Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sep-11 thru 17: Blue Ridge Parkway

Okay, all finished, now.

Motto for the week:
The road goes up,
The road goes down,
I'll just ride
What comes aroun'.
[Edit Feb-08-2011:  The following is an embed a "Trimble Outdoors" map that shows a "track" for each day of the ride.  Each track is approximate since the map did not indicate one or two of the overlooks that we used as stopping / starting locations on a few of the days.  Trimble does tend to underestimate the total climbing, however, overall, the elevation map for each day is a very good representation of what we encountered each day. 

There are some excellent information sources regarding the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) terrain.
Dave carefully noted where the big climbs and descents were.
I listened to his explanations, tried to remember what he said, and also tried not to get discouraged.
Didn't always succeed at the last.
At (often) less than 6 mph -- 10 to 11 minutes per mile -- it takes a long time to get up a 12 or 17 mile climb.

But eventually, always, the road dipped downslope, and that helped considerably on the morale front.
At (usually) more than 30 or 35 mph -- 2 minutes (or less) per mile -- the miles go fast.

While slogging up, at least one could look around when passing overlooks or other good spots -- such as when crossing the Linville Cove Viaduct -- at the scenery.  I did a lot of sweating and cursing and sometimes wondered if I should have opted for a 30/28 granny instead of a 30/25, but one could check out the passing scenes. 

Sometimes, a butterfly or two would accompany one while climbing ... at least for a while.  Sometimes, gnats accompanied me for part of the climb ... but that was only on lower elevations ... such as below 2500 ft..

While zooming down, there was NO time to check out passing scenery.  One was INTENSLY concentrated on the road -- where was it curving, tight or easy curves, constantly scanning for potholes, serious cracks in the surface, debris, wildlife, autos and pedestrians.

On one section, the first of FIVE consecutive "spiral curves", just after passing a road sign warning that the next several (I don't recall the actual number on the sign) miles were a "high collision area", a motorcycle coming up the mountain was entirely on MY side of the double-yellow.

One morning, just a mile-and-half after leaving camp (Crabtree Meadows / Falls), a large momma turkey and 3 or 4 nearly full grown chicks suddenly hopped out of the ditch onto the roadway.  I estimate that I was going at least 30, maybe 35 mph (my cycle computer had konked out the day before), and those wild turkeys had no logic to where they seemed to be running.  I locked up the brakes and ... BANG! ... an explosive flat of the rear tyre.  Suddenly, no turkeys ... but I had other things to think about ... such as keeping the bike upright until I could coast to a stop on the flat about 100 yards ahead -- luckily I was descending a "hill" and not a mountain (such as Grandfather Mtn for which I was headed at the time).

Wind on the mountains was a usual companion -- especially at the higher elevations.  Wind would blow up the valleys from both sides to meet one while riding through the various Gaps ... typically wind would slam you from one side and immediately slam you from the other.  Could get exciting if one was moving at 25 or 30 or more mph.

Wind would also roar up the side of the mountains, especially in the afternoons when the temps at the lower elevations were higher, and if the road happened cross a "saddle" between two "peaks", and super especially if the the road were on the exact spine of the ridge ... "exciting".

Don't get me wrong.  It was fun descending.  But extremely INTENSE.
Food and water can be problematic on the parkway.

We had carefully researched the mileposts at which we could expect to replenish with water from Visitor's Centers, Picnic Areas, and Campgrounds.  We were somewhat conservative in our approach to getting water.  Even so, we each ran a bit low a couple times.  Most noticeably the day we rode past / around Roanoke.  We planned to replenish after about 22 miles at the Roanaoke Mtn Campground, and again about 30 miles later at Smartview Picnic Area.  We decided to skip riding into the campground because the road fell off the side of the mountain, and neither of us relished having to ride back up.  (I readily admit to sounding and being a wimp compared to self-supported cyclists with panniers or towing a trailer -- those folks seldom have a choice to skip such a situation.)  Smartview was a few miles further than we recalled from the maps ... and I was not familiar with the area and almost missed the picnic area after riding some 55 miles ... actually missing that stop might have made things quite "interesting".

The only other day we had water concerns was the last day.  Luckily, Laurie and Lew agreed to meet us atop Richland Balsam -- the highest point on the parkway at 6053 ft. elevation -- for lunch and to hand us off some water.

Oh, also on the last day we rode up / into Waterrock Knob Visitor's Center expecting to replenish water supplies.  No water.  Luckily, we had previously met another crew of 4 cyclists (with 2 sag vehicles / drivers) that were on roughly the same schedule that last day ... they gave us some water.

I also was gifted an ice-cold bottle of water by an older couple -- you know, my age -- that was at an overlook on the descent from Grandfather Mtn while I was stopped there eating my lunch out of my back pockets.  The gift was appreciated, but I think I would have made it to the Folk Art Museum outside Asheville without difficulty.  Dave did, and he only carried about half the water I did.  (I sweat a LOT more.)
The Start:

All four (six counting the dogs) lunched at the picnic table on Saturday (the 11th) outside the temporary Visitor's Center near MP-0.
We pushed off into the sunny, breezy, delightful conditions at 1:05 p.m..
 If you click on the image, you can see Lt. Dave.  

Barely more than two miles into the ride, I stopped ... to slightly raise my saddle.
(I had lowered it earlier in the week, but never got the chance to "test" the result.
I raised the saddle about half what I'd lowered it, and ... NO butt problems the entire week!)
  Stopping to adjust the saddle.  Dave in the background, rides on.

Just a few miles later, our sunny and delightful conditions disappeared.
To be replaced with cloudy, drizzly, 53F chilly riding.
The gloom lasted all the way to Otter Creek (our first campground), which I reached just before 6 p.m..
 _ _The last 10 miles was all downhill -- that helped the avg pace a lot.

Notable climbs:

I may have thought ... at the time ... that there were notable climbs the first day. 
The second day cured me of any thoughts I may have had along those lines.
In fact, I recall very little of the first day ... other than the cool, damp conditions, and an introductory 3-mile descent or two, and - of course - the last 10 miles.

Second day, we climbed from the James River (~ 650 ft elevation at ~ MP-63.5) to Apple Orchard Mtn, the highest parkway elevation in Virginia (~ 3960 ft elevation at ~ MP-75.5).  Took Dave about 2 hours, maybe a bit less.  Took me nearly 2 1/2 hours.  That discrepancy in climbing speed lasted all week.  (Dave claims I climbed faster on the last day as I stayed closer to him.  I think he slowed his climbing pace so that he would not have to wait quite so long -- he wanted us to ride the last sections together.)

 Dave at the Apple Orchard Mtn sign.  With Zeke, the sometimes "wonder dog".

The climb up / away from Roanoke was nothing to sneeze at.  A female day rider out Roanoke saw me slogging up as she zoomed down; she yelled something.  A few moments later, she pulls up alongside and says "oh, you're not Jerry; I thought you might be Jerry; he's 'the century man'; where you headed?"  I told her "Cherokee".  We chatted for another minute, and then she U-turned to head back down the mountain and return to Roanoke.  I was tempted to follow her.

Did I mention that I missed the turn into Rocky Knob Campground?  I recognized the open pastures across from the campground from last year.  But I had been repeating the mantra "Rocky Knob, MP-169" all day, and the campground was at MP-167 ... "halfway" up the climb from Tuggle Gap.  My mind was not working properly, and I did not READ the words on the sign for the campground ... I only noted the "icon" for hiking.  There was no "tent icon" for camping ... only the word "Campground".  I continued up the "spiral curve" past MP-168 and the top of the climb.  I continued across the shallow descent to MP-169 and the picnic area.  As I began the more serious descent, I thought to myself "this doesn't seem right", and started looking over my shoulder at the signs for the northbound traffic.  Second sign:  "Campground  2 miles".  CRAP!!  I U-turned and ... got to the camp to find the truck and Laurie and most all the food was gone ... looking for me.  It had taken an extra half hour to get those four bonus miles.  Dave was all cleaned up as he had given up on me and the possibility of riding further.  Laurie had driven north looking for me; I was south of the campground, of course. 

The climb to the top of the shoulder of Grandfather Mtn was about 17 miles long.  There were a couple of short, but fast, descents along the way.  Given my flat tyre only 1.5 miles (10 minutes) after leaving the campground, it took me about 4 hours to complete that climb.  Two lucky things. 

1) When Laurie and Lew drove past, I was able to shout and flag them down.  They pulled into the overlook that was just ahead.  I gave Laurie the now useless tyre and tube (to give to Dave when she saw him), and more importantly, I pumped my replacement rear tyre up to about 125 psi -- I had climbed well over half the climb on about 75 psi.  The mini-pump is good, and will get you home ... but I don't recommend it as your main pump, especially when climbing mountains. 

2) The descent from Grandfather Mtn into Asheville was being repaved.  BEAUTIFUL, fresh pavement.  And the "pilot vehicle" led the "parade" of southbound traffic for several miles -- most of the descent -- all of the steep part of the descent -- at 20 to 25 mph (I'm estimating because my cycle confuser had konked out).  Riding the slower speed in the middle of the traffic caravan eliminated any chance of going too fast (faster than, say, 40 mph) and also eliminated the chance of any cars or motorcycles trying to pass on the steep part of the descent.  Slower is sometimes better.

The climb later that day up Mt. Pisgah was tough, but it was at the end of the day and I knew I would make it to the day's goal (more or less).  Dave and Laurie collected me about 2 miles below the goal as we were due to join Dave's relatives in going out to dinner near Candler (near Asheville and Mt. Pisgah).  I could have made the extra two miles except I ended up in a 25 minute conversation with the "Birdman"; he had been sitting at an overlook most of the day counting migrating raptors (hawks); I didn't know that hawks, eagles and the like migrated.  Reasonably interesting conversation monologue about the migration pattern of hawks.  It ain't all and only about the riding.

The climb up to Richland Balsam seemed daunting on paper.  Miles and miles above 5500 ft elevation, topping out, after several ups and downs, at 6053 ft.  Except for the winds and the chill (especially chilly above 5500 ft), the climb was not bad. 

The ~ 8-mile climb up to Waterrock Knob just after descending to Balsam Gap (~ 3300 ft elevation) was much tougher.  Dave and I agreed it was a relentless climb.  We got water from another group of cyclists at the "summit" of the climb, and (more or less) rode down the descent from Waterrock together. 

Then, the last climb (or so we thought).  Two-and-a-half miles to the first of many tunnels in the last 10 miles.  We started down together; Dave finished the descent less than a minute after me.  It was disappointingly hot and humid at Cherokee, especially compared to the temperatures, lack of humidty, and windy conditions we had experienced earlier in the day, and over the previous seven days.

Other cyclists:

There were a few day cyclists near Roanoke (see above).

There were some day cyclists near Boone.

There were a lot of day cyclists descending Pisgah as we climbed near the bottom of the mountain (i.e., just outside Asheville).  It looked to be a well organized club ride, with a LARGE front group, and three following mini-groups, each of diminshing numbers. 

We also met one or two groups of cyclists (it was never clear to me if we met two different groups, or the same group twice) that were riding from Front Royal to Cherokee.  The group that gave us water atop Waterrock Knob were "snow-birds"; I think the ride was part of their migration this year from Massachusetts, Ohio and Kentucky to Florida.  This was the first time any of the four cyclists had "ever done anything like this".  (When they told me that - atop Waterrock Knob - I responded "for me too; Dave, however, rode the Parkway three decades ago."  That brought the immediate rejoinder "three decades??"  And my further response "yep, Dave was about 22 at the time."  The group went back to eating their lunch.) 

At the Rocky Knob campground, we met George.  He was touring from Florida back to Philly after attending a family wedding.  Full front and rear panniers.  He was fast ... even with the panniers.  His first day in Florida, he had covered 170 miles (George claimed the beginning and ending elevations that day were the same ... 0 ft above sea level).  He was riding the same daily distances on the BRP us we were, except he had panniers.

At the Doughton Park campground, we met Gary and another "unnamed" cyclist.  The unnamed was fit and riding with four VERY full panniers.  Due to leapfrog dynamics, I think the unnamed went into Asheville, but I'm not sure.

Gary was more interesting.  At about 6 ft, 1 inch tall and 240 pounds, Gary was a large man.  He was riding a 61 cm touring bike, towing a trailer he had built himself.   He raises beef cattle somewhere near Knoxville, and took up cycling three years ago at age 52.  He loves it.  He entertained us in camp with some stories from his early riding days:  "no way I was ever going to wear those funny shorts -- until after touring for three days in regular clothes."  He was doing a short tour -- perhaps from ??? to Pisgah -- on "grit" because he had done nearly no training this year.  He left camp in the morning before us; Dave passed him a couple hours before I did (I'm slow when climbing, and that was the day of my flat); each of us chatted with Gary for a minute or two before spinning on.  We looked for Gary on the last day, but as we did not catch him, we concluded that he may have decided to end his short tour atop Pisgah.


Back and forth all day long.  In groups of 4 or 5 or 6 or 8.  Harleys are LOUD.  Some other makes are quiet.  I've had my fill of motorcycles for awhile.

  Important rock at overlook near MP-100.
 Key support staff and fellow travelers -- Lew and his dog Jackpot.  
 Another important person and fellow traveler:  Laurie (Mrs. Lt. Dave) and her dog, Zeke.

Farmland and Tractors:

Lest you think it was all either slogging climbs or harrowing descents, the Parkway goes through quite a lot of farmland in Virginia, especially near Roanoke.  Farm fields and pastures came within a dozen feet or so of the edge of the road since the Park only owns the road through those areas.  Horses and cattle were often grazing only a few yards away.  There were also a couple pumpkin fields -- one in particular was noteable.  Sorry, no photo.

There were farmers atop tractors working at many farms along the route.  Most seemed to be cutting hay.  I liked the tractors ... they were they types that were prominent in my youth ... not those behomoths that dominate midwestern farms nowadays.  Sorry, no photos.  (I can think of one local / NC rando that might have trouble staying on a schedule past some of those farms.  She would have to stop, in some places, every quarter to half-mile to take yet another photo of a tractor in action.)

NC Bike Routes 4 and 2:

I didn't see the road where Bike Route #4 joined the Parkway (from the east), but Dave and I each judged the road where it left the Parkway as little better than a goatpath -- strewn with gravel -- and V-E-R-Y steep.  I am sure I could not ride up to the Parkway on BR #4 from the west -- too steep.  I would not want to tempt fate by trying to exit on that road.  I think Bike Route #4 was only on the Parkway for about 20 miles.

I didn't see, and neither did Dave, the road where Bike Route #2 joined the Parkway from the east.  Nor did we notice the road where BR #2 left the Parkway to the west.  However, Bike Route #2 appears to follow the Parkway for 100 miles or more.  And unlike the "Showdown at Black Creek" Permanent, Bike Route #2 on the Parkway is NOT flat.


Were basically empty.  This was a good time to ride and enjoy the Parkway.  Leaf season for a cyclist would likely be consistent with a suicide wish ... too many cars. 


As possibly indicated above, there wasn't a lot of wildlife.  A few turkeys -- I could have done with about 4 or 5 fewer turkeys at one critical point.  A couple chipmunks (I think North Carolinians would refer to them as groundhogs -- but to me, they were chipmunks).  Caterpillars, beetles and grasshoppers galore.  Some butterflies -- didn't see any migrating "Monarchs".  I saw a doe and her nearly full-grown fawn.  I also saw a large 8-point buck saunter across the Parkway in front me (I understand that what in North Carolina counts as "8-points" would count as "4-points" in Montana -- 4-points on each side).  I think Dave is still jealous over the buck.  Lee D may well be jealous when / if he reads this. 

Traveling companions:

Lt. Dave, of course.  But more important were Mrs. Lt. Dave, aka, Laurie and Lew (Dave's dad and my tentmate).  Also along for the trip were Zeke (Dave and Laurie's Jack Russel) and Jackpot (Lew's best friend).  Jackpot finally warmed up to me after about three days, and asked me to let him out for his morning "walk" when Lew was otherwise occupied. 

This trip was also a vacation for Laurie -- not just a "service the cyclists" trip.  Despite several disappointments (the Folk Music Center was virtually closed down, the same for a couple other things, and I suspect that she was unable to make her hoped-for sidetrip into Woolwine to visit her favorite fabrics shop), I think Laurie finally managed enough "Laurie-time" to enjoy her vacation ... at least that was her story, and I suspect that she is sticking to it.

Lew would read voraciously whenever he had spare time.  On at least two nights, he flipped the page of his book to suddenly discover that it was way-past being too dark to read.  Lew was also our campfire man.  I think we had a campfire every night.  Sometimes it was just for eosoterics; one night we made s'mores, and one or two nights the extra warmth was nice.

I learned a crazy new card-game from Dave, Laurie and Lew.  Dave and Lew had learned it on a recent mission trip to ... I forget which Central American country.  Easy to learn.  Can be played without too much strategy.  Can be played employing too much strategy.  Therefore, good for most all ages and desired levels of concentration. 

Due to disparate climbing speeds, Dave and I rarely saw each other during the day.  Once we accepted facts and did away with false expectations, my rides were much better from a mental point of view.  I was unable to fathom Dave's thoughts on this front.

Mountain vistas:

The four of us only had two cameras along on the trip ... and one of those quit working on about the second day.  Lew's camera did itself and its owner proud.  No "mountain vista" photos were taken ... if you are looking for those, there are plenty of other places to find them.  We concentrated on people and flora photos.

More photos:

Two fools ready to start riding on ... I can't guess which day.
This might be the overlook near MP-260.
Dave at the Pisgah picnic area campground.
Ready to ride at the start of the last day.
Me.  Same location.  Notice that Dave was smiling and I was not.
But that was only because I was concentrating on sucking in my gut.

Dave at the Richland Balsam sign. 

Dave at Balsam parking lot with his dad, Lew. 
I thought there was a photo of Dave with Laurie at Balsam.  Apparently not.  :-(  

My tentmate, Lew, and me at the Balsam high elevation sign. 
Also pictured:  Zeke, the sometimes "wonder dog". 
Photos mostly by Laurie. 


"Entering" the Parkway?  No.  Leaving it at Cherokee. 
We could not find the MP-469 milepost. 
Probably in the room of some college kid. 


Sep-11:  BRP:  MP-0 to Otter Creek; 62.4 m.; 4 hrs, 38 min in-motion time; 13.4 mph. 
Sep-12:  BRP:  Otter Creek to near MP-100; 39.0 m.; 3hrs, 43 min in-motion time; 10.5 mph.
Sep-13:  BRP:  MP-100 to Rocky Knob; 72.8 m.; 5 hrs, 57 min in-motion time; 12.2 mph.
 _ _ _ _ _ _(incl. ~ 4 "bonus miles" for me as I rode PAST the campground, and had to ride back)
Sep-14:  BRP:  Rocky Knob to Doughton Park; 73.5 m.; 5 hrs, 52 min in-motion time; 13.5 mph.
 _ _ _ _ _ _(Dave rode a further 20 miles to near MP-260)
Sep-15:  BRP:  MP-260 to Crabtree Meadows / Falls; 80.8 m.; 7 hrs, 24 min in-motion time; 10.9 mph.
 _ _ _ _ _ _(my cycle computer konked out after ~ 33.5 miles; est. distance and times for the last three days)
Sep-16:  BRP:  Crabtree Meadows / Falls to Mt. Pisgah; 67.0 m.; 5 hrs, 45 min in-motion time; 11.6 mph.
 _ _ _ _ _ _(this is the day I had the explosive flat only 1.5 miles -- 10 minutes -- into the ride)
Sep-17:  BRP:  Mt. Pisgah to Cherokee (MP-469); 62.7 m.; 5 hrs, 13 min in-motion time; 12.0 mph.

Q-1 tot: 16 rides; __938.2 m.; _60 hrs, 39 min; 15.5 mph.
Q-2 tot: 31 rides; 2,263.3 m.; 151 hrs, 29 min; 14.9 mph.
Ju1 tot: 13 rides; __786.9 m.; _52 hrs, 36 min; 15.0 mph.
Aug tot: _9 rides; __649.9 m.; _40 hrs, 45 min; 15.9 mph.
Sep tot: _9 rides; __621.0 m.; _48 hrs, 54 min; 12.7 mph.
YTD tot: 78 rides; 5,259.3 m.; 354 hrs, 30 min; 14.8 mph. 


  1. Martin, Dave, Congratulations on your "epic" adventure. I think epic describes it well. It didn't sound as fun as I thought it might. I don't know why I expected fun from constant climbing and high speed descents in the face of high winds. Iva

  2. Uh-oh. I was concerned that the post would "sound" unhappy and/or dispirited.

    It was a good ride. Of course, "Mtn Boy", aka, Lt. Dave enjoyed the climbing more than I did: partly because 8 mph is more fun than 6 mph, and partly because Dave is "teched in the head" when it comes to climbing.

    I did have "low morale points" each day except the first and the last (and maybe I had no low point the second), but as I learned on rando rides this year, those things pass.

    I did have time to think and conclude that I have NO interest in riding the "Assault on Mt. Mitchell" or "Bridge to Bridge" or any of those other ridiculous montain "rides".

    I now have much better descending skills, but no where to use them. The downslopes north of Raleigh are all quite vanilla: no harrowing curves, no "where the heck is the road going", etc..

    Would I do the ride again? Not this year.

  3. That was an inspirational report Martin and thanks for posting it. I did see the Bike Route 2 sign to exit the BRP (eastbound) when I rode Tony's 400K and it helped me to stay on course. Did you do all of your riding in daylight?

  4. Thank you very much, Martin, for this post after composing and entering it at least twice! I agree with many of your comments, based on my ride in August, 2007...but that year we got lucky (?!) with extreme heat and hardly any cool or foggy weather. The truth is that weather conditions vary greatly on the BRP and that can make a world of difference! I'll send you a photo of me "crashing" into the Richland Balsam sign at the highest partner thought it would look funny. Also, I recall the MP 469 is actually near the bridge over the "last creek" about 1/4 mile before the finish at Cherokee park entrance. Glad to hear the 20-mile descent into Asheville is newly paved...bone-shattering holes and pavement seams really destroyed that part for me three years ago. And there are tons of motocyclists, but they are usually on good terms with cyclists. Talked to a few and they appreciate us more than the car drivers.


  5. @ Biker Bob -

    All riding was in daylight. This weren't no rando rodeo. ;-)

    @ Iceman -

    I reviewed Bruce's CrazyGuyOnABike journal before the ride. I recall that "crash" photo.

    From looking at your MP-469 photo on the cgoab journal and comparing to memory from last week: I think there has been some additional paving near the bridge over the Oconaluftee, and that there is now asphalt where your feet were for THAT photo. I could be wrong. But neither Dave nor Laurie spotted the MP-469 post.

    I am confident that the motorcycle folks were, in the main, quite reasonable people, but those Harleys make too much noise. Some people suggested that the number of motorcycles on the Parkway seems to be increasing rapidly.

  6. Great stuff Martin!! Sounds quite hard, but as biker bob said, your blog and your efforts are truly inspirational! Some day...

  7. @ Sridhar + Biker Bob

    I have to admit, I fail to see what is inspirational about my blog, or my efforts.