Note: The thoughts and activities discussed in this post occurred on Tuesday, January 24, 2012.
Today’s cycling trip was intended to be an extension of the inaugural trip, picking up in Sylva, NC where I ended the first trip and cycling to the little college town of Cullowhee, NC. After checking out the route with a topographic map, then by car, I decided that having only one recent trip under my belt I’d be better off reversing the originally intended start and destination points, therefore I began the trip at Cullowhee’s Catamount Travel Center and rode to the Wal-Mart Super Center in Sylva.
This particular Travel Center seems to cater mostly to students from the nearby university, visiting parents, and the occasional tourist since it’s the first facility of its type I’ve seen that operates a convenience store/gas station combination with “normal” hours, and a restaurant that’s only open for breakfast and lunch. The restaurant portion is a franchise of Huddle House, which makes this locations hours especially strange. In my travels I’ve eaten at a lot of Huddle House restaurants. All but one were open 24 hours, and the one that wasn’t was open until 10pm, then re-opened at 6:00 am. I didn’t even know a Huddle House franchise could choose not to provide services during supper hours. I assumed they would at least be required to provide their customers the opportunity to have breakfast, lunch, and supper at the “appropriate” time(s). In fact, the Huddle House corporate website says predominately on their home page, “Any Meal. Any Time”. Enough said.
Across from the Travel Center is Western Carolina University. The university was founded as a four-year institution in 1929, however it had been various types of schools since 1888. The campus is pretty nice looking in itself, so when set against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains its beautiful. There appears to be an abundance of student housing. Several dormitories can be seen near the entrance, and there are a number of off-campus apartment buildings near by. Close to the administration building, which is at the campus’ main entrance, is a new Fine and Performing Arts Center whose opening was hosted by Jay Leno. According to a brochure the Center offers a wide range of performances and main-line guest appearances.
Heading North on NC-107 the four-lane divided highway climbs gradually for about 2/3rds of a mile, at which point it flattens out briefly before beginning a long downhill grade, then repeats this pattern a couple of times. NC-107 is somewhat of a unique road. To the East/South it continues to the NC/SC state line where it becomes SC-107. Most roads, other than Interstate Highways, change route designations, i.e. numbers, when they cross a state line. Anyway, this portion of the route is very scenic, crossing over the Tuckasegee River and offering several long-distance views of both mountains and valleys. Also, both sides of the highway have designated bike lanes for over 3/4’s of the route traveled today. With the exception of WCU, the Travel Center, and a handful of houses the North-bound portion of the highway remains primarily rural in nature until one near the Sylva city limit.
At one time there was an ice cream shop called “Jack The Dipper” on the East side of the road approximately half-way between Cullowhee and Sylva, but that business has moved into Sylva’s city limits and off the”main drag”. The building currently sits vacant with signs of some recent renovation to its exterior.
Just inside the Sylva city limit, on the West side of the roadway, is Smoky Mountain High School. I don’t know which came first, the adjacent cemetery or the school (I’m guessing the cemetery), but it feels a bit strange to see a large school situated next to a cemetery. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I would assume having a school and a cemetery next to each other isn’t a normal occurrence.
Looking past the school one can see an unfortunate sign of the times. A large, unfinished, hotel sits atop a hill looking lonesome and forgotten. The building has been dried-in, sort-of, and some interior work completed. Construction stopped when the company declared bankruptcy, leaving a large tarp-covered hole in the roof. An employee of a nearby business told me another company purchased the property and did a little work on the inside before they too went bankrupt. How sad. 😦
Across from the cemetery and high school is a Burger King, a couple of banks, a grocery store, and a Lowe’s store. A little further along there’s a family run store named Bryson Farm Supply which has been around for over 40 years. In today’s economy it’s nice to see a small business like this continue to operate. From this point on a wide variety of businesses, and even a few houses, line the highway all the way through town.
I’m going to begin something new starting with this post… dining recommendations (or bad food/service) for those readers who probably cycle much further than I currently do and would like to know about a good place to eat along their journey. I may also go back to previous posts that talk about specific areas and modify them to reflect these recommendations, however that decision is still up in the air. There are two recommendations this time. The first is a Chinese food restaurant named Jade Dragon. They’ve been in business for at least 5 years. They started out as the China Dragon restaurant near Western Carolina University on Old NC-107, then recently moved to their current location on NC-107 (also known as East Main Street). The second is the “El Patron” Mexican restaurant in the Wal-Mart plaza. This restaurant is fairly new as a Mexican restaurant, however they have a long favorable history in this location as Japanese-Chinese Restaurant. Both restaurants mentioned have excellent food and great service. Oh, in case you’re wondering… I will be calling it as I see it, and will not be seeking/accepting any type of compensation for my recommendations, just a simple, straight-forward description of places visited.
The total distance traveled this trip was 4.3 miles, an improvement over the first ride that was 3.9 miles. It’s not a lot longer, but having been out of cycling for so long, and starting “fresh” in the mountains, it’s not bad. Including a few stops to rest briefly or take pictures the ride only took 50 minutes to complete. The temperature started out at 49 degrees Farenheit and ended up at 52 degrees. The sky was a deep blue with only a few white clouds. The sunshine felt really good in the areas protected from the wind, however a strong breeze made other portions of the ride somewhat chilly.
I’ll have to admit this ride was difficult for me, and not as enjoyable as the first ride. There were more, and longer, uphill climbs than I realized traveling the route by car. I didn’t rush, even though the total time to distance ratio was better than my first ride, but I had to push myself to keep going. A couple of times I felt like walking the bike, but if I did that then I would not have ridden the entire route, so i just took a brief rest and continued. Don’t get the wrong idea. I enjoyed the ride, just not as much as the first ride. I’m going to have to try harder to cycle more so I become better accustomed to riding and climbing hills. Taking a ride only once or twice a month will never get me in the shape I need to be in for the long-distance ride I hope to take this Fall.