Appalachian Gravel Growler

Will and intention and discomfort weather tough self image are in a cauldron still waiting for the addition of the irrationality of order and effect. If we had been out riding, if we’d set out in mere grey and dry chill and then it had started raining, we would have put up our hoods and grumbled onward. But sitting with a battalion of 3 ounce glasses at the bar, it’s impassably cozy inside Fonta Flora even if they haven’t opened yet and the stools are on the high tops. Listening to the pelting drops and passing car misty hiss, we’re unabashedly procrastinating going outside. It takes inner and others’ voices cajoling to finally offer our thank you’s for the special hours tour, to turn the cranks, to shiver all the way to the foot of the first dirt climb.

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It’s the end of October, Logan, Daniel and I are scouting a new bikepacking and brewery route in North Carolina. The first two and half days are in rain, numb fingers, restless in the tents to find a bit more warmth in a different pocket of the sleeping bag. We hum along to grinding drivetrains from the rooster tail muck. But from the start in Morganton, Asheville’s beer offerings loom happy in the distance, and the big Appalachian vistas unspooling off the ridges, seasonal color and drifting whorls of cloud, pitch and kick of gravel tracks keep us kind enough company.

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We keep some precious cans in our frame bags for campsite toasts, everything tastes different outside since sensations are as much about affect and mood, cast in that moment. The buzzing tired of managing the conditions all day makes these uncommonly delicious.

A few years ago we three contrived a bike and brewery route in Vermont, The Green Mountain Gravel Growler.  Hundreds of people have since ridden that loop, we’re proud at the chance to share it. We’d stop at breweries along the route anyway. I’ve been better in recent years at not seeing every pedal as a contest or as a presumption of speed or distance or heroism, not all the time anyway.

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This ride breathes and coils. Sometimes big climbs, other times flick woodsy singletrack turns. Logan’s route inscribes dirt road motifs in a more expansive land’s humps and berms and valleys movement. Saturated dirt slows an already meandering steepness, but it’s an invitation to merge the fluid landscape with daydreaming. The early sunsets sometimes mean that we’re pedaling in a cone of headlamp light, we spend two hours on mountain bike trails in these slices through the dark. There’s a rolling, committed asphalt ascent on to the Blue Ridge Parkway, then an aerotuck whooping fall.

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We spend a half day in town hearing stories from brewers on their technique, motivation, glimmering in their eyes. Beer is about beer, of course, but it’s also about history, cultivation of skill and intuition, about the land and yeast and temperatures. It’s about coming together: sure, it’s possible to drink a beer alone, but it’s hard for that foam in solitude not to evoke times next to or facing friends in laughter or in downcast sadness. So on this ride, beer is concentric circles of people, the people you’re riding with, the people whose enthusiasm made the stuff, the people of the town who crowd in, the people who buy it off of a shelve four hundred miles away.

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Puckering sours at Zillicoah, a session Saison at Burial, Wicked Weed’s farm ales like country wine, tours and chat and flights at Oskar Blues and New Beligum.

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The shifting aesthetic sensibilities, the meticulous care and experimentation, the organic chemistry that speaks through apprenticeship. Raindrops are coming off of the peak of my cap under my hood now again, standing in a campground listening to fire crackle. Beer is silly, it’s just drink and a buzz. Beer is like a sand mandala, so much effort put into it, but with the knowledge that its existence is the merest mouthfuls, it’ll never be in my consciousness like that again, and that’s why we sip.

Check out our route info, map, and tasting guide.