Monday, November 29, 2010

Asheville to Roanoke- 2010

 Tuesday, November 23, 2010:  I set out on an adventure that I have longed to attempt since moving to Asheville.  The timing and equipment were never quite there until now.   275 miles from my house in Asheville, NC to the house where Rhonda grew up in Roanoke, VA.  I figured that if the weather was good, I could make it in 3-5 days.

I got the bikepacking bug about 1 yr ago, and have been scheming ever since.  This summer, when I was still fully employed and had no clue about my uncertain future, I ordered a frame bag, and a seat bag from Eric at Revelate Designs.  I was excited to get going but again, timing did not allow it.  I even planned an assault of the TNGA route in early November, but ended up pulling the plug due to life circumstances.

So, after weeks of packing, scheming, arranging and re-arranging, I took a look at the weather and knew that I would have a short window of time to attempt my first self-supported trip ever.

I got the kid off to school and hit the road.  Pedaling my bike north on the Parkway, I was excited with a touch of nervousness.

5 miles into the ride though, I was concerned.  I had decided to wear an older pair of cycling shoes for the trip, but apparently the insole was worn out as I developed a pain in the sole of my right foot.   I didn't hesitate to call Rhonda to bring my better pair of shoes.  The pain stopped immediately.
 My goal today was to ride 100 miles to Boone,NC and figure out where to spend the night.  The forecast was for rain, so things were tentative, and although, I had a plan, I wanted to leave it open and enjoy the ride.  That is, after all, why I was out here.  I realized that while goals are great, as this point it was better to pull over and take a nap in the afternoon sunshine if that is what the moment called for.  I had discussed my "plan" with Rhonda and she understood that I needed to take my time.

I arrived at Craggy Gardens Visitor Center feeling good and excited to get past Mt Mitchell.  The mountain, the highest east of the Mississippi River, was my no turning back point.  Once I got there, it would be a huge inconvenience to call for a ride home.  I kept watching the clouds rolling in from the West with a nervous eye.  The forecast when I left was telling me that there was a 40% chance of rain.  From my experience in the outdoors, and watching the storm roll in, I knew that there was more like a 90% chance of rain.
 After approx. 4 hrs of pedaling, I got to the Mt Mitchell overlook and cheered, loud and proud.  I needed this ride, and I was looking forward to the challenge.  I continued pedaling and soaking in the view.  It was chilly and the wind was whipping through the tree tops and gaps in the ridge line,  howling and bringing a storm with it.  When I arrived at Little Switzerland, I called Rhonda for an update in the weather.  What I had feared was true:  rain from here to Boone.   55 miles into the ride, 2:30pm, I was not ready to call it a day.  I also was not ready to ride for 50 more miles in the cold rain,  not on the first day of my trip.
 I had a backup plan and I pulled it out.  I called a good friend who has a house in Little S, and asked if I could stay there for the night.  He looked at the weather map for me and assured me that it would be wise not to continue tonight.  So, with gratefulness, I welcomed his generosity and ended the first day of riding.

After resting the rest of the afternoon,  I ended up not sleeping well due to being alone in a big house combined with frustration for having to cut my ride short, on top of being excited about getting going.  I was up at 5 am and on the road by 6:10am.  It was my first time re-packing my kit on the road and I wanted to make sure it was done right so I would not have to stop to readjust later on.
 After riding for the first hour in the dark, with temps around 45 degrees,  the sunrise over Table Rock, NC was beautiful and worth the wait.  I had been comfortable so far but what I did not realize was that I was climbing in elevation, up and over to the Linville Gorge.   As soon as I started down into the Gorge, the temps dropped about 10 degrees, leaving frost on the ground, and me shivering.   Knowing the area, I looked forward to stopping at Christa's and hoped that they would be open.
 After a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, ( I should have gotten one for the road), I continued North on the Parkway.  As the sun rose, I started to warm.  There was only a soft breeze which helped prevent wind chills that would have been miserable. 
The Viaduct on this route is an impressive piece of engineering.  Part bridge, part balcony, the views are great.  At an elevation just over 5000 feet, it would be an interesting place to see after a winter storm.
Blue skies, no clouds, bright sunshine,  early morning chill, and feeling tired....
Somewhere around the middle of the day, I made it to the 100 mile mark for the trip.  With 175 still to go, I was concerned that I would not make it,  but decided just to ride, to focus on the here and now, and enjoy it. 
Later, around milepost 348 I came upon a detour. The detour bypasses one of my favorite areas on the parkway.  I pondered my options: I could either keep riding and hope that they let me through,  or I could play it safe, take the detour and not have to backtrack if they did not let me through.

I decided to conform,( not an easy decision) and exited the parkway.  I filled my water bladder at a spigot behind the motel, thought about stopping for a burger, decided not to and hit the road.   Then a miracle began.  I did not realize that the rest of the day would be a mix between a blur, some desperation, and my creator looking out for me.

As I pedaled, I realized that traffic was giving me a wide berth,  slowing down to pass safely.  And then I realized that everybody was waving to me.   People in their yards, on-coming traffic....everybody.  It was strange.
I arrived at the town of Sparta and stopped for coffee.  I ordered a Mocha, and nibbled on some leftover pumpkin cake from Christa's. I talked to the old guy at the bar about road conditions.  From here I could turn east and head 7 miles back to the parkway, or continue north, 19 miles to the parkway.  If I turned east, I would add mileage, which normally would be fine, but with cold and rain in the near forecast, I wanted to keep the mileage down.  The man informed me that the road to the north was nice, with few climbs.

As I sat outside, sipping on my cup of chocolate and coffee love, a 20 something kid came out to chat.  He was pretty excited to be talking to me and was over eager to give me a ride to the parkway.  Contrary to what I had experienced, he told me that people would run over me if I attempted to ride any road out of Sparta.  His name is Hank.  Hank also told me that the 7 mile east option was mostly down hill to the parkway.  The wheels in my head started turning.  If there were 7 miles downhill, that would mean quite a bit of climbing back up on the parkway.  At this point in the day, that was a deterrent.
After some more chatting, and sipping, Hank headed back in to study insurance,  and I headed north on Hwy 18. I estimated that I would be at the parkway in about 2 hours and realized that it would be dark when I got there.  I had yet to set up camp in the dark, much less find a suitable campsite in the woods.  I was a little nervous about this since the next day was Thanksgiving, prime hunting season.   As I road, I started to slack on my nutrition, and started to fade.  I was eyeballing every stand of trees in the fields next to the road.  I knew that I would not make it much farther tonight.  I also lost track of time and mileage and was not sure exactly where I was.

I was starting to feel the end coming on when I came to a crossroads; a gas station, convenience store, seafood restaurant, and cafe.  I stumble into the convenience store and ordered a sandwich.  Feeling nauseous, I also bought a Coke. Again, the people were overly but not annoyingly friendly.  I felt like I was at home.  After asking about a nearby campground, knowing that I needed to call it a day, they told me that there was one, "right down there" and pointed down the road.  I was concerned.  A lot of times " right down the road" could mean 5 or even 10 miles.  I went outside and sipped on my Coke.  Feeling a little better, I asked someone else.  The assured me that the campground was "right down there".

So, I went "right down there" and sure enough there was an RV park.  I was excited but worried because no one was there.  I ended up getting permission from the maintenance guy to set up in a stand of trees on the corner of the property.  When I asked how much it would cost me,  he said"  It's about that?".  I told him that was great and to have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

And so, after 110 miles of riding,  I set up camp, ate some Ramen, which is disgusting by the way, and I will never eat Ramen again,  rolled into my sleeping bag and tried to sleep.

The problem with winter camping is that there is 12 hours of darkness.  12 hours to do nothing.  I thought about heading back to the convenience store to get a pizza, but I was not feeling great.  I ended up just laying under my tarp, looking out over the field and thinking about life. Eventually I drifted to sleep, sometime after midnite.  At one point I woke up to hear something nearby growling,  I'm not sure if it was a dream or not, but I did not see anything.  Later, I woke up again, looked out across the field and saw what looked like a couple of bears running.  Again, I'm not sure.  The moon was up, but it was overcast, and I was groggy. 
I wanted to get up early, in the early morning darkness and get going, but I did not want to ride the local country roads in the dark.  I estimated that I had about 10 miles left to go, and did not want to risk it, even though I felt I was in the friendliest place in the world.

I had brought only one pot, that would double as a coffee mug.  I boiled water, ate a packet of grits, and then made coffee.  I didn't like this system so much, and decided to add a coffee cup to my kit.  I went about packing up camp, carefully packing, trying to figure out what to wear, etc.   I got packed and rolling as the sky grew brighter.  It was light enough that I felt safe riding now, and I pointed my steel horse northward.

Sometimes, we are better off not knowing certain things and when I rode onto the parkway, 1 mile after leaving camp, I admitted that it was good that I did not know it was this close.  While it would have been nice to get going earlier, and ride in the darkness of morning,  I would most likely have ridden on last night, despite needing to stop and rest. 
The day dawn grey and stayed grey.  Overcast and windy, I feared rain.  When I stopped at the convenience store in Fancy Gap and got the last biscuit, I felt that this would be a good day.  I kept my rain gear on for most of the day and hoped that the drizzly mist would not turn to pouring rain.  I had over 100 miles to ride to Roanoke and I was cautiously optimistic. 
As I rode, the overcast skies turned into a fog, swept across the road and fields by the blowing wind.  I was just warm enough and not worried about being too cold, unless it started to rain.  As I climbed slowly upwards, gaining elevation, I was glad that there would be no 2 hr climbs like the one out of Asheville. 
Once I reached Rocky Knob and 45 miles to go, the fog started to dissipate.  An hour later, the sun came out, and I had clear, cold skies the rest of the day.  I was again feeling fatigued and really wanted to take a nap in the sunny field next to a giant hay bale, but after calculating, I decided to keep on spinning towards my goal.  I also decided it was time to delve into the Honey Stinger products that I had saved for this end of the trip.  I am glad I did save them because not only are they tasty,  they gave me the boost I needed to make it the rest of the way.
The picture above is the spot near Rocky Knob that I asked Rhonda to marry me.  Lucky for me she said yes, she didn't know what she was getting....I didn't either,  no regrets!

The road south of Roanoke meanders through some fairly level terrain, with lots of homes, farms and ranches near the road.  It was nice to put the mind on cruise control and just ride.  I had calculated that I would get there just after the sun set.
I exited the Parkway at Mill Mountain, and rode through a deserted city,  most of the people tucked away in their warm homes stuffing their faces.   I made my way the last 5 miles, passing the airport as the sun set on my right side. 
One mile left to go, through the tunnel,  a couple of turns then coast downhill to the in-law's house.  It was good to be there, a great trips with lots of time to process where I've been, where I am and where I am going. 

After a nice hot shower, I sat down to some face stuffing of my own......then I slept.

277 miles in 3 days: day1; 57 miles, day 2; 110 miles, day 3; 110 miles.
22.5 hours on the bike,   Average MPH 12.3

Have a great day.


Tony Moll said...

Strong work riding the singlespeed to the Star City!

Anonymous said...

Yo Stephen, I enjoyed reading about your trip.

Mike D.

Anonymous said...

Nice write up. Thanks for posting!