As much as I love riding from home in Knoxville, I always enjoy making the trip to Waterville, NC to grind up and down a few mountains on the gravel bike. As I was working my way back to fitness last fall, the varying terrain makes those long solo rides so much more enjoyable. As we’ve gotten more into racing season, I occasionally use these mountains as organic intervals, just riding hard up the climbs and easy in between, which has been a stimulating way to build form without having to think too hard.
This ride specifically is super scenic and the higher elevation keeps it a bit cooler. The front half of this ride is climbing heavy with a climb over Mt. Sterling, and then another over Cataloochee Divide—last time 16 miles took 2 hours, in part because the roads were heavy with moisture. After the 2 opening climbs, there’s a sweet overlook called Buzzard’s roost that I’ve managed to blow by on the descent every time. Oops!
A key part of this ride is a quick dip onto the highway to visit a gas station a few miles off course. Personally, I like to put an ICEE in an insulated bottle so I can sip on some sugars for the next hour of climbing.
If you missed Buzzard’s Roost, no need to worry, as once you get near the top of the climb to Max Patch at about 4500 feet, there are some sweet overlooks to the left. Once you get to the top of this climb, you can enjoy a fast, sweeping descent with only one more short climb to go (at this point, a 30 minute climb will seem short). After you get up this last one, there’s a ripping sweeper all the way back down to the parking lot—but be aware, there’s a big dog that likes to run out just as you reach terminal velocity. The ride is about 80 miles and runs about 5 hours. If ambitious, you can take a dip in the high river that is prime for kayaking and rafting in the summer. I like to pack a smoothie and a pack of barbeque chips for the drive home and usually use that time to catch up with my friends on the phone.
That’s my favorite ride and thinking about it has me remembering I need to change the brake pads on my gravel bike…