November 12, 2011, about a week ago, I had planned a ride up north to a road I had never been on before, NC-281.
This is the actual route:
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The weather is clear, and cool this morning -- starting out about 35 -- but it will rise to about 50 degrees later in the day up in the mountains. I have bundled up, so I am comfortable, though.
The point at which I will join NC-281 is west of Rosman North Carolina, and the most direct way to get there is up US-178. I am getting more used to the turns on this road with each traverse, I find, with a little less trepidation and maybe a little more speed in places. Still not fast by many measures, but a little faster than before.
Above Rosman, I turn left onto US-64, a heavily traveled road that I don't particularly care for because of that traffic. I pass by the turnoff to NC-215, an interesting road that leads to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and that has recently been paved. It is smooth as silk. I think about going that way for a few seconds.
[No, Bucky, you have other plans right now, to see some new places. Maybe later.]
I go for a little more than seven miles until NC-281 branches off to the right. There are several side roads for the first two or three miles, but then it gets more desolate as the terrain becomes more rugged.
The road surface is disappointingly rough, and there is gravel scattered in some places. That, coupled with my unfamiliarity with the road, make for a less-than-ideal ride. To boot, two other riders pass me as though I am standing still. Both of them make control of their bikes look so effortless. They are out of sight in mere seconds.
That grinds on me, though I shouldn't let it. On a curvy road, it only takes a short time for another rider to get out of sight, after all, even if he is only going a little faster than you are. Yet, I long for more skill and to trust my machine, its tires, and the road more like they seem to. It is mostly the latter -- the road -- that is the most concern. A patch of sand or gravel could make for a loss of traction in a turn, so I am continually playing it very safe.
I press on to my goal, the dam on Wolf Creek Lake, at Pushpin C on the map. It turns out that this earthen dam is not very interesting. The fall colors are all gone here. A few truckloads of Christmas trees pass while I am stopped looking around -- the only traffic I have seen up here.
I decide that I should turn back instead of going further on 281. I had originally planned to head back east on Charley's Creek Road, to the north. It looks very twisty on the map, and, with my luck today, will turn out to be a bust.
[Bad attitude coming out, there Bucky.]
I retrace my path a little ways to Wolf Mountain Road. I make a left, toward the east, there. It turns into Tamassee Creek Road, and, later, Joe House Road (or Tamassee Gap Road) before reaching NC-215. The road is fairly well paved, and there are some sheer cliffs high above the road along one stretch.
At 215, I could turn left, to the north, ride only about eight and a half miles, and see if the Blue Ridge Parkway is open. The Parkway is almost always a good ride, though it may be closed due to the weather here at the higher elevations today. I have seen some icicles on the north-facing cuts in some places I have been today, so I decide not to go that way.
As I turn onto NC-215 south, I find that there is a glut of traffic. Slow-moving traffic. Nuts, another downer. This recently surfaced road is wasted today. I pull off three times to allow the cars to get ahead, but I catch up to them too soon. These nine miles are not much fun. I ought to just slow down and enjoy the scenery.
All in all, my day has not been the most inspiring. I am bummed out by the trip thus far, in fact. Maybe close to pouting.
At Rosman, I retrace my route back down US-178. The traffic has thinned out here compared to 215 for some reason. I step up the speed a little, since I am more familiar with this road than with others I have been on today. I feel a little better now, and there is a glimmer of hope of enjoyment for this segment of my route. The road surface is clean, so that helps instill a bit of confidence as well.
I am not yet in a great mood, but it is improving a little.
Well, I get to about the same spot that photographer Patrick Welch caught me digitally back in June of 2009, rounding the S-curve here just south of Rocky Bottom. The southern curve has a tighter radius than the northern, so your lean angle has to be greater at the same speed.
See the curves here. The Pushpin is at the tighter of the two curves.
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A photo taken by Patrick:
That is when it happens.
I am doing just fine, and I'm pretty much in comfortable control. [That's nice.] It almost feels as though I have found a "groove" on this turn, as I am not tensed up as much as I have been in the past.
At the tightest spot of the curve, I feel a scraping. Whoa! What's that? I am still in control, not crashing, as far as I can tell. [That is a good thing, generally speaking.]
It dawns on me that the toe of my boot has touched the pavement!
That has never happened before.
A quick post-toe-touch analysis of the moment reveals that I have the arch of my boot, rather than my toe, on the peg. It is more comfortable for my long legs that way, and even though I know putting your toes on the pegs in preparation for a turn provides more clearance, I had never had to put that into practice. My boot is tight against the stay, so I don't think it is pointed outward very much. I have my foot positioned with the toe pointing downward somewhat, so the ground clearance is less than it would otherwise have been.
Let's check that. A closeup, taken from another 2009 picture in that curve, shows me with my other boots on. I had the ball of my foot on the peg instead of my arch then.
Looks like a few inches between the toe and the road, I'd judge. I was probably not going as fast back then as I am today, so the lean angle was less.
This time, the toe of my boot is positioned closer to the ground, so that is probably the reason for the scrape. The peg feeler didn't touch, by the way.
Once I realize that I am OK, not crashing, and that nothing has come loose from the bike, I feel a rush of -- what? Pride? Accomplishment? Amusement? Elation? An I-gotta-tell-all-the-guys moment?
I don't know exactly what the feeling is, but it is a good feeling.
I feel my mood change almost instantly for the better. Maybe it isn't a wasted day after all.
I must note that I did not panic when the grinding began, or thereafter. I didn't chop the throttle. In fact, it felt like just another sensory input.
At a time I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, on a less-than-great ride, something new and interesting happened. Maybe it wasn't such a bad day out after all.
I'll have to make it a point to ride with my boots further back on the pegs when I am riding faster from now on.