Beech Mountain Challenges Bikers
However, the challenging ride, climbing to more than 2,300 feet in three miles, at Beech Mountain was the route he chose to help him prepare for the Tour De France while recovering from cancer in 1998.
Today, bikers who seek a challenge or have personal issues of their own to overcome, often follow the same route, which locals have named the "Tour De Lance." For those looking for less of a challenge, Beech also offers scenic rides on 51.2 miles of paved bike routes as well as mountain biking options.
"Beech Mountain was a part of Tour DuPont, America's premiere cycling event, from 1993 to 1996. Our portion of the tour was often called the most challenging -- the 'make or break' part of the race," said Fred Pfohl, local chairman of the tour during the 1990s. "In the years since the Tour DuPont and Lance Armstrong, biking has become more popular, and Beech has risen to the occasion by designating bike routes on the mountain for all levels."
The town's five major bike routes start from the visitors' center, located near the top of the mountain next to the town hall. While most routes are through residential neighborhoods, others take riders on a journey through nature, such as the route by Buckeye Lake, and each trail offers riders unique aspects that can't be found elsewhere.
"Beech is special; it has all the ingredients," said Armstrong after winning the Beech Mountain leg of the Tour DuPont in 1995. "It's as close as we get to European climbs in this race. It's a classic."
Many people flock to Beech Mountain's trails because of Armstrong. After four consecutive Tour DeFrance wins, Armstrong's spring 1998 stay in the Blue Ridge Mountains had become somewhat of a legend. Armstrong, a cancer survivor, was considering retirement from cycling in 1998. As a last attempt, his coach brought him to Boone for a week of riding. As he reached the top of Beech Mountain one morning, Armstrong says he regained his competitive edge.
"I was a bike racer again," Armstrong said in his autobiography. "If I ever have any serious problems again, I know that I will go back to Boone and find an answer."
Some people want to follow in Armstrong's footsteps; others just want to know what it feels like to cycle their way to the top of a mountain.
For the novice rider, a ride along the "Around the Block" route, a 7.55-mile path, takes the rider from residential areas to Oz, literally. The route takes riders up the mountain, over the ski slopes and turns around on the "Land of Oz" Bridge. Experienced riders might try the Pinnacle Ridge to Oz route, which takes riders to more than 5,400 feet of elevation. This might be the most difficult at 11.36 miles and grades ranging from 11.2 percent to over 22 percent, but riders say it is worth the challenge.
"If you are truly a cycling enthusiast who is looking for a challenge where cool summer temperatures and the natural beauty of the mountains abound, Beech is a must on your summer cycling schedule," said Pfohl, owner of Fred's Mercantile and an avid biker.
For the best of all riding worlds, climbs, height and views try the St. Andrews Loop Road trail. Starting at the Beech Mountain Town Hall, riders take St. Andrews road up to the ski resorts. There they can enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views for which Beech Mountain is known.
Buckeye to the Top trail is for riders who want to reach great heights. It's one of the highest trails reaching elevations of 5,435 feet over the course of 13.94 miles. On this trail riders will pass an old cemetery, anad beautiful residential areas and be led to Oz Road.
Cyclists who enjoy the challenge of a climb will like the Pinnacle Ridge Road Loop. This 10.41-mile trail has an average climb of an 11.2 percent grade and even reaches 22 percent at some points.
For those looking for an off-road adventure, Beech's mountain biking opportunities may be the answer.
"Many of the hiking trails are compatible for mountain biking, and some of the roads in the outlying areas are great for riding," said Pfohl. "The best mountain biking area is the Westerly Hills section, which has undeveloped roads with a great downhill through the woods."
Wild Iris Loop Trail is a good, easy trail with some gentle grades, and a favorite of local bikers is the West Bowl Loop, which can be done in either direction, starting with the Beech Mountain Parkway trail head. Riders looking for a more advanced downhill course through wooded areas will enjoy the Grassy Gap Creek Trail, which starts with rock steps that riders must negotiate and ends up at Buckeye Lake.
"The eight-mile Buckeye Gap Loop trail combines other trails, making it an eight-mile round trip that is easy to follow with varying elevations and some rough terrains," said Pfohl.
Beech Mountain, the highest town in the eastern United States at 5,506 feet, is nestled in the northwestern North Carolina Mountains, only two hours from Charlotte and Asheville. Known for its unique beauty and winter sport activities, Beech is a year-round tourist destination offering visitors a variety of outdoor adventures.
Throughout the year, the town also embraces a wide range of cultural activities ranging from street dances and Sunday evening sunset concerts to the town-wide 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog and arts and crafts festivals.
For more information about biking Beech Mountain, visit www.bikebeechmountain.com.
For additional information about the area or events at Beech Mountain, contact the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce at 800-68-5506 or visit www.beechmtn.com.
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