The past few years my family and other loved ones have traveled to Cherokee, North Carolina for some post Thanksgiving relaxation. Each and every person there...relaxes. Accept, I'm told, for me. I tend to want to use the getaway to get away on my bike. Everyone heads up on Friday but I have to work (Car Business) so I drive up that evening in the dark.
Usually I come prepared to ride the great trails at Tsali. I've written about it in a past blog post HERE.
This year I wanted to try something new. At first I planned to take the Ritchey Breakaway bike and ride a 30 mile loop I worked out on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But I've recently converted it to a cross bike. So I searched for some new trails that connect to fire roads or something. That's when I stumbled onto the "Road to Nowhere". It's an unfinished road that leads out of Bryson City. At the end of the pavement there's a long tunnel and multiple trails.
I arrived in Bryson City at 7:30AM. It was 26 degrees. My eyes watered just thinking about it. I ended up parking in front of Bryson City Bicycles. I didn't know it was there but figured there can't be a better place to start a ride than a bike shop. The folks in the restaurant beside it were gracious enough to let me use the restroom. The smell of bacon and coffee and pancakes was almost too much to bear. But I stayed focused and went back out to the freezing car.
As I rode out of town the lady that owns Mountain Perks stepped out to stare at me. After all, I was wintered up in cold weather armor and riding down the road to nowhere. It seemed as though she and I were the only ones in the whole town. As I slowly rode by I put my hand up and said the first thing that came to mind... "I'll be right back!"
The climb begins right away. You climb an average gradient of around 5% with pitches to 12% but they don't last that long. You can see the top when it gets that steep. It only took me about a mile to figure out I was riding toward the local high school. They were the Swain County Maroon Devils. I new this because I rode past at least 20 signs obviously painted by cheerleaders who were demanding the Devils squash, smash, and otherwise incinerate their opponent. If I were trying to accomplish something great with my time these signs would have provided me some motivation. Otherwise they were just funny.
I rode past mountain side cabins and driveways that probably lead to plush mountain homes with warm fireplaces. I thought about that as I pushed the gears. When I reached the entrance to the National Park I stopped to take a picture of the Road to Nowhere sign. It didn't turn out very well because of the sun light so you'll have to trust me.
Two little old men in a Chevy S10 came puttering up the mountain as I took the photo. We both wondered where the other was going. I never saw them again...
The climb itself was a lot like riding in the Gaps back in Georgia. You climb for a while and then descend and then climb some more. The view was great the whole time mostly because all the leaves were off the trees. There were several cleared viewing areas along the way. The climbing kept me warm and the descents took my breath. Just like the Gaps. Only I have to admit that the views were better. It's around 7 miles of this until you reach the tunnel.
I'll tell you what's funny about riding knobby cross tires on the pavement. They don't go down hill very fast. I never even used my brakes. It was kind of nice. I felt very safe on the decents. The road drops down one final time and crosses a concrete bridge. Then you climb up to the tunnel. There's a place to park and some cars were already there. I listened for the occupants but couldn't here any. Just to be sure I looked to see if any of the cars looked like they had been there all night. Nope, no frost on the windows. Those people are here somewhere.?
The tunnel was... spooky. I stopped short of it because I wanted to make a video of my very first time through it... not a pre-scouted reality TV type of video. When you watch it there's some things you should know. First, it really was pitch black. The only way I kept my bearings was to keep looking at the light at the end. Second, I was actually worried. Really. But not until the lights went out. Then all the worst horror movie thoughts ran through my head. Were there holes in the tunnel? Were there bears in the tunnel? Were there banjo pickers in the tunnel? It's probably why I kept talking. So everything in the tunnel would know I was videoing. Here... watch for yourself.
After making it through the tunnel I felt great. Invincible even!
When the road ended abruptly there was only one choice. The trails. So I headed on in to see what else the mountain had in store for me. After only a mile or so I wanted some food. I parked the Ritchey and sat down for a Cliff Bar. Peanut Butter Cliff Bar. Oh yeah.
It was nice and quiet. I listened for signs of life but it was just me and my bike hanging out in the Smokey Mountains. The weather was still in the 20's so I didn't shed any clothes but the sunlight made me feel good about my solitary situation.
After my meal I headed around what is known as the Gold Mine Loop Trail. I kept a sharp eye out for hikers and made my way around and back to the tunnel. The trail was smooth and fast but covered with leaves so I took my time.
That was fun. I'll bet it's not nearly as much fun if the trails are full of people but on a cold winter day this ride was perfect.
I made my way back down the mountain which by the way is just as hard as getting up there. You all know that in cycling... what goes down, must go back up. All the decents that froze my toes were now climbs that kept me warm. But just like a mountain bike trail is totally different when you ride it backward... the ride back to Bryson City was a new reward. It's times like that I love my hobby so much by comparison.
When I rolled back into town the bike shop was open. They had placed bikes outside and the place looked busy. I put my stuff up and fixed a recovery bottle and moseyed over to see what they had in there.
At first glance is looks pretty typical for a local bike shop. I expected a "beach" bike shop full of rentals and "laymen" bike wears. But what I got was specifically sought out items by the owners who are real bike enthusiasts.
Diane and Andy showed me a number of cool things they carried and explained why they carry them. As a small business owner myself I loved their passion for doing good business. Two things peaked my interest: Diane showed me a trunk strap that sticks out from your closed liftgate so you can loop your locking cable through it. Andy showed me the helmets they carry which have a built in light/camera mount on the top. Only $80 bucks if I remember right. These folks were great and really rounded out my adventure. Thanks guys!
I did manage to get a cup of coffee before I headed back to the cabin for a shower and some warm breakfast. The town was starting to wake up.
I think next time I'll head over to Deep Creek and try some roads over there. But the views better be really good to beat what happened on The Road to Nowhere.
Thanks for reading! Remember to wave, be friendly, and single up when you can!