Nothing better than the Saturday morning up tempo ride trying to hang on with the fit lads and lasses. Things start moving pretty fast right away. I’m listening to the chain dropping onto the next cog and the buzz from the tires changing pitch as my heart rate climbs along with the speed,cadence, heat, humidity, wind and distance all while staying cognoscente of my surroundings and respecting the paceline. If I’m in the same frame as we finish it just makes my day. If not well it’s not for lack of effort, just wasn’t strong enough. To have the young’ins say “you rode great today”……well that’s just a great compliment, not pathetic superfluous adulation. Makes me proud even. Gotta be careful of the whole pride thing though, one of Dante’s seven deadly sins and I’m not even Catholic. And it’s all fleeting. How long can I keep it up………… unknown. Age is a bad mamma jamma, The clock continues to run. The Egyptians invented time, the British say time is on their side, the French say no time like the present while the Italians know how to take their time. Time has stood still for the Spanish while the Americans believe time is money except for the Native Americans who say time has no meaning and yet my Yogi tells me time doesn’t exist. Marty McFly went back in time so he could ….ahhh…… date his mother? Huh!
Late June found me on the bike in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. It was the first leg of our journey north to visit the kids, grand kids and an old friend. We had to call an audible right away, scrapping plans to travel through Florida’s panhandle due to the weather. The result being an extra day in the mountains. We re-discovered tent camping right beside the Pigeon River near Hartford Tn. Aside from the camp’s proximity to Rt 40 things worked out great. The area itself is pretty far off the grid and our tent site was without power and running water. Our cell service, Sprint, was non existent at camp. It was pretty nice actually, nice to know that yes we can make do without the phone and the internet. Sitting by the campfire and reminiscing about how we use to do this sorta thing a lot…………
I found a nice route to ride near Hartford on Ride With GPS before leaving home and for some reason, a reason I discovered once we arrived, (the whole no internet thing) I printed it out. The creator of the route actually put up three, the short, the shorter, and the long. I chose the short route, 36 or so miles and 3600 feet or so of climb. The route took me east and south around Cherokee National Forest and most of it was on Tennessee Route 32. The connector roads to 32 like Lindsey Gap and Trail Hollow Rd, are narrow, primitive, steep, littered with shacks and abandoned cars. I’m in Appalachia just waiting to hear banjo music. Everywhere there are feisty little dogs just spoiling for some action. Remember: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. (Mark Twain) Luckily all the attacks occurred during my descents. Remember: The sun don’t shine on the same dog all the time. (Catfish Hunter)
I’m a bit confused trying to find Tennessee 32 at one point. Dead Reckoning workin’ fine but things are necessarily marked only, road signs considered a luxury. Hell the locals know where they are! Right! I find the local Quicky Mart, Stop and Rob kinda place, and after a few minutes of reflexion on possible alternatives and outcomes, I enter. Keep in mind now that I’m a Yankee in spandex pants wearing a helmet with a blinking light affixed to it deep in the heart of The Sons Of The Confederacy. You can’t tell me some of these boys great great grandpappy’s weren’t with General Braxton Bragg at Chickamauga or standing tall up on Look Out Mountain until Joe Hooker’s boys chased them off. Something tells me these boys have yet to concede. Sure enough these folks look at me like I’m from Mars and……well they nicely set me straight as to my where abouts.
I find Tennessee 32 and I’m climbing. This is pristine wilderness made for a guy like me. Climbing yes, long, and while there are 12 and 15 % grade the overall average is not debilitating. The road continues up through a nice group of switchbacks with majestic views all around. The sound track of my mind changes to hot jazz, Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli . The earth has taken on this added dimension and while more challenging there is no added stress mentally, and while I don’t ride the mountains often I’ve learned to stay within myself and avoid over doing it at the start, not burning all my matches. One trick I’ve learned about climbing or any hard work is to focus on something else, something external like music. I’ve gotten pretty good at it actually. If wasn’t for headphones I would never run.
It’s a Wednesday morning and there is no one around anywhere. I make it to the top and a crew out working on the power lines is surprised to see me. The road turns into rollers long and short for a few more miles and suddenly ends, or does it! It turns to gravel and I stop. The Appalachian Trail cuts right across here, Newfound Gap one way, Pigeon River the other.
Just ahead is North Carolina and there’s a sign tacked to tree “Country Store 1 Mile Ahead” and I’m thinkin’ do I go? Heck yeah! Hey they might even have a tee shirt! And so onto the gravel I go on my road bike, 25 mm tires. I have friends that would think nothing of this and hey why not. The road is truly gravel and well traveled and descends all the way down to the store, which is closed. Well that was fun, nothing to see here and so I now make my ascent. It’s no big deal.
Time to head back to camp which starts with a long climb followed by a long descent through the switchbacks mentioned earlier, I’m flying. The roads are dry and there is nothing anywhere and so let ‘er rip. The connector back to Hartford road is called Trail Hollow Rd. which I did a recon on the day before, one lane narrow and I’m going to descend it. Good thing too because the things crowded with those little yappy dogs all wanting a piece of me. But not this day. The little devils will have to wait for some poor unsuspecting rider crazy enough to climb up this road. I slip past them all. The bottom runs right along the Pigeon River which is up and running with rafting outfitters.
Thousands Hundreds Maybe a hundred people just going with the flow to be picked up farther down at parts unknown. Looks like everyone is having a great time.
Back at camp and still no cell or internet but there’s a butane stove, French Press and a cast iron skillet, eggs and some bread and so egg sandwich it is. Toasted the bread on the stove old school. We passed our refresher course in tent camping with flying colors. We do need to add a dining canopy and take a whole lot less food, pack lighter. We slept great on air beds with light blankets but I woke the first morning to find Valerie with her hoodie up over her head and pulled tight with just her eyes peaking out, it was in the 50’s. Our tent takes about 15 minutes to set up and tear down. We load up the rental car and we’re off to the great unknown to us south west Virginia for more of the same. A tale for another day.
The photo at the top is of those I rode the 2nd annual Wheels n Wings Gravel Grinder with. It was part of the Peace River Riders WWVIII, Wheels n Wings 8 for those Roman Numeraly challenged. I believe that’s how you spell it. Please leave a comment if you know better. Anyway the gravel ride was excellent. I rode my mtn bike and stared with utter amazement at the cx bikers just ripping things up. BUT………….once in the deep sand the mtn bikers took over and …..well……a guy on a cx bike even made the sand pit look easy. Oh and the roady ride that followed the next day was a beautiful thing as well.