Climbing Above It All
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Basking in the Sun.
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I did NOC Triple Chainring Challenge this past Sat. as part of my training for the Assault on Mt Mitchell in June. Being the first year for the event there was a small field and perhaps the weather forecast scared a few more away. The website indicated the 92 mile loop had 15K' of climbing, but the good news is that my altimeter only recorded 8700'. Not to say the climbs were easy. For the most part the course was either up or down with very little true flat to be had. The one notable exception was the section after Fontana Dam along the lake.
The ride started promptly at 9am, personally I would have like a ride of this length to begin a little earlier to avoid afternoon issues with weather or traffic. Neither were a problem on this day. There was a brief light shower after the first hour which made some of the descents tricky but otherwise it was comfortable all day. The ride started off with a climb, of course, out of the Nantahala River Gorge and continued on rolling terrain until the first sag at 21 miles.
After the sag the ride began a series of climbs on NC 28 which led to the base of Fontana Dam. From there the only section of truly flat road, 6 miles, ended with the climb up to Deals Gap. Yes there were many motorcycles at the Gap, most parked waiting out the rain to run the Tail of the Dragon. For the most part though, I had the road to myself at this point as I was between groups of riders. Only the NOC sags came by with regularity.
Through Deals Gap the course followed NC 129 down to the base of Cheoah Dam then up the Cheoah River. After a quick sag at mile 42 I pedaled alongside the river for several miles at an easy grade until the turn into the Yellow Ck valley. The thing about Yellow Ck is that while the ride through the valley is generally a mellow rolling road through pastures and forests it ends abruptly at a wall of a climb which tops out at the Appalachian Trail. While the climb isn't long at 1.2 miles it has two very steep pitches. As bad as the climb seemed, the freefall down the other side was worse. About a quartermile after the crest a hairpin 180 degree off camber slick curve made it feel like I was circling the drain on the wet road. I survived that turn and a few other corners on the rest of the runout to the third sag.
The third sag was the same as the first sag having completed a loop, the Yellow Ck loop, it was back on NC 28 for the climb up Stecoah Gap. Normally, Stecoah Gap isn't too difficult but my legs were feeling the steep grades on Yellow Ck. The 4 mile climb averaged over 7% and was a grind. But once at the top of the Gap, crossing the AT yet again, it was mostly down to Robbinsville. The fourth and last sag was located at the HS. From there it was an 11 mile gradual climb, 800' gain, to Topton.
The section on NC 129 from Robbinsville to Topton had the most traffic on the entire route. The DOT had just put rumble strips in the shoulder leaving inside the lane the only place to ride. I do have to say that the traffic though this area was for the most part very considerate, though I wish the DOT would widen the shoulder for safety reasons.
Once at Topton, the work was done. After a quick descent to the Nantahala River the road continued down the drainage back to the NOC for the finish. The Triple Chainring route was very scenic passing waterfalls, lakes, dams, and many rivers along the way. I live in the area and never get tired of riding out there.
The support was also very good. I bet I was passed by a sag vehicle at least 20 times over the course of the day, though I never needed anything it was nice to know they were there. My ride time was 6:09, total time 6:25 for the 94 miles and 8700' climbing. The fastest time of the day was 5:08/5:13.