Day 55 Abingdon VA to Kona NC
I've done the first part of this ride, Abingdon VA to Unicoi TN, several times, coming home that way after three long tours, so I won't spend much time on it here. Suffice it to say that it is OK riding with two city sections (Bristol VA/TN and Johnson City TN) and riding on interstate like US 19 between them. US 19 is like riding on a lightly traveled interstate with very light truck traffic - easy riding.
Abingdon is neat, sort of like a smaller TN version of Stratford ON. It is a bit congested to ride through because of the festival traffic, but fun. From Abingdon to Bristol US 11 is not bad riding. There are sections with no shoulders, but traffic isn't bad (it is all over on I-81) so the riding is good. I've often had a tailwind on this section which makes it even better <grin>.
I take US 19 south through Bristol which, although there are a few hills, and one or two mildly congested areas, is no big deal. Actually Bristol is quite a pretty town and once you get heading south on 19 where 19 is four lanes there is a good shoulder all the way to Johnson City.
Johnson City has a 'bicycle friendly city' sign, but riding through it on 19 is very urban riding. 19 crosses two interstates. Not fun, but not terrible. After the second interstate crossing, it climbs a long hill and, at the light just after the top of that hill, you need to turn left from a four lane road without a shoulder onto Roan Street. If traffic is heavy, getting to the turn lane can be a bit tricky.
Roan street is the old main drag and goes through an older part of town. South Roan is pretty in town and there is now a shoulder on the new part south of town. It becomes Erwin Highway (this used to be the Asheville Highway) and is now a nice rural highway paralleling an interstate for the ten miles to Unicoi.
I usually stop to eat leaving Bristol and again in Johnson City, and this trip, I stopped in Unicoi to make sure all my water bottles were full and my quart gatorade bottle was also full of water. I wasn't sure what services I would find on TN 107. I didn't find many services, but I think there were two places, one in TN and the other in NC, where I could have had a snack and filled my bottles. TN 107 heads east from Unicoi and, ten miles and several thousand feet of climbing later, it enters North Carolina at Iron Mountain Gap. It looked, on maps, like a good way to get into North Carolina from Tennessee. It was.
107 has a nice new surface all the way to North Carolina. It also has small shoulders for the first few miles and a bit too much traffic. I was passed by a loaded logging truck heading up it, luckily at a place where the shoulder was adequate. I have no idea why a loaded logging truck was going up that road! Despite the traffic, the bottom part of 107 was nice riding. It goes through national forest, and there are picnic and camping facilities in the first few miles of the road.
When TN 173 heads off to the north east, so does most of the traffic. 107 starts climbing a bit after this and then, five miles or so after starting 107, climbing gets more serious. I didn't have my altimeter, but the total climb getting from Tennessee to North Carolina is on the order of half a mile. Most of that climb is in the last three miles of 107. It is a steep and steady climb at about a ten percent grade. One of the nice things about this route is that 107 has no downhills heading east. There is one place, about a mile an a half from the top, which actually looks like a dip, but when you get there that section is simply flat for 100 feet or so.
Just before the top, where 107 crosses the state line and the Appalachian Trail the climbing gets a bit easier. I stopped several times on this climb to rest, eat, and drink water before going on. When I got to the top, I spoke with some hikers on the Trail, and then stopped to enjoy the view. I think this is the most spectacular entrance to North Carolina I've found. The view is simply breathtaking. Of course I didn't have much breath left to take at that point and all my clothing was sweat saturated from the climb. Heading down the other side was spectacular (and chilly for the first quarter hour while my clothing dried out) - the hill was, after a brief steep section at the top, not as steep as the Tennessee side, but went on for something like ten miles. Nice.
On the NC side of Iron Mountain Gap the road becomes NC 226. I rode it through Buladean, a pretty town in a incredibly beautiful place, and on down to Loafers Glory, a strangely named, and very small, town. Then I turned onto NC 80 which goes on east to Micaville. I was very tired a this point, having ridden 80 miles or so and climbed something close to a mile. I assumed 80 would be like a continuation of 226, but I was very wrong. 80 is the curviest, most up and down, road that I have ever tried to ride. It is beautiful and very hilly country and that !#@$@#! road seems to want to explore every nook and cranny of those hills. I suffered through six miles of this, which took about an hour, before realizing that I was not going to be able to make it to my destination twelve miles beyond Micaville, before dark (or exhaustion).
NC 80 near Kona
After riding through Kona, a very beautiful collection of a few building, I was climbing yet another steep hill when the couple who run the Mountain Hill Country Gallery invited me to take a break from "the hill from hell." I took a long break, but first I called Don Patterson and asked him to come pick me up. Then I sat with David and Patricia Dowd and visited for the forty five minutes it took Don to drive the eighteen miles from his house to Kona. Don is not a slow driver, but those roads can't be driven fast in a car either! My host were most hospitable - the beer was good and so was the conversation - and I learned a lot about that part of North Carolina from them, but I don't think I'll be bicycling that way again. They said the Tour Dupont came through there one year and the riders were cursing the hills as the rode past. I can empathize with that!
I think Iron Mountain Gap may be one of the best ways into NC from TN, and I know it one of the prettiest, but next time I come home that way I'll stay on NC 226. Bakersville, only a few miles from where I turned onto NC 80, is a nice town which has at least one B+B, the Bicycle Inn, owned by the folks who used to own the bike store I use in Asheville. The ultra-marathon cyclist whom I met in Colorado last month had stayed at the Bicycle Inn. He met Mike, the owner, when they were both doing Paris - Brest - Paris in '95. I think Abingdon to Bakersville would be a nice ride, as would Bakersville to Asheville via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Heading down from Mt Mitchell
I spent the night and morning with my friend Don, which was a very nice coming home gift, and then Don gave me and my tired body a lift (about a 3500 foot lift!) to the restaurant on Mt Mitchell. After our usual long lunch, I rode home, arriving in Asheville at about 5:30 PM. A good way to end a long tour!