It is 5:30am on a cold and windy Saturday morning, and I am so warm and comfortable in my sleeping bag. The wind blowing through the trees sounds exactly like waves crashing on a beach. The strong wind gusts are the crashing waves, and the ever present breeze sounds like the receding surf. I never knew there would be an Appalachian Seaside on my journey!
I finally force myself out of bed to start the last and most challenging day of my trip. Over 6000 feet of climbing, all occurring in the first 30 miles of the final 52 mile leg. I started the morning with my usual breakfast: oatmeal with raisins, peanut butter, brown sugar and a dash of vanilla, and a cup of fresh brewed coffee from my one-cup french press. Breakfast of champions! Below is a picture of my campsite. I was not able to get a picture yesterday before it got dark, so I took a picture this morning just before leaving the campsite.
I climbed my way to Mount Mitchell State Park, and took the side road to the summit. But first, I removed my panniers and hid them in the woods, to be picked up after my assault on the mountain. 45 minutes later, I completed the 4.5 miles to the top. I had my picture taken, just to prove I am as foolish as I look!
Where do you go after you soak in the view from the highest point east of the Mississippi at 6684 feet? Downhill, of course! The last section of my ride to Asheville was all downhill, with speeds of 30-35mph for miles at a time. Just picture the dog with his head out of the window. I pulled into the Asheville motel at 5:30pm, showered, and called Michiko to find out when she would be arriving (about 6:30pm). Thanks again, Michiko, for taking the time to drive to Aseville to pick me up.
My bike odometer showed 303 miles, a few more than I had anticipated, but I could not be more happier. I just completed the most challenging, but satisfying, bike ride of my life!
This morning, I had my first “unplanned event”. My bike was leaning against a tree, and I had just attached the two rear panniers to the rear rack. I walked away from the bike to get the two front panniers, and before I could get back to the bike, it fell over. It was a pretty hard landing. Nothing looked broken, so I continued to load up the bike. Immediately after I started pedaling, I noticed something was wrong with the chain. Sure enough, I had damaged a chain link. I tried to fix it with a pair of pliers, but no luck. I knew that the chain would not stay together for very long, so I looked for the nearest bike shop. Luckily, there was a shop 12 miles away in Boone (in the opposite direction of my trip, of course). The question was whether my chain would stay together long enouhg to get there. Thankfully it got me 9 miles before it called it quits. I then coasted, walked, or pushed my bike uphill the final 3 miles to the Magic Bike Shop. What great service they gave me. A new chain was installed, and a few minor adjustments were made. Wanting to get back to the Parkway ASAP, I asked if someone could drive me (their website said that they do emergency pickups). The owner (Mike) said he could give me a ride back to the Blue Ridge Parkway for $15. I said I would only pay $20 (I was expecting to pay something like $30-$40). 30 minutes later, I was back on the road, headed towards Crabtree Meadows Campground. I was three hours behind my original plan, but should still be able to arrive at camp before the sun went down. I had a late lunch in Linville Falls, and was hoping to eat dinner in Little Switzerland before riding the final five miles to Crabtree Meadows.
One of the engineering marvels of the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Viaduct. It is an elevated roadway built away from the mountain side. I took a picture of it just before cycling across it.
I also went through the first tunnel today just before Little Switzerland (appropriate name for the tunnel don’t you think?).
I pulled into Little Switzerland at 4:30pm, only to see a closed sign on the café door. Ugh! They closed at 4pm. But adjacent to the café was a souvenir shop which sold snacks. Much to my surprise, there were hummus/pretzel snack packs in the little refrigerator. Yeah! I bought six of them for tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch.
I arrived at the campsite before 6pm, very tired but extremely happy to be back on schedule and to have a bit more daylight to set up camp.
Today is a low milage day (so my blog will be a low word count blog). Only 20 miles are on the itinerary, but there are some serious hills (3790 feet of elevation climbing). I pulled into Blowing Rock NC for lunch. The town is filled with shops and restaurants. I ate at the Village Café. If you are in the area, be sure to stop by Blowing Rock to check out the sights.
I had my campsite at Price Campground picked out by 1pm.
I am camped right next to Price Lake.
It is a beautiful setting. Everyone else thinks so, too, because this place is hopping. Even on a Thursday, almost all of the campsites are taken. It’s early to bed so that I am ready to tackle the last two days of my adventure.
With over 4200 feet of climbing elevation and 38 miles ahead of me, I decided to get up at 5am (sounds too much like work, doesn’t it). I am really glad I did. I started biking at 7:30am, and there were no cars on the road. In fact, the first 12 miles were some of the best “feel good” miles I have ever biked. It started with seeing my first black bear this week. He (She?) was close to the shoulder of the road, when I came whizzing by at about 20 miles an hour. I did not see the bear until I was next to it. The bear had not heard me, either, because when it looked up and saw me, it ran like crazy back into the woods, breaking branches and kicking up leaves. After the bear sighting, the road took a couple of crazy descents, curving around granite cliffs and down into small rivers. I had to use the brakes to keep from exceeding 35mph (that is the max speed for this old man). I kept thinking of the dogs that I see every once in a while with their heads sticking out of the car window as their owner is driving 25-35mph. The dogs’ ears are flapping in the wind, their tongues are hanging out, and they are getting an olfactory rush as air is rammed up their noses. Know what I am talking about? Well, if you were to pass me on the road today, you could have mistaken me for one of those dogs. My “washed but not yet dry” laundry was flapping in the wind, I had a big grin on my face, and the cold mountain air was shooting up my nose. What a treat! I do have my limits, though. I kept my tongue in my mouth.
Tired, but very pleased with the day’s experiences, I arrived at the Hitchin’ Post RV Campground. I did not know ahead of time that the campground does not accept overnight camping (this was not mentioned on their website). The grounds keeper, Dustin, was a really nice person, though, and allowed me to camp at one of the camper sites.
He also let me use the shower (hot, hot, wonderfully hot water), and use the Rec Room where I had Wi-Fi and a kitchen at my disposal FOR FREE. Now that was an unexpected gift!
With a plan to bike 39 miles today, I got up a little earlier (5:45am), and was on the road by 8am. The first think I noticed was that there were pumpkins everywhere. Huge pumpkin patches paralleled the road. They must be used as some sort of currency or status symbol in these parts. I mean, why else would someone stack them up in front of their house. I’m not kidding!
Around mid-day I left Virginia (Virginia is for lovers) and entered North Carolina (First in flight). The views were just as good. Here is one of the many views I witnessed. Unfortunately, photos do not convey the true expanse that first hand viewing allows.
I camped at Doughton Park Campground. The protocol for finding a site if you do not have a reservation is to ride around the place until you find an empty, non-reserved spot. You drop your stuff off (kind of like planting your country’s flag on a newly discovered island), and return to the unmanned office building to fill out an envelope with your name and camping site, put $16 in the envelope, and drop it into a mailbox. Below is my campsite for tonight. It was not hard to find a site; I was the only camper in the entire loop tonight.
One thing I am very particular about when cycling multiple days is that I always take a shower at the end of the day. Always! I won’t get into the particulars as to why. Suffice it to say that this routine makes for a much more comfortable and enjoyable ride. From personal experience, I can definitely say that warm showers are much, much, much more enjoyable than cold shows, but cold showers are better than no showers. The National Park Service campgrounds so far have not had showers. I always bring a portable shower with me for these times. Just a 2.5 gallon bag with a hose/shower head.
I fill up the bag with (usually very, very very cold) water, then walk into the woods far enough away from other campers and (quickly) get the task done. BRRRRRRR!
With only 33 miles to bike today, I slept in until 7am. By 8:45am I was packed and on my bike leaving the campground. As soon as I hit the Parkway, two young bucks came cycling by. I joined them for a few minutes. Just long enough to find out that they are cycling about 80 miles a day. Yikes! I am brought to tears at 50 miles. I said my farewells, and they slowly disappeared over the next hill.
Not only do I get to see the great vistas, but I also get to see historical sites along the road. Like the Mabry Grist Mill, still operating today. It makes terrible groans and moans as the water wheel slowly turns the grinding stones. Sounds exactly like my knees as I labor up the ever present grades!
I stopped at Groundhog Mountain to see a lookout tower. It was visible from all around, having been built on the top of the mountain.
This is the view from Groundhog Mountain.
My resting place tonight is the Fancy Gap KOA. It was one of the nicest camp sites I have ever used. Very clean, great family that runs the place, hot showers, and they have Wi-Fi (that was how I got Day 1’s blog published).
A much more leisurely evening, too. I was able to enjoy a glass of wine as I wrote my blog.
I finally made it to the Blue Ridge Parkway! Many thanks to Michiko for dropping me off in Roanoke, and (hopefully!)picking me up in Asheville a week later. We woke up to a beautiful Sunday morning, and I was on the road by 8:45am. I had to ride 2.7 miles from the hotel to the parkway. In the words of the late, great Yogi Berra, I came to a fork in the road, so I took it (south that is, towards Asheville).
Today was the first time I have been on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I have just one word to describe it – WOW! What a beautiful slice of America. One I got up to the Appalachian Highlands (that means about 2000 feet of uphill chugging), the views were spectacular. I have always seen the pictures of the Appalachians where there is a succession of ridge lines that seem to go on forever. I was able to see vistas that looked just like those pictures.
Lunch was on the road today. Refried beans and Fritos on a tortilla. Yum. I had two!
After biking 50 miles, I was exhausted. I camped at Rocky Knob Camp Ground. I pretty much shoved some food in my mouth, and collapsed inside my sleeping bag. So much for apri-bike!
News flash! Because of potential heavy rains, high winds and historic flodding this weekend, the National Park Service has closed significant parts of the parkway around Roanoke and Asheville. I will postpone my trip a week, and plan to drive to Roanoke next Saturday.
To hop on a bike and complete a seven day self-supported ride, there are a lot of things you need to take with you. One common discovery of first timers (me included) is that after the trip is over, there were many items that were never used, or used so rarely that they did not need to be packed in the first place. I still chuckle at myself for some of the items I have packed: a hatchet to cut firewood (turns out I almost never start a fire), more than two changes of clothes (you can only wear one set at a time), and three pairs of shoes (see previous comment). The following picture shows all of the stuff I will take on my seven day trip. Looks like the proverbial ten pounds of crap that needs to fit in a five pound bag!
There is a method to my packing madness. For the two big panniers (fancy French word for bags), one holds my sleeping bag and tent and the other holds my cloths, air mattress, pillow, and miscellaneous tools/first aide kit/electronics. The two front panniers are for cooking meals. One pannier holds my stove, pot, frying pan, eating utensils, and extra bottle of white gas; the other holds all my food. And guess what? Everything fits! But it all weights about 70 pounds!