Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Home for the Weekend - a story in three parts

Part I: A Study of Roadside Bathrooms
Finding the perfect bathroom/gas stop on a road trip takes a higher level of competency than most people realize. This is an important skill to have as a successful road trip heavily depends on the quality of rest stops. The selection process begins with the parade of signs along the highway. An exit with only one gas station posted is probably not your best bet. These gas stations do not have any competition at their exit and therefore have no incentive to keep up their inventory or their toilet paper supply. At the same time, an exit with several gas stations posted in the center of a large town such as Harrisonburg is also probably not a good choice as these gas stations are usually smaller, do not cater to the needs of the long road tripper, and are usually fairly congested. The best rest stop exits are those that are positioned on the outskirts of large towns such as Johnson City, TN with several gas stations posted. You can especially be assured of a good exit if the restaurant stops include a Cracker Barrel. Gas stations at these exists know they need to be prepared for the high maintenance road tripper.

Last weekend I made the 8 hour pilgrimage down to North Carolina to visit my family and get a little riding in on the side (western NC is the best place in the WORLD for road riding and mtb). Along the way I made a photo-documentary of all the rest stops I visited in effort to provide a resource to future road trippers who may follow my path down 81 South…and then back up 81 North (or as Lorena likes to say “The 81 South”.) This is especially important when traveling to races, as a good bathroom stop can make all the difference when sprinting for the finish line. Below you will find a collection of photos from this trip along with location information and some useful notes.

Rest Stop #1
Location: 81 South
Exit: 247B (I think)
Gas Station: Pilot
Notes: Fairly clean, nice flower arrangement as well as a good inventory of perishables and hardware

Rest Stop #2
Location: 81 South
Exit: 19
Gas Station: CITGO
Notes: Very clean, good inventory, curious bathroom setup….really though, what is going on here?

Rest Stop #3
Location: 81 North
Exit: 19
Gas Station: Shell
Notes: Not amazing, not horrible. I think I’ll stick with the Double Dutch bathroom at CITGO next time.

Rest Stop #4
Location: 81 North
Exit: 257 (or maybe it was 251)
Gas Station: Sheetz (the best gas station ever)
Notes: Very clean, lots of bright colors, excellent inventory, good people watching

Part II: My Highway Jesus

There’s really not much to be said here. Any good road trip south of the Mason-Dixon Line is going to involve some kind of roadside Christian eye-candy. I hope to flesh out this collection of photos a little more in the coming months.

Would Jesus have done this? Is this His tag?

Don't look back!

Saint Michael: Patron Saint of Gluttonous Fuel Consumption

Part III: The Most Beautiful Ride Ever
Over the years I have done this ride countless times, in good weather and bad, and each time I fall a little more in love. This is the kind of ride that reminds me why I love my bike…this is especially important at the end of another racing season. Not only does this ride provide some of the most beautiful scenery the southern Appalachians have to offer, but it also carries a lot of sentimental value for me. As a toddler I walked along the banks of the French Broad hand in hand with my grandfather, as a child I played in the waters at the base of Looking Glass Falls, as an adolescent I camped under the stars in the backcountry, and as a young adult I have come to love road and mountain biking on the endless roads and trails that leave you begging for more. Oh, and then there was that period of brief homelessness when I lived out of my Toyota Tacoma in the North Mills River Campground.

Ok, enough with the dramatics, I’ll just give you the ride report. I believe the ride is a total of 55 miles with….a good amount of climbing. I’m not sure how many total feet of climbing there is, but I believe it starts at around 1,500 feet and climbs well over 5,000 feet. So, I parked in the BI-LO parking lot and rode into the main entrance of the Pisgah National Forest on state road 276. In the summer the entrance of the Pisgahs is adorned with a necklace of brightly colored inner tubes as tubing down the Davidson River is a favorite pastime for many in the area, young and not so young, skinny and not so skinny, rich and not so rich. One might say that tubing in the Appalachians is the great equalizer. At this point in the ride the road is fairly flat….but ever so slightly up hill.

After about 30 or 45 minutes of riding (I think) I came to Looking Glass Falls, an impressive waterfall that is easily seen from the road. I only wish it were a little more secluded. With the road so close, it seems to cheapen its beauty. Soon after Looking Glass Falls I came across Sliding Rock, and stopped to watch as countless people line up for their turn to slide down this massive piece of granite (I think it’s granite) into the chilling waters below. Back on my bike, I can feel the beginning of the rollers that eventually lead into the climb. Before the climb really begins I pass the Cradle of Forestry, which is more or less the birthplace of the US Forest Service. I could go on for pages about the significance of this forest museum, but I will try to stay focused.

Once passed the Cradle of Forestry, the traffic starts to thin down and the road begins to go up. All in all I believe the climb up to the Blue Ridge lasts about 35 minutes. It’s a fairly gradual climb with a wealth of tight switch backs. I must say, the climb goes by much faster in the summer when you’re not wearing a gazillion layers. Once on the Blue Ridge the climbing is not quite over. I hung a left and headed in a western direction. Passing Cold Mountain on my right and Looking Glass Rock on my left I was rewarded with a panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the winter the rock cliffs are covered endless rows of icicles, but that day the heat of the summer beat down and I hoped that I wouldn’t run out of water. The road continues to climb for another 10 or 15 miles and eventually reaches its highest point somewhere around Yellowstone Falls (near the Shining Rock wilderness).

And so the descent begins!!! Woohoo! This is the icing on the cake. This is the closest I will ever come to the feeling of flight….unless of course I were to fly off the mountain at the apex of a turn. The descent is briefly interrupted by Devil’s Courthouse Tunnel….take caution here ‘cause it looks short, but it is black as night in the middle and it sucks to be in there with traffic. Soon after passing through the tunnel, I turned onto 215 heading toward Rosman, and this is where the true descent begins.

The descent down 215 gradual brings you back into civilization…or at least rural Appalachia. At the base of the descent there is a store stop which is a good place to restock on food and fluids before the final stretch of the ride (note: they only accept cash). I rode 215 until it hits 64 and hung a left towards Brevard. This is the less enjoyable part of the ride as 64 is a fairly busy road, although it does have a nice wide shoulder….and some interesting relics of southern Christianity. Again, this road really isn’t so enjoyable.
Back at the car, I cleaned up a bit, got a nice big cup of lemonade and headed towards Davidson River where I went for a refreshing swim. Wow, what a beautiful day.

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