Cycling, Scenery and S’mores

Dancing Bear Cyclists Enjoy the Ride –

Image“Maybe we should try a tandem sometime,” I say to my husband as we head to the Smokies for a cycling weekend.

The response is non-committal, the look dubious.

I’m sensing adventure as we arrive in Townsend, Tennessee at Dancing Bear Lodge, a mountain retreat where hospitality and cycling roll together. We’ve come for the Dancing Bear Bicycle Bash, a twice-a-year event which offers organized rides, gourmet cuisine and plenty of camaraderie for cycling enthusiasts and families.

On Saturday morning, a group of 125 cyclists in colorful, high tech garb meet in a meadow beside an historic cantilevered barn at the edge of Dancing Bear’s 35-acre property. We begin our ride en masse, peddling along a beautiful, flat stretch of the Little River before optional routes split off for 20, 30, 50 or 60-mile rides.  My husband is on the long ride which takes him on a loop over unhurried country roads through hills and bucolic countryside.  I follow the 30-mile option and happily team up with a lady named Jessie, a school principal from Clinton, Tenn., whose riding buddies have also chosen a longer ride. We peddle at a relaxed pace, pausing for photos of scenic vistas and “refueling” at the designated sag stop. Route markings on the pavement (called Dan Henrys) keep us on course before leading to a challenging final loop through the hilly Dry Valley.  The scenery is even more splendid as we skirt the edge of a bowl where heavy clouds enshroud the mountaintops, and we look out across farmsteads and fields of horses and cattle.

Back at the Lodge, a festive atmosphere awaits us with country music, lunch and libation on the porch.  A sumptuous buffet of bison burgers, barbeque and creative salads feature the regional cooking of Dancing Bear chef Jeff Carter, formally of Blackberry Farm, just down the road. Munching down his killer brownies, no one feels a hint of guilt.

After lunch, I opt for a chair massage while my husband test drives the latest road bike from the Trek factory demo trailer. Mountain bikes are also available to demo on the property’s three miles of trails.  The afternoon is filled with games – tricycle races and competitions of who can ride a tandem cruiser slowest through an obstacle course.  I wasn’t on a winning tandem team, but my interest was piqued, trying out the stoker position (rear seat) in slow motion.

“I love this atmosphere,” says Matt Alexander, managing partner of Dancing Bear Lodge and event organizer. An avid cyclist and amateur racer, Alexander is passionate about building interest in recreational cycling and introducing guests to the great variety of terrain and extraordinary scenery in the area. He makes it easy for lodge guests to become inspired, offering guided rides, suggested routes and year-round rental of touring bikes and mountain bikes. Townsend’s nine-mile paved biking trail runs through Dancing Bear’s property.

On Sunday after an informal “recovery” ride, we found the opportunity to take a tandem for a quick spin, and except for the major hill leading up to Dancing Bear Lodge, we managed well. The highlight of the weekend, however, turned out not to be the tandem ride; but rather, exploring new territory and sharing tales of the road around the stone fireplace, eating one too many s’mores under the Smoky Mountain moon.

This story was published in On the Mountainside, Blue Ridge Country Magazine, October 2009.



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