Months ago and a hemisphere away, we got an email from someone that went by the nickname of “Zeke” to see if we’d be interested in returning to the mountains of Western North Carolina to give some presentations on bicycle travel at the Blue Ridge Breakaway. Sure, we said. It was an abstraction. Months away. Of course, time always moves faster when you’re not paying attention.

Once we were finalizing our travel dates, BikeShopGirl told us through Twitter that if we came “just” a week earlier we could also check out Southern Spokes, a fun family-oriented bike and camping weekend that she was organizing. Looking at our calendar and maps it looked like the perfect excuse for a little Southern touring. Sure, we told her. Before we knew it, we were rushing to get our bikes shipped and figuring out how to dress exactly for a humid Southern summer.

Bike Fun in the CLT

We took the red-eye to Charlotte, NC and probably got less than an hour of sleep. We met Arleigh (aka BikeShopGirl) bright and early at around 6am. In a sleep deprived but caffeine driven cloud of activity, we got to know each other and drove into Charlotte proper. After a short stop at Smelly Cat Cafe in the NoDa arts district of Charlotte, we headed over to a woman named Pamela’s house for a breakfast of oatmeal and grits. I had almost forgotten the fun but somewhat erratic trajectory of travel. You move like a pinball ricocheting from person to place ever trending in a vague but deliberate direction.

After breakfast, Arleigh got our bikes ready for riding. We had shipped them ahead of time and mine was apparently a little worse for wear. She hoisted it up on a small tree and dialed in the shifting. We then got a whirlwind bike tour of Charlotte, meeting up with some readers at Common Market. Charlotte, we were told is actually not so bad for riding. The center is busy with activity during the day, but becomes a virtual ghost town after work hours and during the weekend as people flee to the suburbs. We stopped at the headquarters of Charlotte’s new bikeshare program which was barely a week old and spoke to their operations manager. We also dropped by the Spoke Easy, a bike shop started by a local architecture firm, that specialized in building custom bicycles for people. They helped you pick out a frame, components and even worked with a local powdercoater.

When we got to our digs for the night we were exhausted from the lack of sleep, but also the buzz of being on the road again. The next morning, we rode to the small bike friendly community of Davidson, NC where we spent the afternoon checking out the small shops and enjoying the sun. We met up with four other cyclists (DC, KT, Jon, Dick Winters) who were also on their way to SouthernSpokes. After another round of coffee, we mounted up and pounded out the remaining 23 miles to the campground. It must have been a strange sight to see 6 loaded bikes pacelining on a Friday afternoon.

We set up camp at Lake Norman and made use of our firestarting skills to get the wet twigs and branches burning into suitable “cowboy TV” as DC liked to call it. As the night went on, others started to find the fire and it was good to be in the company of people that were just out for a fine weekend of bikes and camping.

The next two days were filled with relaxing bike fun. Salsa was out in force with demo bikes for the event. Laura went on women’s mountain bike ride on one of the many loops at Lake Norman. I took out the Salsa Warbird, their new gravel racing bike. We both rode the El Mariachi which got us dreaming of future off road adventures. As much fun as the bike riding was, the best part of Southern Spokes was the people. We got to hang out with Arleigh and talk about some of the challenges of bicycle advocacy in the South. We also talked a lot about the power of storytelling in blogs and social media and how bicycle shops and the greater cycling movement could take advantage of it. We got to know Eric from Salsa and learned a little more about the company and the grueling work it takes to launch new bikes.

From Lake Norman, our next destination was Asheville, NC. We had a vague idea of how to get there and mapped out a very circuitous route trying to avoid the main highway. Although the distance wasn’t very long, according to our GPS, we did about 9,000 feet of climbing in the 100 or so miles to Asheville!

One of the highlights was stumbling upon a small private campground just outside of Marion, NC. Porsche, the owner of the campground, is a 28-year-old general contractor who got into real estate early. She purchased about a mile of riverfront property on the Catawba River for her dream house, that she is now building herself. In the interim, she is opening up some of her land to campers. It was a delightful stay where we were literally feet from the water. We were her first bike tourists, so we stayed up late drinking white wine beneath her outdoor dining area (a popup tent) and swapped stories. While the camp had very few facilities, it was relaxing and scenic (and I managed to get some blue gill on the fly rod : ). If you’re traveling through the area on bike, we highly recommend it!

From the campground, it was more or less a short-ish but hilly ride into Asheville. While only about 40 miles, there was a good bit of climbing to be done. Most of it, thankfully, was on old HWY 70 that is now a converted greenway! It is short, only about 3 miles, but it is beautiful and one of best stretches of roads we’ve been on. Imagine climbing a windy and twisty mountain road beneath a canopy of trees without a car in sight. There were even picnic benches along the way, overlooking some of the amazing views to be had.

In Asheville, we stayed at the Sweet Peas Hostel located centrally in downtown. It doesn’t look very inviting from the outside, but the interior was done in a very clean and contemporary way. Most hostels in the US that we’ve stayed in have seen better days, but Sweet Peas looked well-maintained and is a great gem in the middle of Asheville. As an added plus, the hostel was also pretty bike friendly and didn’t have a problem with us rolling the bikes indoors. They also had information about Adventure Cycling on display. While we would have liked to linger longer, we had a presentation to give at The Blue Ridge Breakaway in two days and needed to get back on the bikes!

Part 2 Coming Soon!

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