Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Fog of the 400

By Capn John Ende

Nine riders set off into the early morning fog.  Nearly a full day later the same nine finished in a very different early morning fog.  The inaugural running of the Asheville/Damascus/Asheville 3 state 400k (255 miles) chose one of those perfect days for a long ride.  Just a little warm in the sun.  Just a little cool in the shade.  Little fluffy clouds punctuated an otherwise Carolina blue sky.  A slight breeze cooled the peloton on the many climbs and never impeded progress.  Despite the many sharp edges of the elevation profile and 18,431ft of climbing riders came from as far away as Washington DC and south Georgia.  

The course did not disappoint those traveling efforts.  Four sustained climbs broke up some really enjoyable quiet valley riding.  The route out followed the French Broad River into Marshall where the climbing began.  We made our way through the East Fork area and up and over Grapevine. 
The glamorous life.
Have you ever seen the twists and turns of a grapevine?  You'll know how they came up with the name of the road then.  

Big Laurel was the cut over to Sam's Gap and after the up and over into Tennessee it was time to fight over the last three remaining tin foiled wrapped pork tenderloin biscuits in a gas station counter warmer.  

With food in our bellies we continued to the North East eventually climbing up and over the Appalachian Trail into Shady Valley.  Shady Valley was bucolic 1-2% downhill all the way into our turnaround at Damascus VA.  

The Backbone...
Nearing Damascus we unknowingly crossed the poorly marked VA state line.  We also passed through the impressive dominant natural rock wall formation known as the "backbone." The road passes directly through a cut in the rock.

A little sun in Shady Valley
Damascus is a beehive of bicycles as it serves as a popular home base for the many tourists coming to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail.
We grabbed a much-needed sit down meal at a local grill and began the journey for home.  

The long slight downhill into Damascus turned into a long slight uphill where we contemplated retracing most of the route back to Asheville that included a very stiff challenge back up to Sam's gap. It turned out that the slight uphill through Shady Valley could be ridden in the 12-14mph range and the long challenging climb up to the AT in the midday sun was now not nearly as bad from the north in the later afternoon.  Seven riders scattered into 4 different restaurants in Johnson City TN while two pushed on.  This section was new to us, as we had not seen it on the way out.  We donned reflective gear and were introduced to one of those spiky bits on the profile as owls hooted encouragement.

A quick fill of the bidons in an Erwin McDonalds and we were ready for Sam's Gap. In the next 18mi we would gain 2,000ft.  Ouch!  We settled into our rhythm and all climbed together in the dark until we sat at the top of the last major climb of the ride.  Relief!  With our packed sleighs we flew down Mt. Crumpet into Who Ville, wait a minute, different story, same idea though.  

Our next target was a Waffle House control in Mars Hill.  We entered with a powerful hunger.  Unfortunately we walked out 30 minutes later in the same state having had nothing more than chocolate milk, water and a coffee.  The staff has been working through some issues.  It seems that the cook has been recently overwhelmed when too many orders are placed at the same time.  So now orders line up like planes at a busy airport patiently waiting for their turn to be called out and prepared.  Our patience ran out and after two of our counter-sleeping compatriots were roused we rolled out with sloshing bellies of liquid concoction. This is where a few of us started to feel a bit nauseous.  Eventually we all made it safely home just shy of 24 hours and all within 40 minutes of each other.  

Sloppy Joes were served at the Luke Heller's house and a few brief stories ensued before the sandman came for us.  Thank you to Luke Heller for planning the route and putting on the ride.  It was the most scenic and challenging 400 that this rider has seen. Chapeau to all who finished!

The route:

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