Author's Posts

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

My apologies for not wrapping up our Blue Ridge Parkway ride with posts about our two last rides. The bottom line is I was so tired following those rides I went to bed instead of posting. I plan to complete these posts on Friday, September 22 and will include photos that capture the essence of this wonderful journey.

Read more

Little Switzerland to Asheville. 54.5 miles, 5100 feet of climbing. What a day! Today, we were joined by Lucas McCain, Rusty’s son, David Sweeney, a triathlon buddy of Rusty’s from Nashville, and Krista Lewis, a good friend and a strong rider from our Blue Ridge Cycling club. I was decidedly the oldest, and slowest member of this group, but that’s what makes it fun – good people trying to do their best on a challenging ride. Mary Ann McCain and Michelle Sweeney escorted us these 55 miles and did a great job shepherding us around busy Saturday Blue Ridge Parkway sightseeing traffic.

Our route took us past the entrance to Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Lucas, a tremendously strong rider, elected to divert, make the climb to the summit, descend, and still caught us before we hit Asheville. Quite a feat. Our group separated around Mt. Mitchell. Rusty was determined to keep up with the younger group so I brought up the rear. Lots of climbing but once we passed Mt. Mitchell and arrived at the popular Graggy Gardens picnic area, it was a glorious 18-mile screaming downhill to the Folk Art Center, a popular tourist spot on the Parkway. My descent was in the 30 mph+ range pretty much the entire way. This descent, unlike the climbing sections where the speeds were 6-9 mph depending on the gradient, we made the downhill in well less than an hour – what an exhilarating ride!

We still had 10 miles to go until the day’s stopping point on the other side of Asheville, about 15 minutes from where I live. Asheville area residents often use this section of the Parkway to connect to the far side of town avoiding traffic which meant far more vehicles than we were accustomed to, but thankfully, the motorists were respectful of cyclists on the Parkway, a frequent site. Pam, along with a dear friend, Stephanie Wallace, met me – thanks so much for your support. It was very nice to sleep in my own bed last night!

We planned to regroup Sunday morning and make the grueling climb up the Parkway, past the Pisgah Inn, to our stopping point, a ride of about 40 miles with another 5000 feet of climbing. However, the weather turned nasty about 5:00 am this morning, bringing rain which is predicted until mid-afternoon. Since we’re now home and not tied to a hotel schedule, at 6:30 am we decided to not ride in the rain and commence our journey tomorrow (Monday) morning. A prudent decision due to the weather and not taking undue risks such as descending on wet roads. The weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday looks delightful and certainly influenced our decision.

  View from around Mt. Mitchell

Read more

Best day ever! Or, certainly one of the best days. We departed Boone, NC around 9:00 a.m. heading toward Little Switzerland, NC. Easy going for a couple of miles then, just before a stout 6.5-mile climb, suddenly, about 100 yards ahead, a huge black bear was crossing the Parkway. Thank goodness were were far enough away we could brake, allowing him to cross into the woods, but what a sight!

We completed the climb which put us within a few miles of the Lin Cove Viaduct. The scenery was breathtaking. As we rode closer to this engineering marvel, we could see perhaps 100 miles or more in the crystal clear NC blue skies. The Lin Cove Viaduct hugs Grandfather Mountain and is considered an engineering marvel. We were fortunate that no vehicles passed us as we cycled blissfully over this magnificent roadway, spellbound by the epic scenery. Just before entering the viaduct, we stopped, squinted, and could make out the pedestrian bridge atop Grandfather Mountain. Majestic is the word that comes to mind describing today’s ride.

We planned to ride to Little Switzerland, where we had reservations. However, spurred on by the glory of our ride, we decided to tack on an additional 4 miles and knock out an early grueling climb when we resume cycling on Saturday. Today’s ride totaled 46.04 miles with close to 4,900 feet of climbing.

Pam drove up from our home in Asheville this afternoon. We’re taking a rest day tomorrow before embarking on the final three rides of this adventure. It is great to have her with us and we’ll find something fun to do tomorrow. She is making great headway in her recovery from her terrible fall six weeks ago which resulted in hip surgery.

I close by saying that on more than one occasion today, as we rode along, I looked up to the skies above and gave thanks that He created this majestic area and that I am so blessed to be able to ride my bicycle and take in the splendor around me. We enjoyed a fantastic dinner at the Little Switzerland Inn with Rusty and Mary Ann. Good friends and great traveling companions.

Read more

We passed Aho Gap, NC about halfway through today’s ride. I wish I could say this was named after a long-departed relative but since my grandparents came from Finland, it must be another factor. Due to Parkway road closures, we played hopscotch today. The goal was 40 miles but we encountered another set of barriers at the 12-mile mark. Loaded our bikes onto Mary Ann’s truck, followed the detour, and once back on the Parkway, completed 19 additional miles for a total of 31.4 miles. We are back in the mountains and out of the more gentle rolling countryside. Today we faced numerous climbs, many 3 to 5 miles. One 3.2 miler was at 8 & 9 degrees gradient the entire way. The day totaled 3,700 feet of climbing which makes it about 118 feet of climbing per mile. Without question, a challenging day. The good news is it looks like the Parkway road closures are behind us. However, it looks like we will face even more climbing per day than we did today.

We arrived in the Boone, NA area at about noon and the traffic was considerable. Undoubtedly, it will be the same when we hit Asheville. Today’s rides were reminiscent of the first few days of our trip. Beautiful vistas, scattered farmland. We learned that the Parkway owns much of the land on either side of the road. We saw farms with neatly stacked bundles of hay and learned that the Parkway allows farmers in certain areas to grow hay with the stipulation they must keep the fields neat. With just a few exceptions, the Parkway road has been in magnificent shape and we’ve experienced very few instances of litter.

Tomorrow, we start the final leg of our journey. We’re riding from the Boone area to Little Switzerland. The name is significant. The hills (mountains) and scenery look like they could have been transplanted from European Switzerland. Tomorrow’s ride is pegged at 40 miles with significant climbing. However, we have a rest day on Friday. Pam is joining us tomorrow evening and I’m looking forward to seeing her. Saturday, Rusty’s son Lucas, along with a member of the Blue Ridge cycling club, and two of Rusty and Mary Ann’s friends from Nashville will join us for the final three rides. These folks are far younger so I’m going to have to be patient, follow my game plan, and not attempt to chase them. However, I’m looking forward to the experience. MaryAnn is compiling several photos which she will make available post-ride. It should add to what has been a terrific and rewarding adventure.

Read more

A perfect day for cycling. Great weather, good roads, and little traffic. The only downer to a wonderful day was a Parkway Road closure. At the 30-mile mark of our 45-mile day, the Parkway was closed for repair. We rode around the barricade hoping for a bit of luck but about a mile up the road a huge dozer was at work so we turned around, found Mary Ann and her truck, changed clothes, and made our way to Sparta, NC. We crossed the NC state line a few miles before we hit the closure and are at the 260-mile park, just five miles shy of the halfway point.

One of the big surprises for me on this trip has been the change in topography. I am accustomed to the hills and vistas of the Parkway around the Asheville area. From mile marker 0 for the first 175 or so miles, the views and vistas were reminiscent of Asheville. Pretty much since Roanoke, we’ve been cycling through farmland and forest. Still beautiful and serene, but in a different way. To truly grasp these changes, I think they are best captured from the seat of a bicycle. Even driving at the Parkway speed of 45 mph, it’s tough to take in all the different types of beauty we are encountering.

We expect a far greater amount of climbing tomorrow as we make our way to Boone, NC. Boone is a lovely mountain town, one Pam and I have visited on occasion and I’m looking forward to the experience. From Boone, until we end in Cherokee, the going gets tough with longer mileage and significant hills.  It should be fun! More tomorrow from Boone with a few photos. I am typing this blog on the front porch of the B&B we’re staying in tonight. Lodging around this area is rather limited. Best to all until tomorrow.

Read more

     

Tale of two rides. Sunday, September 10, ride #4 was one we likely won’t forget. The weather in Roanoke dawned overcast with a prediction of rain. We dallied, watching the radar, but decided to move ahead with our ride to the outskirts of Floyd, VA. The photo on the left does not do justice to the torrential downpour we rode in for 90% of this 43.68-mile ride with 3,589 feet of climbing. It was a very difficult day. At higher elevations, it was heavy fog which necessitated intense concentration and the need to be hyper-alert. There were 12 climbs on this route of varying distances and gradients. The longest, at 8.02 miles was a real gut-buster into the wind and rain. Thank goodness for Mary Ann. She did an admirable job of shepherding us, often driving with her blinkers on to keep other vehicles from coming up to us in the fog. Before someone says we are crazy, yes, we admit it. Never once did we think to quit. I commented as we climbed out of our sopping clothes alongside the truck, still in the rain, that this ride was far more a mental challenge than a physical one. I think that’s one of the allures of cycling. Cycling is such a difficult sport once you are past the recreational cyclist mode. Having the mental capability to continue pushing yourself is one of the attributes that draws a certain personality to this sport. Most people would not understand, which I get, but I find it a fascinating mental exercise when we’re in challenging circumstances such as on Sunday.

Our hotel reservations were in Floyd, VA, and what a surprise. Floyd turned out to be a delightful town with a terrific hotel, great dining, and outstanding entertainment. I snapped the third photo at the top while getting coffee in the Floyd Country Store. On Sunday afternoons, they have a no-charge community musical and the locals were kicking up a storm. Floyd, VA would be a great weekend getaway. Outdoor activities, excellent hotels, and dining. Pam and I need to return.

Ride 5 – Monday, September 11. The contrast between yesterday’s weather and today was startling. Cool and crisp at the higher elevations, we started out wearing cycling jackets to stay warm but within a couple of miles, we encountered the first of 10 climbs in the 38.2 miles we covered today. None of the climbs were particularly challenging but seemed to come one right after another with no time to recover. We climbed almost 3,600 feet in the 38 miles which was about 95 feet of climbing per mile – no easy task. However, the beautiful weather combined with very little traffic made for a joyous ride. The terrain in this section of the Parkway is far different from what we encountered on the first few rides. We rode among beautiful farmland and thick woodlands that offered none of the scenic overlooks of previous rides. We passed several dilapidated old farmhouses. It made me think of what became of the inhabitants, perhaps displaced by the Parkway claiming eminent domain. That’s the beauty of these rides – the opportunity to ask questions that pop into your mind that are usually buried by the business of our daily lives. Today, Rusty kept passing me on the downhills which made me think about the law of gravity. We ended up researching Isaac Newton and Galileo and gravity over a glass of wine.

At the end of today’s ride, we encountered two cyclists from Winston-Salem who often ride this part of the Parkway. They informed us that parts of our next two-day rides are likely closed. We researched the Parkway website but could not confirm so it will be interesting to see what develops.

Thought of the day:  I am studying a concept called misogi. Misogi has evolved from ancient Japanese times and now refers to the idea of breaking out of your comfort zone and attempting to do challenging and remarkable that add zest and meaning to your life. I won’t bore you with the details as it would likely add some folks thoughts about why I attempt things like this bike ride, but I will close by saying how grateful I am to be able to attempt these adventures and for friends like Rusty and Mary Ann who willingly join me. Thanks guys!

Read more

It’s Saturday, September 9, and we are taking a rest day in Roanoke, VA. We fulfilled one goal of this trip which was to visit the National D-Day Memorial, located in Bedford, VA. The “why” behind how this memorial came to be located in this small, out-of-the-way town is that on D-Day, 20 of the 36 soldiers from Bedford, VA were killed, making it the highest known per capita D-Day loss of any locale in our nation.

We walked around this large outdoor exhibit along with 8 busloads of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, which is in Lexington, VA, our day 2 stopping point. One of the highlights I think for the cadets was to listen to one of the docents talk about his experience on D-Day. This gentleman, a Marine veteran with all sorts of medals wore his dress uniform and held the cadets in rapture for his 20-minute talk. He has to be pushing 100 but remains vigorous and eager to tell his story – as he should be. The first photo below is of the marine. The middle shot depicts the moment the front of the landing craft that put our soldiers on the beach facing enemy fire, and the third photo is a memorial to the brave warriors clawing their way up the rock face of the walls from which the Germans were firing down at the beach. Think of the opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan.

I could not help but reflect that while our bike ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway is certainly a physical and mental challenge, it is nothing compared to what Tom Brokaw, the TV news anchor referred to as the Greatest Generation faced on D-Day. This visit was a somber reminder of the sacrifice so many made to assure our freedom. I hope that in these tumultuous times, we do not forget these things.

 

Read more

Someone wise said that there are no easy days cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway but some days are less difficult than others. That saying proved true today. After the first two days threw 4,000 feet+ of climbing at us each day, today’s 2,500 feet was a joy. A huge thunderstorm blew threw last night. You could hear the wind howling and the rain beating against the window glass. It was perfect sleeping weather. The lodge dining room did not open until 7:30 so it was a bit later than usual when we pulled out of the Peaks of Otter Lodge. By 9:00 A.M., the weather had turned gorgeous. The lake was so calm it looked like a pane of glass. We rode along what is referred to as the spine of the Blue Ridge. In the east, you could see the Alleghany Mountains and in parts, it was a sheer drop off either side. In many sections, we were riding above the clouds – amazing scenery. There were 7 climbs today, the longest at 2.85 miles so combined with just 35 miles of cycling, made for a relatively stress-free ride.  Today’s ride took us to the outskirts of Roanoke, VA. As we got closer to Roanoke, the traffic picked up and the road was a harsher ride, no doubt due to the heavier traffic. We are spending the night as well as a rest day tomorrow in Roanoke and I’m looking forward to exploring the city.

As the ride was only 35.75 miles, we finished before noon. Check-in time was not until 2:00 PM so we changed clothes on the side of the Parkway, headed to town, and found a terrific coffee shop. A nearby vegan food truck served up a terrific meatless burger that, along with a great cup of coffee, fixed me up. After a quick tour of downtown Roanoke, we headed to the hotel. I took advantage of our early check-in and did a load of laundry. I took three cycling kits on this trip; cycling bib shorts, jerseys, socks, etc. and they needed a good washing. Rusty experienced a flat tire in the last five miles. He pumped up the tire and raced to our stopping point before it went totally flat, necessitating a change. This means a visit to a local bike shop in the morning but if you are going to have a flat, this was a super convenient place to have one.

Thoughts for the day: 1. The fraternity to which I belonged during my undergrad days at Western KY. University is being honored tomorrow at half-time of Western’s football game. We have raised almost 400,000 dollars that we’ve given to the University to be used in several different ways. We suspect, that if the leaders of this fine institution when we were undergrads could somehow know how well our members turned out and the generosity we’ve shown, would roll over in their graves in disbelief. I wish I could be there for the festivities, but I made a commitment to this ride and I’m thrilled to be on this journey. I am thinking of my college friends this weekend. 2. I continue to rave about the Blue Ridge Parkway. The first photo offers just an inkling of the beauty of the American gem. The second photo is a profile shot that Mary Ann snapped of me on one of today’s climbs. Tomorrow, we hope to visit the World War II monument in Bedford, VA. More on that tomorrow. Best to everyone and thanks for your support.

             

Read more

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday’s ride, 45 miles in length, featured 11 climbs of varying lengths and gradients. Today’s ride, 40 miles long had just three climbs, two short, less than 2 miles, and one doozy – 12.8 miles with absolutely no respite. For those in the Asheville area, a similar climb would be from the Folk Art Center to Craggy Gardens.

We started the day just outside Lexington, VA at the spot where Day 1’s ride ended. The weather was overcast which along with the shade cover on the Parkway made for joyful riding. The first 18 miles were a series of ups and downs and we knocked off this section in 1 hour. We stopped at the James River Visitors Center which chronicles the location where George Washington had a canal built, trying to link various Colonial time waterways. The railroad eventually made this endeavor obsolete but it made me think: the Founding Fathers could not envision a railroad. How many aspects of their wisdom have become obsolete due to the progress of time? We hold fast to the 2nd amendment, the right to bear arms. Our forefathers in their wildest imagination could never have considered AR15s and similar weapons. Food for thought as we began the arduous climb.

It started sprinkling on us as we crossed the James River. Only lasted for a few moments but the weather turned cloudy and it drizzled on and off. We intended to meet Mary Ann 6 or 7 miles up the climb and take a break, but once in our rhythm, we just kept going. Even without stopping, the climb, 3,301 feet of ascent with an average gradient of 5% and a max of 7.7%, took me an hour a 47 minutes. Rusty was a couple of hundred yards ahead of me and finished a bit faster. Following this climb, we enjoyed a rousing 8-mile downhill but cruelly, the route ended with a final 1.5-mile uphill that was a real challenge on tired legs.

We are staying at the Peaks of Otter State Park. Not the Ritz Carlton but a nice lodge-type facility with pleasant people and clean rooms. Tomorrow’s ride will take us to the outskirts of Roanoke, VA, where we will enjoy our first rest day on Saturday. I commented at the beginning of this journey that I thought we were taking a rest day too early in the ride, but after the first two days, I am eating my words. My legs are tired and after tomorrow, it will be good to take a break.

Thoughts of the day:

  • I experimented with riding at various speeds during the long climb. I found that I could average around 7 to 7.5 miles an hour at 5% but dropped to 6 to 6.5 mph at 6% gradient, and only around 5.5 mph at 7% gradient. Probably could have gone faster on a shorter climb, but this pace, and the mind games, helped me complete a tough climb.

  • A mystery of life occurred to me on the climb and descent. Why do roads such as the Parkway average 5 to 8 % on the uphill, but only 4% on the downhill? I know this is a silly thought but when pushing your bicycle pedals at 6 mph for almost two hours, your mind can wander in several directions.

  • I close with a final thought. We are blessed to live in a country like America and those of us on this trip are privileged to see sights such as this:

 

Read more