Freewheeling Bandits

Chris Young at Adventure Cycles hopes the Route de Raccoon becomes a regular thing.
Portrait by Amos Moses

If your festival isn’t branded with a cute, quirky animal, it probably doesn’t have a jacklope’s chance in the rainforest of succeeding. Brevard hosted its White Squirrel Festival over Memorial Day Weekend, officially launching the summer — the three-day event has grown from a mild street fair to a serious showcase of regional music. More recently, as though in competition, there’s the Albino Skunk Music Festival in Upstate South Carolina. It happens in October with an accompanying bike race, De Tour De Skunk.

Meanwhile, in the historic railroad town of Saluda, NC, officials this year are implementing their own cycling attraction, the Route de Raccoon, a pre-party to the town’s iconic Coon Dog Day festival that runs the first Saturday of July (and a long Saturday it is, stretching 7am to 11pm). Coon Dog Day celebrates the rural heritage of various breeds of raccoon-hunting hounds — including the Treeing Walker, the Redbone, and the Plott Hound (NC’s state dog). So the raccoon mascot tie-in is obvious — but the inaugural bike ride also speaks to town’s increasing status as a cycling destination, according to City Manager Jonathan Cannon.

“We see thousands of cyclists come through here, riding up and down the escarpment,” says Cannon, referring to Saluda’s notoriously hilly logistics (it’s the home of the steepest railroad grade in the country). Tour de France winner George Hincapie has been clocked in the area, as well as other cycling athletes on the Mountains to Coast trail, and en route to Gran Fondo. A couple seasons ago, says Cannon, the Coon Dog Day committee decided to go back to the 56-year-old festival’s roots by planning a chicken dinner at McCreery Park the night before the big event. It took place last year, an enthusiastic success, leading organizers to think about how else to enhance the Friday happenings and bring off a whole weekend celebration.

“The cycling community is already here, so why not have a bike ride?” says Cannon, who points out that the new Route de Raccoon is not a race. The event features two courses: An easy, family-oriented bike ride is mapped on the same roads as the Coon Dog Day’s traditional 5K run, while the Roadkill Route, a 12K, is definitely not for beginners. Following Highway 176, the Roadkill drops 1,000 feet downhill, which means the same 1,000 feet to ride back up. “The climb is brutal,” promises Cannon. “It will please even the most skilled riders.”

“Route de Raccoon is going to be a lot of fun,” says Chris Young, owner of Adventure Cycles in Saluda. Since Coon Dog Day is the town’s biggest event of the year, and since “Saluda is already on many cyclists’ routes for their rides, it’s fitting for [organizers] to include a cycling event preceding the festival,” he adds.

Adventure Cycles will have a bike tech at the event offering assistance. “I’m hoping Route de Raccoon will be an opportunity to have fun with biking,” says Young, “and encourage more of it.”

The Route de Raccoon happens Friday, July 5, 6-8pm in Saluda and includes a family-friendly bike ride and the Roadkill Route.
The 56th Annual Coon Dog Day runs Saturday, July 6, 7am-11pm in downtown Saluda with a 5K race (8am), parade (11am), regional crafts, food vendors, a nighttime street dance, and special activities — including a treeing contest — for hound-dog owners. For more information, see saluda.com/coon-dog-day, “Coon Dog Day” on Facebook, or contact Chris Young at Adventure Cycles
(91 Greenville St., Saluda, 828-817-1892, chris@bikesaluda.com).

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