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Best of the Blue Ridge

Six years ago when I moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains from Buffalo, New York, I never would have thought it was such an incredible place to live, train, and experience the outdoors. More often than not raves are about places like Boulder or other such destinations out West. What I discovered when I arrived here was a gem: mountains with challenging climbs and descents, both on foot or by bike; incredible rivers for water sports; and a beautiful climate that allows for near year round outdoor activities.

One of the most exciting aspects of this outdoor oasis in the Blue Ridge was the outdoor culture. There was a mass of supportive, friendly outdoor enthusiasts concentrated in the region, yet surprisingly the trails and roads were not saturated with people. You could and can still find solitude in these mountains if you choose, or you can easily find a great group of people to share in your adventures.

The ample number of outdoor clubs is also something special to our area. For example, Asheville alone boasts numerous cycling teams, clubs for both men and women, a women’s specific riding club, a nationally ranked collegiate cycling program at Warren Wilson College, and at least nine bike shops in the area.

Throughout the years various professional athletes have also called Asheville and the Blue Ridge their home. Tour de France’s George Hincapie lives in Greenville, S.C. and trains regularly in the Blue Ridge. Of course, Lance trained here as well. And Olympic and world-class mountain bike racers hail from Virginia, West Virginia, and even right here in Horse Shoe, N.C. Chris Herndon, one of the athletes whom I coach and a professional downhill racer, is a native of Brevard, N.C. He currently sits in the top five nationally for downhill racing. The terrain in the Pisgah Forest area is superb for preparing for all his races throughout the nation.

As an endurance coach, I’ve explored these mountains with my athletes thoroughly over the past six years, and I’ve found a few favorite spots to ride and train. East Fork Road in the Brevard area is one of my newest addictions. This beautiful, weaving road follows a picturesque Blue Ridge stream near Rosman. Plenty of opportunities for serious climbing abound, but the river road provides an opportunityto mix in cadence and speed.

Another mainstay for great mountain bike riding is the Mills River area. Trace Ridge and Avery Creek are fun trails near Asheville that allow you to get in a training ride and not have to drive a great distance. You're sure to return to the trailhead caked in mountain mud, and expect some wet river crossings along the way, too.

If you’re looking for a classic climb, Heartbreak Ridge in the Black Mountain/Old Fort area is sure to get your wheels spinning. The breathtaking (literally) ascent offers incredible vistas of the tallest mountains east of the Rockies.

It’s no surprise to find such a thriving community of cyclists and mountain bikers calling the Blue Ridge home. I’m happy to finally be one of them.

Colin Izzard is an endurance coach with Carmichael Training Systems, which offers training and skill camps for cyclists and other athletes of all levels of athletes and abilities:</em>

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