After surviving a black bear sighting and a fall into the Ocoee River on a river rafting adventure last Monday I still had four full days remaining to explore the Blue Ridge Mountains with my daughter, Morgan, and her boyfriend, Lachlan. I am exaggerating on the survival part…maybe… It was a memorable and exciting first day in the mountains of north Georgia and Tennessee. I covered that in detail in last week’s blog, Traveling Healthy – Blue Ridge (Part 1). Here I will share how we kept the excitement rolling while also gaining down time and eating healthy.
After pickup up groceries Sunday when we arrived Morgan prepared dinner for us Sunday and Monday evenings. She made us one of our go to simple pasta recipes with chickpea pasta and pink sauce Sunday evening and a Mexican themed dinner Monday evening including rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, chips, wraps, lettuce, tofu, and freshly squeezed lemonade. They were both fantastic and fueled us for the following mornings.
Tuesday morning presented an opportunity for me to drive to Brasstown Bald which was just over 60 minutes away to do the bike climb I craved to do. Morgan had to take a call for school at 11:00 AM so I had plenty of time to make my attempt at the difficult three mile mountain climb and then join her and Lachlan for lunch. But first it was Brasstown Bald…
I watched several videos about the bike climb in the weeks leading up to the trip. The ride ends at the highest point in Georgia, 4,784 feet, and has been part of the Tour de Georgia cycling race. I knew it was going to hurt in a big way but that was part of the appeal. As I approached the mountain by car the weather was deteriorating along with clouds dipping below the mountain peak at my very first view several miles away. As I took a left turn from State Road 180 to the park entrance and began the three mile climb to the Visitor Center I was struck by how steep it felt – driving it. My Chevrolet Equinox was struggling up a few of the ascents.
My plan was to park at the Visitor Center, bike down to warm up, and then complete the climb. By the time I reached the top it was raining lightly and it felt like I was right in the middle of the big cloud I saw from miles away on the drive. It was white as far as I could see in every direction. On a clear day you can see four states but on this day I could barely see the trees surrounding the parking area. I wore long sleeves under my cycling jersey and thank goodness as it felt 15-20 degrees cooler on the peak.
I pumped air in the tires and off I went down the mountain. What I quickly realized was this was not going to be a warm-up as the roads were wet and with the pitch going down I was braking almost the entire descent. It was uncomfortable to say the least. By the time I made it to the bottom my hands and forearms were sore from the constant pressure applied to the brakes. It was a slow go down the mountain…
I was now a bit concerned as I had no warm-up heading into the effort but that was the circumstance now. From the immediate start, the pitch was around 12% or what I thought was steep at that point. I made it up the first climb but with my heart rate racing immediately and my quads on fire I pulled over and stopped briefly to check a brake issue I had been facing and sure enough my brake pad was resting against my wheel making the climb more difficult than it should have been. Thinking it was more of the brake issue than the climb itself I went back to the base to start all over again…what a mistake…
When I started the first climb again it was better, but only slightly and I got through to the next pitch again feeling burned up. I was maybe a 1/2 mile in of the three total. I stopped to check the brake situation and this time it wasn’t the brake that was the issue. It was me and the mountain… When starting from a dead stop it was extremely difficult with the steepness and if I didn’t get my shoe clip into the pedal quickly it presented a problem and I found that out on this attempt as I missed, lost my balance, momentum and went down. Thankfully I wasn’t going at any speed so it was simply like I fell over but I would feel that jarring action in my head and neck for the next day or so.
At least the fall gave my heart another minute to recover before starting up again. The pitches continued to get worse and at one point my computer showed 23%. I have never been on a ride with a 23% grade and if so it wasn’t for long….and it showed. At one point in the middle of that pitch I swerved to the side to unclip my shoes and walked the bike to the top of the section. This was a three mile climb that felt like 30. As I continued to climb and suffer the weather continued to get worse (wet). At another point of 20%+ grade I had to stop and walk again. As I was walking the bike up a gentleman who had passed me in his pick-up truck said hello and said, “I passed you thinking my pick-up truck is struggling going up this road…”
I was beyond struggling at that point. Thank goodness it was a three mile effort. Reflecting back to what I watched about the climb in the weeks leading up to this I remembered commentary about the last 1/2 mile or so having smaller pitches but they would still feel brutal due to the effort expended up to that point. I knew I was getting close which gave me more power to drudge through the end and as I wrapped around a turn I saw the small parking attendant building entering the lot. Relief at last…
I approached my car and was going to collapse for a few minutes to recover, more mentally I think but the rain was beginning to pick up so I loaded up and took off back to the cabin pondering what just transpired.
Many emotions came through as I drove down the mountain just as carefully as I rode down on the bike 30 minutes earlier via the wet roads. Even though I knew it was going to be the most difficult climb I had attempted it surpassed it in many ways. My first thought was I failed to climb the route without stopping. It was humbling… As I continued the 60+ minute drive back to the cabin the failing part quickly moved to the side.
I reflected on what I tried, how incredible of an effort it is to do, and what I learned in the process. I did ponder how I should have consulted about my gearing set-up on the bike to make it more manageable. I also learned my climbing fitness was not near where it needed to be and that was ok. My overall fitness is down right now so what I did with the cycling fitness I had was ok…but far from where it needed to be on this day and far from where it will need to be in October if there is a Duathlon National Championship race.
I even laughed at my fall, the ride down the mountain to attempt the warm-up and the weather situation. It all made it part of the experience I will never forget. So even though it was a fail with a couple stops up the climb, it was a big time win in overall experience and learning.When I got back I was able to walk getting out of the car…another victory I would take.
I showered and we ventured into downtown Blue Ridge where we would eat lunch and stroll through the quaint downtown lined with shops. We ate at a neat juice bar, Blend Superfood Cafe, where Lachlan and I had acai bowls and Morgan enjoyed a smoothie. This was great for me as the bowl was loaded with antioxidants to help me recover from the beatdown.
After the walk through downtown we went to Mercier Orchards, seeming like endless acreage with a market. We spent time picking up supplies we could use during the trip and also take home. We then went back to the cabin where Lachlan and Morgan had to get their run in for the day. While they were doing that I caught up on plans for the following days.
We warmed up leftovers from our Mexican dinner night and discussed our plans for Wednesday. Morgan had another call for school in the morning so I found a trail somewhat close we could run prior and make it back in time. This was Long Creek Falls which had a one mile trail to the water fall. We ran to and from and added a few miles on a nice long winding gravel road.
The afternoon took us to Helen, GA known for its vineyards and Bavarian-style buildings. Our plan was to go tubing down the Chattahoochee River, walk the downtown area and have dinner before heading back. Thank goodness we chose the one hour tubing adventure as about 35 minutes in brought us a huge rain storm. For the next 20 minutes we were floating down the river in a monsoon. With a couple blocks remaining we heard thunder, moved to side and climbed out of the river. We then walked to the end where our car was parked, grabbed our dry clothes and changed. It was an awesome experience other than getting cold from the rain and the thunder near the end to stop the experience just short.
We found a Thai restaurant, Spice 55, where we had a fantastic dinner. We continued to dry out and warm-up there before heading back to the cabin. It was too wet to walk downtown and at that point we were all spent.
Thursday morning led us to Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge. It was a spectacular morning with full of sunshine. We chose the two hour, 13 zip line option and were paired with a family from Bradenton, FL. It seemed like the Blue Ridge area had more people from Florida than locals. This was a ton of fun and we were entertained by two young gentlemen guiding us through with their own comedy routine.
After zip lining we headed to nearby Ellijay, GA where we had lunch and I enjoyed a freshly made black bean burger. We walked a bit and Morgan grabbed a coffee from the Ellijay Coffeehouse before heading back. Morgan and Lachlan did another late afternoon run before we started dinner. Morgan prepared Beyond Meat burgers, potatoes, guacamole, and veggies. It was a great way to end a fun day. As we sat at dinner we reflected on the week and pondered our options for Friday, our last day in the mountains.
We all enjoyed the tubing in Helen so much we decided to do another tubing excursion but this one would be just south of Blue Ridge via a short drive from the cabin. But before we would take on that adventure we all wanted to get a final water fall in so we headed to Fall Branch Falls. I ran the trail to the falls and back and then continued the run on the gravel road for a couple more miles. It was a beautiful run and final morning.
We then went back to the cabin to eat breakfast, a power bowl full of oats, blueberries, bananas, cinnamon, and almond milk. Then it was tubbing down the Toccoa River for an hour via the Toccoa Wilderness Tubing company. This tubing experience was a bit different in that it included a few adventurous rapids to navigate through. After the tubing experience we headed to downtown Blue Ridge one last time to eat lunch. I had an awesome veggie wrap. Our last excursion was a trip to the Toccoa River Swinging Bridge, a walking bridge over the river and it could swing…and what a beautiful peaceful setting via a short hike from where we parked.
Friday night dinner was filled with leftovers we had in the refrigerator and then it was time to gather our things for an early Saturday morning exit. We made great time coming back and stopped at a Chipotle for lunch.
The vacation was just what I needed…a mix of healthy exercise, healthy nutrition, connecting with Morgan and Lachlan, and disconnecting from the typical week at home. On Sunday I woke up early and hopped on the bike for a ride followed by a run through Safety Harbor and Philippe Park. I loved everything about this vacation and I also loved being back in my paradise…
I hope you can find what makes you happy during these challenging times and make it a priority. It does the mind and body a lot of good…
– Add Health to Your Life
Featured Blog Photo:
- Upper Left – Long Creek Falls
- Middle Left – Long Creek Falls
- Bottom Left – Fall Branch Falls
- Upper Middle – Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge
- Middle Bottom – Fall Branch Falls
- Upper Right – Toccoa River Swinging Bridge
- Bottom Right – Brasstown Bald