142 miles of gravel and pavement, Asheville to Hot Springs...
I had planned to do this ride later in the week and invited the general public to join me. Patrick McMahon was the only one who was able to get a few days off of life. Unfortunately, I was not interested in riding this loop in the looming "polar vortex/arctic outbreak" so I canceled the group ride and headed out on my own with enough time to finish, before the cold temps set in. (I really hoped that Patrick would still do the ride)
I rolled out, but I wasn't feeling it. I couldn't put a finger on what exactly was wrong, so I pushed forward. Fighting the clawing, nagging feeling that I should go ahead and turn back, go home, sit by the fire, laugh with my family. I really wanted to complete the loop and get the info out, so I kept riding.
The first 50 miles I spent arguing with myself. I cannot say how many times I almost turned around and went home. After that, my mind was occupied with figuring out how long it would take the wife to rescue me.
I simply was not having fun, but I knew that most times, when I have felt like this, the following day is way better. So, I pushed on.
The stars were amazingly bright and I tried to focus on that instead of my misery. The upside? For the first time ever, I wasn't scared of the blackness that surrounded me. I have no idea why, but there I was, in the middle of nowhere, with an occasional car passing, in the dark of night, and I was comfortable. Little victory number 2.
I made it up and over the top, descending into the desolate valley below. And then it got bone chilling cold. I pulled out some extra layers, but the next couple of hours into Waynesville had me shivering, sometimes uncontrollably. And I was missing out on some of the best scenery. I was tired too. I wanted to pull over into the woods and crawl into my sleeping bag. But the stubbornness persisted and I rode on.
I finally made it to Waynesville and decided to stop for what was left of the night. I got a room at The Lodge. It was a decent hotel on the nicer side of jenky, and only $50. Personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut and lights out at 11pm.
I had called the wife to let her know that I was done. I was going to sleep in and call her in the morning to formulate and extraction plan.
I went to sleep....and woke up at 4:43am. Dang it. I tossed and turned, determined to go back to sleep. Fail. 5am, I got up, decided that if I was up and couldn't sleep, I'd have the energy to keep riding. Packed up and Mc Donald's for breakfast with a biscuit and a couple of apple pies for later, I hit the road at 6:28am.
The stretch of pavement leading to the gravel road through the Cataloochee Valley was long and uneventful. I can't remember how long it took to get into the woods again, but close to an hour. And then I was climbing.
I came around one corner and there was a deer standing in the middle of the road, cross legged, cross eyed and drooling. Crap, a rabid deer. I asked the poor animal if I could get past and she sauntered over to the shoulder and down the side of the mountain.
As the miles dragged on, and the hours went by, I started to realize that, if I were going to reach my next destination, I would be out after dark again. 4 hours after dark. That would put me within striking distance of finishing on day 3, but I didn't have the energy to ride until 9pm. I also didn't have another day to spare, having to get back to real world responsibilities. I fought the urge for a long time, but finally, when I reached Max Patch Rd, I made the call for pick up. ( I was surprised that I had cell service).
I was done. I know my limits and I could have pushed on, but I could have pushed too hard. I might be stubborn, but I try to balance that with common sense. I simply was not having fun with this go round. I made the call, and the wife gladly agreed to come pick me up.
I made it a little less than halfway but I consider my ride successful. I can't wait to get back out and do it again ( not this week).
This route is challenging, scenic, and gives a great taste of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I met some great people out there. The bear hunter who slowed on Hwy 215 to ask if I was ok. The guy at Pizza Hut, encouraged by my trip. The waitress at Still Mountain Restaurant and Pub, who let me hang out while waiting for my ride. I learned about myself, challenged myself.
I'm really excited about this loop because it will be a great "training" ride for longer routes, as well as a perfect distance for beginner bikepackers. The route could also be done fully supported for the more laid back tourist types!