I had ridden long days for the past several days, so now I only had a bit over 60 miles to go to get home. Of course that 60 miles contained a pretty big hill - Sam's Gap, which is on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. From Johnson City to the top of Sam's Gap is something over 3,000 feet of climbing in 30 miles. Depending on route, most of the climbing is in the last five or ten miles. I rode south from Johnson City on Erwin Highway a road that parallels a new interstate which, at the time of this ride, was only completed to Erwin, a town about half way to Sam's Gap. The interstate from Erwin to Sam's Gap was almost ready to be opened, so, after a rest stop and snack in Erwin, I rode towards Sam's Gap on the new, but empty, interstate.
I enjoyed the ride to Erwin, but not the ride from Erwin up to Sam's Gap. The new Interstate has a pretty constant slope, and isn't really hard to ride, but it was almost terminally boring. I had ridden it once before on a unloaded bike so I knew what I was getting into, but this time it just seemed to go on forever. It is pretty, in fact is certainly one of the prettiest pieces of interstate highway around, but, even empty, interstate highways aren't much fun on a bicycle. This segment was, by far, the hardest part of this tour. Here is a picture looking down on the old road up to Sam's Gap.
That road, which you can just see in the bottom left of this photo, is a great ride as it winds its way up a valley next to a creek. Unfortunately it is also a dangerous ride until this interstate segment is opened because it has far too much traffic, especially heavy truck traffic.
At the NC border the traffic from the old road and the traffic from the new road (me!) merged.. There is a great 45 mph down hill, a wicked uphill, another down hill, another bad uphill and then a really long downhill to near Mars Hill NC. It was pretty good riding on this trip because traffic wasn't too bad. Shortly before Mars Hill, the route becomes 19/23, a four lane divided highway with (usually) good shoulders. I stopped for lunch at a little café not far from Sam's Gap and for a snack in Weaverville, which is only about ten miles from Asheville. Then I rode Business 19/23 from Weaverville to my home in north Asheville. I got home about 3 PM, so it took about six hours to ride form Johnson City.
I took seven days, five on the Parkway, to ride from Asheville NC to Arlington VA. It took six day, only one on the Skyline Drive, to ride back. Riding the Parkway was a challenge and is something to be proud of having done, but US 11 through the Shenandoah Valley was often more fun!
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