I left after breakfast, despite the fact that there was a display of Ansel Adam's platinum prints a at local gallery that I would have liked to see. The gallery didn't open till 10 and I had over 100 miles to go, and one pass to climb, to get home. The ride to Bristol is not exciting (two lane with shoulders) and the ride from Bristol south to Johnson City Tennessee is even less exciting (divided four lane with good shoulders), but neither are bad riding.
In Johnson City I stopped for lunch and to call home. I had 60 miles with maybe 4000 feet of climbing left on my tour. It was 1 PM when I left Johnson City on the 'Old Asheville Road.' The Tennesse side of this road has recently been supplanted by an interstate, so the old road is quite nice for bicycling. It is pretty flat, by local standards, from Johnson City to Erwin. I stopped at a Subway in Erwin to tank up on coke before I started the climb over Sam's Gap. After Erwin there is a substantial climb, but then the road descends again before beginning a gentle climb that lasts for 12 miles and climbs about 1000 feet. This is very nice riding up a pretty mountain valley with very little traffic. Then things get steep: the road climbs another 2000 feet in the last few miles. Still, this is an excellent bit of bicycling road.
At the top of Sam's Gap the interstate and the old road merge into a two to three lane road with, usually, good shoulders. A great downhill is followed be and equally wicked uphill. This happens twice before a final downhill is followed by a nicely rolling stretch. There is a good, down home, cafe after the first downhill and a service station / grocery stop just before the last downhill. The cafe was closed by the time I reached it - I was really looking forward to some of their excellent pie - so I had to settle for the grocery store. It had the dirtiest bathroom I saw on this tour.
The road joins with 19 (Sam's Gap is on highway 23) and becomes a divided four lane with good shoulders. Pretty hilly and there always seems to be some construction on this stretch, but OK riding. This four lane lasts into Asheville, but the shoulder deteriorates badly just north of Asheville and, in Asheville, 19/23 merges into I-240. I suggest you exit north of Asheville at the exit that says North Merrimon. I took the direct route home and that meant I exited one exit later. It is less than a mile between those exits but it was dangerous because of poor shoulder conditions (rough and a lot of debris), a bridge with no shoulder, and a blind entrance ramp. I won't do that again. 106 miles.
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