Little Switzerland to Asheville. 54.5 miles, 5100 feet of climbing. What a day! Today, we were joined by Lucas McCain, Rusty’s son, David Sweeney, a triathlon buddy of Rusty’s from Nashville, and Krista Lewis, a good friend and a strong rider from our Blue Ridge Cycling club. I was decidedly the oldest, and slowest member of this group, but that’s what makes it fun – good people trying to do their best on a challenging ride. Mary Ann McCain and Michelle Sweeney escorted us these 55 miles and did a great job shepherding us around busy Saturday Blue Ridge Parkway sightseeing traffic.
Our route took us past the entrance to Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Lucas, a tremendously strong rider, elected to divert, make the climb to the summit, descend, and still caught us before we hit Asheville. Quite a feat. Our group separated around Mt. Mitchell. Rusty was determined to keep up with the younger group so I brought up the rear. Lots of climbing but once we passed Mt. Mitchell and arrived at the popular Graggy Gardens picnic area, it was a glorious 18-mile screaming downhill to the Folk Art Center, a popular tourist spot on the Parkway. My descent was in the 30 mph+ range pretty much the entire way. This descent, unlike the climbing sections where the speeds were 6-9 mph depending on the gradient, we made the downhill in well less than an hour – what an exhilarating ride!
We still had 10 miles to go until the day’s stopping point on the other side of Asheville, about 15 minutes from where I live. Asheville area residents often use this section of the Parkway to connect to the far side of town avoiding traffic which meant far more vehicles than we were accustomed to, but thankfully, the motorists were respectful of cyclists on the Parkway, a frequent site. Pam, along with a dear friend, Stephanie Wallace, met me – thanks so much for your support. It was very nice to sleep in my own bed last night!
We planned to regroup Sunday morning and make the grueling climb up the Parkway, past the Pisgah Inn, to our stopping point, a ride of about 40 miles with another 5000 feet of climbing. However, the weather turned nasty about 5:00 am this morning, bringing rain which is predicted until mid-afternoon. Since we’re now home and not tied to a hotel schedule, at 6:30 am we decided to not ride in the rain and commence our journey tomorrow (Monday) morning. A prudent decision due to the weather and not taking undue risks such as descending on wet roads. The weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday looks delightful and certainly influenced our decision.