Monday, June 27, 2011
June 23 -- Little Switzerland
Tito and I took a different route to Mt Mitchell this past Thursday.
We spent Wednesday night in Marion arising early. We parked at a store at the intersection of Hwy 221 and Tom’s Creek Road. Hwy 221 on Thursday morning is like Capital Blvd – full of cars in a hurry to get to work. Not good riding. Fortunately, our time on 221 was brief.
If you go south on Tom’s Creek Road for 2.5 miles, you hit Hwy 80 just south of Lake Tohoma. We used this on our return.
We took off going north on Hwy 221 for 3.5 miles, left on Hwy 226 / 226a. Hwy 226, by far the busier road, goes right leaving 226A to go on its own towards Little Switzerland. Hwy 226A is the only “alternate” state hwy left in N.C. It was built by the community of Little Switzerland as a toll road in the 1920’s to connect to the railroad terminal. Once it was N.C. hwy 19, but eventually became 226A.
I recommend 226A. We saw maybe three cars in an hour and half of climbing. 226A is not as steep as hwy 80, well known to Assault on Mt Mitchell Riders, but has less traffic and is a good climb up to Lil Switz on the Parkway. We were in light sprinkles for most of the climb that became heavier once we got to town. This was about 8:00 AM and no place was open except for Books and Beans. Books and Beans as the name implies is a coffee shop within a book store. We sat on the front porch having coffee looking at the rain for about 45 minutes. The owner is a woman from Michigan who ended up in Lil Switz when she was attending UNC-Asheville and her husband App State. Lil Switz was half way between. She didn’t appear to be too happy despite Tito’s and my best jokes and banter. I think that owning a coffee shop / book store in the mountains is one of those things that sounds better on paper than it is in reality. An older couple came up just as we were leaving most interested in our excursion. They said they used to ride and really miss it. They were from Florida and said they had to go to Mt Dora to get in any climbing.
Leaving town, we got on the Blue Ridge Pkwy heading west and south towards Mt Mitchell.
The elevation in Little Switzerland (milepost 334) is the same as the elevation at Hwy 80 (milepost 344) but there is a lot of up and down though not too long or steep. It was an enjoyable ride in steady rain.
About the time we got to Hwy 80 intersection, the sun was out and the climbing began. This route is well known and has been the topic of other reports. Hwy 80 is at milepost 344. Mt Mitchell gate is at 355. This is a steady, steep climb except for a two mile down hill (which is up on the way back ;-)) at mile post 350. We were overtaken by five young riders vacationing from Florida. It was the first time for them and digging it. I asked them if they knew of Mt Dora. They said they had more climbing in the previous half hour then all day on Mt Dora. Ah, variety vacation land. We are blessed to live in N.C.
Atop Mt Mitchell it was “balmy” today - 58 degrees with 10 feet visibility with only mild gusts. On the summit is one of the few places in the eastern USA where Spruce Pines and Fraser Firs live. This is a byproduct of the Ice Age when these trees existed this far south, but then died out except for the highest elevations as the climate warmed. The top of Mt Mitchell is more like the climate in Eastern Canada than in N.C.
The snack bar was open and we helped ourselves to hot apple cider before leaving.
As we reached the bottom, we saw a car sitting in the overlook. She was waiting for her rider. She referred to herself as the “hag wagon”. Get it? She said she had waited the week before at the bottom of Col de Madeleine in France. Must be nice.
Down hwy 80, the most fun you can have on a bike, left on Tom’s Creek Road, and back to our car.
70 miles, 8,700 feet of climbing, 7 hours.