Sometime in late November 2021, the idea started to percolate around getting a few women together to head down to North Carolina to ride the Appalachian Gravel Growler (AGG) route off bikepacking.com. Jeannette’s son is going to school in Brevard so it’s a great excuse to go see him over her spring break. Jeannette and I rode together on the XNHAT and she was looking to expand beyond bikepacking overnights and 2-nighters.
For me, the breweries are a means to get others to join in the fun and six of our women friends who are brand new to loaded bikepacking signed on. As a non-beer drinker, I’m just here for the dirt, the views, and the joy of being out in the world on my bike.
This year I signed up for the AIDS/LIFEcycle Ride, supporting SF AIDS Foundation and Los Angeles LGBT Center. I chose to fundraise for this bikepacking trip to support ending the stigma around LGBTQ issues, HIV and AIDS support, and other life-affirming services. If you are interested in donating, please click here!
And true to not always making the best decisions in my life, I was one week into adjusting to a new SNRI for anxiety and scheduled to get an MRI when I got back for GI issues that have plagued me for the past 3 weeks.
Designed to be a sister route to the Green Mountain Gravel Growler in Vermont, the AGG links iconic breweries on scenic dirt backroads that twist up and down the Blue Ridge Mountains. With 207 miles and over 20k feet of elevation gain in remote (i.e., limited or no cell service; limited small-town general store-type resupply and bail-out options compared to other routes; potential need for roadside/backcountry camping), this is not a route I’d ordinarily advise for brand new bikepackers nor early season riding … but our friends are strong of mind, body, and spirit. With that, we set out for an epic adventure, starting with an 11-hour drive from New York to North Carolina.
You’re never too old to try something new.
- Alta, mid-50s
- Erin, low-40s
- Jeannette, mid-50s
- Kate, mid-60s
- Laura (me!), mid-40s
- Lisa, mid-50s
- Mary, low-60s
- Megan, high-30s
DAY 1: The Hottest Day
Rolling out under clear blue skies and mild temps (a welcome respite from the freezing cold and random snow and rain squalls we’ve had in New York), the mood is jovial. “You guys, I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!!” is regularly exclaimed as we make our way along the quiet river bike path and out of Morganton.
- Loose Dogs are a thing in North Carolina
- More exposure than expected on the backroads. It’s still early spring so not as much leaf cover to protect us from the blazing sun
- But the scenery is lovely and distracts us from the climbing
- Watching a local walk back down the road with a busted derailleur (yikes!)
- more climbing
- Lunch in the shade on a pull-out. A few locals stopped to chat while we ate
- even more climbing
- refilling water bottles from a stream (thanks Trailshot!) and dunking our heads in a waterfall to cool off
- still more climbing
- finally, consistent downhill!
- Betsey’s Olde Country Store was closed when we rolled up just before 5pm- but we found someone who let us refill bottles and use the bathrooms at the campground behind the store
- Deciding to stay at Mortimer Campground instead of continuing on because of impending overnight rain (around an inch of rain expected). The campground host let us use the picnic shelter for our bikes and meal prep; we pitched our tents a short walk away on Site 2. We put our food bags up in the rafters of the shelter as the campground is near a bear sanctuary
- Falling asleep to the gentle sound of drops on the rainfly
DAY 2: THE COLDEST DAY
The steady sounds of the rain continued into the chilly morning, making it mentally hard to want to leave my warm, dry sleeping bag in my tent. But because we stopped early last night and the rain wasn’t expected to stop until early afternoon, we had more than a few miles to make up today.
- Using the picnic shelter to make breakfast, plan the day, and repack everything up
- Forgetting to pack a belt for my ill-fitting rain pants
- nearly 10 miles of climbing on a noodling dirt road right out of the gate
- passing the roadside camping and being thankful we had a shelter to use this morning
- Warming up with coffee and pizza at the Linville General Store for lunch
- Deciding to descend on the pavement instead of taking the dirt road and powerline cut to make up time
- Passing where we would have come out on the powerline cut and being thankful we made up time
- The sun is coming out and we’re shedding our rain layers when we roll into Woodlawn and decide to ride the next dirt section
- Suprise double and singletrack
- Rolling up to Hillman Brewery for burgers and beverages just after sunset
- Finding two guys with a truck to give us and our bikes a lift to our campsite for the night
- Setting up and figuring out where the bathrooms and water pump are in the dark. We use the bearproof trash cans as a bearproof locker for our food.
- throwing extra layers in our sleeping bags because it’s expected to get down near freezing overnight
DAY 3: THE HARDEST DAY
A cold, crisp sun greets us on the third morning and we’re a little slower-going. Today is the biggest climbing day and our legs are already feeling the subtle stiffness of the previous three days. Today is expected to be a few degrees warmer and sunnier, and we are optimistic to get to Craggy Gardens for lunch.
- Climbing 2,200′ in 6 miles is B O N K E R S
- Peeks of the Blue Mountains between the trees are lovely
- shedding layers quickly
- Turning onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and knowing we still have 2 more miles to ascend around 800′ (but at least it’s paved)
- SO WINDY but mercifully partly sunny. Icicles are dripping on the protected northern rock outcroppings.
- Stopping for lunch at an overlook in a sort-of protected place from the wind
- 2 mi descent is over before it feels real, then back to climbing for the next 6.5 mi
- Another 2.5 mi descent that goes by too quickly, then the final 2 mi ascent to Craggy Gardens
- It’s so cold and windy the tops of the mountains frosted in ice
- Getting to the Visitor Center 30min before it closes. Warm ourselves by the fire, buy water for our bottles, and put on every layer of warm winter clothing we have for the 13mi descent.
- Dodging falling ice from the rock outcroppings as the sun warms and melts the base
- Rolling through Asheville’s cute downtown and onto the beautiful bike path
- Arriving at our AirBnb for the night and celebrating with showers and well-deserved beverages
DAY 4: THE LAYOVER DAY
We enjoy a leisurely morning with ample electricity, hot water, and four walls around us at night. Jeannette’s son had dropped off groceries the day before so we enjoy coffee and cook breakfast in the kitchen. Two of Kate’s local friends arrived and took us downtown for a day of wandering around.
Splitting up, my group and I decided to eat lunch at Early Girl (Mark was an excellent server) and then make our way over to Wicked Weed. More wandering and a Hemp Fest stop, our group split up and I headed back to the AirBnb with Lisa while Erin, Megan, and Jeannette went for a few more beverages at Burial. We grill dinner and relax because our final day is upon us.
DAY 5: THE LAST DAY
Eager to complete our epic early-season journey, everyone is up and ready to go before our 9am wheels-down start time. Let’s do this!
Pro Tips from the Crew
- “Find yourself the most amazing gnarly girls to share the adventure with!” – Kate
- “If you get your period, share it!” – Erin
- Be mindful of group size. While it was amazing and fun to spend time with so many friends, a group of 8 is pretty big. Megan said it best – “it’s gonna be like herding cats.” We strung out and regrouped without too many issues.
- Prepare for the trip. While it’s generally going to be OK to show up for a group ride without looking at the route or doing much planning – that can be a big issue in bikepacking. We had several Zoom meetings to talk about logistics, the routes, packing, gear, food, and expectations.
- Use a Navigation Device to stay on course. Make sure everyone who isn’t running the route on a bike navigation device or phone is with someone who is. That being said, the investment of a bike navigation device like a Garmin or Wahoo is worth it if you are looking to do more bikepacking with camping. Running Ride with GPS on phones was not as accurate and ate through batteries
- Secure your load. Thankfully we recovered everything that found it’s way off someone’s bag or rack. Periodically check your straps to make sure everything is secure, especially when heading into the singletrack.
- Align on expectations and priorities. It’s never fun to be the person who’s priority is different that everyone else’s – whether it’s choosing more dirt vs making up time on pavement or going to the brewery before or after getting out of your chamois.
- Everyone finished safely. Which was really my biggest fear and goal for the trip given the number of people who had not done a fully loaded overnight, much less one with this much climbing and gear for camping. I am confident this trip worked well because everyone is a very strong rider and has some level of experience with gravel and mountain biking and backpacking. We communicated well, looked out for each other, and had a blast spending 5 days together exploring the textures of western North Carolina.
See you out there!