Sassafras Mountain Epic Ride
Here is the map from the Sassafras ride I did this past Monday to officially end my racing season. This was definitely an epic ride that I think is the best way to end a season of hard training and racing. The ride was 98.3 miles and nearly 8500′ of climbing. This was a little longer than last year with the loop through Clemson, but it also had slightly less total climbing. Below the map, I have included a detailed list of points along the route and other fun tidbits of information about the area:
- Fieldstone Farm Inn Bed and Breakfast – this has been our fall break getaway spot for the past three years. There were eight horses in the large field right outside our modular cabin on the farm. The kids loved them and had a great time while I went on my nearly six hour epic ride (it was only supposed to be 5 hours!)
- This is Seneca, South Carolina. On Sunday night before my Monday morning ride, we drove through Seneca on one of my old cycling routes and got to watch a long, fast train pass right in front of us. The kids (especially Josiah) were fascinated as it was only a few feet away!
- The turn here takes you onto a very scenic road past the Oconee County airport. It is up on a high area with a magnificent view of the mountains.
- Sunday night and then again on Monday night, we took the kids on “Roller Coaster Road” which is a road right off the airport road with three consecutive short steep hill/valley combos where you can actually feel the g-force when the car bottoms out in the valley and starts the climb up the next hill. I told the kids to put their hands in the air and Josiah just kept his hands in the air for a long time after we made it through the roller coaster hills. They absolutely loved it!
- I rode right through Clemson University during my ride. I went right by Death Valley (the football field) and turned left to go up the hill by my first dorm on campus — Holmes Hall. Very sentimental as I used to end the season with a 200 mile epic that I would officially start and end in front of another building on campus — Tillman Hall.
- This long stretch of road (from 5 all the way past 7) is state highway 133 which goes from Clemson to pickens and then all the way up to state highway 11. This is the very first road that I rode on when I was at Clemson – and that one ride cured me of the homesickness I was feeling as a 17 year old starting college!
- Here is the town of Six Mile at the base of Six Mile mountain. I only climbed it once while I was at Clemson, but it was definitely a memorable climb. First, the road is a dirt road with lots of “do not enter”, “private property” signs – but hey, it’s on the USGS map and it is a completely irresistible road since it winds around the mountain completely circling it like you would see on a cartoon map or cartoon show. When I finally made it to the top, it looked like Fort Knox with fences, radio equipment, radio towers, small utility buildings everywhere. There was also a tall fire tower behind a tall fence with the top spikes unbent. I tried to climb it to be able to make it up to the top of the fire tower to see the view, but I made it to the top and realized that I was going to cut myself pretty bad if I tried to go over so I started to climb back down. I made it a few feet from the bottom and decided to jump the rest of the way forgetting that with bike cleats on the bottom of my shoes when I landed all my weight would be pushed back to my heels. So when I landed I promptly fell straight onto my back and head hitting my head very hard on a rock — fortunately I still had my helmet on so it just dented the helmet and didn’t knock me unconscious. Then I felt kinda silly because I realized the lock gate was loose enough (and I was skinny enough) to simply pull the two sides of the gate apart as far as they would go and squeeze behind them. By this time the sun was about to set so I rushed up the tower and then waited and watched the sunset. It was so absolutely beautiful. The only problem, of course, was that Six Mile is about an hour away from Clemson by bike! So I got to ride that in the dark without lights or reflectors. But before that I had to get back down the mountain and one of the houses I passed by safely on the way up had a rather large dog come chase me on the way back down. I stood up and sprinted on a dirt, rocky, windy road down the mountain with the dog chasing me. If I had fallen, it wouldn’t have been pretty. Anyway all that is to say that it was definitely an epic ride. On Monday, though, I just rode by the road that takes you to the top. I didn’t have time to include it on my ride.
Here is the reference map again so you don’t have to keep scrolling up to see the correspondence between the numbers and the map:
- Woodall Mountain – this 1/2 mile climb gains nearly 350′. It is one of the steepest roads I have ridden, but the joy of the ride is the fire tower at the top of this mountain. You can see all the way to the 5000 and 6000′ mountains with the blue ridge parkway. Absolutely beautiful. I just rode by this road on my Sassafras ride and happened to pass two women walking looking like they were either Mennonites or belonged to a Christian cult.
- This was one of the prettiest “fall views” on the route. The mountain straight in front of the road is called Peach Orchard Mountain and there was a huge stand of trees covering the face of the mountain that had all started to change color. Many of the other trees in the area were still green and had not really started to change color.
- A scenic road that bypasses state highway 11.
- The start of the climb on US Hwy 178 to the top of Beasley Gap. This is a popular route from both Clemson and Greenville. Even though this is a US Highway there is usually not very much traffic. I got passed by 5 cars during the 20 minutes I was on the road. Then on the way back from Sassafras, I only got passed by 1 car during the same stretch of road. On my ride Monday I tried to hit this climb in Zone 5 and was able to do that, but by the top my legs felt so heavy I knew that I was not going to be able to push it hard on Sassafras.
- The top of Beasley Gap. I knew by the top of this climb that I was not going to be able to attack Sassafras. Also, the other interesting thing about this gap is the topography immediately to the left and right of the road. The mountain rises up very sharply so that you really get the sense of this being a “gap”.
- The start of a fun 1 mile descent with good switchbacks taking you into the high mountain valley camp of Rocky Bottom, which is at the base of the five mile climb up Sassafras.
- Rocky Bottom – the start of the climb up Sassafras. The steepest part is near the beginning with the climb up Chimneytop Gap. Then there is some rolling sections and a steady rise next to a creek before a final 2.5 mile section of relentlessly steep road all the way to the top.
- Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina at 3560′, is one of my favorite climbs.
- Bob’s place is located at this intersection. It is a biker bar with spray painted grafitti that says “It’s not illegal to be a biker” and an outdoor seating area with chairs, a fire pit, and a sign that says “Road kill grill”. It is also at the top of one of my favorite descents down into the Eastatoe Valley. The road switchbacks on itself very fast and you can stop at the bottom and look back up and see all the switchbacks in one view.
- The start of the Eastatoe Valley
- Eastatoe Baptist Church is a very rural country church with a cemetery, outdoor picnic area, and one building.
- Dug Mountain – from the Eastatoe Valley side, the climb isn’t too bad, the view is great, and then there is a 50mph descent down to a river bridge. On Monday’s ride I ran out of water at this point and would not find water again until almost 10 miles later.
- At the top of this hill was a newly developed resort community with a high-end grocery store / market. I got two bottles of water and a bottle of coke for $4.17. Pricey but worth every penny since I was shaking pretty bad and very dehydrated.
- When I did a 92 mile ride last year up Sassafras Mountain, this was the only road that I had never ridden on during my time at Clemson. It is an extremely fun road with a few switchbacks on relatively small hills. On this year’s route, there were not any new roads that I had never ridden before. That didn’t matter though as this year’s ride felt more like a ride backwards in time than anything else.
- I used to call this road “Alabama Road” because it reminded me a lot of Alabama with a lot of pine trees and rolling hills. It was used on almost every variation of the Whitewater Falls route, but never on the Sassafras Mountain route because it would normally be way out of the way if you were heading back to Clemson. Instead, though, my ride was starting from west of Seneca so it happened to be the most direct way to get back to the bed and breakfast.
- Duke Nuclear Power plant. Several routes came near the plant and you always imagined what your last thought would be if the plant were suddenly to blow up.
- And along those lines, I used to live right here within the “dead zone” if there was a nuclear meltdown. I lived in a trailer that was about 20 miles from Clemson and 8 miles from Walhalla, SC where I was working at the time as a computer programming intern with Schlumberger. There is a family with kids (lots of toys in the front yard) living there now and they have added on an outdoor shed.
- This stretch of road (from 24 past 25) is hilly and very busy. There is an elementary school at the beginning and another at the end of the road. I went through here at 3:00PM so the road was extremely busy. Fortunately they pave the road very wide and I had only one car “buzz” me pretty close in what appeared to me as an intentional “you shouldn’t be here” move. Still it was frustrating for that to happen at the end of such an awesome ride. Speaking of awesome, the view from this bridge (where the number 25 appears on the map) is a great view of Lake Keowee with all of its many islands. I have old topographic maps that show where a railroad used to go through the lake before they flooded it when they were building the power plant.
CH – Caesar’s Head – this is in the upper right of the map and is a very popular climb for the Greenville Cycling community. It was also a ride from Clemson, but since it was farther away we didn’t ride it as much. Very fun climb with a ton of switchbacks.