Those who have ridden with me since August 3 know that I have been gushing about the Boone Gran Fondo and cycling in the High Country of North Carolina. In the days leading up to the ride, the forecast called for rain and I was concerned about falling and reinjuring my wrist. On Saturday, the forecast improved and on Sunday, David claims that the Universe provided prime recruiting weather to make me fall further in love with the High Country. By the end of the day, I was ready to perform a Google search on moving companies. It really was that good…
This was my first Gran Fondo and I really enjoyed the experience of racing through a timed section and then “just riding” with friends. It was a perfect combination of challenge and reward. There were three distance choices – the Gran (100 miles), the Medio (55 miles) and the Piccolo (20 miles). David, Eric and I chose the Medio. The first timed section of the Medio (and the Gran and Piccolo) began at mile 1.4 and ended at mile 5.6. At first, I thought that racing this early in the ride would be difficult, but, I have always tended to start too fast so it suited me just fine. Although I practiced using my elbows (thanks Martin) to fend off aggressive riders, no such moves were needed. All riders were courteous and passing slower riders was easy. At the end of the timed section, David, Eric and I regrouped and began the descent toward Shulls Mill Road.
Shulls Mill Road may be the most beautiful road I have ever ridden. David and I stayed at the Inn at Crestwood located on Shulls Mill Road, so we had already driven this portion of the route a couple times and we knew that there was a tricky descent with off-camber curves and an abrupt stop required to obey the stop sign before making a sharp left turn. To make matters worse, riders were hopped up from racing and the pavement leading to the stop sign was as smooth as silk. This proved to be the perfect storm for a rider from Florida who ended up in the ditch near the stop sign. David was the first rider to arrive on the scene and he treated the rider until EMTs arrived. This delayed our adventure by about 45 minutes, but I am very thankful that we were in the right place at the right time to help a rider in need.
We cruised on thinking that all rest stops would be closed and that our ride had just transitioned into “self-supported” mode. No worries, Eric knew the route and knew where to find food and drink so we relaxed and took in the beauty of Shulls Mill Road and Route 221. We took photos, admired the Linn Cove Viaduct from afar, and treated my bee sting. Before long, we reached the first rest stop and found that it was still open. We also passed a few riders along the way. At this point, we started enjoying the company of other riders.
Then we started climbing Hickory Nut Gap Road, which is quite possibly the second most beautiful road I have ever ridden. Up, up, up it goes and along the way, I chatted with a group of ladies from Atlanta and Florida. We all agreed that the weather could not have been more perfect. After a swooping descent, I admired Wildcat Lake, stretched my wrist and arm, and waited for the two speed demons to catch me. Eric and David were really enjoying racing down the descent, but the best was yet to come.
After dropping down into Banner Elk and Beech Mountain, we began the descent down into Valle Crusis, which is quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever ridden (oh wait…yeah, it was that good). Eric performed crazy circus tricks as I descended behind him; pausing only once to warn me of a particularly tight switchback. We rolled through Valle Crusis (home of Blood Sweat & Gears) and found the second rest stop. The volunteers were very cheerful and it was easy to tune out the whispers of big climbs to come.
Moments after leaving the rest stop, it was no longer possible to ignore that we were going to climb in dramatic fashion before dropping down into Boone to finish our day. First came Dewitt Barnett Road which offered a grade of 15.1% at one point in the climb followed by a short 12% climb before turning onto Bairds Creek Road for more fun. Then White Oak Road pounded us with two more steep climbs before we finally reached Route 421 and zoomed down to the finish line.
I was expecting a big Gran Fondo style party at the finish. My expetations were based on the reviews of the Gran Fondo Hincapie from Bonni and the Richmond Gran Fondo from Nancy and the registration price being higher than some of the larger rides in WNC. Instead of a party, we were warmly greeted by the timing chip volunteers and some good tunes being played on the sound system. We were treated to a burrito that was quite tasty, but there were no tables, chairs or tent. We sat on the sidewalk near Magic Cycles to eat our burritos and were delighted to have a coincidental encounter with Mark Morley (Eric’s son) and Mark’s mom Emily. Again, we were in the right place at the right time.
Since the awards ceremony was still a couple hours away, we decided to skip it, return to our inn, and relax before dinner. Eric recommended Hob Nob Farm Cafe and we had a delicious dinner and a quiet evening with one of our best friends.
For more than a year, I intended to plan a trip to ride in the High Country…now I regret that it took me so long to put the plan into action. Stay tuned for details of a High Country Short Escape Tour coming in 2015. It’s going to be epic.
Name: Boone Gran Fondo
Start/Finish: Boone, NC near ASU Campus
Date: August 3, 2014
Distance: 54.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,604