After the Festive 500 I felt really strong on the bike. I had already tackled several rides over 50mi and even traversed the “old” part of the Foothills Parkway. Since that ride over the Parkway, I have wanted to try out the new section. It was the talk of the cycling community around here… Fresh asphalt, excellent climbs, and breathtaking views what more could you ask for?
Luckily for me, I have several friends in the area that are always down for a bit of an adventure. Ben Poland reached out to me about doing a longer ride on his day off, which also happened to be a 68º day in January, so I grabbed my laptop and got to planning the route.
With the government shutdown I was betting on the Smokies being closed, so I made a route that included a fair bit of riding in the park and even a lap of Cades Cove, which despite having lived here for over 6 years, Ben has never been to.
The ride started at the locally famous Coulter Bridge in Maryville and we continued the normal route to get to Foothills. It was pretty smooth sailing to get there, but we had no clue what was in store for us. Once on the Parkway we were met with pristine tarmac which is always a welcomed feeling for any cyclist. Many of the roads around here will shake you until you just can’t take it anymore. Just as we were getting used to the feeling of new asphalt the road took a pretty sudden turn towards the cloud-laden morning sky. We were in for a challenge. The first climb up the new section of Foothills is daunting, reaching a 12% grade in sections, but it levels out and returns to a much more reasonable 4-8% after you get past the initial upturn. I can’t even begin to describe the views. They are breathtaking. When on FHP, you are essentially dangling off the side of the Ridgeline overlooking the valley, so you get a birds eye view of Townsend, Walland, and the like. Not to mention that the actual roadway you happen to be on is a feat of engineering and architecture itself. Tough climbs, super fast descents, and magnificent road surface. You HAVE to ride the new Foothills. They got it right. I mean, it took them 60 years, but they got it right.
From there our ride took us up the short, but even steeper Line Springs Rd. that snakes up the backside of Metcalf Bottoms. After stopping at the top to catch our breath and shake off what we had just done to our legs, it was downhill in to GSMNP. When we got to the bottom we were a road closed sign, just what I had hoped for. The park road from Metcalf to the Wye on the Townsend side was completely closed to car traffic, and for good reason. I supposed because of the government shutdown the park was not maintaining the roadway and it was littered with debris. Fallen rock, downed tress, and more brush that I ever thought possible. The experience of cruising a shutdown park road was pretty damn magical, like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
Our private park session was over once we reached the Wye, they still had the road up to Cades Cove open but it was fairly low traffic especially given that we did it on a Monday. We only had one close call, which is less than I usually expect in the park. Thanks, couple in a bright red 350Z. I will say, once we caught up to them in the Cove, they apologized, but only for making us yell at them, not for passing WAY too close. Lol.
By this time we were beat, so it was a good thing we only had a short climb out of Cade’s Cove and the rest of the route back to Coulter was either downhill or flat.
Also, thanks to the Park Service for leaving the water on at the visitor’s center, it was a life saver.
All in all it was a fantastic day on the bike and it was nice to be able to introduce Ben to Cade’s. After living here for so long sometimes I get a bit jaded about the fact that we live in such a magical place.