Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Look Rock Ride Report

Here is my third and final ride report from my time in Tennessee. This was actually my second ride out there. My destination was Look Rock that I had originally planned for the Wednesday but went on Tuesday due to rain forecast for Wednesday morning. It was the right decision as we did get that one morning of rain and I’d rather not ride tight switchbacks on wet pavement.

I was now more familiar with the very steep descent right from our cabin having ridden it on the Sunday when I went to Bluff Mountain. I got a 7:30 start. The only place on this descent where speed can be allowed to run out was the descent of Robeson Road which contains the only straight stretch. On the other two rides, my max speed was attained here but for this ride, I’d hit that on my descent from Look Rock.

I get down to 321 but instead of taking the right, I went left on road that I hadn’t traveled by car or bike yet. The narrow and steep shoulder continued for a while on perfect newly repaved road. However, after several miles, the new pavement ended. The worn pavement wasn’t that bad but there was an unwelcome feature that wasn’t present on the new pavement: rumble strips on the narrow shoulder. I get that these are to warn cars about nearing the edge of the road but they’re a nightmare for cyclists who are already on cramped space. They simply can’t be ridden on except in an emergency.

Around the six mile point of the ride, the road pointed down with switchbacks. Most of these weren’t the really tight type so I didn’t lose too much speed. A benefit is that I could take the lane for this part. I was already thinking that taking this way back would not be pleasant because I’d be going a lot slower and would face more time dealing with the rumble strips.

I reach the 9.5 mile point of my ride and took Cedar Creek Road on my right which would end both my time on the 321 and the rumble strips. The names of the roads would change but I basically paralleled 321 riding on the opposite side of a river that flowed between both routes. If you look on the grade outline for the whole ride, this section appears as “flat” but, as I found out, that is only in comparison with the bookends of the ride – the cabin and Look Rock. This section was great as the roads had almost no cars but were full of fun riding terrain with ups, downs and twists.

I was surprised that just after the 19 mile point, I briefly rejoined the route that I had taken on my Bluff Mountain ride. I didn’t realize that the two routes shared a couple mile stretch on Old Walland Highway. I take the bridge on Melrose Station road and cross the river at 21 miles coming out on 321 again but just very briefly before getting on Rocky Branch Road on the opposite side. I saw a store, Becky’s Grocery, at around mile 24 and planned to make that a refueling point for the way back. The comparatively “flat”, up and down riding would continue on various backroads until mile 32. I enjoyed seeing the real non-tourist areas. The pavement was mostly good with almost no cars.
After doing some moderate climbing on Montvale Road, it becomes Happy Valley Road. There was a mile stretch of straight road at a grade of about 9%. Then began the series of switchbacks that topped out around 15% though the insides were probably higher than that. As with Bluff Mountain, I cleaned the climb taking it at a measured pace. It was a little confusing when I first mapped the route because I could see what appeared to be the apex of Murray Gap right where the Foothills Parkway was also showing next to Happy Valley Road. I wasn’t sure how to get up to the Parkway. I continued, now descending on Happy Valley. I really didn’t want to risk losing too much altitude because I was now 35 miles into the ride and had a long way back. I saw that Flats Road on the left was going up again so I took it hoping that it would come out by the Parkway and the viewing point for Look Rock. It actually would but I couldn’t see that initially. I ended up turning around at the Eagle Rock Retreat Center. Flats Road continued at a very steep grade up.
After a brief descent, I came back to Happy Valley Road heading back the way I had come. I regained the altitude and arrived back to the point where I was under the Parkway at Murray Gap. Here I stopped under the bridge to eat an energy gel as I prepared for the descent. My mind was preoccupied with getting in the right mental state to take on this challenging section of negotiating switchbacks with losing as little speed as possible. I also wanted to time it so cars would not interfere with my descent. I let a few cars go. There was very little traffic ascending so I knew I’d probably be in the clear. The attached photos show this location.

The descent, like the others, involved braking for the very tight switchbacks. I was more comfortable, having already done these on the descent from the cabin and also on Bluff Mountain. Then I got to that mile straight stretch and could finally let my speed go, topping out at 47MPH. I finished my water but was counting on a refill at that store that I passed earlier. I arrive back at it only to see that it’s closed! This was my most humid and hot ride and I really needed to do something about my hydration and fueling situation. I remembered that the route passed where I had come out on the Bluff Mountain ride and that there was a store there. I determined I’d just have to hold on until I got back there.

I had been contemplating my return route. If I didn’t do the out and back that I had originally planned, I could take Cedar Creek Road that I had taken on the previous ride. This would allow me to come out to 321 on the other side where I would spend less time on it and there would be no rumble strips. While getting back to the store, I passed a cyclist. I was friendly, waving and saying ‘hi’ but he had ear buds in and couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge me in any way. I found that he was now drafting me. I don’t normally mind this but was a bit miffed at his lack of friendliness so accelerated and rode him off my wheel. It wouldn’t be long before I reached the store anyway. I find a good place to lean my bike, get off and reach to open my bike bag. My heart sank as I saw it was unzipped! I don’t normally carry my license and a credit card on rides but did on this one. I see my phone, a $10 bill and credit card are still there but no license! It was right next to my credit card so I don’t know how it fell out but the credit card did not. This was a real buzz-kill. I was getting close to bonking so didn’t waste much time before going into the store. I got the necessary replenishments paying for them with the credit card that miraculously stayed in the bike bag.

I consumed them outside the store on a bench as I contemplated my next move. I was 52.5 miles into my ride. I had a fleeting thought of retracing my route. I knew it had to have fallen out somewhere in the last 15 miles from where I opened the bag at the summit of Murray Gap. Knowing the climbing I still had ahead of me, there was no way I could go back on my bike. I made the final decision to not go back the way I came but instead to do the Cedar Creek Road traverse over to 321.

I tried to still enjoy the ride through this beautiful area that I had previously ridden. It was still fun but I was definitely preoccupied. I get to 321 and repeated the ascent from Sunday. At least there were no rumble strips on this side. I then had the torturous ascent back to the cabin. I had run out of liquid again. I saw a cabin that was for sale about 2/3 of the way up. It was unoccupied but the water faucet outside of it was still on so I got some water there. I finished the ascent and got back to the cabin pleased with the epic ride but stressed about my license. Amanda and I would take the car the next morning to try and find it. I knew there was very little chance but needed to try. At least I knew that only 15 miles would be involved in what was an almost 75 mile route. We came up empty but at least we were able to continue on that Flats Road, reaching the summit and seeing the viewing spot for Look Rock. I was able to get some pictures that I would not have been able to take otherwise.

Miles: 74.37
Time: 4:35:55
Average Speed: 16.17
Max Speed: 47MPH
Elevation Gain: 6060 feet = 81.48 feet per mile

This would be my “flattest” of the three rides but I had very little left in the tank at its completion.

The place where I left my bike bag open just before the descent.

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