There is so much beauty that surrounds us. It is a beauty
that can bring us joy when we take the time to “Go Out and See”. This past week, I had the pleasure of being
part of a beautiful day and a challenging bike ride. It provided an opportunity
to see the lovely landscape of farms, rivers and mountains that form parts of
western Haywood County, North Carolina.
It is that time of year when the leaves are coming back as the green
foliage slowly progresses up the mountainside. Winter is being left behind and the
memory of the cold distant mountain is replaced by soft layers of life and
Our journey begins at the town of Crabtree, where we head
west on Riverside Road. Here we bike for several miles next to the Pigeon River
until we reach the town of Riverside. It is here that we start our first
serious mountain ascent. It is approximately 1.5 miles of winding switchback
climbs. Our fast and perilous descent takes us to the town of Panther Creek,
where we begin the long sweeping terrain of hills and straights. Halfway
through our journey we merge onto Fines Creek Rd. In the town of Fines Creek is
the only gas station in more than 15 miles in any direction. We fuel up on
nuts, fluids and protein, and encourage each other for the mammoth climb to come.
One man, who is fueling his tractor,
asks us are we going up the mountain, in which we reply…yep that’s the plan. He
smiles and laughs and says “good luck”. He obviously knows something about the
mountain we don’t. But we know it is a 1.5 mile climb with a 5% gradient. It is
straight up with one or two slight curves. It is intimidating. We start the
climb and there are times when I look up and all I can see is the road horizon
in the sky. There are times when I want to stop, my will in question, my legs
in pain, but realize how difficult it would be to start uphill without momentum.
The descent at speeds nearing 40 mph is
a test of skill and nerve to say the least, but liberating. For nearly 2 miles,
one can only hold on aerodynamically and hope that no unforeseen problems
arise. Finally, after 18 miles, our return to Crabtree is a quick flowing pace
that allows for some reprieve and scenic viewing.
After the bike ride, the best part of the day is the drive
afterwards. We retrace our journey via the car and take photographs. Eighteen of
two hundred have been digitally retouched and included in the slideshow.
So what do we gain when we “Go Out and See”? For me, there
is the liberating feeling of joy that can stay with you a lifetime. There is also the possibility of discovering things
once unknown in my surroundings and in my soul.
What motivates you to take time out of your busy schedule to
“Get Out and See”? What would you like to discover in nature or local history? What
would it mean, and how would it enrich your life?
Take a moment and think about the last time you made the
extra effort to get out and discover. Let me know what you found.
One of the best places to road bike is along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. The BRP stretches for hundreds of miles (approximately 470) through North Carolina and Virginia. It is one of the most beautiful scenic rides in the country. The parkway follows the Appalachian Mountain chain. From Shenandoah National Park the parkway follows the Blue Ridge, eastern rampart of the Appalachians. It then skirts the southern end of the massive Black Mountains, named for the dark green spruce and fir that cover them. Then it weaves through the Craggies, the Pisgahs, the Balsams to end up in the Great Smokies. I had the pleasure of staying at the famous Pisgah Inn located on the southern end of the parkway, at Mount Pisgah about 30 miles from Asheville, NC. You can marvel at the forest-clad mountain peaks, mist filled coves, and the slopes of fragrant balsams, rhododendrons, mountain laurel and flame azalea. It was a great week of biking, hiking (Graveyard fields to the Upper Falls), art galleries (Blue Spiral and galleries in the River Arts District), independent films (La Vie En Rose, the story of French singer Edith Piaf) and fine dining (organic, Thai and Indian). But I must say that for a spectacular view, and good food, the restaurant at the Pisgah Inn with its panoramic view overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains is unsurpassed. And finally, a perfect end to an evening is sitting on your private back porch watching the sun set beyond the mountains.
I am very fortunate that were I live, I can immediately access miles of rural back roads to immerse myself on my road bike. I spoke earlier about the sense of transformation that is achieved while biking. Here on these winding roads and gently sloping hills, I pass by farm lands, historic areas, woods and beautiful estates. What enhances a great ride is the right music. There is a distinct difference in the selection of music for road and mountain. On the road there is a need to be able to hear your surroundings for safety measures. Hence, my selection is always, soft, slow dancing ambient. My favorite band for a ride is the neo-classical ambient band from Austin Texas, Stars of the Lid. In fact, this has been the most prolific band for me in the past two years. This is aural mastery of the highest order. In contrast, when mountain biking, there really is no need to be conscious of your surroundings. Now your music can flow anyway you like. For the mountain, I prefer long flowing electronic sounds from bands like AES Dana, Bombay Dub Orchestra and Near the Parenthesis, or French Pop artists like Etienne Daho, France Gall, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Alizee to name a few. It is here on the mountain when you need that extra aural drive to push your rhythm to its fullest—to make that climb.
But here in the South biking takes on a whole new dimension. It explodes with energy and beauty. Both road biking and mountain biking provide a means to an enriching and trans-formative end. This post entitled “Biking to a Place Inside and Out” includes a gallery of images that records visually that magnificent end. And it is an attempt to express the color, beauty, emotional, and physical essence of biking. It is difficult to say what I enjoy most–road or mountain biking. They both provide their own unique challenges. The mountains of Western North Carolina, and the forest areas of South Carolina harbor great recreational parks such as Tsali, DuPont State Forest, Bent Creek, and Laurel River in NC and Paris Mountain, Southside and FATS (Forks Area Trail System (named one of the top 10 machine-made trail systems in the country)) in SC. These are moderate and difficult level trails with hundreds of feet in elevation changes. They are comprised of single track, access roads, and some, like the Left and Right Loops at Tsali, a single track that the rider navigates around a large man-made lake (Fontana Lake). In a recent conversation with a fellow rider, we discussed the horrible consequence of making a riding error and going over the edge into the lake (not good). In the winter the lake is drained and in the summer it is at full capacity. Until then, it had not occurred to me that the prospect of losing one’s bike to the lake could become a reality. But a challenge is a challenge, and in mountain biking especially, there can be no room for fear. Both the Left and Right Loops are each approximately 12 miles in length, and any lapse in concentration could be costly. In contrast to the obvious hazards, Tsali is a very beautiful recreational park located on the borders of Swain and Graham counties with the Great Smokey Mountains as its magnificent playground. One can only marvel at the beautiful surroundings that become infused with every fiber of your being as you push, pedal and commit yourself to go one yard farther—to make that climb. Throughout most of these parks are rivers, gorges, tree roots, rocks, creek crossings, ravines, dead drops, imposing trees everywhere, and some that provide mountains summits that climb to 5000 feet. Expect to fall, expect to get hurt. These and numerous other challenges test the will, the level of oxygen deprivation to the muscles, balance, hand/eye coordination, timely decision making, and your overall physical stamina.