Monday, March 23, 2015

First Spring Ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway

March 16, 2015, just three days before the vernal equinox.  

I usually don't go far up the nearby Blue Ridge Escarpment in winter because there might be ice or sand on the roads.  But spring is coming quickly to South Carolina, and the days are mostly warmer.  We have had some in the 70s and 80s.  One of the evenings has been warm enough to sleep with the window thrown wide open.  The fresh air and the sounds of birds welcoming the new day were treats, both. 

Sounds like extra good riding weather to me. 

I decided to look and see if the Blue Ridge Parkway is open yet by consulting their real-time website.  It showed that it was not open toward the north at NC-215, the closest entrance to my house, but it was open north from US-276, which is further to the east of 215.

I decided that I would go for a spin and see what I could of the mountains.  I suit up, but with light insulation because it is in the mid-60s already.   It is nice not to have to bundle up so heavily for a change. 

I go up SC-135, then SC-8, and US-276.  There are a bunch of bicyclists laboring up the hill, so I have to be careful, especially because there are so many curves.  The sight distance is generally good on this road, so it is not too much of a problem avoiding them.  Most are smart enough to ride single file.  They appear to be part pf a group, probably the usual March training that London, Ontario, Canada-based coach Chris Helwig of conducts from nearby Table Rock State Park.  Many of their jerseys had the province name Ontario on the back, so that is likely the case.  They have better riding etiquette than most

There are some of the same group coming back down the hill, too.  They trust their skinny tires more than I would.  Look at that guy on the left.  He is just straightening up after a tight turn. 

276 goes past Caesars Head State Park, a place with a great overlook down the steep slope of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. As I pass the entrance, take a look at the beautiful clear sky we have this day. 

I don't stop at Caesars Head, because I want to get to the Parkway.  I continue on past YMCA Camp Greenville and Pretty Place, cross into North Carolina, and go until I see a sign for Dupont Forest.   I make a right on Cascade lake Road, then another right on Staton Road.  This second right is easy to miss, and the road almost immediately turns to gravel if you continue straight.  I miss it and have to turn around.

Is should tell you that there is another place to go that starts right about where you turn off 276 onto Cascade Lake Road.  It is Reasonover Road, just after the fire station on the corner, and leads to Green River Road, a gravel road that is passable on a street bike.  I went there in September of 2009, and one of my "dualsport-for-a-day" rides.  

Back to today's ride, it is said that the gravel part of Cascade Lake Road, is a good place to ride a dirt bike, but I have not ventured very far along it on my Ninja.

I stop at the new visitor center for a potty break. 

They have a few displays inside that describe the history of the park and available activities.  The Dupont Company had a plant here for some 30 years that made X-ray film.  The plant is gone, but the surrounding forest is a good place to sight see, hike, and mountain bike.  Just as there were a surprising number of bicyclists out on a weekday, there are a surprising number of people here as well. 

A lake near the visitor center, aptly named Dupont Lake, is quite picturesque,

but it has a tall fence around it and signs warning not to go near. 

I suppose there is some environmental problem.  Nevertheless, the view is pretty.  

I continue on through the forest, make a couple of lefts, and find myself on US-276 again.  I have bypassed the town of Brevard North Carolina.  It is usually busy, as it is a popular retirement town and tourist stop.  The annual Brevard Music Festival is held here. The highbrows flock to it. We'll have to go some time. 

I climb the continuing grade on 276, passing Looking Glass Falls and the Cradle of Forestry, both good places to stop

Another motorcycle, riding two-up and I get behind a young woman in the little red car who is going quite slowly. 

There is no passing on this road, so I stop for a few minutes to let her get ahead some.  That is effective for a while, but I catch her again nearer the Parkway entrance. 

She turns right onto it, and I have to do the same. 

I stop at the first overlook to the south of the entrance for a few minutes.  (To let the little red car get ahead again.)  A large sign says that the road is indeed closed in that direction at Black Balsam, where there is a road that provides access to the summit of 6214 foot Black Balsam Knob.  I decide to go that way for as far as I can, then turn back north to an exit near the North Carolina Arboretum not far from Asheville, NC. 

There are occasional spots where ice has fallen onto the road shoulder in the shaded rock cuts. 

I stop a few times, but the road is clear and there isn't much traffic, so I enjoy the ride.  The speed limit is 45, and that provides a good enough experience of the curves for me.  There might still be some ice or fallen rock, or sand on the road.  Besides, the fines for speeding are enormous. 

One other hazard is prevalent on the Parkway -- stopped motorists.  They are looking at the scenery or have stopped to take a picture in just the right spot.  I run across this idiot, stopped in the driving lane on a bridge so he can get out a take a picture. 

Going north, there are several tunnels to go through.  They are cooler inside, and, indeed, you must watch for ice in them even when the outdoor temperature is above freezing. 

Some of the tunnels are curved, like this one. 

Here is some of the pretty stuff I have seen today. 

Even with the trees and flowers still asleep, the views are great. Just stopping and listening to the wind in the trees is a peaceful pastime here. 

Soon enough, I reach the intended exit, and leave the Parkway.  I regret having to do this, because it is such a nice day to ride. I feel that way rather often near the end of a good ride

I fill up the tank, then head toward I-25, and US-25.  These are superslabs, and quite boring, but relatively quick. 

Here is the route for the day: 

Click here for an interactive map.
I have ridden almost 160 miles, on clear rods, in warm weather, in a wonderful part of God's creation.

Oh.  There is one event that occurred at the very end of this ride I have not described.  No, I didn't wreck, and I am safe, but it was a little worrisome.  I'll tell you about it next time.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

What I've Been Up To Besides Riding

Since I retired from the job, I have had the opportunity to expand my other activities quite a bit.  I won't say it has been easy to make the transition from working to retired, but I am working on perfecting the endeavor.

I find myself in three general modes that I have identified so far:
  1. Times when I can't think of anything to do, or want to get started on.
  2. Times when I feel that there is so much I can do and I want to do it all at once.
  3. Times when I still feel the pressure to get chores and tasks done -- like I did when I was working.  
Odd, all of them, but especially the last of the three. I gotta ditch that feeling.  I have time now to do justice to almost any task.  Pretty soon, I'll get into the swing of this thing. Maybe I need to pace myself better. 

I will say that I have had to keep a more comprehensive calendar of events than I used to. 

Before, I worked, and I came home.  Occasionally, I would have an evening or weekend activity that had to be remembered and required an entry on the docket.  Now, every day is different, so I have to study those little squares carefully to make sure I don't miss something. 

For one thing, the piano playing continues apace.  There seems to be a dearth of piano pounders who still play music from the first three quarters of the 20th century, and who play the old hymns.  ...and the old ladies at the places I play like to give hugs and sometimes kisses, too.  (I have to watch for their lipstick smudges, lest my wife become jealous.) 

I have also come to be of some help to my loving wife, like starting supper before she gets home from her work.  She has given me her secrets for making simple, but tasty, oven meals, and I have used them extensively.  Salmon and chicken breast are two of the best.  (No, I don't wear a frilly apron when I cook.  I do have certain standards.) 

I will admit that I had developed the beginning of a pot belly in the last couple of years, that affliction so common in middle-aged men.

I have always been skinny, and a belly isn't becoming to most guys, especially not to me.

So I cut down on the calories and have started being more active than I had been.  Certainly chores like trimming bushes and trees, and hauling off the detritus, cleaning gutters and sprucing up the house take more calories that sitting behind a desk a good part of the day. 

One other way I have bumped up the activity is by doing more hiking.  Not just the three miles or so around the neighborhood I had been walking every other day, but honest-to-goodness hiking.  One place to do this where the terrain is easy is the nearby Swamp Rabbit Trail.  Several maps of the trail are here

It mostly follows the former right of way of the Carolina, Knoxville and Western Railroad, nicknamed Swamp Rabbit years ago because it follows a swampy part of the Reedy River where there live swamp rabbits indigenous to the area. 

"Swamp Rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus)" by glenn_e_wilson - Swamp Rabbit. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

The grading that would have to be done was minimized by following the river, thus making the right of way preparation less costly. 

Obligatory history/geography lesson:

The railroad was intended to link Augusta Georgia, through Greenville South Carolina, with the rich coal fields of Knoxville Tennessee.  Alas, there were financial troubles and lawsuits, so only 23 miles of the planned route were completed.  The northern end was at River Falls in northern Greenville County, on the Saluda River; in the same neck of the woods I reported riding in back in May of 2009.  Most of the railroad route is detailed on the Abandoned Rails website
A Western-themed park called Echo Valley operated for a brief period in the late 1960, near Cleveland South Carolina, and it had a railroad that used some of the old Swamp Rabbit right of way.  One website called Random Connections, written by local fellow Tom, describes the park and remnants of it (Posting 1, Posting 2, Posting 3).  The park's location was about here on the map, near where US-276 and SC-11 come together north of Slater-Marietta.   

Today, the 18.7-mile Rails-to-Trails Swamp Rabbit Trail has the same gentle grades suitable for railroad operation -- and that makes it an easy traverse on foot or bike.

So far, I have walked about 12 miles of the trail between south Greenville and Travelers Rest.  I have done this in several out-and-back chunks.  I hope to up the mileage of each hike soon. 

I also accompanied a couple of guides from the Spartanburg County Parks Department on the northernmost five miles of the Enoree Passage of the Palmetto Trail, from Sedalia Campground to Macedonia Lake. 

And there are plenty of other parks and waterfalls in the mountains to keep my hiking boots dirty for years. 

I may get out my old road bike and spruce it up, too. 

I have not ridden for a few years, but I might like to ride the length of the Swamp Rabbit some day.  Problem is, I need someone to take me to one end and pick me up at the other.  My sweet wife may volunteer if I ask her nicely. 

What do you think?  Any tips and pointers on how to make a go of retirement?