Let’s be very clear: this is an extremely difficult physical challenge for almost all of us. There are practically no services readily available on the parkway itself. Unless you are that rare breed of pannier-laden self-supporters, you need all the help you can get. I refer readers to the September 28, 2011 blog for my first, ill-fated attempt at the Blue Ridge Parkway (henceforth BRP). More at the end, but let’s just say my guardian angel connected me to Black Bear Adventures so I could have an outstanding adventure.
|Staunton, Virginia from hotel room|
This is a linear ride, in that you start at one end and finish at the other. Paul, the owner, and Rod, staff person, shuttled riders from Asheville, NC to Staunton, VA to begin our journey. Staunton is a small, historic town near Rockfish Gap (elevation 1909 ft), the start of the BRP and coincidentally, the end of Skyline Drive. It is a continuous road.
We had ideal weather to start: slightly chilly, with a breeze at our backs. This was an 86 mile, 9,000 feet of climbing day, so I moderated my enthusiasm somewhat as we slowly rolled out. In our group of seven, no one kept a similar uphill pace, thus within minutes we had spread out. It stayed that way for the whole trip, with some minor, short exceptions. The first six miles were up to Humpback Rocks (elevation 2,360), then on to Raven’s Roost (elevation 3,200). We rolled up and down awhile, then dropped down to the James River, the lowest point on the BRP.
Well, we had “less” of a day for our next foray; a mere 79.6 miles and 7,773 feet of climbing for me. Rather than “sing for your supper” we had to “work for your lunch” by way of an eight-mile climb; then lunch, followed by a one-mile climb, followed by a three-mile climb. We rolled up and down an additional thirty miles. I spent the spring training for time-trialing, foregoing long rides. I only had a few sixty-five mile days in the legs. This second tough day pretty much zapped me, so I shuttled the seven miles from the BRP to Hotel Floyd.
On this second day Thurman waxed ecstatic over an eight-foot black snake. It seems the snake was sunning itself, stretched across one lane of traffic. Knowing its fate if it stayed there, Thurman stopped the bike, picked up the snake and placed it on the side of the road. All was well. I, too, saw a black snake, about two feet long and only a foot into the road. I gave no thought of stopping.
After showering, we had some time before dinner. Dave found a place for a cool brew and invited me along. Apparently Floyd is a country/folk-music hotspot, and they had some sort of festival in the park next to our establishment. We sipped our beer and let the day slide away before walking up the street to eat. Dinner tonight was at Odd Fellows, a highly recommended eatery. The waitress said her aunt was on a plant-based diet and understood exactly what I required. Great! Unfortunately, the cook wasn’t on the same page, and the enchiladas were filled with nice chicken. The rest of the entrée was legal and very good. The receptionist at Hotel Floyd rated an A+ from me for being extremely helpful and solicitous. You shouldn’t do the BRP and not stop in Floyd.
Day Four included six tough climbs and a few others totaling 7,569 feet, inside 67 miles. Peter and I had physical challenges, his different from mine, and we were really suffering up the last two climbs. As usual, we were not cycling together, but were within minutes of each other. Finally, the last downhill and turn off the BRP and another down into Blowing Rock and the Chetola Inn and Spa and a rest day.
However, there was no rest for me. After showering, I inquired if Blowing Rock had an Urgent Care facility. No, but Boone does. The hostess was quite solicitous, advised she would call Security to have someone drive me there. I had prepared to call Paul to see what he could do, but this offer easily topped that idea. Within minutes the security guard drove up and we made it the eight miles to Boone and the Urgent Care facility. He gave me a number to call when I was ready to get picked up. Long story, short: given the symptoms, I self-diagnosed a urinary infection. Within an hour, I had given a sample, seen the doctor, and picked up a prescription. Another forty-five minutes had me, prescription in hand, back at the Inn and ready for dinner.
The waitress and chef really out-did themselves in supplying a very tasty, legal alternative to what was on their menu. I no longer am surprised what a good chef can conjure when requested.
Rather than explore Blowing Rock, I spent the rest day in my room watching the World Cup, three matches. However, the medication worked quickly, and I felt good enough to join Paul, Rod, and Thurman for dinner at the Mellow Mushroom. The next day I mounted up for Day Five of riding. Today’s scheduled ride was only 48 miles with two big climbs. But either the medication or what it was curing seemed to zap me, so I made it 27.2 miles and 2,147 feet. The big visual of the day turned into a big disappointment.
|Me, Dave, Sam, Jim, Martha|
The Linn Cove Viaduct presents the rider with a spectacular view. There are large signs indicating No Pedestrians. Had I known that the ONLY view was from the middle of the viaduct, I’d have dismounted and taken my chances and shot several pictures. Overwhelmingly scenic. But I ASSUMED there would be an overlook at the end giving a similar scene. Nope, no overlook. Surely the Linn Cove Information Center would surely have a great view. Nope, but nice rest rooms. If you go, stop and take the picture. We cycled a mile-and-a-half over to Linville Falls for our break, making the one-plus mile hike up to take in the view.
Our lodging for the night was the Little Switzerland Inn, another place with great scenery.
We had a thrilling descent into Asheville to end the day. Mine wasn’t so thrilling. I was bombing down the technical descent when I came upon a local couple taking the curves slower than me. When we came to a straight stretch, I shouted out “on you left” and cruised on past and prepared for the next series of curves. However, Mr. was a very strong rider and dragged his female companion back past me before the descents. After having to brake for her slowness on several turns, I just stopped for maybe thirty seconds to get her out of my way before enjoying the rest of the downhill. It isn’t often I get upset about lack of protocol, but that rude behavior certainly set me off. A very nice dinner helped soothe away the ruffled feathers.
The last day of riding I logged 62 miles and 6,726 feet of climbing , including an eight and a half-miler and a three-miler. But it also had thirteen miles of downhill, most of it steep enough to be above 35mph. I can gain at least two miles per hour speed when I get into my aero position (I can’t call it a “tuck”). But after so many days in the saddle and many minutes in that position, my knotted neck could only take so much. I suffered, but kept my speed. What a great ride. An end-of-ride observation: what a clean road! Most of the asphalt was smooth, and the bike picked up very little dirt. Unlike my first attempt, this adventure met my expectations in spades. We had great weather, a superior tour director and staff, and a challenging course. This was a true epic cycling vacation.
Now a post-script. It is my opinion that this ride requires a minimum of four riders and a sag wagon in order to be a positive experience. Most of us, like me, don’t have a cycling circle large enough to meet that requirement, thus we turn to the obvious solution: a paid tour. It doesn’t take long on a search engine to realize that Black Bear Adventures is the premier BRP provider. Now that I have taken their tour, I attest that yes, you cannot find a better experience. Paul Wood, the owner, enjoys good food, wine, lodging, and cycling challenges and provides all of these to the cyclists who join him. He rides the routes, not quite like a sweep, but starting at the back and carefully monitoring the riders as he passes.
Before signing up, I inquired about the ability to accommodate my plant-based diet. Paul assured me he could. Shortly before the start, I received an email from Rod, staff person in charge of the sag vehicle, asking specifics as to what I ate and didn’t eat. He prepared snacks and lunch, and each day I was pleasantly surprised at the vegan fuel he had for me. He even had Almond milk rather than real milk for the granola/blueberry snack. For dinner, all of the chefs adjusted their entrees for me. Most of the time, breakfast consisted of oatmeal and fruit, with bread of some sort.
Paul had the break and lunch stops set up so after more or less two hours of riding, we could refuel and refresh. Given the amount of energy expended, this was perfect timing. Feel free to contact me if you have additional questions.