June 5, 2012

Yesterday I set off on my first real bike ride from Asheville out onto the Pisgah Ridge. I head out through West Asheville to the the absolutely breathtaking Mount Pisgah Highway. This was the sort of road that had warning labels to stop truckers from heading near it. It was also the longest and curviest, mountain road I’ve ever biked all the way up. I was entertained on the ride up by a few funny old men passing me in convertibles and then a family of black bears running out into the road in front of me and off into the woods on the other side, before I could turn around and get my camera out.

I was happy to see how straight the Blue Ridge Parkway is, thankful to avoid biking back down such a curvy road in the rain. I head a few miles further South from Asheville on the Parkway and was very confused by a sign for a tunnel ahead. I didn’t have any lights on me since I didn’t expect there to be tunnels on my ride so I just sprinted as fast as I could to get through the tunnel in the shortest/safest time possible. This first tunnel made me cocky because I could see the light on the other side the whole way through and never got lost. No cars came up behind me and I didn’t hit anything. I figured this was the only and worst tunnel I’d go through and that this would be easy. There was another easy tunnel, then another, but still nothing to worry about.

After a few rainy miles and only a few cars, I turned around and head North on the Parkway for home, I again whizzed through the same three tunnels without any problems, still confident. The tunnels did not stop though. I continued to use the same sprinting strategy through more small tunnels likeĀ Fork Mountain Tunnel, Young Pisgah Ridge Tunnel, and Ferrin Knob Tunnels 3-1. Until along comes Pine Mountain Tunnel, which I now know is the longest on the Parkway. They don’t tell you how long the tunnels are on any road sign so I sprint right on into Pine Mountain Tunnel, expecting maybe a moment of pure darkness before I’d be spit out into the sunlight. Suddenly I’m surrounded and swallowed up by the tunnel and I slow from 35MPH to 10, unsure of where the middle or sides of the road are. I change my mind and speed up again, not sure whether it’s safer to go fast or slow. It was real darkness. I’m not quite used to that. Since living in the city, I’m always around some lights and sounds. It was just me and the wind ripping through the tunnel. I hear a car accelerating behind me and catch a glimpse of the end of the tunnel and make a break for it, cranking like I’m fighting to hold onto the yellow jersey, me vs. the car in a race to sun light. And I crushed him; I had to. My heart is racing now and I don’t give up this sprint for the rest of Parkway, certain that somebody is always right behind me, fighting to beat me back to Asheville.

With a big sigh of relief, and a cry of “Let’s gooo boysss” I make it off the highway and stop to take off my raincoat as I head back into the city. I’m pretty tired at this point. I’ve gone up the craziest mountain road since well ever and one of the fastest down hills as well. I push off with my right foot to get my bike moving again and instead of clipping back in, gouge my ankle on the both sets of gears. I’m at a red light so I’ve got an audience of maybe 5 cars now, who all turn and stare at me as I grimace and pedal up to the stop line. The blood must be coming out now and to my despair, this is a very long light. I alternate riding and stopping in random parking lots to recap with myself about whether to call and ask Emma to pick me up. I make it as far as a Big Kmart, then give in and beg for her to help, still 8 miles from home. She comes to my rescue and we both drive off into the sunset with a giant container of black cherry ice cream.

So if you ever ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, bring good lights for your bike.

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