Mt. Mitchell Weekend

I’ll admit, it was my idea to climb Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern US, this weekend, but everyone who came along agreed that Chris was as much to blame, since he picked the route and convinced us to follow through on the plan.

Here he is getting ready to make like Iban Mayo on a good day.

That plan consisted of a late morning start at the Spruce Pine Mineral Museum, where we could park the cars and jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there we would ride 30 miles, topping out at the parking lot atop Mt. Mitchell, then turn around and come back. Starting elevation is about 2,800 feet; the Mt. Mitchell parking lot is at about 6,600 feet. Throw in the numerous, near constant ascents and descents along the route and it adds up to a lot of climbing. Let me repeat that: A lot of climbing.

Here’s the route.

The climbs start immediately, with a couple of ascents that total about four miles. Here, Chris and Jane cruise into an overlook at the top of them. For the record, we’re all still smiling.

The climbing starts in earnest once you pass Hwy. 80. From there, the grades are steep, long and unrelenting. To the spur road that leads up Mt. Mitchell, you’ll have about nine miles of uninterrupted climbing to warm you up for the final ascent.

Along the way, there are five tunnels to pass through. Bring a blinker, because you’ll be in there with cars, campers and motorcycles.

There are few places along the Parkway to resupply, so we cached water, fruit and Gatorade at the base of Mt. Mitchell. The cooler was a welcome sight. We paused for a few minutes (except for Albert and Chris, who were itching to get to the top) and refueled. Tommy, David, Jane and I then set off on the slow, grinding ascent up Mt. Mitchell. The summit observation tower, 1,500 feet and 4.8 miles above, taunted us.

The first couple of miles pitch upward pretty steeply. My inelegant approach, which saw me lose ground to the others, was to spin a 32×25 and concentrate on keeping a steady, but slow pace. After what seemed like a long time I reached the false flat at the park entrance.

The good thing about reaching this point is that you suddenly feel like you’ve accomplished something. I spun along in a 42×23, at about 16 mph, and started to celebrate. Then the road headed sharply uphill again for the grueling last mile.

That was the worst mile of the ride. My legs were already cramping, and I was ready to be there, and that mile took longer than any mile in memory. But then I arrived. Here we are – (l-r) me, Tommy, Jane, and David.

The descent was a screamer: 40 mph+ down the mountain, leaving cars trailing far behind. What took maybe 40 minutes to climb took less than ten to descend. We paused again at the bottom, then slowly set off for the return trip. Here’s the view as we descended toward Hwy 80.

Tired, cramped legs coupled with some stiff climbs left me feeling worn out. I settled into a comfortable but slow rhythm and reminded myself of the cold beer waiting back at the house. I finally rolled in after a total of five hours in the saddle. Here I’m swearing never to ride again.

And here’s Albert, ready for another 60 miles.

Total for the day: 60.1 miles and a truckload of suffering. Plus more than a little satisfaction for making it up the mountain and back.

And I was back on my bike the next day, riding 43 miles on a much flatter, faster route in Greensboro.

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