Touring - Indianapolis to Beaufort SC: Please critique my route
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07-28-08, 10:56 PM
I have a wedding to attend in SC at the end of August. Thinking it would be a great excuse for a tour of the Smokies and the Southeast (hot I know). I have a friend in Richmond Indiana, so I figure this would be a good launching point. I'd take the train from Colorado where I live to Indianapolis. Here's a link to my proposed route:
I'd very much appreciate any comments or suggestions from those of you who are familiar with the area. Thanks in advance
07-28-08, 11:52 PM
I know the area well from multiple bike trips, back road car trips, and historical research.
No - - your route is not the best. That's one of the problems with Map My Ride and other programs. You are on some insanely busy roads - some of which are narrow, two-lane mountain roads. In Colorado people expect to see cyclists in the mountains. Appalachian culture is highly automotive. A grown man rides a bike only when he's lost his license. And then there are coal trucks.
You have a few major barriers to cross in your general route. First the Ohio River - that's the easiest. The Kentucky River can be tricky since it has extremely high bluffs. The Cumberland Plateau is a limestone formation with deep erosion resulting in extremely curvy roads. The Appalachian Mountains begin just north of Cumberland Gap. BTW - the old road over the gap has been removed and the tunnel doesn't permit bikes. The Appalachians run perpendicular to your route and, although not high, are very steep. Then there is the problem of dammed rivers. All the dams that the TVA built have reduced possible crossings to only a few - which, of course, increases traffic. Finally there's US 441 in the Great Smokeys. Outside of the park it has insane traffic - even in the park it is narrow and has, maybe, 10,000 AADT in summer. The Blue Ridge Parkway stretch is actually the best part of your route.
There are county traffic volume maps available for KY, TN, NC, and SC - plus county road maps. In Kentucky there are much better roads than US 127 and US 421. US 25E in Tennessee is a very high-traffic route - and although 4 lanes, I think the shoulders were just a narrow gravel strip. In South Carolina I would urge you to look at county roads that go from Sassafras Mountain between Greenville and Anderson to Saluda then to Denmark. There are quite a few state parks on that vector and camping is problematic in the South.
Appalachia is tough. The TransAm is different since folks have gotten used to cyclists over the past 30 years. But rural Appalachia is tough. There's extensive poverty, narrow roads, abuse of alcohol and drugs - plus if you are nonwhite there are additional risks. Sorry, there is much to admire in Appalachian culture and most people are great, but I've been dumped in the middle of nowhere by "guys just having fun" and I'm white and male. A Puerto Rican friend of mine was followed and threatened as she rode thru Tenn.
I would urge a little more time planning carefully.
Plus you will be hot - very hot - and sticky.
And don't push yourself on those steep climbs.
Best - J
07-29-08, 07:43 AM
441 over the Smokies - only in early morning. In summer tourist season, I think I'd prefer doing it at 3 am!
441 through Pigeon Forge, as in most other tourist areas, better to find side roads.
07-29-08, 09:08 AM
I wasn't sure this would be a great idea. I've spent some time in the Appalachians in WV and KY, and have always wanted to explore this area some more, but I wasn't sure it would be feasible on a bike. Time restraints would dictate a very direct route from IN to SC, otherwise, I'd probably take the Trans Am east and hook up with the Atlantic Coast route.
Perhaps it would be better to take the train to Richmond VA, and then ride the established Atlantic Coast route to SC. Anyone know about camping opportunities along this route?
07-29-08, 11:04 AM
I was in Asheville and Boone last week for a hub and spoke bike tour. It is certainly possible to ride through the Appalachians, and the weather was great (high temperatures on our rides of around 75, lows during the day around 65 in some spots -- such a contrast to 99 here in south Georgia). The grades also provided immediate cardiovascular exercise which I grew to enjoy!
Jamawani notes the following: "Appalachian culture is highly automotive. A grown man rides a bike only when he's lost his license. And then there are coal trucks." As a counter to this thought, I can report that I saw over 100 other bicycle riders during my week in the NC mountains. However, I will agree with Jamawani that some of the small roads can be dangerous with no shoulder and heavy traffic. I did note that some of the larger roads did have small paved shoulders.
One option for selecting a route through the mountains is to search for local bicycle club cue sheets; if the locals bicycle ride on a given route, then it probably is doable. For example, check the route cue sheets for the Asheville area here:
Route 441 through the Smokies is very scenic, and an early morning ride during a weekday is possible. Some have lived to tell of the ride on the Crazyguy site. I asked park rangers about this ride and here is the reply I received:
Traffic in July is typically lightest on mid-week mornings, however it can still be very heavy. The road is narrow and steep with blind curves and little or no shoulder. Automobile drivers are looking at the scenery, rather than paying attention to the road, so be prepared for motorists doing stupid things, such as passing you while on-coming traffic is approaching in the other lane, or passing you too closely. (I had the extended mirror of a slow-moving pickup truck pulling an RV clip my shoulder once.)
I would not take route 129 south of Great Smokies Park. That is known as Tail of the Dragon and is an extremely popular motorcycle and sport car route. Look on Yourtube for some of the crazy driving on that road.
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