After rolling out of bed Saturday morning and rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I looked out the window to see if the precipitation forecast for the day would greet me. In the dim light the asphalt on the street beyond the shadowy grass lawn came into focus. It wasn’t the tarmac moistened dark from the nocturnal rain that caught my attention. It was the light colored arches forming an inverse shadow beneath the water oaks.
I would ride today.
The target for the day was the Sky Top Apple Orchard in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Not having ridden to the top before, I explored the route with Google’s “bike route” feature the day before. It had me reaching the destination in four hours and thirty minutes. I knew it wouldn’t take me that long, but I had to incorporate two objectives and needed to find a way accomplish both. I wasn’t certain how the timing would work out.
I needed to get to some roads with elevation to carry out the workouts prescribed by my coach which included turning the pedals for over five hours. At the same time, I needed to make it up to the orchard in time to celebrate Thing Three’s seventh birthday. I figured I could get up to the watershed and do my workouts and then finish up picking some apples.
Looking out over the hills toward the Blue Ridge
The first obstacle of the day came in the form of a late start. At best I would get in would be five hours instead of the five and half Jim commanded. No problem, I could give the thirty minutes. My main concern was getting to the watershed in time to get my intervals in before climbing Pinnacle Road to the party.
There was no rain falling as I spun out of my driveway. The morning was cool and while the tarmac was damp, there was no standing water to make things miserable. Above me there were still clouds, but also a small patch of blue being exposed by the sun that was now coming farther over the horizon.
As I passed Sunshine Cycle Shop, I noticed riders gathering. Not sure they saw me as they were engrossed in conversation. I almost called out to them, but I knew I was already behind and couldn’t afford to stop. Kind of sad since the October issue of Bicycling Magazine just named the shop ride one of the top 50 shop rides in the country. It would not be my ride today.
Continuing on I followed part of the route the Hour of Power riders would take. A lone rider approached me going the opposite direction. It was Art! Art is the rider I wrote about two weeks ago that was caught up in a bad accident and went over the handlebars to land on this head and injure his shoulder. This would be his first HOP back. Once again I felt the call to the shop, but I rode on.
Before long I was leaving the streets of Greenville behind as the Giant led me into the rolling countryside of Northern Greenville County. It was Highway 253 that would take me to Tigerville Road and then on to Old Highway 25 and the watershed. My first landmark would be North Greenville University.
Though it was 8:30 in the morning as I approached the campus, I sporadically saw riders heading toward Greenville. Had they already ridden up to Saluda before the sun rose? They passed and I was left to consider their origin and destination. Once I reached the campus I saw even more riders arriving at a parking lot used by many riders as they begin the famous Bakery Ride. Wow, I thought I had started early!
From that point up to the where I had to decide between a left to Hendersonville and a right to Saluda, I would periodically pass riders going down. For the most part I was alone. Those times were glorious. Shortly before NGU the rain began to fall more heavily. Rather than bring misery, it brought a calming rhythm to the world around me.
As I rode alone up the winding roads all I could hear was the sound of rain drops bouncing off the broad leaves of the trees. At times I would be near enough to a creek to hear the rushing of the water. Always there was the chirping and croaking of any number of different insects and frogs.
Before I knew it, I had reached the watershed and began to attempt some of the intervals Jim had outlined. I must be honest (though he will probably read this) my heart was not in it. My heart was not in the structure of training.
My heart was in pedaling my way along taking in the wild turkey and turtles that either scurried in front of me or continued on their steady way. Suffering over the handlebars I most likely would have missed that beautiful 4 inch horned caterpillar or the shivering little chipmunk who for some reason was sitting inches from the asphalt as I rode by.
North Carolina state line
I started getting near the Apple Orchard as I began to roll into the metropolis of Tuxedo, North Carolina. I knew by this time that because of the weather the party would be moved back to our house from the orchard. If I was going to make it back on time, I would have to turn around once the computer clock read 2:45.
Pinnacle Road – an insanely steep road that takes you to the orchard – greeted me when the clock read a little past 2:20. Hey, I could make it all the way to the orchard AND still make it back in time for the party! I attacked the road with gusto. It attacked me right back!
You climb nearly 850 feet in three miles to an elevation of around 2700 feet. However, the hardest part of it is that several times the grade kicks up to at least 20% or more. Not often do I think I am going to have to stop and walk, but this time I almost did!
Still, I made it to the top before 2:40 rolled across the face of my Garmin. After taking a moment to alert the beautiful redhead to my location, I turned around and started the hair-raising descent back down Pinnacle Road — with wet rims and brakes! I confess, I basically rode the brakes the whole way down sliding my body onto the rear of the seat.
Click map to see Cyclemeter map
Then it was time for some fun! While the ride up to the orchard was about slowly enjoying the nature around me, coming back was all about making sure I made it to my son’s birthday bash on time. What a blast coming down the watershed at 40 mph! My average home increased by 4 mphs over the ride up.
It was one of those grinning days. Those days where I climb off the bike with that grin that doesn’t show up so much on my face as it does on the inside. Training is good and when you are about to embark on an endeavor like I am in 6 days, you need to train. However, sometimes you just need to grin.