September 22, 2023

Ride #10 – Inching toward the finish line!

 

Following Sunday’s rain delay, Monday was a perfect day for cycling. Cooler temperatures with mild winds. The extra rest day was much welcomed and it was nice to sleep in our own beds. We departed from an overlook near the NC Arboretum and began the climbs that take you to the top of Mt. Pisgah. Combined, the two climbs in this section totaled 13.5 miles which took me an hour and 45 minutes of steady pushing to complete. It was cold and windy at the top where we quickly layered up with arm warmers and wind vests.

After departing the Pisgah Inn parking lot, we cycled another 16.5 miles to today’s stopping point. In those miles, we encountered four more climbs, one 4.7 miles in length. Today’s ride was just shy of 30 miles with 4,700 feet of climbing which equates to 156 feet of climbing per mile. For those who read my book, you may recall that cyclists claim that a ride that offers less than 50 feet of climbing per mile is considered “flat” while anything around 100 feet of climbing per mile is considered “hilly.” 156 feet per mile I suspect some would say is “nuts.”

Due to Sunday’s rain delay, Lucas McCain, while building his career, was back at work. David Greene was able to stick around for today’s ride and Krista Lewis also joined us so we had a great group of four cyclists. Due to differing paces, we were strung out all over the mountain so kudos to Mary Ann and Michelle for their ability to keep track of us. Their presence made our trip through the numerous tunnels along this section of the Parkway more bearable. Here is Rusty entering one of the longer tunnels.

The biggest issue we’re facing at this point is accumulated fatigue. But, with one ride remaining, we’re determined to finish strong. David was on a tight schedule so he and Michelle began their drive home to Nashville. Rusty and Mary Ann returned to their home for the night. I, along with Krista, rode home with Pam who met us at our stopping point.

Despite the additional rest day, I was tired and subdued as we drove down the mountain. Tomorrow, it will be me, Rusty, and Krista, escorted by Mary Ann on the final ride of our quest to cycle the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 

Ride #11 – The Finish Line

In the mountains, the weather can change in a heartbeat. We regrouped early Tuesday morning at yesterday’s stopping point. It was sunny and warm at home but biting cold and wind met as we began the last ride of this amazing journey. However, today’s ride, 45.6 miles long, required 4,724 feet of climbing, 95% of which was in the first 35 miles so once again, we were climbing well over 100 feet per mile which meant we warmed up pretty quickly. Five miles or so down the road, I began shedding layers of clothes.

I lagged behind today. I love chasing Rusty (and Krista) and others on our tri-weekly club rides but on rides that are back to back to back, especially with lots of climbing, for me, pacing is critical. At my age, getting dropped on long, hard climbs no longer bothers me – it is what it is. The point is to be out on the road, doing something I love.

As I rode pretty much by myself today, three thoughts kept rolling around in my head:

1. I am re-reading a book titled “The Comfort Crisis” by Michael Easter. This book chronicles the author’s journey to understand our evolutionary need to be challenged. He evokes a concept called misogi which today, reflects the need to challenge yourself by getting out of your comfort zone. A misogi challenge can take many forms, physical, mental, and so on. Misogi goes back to ancient Japanese times and reflects the need to break out of our cocoon of daily life that can become stagnant and find ways to challenge yourself to truly feel alive and achieve personal growth. I recognize that some might say this is new-age gooey, but it resonates with me. I’ve learned, once again, that grit and determination are keys to success. I am not a good climber, but I grunted and groaned my way over the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway with never of thought of quitting. For me, this ride was beautiful and fulfilling in a very personal way and fits nicely into the misogi concept.

2. Overcoming fear – There are 26 tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 25 are in North Carolina. Some are short, you can see daylight as you enter. Others are long and curve as they snake their way through the mountain. Visibility is an issue. You often approach a tunnel in bright sunshine and suddenly, it’s pitch black – Parkway tunnels are not lit. Suddenly, you are in a strange world where the reflective stripes of the roadway are in conflict with the reflective stripes on the tunnel walls, and you loose your sense of spatial awareness. In one tunnel, I had to push down a panic attack as the headlights of an oncoming car hit me full on. Following that experience, I started taking deep breathes as I approached a tunnel to calm the nerves and make sure I hugged the right side of the tunnel wall. The Parkway requires that cyclists have front and rear lights. On my next Parkway ride, I will have a far brighter front light than I did on this ride. Good hint for anyone contemplating even a short Parkway ride.

3. At the age of 76, being able to embark and complete a ride of the magnitude of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a gift. I have worked hard over the years to stay fit and strong, but so have others that for one reason or another, are not up for such an adventure. I am grateful for this gift and do not take it lightly. I am also grateful for friends such as Rusty, Mary Ann, and Krista that while younger and stronger, are great encourages and don’t seem to mind me lagging behind at times.

The final leg of today’s 45 mile ride was a rousing 10-mile downhill into Cherokee, NC. Thoughts, images, and lessons learned about this ride echoed through my head as I pedaled down the mountain. Chief of which are thankfulness for the beauty and majesty of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the gift of being with good friends and completing what was not an easy journey, and the gift of my families support as I continue to find ways to challenge myself.

The final stats for our Blue Ridge Parkway ride were 443 miles of cycling with almost 42,000 feet of climbing. The Parkway is 469 miles long with one additional mile due to the addition of the Linn Cove viaduct. Due to the two rides mid-journey that were shortened due to Parkway road construction, we were not able to complete all 470 miles. Neither Rusty or I have a mind to go back and do these 27 additional miles. We’re very happy with our accomplishment!

 

Read more