I pedal away from the empty parking lot and the climb is steep immediately. For a moment, the pounding of blood in my ears drowns out the crunching of gravel under my tires, but it’s only a moment. The grade levels off somewhat, and that crunching fades as doubletrack gives way to something resembling a trail. This was a logging road once, a long time ago, but those origins are hardly recognizable now.
This is mountain biking, the kind that starts out with a three-mile grunt up some lumpy mountain in the southern Appalachians. Below, the spectacular Rock Creek splashes down the gorge, forming a half dozen noteworthy waterfalls and cascades along the way. It’s hard to complain too much about climbing when the surroundings are so idyllic.
Above, at the top of the mountain, is a well-visited campground, where I could’ve parked the car if it didn’t feel so much like cheating to do so. Beneath my tires are old, gnarled roots, sandstone rubble, and the occasional mountain creek to splash through, and the sound of traffic has faded away completely.