Aim high for your New Year’s resolution. No, not that high. A little lower. Lower. Good.
When we finally push our bikes to the summit of Mount Mitchell, it’s crowded with retired couples limping out of RVs and families wearing SEC football sweatshirts. Everyone seems to have a tiny dog wearing a sweater. To be honest, it takes the wind out of my sail. Sure, I rode my bike to the top of the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, but I didn’t have to. I could’ve driven and gotten the same view. This is not Everest we’re summitting here.
Still, I feel a little bit awesome as we strut to the top of the hill, pushing our bikes to the highest mound of dirt within 20 states, passing young children and their grandmothers who look at us with, dare I say it, awe. But then I realize they all passed us on the road climb to the top, seeing us suffer. Some of them even tell us so, saying things like, “I didn’t think you were gonna make it.”
Keener, my riding partner, and I started 4.5 hours earlier on the edge of downtown Asheville. The summit of Mitchell is the turning point in our 70-mile ride. 35 miles up, 35 miles back down, most of which is tackled along the Blue Ridge Parkway, famous for its winding black top and long-range views. The problem with riding the Blue Ridge Parkway is that it makes you feel like a superhero. It’s a steady climb from Asheville to Mitchell, but the grade is mellow, and the scenery is so astounding, it’s impossible not to feel good about yourself. At mile 20, there’s so much pep in your pedal, you start thinking you should look for a sponsor. You obviously have a natural talent for it. Trek could use a rider like you.
Then you hit Highway 128, the two-lane terror that connects Mitchell with the Parkway, and you remember just how human you really are.
The last five miles up Highway 128 to the top of Mitchell are brutal, mainly because it comes at the end of 30 miles of steady climbing. Keener brought speakers for his iPod and cranked AC/DC for the final push. I’m usually not a fan, but when your back hurts and you’re starting to form knots in key leg muscles, sometimes the only thing that will keep you going is “Back in Black.”
Even with all of the yipping dogs at the summit, I’m feeling good about myself, mainly because I’ve accomplished half of one-third of my New Year’s Resolution. I’m not good at fractions, but I believe that means I’m one-sixth of my way through my epic goal for 2013.
I call it the Mount Mitchell Threesome. Let me explain.
It’s a brand new year. We’re all fresh and ready to get after it, right? Make sure 2013 kicks 2012’s ass. So we make New Year’s Resolutions. In 2013, we’re going to wake early to see the sunrise every Sunday morning. Hike 50 new trails. And my personal favorite: We’re going to get in shape. Join a gym, go three times a week and shazam, you’ve got abs again. I’ve made that very same New Year’s Resolution every year since I was 13. In my mind, I saw myself spending the year ahead in a perpetual Rocky Balboa training sequence. Running in sweats, eating raw egg smoothies, chasing chickens.
If you saw me in my bathing suit, you’d know I never once chased a chicken. I look nothing like Rocky. My high school basketball coach would say I never followed through with my perennial resolution because I’m lazy. I’d rather blame the resolution itself. It’s flawed. It’s too vague. Get in shape? I’m already in shape, relatively speaking. I don’t have type II diabetes, so I’m way ahead of the curve in most circles. Why not just watch a Rocky marathon? And pass another donut.
So I’m taking a different approach to my 2013 resolution. I’m being specific, but also realistic. I’m never going to run a 4-minute mile. I’m never going to summit Mount Everest. Aiming for the stars is dandy if you have no intention of following through with your resolution, but if you want to succeed, aim low. Not too low, but low. Like, instead of the 29,029-foot Mount Everest, why not focus on the 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell?
Yes, Mitchell has all the trappings of your typical overpopulated state park—restaurant, crowds, complimentary golf cart rides—but look past the surface and you’ve got a foreboding peak with squirrely weather and rugged trails. A legit summit of Mount Mitchell may not require a Sherpa and oxygen, but it’s nothing to be laughed at, particularly if you do it with style. That’s where the Mount Mitchell Threesome comes in.
In the year 2013, I’m going “mount” Mount Mitchell three different ways, via three different routes.
First, I’ll ride my road bike to the peak from Asheville: 70 miles, 8,000 feet of vertical gain. A full day’s ride to and fro. Highlights: perpetual Parkway views. Lowlights: chafing.
Second, I’ll run/hike my way to the top via the Black Mountain Crest Trail. 12 miles, 5,000 feet of climbing. Highlights: miles of rocky ridge top with long-range views. Lowlights: brutal initial climb from Bowlen’s Creek.
And finally, I’ll cross-country ski to the top of Mount Mitchell via a mixed route that includes the gravel Curtis Creek Road. Distance: A lot. Elevation gain: A lot. Highlights: I like snow. Lowlights: I don’t like the cold.
So there you have it. The Mount Mitchell Threesome. It’s not as dramatic as climbing Everest, but it’s impressive enough to get me excited for 2013. And in the process, I might just get into shape. Cue “Eye of the Tiger.”