Cycle North Carolina – Mountains to the Coast Ride

September 29 to October 5

450+ miles

On Saturday, October 28, Judy and I, after a two-day 680 mile ride, reached the town of Spruce Pine, North Carolina. The town is located in the heart of the Smokey Mountains at an elevation of 2,532 feet. The Blue Ridge Parkway is less than a mile away. Tomorrow, we will start the first leg of the trip, 58 miles to Morganton, North Carolina. Now I will learn if I have trained enough after being off my bike for two months.

September 29th, Spruce Pine to Morganton – 58 miles

We didn’t go more than a mile before passing under the Blue Ridge Parkway. Within a half a mile, we took a right turn and immediately started climbing a mountain. The road went uphill for three miles. The grade averaged between 6 and 8 per cent. There were no level offs, so we went up hill relentlessly. By the time that we reached the town of Little Switzerland at the top, we had climbed 948 feet of vertical and crossed the Eastern Continental Divide. The town has an elevation of 3,471 feet.

The view from the top was awesome. Way below, a valley seemed to run for miles. It was flanked by mountains on both sides.Now we had a nine mile downhill ride. The road was constantly switching from left to right with many sharp curves. There was no shoulder. Visions of my previous accident made me very conscious about not picking up too much speed. I literally rode my brakes all the way down not letting the bike get over 20 MPH. By the time I reached the bottom, both my arms and hands ached.

Judy had to drive the car over the same road. She had to hug the center line, keeping her speed down to 25 MPH. She said that it was very scary having dozens of bikers streaking by her on the right. She was petrified that she might meet a car coming the other way around a sharp curve. If this occurred, she would have a choice of hitting the other car or taking out some bikers. Fortunately, she did not see any cars coming the other way and reached the bottom safely.

For the rest of the day, it was up one hill and down another without let up all day. There were virtually no level areas. That night we discussed the fact that we didn’t see any of our friends and were hoping that they were going to do the ride.

Day 2 – September 30th – Morganton to Troutman – 75 miles

By the time I reached the first rest stop, I was able to put away my concerns about no one we knew attending. Everyone was there. Jim Hayden on his recumbent, Hank and Kathy Williams on their Tandem and Tom Rife and John Lutrell on their own bikes.

This day was exactly the same as the first, up down, up down. This time we had to go 15 miles before encountering the next mountain. I wasn’t able to get the vertical that we climbed or the distance but this one seemed to be tougher than the first. For one thing, the grade ranged from 8 to 10 percent. This was one that when you came around a curve hoping to see the top, it curved the other way and up again. I swear that this occurred at least 8 times and perhaps more. I rode the whole way puffing like a steam engine in my lowest gear. I could only go about 3 MPH and had to constantly turn the front wheel from left to right and right to left to keep from falling over. As I rounded each curve, I encountered more and more people walking and pushing their bike in front of them.

By that evening, I think that not enough prior training finally caught up with me. I was exhausted. In the first two days, we had ridden 133 miles; but more importantly, had climbed over 7,500 feet vertically. That’s almost one mile and a half of vertical climb!

That evening Hank showed me an amazing video. On the 9 mile downhill the first day, he had attached a video camera to his handlebar. He and Kathy went down that whole 9 miles on their tandem at 40 MPH! When he banked around sharp curves, it scared the hell out of me– remembering the one that I didn’t make. It was one of the best amateur videos that I have ever seen. What impressed me even more was his superior bike handling skills.

Day 3 – October 1st – Troutman to Asheboro – 75 miles and into the Piedmont

It was starting to get warmer and I had no desire to push my luck. I had Judy drop me off at the second rest stop and I only rode 47 miles. Now the hills were getting less steep and shorter, and believe it or not, there were short stretches where the road was level. All in all, at the end of that day, I felt that if I had had to go 60 miles, I would have been a hurting pup.

That evening we all went out to dinner together. That Tom Rife really missed his calling. He definitely should have been a comedian. It started when we told the waitress about the bill. We told her that we wanted one for Hank and Kathy, one for me and Judy and one each for Tom and John. Someone then said that Tom and John were roommates but didn’t sleep in the same bed. That started our sharp young waitress off but she was no match for Tom. Every time that she batted the ball into his court he batted it right back.

Then the two sisters “Moodie” and Madeleine sat down at a table next to us. They have been working at the rest stops for many years. They are really a lot of fun. Then they started with Tom about riders who come to the rest stops and have gas. They batted that around for a while. He, the waitress and the two sisters managed to keep me and Judy in stitches.

Day 4 – October 2nd – Asheboro to Holly Springs – 78 miles

This day turned out to be the hottest. It hit 89 at 2:00 PM. I again started at the second rest stop and rode 46 miles. The terrain was similar to the previous day. By the time that I left the last rest stop, it was very hot and I had 16 miles to go. By 8 miles, I was starting to feel lousy. My butt hurt and I was constantly shifting it. The left front of my right foot felt like it was on fire. I was progressively getting weaker. My average speed dropped by 1 MPH. When I still had 3 miles to go, I ran out of water.

When I arrived at the finish, I spotted a canopy with a table under it. The table had 8 water coolers on it and I made a beeline for it. After drinking for a few minutes, I called Judy at the hotel and told her, that while the hotel was only two miles away, I didn’t think that I could pedal that far. She said that she would be right over.

As there was nowhere to sit, I sat on the ground and continued to drink. Suddenly my phone rang, and I realized that I had left it on top of one of the coolers. I got up quickly to answer it, and suddenly the lights started to go out. Somehow, by running backwards like a crab, I managed to keep from falling. Apparently, that attracted a lot of attention because someone brought a chair for me to sit on.

After a short period of time an ambulance arrived. It was Judy that called me because they had the street blocked with cones and wouldn’t let her through. The EMT’s immediately took my blood pressure and seemed to be having trouble. I was a little out of it so I was not completely aware of what was going on. Finally they got it and said that it was extremely low and to come to the air conditioned truck where they would administer an IV. Judy came in with us. After the bag was empty, they took the blood pressure again and said that it had not changed at all and they would have to take me to a hospital. Judy followed in our car.

At the emergency room, a doctor examined me and called for another IV. After the third one, the blood pressure gradually returned to normal and I started to feel a lot better. After what seemed like hours, I told Judy to go out and tell the nurse that if they didn’t release me right away that I was going to leave on my own. That got their attention! After a few minutes, a doctor came in, reexamined me and said, “OK you’re free to go.” He told me that it was important to take the next day off to give my body a chance to recover. He also told me that I should drink as much as I could at each rest stop, even if I was not thirsty, and of course, to drink a lot from my water bottles while riding.

The whole thing really messed up our evening. My cousin lives in Raleigh with her husband and we planned to go out to dinner together. By the time that we left the hospital it was too late for that.

Day 5 – October 3rd-Holly Springs to Goldsboro – 65 miles

Judy and I had a leisurely breakfast and got in our car for the trip to Goldsboro. At the town of Smithfield Judy wanted to get a drink and we stopped at a convenience store. While she was doing her thing, I started looking at tourist brochures. I said, “Hey there was a famous actress born near here. Four years ago when Al Lowich and I were on our way to our 1st Cycle N.C. we stayed overnight near here and tried to find the museum without success.”

Since Judy and I are movie buffs and had plenty of time, we found it and stayed for several hours there. The actress was Ava Gardner. A lot of people under 50 will not recognize the name. Those under 40 will say, “Ava Who?”

Her story was truly a “rags to riches tale”. She was born, the last of seven children to a tobacco farmer 8 miles from Smithfield. He lost his farm during the depression and became a sharecropper. Her mother ran a boarding house to help make ends meet. By the age of 19 in 1941, she was signed as a bit player for MGM. By the mid to late forties and through the 50’s and 60’s, she was one of MGM’s biggest stars along with Clark Gable and Katherine Hepburn.

In the early 50’s, her picture appeared on the cover of Time and Life magazines. At the time, she was considered one of America’s most beautiful women. In 1953, she was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress for the movie “Mogambo” but lost out to Audrey Hepburn for the movie “Roman Holiday.”

She was pursued by many men. Howard Hughes spent a fortune on jewelry for her but never won her heart. She had three tumultuous marriages, two of whom most people would know. They were Mickey Rooney and Frank Sinatra.

When she married Frank, he was at the nadir of his career. He was not the heart throb of the young ladies anymore. Elvis was knocking them off their feet. He had played successfully in several MGM musicals but they felt that he was over the hill. He had lost everything and was desperately trying to hang onto his house in Palm Springs. He and Ava fought constantly over money. After all, she was supporting him.

Finally, Ava went to the head of MGM and begged for him to give her husband a role in an upcoming movie. The movie came out in 1953 and was called “From Here to Eternity.” It won 8 Academy Awards and Frank received one for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Maggio. It resurrected his career and he did better and better after that.

For more information, Google her. Judy and I found that we have six of her movies and have not seen any of them. That will change. We also have “From Here to Eternity” and last saw it about 50 years ago. That we will see again.

Day 6 – Goldsboro to New Bern – 73 miles

I was still not sure if I had fully recovered and had Judy leave me off at the last rest stop. From here it was 32 miles to the town of New Bern. We were now on The Atlantic Coastal Plain and the roads were flat as a board. At the rest stop, I drank so much Gatorade that I thought that my belly would bust. Then I filled both water bottles and remembered to drink them while riding. I made it to New Bern with a 16.7 average speed.

I called this and the next day – “Don’s Revenge”. In the mountains, I got so tired of hearing, “On your left” as both men and women passed me. The ultimate insult was when some of them called me “sir”. Now it was my time to say “On your left” and say it I did, with glee.

Day 7 – New Bern to Atlantic Beach – 69 miles

In that I had done so well on Friday, I decided to see what I could do going the whole way.  I made it to Atlantic Beach at an average speed of 15.7 MPH it took me 4 hours and 18 minutes of riding time. My computer showed that I had burned over 2,400 calories. In addition to the ride time, I spent about 30 minutes at the three rest stops. I made sure that I drank enough and refilled my water bottles at each stop.

I know that some of our younger “Hot Shots” will poo poo these times. My answer is, “Just you wait!, just you wait!” If you can even ride a bike at my age and beat this number, I will give you $100.00. Don’t count on collecting though because by that time I may be “pushing up daisies.”

At the Finish Line, Judy and I joined the celebration and enjoyed a hearty lunch. It was only the second time that the ride had no rain all week. Since the weather was so good and our hotel was right on the beach, we stayed an extra day.

Don Sprague