. The Sassafras climb might be the one I've heard racers have a running competition on. I personally would not be inclined to race up that. It sounds absolutely punishing. Will told me about the parkway route a little while ago and it sounds incredible. Future road trip I hope. I think you should be prepared for a good Roubaix this year.

Anonymous said...

save your money!
Hit up islands in the winter time!


cost: 2200 pp db occupancy for the ride - all inclusive. Lots of fat people... so, we cyclists look like queens!
Plus bike box fee - 100 bucks one way
Plus air - about 600 bucks.
That's it.
for 2 weeks of lovely hot hot weather!

(glad to see you guys took of that sign in crap... that's just annoying)

Anonymous said...

Haha Rob...a 27....you should have been me doing Blue ridge Parkway and Ceasar's head in a 23 !! Worst part was I had a brand new 25 sitting at home in a box !!

Mike A