Big Woods Brewing
First stop off at Brown County saw us meeting up with a Grand Rapids crew to ride some of the excellent trails and gravel that Nashville, IN have to offer. We rolled into town late Thursday and the only joint that was open was the Pine Room Tavern. As we strolled through the doors we were pleasantly greeted with live Bluegrass music, laughter and Three Floyds beer on tap. We knew right then we were on the right track. Eric Chase and Jay Morrison rolled into town a few hours after us and graciously let us occupy the floor space in their hotel room. The next days were filled with great riding, warm weather, delicious food and some fine conversation. The Big Woods Brewing company has some excellent food and i'd highly recommend the chicken wings and loaded nachos (these were a crowd favorite with our crew). We were joined by Tyler Keuning and Talon Tramper part way through our stay. As the weekend wound down our compatriots traveled back northward and we meandered into Brown County State Park to camp for the evening. Brown County State Park is only a little over 5 hours from Grand Rapids and thus make it a perfect long weekend getaway to camp, bike, hike and enjoy some craft beers.
Chillin out relaxin
The climb up to Hesitation Point
I'm lovin' it
Last night camping at Brown County State Park
Weavers Bend - Cherokee National Forest
Paint Mountain Trail
Gravel road up to Round Mountain
Narrow winding gravel up high
Logging clear cut, middle of nowhere
Wolf Creek "road"
The road is in there somewhere....
Whew, wasn't even worried....
With the weekend approaching, and the goal of meeting up with Allen Wheeler from Grand Rapids in Asheville we set forth further south into the mountains to find a new spot to camp closer to our destination. More Googling led us to find a little campground in the "town" of Meadow Fork aptly named the Meadow Fork Campground. To be sure it wasn't closed i dialed them up on my cellular device while still in Hot Springs and was greeted on the other end by a most distinct Vietnamese southern drawl of the proprietor Miss Ann and were assured that we could find respite at her establishment. The drive along 209 south out of Hot Springs is simply beautiful along a winding paved road and i couldn't help but think how wonderful it would be ripping down on a road bike. One quick turn off 209 onto 1175 found us rolling into Meadow Fork and pulling into the campground and small country store. Being the city folk we are we had approximately $3.89 between the two of us and were poorly prepared to pay with anything other than a plastic card. Thankfully there was an ATM "just over the hill" in the town of Trust. Several wrong turns later, a single scoop in a sugar cone and a hefty fee later we were back cash in hand. By Michigan standards it might as well be August, but down south folks were just getting ready for the tourist season so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The campground was small but pretty, and the bath house had all the water pressure and warmth we needed. Miss Ann even let us occupy the small outdoor pavilion where we spent our evening cooking on the Coleman, having a tasty beer and watching the stars. All was well until i decided to sharpen a cooking stick for roast sausages over the fire and promptly attempt to remove the end of my thumb with a dull multi-tool blade. Thankfully i packed zero medical supplies (added to the list for the next journey) so we made do with Taco Bell napkins and electrical tape.
The roads were just ok
Hiking up Max Patch
Gratuitous sponsor plug
Our setup at Meadow Fork Campground
While in Meadow Fork we managed to explore Max Patch which is a bald peak on the AT with amazing 360 degree views and partake in a leisurely paced road ride through the valley. While not a quick stop off the highway it's a cool spot to launch some fun hiking and riding expeditions from far away from the bustle of most tourists, After a short stay we ventured onward to Asheville to meet up with Allen for the weekend. We knew right away we would like Asheville as we passed numerous road cyclists on the back roads descending into the city, and of course from its notoriety as a town for folks who like to ride. Short on groceries we stopped off at an Ingles supermarket to imbibe Starbucks coffee and re-stock. I had briefly message with an old road racing friend Jay Dore before our trip down but hadn't made any firm plans so i sent him a note to let him know we were in town. Jay responded quickly letting us know that even though he was busy working we were welcome to say at his place and set us up with instructions and an address. Fully stocked we drove into Asheville proper passing many interesting spots along the way, and i was excited to see that Jay lives just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway which is a major thoroughfare for cyclists and motor-tourists. We made ourselves at home at Jay's house, hanging a hammock in the back yard, exploiting the Wifi, and commandeering the bike stand in the garage to do some much needed bike maintenance. It was good to see Jay when he arrived home from work as we hadn't crossed paths in a few years with me not racing road anymore and he relocating to Asheville for PA school. After some good conversation and catching up we kitted ourselves in full roadie mode to hit the Parkway for an evening ride. The BRP is an exceptional route for road cyclists to enjoy the high country in North Carolina on well maintained tarmac. The evening found the three of us back in town at the Mellow Mushroom enjoying good food and cold beverages. Allen was due to arrive early the next day, and with his arrival we had scheduled an ascent of Mt. Mitchell which is the highest point east of the Mississippi.
Taking over Jay's backyard
Rolling with BamBam on the BRP
Jenny getting it done
Allen arrive early that next morning after driving through the night from home to North Carolina. Being a night shift guy i suppose he's used to strange hours, but nonetheless i was impressed by his will to drive 11 hours then saddle up on a bike to ride 94 miles and 10,000 plus feet of elevation. Jenny elected to ride a shorter loop, joining us for the first portion of the ride up Elk Mountain then returning via the BRP. Jay equipped us with some good local route knowledge to take us through the Biltmore Forest to the base of Elk Mountain. The tight twisty ascent is certainly one way to warm the legs up for the endurance feat that is riding to the top of Mitchell. Turning off from Elk Mountain and onto the BRP is a pleasant change in grade from 7-9 percent down to 3-5 for the most part. We plodded our way up the mountains and into higher vistas at our own respective pace reconvening at times for a snack and to check in. We stopped off at the Visitors center 10 miles from the turn onto 128 which takes you to the top of Mt Mitchell. It was a good thing we stopped as we found out that the concessions atop the summit were not yet open and that they had just opened the day before. It would have been a sad day indeed to arrive at the top out of water with no way to re-hydrate! Not wanting to waste time we pushed forward to the summit and spent some time enjoying the clear skies and views. It's definitely not the easiest ride, but the rewards were tenfold. The descent from the top is blazing with speeds approaching 50 mph, but once you're on the BRP it's more relaxed with a few inclines to tackle before getting back to the city. Arriving back at Jay's house we were happy to see that his wife Kari had arrived and thus more conversation and good times were to be had. Our evening was spent having tacos and re-locating to Kari's Parent's house for room for the three of us visitors.
Jenny recovering with Survivor and snacks
Refueling pit stop
Evening fire and stories
Part two will follow shortly as i'm busy preparing for the Trans Iowa V13...