Monday, April 22, 2013

Harrangue: The Skinny on Sassafras


A couple of weeks ago, I meandered around the countryside on my trusty Ninja, and one of the places I stopped was at the top of Sassafras Mountain.  This is the highest point in South Carolina, at 3,554 feet above sea level. 

Back in 2011, I went there too, and was pleased to find an attractive wooden deck constructed so that the view to the south and west was finally visible from the top. Before that, there wasn't a good place to see into the distance in any direction that I could find. 
I thought that was great.  The area was still off the beaten path, but rather easily accessible by way of a potholed road ending in a gravel parking lot. There were usually fewer than six cars there at one time, and always a quiet place. 

The Foothills Trail runs nearby, and there are lots of people who traipse either from here or through here as they enjoy the scenery.  They recently paved the road, so it isn't potholed any more. 

Not elaborate, but a nice, simple place to get away from it all, I thought. 

Well, when I visited there the last time, that fine platform was gone, replaced by an ugly structure with a foot-high step to get onto it from the ground.  

A little research provided some additional information.  It turns out that the new platform was designed by Clemson University graduate students in architecture and landscape architecture.  They have good intentions to make a path up to it, but this thing's been there for several months with nothing else done yet. 

Dan Harding, associate professor of architecture and director of the Clemson Community Research and Design Center said, “The concept hinged on an idea that used a primary wood structure with a light, sky-blue-painted steel railing designed to leave visitors feeling as if they are floating over a wonderful rock out-cropping while remaining safely contained by the railing, which disappears into the expanding horizon.” 

Oh.  Makes me get all goose bumpy -- really touchy feely sounding, isn't it.  

I think the old structure did that just fine, and had the added benefit that it was already paid for.   

The article says that the new platform “employ[s] best practices associated with sustainable construction and resource management.”  I don't think so: The pretty blue steel railing has already begun to rust, and it provides no better view of the valleys and lakes below than the platform that was scrapped. ...and that one didn't look like a circus prop -- maybe for the human cannonball spectacle. 

I wonder what they thought was wrong with the old platform?  I also wonder whether any of the engineering students -- Masters Degree students, remember, not beginners -- had also studied economics to determine whether there had been any payback on the previous simple structure, seeing as how it was only about two years old at the time it was demolished, was perfectly functional, was unobtrusive, and was in good condition. 

I doubt it. Seems to me better that they determine that this would be a waste of money and go design something really useful. 

The funding for this unnecessary eyesore was provided by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources – in other words by your tax dollars.  Darn, that topics comes up a lot these days

Even more distressing, I found that there are plans for a tall observation tower to be built on the site. 
From the SCDNR webpage
This will be an even worse eyesore. 

They are attempting to get private funding, but you can bet that your tax dollars will be taken, too.

My vote: Let's keep it simple. Let's not make this a top tourist attraction, lest it be spoiled further ...and maybe not spend more money at all!


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bikes Galore

Yesterday, I went out for a ride as usual.  I picked a route that is similar to one I rode last year with a buddy.  Up US-178 and NC-215, onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the visitor center just north of Asheville North Carolina, then wandered back on too-busy roads through Fletcher, and back down US-276 through Caesars Head and back to Easley.

Like this:

View Larger Map

It was a great day to ride.  A little cool -- 41 degrees -- to start, but warming up nicely to around 77 later in the day, with low humidity.  Of course, the temperatures are lower at the higher elevation of the Parkway, so it was just about perfect weather to ride in God's country. 

There were some spots where gravel had washed across the road, and another place where matted leaves had washed across the road and created what looked like little brown mounds stuck to the road.

I managed to negotiate all these with minimal problems.  Once, on NC-215, two touring bikes coming the other way were on my side of the road as I came up on them.  They had crossed the center line to avoid some gravel, but the way they did it was not good: They should have steered a straight path through the gravel, staying in their own lane, as it was a straight section of road. 

There was something else in evidence on my ride, too.  Bikers.  Lots of them.  Dozens, no hundreds.  Maybe thousands coming south on 178 at I was headed north.  You will recall that in my last post, Wiggly Roads Nearby, I referenced the number of maniacal and not so maniacal bikers of all kinds who enjoy this section of US-178. 

They are certainly out in spades today!  More than I have ever seen through here. 

The bikers today were clad somewhat differently than the way I dress for a ride. 

Take a look: 

Yep.  Bicycles.

This is on an uphill section for them.  Their spandex-clad bodies looking fit, but struggling to get up the grade.  Earlier, I had encountered the leaders of the pack going downhill, south of here.

Courageous, they.  As they coasted and sometimes pedaled to go even faster downhill, they were rounding the curves faster than I can ride comfortably on the Ninja.  And they were in packs.  If any of them had faltered, many of them would have crashed.  What a mess of injuries would result!  That spandex doesn't have any cushion and wouldn't last more than a foot or two sliding along the tarmac. 

Makes me feel much more comfortable in my ATGATT. 

Those tiny bicycle tires were certainly doing their best to keep some 200 pounds of bike and rider on the right track.  I didn't get any pictures of their downhill plunge.  I'm not sure my shutter speed is fast enough to capture their passage at speed. 

Whatever the occasion, there were certainly a bunch of cyclists participating.  As a result, traffic had to go slow while passing them, for their safety and ours.

Later in the day, I encountered another group on US-276 as I passed Caesars Head.  Might have been the same group or another one, but it was an organized ride, too.  I didn't see nearly as many of them on this road.

They must have some significant stamina to take on the hills in this neck of the woods.

I might add, that I a saw a surprising number of people with gray hair sticking wildly out of their helmets.  Wow.  I get tired riding the motorcycle up and down these hills at my advanced age!

Anyway, they sure did have a nice day for their ride.

Edit: I later determined that I had encountered the Assault on the Carolinas rides, an annual fundraiser for the Rotary Club of Pisgah Forest.  The AOTC includes three route options--100k, 60k, and 40k. The 100k route goes through North Carolina and South Carolina mountains and valleys and up a challenging 6 mile climb to Ceasar's Head State Park. The 40k and 60k routes go through the river valleys of Scenic Transylvania County.  The ride starts and finishes in downtown Brevard North Carolina.  The longest ride is 65.6 miles, with an elevation gain of 5,567ft. 

My motorcycle ride was also very pleasant.  I didn't stop very often, just enjoyed the roads.  A total of 174 miles, racked up pretty quickly.  It seemed like only a hundred or so when I got home.  I must have been enjoying it! 

On the way home, I snapped this shot at Edens Garden, the little rest stop I wrote about at the corner of SC-8 and SC-135. 
Pretty, don't you think?  And patriotic. 

You bicyclists, a tip of my helmet to you, tackling the challenge of these hilly roads. 


Monday, April 8, 2013

Wiggly Roads Nearby

Well, I'd just finished doing my taxes, so I went out for a ride Saturday.  I needed something to get my mind off of other people spending my heard-earned money!

Some of the motorcycle forum posters have been posting of late about a couple of roads in the nearby mountains, so I decided to renew my acquaintance with a few of these roads.

I start out in temperatures in the mid-30s, from home in Easley South Carolina, and go over to Pickens via. a nice but featureless road.  I pick up US-178 in Pickens, and the curves start in.  First some sweepers, that include a perfect curve.  A few of the sweepers are back to back the closer you get to SC-11 near the Holly Springs Country Store, a place where bikers of all shapes and sizes stop to link up for rides in the area.  It is also a place to gas up and grab a breakfast or snack.  I reach the store there are no others there, so I move along, across SC-11, and get to the curvier section of this highway.

 This is a favorite section for maniacal and not so maniacal bikers ranging from bicycles, to scooters and giant cruisers.  The road surface is in pretty good shape -- and clean today, but watch the advisory signs, as there are a couple of tight bends -- for me down to 2nd or 3rd gear.  The road straightens out about half way to the North Carolina state line, but tightens up again further north. 

Lets look at the map. 

View a larger map of these wiggly roads
We've been talking about the sections between Pickens at the bottom, and Pushpin B near the top. 

Click the link to see a larger version of the map, and move around by holding down your mouse button.  Zoom in by selecting the + box.

Just after Pushpin B, lies Rosman North Carolina.  You can get gas there to continue your journey if you need it. You can continue north on NC-215 and reach the Blue Ridge Parkway (as we did on this ride) and beyond.  

Today, I seek out a gentle road I have not been on for a while.  I make my way on it over to Pushpin D, at US-276.  If you follow 276 toward the south, you pass Dupont Forest and Caesars Head before descending the Blue Ridge Escarpment.  If you go north, you find some almost straight roads to Brevard North Carolina, then some nice twists and turns and great scenery further north, to the Blue Ridge Parkway, passing Looking Glass Falls and the Cradle of Forestry on the way. 

Be certain to keep your eyes peeled at Pushpin C.  Watch especially for some wildlife advisory signs on the north side of the road.  I don't think you will ever have seen such signs anywhere else. 

Also, watch for two very tight right handers just before Pushpin D.  Neither is marked. 

Just a mile down US-276, stop at Pushpin E, Connestee Falls.  There is a small parking lot and a picnic table.

A two minute walkway lads to an overlook where you can see two falls converging from almost right below your feet and from across the valley.  On the map:

View Larger Map



I eat a snack and drink some water here.  After another mile and half, I turn onto East Fork Road, at Pushpin F.  Except for a few tight bends, this is mostly sweepers, and the road surface is a nice, mostly uniform color and surface texture.  ...and there are not very many driveways along here.  Watch for some part-lane patching, though there are no major edge traps. 

The tightest turns come at Big Hill, marked at an advisory 10 MPH.  Of course, you can go faster than that on the bike.  Unfortunately I am coming down the hill, so it is not as much fun as going up.  I use a little of the downhill rear brake technique I learned a while back.  I helps you feel more in control, but don't forget that it works safely only when you are also applying power. 

Just below Big Hill are the bears and the yellow arthropod with a very hard exoskeleton. 

We will follow East Fork past the point where we will eventually turn sharply left onto Glady Fork Road to head toward home.  This stretch, toward Pushpin G, intersects with US-178 just below Rosman.  I travel there, then back to Glady Fork Road.  Be very careful along here, as the turns are tighter than on the previous part of the road, and there are several sharp 90-degree turns that are unmarked.  East Fork Road follows the East Fork (surprise!) of the French Broad River most of the way.  For a sedate change of pace, there is good fly fishing in this stream. 

I turn around and go back the other way on East Fork.  It is a different ride, but watch for the tight turns again.  This time, I bear right onto Glady Fork Road.  This has a good surface and not many driveways, too.  There is a series of small waterfalls on the left side along here. 

Soon enough, I reach the stop sign where the road to the highest point in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain, is easily accessible.  I turn left and find the newly-paved road to the top.  There is no center line, so watch for slaloming cars coming the other way.

At the top, Pushpin H, I park and note that the new observation platform they erected in 2010 is gone, replaced by an ugly, expensive, out-of-place monstrosity.  This is the old new one: 

 This is the new new one. 

I'll bet your hard earned tax dollars went to tear out the old new one and put this in.  What a waste.  Oh, by the way, it isn't for handicap accessibility either.  The old new overlook was at ground level for smooth wheeling.  The new new one is about a foot off the ground at the start.  Convenient, eh? 

My just-finished tax returns flash to mind again.  Darn, I was just starting to get over that.  Why does our government do this to us?

I spend a few minutes looking at the scenery, then head back down.   Except for one hairpin, the road is pretty mild.

I turn left onto F. Van Clayton Highway and wend my way back to US-178 at Rocky Bottom, Pushpin I.  From there, I head back down the hill toward SC-11, and then to Pickens and home. 

I have only traveled about a hundred miles, but almost every mile was enjoyable. The temperature has warmed up to about seventy, and the sun has made God's creation scenic. 

Come along next time, and see these sights with me.

....and see if you can spot those interesting signs I mentioned.

Edit: find an update on Sassafras Mountain here.