Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

Mt. Mitchell

Asheville, you are amazing. You heard it from me first: Asheville is the Boulder of the East with an Austin touch. Well, maybe you didn’t hear from me because the idea isn’t *that* novel but I’m surprised that it’s still such the hidden gem that it is, quietly nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We're steps from amazing riding and mountains but downtown is nothing but quirky people, good food/breweries and music galore.

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What prompted this love was the long ride I did yesterday, through said mountains. I’ve done this loop, or similar, four times now but the journey never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday it was particularly stunning as each switch-back brought me in and out of the mist and there were times where I was descending through the clouds with five feet of visibility, max.

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I actually started the ride with a good crew of locals and semi-locals, including fellow Smashfest lover Elizabeth, also prepping for Kona (in fact, Elizabeth and I both showed up in Lava Berry—here’s her shot of the day since we missed out on a twins pic… love it!). We would start together and I’d get to ride one of my favorite routes in good company, at least for the majority of it. Well wouldn’t you know, I had just swapped out the pedals on my Blue and was completely unable to clip in. After some frantic troubleshooting that included a pocket knife and the though of taping my shoes to my pedals, Breaking Away style, I pushed the others to go on without me—I hated the idea that my poor preparation would mean a delay for everyone else.

They clipped in and headed off and in a mad rush I tried to load the bike back in the car and drive the 45 min North to where I have been staying to grab some old pedals to swap out. I did and then tried to drive to a spot where I was hoping to intersect the crew and re-join for at least a few miles together. The only thing I later found out was that I misjudged the route they were taking and so instead of the normal 10 mile route I had assumed, they took a shortcut and so as I rode up the parkway asking fellow cyclists if they had seen a crew of four (including one in a matching kit—that would be Elizabeth!) they gestured that they had seen them heading up as they were descending. I continued upward alone and would later see the crew descending on their way back down—oh well, next time!

It got colder and foggier the higher I got in elevation. I was regretting leaving my vest and arm warmers but soldiered on. The climb to Mitchell isn’t terrible, just up, up, up and very little coasting to recover tired legs. You enter the parkway, five miles to go and then it takes you to the summit. Between the climbing and the fog, it felt a little bit like Norseman, which was a fun trip down memory lane. But made it to the top! One of the hikers said I needed a photo because she “saw [me] way down the parkway and couldn’t believe [I] actually made it to the top!” As if I needed photo proof of the successful summit, I have Strava;)

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There’s a little bodega at the top selling coffee and snacks and the latest edition, cookies! My love for the reward at the top of Mt Lemmon is endless so of course I love that Mt. Mitchell finally got with the program and [almost] has “cookies the size of your head” a la Lemmon.

I took a few moments to hike to the actual summit, take in the (complete lack of a) view and scarf down my cookie and Coke (“Share a Coke with Buddy!”) before beginning the descent off the mountain. I also chatted with a few folks at the top, including a friendly hiker who shared the knowledge that the temperature decreases about 3.5-degrees for every 1,000ft you ascend above sea level. Pretty cool, huh? Although cold in my case because that put us at about 20-degrees cooler than it was down near sea level-ish where we started.

If there was a view, here’s some of the mountains you would see—all the way to Johnson City, Tennessee and not much else but mountains!

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Normally I love descending but cold hands and wet roads plus limited visibility meant for a very scary and careful trip down, unlike my normal preference to just wing it and bomb down. I was continually looking behind me to make sure a car wasn’t going to come up behind me, not see me and run me over. Seriously, at what point do you stop because fog density is so bad?

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But I made it down safely, off the mountain, and had about 40 more miles of hills and rolling climbs left to go, all the serious climbing now in my rear-view mirror. After climbing for so long (the total trip to the top took about 2.5 hours), there’s nothing as comforting as just relaxing down in your bars so that’s exactly what I did!TT position, push the pedals, cover the distance. My average speed finally started to climb up from the measly 11mph and I got to enjoy the fast handling of my Blue Bicycles, which—to be honest—makes me feel like I’m totally cheating it’s so light and fast-handling.

I cut through some back roads, got poured on for about an hour, until getting within 4-miles of my car, where I had to face a series of brutal switch-backs, with the grades going up to 25%. I was huffing and puffing, my garmin kept pausing I was going so slowly and—no lie—a pack of turkeys ran ahead of my for a while, even they were faster than I was on this brutal incline. It was disheartening… but I just kept thinking to myself, maybe next time don’t be the goof who chooses *this* as the place to end a 100-mile ride.

But all in all, a success—and a hard-earned one at that! And yet a reminder of why I love this place so much.

I leave you with my favorite stop on the route that I have not yet actually stopped at, other than to take photos. This is Downtown Micaville, so little that I couldn’t find population size online (yes this one little old country store is their everything) but maybe on a warm day next summer I’ll have to stop at the "Ice Cream Deck".

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