Day 1 – It was raining when I woke at 5:00 AM for breakfast. It didn’t dampen my excitement (ooh). I had to catch a shuttle bus for the ride to the old Biltmore horse barn for breakfast, which was served by sleepy workers in chef’s hats. There is a coffee service on Cycle North Carolina – $30 for all you can drink, all week between 5:30 and 8:30 AM. After taking down my tent and loading it on the truck, a skill I continued to develop as the week wore on i set out for Day 1’s ride. The first five or so miles were along the well paved and beautiful Biltmore roads. I stopped and took a picture of the gate through a damp iPhone lens as I left. I’d already heard about the first accident victim. A woman broker her hip slipping on wet railroad tracks just blocks into the ride. Within a mile, still in Asheville city proper, we hit the first grade of over 10%. It was short but there were already riders getting off there bikes to push.
Bikes. You see all kinds. The majority are road bikes but there are recumbents, folding bikes, hybrids off all weights and price ranges. Plenty of folks use toe clips and plenty more ride on platform pedals in tennis shoes. I even saw one guy in Birkenstocks. For some reason, there are a lot of sporting panniers and some who carry everything they need, forgoing the baggage truck. There are also many, many tandems. They scream past you on downhills just so you can catch them on the next ascent.
With every mile that passed on this Sunday morning ride, the rain got heavier. I still had my rain jacket in my pocket since wearing it is like riding a spin bike in the sauna. I had to put it on at the first rest stop in Black Mountain however. Just a short break off the bike was enough to chill me. The rest stop looked familiar and I realized my wife and I’d attended a concert by the Carolina Chocolate Drops there a few years ago. A few blocks later I pedaled past the Monte Vista Hotel, a family favorite for years. It’s over a 100 years old and in need of repair. Hopefully the big “SOLD sign in front bodes well.
In just a few miles I hit what turned out to be the most dangerous part of the entire trip – a five-mile descent down old US 70, now a bike only path down Black Mountain to Old Fort. The path was wet and covered with leaves. Everyone I saw rode their brakes all the way down. in fact so many riders had to replace their brakes after this day that the two bike shops servicing the bikes ran out. My brakes were less than a month old. I didn’t replace them on Day 1 but I did before the week was over. Brakes normal last me a year or more. I heard an ambulance as I came down the mountain. Visibility was only 50 feet or so because of the rain and mist. I didn’t pause to rubberneck at the bottom but as I made my way into Old Fort for the next rest stop, I saw another ambulance heading toward the bike trail. In all, five riders fell badly enough to require medical attention that day.
The rest stop food on CNC is not my favorite – NutriGrain bars which have about 100 ingredients and almost no fruit, Quaker Oats Granola bars which contain partially hydrogenated oil, peanut butter crackers, apple and banana – healthy but not calorically dense enough for a big guy like me who needs 300-400 calories an hour. They did have little 7.5 ounce cans of Coke though. I love them. They contain a little sugar (actually HFCS), a little caffeine and some liquid. They work just right for me. I brought my own Sports Beans and Clif Shots so I was good, no matter what they had at the rest stops.
The mileage wasn’t long on Day 1. There was a net elevation loss as there is on every day of the ride. I got to Marion, the first night’s stop, before most folks. I left earlier than most, dawdled very little and rode faster than average. I talked to more than one rider who had ridden less this year than I rode in August. Most of them finished the whole tour – proof positive that you can get to where you are going if you don’t care how long it takes and how bad your legs and butt hurt. I quickly found a sheltered place under an awning and on a concrete pad to pitch my tent. It wasn’t comfortable but it was dry – a good thing because it rained all through the afternoon and into the night with intermittent dry periods. I ate a mediocre Mexican dinner (the largest plate they served) and went to sleep as early as possible. I didn’t sleep well. I almost never do when I camp.
Next – Day 2: Marion to Hickory – Miserably Fun.