AVL-BOONE-AVL

Father's Day is tomorrow, Shona has given me a go to take on whatever size adventure feels right. The first adventure that came to mind was a self supported road ride from Asheville, NC to Boone, NC. I have been dreaming about this route for a while, now was my chance to find out what the experience would be like. The route I chose would require 18,757ft of climbing in 214 miles. I hit up my friend Crystal who lives in Boone to let her know I was about to start pedaling her way and that we should grab a brew when I get there. It’s now 10:30ish and time to get the adventure started.

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Not wanting to put any expectation on how this trip would go I didn’t tell anyone what my full plan included. I told Shona that I was heading north on the Blue Ridge Parkway and let everyone else know that I was shooting for a +100 mile day. For these missions I take my Spot Tracker so Shona, friends and family can track me along my adventure. I did a quick mental review of the mileage between water sources along the Parkway. This time of year every campground and visitor center is open which makes the ride so much more efficient. Here is a list of everything I left my house with. 

Gear List: 4 water bottles, 4 Bars, 1 sandwich bag of trail mix, waist pack(fanny pack), goal zero backup charger, charging cables, rain jacket, arm sleeves, reflective vest, 2 headlights, 1 tail light, 2 feed bags, trucker hat, basic tool kit including spare brake pads and cable. 

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My route wasn’t completely set but I knew I would be taking the Blueridge Parkway from Asheville to Boone. The closest access to the Blueridge Parkway is only 3 miles from my house, the rest of the ride to Boone would be on the parkway. Once on the parkway it was a steady climb for the next 18 miles to Craggy Overlook. My late start put me on the parkway during a very busy time. I kept myself entertained with looking at license plates of tourist and tried to imagine my surroundings as a first time tourist. It’s easy to get jaded with the beauty of Pisgah National Forest in my daily commute and training rides. The first pitch to Craven Gap is a ride I do weekly as a quick out and back lunch break ride. Legs were feeling good so I worked on getting a steady state pedal that wasn’t overly taxing. It took me almost 2:30 hours to get to the Craggy Overlook Visitor Center. The parking lot was out of control, every parking space was taken and then it was a free for all to park wherever you could. An older gentleman was curious about my ride and asked me several questions, one of the questions being “How much further are your riding today?” After telling him that I was only 20 miles into a +200 mile ride he gave me a blank stare and walked away. Not tryin to waste any more time I finished my snack and refilled my water bottles. The next resupply spot on the parkway was in Little Switzerland 30 miles away. I pushed on dropping some elevation from Craggy that gave my legs a nice break and the high speed down hill boosted my stoke. Flying down the long descents I hit speeds close to 50 mph, riding at high speed is fun but it takes a great deal of concentration and focus. Any time I started to drift away in thought I had to make sure to bring myself back into the moment. 

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Little Switzerland is not only my next resupply but it is also half way to Boone. The Little Switzerland Cafe is a gem but you have to get there before 4pm if your looking to grab a bite in the cafe. I made it just in time to order an adult grilled cheese and pick up a couple of Cliff Bars before they closed for the day. Feeling good after rehydrating and stoppin for a meal. Next stop is 20 miles away at Linville Campground which is a beautiful spot to camp but for this trip I only pulled up to the water fill up station, refilled my bottles and I was back off toward Boone. I'm using this route to see how things feel after a long ride in the saddle so I’m keeping my stops short to work on my efficiency. 10 minutes extra here and there adds up. I have looked back at some of my mistakes in +300 mile races and calculated how much time I wasted in 48-60 hours of racing.

Miles gained by other racers = (resupply time x mph)/60min

On most of the mountain bike ultras the lead racers are holding a 10-12mph pace which means an extra 30 minutes resupplying gives the other racers time to traversed 5-6 miles. Not too big if that only happens once during a race but these races typically take between 24-48 hours. Minutes turn into hours and hours turn into miles gained by the other racers. 

The next stop after Linville was Boone. Less than 24 miles till I was in Boone grabbing dinner. This ended up taking a little longer than planned due to enjoying ripping down a descent and passing up the exit for 321 into Blowing Rock. No worries though because the next option into town was going through and area called Bamboo, a nice alternative on a few back roads and I was in Boone. This was my first time taking this route from the parkway into Boone and I think I prefer it to the often busy 321.

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Crystal was at  the climbing gym when I arrived so I headed to the Celebrity Diner for a quick dinner. My goal was to be back on the road by 10pm at the latest so that I would be rolling back into Black Mountain around sunrise. I am now 100 miles and 10,000ish feet of climbing into the ride. After dinner I over route options to get back to Asheville and chose to take the climbing down a little by going out of Boone Via 321 and dropping down towards Morganton. After demolishing a black bean burger and fries it was time to go meet up Crystal for a brew from Appalachian Mountain Brewery. It is a perfect night to ride all night. The cool air is refreshing as I head over to the brewery. Live music and good beer reignited my stoke for the rest of my adventure back home. 

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A quick stop at a gas station just before the start of the 321 climb out of Boone was essential to make sure I had everything I needed to keep me fueled for the trip back. It’s not about buying the most nutrient dense food on these big trips. I need dense calories and sugar to keep my energy up for the next 100 miles. Due to the time frame that I’ll be riding I also have to make sure that I have all of the calories for the rest of the trip home if necessary. The late night rides through small towns means that there might not be anywhere open to resupply. Finding water isn’t as big of a worry for me down this stretch since I will be following rivers and streams most of the way back. In this area there are also a ton of churches which usually have a water spicket available. 

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Descending down 321 at midnight was the highlight of my ride. In 8 miles I dropped over 2,000 vertical feet into the valley below hitting top a top speed of 40mph despite the howling winds. In the darkness of night the valley floor sparkled with the lights of the town and houses far below. The next section of the route was super mellow with rolling hills back into Marion. It is now 4am and I needed to lay down and close my eyes for a few minutes before finishing my ride. The town had a visitor center on route so I pulled in to stretch out on a park bench. This is part of why Im out here, I needed to know how I would feel late night and test out what a 30 minute nap would do for me before continuing on to Old Fort. 

Somehow when restarting my route back I changed my google directions and before I knew it I was on a very different route than I had expected. Google redirected me the scenic route which was nice to be off of the higher traffic Old US 70 that had several big pickup trucks blowing past me just before Marion. This new route also had a few dogs I hadn’t anticipated but the adrenaline from sprinting away from a large dog in the darkness gave me the boost I needed to ride the rest of the way to Old Fort fully awake. Pulling into Old Fort was a huge relief. There was only 20 miles left to my adventure and only one substantantial climb left, the Point Lookout Trail. I have ridden this climb probably over 100 times because it is also the climb back out from the Kitsuma and Heartbreak Ridge loops. The trail is a paved greenway that offers an amazing overlook about a mile from the top which has two benches facing off into the Royal George. My timing was just right to catch the sunrise from the lookout and since I was only 15 miles from home I decided to take one more 30min nap on one of the benches. The last 15 miles flew by and since it was 8am on a Sunday morning I was almost the only one out on the road between Black Mountain and Old Fort.

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It was now Fathers Day so my thoughts were full of how blessed this year has been with Micah in our lives. I gave Shona and Micah a big hug when I walked into the house before heading to bed to recover, such a rad first Fathers Day!

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Shona McHone