Or, cycling Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, and finishing with the Six Gap Century. The Blue Ridge Parkway has been on my radar for a few years and my original plan called for a week riding its 470 miles. From my experience doing rail-trails and the Natchez Trace, I know that anything over five days tends to get monotonous and boring. I figured this being a mountainous ride, the vistas would allow seven. Besides, the Blue Ridge tends to have fog, so anyone riding it should anticipate one or more non-riding days.
One problem with planning epic rides: getting someone else to accompany you. My friend, Barry, expressed willingness and enthusiasm. He talked me into adding Skyline Drive, an additional 105 miles. This would be a long drive to the start (1,435 miles, two days) and we might not get this way again, so let's tack it on. Ergo, my #1 rule got violated. We recruited one more rider, Rick. We could not recruit a sag driver.
Actually, I did recruit a sag driver for the first 20 miles. Besides bicycles, Barry's truck transported several musical instruments for my grandchildren. Daughter, Jean, and her husband, Jim, drove to Front Royal to receive them, and Jim kindly drove the sag vehicle to the first exit on Skyline Drive, thus allowing the three of us to at least begin the ride together.
Seventeen of the first twenty-three miles pointed generally UP, at about a 6% grade. A 6% hill is not difficult, a 6% mountain can wear you out. We stopped at several overlooks, both because of the vista and to give our legs a break. Eventually we arrived at the truck and I became the sag driver for awhile. About 10 miles further, Barry took over the duties. Not long after, the clouds thickened and Rick and I found a few patches of fog. It started to mist. It started to drizzle. Then, miraculously, Barry appeared at an overlook. Making the hand-across-the-throat signal, we called it a day and loaded our bikes, bemoaning our fate of cutting short the ride by about 20 miles.
Not more than a half mile later, it started to rain, and then we hit heavy fog. We found out later that a group of cyclists behind us were pulled off the road (by the authorities) due to the fog. At the Big Meadows Lodge, we were in the parking lot but unable to see the lodge not more than 20 yards away. So, we moderated our moaning and congratulated ourselves on the perfect timing at ending our cycling day. I missed several thousand feet of climbing, but still managed 5,099.
Big Meadows has great scenery, unfortunately obscured by the fog. We got settled in our rooms and had a celebratory glass of wine. Eventually the bar at the lodge opened and we had a beer while waiting for the restaurant to open. Activities were nil due to the weather and we retired early. The next morning started clear, with blue sky, and we took pictures of the vista from the lodge. By the time we started riding thin clouds had greyed the sky and it stayed that way throughout the day.
This was Friday and I cycled 39.7 miles (of the 51.2) and climbed another 4,038 feet. The temperature started at 48 degrees and stayed mostly in the lower 50's throughout the day. But at least it didn't rain. We stayed the night in Waynesboro, VA and Rick knew a great Italian restaurant.
Saturday, the plan called for 86 miles and 8,500 feet of climbing, a really, really long day, the first on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I managed to do 46.6 miles and 7,314 feet of climb, with the temperature again in the mid-50's and damp. Again we stayed at a lodge, Peaks of Otter, located right on the parkway. Being in the middle of nowhere, we also ate there. And would have enjoyed the views, had we been able to see any distance.
Sunday, 54 miles and 9,147 feet of climb replaced the scheduled 74 miles. This took us around Roanoke. By now, we might glance at the overlook vistas, but the monotony of the valleys, especially without any dramatic sunshine and blue sky, pretty much kept our cameras in our pockets. Occasionally the fog settling in the valleys created a dramatic pic.
My legs really felt the mileage, so I did the majority of sag driving, only cycling 13 miles and 956 feet of climbing. And again on Tuesday rather than 63 miles, I did 28.5 and 3,533 ascending feet. Our stop today was in Blowing Rock, NC. Due to the weather, we didn't walk around town, but we drove around and found it to be quaint and pretty. A fun place to wander around in and out of shops had the sun been out.
Wednesday I turned in zero miles, but the other guys didn't get much in either, as they chose to pack it in due to the cold and rain. We all had rain gear, and the pictures show me in my jacket most days. On a paid tour one must suffer the vagaries of weather, but we had the luxury of choosing whether or not to ride.
Thurday, the penultimate day, the schedule called for 84 miles, of which 10 were the side-trip up and down Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. My stats show 40.4 miles and 7,877 climbing feet, most of which was Mt. Mitchell. The previous easy days apparently were what my legs needed. The temperature reading on my Garmin never moved more than 3 degrees, starting at 61, but the clouds were thin (early) and no wind. I prepared for Mt. Mitchell with a 3 mile downhill and 6 miles uphill, plus some rolling miles, then divested my outer-wear at the truck at the foot of the entrance. Most of the way up had new, smooth, asphalt. I monitored the heart-rate, keeping it in the 85% of max range, thus the speed remained generally paltry at 6 mph. Going down, we exceeded the posted speed by a lot, with my maximum being 40 mph, passing a cement mixer.
We were supposed to then ride another 50 miles, but the weather turned wet and chilly, so I ended up with an additional 11 miles before we again trucked it in. Our last day dawned cold and misty, and a planned 7,500 feet of climbing before a terrific 15 mile downhill to the finish. However, both Barry and I were saving our legs for the Six Gap, and Rick had had enough of cycling cold, so he opted to be driven to the Atlanta airport early.
So far I cycled only about half the planned distance, but climbed an outstanding 37,962 feet. My legs were beginning to come around. It was time for the crown jewel of the epic journey: Six Gap Century.