Monday, August 31, 2009

New Map - North Carolina / Viginia Border Rides

It's finally ready! Thousands of miles of road work, hundreds of hours, the first of the Virginia series of maps, North Carolina / Virginia Border Rides is now completed.

It's been a long journey to reach this point. I never expected to be including so much of North Carolina in this map, but that's the way the mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway run. As you approach the border between the states, the mountains make a lateral jog east-west before resuming their regular diagonal parallel to the coastline.

The Appalachians are comprised of more than a dozen different mountain ranges. While the tallest ones to the south start to play out here, those more west begin to grow. What this area lacks in height, it makes up for in breadth. The steepest flanks are along the eastern edge descending from the highest ridges towards North Carolina. The west is characterized more by rolling hills, sometimes quite impressive, but lacking the grandeur of the regions south.

The cities, all of them relatively small, and the towns, lie in the valleys between the mountains. Most of the major roads run though these valleys connecting the towns. Roads perpendicular to these vallies traverse gaps in the ridge lines. It's a hilly and rolling country regardless, much of it rural and pastoral, and you will be rewarded with views of the extensive ranges of low mountains from almost every high vantage point.

Most notable to me was the large number of roads that are found here. I suspect this is due to the fact the mountains are not as high as to the south, so there are less impediments to travelling through them. Where dramatic rock outcroppings erupt, state parks sequester the areas for all to enjoy and preserve.

The other thing I enjoyed was discovering some of the hidden historic sights on many of the rides. More accessible, this area was probably settled much earlier than the higher areas of North Carolina. I came across old abandoned mills, country stores, barns, farms, and other relics that tell of a historical past worth delving in to and I took more than a few photos for my collection.

I must confess, this central portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway tends to lull me to sleep. Urban encroachment is far more evident, and challenging sections of roadway give way to gently rocking, almost monotonous curves. There are points of historic interest, but I suspect many just motor through seeking the more dramatic views to the north and south. This map reveals there is far more here than meets the eye.

Check out the new map,
North Carolina / Virginia Border Rides here.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Add Another Great Road to The NC list

Photo - Jackie (my wife) on the newly completed section of NC 281

I've been watching this road for a while. When my friend at Gryphon Bikes informed it the he'd ridden it the other day, I had to go check it out for myself. NC 281 from the junction at US 64 near Lake Toxaway northwards is now completed to the point I'm adding it to the list of great rides.

I discovered NC 281 years ago. This portion of NC 281 runs between US 64 near Cashiers, north until it joins with NC 107 at Tuckasegee. The section around the hoity-toity community of Lake Toxaway has been paved and in use for years. The other end of the road, near Tuckasegee, was improved and widened years ago. It makes a climb through a series of high speed sweeping turns that's a lot of fun. Once you finish the climb, it starts to descend passing though the tiny mountain town of Wolf Mountain.

From there, the road enters a series of very tight corners, one after another that keep you on the edge of your tires for several miles. Round a curve, climb a bit, crest a hill, and suddenly the pavement ends and you are on a graded forest road, rutted and loose, bumpy, steep, and a challenge on road tires.
So it used to be.

A couple years ago, the DOT started improving the road. More and more of it got paved, but one last section remained. It required a small bridge be built to cross a stream and that took forever to complete. When I last passed through, it was so close to being paved I predicted and included that on the map "The Best Rides South of Great Smokey Mountains - EAST". While the road is still getting some work, the paving is done and it's rideable, just in time for fall. I'll be updating that map to reflect the change.

The completion of this road is significant in that it opens up a wealth of loop rides with the surrounding roads in the area. In fact, this may now be one section of my new favorite loop ride which I'll describe in another post. It's not for the faint hearted, and if you're a mid-western cruiser guy who's gonna freak if the floorboards scrape, this may not be the route for you. However, if you're looking for something challenging, or confident enough to ride within your limits, add this road to your list of fall rides. You'll be rewarded with pockets of fall leaf color that are truly spectacular in addition to a ride you'll remember.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Update on the Blue Ridge Parkway Repairs

Photo - Waiting to pass a construction zone

Somehow I must have set the GPS to "find the most traffic" and it was working fabulously. I suppose everyone else had done the same as I hit one logjam after another on my way home from Virginia earlier this week. Still, as I left
Banner Elk, I though it might be a while before I passed this way again and I was curious to see how the construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway was progressing.

I'd already bypassed the detour near
Boone and Blowing Rock. No need to visit that section anyway. They are replacing a section of roadbed and there's no way to get a close look at what's going on, nor did I want to take the time to ride up and see how the bridge work was coming to the north. The big project however was more or less on my route home - at least it was now. Anything to get off the clogged roads and unwind.

The section I was interested in lies between
Mt. Mitchell State Park and Asheville. This section of the parkway was closed all of last year when a piece slid off the mountainside. That portion has been rebuilt and the project has now shifted to repairing the adjacent areas of road which had deteriorated badly. Layers of pavement had peeled away like old paint and there were some areas where small sinkholes had left huge dips in the roadway. Honestly, it was getting pretty rough and it's nice to see it receiving the attention it needs.

I was initially under the impression the job was mostly just resurfacing. This visit revealed there are many areas where the entire roadbed is being rebuilt. It's being done in a piecemeal fashion, probably the worst sections getting attention first. Cruising down the southbound lane, the worst of the two, I was pleased to hit gloriously smooth portions that had already been repaired. These would be followed by others which had yet to see attention and still more which would probably not require much of anything. Sporadically, I came to construction areas, most of which were flanked by idled equipment this late into the evening. A few of the overlooks had been resurfaced along the drive.

It was pretty easy going until I passed
Craggy Gardens. The last of the crews was still going full steam on a good sized section of road and I found myself pulling up to a line of stopped traffic waiting for the pilot vehicle to take them through the single open lane. It was just a few minutes until it came by with a long line of cars in tow. I waited my turn then fell into the queue behind our chaperon. As we passed, the opposite lane was being filled with fresh subsoil as the road was rebuilt from the very base. Work this extensive should endure. I doubt this will be anywhere close to finished until next spring season.

I left the Parkway near Asheville only to get caught up in another traffic jam on the south side of the city. Didn't matter much anymore. I'd been on the bike since 4 AM and I could see the familiar mountains of home on the horizon. I'd get there soon enough.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Freakin' Rain

Lubed up, oiled up, aired up, filled up, loaded up, new tire, new brakes, new plans, the bike sits aimed towards the horizon in the driveway poised and eager to depart, a mere key turn from hundreds of miles of open road adventure. I am so ready to go - nowhere.

"You're not really going tomorrow are you?" my mother queried incredulously when I called her to babysit my pooch. "Have you seen the forecast?"

"Looked at it a few days ago" I answered. "Thursday appeared to be the best of the week."

"Let me check the Weather Channel again", she replied, " I'll call you back".

My wife, just home from work, overheard the conversation. A few minutes later she commented with cautious hesitation, "You'd better take a look at the weather". I shuffled the newspaper around on the kitchen table looking for the forecast.
"ON THE COMPUTER", she urged with more authority.

"I can handle a little rain, it's got to be better than the last trip", came my retort, tinged with some irritation that my well laid scheme may be going awry. "I've got to get this map done!"

She walked over to her desk and woke up her laptop.

"What cities do you check?", she asked from the other room.

"Pull up here, and Roanoke, Virginia", I called out in reply. I tried to ignore the potential disappointment that was theatening to intrude into my private universe and challenge my intentions.

"You'd better come look at this", she called out a few minutes later.

I went into the den and sat on the couch where I could look over her shoulder. She had the Weather Channel pulled up and started the video of the forecast. I listened and watched as the commentator confirmed just how screwed I was. Rain covering much of the eastern United States. The moisture from the storm in Florida had been caught between two cold fronts bringing still more rain and storms. Dry and clear weather moving in from the west in a few days.

Expletives were muttered with the usual eyebrows raised in response. Not one to give up gracefully, I constructed a male ego preserving response to reinforce what I tough guy I really am.

"If I didn't need a photo for the map cover, I'd still go" I said with irritated bluster. "I can handle a little rain. Still don't have a good shot that represents the area well, though. Can't get that picture if the weather is bad". Culpable excuse ticked off the disappointment list.

"You can go over the weekend once the weather clears" my wife stated with female reason and clarity. "It's just a couple of days". I'll never know what it's like to live without testosterone. How does anything get done?

Mom called back. "You'd better look at the weather again"

"I know, I know, you don't need to watch the dog tomorrow" I informed, "Looks like another day of doing chores here. I'll go in a couple days".

Freakin' rain. Better get outside before it comes full on and get something manly done.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Found Some New Maps - Why Mine Are Better!

We celebrated my wife's birthday last night with dinner at the Pisgah Inn a few miles south of Asheville, NC., up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I know better than to reveal the details of which birthday this was, but I will disclose the meal was excellent, as good as the views from 5000 feet.

As we were leaving, I ducked into the gift shop and spied a series of maps I didn't have. I use every possible resource when planning my routes, so I shelled out $10 each plus tax for 3 maps which covered the Blue Ridge Parkway and the areas surrounding it. These are nice maps, but I wondered, were they better than mine? Had I been outclassed by the competition? I think not.

These probably wont end up in my saddlebags. The fact that that's where I'd choose to keep them is the first problem. They are just plain too big to toss in a pocket, too bulky. On looking at them I feel compelled to lay them out on a table. That's hardly useful on the road. It's hell if there's a breeze. You could fit two or three of my maps in your pocket. A map in the saddlebag is a pain in the ass. You've got to stop, get off the bike, open the saddle bag, fish around to find it, unfold it, figure out which side of the map you're supposed to be studying, find where you are, refold it, put it back in the saddlebag, yadda, yadda. I'll take a manageable pocket map, thank you.

They are pretty maps to look at with all the topographic relief and subtle shading of greens and blues and browns. The major roads and highways are fairly easy to identify, though these are the roads I avoid. There's little enjoyment in cruising down the Interstate or traversing the great four lane highways. Those little back roads that hold all the hidden secrets and great riding are just thin black lines lost in the shading and relief that adds to the artistic composition of the overall product. Like any great work of art, the devil is in the details and you really need to make the effort to pull it out. That's not very useful on the road.

Still, if you spend the time studying it, you can pull out the back roads. But which ones are the good ones? Which ones should I link together to get from A to B? There are lots of squiggly lines on the map if you search for them. On my maps, the great rides stand out. Take this one, which leads to that one, and then follow this next one to get to where you're going enjoying the best of them along the way. My maps tell you it's 6.5 miles to the next road, it will take 19 minutes or so to do the ride, then 14.3 miles and 26 minutes on the next leg. You'll know when you'll be arriving at the restaurant I recommended on the map or pulling into the town where you plan to spend the night or arriving at the park or scenic overlook that's worth your time to stop and see.

The most important info though, is something I strive to include on all my maps. Where are those out of the way gas stations? Let's face it, some of you are looking at the big "E" after just a hundred miles or so. You could plan your rides hopping from town to town, any town of size has a gas station. Me, I prefer to just keep on rolling, avoiding the traffic lights, congestion, and speed traps that come with towns. You'd be a lot more adventurous if you didn't have to worry about the dwindling petrol in your tank and have a lot more fun. I make sure to identify those backwoods oasis's that keep you motoring along as well as those which flank the Blue Ridge Parkway and free you from that long fuel hose that tethers you to the main roads.

I bought some nice maps, a little better than the free versions you can pick up along the Blue Ridge Parkway or download from the Internet. These however, will go into the reference file with many, many others. I'll pull them out to confirm locations of various points of interest and such. As a fellow cartographer, I can appreciate the effort. Yet when I head out, it will be my maps which I slip into a pocket, not a saddlebag, and whip out at a stop sign or overlook to go tearing off down some great ride through the mountains. I see things differently from a saddle with two wheels beneath me. I'm looking both for something more and something less. Just give me what I need, save the fluff for the cagers. I'll be using America Rides Maps.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Good Rain, Bad Rain

Photo - One of the few bright moments

Had I known the weather forecast I probably would have gone regardless. My mind was made up and this was the time. Looking back, maybe I should have payed it more attention.

On a positive note, I covered a little more than 500 miles before I bailed on today's reconnaissance. I knocked off a significant unexplored portion of the first Virginia map. What was left to be done is primarily re-riding roads I've been on before for comparison purposes, to judge them against those discovered since. If my earlier notes are sufficient, I may have all I need to complete the map. Gosh I hope so, it's been one heck of an effort to reach this point.

I left before sunrise, crossing the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee in patches of fog and darkness so thick at times it slowed traffic. I was prepared for this, such is the norm recently. I wore my cool and wet weather gear. My expectation was that as the day progressed, the recently oppressive heat would come on and I'd change into my mesh gear to make the remainder of the day tolerable. I expected a "chance of afternoon showers". No big deal. Just a little rain. Been there before, it doesn't slow me down much.

I paused at the border passing into Virginia as the sun was now up and I could see to review my notes and maps before I left the highway. Already, the clouds were evident, those tall thunderheads that foretell an ominous future. I hoped it would hold off until the afternoon, and the emerging sun reinforced my wishful thinking. Reaching Marion, I turned north towards West Virginia.

No sooner was I off the Interstate than the wet roads spoke that rain had already been through. It was a good road, even a great one, though the long range views that should have been making it even that much more enjoyable were lost in the gray mists of the low cloud that engulfed the mountain passage. The tight turns, often requiring a drop into first gear, were strewn with heavy patches of large gravel and slippery mud that had been washed over them by what must have been epic storms yesterday. This was a great road and I hope I will return to it one day and ride it when it can really be ridden. Today was not the day though, and I turned about once I left the border of the map instead of exploring the terrain that lays across the border of the state. West Virginia holds such promise.

Within just a few minutes the first heavy drops clacked on my helmet. It grew into a deluge that rarely abated coming in growing wave after wave of torrent and fury. My gear is typically dry in light to moderate downpours, but this was rain of a biblical scope. I pressed on. Brief forays back onto the interstate found the traffic plodding along at less than 50 mph in the blinding downpours. When the first trickle of cold seeped onto the family jewels and spread across my skivvies then down the backs of my thighs, I cringed. Hate that. Expecting heat, I wore only a light T-shirt. A chill set in that would stay with me until I got home.

I stuck with it until about 2 PM. I just couldn't get the job done any longer. There was no visibility and I couldn't really get a feel for the character of the surroundings. I was shivering and tensed up with cold which was sapping my concentration and focus. I couldn't see the tar patches, gravel, or muddy spots on the road, and too often there was enough water cascading across them to lose traction in the curves. I had survived enough close calls and slips on the hidden hazards. It was too dangerous to continue like this. I turned back towards the highway and made the cold slog homeward.

Unpacking the bike, I was taken back when I glanced at my rear tire. There is a white stripe down the center of it. I'd worn it clear down to the chords and was lucky to have made it home at all. I don't even trust it to ride to the shop for a new one, it's going on the trailer. Had I stayed out much longer, the day could have ended far more tragically. That rain may have saved my life. I supposed it was a good rain after all.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

My First Triathalon - Harder Than It Looks

Photo - Wayne, Jackie, Karen, and Chris before the race

I was goaded into this by my wife who was goaded into this by friends. Check one more thing off the bucket list, I've done a triathalon. Having previously experienced both a full and half marathon, I had no burning desire to revisit the experience. Still, it seemed like the thing to do at the time, and now I can say I've done it, and I actually didn't do all that badly after all. I can now put the
Lake Logan Triathalon behind me.

My wife chose to do this event about six weeks ago after our freinds, Chris and Karen, talked her into to trying it. I resisted at first, though I joined her on her training runs, rides, and swims acting as her coach. I did no real coaching outside of providing motivation and instigating heading for the bike or the pool when her willpower faultered. As the event drew close, I figured why not give it a go, I've been along for the training though I felt woefully unprepared to be a serious contender by any means. She didn't find out I was joining her until the day before the event.

Fortunately enough, we did the "sprint" triathalon. At less than half the distance of the full monty, we'd at least have a chance of finishing. Going the whole deal is a far more serious commitment and they probably would have fished me out of the lake before I got very far into it. 500 meter swim, 12 miles on the bike, then a 5 K run. Taken individually, each of those events is not too far out of my comfort zone. Stacked back to back, it takes its toll. On top of that, we were up at 5 AM to prepare for the early 8 AM start while the moring chill was at it's lowest point. Hardly the ideal time for a dip in the lake.

The most challenging section was the swim. The idea of plunging into the cold waters of Lake Logan was something reserved for emergencies only in my prior thoughts. While wet suits were allowed for the event, I neither had one nor did I wish to go through the bother of renting one. We all decided to tough it out. It was far more difficult than swimming in a warm indoor pool and all of us found our breath taken away by the cold water which affected us way more than expected. In this event, the competitors set off in massive waves and you found yourself amongst others also flailing about, running into one another, trying to pass or be passed. Getting kicked (hard) soon became just part of the game. To reach the finish, you had to leave the cold waters of the lake, swim under the road and head upstream in the frigid river which feeds it. The change in temperature as you approached the exit plummeted significantly just when you least needed more of a challenge.

I was so stunned after the swim, I walked instead of running to the transition area to get on the bike. I threw on my shoes and helmet, and half walked and ran the bike out to the road, pausing to put on my riding gloves like I was on a casual outing. As soon as I set off, my breakfast tried to beat me to the finish line and I coughed, sputtered and gagged for the first mile or so as I chugged through the hilly section and kept it in check. Just to make things more interesting, the instant I clipped my shoes into the pedals the skies opened up and we did the entire bike leg in a blinding downpour. Between my dark sunglasses covered in water and the sweat from my helmet washing into my eyes I could barely see for the entire race. It was particulalry problematic as we rolled through downhill curvy sections at speeds approaching 40 mph.

I managed to half run my bike back to the transition area, swap out my wet bike shoes for my water filled running shoes, wring out then throw on my wet t-shirt for the run, and try to make it appear I was actually running for the last 5 K, though I doubt it looked very pretty and the pace made calling it running quite an exageration of the term.

When all was said and very done, I finished in 86th postion amoungst hundreds of competitors, the vast majority much younger and more studly than me, and I was within 1 second or so of taking third place for my geriatric age group.

I'll be feeling this for a couple days at least and our freinds are telling us now that we are experts we should try the Lake Lure Triathalon next. At least the water is warmer. For today, that's not something I'm ready to consider.

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