Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for September, 2007

11. Franklin, by bicycle

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

I had been planning to go on at least one road ride during our vacation. At one point, I was thinking about bringing my road bike and renting a mountain bike at Tsali, but ultimately, I decided to bring my mountain bike and slicks (road tires). This way, I could just bring one bike and not have to rent one. The map of Macon County we picked up had bicycle routes marked on it, and there were many signed bicycle routes throughout the county. We went to Smoky Mountain Bicycles and picked up some routes they had there, but I decided to come up with my own route so that I could leave directly from the cabin and explore. I wrote down some notes about the route, got ready, and headed out. I should note right away that I posted the route on Routeslip here, although it doesn’t seem to be loading at the moment.

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My mountain bike, outfitted for a road ride

As do many of my rides, this turned into a very hot late-afternoon ride. It started with a very sketchy and interesting descent down the gravel road that leads to the cabin. As I mentioned in a previous post, it was very steep and had several switchbacks. I took a few photos on the way down so I’d have a record of this insanity. I knew it would be a very difficult climb back to the cabin, but I was almost looking forward to it, in a masochistic, manly pride kind of way.

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The driveway to the cabin

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Looking down from the end of the driveway

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One of several sections of road like this

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Part of a switchback on the gravel road

I took my time going downhill here, because the gravel was fairly loose and I knew if I got going too fast, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Once I reached the bottom, and a paved road, I was greeted with incredible views almost immediately.

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This was just minutes from our cabin

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Barn

It was flat for a few minutes, which was a good thing, because I was having trouble focusing on riding due to the scenery all around me.  I also had some trouble adjusting to riding the mountain bike on the road; I was acutely aware of just how inefficient it was, my cadence was all messed up, the gearing all wrong (though I’d later be thankful for it), etc.

I  had seen this scenery before on our drives to and from the cabin, but everything looks better from a bicycle, and I was driving before so I didn’t get to enjoy it as much. The cabin owner had said in his directions, “DO NOT TURN ON LEATHERMAN GAP ROAD,” so I had avoided that road in the car. However, curiosity got the best of me and I simply had to check it out by bicycle. Besides, I thought the route I had planned went on it, for some reason, even though you can plainly see in the photo below that the 36 sign pointed straight ahead, not to the right, where I turned.

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A signed bicycle route by Leatherman Gap Road / Cowee Valley sign

I should have heeded his advice, because Leatherman Gap Road, which would be the wrong way to go if you were trying to get to the cabin, was also the wrong way to go for my planned bike route. I didn’t even realize this for several miles, when I reached the end of the paved road and sensed that I was in the wrong place. This would be the first of several mistakes I’d make, but I didn’t care — there was more beautiful scenery, and I didn’t have a specific destination in mind anyway. I had my trusty map, and it came in handy several times. As a part of my restitution for poor planning, I climbed the significant Snow Hill. It was a tough climb, but then I got to ride on a ridge for a bit, with great views.

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My bicycle, and an incredible home in the background

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I also passed through a strange, nearly-abandoned coop of some kind

I finally got back on course and rode for a while on Highway 28, a fantastic winding mountain road. So awesome, in fact, that I missed my turn off of it and had to backtrack. I realized this just as I began a climb, and continued climbing anyway simply because I was having so much fun. This gave me a good descent back toward the road on which I was supposed to turn.

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If this is the wrong way to go, do I really want to be right?

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I saw this cool bridge and realized that my route took me across it

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Bridge over Rose Creek

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The view from the bridge

The road I was on now, Rose Creek Road, was even more winding and had more ups and downs. I did a lot of climbing, but somehow, it never seemed too bad. The low gears of my mountain bike helped, but I also didn’t push it too much, as this ride was more to discover and enjoy the scenery than for fitness.

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Riding directly toward a mountain

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Small shack in the mountains

I stopped by the small shack above to consult my map. I found myself at an intersection, and while I knew which way I had planned to go, I was intrigued by the road leading off to the right. I wanted to explore it, but I knew I’d be chasing daylight, so I wanted to see if I had time. As I was stopped, a golf cart with two or three people in it pulled up. The people in it asked if I was lost, and I said, “Not lost, just indecisive!” It sure was weird to have a golf cart randomly drive up like that.

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I just love roads like this

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Farms nestled in the mountains

The road I was on ultimately looped back to Highway 28. 28 had more traffic on it, but the drivers were very courteous. In fact, people were very courteous throughout my whole ride, waving at me and some even giving me a thumbs up. I really don’t understand why I saw almost no other cyclists the whole time we were in Franklin. It has all the elements of a great cycling town: marked bike routes, a bike shop, great mountains in which to ride, roads with low speed limits, and friendly motorists.

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Some traffic on 28. That’s the closest thing I saw to traffic, anyway …

I didn’t want my ride to end, but it was getting dark. I had brought my rear blinky light, but not my headlight. I should have had the headlight. I thought I might make it back before dark, but I underestimated how far I was from the cabin.

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The sun sets over a mountain road

I really enjoyed my ride, and seeing the sun set was great, too. Sarah also enjoyed the sunset, but she did so from the gazebo behind the cabin.

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This shot looks almost impressionist to me

It was almost completely dark by the time I reached the bottom of the gravel road. I would have to climb it without being able to see much of anything, and it was a hell of a climb. Even the low mountain bike gears were just barely low enough, especially on that loose gravel surface. My rear wheel spun a little as I pedaled on a couple of different occasions. Eventually, I made it, and Sarah was waiting outside. I had a great ride, but what a sight for sore eyes!

10. The Appalachian Trail to Siler Bald

Monday, September 10th, 2007

We woke up Monday morning to find ourselves in a log cabin in the mountains. What a way to wake up! We took a few minutes to get up, and explored our surroundings.

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The front of the cabin (and my bicycle)

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The view from the gazebo in the back yard

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Inside the cabin

One thing Sarah and I wanted to do on our vacation was hike part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the hikes in the Franklin, NC area we had found took the Appalachian Trail up to Siler Bald (not to be confused with Siler’s Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), so we decided to do this hike. First, we stopped for breakfast at the Sunset Restaurant. We were probably the only ones under 50, and the place had a blue and yellow color scheme that was rather interesting and had Bible verses in the menu.

We enjoyed driving back into Franklin and seeing all the scenery we had missed in the darkness of night on our way to the cabin. We were surrounded by mountains and farms nestled into the mountains. This was an interesting area, because it was away from tourism; for the people who lived here, the mountains were just an everyday part of their lives. It was a very different way to experience the mountains.

We were also impressed with Franklin, it’s a very small town, but still has a fair number of restaurants and businesses, and the downtown area has an very quaint feel, with some shops with art by local artists and numerous other small, local businesses.  There were many signed bicycle routes through and around town. We didn’t take time to explore Franklin at this time, though, as we were anxious to hike up to Siler Bald.

Our map of Macon County proved useful once again, as the directions to the trailhead were a little unclear. Thanks to the map, we found it without too much difficulty.

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The trailhead was at this picnic area / White blaze indicating the Appalachian Trail

The hike was about two miles uphill, but it was very gradual climbing, for the most part. The trail surface wasn’t as rugged as the one at South Mountains State Park, but still had a lot of character.

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Creek crossing on the AT

It was warm, but not hot, especially compared to Charlotte. As we climbed, we noticed more and more of a breeze, and you could get a sense of the elevation through the trees, although you couldn’t see much at this point. Eventually, we reached a clearing and saw Siler Bald looming over us. This was the steep part of the climb, but the higher you went, the better the views. It was exhilarating, and very cool to be able to see further, since it was, you know, bald.image_37857132007826195147
Siler Bald looms before us

I went a little bit ahead of Sarah and got some shots of her hiking toward me. I think they turned out pretty cool, having her in the shots gives them more of a sense of scale.

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Sarah climbs Siler Bald

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We thought we were going to get rained on, as some dark clouds were overhead, and we even felt a few drops — but we were lucky. The clouds blew over without raining on us.

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It was a long way up …

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But it was also well worth the effort

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Weird split tree on top of Siler Bald

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View from the top
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Sarah on Siler Bald

The trip down was significantly easier, even though I like to claim that the trip down is harder than the trip up. Usually, that’s not the case — unless it’s extremely steep. It was great to hike on the AT and see Siler Bald. We didn’t see or hear any other people there. I was amazed that we had such an incredible mountain all to ourselves.

We contemplated going to nearby Wayah Bald, but decided against it. Someday, we’ll go back and check that out. Supposedly, there’s a lookout tower there, with unique views of its own.

Conquering Boltinghouse

Monday, September 10th, 2007

The heat finally broke, and with it the drought. That is to say, it rained for much of the weekend. I was planning on going mountain biking on Sunday, but I thought things might be too muddy, and hit the road instead. It’s just as well, because I haven’t done enough road rides lately.

I wanted to do a long ride, but I got off to a late start and knew it would be getting dark on my way home, so I decided I should ride up to Morgan-Monroe State Forest, which is about a 35-mile ride — not the 50 or so miles I would have liked to have ridden, but also a longer ride than I can really fit in after work.

I started riding, and felt very sluggish from the start. I simply haven’t ridden enough lately. I was getting a little concerned about this, since I have two big rides coming up and I need to be ready, but I felt a lot better once I had ridden a few miles. I got in the swing of things and actually started riding pretty well.

While I rode through the State Forest, I debated which way to go back. I usually go down Beanblossom Road, but I thought it might be fun to try a new route and take Low Gap Road down. I had ridden on Low Gap before, during my Mahalasville Ride, but this would let me ride on a section of Low Gap I’d never seen before. I decided to go for it, thinking it would add only a couple of miles to my ride. It was a very rough descent down Rosenbaum Road — this is a back road that doesn’t see much traffic, or much maintenance. I have some hope that they’ll resurface it sometime, though, because the main roads through the forest were repaved recently and are extremely smooth.

I didn’t mind the rough descent, except for my little toe, which I smashed the night before — it felt every bump. Once I got to the bottom, I rode a flat portion on Catholic Cemetery Road. I kept my eyes peeled for cats on fenceposts, pants on pickup trucks, and girls chastising donkeys, but I saw none of those things this time around. Alas! I did see some pedestrians on Catholic Cemetery Road again, in the exact same place I saw others walking last time.

I turned on Low Gap Road and enjoyed a few miles of flat but curvy roads through beautiful forests. Low Gap is appropriately named, as it turns out, I just hadn’t been on the part from which it takes its name until this ride. The road spends several miles following a creek through a valley, with big ridges on either side. As I rode, I was surprised to see dozens of limestone sculptures along the side of the road. There’s a sculpture garden on this remote road, which I later learned is also the artist’s studio. I want to take Sarah there sometime so we can visit the sculpture garden. I didn’t have time to look at anything last night, nor did I have my camera — but it sure was surreal to stumble upon something like that on a remote country road. I later found the artist’s Web site here — it’s worth checking out.

On Low Gap Road, I also passed a parking lot for the Morgan-Monroe Backcountry area, then went up a pretty decent climb and rested by an access point for the Tecumseh Trail. Low Gap is also very smooth, and I was rewarded for my effort with a fun, fast, straight downhill through more beautiful country before making a slight climb up to Anderson Road.

Low Gap added about 10 miles to my ride, which was more than I expected, but it was well worth it. I had brought my rear blinker, so I put that on my bike. I didn’t bring the headlight, and probably should have. I was feeling surprisingly energetic and decided it was time to attempt to climb Boltinghouse Road again, which is one of the steepest hills in this area. I tried to climb it once before and failed. I hadn’t even attempted it for at least a couple of months. As I approached the hill, I saw “READY SUCKAS?” spray-painted on the road. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the climb.

The first part of the climb is fairly easy, and it gets even easier momentarily, but then it goes to about a 20% grade for a while. I managed to keep turning the pedals, but just barely. I was moving so slowly that it was hard to keep my balance. But I kept turning the pedals, and kept breathing the best I could. It got steeper and I almost lost control of the bike, but kept turning those pedals for what seemed like forever. I was glad I had clipless pedals or I never would have made it — I was using all of my strength, pushing down and pulling up, just to keep the pedals turning. Finally, I made it to the top. By this time, I was wheezing in a way I hadn’t since shortly after I quit smoking. There was more climbing to do, but it was pretty gradual. It was so rewarding to have conquered this evil hill. It’s not a long hill, but it’s extremely steep, and it feels long when you can barely even turn the pedals.

As I rode back on Bethel Lane, I reached back to adjust my blinker and accidentally knocked it off my saddle bag. It fell to the road, and I stopped to go back and get it, but a car was coming. I had to wait. The jerk in the car hit the blinker as he drove past! Somehow, it didn’t get caught under his wheel, and instead went spinning down the road. Two other cars avoided hitting it, and the thing somehow still worked. I put it back on my bag and rode home. It was about a 44-mile ride. View the route on Bikely. It’s worth checking out the elevation profile (go to Show -> Elevation Profile).

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