Monday, November 29, 2010
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 free....how 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 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 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.
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.
Posted by My name is Stephen at 10:43 AM