Sunday, November 27, 2011

Asheville To Roanoke 2011

This is becoming a tradition,  somewhat of a habit, but definitely a tradition.  I look forward to this tradition,  just me out there cruising.  You can read last year's account by clicking here.

Day 1:

The trip almost didn't happen.  The weather was iffy, and I got some sort of intestinal virus the week before, leaving me a bit weak.  But when I started feeling better and the weather looked promising, I decided to go for it.
I didn't get to leave until Wednesday morning this year.  I would miss thanksgiving dinner, but I like leftovers so, I was not worried.
 I bid the family goodbye and headed out of the driveway.  Through the woods and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, a left turn and heading north.  The skies were overcast, the air slightly damp but warm.  With the forecast calling for sunny skies by afternoon, I was looking forward to riding this ribbon of pavement around the Blue Ridge Mountains for just under 300 miles. 
 I had swapped out my knobby tires on my Cannondale Caffeine for some 700c slicks...the same tires I rode last year. I was excited to try this new set-up and in my search for an all around bikepacking/touring bike, I had a good feeling about this one. 
Climbing up the parkway, I remembered to assume my touring pace,  slow, spinny, and just a grind.  I enjoy going fast and pushing my limits, but on this kind of ride, distance is the limit to push, not speed.  As I wound up, I left the warm air of the valley, and stopped to pull out some layers.  I continued climbing and was a little more worried as I observed the clouds thickening, not thinning.  This was not looking good, but it was not bad enough to turn back. 
 After a while though, the sun disappeared and I rode into more powerful wind, whipping around the peaks and pounding the ridge line.  I kept pedaling,  warm enough for now from the exertion, but also concerned about the other side of Craggy.   I knew that I would be fully exposed to the brunt force of the cold wind. 
 I decided that if it got bad enough I could either turn around and head back down, or find a slab of rock to hide behind, crawl into my sleeping bag and wait out the storm.  For now though I kept riding.  Once I finally went through the tunnel before Craggy, there was no view due to the clouds.  Ignorantly, I was counting on the clouds to clear up, and the sun to come out.   I stopped to fill up on water, and continued on.  For the next several hours I was faced with long descents, bone chilling moisture, and howling winds.  I would find out later that 60mph winds were recorded in the area.

I was ok when climbing, but as soon as there was a decent, I was shaking, almost uncontrollably.  At one point some giant white snowflakes fell from the cold gray sky, and all I could think of was how the hobbits and friends felt on the side of that wretched mountain in the middle of the snowstorm. 

I managed to stay in control of the bike,  my fingers and toes were numb, and I could think of nothing other than making it to the other side of Mt Mitchell,  clinging to the hope that the weather would improve.....
 It never did.  The sun sort of came out, but then disappeared again.  I was still cold, and as I rounded the bend after crossing Hwy 80,  I could see storm clouds stretching to Boone and beyond. 

After 55 ish miles, I did the only sensible thing and pulled the plug on the day.  I rode to my friend's house in Little Switzerland, happy to have a warm dry place to hole up for the night,  but bummed at not reaching my goal for the day.  I had planned to ride approx 90 miles per day this year, and not have any epic days.  My plans were foiled, and having ridden through this storm was about all of epic that I wanted on this trip. 
I was not feeling good.

It was nice to enjoy a sunset from inside as I ate my freeze dried dinner.   I decided to try to make up some of the mileage on Thursday.  It meant that I would need to ride at least 120 miles to get back on track.  In my head, I was sure I could do it.

Day 2
 Up before the crack of dawn and riding as the first red glow lit the horizon.  I enjoy this time of day on the bike.  A new day, a new hope of things to come.  I was excited about pushing my limits and going the distance, but at the same time I held a steady pace knowing that if I pushed too hard now, I would pay for it later.  
 I wasn't quite feeling great despite having slept well.  The cold saps the body of valuable strength, not to mention the metal toll and energy required to fight through a storm like I fought through yesterday.  I was optimistic though,  I told myself to keep spinning,  promised myself that I would feel better if I would just keep spinning and enjoy the view. 
 During the ride yesterday, I started having issues with my IT band.  I had to stop several times to adjust the seat, and then took some more time that night to fine tune it.  This morning, it was off and on, and had me concerned.  When a part of the body is ailing, the rest of the body has to make up for it, and this can be draining.  I continued riding and had to stop several times to make minor adjustments. 
 The skies were clear but the temps were cold, really cold.  I was again managing to stay warm but knew that valuable energy was being drained due to my body keeping itself warm.  After stopping in Pineola, for a bacon, egg and cheese on a homemade yeast roll, I continued on.  It wasn't until 35 miles into the day, that it warmed up enough to take some layers off.  I was still feeling tired and sluggish though.  But, there was nothing to do, but keep going.

 Over the via duct and through the Blowing Rock area.  I continued pedaling and was not feeling any better. About 60 miles into the day, I started formulating plans to bail.  To make the call for Rhonda to come pick me up.  At this point, she had already arrived in Roanoke and it would be a long haul to come pick me up.  I looked at the map and tried to figure out the quickest way to an interstate.  There was none.  The quickest way was up the parkway.  Around mile 55 , I got off the Parkway at Deep Gap to find a store to refill on water.  This is a crossroads and there was nothing but some old warehouses, and some houses.  I was in a quandary.  I decided the best thing to do was to approach a nice looking log house and ask for some water.  There were several cars in the driveway and it appeared that a family was having Thanksgiving dinner. 

A middle aged man cautiously opened the door and asked if he could help me.  I explained what I was doing and what I needed.   Just inside the door was a sink and he told me I could fill up there.  As I filled my water container, I noticed that he held his right arm behind his back.  As we made small talk and even as he closed the door, I continued to observe that he still held his arm behind his back....I assumed he was ready to take me out if I tried something funny,  I had not such intentions, but I can't blame a man for protecting his property!

At this point in my journey, knowing of an upcoming detour off of the parkway, I decided to make an early detour, hoping to avoid any undue climbing.  I was able to pedal, but I was moving so sluggishly that I did not want to waste any energy on any more parkway climbs.  I headed towards the town of West Jefferson, I'm not sure what I was hoping to find there, but I headed there.  It was on the way to Sparta, NC, which is where the detour would eventually lead.  I had intended to make it 30 miles past Sparta for the day.  That goal faded with every pedal stroke. 

Once I ground my way into W Jefferson, I estimated that I had another 30-35 miles to Sparta.  I stopped and bought a coke, looked at the pre packaged food in the gas station fridge, then headed out.  I sat for a spell in the sun, letting myself bake, and considering my options.  I was not ready to throw in the towel yet, and I still had 5 hrs of daylight.  If I could make it back to the Parkway around the detour, I would ride the remaining 15 miles in the dark.  I had lights and was prepared to do so. 

After finishing my Coke, I once again headed north on some state highways.  I was not down in the valley and the riding was fairly flat with a couple of short climbs.  Traffic was courteous and the miles clicked by.  With 15 miles left to go, I was done and was willing to pay someone for a ride to Sparta.  There was quite a bit of traffic but there was no way to let a person know I wanted a ride.  I didn't want to waist time standing by the road with my thumb out and risk having to ride the rest of the way in the dark.  So, I did what I have learned works,  kept spinning. 

Hours later, I dragged myself into the sleepy town of Sparta.  I was done.  I looked around for a church and considered curling up behind it and sleeping.  I finally decided to head to the local hotel and decide if it looked appealing.  As I rode up to the Allegheny Inn, I was surprised that it looked kind of fancy.  I pulled in to the parking lot, went inside and asked for a price.  I went back outside and called Rhonda.  The price was a little high and we talked about a rescue.  I went back in and told the clerk thanks but no thanks.  The kind clerk offered me a better price.  I called Rhonda back and decided that for less than the cost of the round trip to rescue me, I could rent the room, rest and eat, then ride north for a closer rescue in the morning.   I rented the room.

Gas station pizza never tasted so good.  And that pint of Mayfield Moose tracks was divine!!  And topped off with Country Music Television?   Was I in heaven? or simply delirious?
Dinner in the Hotel

Day 3:
After staying up way too late watching Swamp People on the History Channel,  I allowed myself to sleep in until 5:30 am.  I was feeling ok and grits and Starbuck Via was on the menu.  I took a picture of my pump up session before I walked out the door into what would be below freezing temps for the first 30 miles.....I was glad that I had not camped out.
 I rode the 7 miles to the parkway only to find that I had gotten back on the parkway too soon.  It was still closed.  Instead of adding another 7 miles to my day, I took a chance and rode.  It was a beautiful clear day, but really freaking cold.  I had anticipated warmer weather, and after 2 hours of still freezing temps, I stopped to get some heavier gloves and add a layer.  Feeling much warmer I continued on my journey.  I ate and drank, attempting to keep up with the calories that I was burning. 
 The scenery was awesome and there was little to no wind.  A refreshing change from 2 days ago.  I could still feel the pain of riding in those conditions.
Crossing the NC/VA state line

The heavily frosted terrain.
 35 ish miles into the day, I rolled into Fancy Gap and pulled up to the local diner.  I took a moment to thaw out front and remove some layers.  I made small talk with a few customers coming and going, then went inside, eager to eat.  It reminded me of a scene out of the wild west where the dusty old cowboy, obviously from out of town walks into the saloon.  For a split second, everything is slow motion and silent as every customer in the packed room takes a look at the dude who just walked through the door.  After a quick assessment that this is no ordinary dude,  everyone returns to their food and conversation.  Throughout the visit though, the cowboy catches glimpses of locals eyeballing him over their menus and through their glasses.

As I walked through the door, for a split second, it seemed like slow motion.  Then I bellied up to the bar, placed my order and drank coffee.
This my friend, is breakfast!!  

 When the food came, it was easy to dig in. I savored every bite and resolved not to rush through it so that I could hit the road again.  There was plenty of time for riding,  right now, I was eating.   As I ate, customers came and went.  Then came Carroll.  He introduced himself and showed me his license.  The guy was hilarious and friendly.
Proud retired vet with a license, and an NRA hat!
 After some more small talk and bantering, it was time to hit the road.  The temps had warmed and I was feeling good.  With another 90 miles to Roanoke and 10 miles through town once I got there, I was ready to see what my legs would do.  So I pedaled, and pedaled some more.
 I soaked in the sights and pondered life.  I considered what I had been through in the past 2 yrs and where I was now.  I decided that I am content.  I am peaceful with a burning rage inside that wants to see this world and my community be a better place, and I am willing to do my part in reaching that goal.  And then I pedaled some more!
I raced this guy.

Then followed this guy.
 The miles ticked by, I tried not to look at the time. But I was continuously calculating, watching the miles go by and watching the sun pass overhead.  Every minute that went by, I was more hopeful that I would not have to call for rescue.  I was wondering if I would in fact be able to ride 130 miles with a fully loaded bike.  At times I would begin to hammer, trying to make better time, but then I had to remind myself to slow down and spin.   And that is what I did, until finally, I could see Roanoke in the valley below. 
I dropped down into the valley and back up the mountain.  I looked at the sun slowly sinking towards the horizon.  I glanced repeatedly at my watch, calculating and re-calculating.  I knew that if I didn't bonk or have a mechanical, I would make it shortly after sunset.  I ate, drank and spun the pedals.  Down the mountain and into town feeling strong and pedaling hard.  I started to feel dizzy and slowed the pace.  Around the mall, past the airport, through the tunnel and into the in-laws neighborhood. I rolled into the driveway as darkness closed around.  I unclipped and stood in the darkness for a moment.  I had made it. I had overcome a huge obstacle, persevered and made my goal.  I soaked it in before going into the house.  It was a  hard journey, one of the toughest trips on a bike.  I rarely call for back up and had come very close to a rescue on this one.  But in the end, I kept my eyes on the goal and finished. Not only finished but rode 130 miles in one day,  10 hrs,  a personal record.   It felt good.  No, it felt great!!

I look forward to next year!


B said...

Thanks for the inspiration!! Pretty cool write-up. I hope you don't mind, I posted it to FB...


Arleigh said...

Great recap!!!!!

Now, you know I'm going to ask for a detailed gear list.