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The Herald Friday, May 11, 1990
A cold Saturday morning found me in Sparta, N.C., 150 miles from home and six miles from my original destination of Virginia.
I had ridden for two days and failed to add Virginia to my bike travel list. I had risked knee damage by pushing a dangerously high gear up the Blue Ridge, so my main priority was to get myself out of the mountains as quickly as possible.
I shivered in the 42-degree mountain air as I pedaled past Doctor Grabow's Pre-smoked Pipe Factory outside Sparta. When I finally reached the Blue Ridge Parkway, I figured I would soon plummet off the ridge into the foothills. The parkway is usually the highest point around, but this time it wasn't. The climb to the south continued for several miles on U.S. 21 and I stopped at a restaurant for warmth and fuel.
I asked the waitress how much farther I had to go before I began to go downhill. She said, "Oh, about three more miles, and then..." Her eyes got big, she did her hand like a wild roller coaster and she made a rocket sound like the Road Runner makes on TV. I thanked her for the best description I had ever received.
The waitress' prophecy came true shortly after I chugged through the beautiful mountaintop community of Roaring Gap. A sign indicated, "Eastern Continental Divide-Elevation 2972 Ft." The next sign said "Steep Hill" with a silhouette of a truck on a 45-degree angle.
I paused at the top and secured all of my payload doors. I had five bags with a bunch of compartments, and this was the time to check zippers. Once you start down a mountain on a loaded touring bike, it's rather like lighting the solid boosters on the space shuttle--you'd better be ready to go.
I nudged myself over the precipice and tucked in for the drop. A roaring headwind held my speed to about 30 mph and produced a sub-zero chill factor as I snaked my way for miles into the foothills. I tried my brakes one time out of curiosity and saw no noticeable effect. With enough warning, though, I was able to squeeze the levers for a quarter of a mile and stop at an overlook area halfway down. What a view.
I eased out of the overlook area and once again reached terminal speed in a few seconds. At times like this, I always compare the exertion of climbing against the exhilaration of descent. The drop is an expensive thrill. The climb to the ridge takes hours of straining and the descent lasts 8 or 10 minutes.
Once in the foothills, the "coming out of the mountains" effect is over. The hills are just up and down, and a rider has no perception of overall altitude gain or loss. A ride home from the mountains is not much easier than the trip northward to the base of the ridge.
U.S. 21 took me to Elkin and then roughly paralleled I-77 through some rolling farmland. Until traffic increased near Statesville, it was an ideal day on a bicycle. I checked into a motel in Statesville, satisfied with 68 miles.
Sunday's ride home from Statesville would cover 92 miles across Lake Norman and through the Piedmont. Just south of Statesville, I picked up the pace a bit when I saw the name Barium Springs on a post office. That sounded a bit too radioactive to suit me.
I left U.S. 21 near Mooresville and crossed Lake Norman on N.C. 150. At the water I passed the lake's famous dinner boat, a paddle-wheel behemoth that takes dinner cruises and sight-seeing tours.
About 15 miles south of Denver, I got lost. Since my last ride in this direction, a new section of N.C. 16 had been made into a bypass four-lane. I missed my familiar turn and had to improvise a way home through Mt. Holly and Belmont.
This area was an all-new visit for me. I was amazed at the size of the Freightliner truck factory in Mt. Holly, and was appalled at the traffic in Belmont.
I finally made it to 274 and meandered home on the backroads that had launched this four-day journey. I was tired and dirty but none the worse for wear. My assault on Virginia had ended up being a ride through all but six miles of North Carolina, but I no longer cared very much about not tagging the state line. I had traveled a safe 311 miles, and I still loved bicycling.
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