Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Asheville or Bust: Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Night 8 - July 28, 2016 - Johnson City > Asheville, NC
This was it.  My last day on the road for a while.  Well, last day on the road on a bicycle for a while.  In about 70 miles, I would be sipping Piña Coladas on the beach in Asheville.  Just like in the Jimmy Buffett song.  Yup, only 70 miles to the promised land.  Only 70 miles through the mountainous Cherokee and Pisgah National Forest.  Yup, only.  Oh, and it was raining.

Fortunately, I had about 25 miles of flat before the mountains started, giving me some time to ride out the rain in the Cherokee National Forest.  It was in that flat, dark, damp National Forest that I had a close encounter of the chuffing kind.  I had to take a quick pee break, so I pulled off to the side of the road, propped my bike up against a sign post, and ventured into a wooded patch so as to stay hidden from any late night drivers with halogen high beams.  The area I headed off into was near a small creek, and while I stood there taking care of things, a loud grunting noise came from the woods not too far off.   I instantly assumed it was a razor-fanged bear, engaging a primal survival reflex that clamped my ureter shut.  Apparently I didn't have to go that bad.  After hightailing it to my bike, I headed south less afraid of the impending vertical doom and more so of the potential furry doom.

I later spoke with an animal expert friend who explained that the sound I'd heard was chuffing (a non-threatening greeting), not grunting, and that it likely wasn't a bear.  In fact, it was more likely to have been a badger, muskrat, otter, or weasel, especially considering there was water nearby.  I still think it was a bear and that I had once again slipped through the icy grasp of the grim reaper.  Not my first bicycle bear, nor my first badger.

Around the 21 mile mark, I reached Erwin, TN, the last stop for a soon-to-be weary, southbound, uphill cyclist.  After grabbing a coffee and stowing a Skittles reward for when I reached the top of the biggest climb, I started the ascent.  I had four ascents ahead of me, actually:
  1. Miles 21-22: 250'
  2. Miles 23-30: 920'
  3. Miles 31-38: 1600'
  4. Miles 41-44: 500'
It was on that first climb that I had my second animal encounter of the day, this time with a juvenile opossum.  As I slowly chugged up the hill, there it was, all fuzzy and creepy faced in the middle of the shoulder.  Not one to be bullied out of a lane by a rodent, I hollered at it to get out of my way.  In response to my request, it froze in place, playing possum.  I was forced to ride around it, as it never moved the entire time that I watched it, bringing me to a point learned a few months back.  In North America, we have opossums, not possums.  So that opossum was not playing possum, it was oplaying opossum.  I have used possum wrong in the past, and I will use it wrong in the future.  Much like when pronouncing Pho.  I know that it's 'fuh', not 'foe', but everyone else calls it 'foe', so why rock the boat?  Also, if you think our opossums are creeps, check out Australia's phalangeriformes.

After that, it was climb, climb, climb in the dark, dark, dark, winding through the heavily forested and appropriately designated Pisgah.  There was even a real butt of a climb just before reaching my third summit involving a 100' climb over .1 miles.  Mathing that out, it appears to have been over a 17% grade.

Going up that third summit, the sun started to rise, exposing the animals that had remained hidden under the cover of night.  While riding past a wide field, I noticed a large deer standing and staring at me.  He was a few hundred feet away and was not breaking eye contact.  I wasn't sure why he was staring or what he wanted.  Was it my bike?  Why would a deer even want my bike?  I'd let him try to ride it, but I doubt he'd get anywhere.  Oh man, I would feel like an idiot if that deer actually could ride a bike and he took off with all my gear while I stood there incredulously.  Anyway, we stared at each other for a while before I finally rode past a large patch of tall bushes that were obscuring three other deer (including a baby) from my sight.  That papa deer was the decoy, and the others had been walking away from me towards the safety of the woods.  Once they caught sight of me, they took off, only needing a few leaps to reach the tree line.

After the deer I saw a baby cow sleeping in a field.  It was adorable.  Here's a picture of that baby cow:

Baby Cow!

After all the climbing, I was beat, but I still had about 25 miles to go.  I was done going upwards, though, and that was as good as being in Asheville, even if the sun was already out and starting to roast me.  Those last 25 zipped by effortlessly, with the only memorable aspect being my last animal encounter of the day.  I watched two hummingbirds fly around seeming to kiss each other, doing what I hoped was a sexy, flitting mating dance.  This was probably not the case, though, as hummingbirds are fiercely territorial, and the kisses were likely beaked assaults.

By the time I reached Asheville, all of my climbing sweat had evaporated and been replaced by summer sun sweat which was then washed away by Asheville rain.  It does that a lot in Asheville.  Between the rain and sweat, there's just no way to stay dry.

And that was that.  The end of the southbound ride.  I only went half as far as I'd planned, but it was as far as I was willing to go.  Aside from my new knee brace, everything went as well as I could have hoped.  I didn't die and I saw some things.  Good enough.

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