Kenny Rogers told what might be the quintessential tale of true human mortality. Using the metaphor of a high stakes card games, Kenny expounded the wisdom of decision making based on chance, skill and, in some part, raw emotion. Knowing when and where to ‘hold them’, and by counterpoint when to ‘fold them’, could be one of the most interesting metaphors for our human experience. What we choose to keep shapes us in equal measure to what we choose to let go.
On that note, see you later Asheville, it’s been good. We need to get out now while we are all feeling positive and friendly; I don’t want to regret you in the morning, dear.
We popped up and our pal Missy served us breakfast at 6.30am, by the fireplace. Ambitions running high, a dark sky overhead didn’t deter us from the game plan. I was heading back up to Mount Mitchell State Park, and Tim was going to do some hot laps around Nebo, a little town on the way to nowhere in particular. We were feeling great, well fed, and flippant about any weather. The Weather Channel said we were cool; when has that been wrong ever?
The Bike Ride:
I got dropped off like it was the first day of school just past Black Mountain, where two highways converge at the base of the range. A few rain drops on the windshield interspersed with the Bug Body Count didn’t raise any alarm bells to me, but I am not smart. Tim Pease is smart. Very smart. He bagged his ride. He got in the car and got our crap and waited for my inevitable phone call.
To be fair, the climb on 80 is the greatest thing I have ever done with my life. Just 250 feet up I was in the fog and clouds, with a steady drizzle coming down. At 8 miles the gradient got steady and stern and tipped up to 8% for a long time. I wasn’t trying to break any speeds records, and I admit to getting a little choked up watching creeks running alongside the road, with beautiful waterfalls too. The rock cliff faces were drenched and bronze, looking like they were oozing and shining something wonderful.
The top of 80 has a few brilliant switchbacks that I was just shaking my head at. So cool. Just as I made the left onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, the heavens, which by virtue of elevation I felt I had already joined, opened up. This wasn’t a drizzle, it was out and out rain now. The temperature had dropped, too, and my rain jacket had given up on keeping anything dry. I still felt great and I bopped along up the mountain. The visibility went from 100 feet to 50 to 20, but I only saw a single car on the Parkway. A little silver Prius passed me just through the second of the Twin Tunnels, pulled over to an overlook for all of heart beat and moved on. There was nothing to see in the fog.
It was all good as I made the right into Mount Mitchell State Park, totally fine as I went by the forest ranger office and tackled the final two miles of the climb, right to the very top in a little over two and a half hours. I rounded the last turn to find a completely deserted parking lot and noticed for the first time the force of the wind, now howling and blowing swathes of mist and rain in a swirl. Whip out the phone and “No Service”.
It took all of 30 seconds of descending to realize there was no way I was getting down the mountain. Even dressed in a puffy coat and armed with a fanny pack for warmth and coolness, I couldn’t see more than 20 feet ahead, and there was so much rainwater running across the asphalt that every turn was deep. I pulled into the office and dripped my way in. Heat. Shelter. Survival. Billy.
Billy is the nicest man in North Carolina. He let me in, let me call time on the office phone, and kept me damn fine company in what felt like an Arthur Miller play. He sat on his side of the reception desk, I huddled under a woolen blanket on the other. We talked about the weather, about Michigan (he’d lived south of Grand Rapids), about Jim Harrison (we are both big fans). In between the few brave travelers that made it to the top would wander in, interject, shoot the breeze and exit on cue, stage left and out the front door. The first couple was from, of course, Zeeland, so we commented on the ‘thriftiness’ of the Dutch and Grand Rapids’ revival.
Perhaps the coolest visitor was Brenda, who was originally from Montana, not far from the Official Birthplace of kolo t.c., Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She had worked in that very office for eight years as a seasonal worker. She had some great stories, including the time she was the only employee on top of the mountain in the dead of winter, and they got over 80 inches of snow. She was snowed in for four days, reading and taking short walks and watching the snow pile up before two jeeps finally plowed and shoveled their way the last four miles to her front door. The first sign of another human after those four days was the sound of swearing and shoveling up near the road.
A little over an hour later, Pease made it to the top and I scooted out the front door. Billy had left me in charge of distributing maps and answering questions from visitors (by this time I felt qualified) while he showed some ladies a place to picnic. I shivered my way to the Jeep, wheeling my bike and slumping into the front seat and I committed a crime. I stole the blanket. North Carolina, Mount Mitchell State Park, Friends of Great Appalachia, guys, I owe you one. But I was so cold and wet and shaking I didn’t have a choice. I’ll keep it forever. As Tim says, I’ll hold onto this blanket for years, or at least until some woman I’m with throws it away without asking me. It’s a reminder of the best hour I’ve ever spent talking with perfect strangers.
We made it down the mountain and we are out of Asheville, hard. I love Kentucky and Peasey loves Louisville, so we are there in a big way. Asheville had 90% chance of rain for the next forever, and Louisville has not that, so it feels like a winner. I imagine I will spend most of my time there looking through windshields to see if I can spot Rick Pitino the same way I went through Ohio assuming every driver was probably LeBron James.
If you know of any can’t miss bike rides in Louisville, you just let us know. And yeah, yeah, we know about the MegaCavern thing. We’ll check it out.
Saw a turkey today. It didn’t give a shit about me or the rain or nuthin’. He strut his hot self across the road and into the wild unknown.
I still have no idea where the hotel is but I don’t care because we ain’t going back to it.
Tim Pease Outfit of the Day:
Under Armour gym shorts and a grey t-shirt. It’s casual driving attire and when it’s a balmy 79 degrees out, you want to both feel cool and look cool. Both of those things.
Deep Thought of the Day:
Sometimes it has to rain and storm for you to have an entire mountain to yourself.
Made props to Grzanka, Grit and McDonald. Please click this link, guys. Click it twice.