Near the top of the Paint Gap in Madison county
I'm usually pushing my bike at this point
Most of my regular rides go over Paint Gap which is on the border between Madison and Yancy counties in western North Carolina. The Madison county side of this gap is the steepest road I have ever ridden, at about 20% grade, but the climb isn't very long, so it is almost rideable lt;grin>. The really steep part only lasts about 100 yards, but there are several hundred yards of > 10 % grade before you get to it. I regularly ride over it going to my friend Don Patterson's house in Yancey County and to the Bicycle Inn in Mitchell county. Coming back down this grade, I get into the low 50 mph range on my touring bike and the high 50s on my racing bike.
the top of the Paint Gap in Buncombe county
This section of the road was dirt the last time I rode it
There is another Paint Gap not far away. It is located between the community of Beech and the town of Barnardsville in northern Buncombe county. Like the first Paint Gap, it is a steep - about 12 % sustained - climb but not a really long climb. I hadn't ridden over that gap in half a dozen years because it is at the end of a highway - Rheems Creek Road - that is dangerous to ride. Still, Beech valley is quite nice riding and it is possible to get there without riding the bad part of Rheems Creek. That requires a bit - 1000 feet or so of extra climbing to get there via the Blue Ridge Parkway and Ox Creek Road.
Last weekend I decided that it would be interesting to ride to the Bicycle Inn via both Paint Gaps. It added about 2000 feet of climbing and two hours of riding to my usual ride to the Inn, but it had been so long since I rode through Beech Valley and over that gap, that it felt like I was riding in a new place and I really enjoyed the ride.
The top of Ox Creek near bull Gap on the Blue ridge Parkway
I rode, with a friend, up Town Mountain Road to the Parkway at Craven Gap. At Buck Gap, my friend rode back to Asheville over Elk Mountain Scenic Highway while I headed down to Ox Creek. The descent on Oxcreek is fun, but the road was still sanded because of recent snows, so I had to take it easy for the first mile or so. There is a bit over three miles of fast descent into Rheems Creek Valley.
The Vance Birth Place
Ox Creek ends at Rheems Creek, and I turned right, heading past the Vance Birthplace. Zebulon Vance was North Carolina's governor during the civil war. His birth place has a museum and buildings - log cabins - from that era. After the Vance Birth Place, the road runs straight and flat till it come to the Beech Community, The traffic was light on Sunday afternoon, and it was nice riding.
One of the very tight switchbacks on the first Paint Gap
At Beech, the road takes a right angled turn. A mile or so later it turns again and heads over the ridge to Barnardsville. There is a sign warning trucks not to try to use this road because it is narrow, steep, and has sharp turns. There are a couple of switch backs near the top of the climb that would be impossible for any large vehicle to navigate. They have very tight turns and are quite steep.
The sign also says that part of the road is dirt, but that is no longer true. The top section of this road, which was dirt the last time I rode it, is now crudely paved, much like Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. You can see the pavement in the image at the top of this page. It is still a hard climb, but the pavement does make it easier to ride on a road bike.
The Barnardsville side of this Paint Gap is a steady 12 % grade for about half a mile, with some sharp corners. It wouldn't be a good place to have brake problems or to have a dog run out in front of you. Like the other side of this gap, it is a fun, and challenging, descent.
197 leaving Barnardsville
Barnardsville is a small town strung out along the floor a very pretty valley. The road coming down from Paint Gap has several miles of more gentle grade before it reaches US 197. Then you ride a mosty flat valley floor to the community of Democrat where Holcombe Branch road heads over yet another ridge to meet Beech Glen road less than a half a mile from Beech Glen. At this point I'm back on my usual route to the Bicycle Inn.
Right after Beech Glen, I turn right on Paint Fork Rd - the same name as the road coming down into Barnardsville from Paint Gap, but in a different county so there is no naming conflict. This is a one of my all time favorite roads, even though it ends with a hard climb to Paint Gap. This valley is beautiful, peaceful and friendly.