The Ride 4 Animal Care has several good climbing sections, but the main feature is a chance to climb Green River Cove. SteepClimbs.com describes Green River Cove as "[o]ne of the toughest climbs of the area is covered by trees and has 17 tight switchbacks. " While the climb is much shorter than some of the other local riding attractions, this one is quite well known for those 17 switchbacks. During the summer months it can be even more challenging because the Green River is a popular tubing and kayaking spot in the upstate as well.
|rendering of Green River Cove from VeloViewer.com|
Before you can experience Green River Cove, you have to get there. The ride started at the North Greenville University stadium in Tigerville, SC. Last year we had an early climb up Callahan Mountain, but because of construction work earlier in the week, the route was changed to bypass that climb and go out Dividng Waters road toward the Greenville Watershed. Most of the riders doing the 40 and 60 mile routes were not upset over this change, as we had plenty of climbing to experience without the extra from Callahan.
At the start time the temperatures were in the mid-60's, although we all knew that this wouldn't last through the day. As we climbed up the Greenville watershed, the sun was just starting to peek through the treelines, making for some terrific views.
|views on the watershed in the morning|
Holbert's cove is probably one of the most technical and challenging long stretches of road that I have ridden. The terrain mixes in hard rollers, with gradients over 15% and hard turns. It also affords some picturesque views that are sometimes hard to take in an enjoy.
The most technical area of Holbert's Cove is about 3/4 of the way down from Saluda, and is a rather sharp right hand turn. I've only encountered this turn twice, the first time being during a training ride for the Assault on Mt Mitchell in 2013. I was already aware of how technical this turn is, and that you have to be careful of your speed as you approach it. I got myself overly concerned about speed, and didn't get prepared for making the turn, so I overshot it, but was able to correct before heading off into the trees. I felt very lucky that there were no oncoming cars as I got myself back onto my side of the road as quickly as possible.
Once past Holbert's Cove, you get into the long stretch of mostly flat riding that follows the Green River, knowing that at the end of this stretch is the moster that is known as Green River Cove. You pass by the river cabins, kayaking locations, and tube rental camps, all set in a rustic setting. The river looks calm and inviting, and you can see the mountains all around you. The temperatures in the cove had yet to break 70 degrees, so the wind felt nice. It leads you into a false sense of security with how serene it is.
Once you pass over the Green River for the final time, the climbing starts. With 17 switchbacks, measuring your efforts becomes critical. The best part for me is that these switchbacks have numbers on each turn, giving me something to focus on during the climb. Knowing how much of an effort is left allows me to dig deeper to keep going when you really just want to stop and take a long nap. At the top of the climb is a short ride back to the rest stop in Saluda. It was a welcome break, and one that I made sure to actually time to make sure I rested well enough before continuing on the route. With 20 miles left to go, I didn't want to rush through this stop and regret it later in the ride. After having a banana and refreshing both water bottles, I was on my way.
The last 20 miles of the ride follows the same route as the 40 mile version, going down the Saluda Grade and back up Fork Creek road. The Saluda Grade is named for the section of road that follows the steepest segment of standard grade railroad line in the United States. The road has wide sweeping turns, and is a fun section to ride down. The climb up Fork Creek Road isn't very technical or steep, but with recent road work was a little hazardous in dealing with gravel in the road. Near the middle of this section there is a fork in the road, and looking at the conditions I chose to take the slightly longer route that had less visible gravel. I was quite glad that we were traveling up this section, instead of riding down it.
The final segement of the ride was a trip back down the watershed, and then riding back to Tigerville. The route takes you past George Hincapie's new resort, Hotel Domistique, finishing up on Chinquapin Road. It happens that my family was working the rest station that was located in the parking lot of the Hotel, so I made one final stop to fill up water bottles and say hello before riding back in.
Totally 67 miles and almost 6000' of climbing, the Ride 4 Animal Care is definitely a challenging route, and one that I look forward to riding again next year. Each year Vince and the TeamFS folks are learning how to improve the event, and I'm sure it will be even more spectacular next year. Personally I hope that they decide to add event numbers, as they are great souvenirs, if not having an optional medal that can be given to people that complete the full 67mi event.