"There is no ribbon of highway more ideal for bicycling, more enticing to the senses, and more physically challenging than the Skyline Drive and the Blue ridge Parkway".
This continuous 600 mile road flows between Front Royal, VA and Cherokee, NC along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"Cycling on the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, arguably the two most scenic routes east of the Mississippi River, can be a humbling experience. The guide book states that "the cyclist who attempts these roads has definitely signed up for some tough mountain cycling".
Accompanied by 10 close friends from previous cycling adventures, we will spend 10 days cycling the Blue Ridge.
JOIN US! LET'S DO SOME CLIMBING!
Posted: Sat, 5 July 2008
DAY 10 PISGAH TO CHEROKEE,NC
THE FINAL SEGMENT
Our guidebook tells us it is "60 rugged miles to Cherokee", the final point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. After having completed approximately 600 miles with nearly 60,000 feet of climbing during the course of the last 10 days, I can say it is all rugged, yet beautiful, challenging, exciting and probably the BEST BICYCLE RIDE IN AMERICA!
Cycling along Pisgah Ridge we began the long "arduous" climb to Richland Balsam--the highest point on the BRP at 6,053 feet. After passing Looking Glass Rock, a bare granite dome of rock, we came to Graveyard Field and Graveyard Ridge, an area destroyed by fire in 1925 and now slowly recovering its forest base..
We passed several overlooks with many cars parked in the lots on this Holiday weekend. Hiking trails lead from the overlooks such as Devil's Courthouse in the Shining Rock Wilderness Area.
On the climb to Richland Balsam Overlook, I slipped away from the group for awhile to "push" the last 3 to 4 miles to the SAG there. It was a hard climb and an into increasing FOG and rain. The visibility was extremely low. I turned on both my front and rear blinking strobe lights. I was alone and concerned about not being seen by motorists or those on motorcycles. I could not see the mile marker posts or even very far into the overlooks, as I searched for our van. Finally, at the 431 mp I could just make out the outline of our van and trailer and pulled into the lot.
The heavy fog and attendant unsafe conditions pulled us off the road.
We all loaded our bikes into the van and rode the last downhill miles into Cherokee. We regretted missing what would have been a scenic , enjoyable descent in good weather, but there was no way we could have safely continued in the heavy fog and rain.
We vanned to Asheville for our final celebration dinner at Bistro 1869, toasting Rick and Kathie and Jon and Elizabeth on their wedding anniversaries.
WE HAD A GREAT RIDE! We all agreed that we would like to do another challenging ride together--perhaps in Oregon or in New England.
Posted: Fri, 4 July 2008
DAY 9 LITTLE SWITZERLAND TO PISGAH, NC
THE "ASSAULT" ON MT MITCHELL
Today's highlight was climbing to the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River at an elevation of 6684 feet.
Long known as a bicyclist's mecca , it presents a challenge over a 4.8 mile spur road to the top--gaining 1390 feet of elevation. The climbs difficulty is enhanced by the 20 miles of uphill going to get to its base. It is well worth the effort for the unparalleled view--and "bragging rights" in the cycling community.
I rode with Rick and John all morning. Rick had earlier spotted a black bear running across the road in clear view. Unfortunately, we lost Dan to sickness early on in the ride today.
The Parkway was closed for several miles in the Asheville area, so we had to van the bikes for this segment.
The Parkway past Asheville and approaching Mt Pisgah has 9 tunnels with names such as Buck Spring, Grassy Knob, and fork Mountain.
Several of our cyclists plan to visit the Biltmore Estate on Monday. It was the palatial home of the Vanderbilts, who in the late 1800's bought 130,000acres of land in the area, including Mt Pisgah.
Our lodging at the Pisgah Inn is excellent with patios off our rooms with a view of half of the state of North Carolina. WOW!
Posted: Thu, 3 July 2008
DAY 8 BLOWING ROCK TO LITTLE SWITZERLAND, NC
"As they reached the open grassland of the top, the instigator of this trip drew in the reins of his mount and sat gazing in disbelief. From all sides, as far as the eye could see, they were surrounded by an incredible dream of misty blue mountains and green valleys. Thus, Little Switzerland was so named because its sweeping panoramas of deep valleys and distant ranges resemble those in the foothills of the Swiss Alps"
Louisa De Saussure Duls
The above quotation was found on the cover of our menu at tonight's dinner at the Chalet Restaurant in Little Switzerland, NC--our destination on today's 45 mile bike ride.
Rick and I (Dan was sick) departed Blowing Rock riding down the main street and exiting on Rt 221, which would take us to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Julian Price Memorial Park.
At the 15 mile point, following and unrelenting 5 mile uphill grade, we crossed the much photographed Linn Cove Viaduct. Several of our riders crossed back and forth over the viaduct many times to experience the views.
The viaduct is located east of the town of Bonner Elk, NC. Grandfather Mountain was clearly visible just off to the west.
Virtually all of today's route took us through the Pisgah National Forest. We had 2 SAG stops on this relatively short biking day. We did have, however, a couple of long climbs with an overall elevation gain of 4400 feet.
Between mile posts 328 and 329 were located numerous apple orchards. We then entered Little Switzerland Tunnel, the first of many tunnels we will encounter between here and the end of the Parkway in Cherokee, NC. Rick and I stopped at the tunnels to remove our sun glasses and turn on our front and rear lights.
We exited the Parkway at mp 334 and entered the quaint township of Little Switzerland, where we are spending the night at a neat Swiss-like inn with enormous views of mountains and valleys form our room's patios.
The "Guinness Guild" --as I named it-- met at the pub for laughs ans discussions of today's ride and tomorrow's looming challenge; Mt Mitchell!
My "Life Is Good" shirt seems to be working!
Posted: Wed, 2 July 2008
DAY 7 REST DAY IN BLOWING ROCK , NC
"The quaint streets of Blowing Rock are storybook sweet. Adorable shops, upscale restaurants, art galleries and antique shops are tucked into the small mountain village"
So states the High Country Visitor's Guide--and I whole-heartedly agree!
We passed a relaxing, enjoyable day at the Chetola Lodge. After completing morning duties of shopping for SAG food, laundry, and bike cleaning, Brad and Robyn come for a lunch visit and did some bike maintenance for Elizabeth, John and Peter.
It is on a rest day in the mountains--such as this--that gives me time to reflect on some important aspects of my life.
Often today my thoughts focused on the many ways in which CYCLING has made a positive impact on my life over the past 5 years:
* Having biked in 36 States and 14 countries, cycling is responsible for my visiting and experiencing parts of my country and the world that I would not have otherwise taken the opportunity to explore.
* It has allowed me to develop close friendships with so many interesting, active and wonderful people that I would not have met in any other way.
* Cycling has made me healthier and fit, more conscious of what I eat and how I treat my body to promote good health.
* It has provided challenge after challenge in reaching new goals--on and off the bike.
* By dedicating certain long distance rides in support of a charity or cause, such as the American Cancer Society and the Rails to Trails Conservancy, I feel I have benefited others in a meaningful way. I feel very good about this aspect of my cycling.
* I have enjoyed life immensely through these cycling adventures, and plan to continue on this path for as long as I am able.
Posted: Tue, 1 July 2008
DAY 6 BLUFFS LODGE TO BLOWING ROCK, NC
The High Country
We are riding two of America's best cycling routes. When it comes to bicycle pathways and roadways the Skyline Drive and the BRP are top ranked for sound reasons: challenging terrain, great scenery, minimal traffic, comfortable lodges on the roadway or nearby....the PERFECT ROUTE! We are enjoying everyday!
Our 55 mile ride today in North Carolina's "High Country" was among the "best of the best". I cannot describe adequately the views we were given at every turn: split-rail fences, pastoral fields, mountain ridges layered hazily into the distance, clear blue skies, old log cabins abandoned in the meadows, gorgeous wildflowers, grazing horses--America at its best!
A front passed through Bluff Mountain during the late evening hours leaving a cooler and windy morning, yet fresh clear conditions. We unzipped our jackets as we climbed and zipped them back up for the cold speedy descents. We had an elevation gain of 5600 feet today so we had plenty of both. The 20 mile ride to the Northwest Trading Post for a SAG was invigorating. We were cautious of the gaps (between mountains) in this area where gusting, twirling winds can be tricky while cycling through at higher speeds.
Our group stayed remarkably close together all day today. Rick was on a roll and charged ahead of the group on several occasions. He was really in the groove. He and I again raced for miles on this rolling terrain. I would gain a slight lead on the hills, only to be lost on the long descents, as he would sail by at speeds in the high 40's. It is fun pushing yourself in this manner, but probably not too smart in the long run as the terrain is relentless--and we are never on a short distance ride. But, hey, I enjoyed it!
The Parkway was closed near Daniel Boone Trace necessitating (as we expected) a detour. Once off the Parkway, we biked toward the city of Boone, NC on a narrow road in heavy traffic, staying together for safety and support. When we got to the city, it was easier as we were given courtesy by automobiles and a wider bike lane.
We approached the Chetola Lodge in Blowing Rock, NC where we will spend 2 nights and a rest day. We were all impressed! This is a first class 4-star resort in a most charming little High Country town.!
Lunch and a cold beer in the tap room of the lodge kicked off our rest day activities.
We had a pleasant walk to dinner in town, followed by a stop at the ice cream emporium in the evening.
"Life is Good"!
Posted: Mon, 30 June 2008
DAY 5 WOODBERRY INN TO BLUFFS LODGE, NC
Filled up with pancakes from the kitchen of the Woodberry Inn, we departed at 7:30am on a much cooler morning. We rolled past Maybry Mill, near the town of Meadows of Dam, to the first notable climb of the day as we approached Groundhog Mountain.
We crossed the border from Virginia into North Carolina at Cumberland Knob and stopped for a photo-op. This section of the Parkway is mostly pasture and farm land spread out across rolling hills. Cattle can be seen grazing on small knobs with farm houses in view. Very pretty country on a quiet Monday morning.
Riding with Rick, Dan and John, we moved quickly through the first 40 miles of this 68 mile ride. Rick and I raced for mile after mile with the leader changing frequently. Fun!
At the 55 mile point in the ride, following a bite to eat at the SAG, we began the last 10 miles of stiff climbing to the Bluffs Lodge at Doughton Park. Cycling from either direction into Doughton Park is a challenge, as you wind uphill through decidedly mountainous terrain. Overall we climbed 5800 feet today--a good day's work on a bike.
We ate together at the Lodge restaurant enjoying good country style home cooking of BBQ and fried chicken. The salty country ham we saved for breakfast.
We continue to be so impressed with this ride: the challenges of cycling in the mountains, the spectacular scenery, the eerie peace of the quiet countryside and the freedom we find on the road. This is truly a beautiful section of America!
Posted: Sun, 29 June 2008
DAY 4 PEAKS OF OTTER LODGE TO WOODBERRY INN (FLOYD, VA)
Elizabeth, our ride "Directrice", provides data to us on each day's ride. Having completed the BRP ride twice previously, she kept excellent information including a topography chart for each day. One look at today's chart--88 miles with 8350 feet of climbing--we knew it would be a long, tough day in the mountains of Virginia. We were not proven wrong!
The National Park Service lodges on the Parkway do not cater especially to the cycling crowd we have found. Vacationing families, relaxing senior citizens and cruising motorcycle groups make up the majority clientele.
They like to rise a little later, have a leisurely sit-down breakfast, and depart at mid-morning. Our biking group is up at 5:00am, hungry for breakfast, and ANXIOUS to get on the road in the quieter, cooler part of the day. So.....we wait....until the 7:30 opening to be first in line for breakfast, delaying our departure and therefore keeping us on the road later in the afternoon in the hottest and often wettest time of the day.
Eight hours (7 hours of ride time) after our 8:00am kick-off we arrived at mile post 174 near the town of Floyd, VA at the cottages of the Woodberry Inn--wet from rain and heat! It was as tough a ride as I can handle. The Blue Ridge Parkway just keeps coming at you--climb by climb! It gives back, however, some long and rewarding downhill runs as good as I have ever encountered. It also leads you through post card views from overlook to overlook. It may be America's Best Bicycle Ride-- for those that can do it. Everyday is a challenge, and everyday is enjoyable with memories that will last a lifetime.
I rode with Dan, who was strong all day. We had 4 SAG stops today due to the longer distance and the major climbs. It was an exhausting day and a late arrival at the Woodberry Inn, located just off the Parkway.
Our route took us through the Jefferson National Forest and past such places as Bear Wallow Gap, Purgatory Overlook, and Black Horse Gap. From there we began to see more signs of civilization as we neared the city of Roanoke, VA. Sub-divisions, roadways passing underneath the Parkway, and Sunday drivers out for a spin on the picturesque Parkway were common sights.
We had 2 major climbs, one at the 40 mile mark and then again near Rokes Mill Pond at mp 162--a total of 8350 feet for the day. That is a lot of climbing for this tired Florida cyclist.
Any cyclist who is looking for a challenging ride can find all he wants on the Blue Ridge Parkway!
Posted: Sat, 28 June 2008
DAY 3 WAYNESBORO TO PEAKS OF OTTER LODGE
"A Tough Stretch Of Steep Road"
Those words state our guide book's description of the last 13 miles of our 86 mile route into Peaks Of Otter Lodge, a National Park Service hotel on the BRP. They forgot to mention our experience with the severe weather we encountered on this "stretch" of road. But more on that later.
We entered the Blue Ridge Parkway this morning at Rockfish Gap--where it begins and continues south for 470 miles. The first 64 mile stretch leading to the James River begins with some stunning mountain overlooks and some steep climbs. We could see wide curving switchbacks for miles ahead on this clear and sunny morning with early temperatures in the 70's.
We passed a scenic tree farm on hilly terrain. A Broad Winged hawk with a long snake dangling from its claws flew low on a path directly ahead of us. A few deer were seen scampering back into the safety of the woods as we passed. Motorcycle groups were regular companions on this scenic road. We rode into almost all the scenic overlooks and points of interest to read the National Park Service's informative signs, and to look out over the mountains visible for miles in the distance: Raven Roost, Humpback Rocks, and Whitstone Ridge were but a few of the names of the places where we stopped.
At the 63 mp, after an incredibly enjoyable downhill, we stopped at the SAG at the James River Visitor Center. It was from here that we would begin the longest climb of our tour--a 13 mile steep ascent in the heat of the day. Only 5 of us went forward from this point.
I climbed with Carol (OR) for 10 miles; we were going well and almost to the top--we thought we would be "home free". Not so fast! The sky darkened, the wind picked up, and it began to rain torrentially. The severe thunderstorm and the strong winds necessitated us getting off the road as branches fell in the roadway. We pulled our bikes into the woods with us and waited as the thunder, lightning, high winds and rain continued for awhile. After being heated up from climbing, we "froze" standing under the trees in the cold rain.
The van had circled back to pick up the 5 of us still out and spotted us as we moved onto the road. With only 3 miles to go on this climb., we jumped into the van and joined the group for the short ride to the Peaks Of Otter Lodge for a hot shower.
Posted: Fri, 27 June 2008
DAY 2 BIG MEADOW LODGE TO WAYNESBORO, VA
Entering the Blue Ridge Parkway"
"Almost heaven, (West) Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River"......, that was the song I sang to myself today while pedaling the last 55 miles of the Skyline Drive.
How could I not be singing after spending the last 7 days biking in beautiful Virginia?
After a very pleasant stay and an enjoyable group dinner at the Big Meadow Lodge, we departed a bit later this morning as it was a day of less climbing and relatively short distance to travel, only 55 miles with 3500 feet of climbing. Not exactly a "recovery day" as we joked, but less demanding than yesterday and the days to come.
A Breakfast Story:
Elizabeth and Jon were awakened in the night by strange sounds from their back patio, where she was storing her recumbent bike for the night. Upon investigation in the dark, she saw and chased off a hungry raccoon who had already eaten her energy bars taken from her bike bag. This raccoon will certainly be "energized" all day. Super 'coon!
When riding, we 10 cyclists remain very closely grouped together on the first days of our tour. All are experienced cyclists and ride at about the same pace. The girls from Sisters, OR are very strong riders, and along with Kathie are often at or near the front.
We passed sections of "talus slopes", the bare rock patches that stand out against a forest background. (Learned from an overlook info board). Interesting.
We gripe a bit about the long, hard climbs--but we knew that they are the trademark of the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway--but we LOVE the long, fast descents. Several of the riders go flying by me on these downhills as they just "tuck and go", while I am somewhat more conservative. Dan, in particular, is absolutely fearless on descents. It amazes me! In defense of the fearless, however, John (CO) reminds me that "it doesn't hurt any more crashing at 45 mph than at 35". I guess he is right.
I have used every gear (27) on my bike during these days in the mountains. Of course in FLAT Florida we just get in a high gear and ride all day. In this terrain we are constantly climbing, descending, or speeding on the flats, requiring continual gear changes. I am improving rapidly in making more effective transitions in gearing.
The "girls" from Sisters, OR are well based in the knowledge of wildflowers that are found in abundance along the roadway. They "stop to smell (and identify) the roses".
The Skyline Drive ends in Waynesboro, VA. We shuttled to our hotel to avoid having to cycle (actually forbidden) on interstate 64. We will rest and prepare for tomorrow's start of our ride down the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'm psyched!
Posted: Thu, 26 June 2008
DAY 1 SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK and THE SKYLINE DRIVE
Yesterday in Abingdon, VA at the completion of the last day's ride of BIKE VIRGINIA, I was picked up in a 12 passenger van packed with 10 cyclists and pulling a U-Haul trailer loaded with bicycles, coolers and luggage. We were headed for Front Royal, VA, some 6 hours to the north. We would soon begin our long-planned 11 day bicycle journey down the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a 600 mile cycling adventure named "the toughest bicycle ride east of the Mississippi" by Bicycling Magazine. It has long been known as a notorious trip for cycling enthusiasts because of its demanding mountainous terrain.
After spending the night at a comfortable and charming B&B in Front Royal, VA, we departed after a stupendous breakfast for the entrance to the Shenandoah National Park. It is also the starting point of the Skyline Drive, a scenic highway that runs the length of the Park for a total of 105 miles.
Stone and mortar walls run along the edge of the road as it winds atop the Blue Ridge Mountains. A canopy of trees often covers the roadway. The National Forest lands in the Park are home to white tail deer (we saw 10 today) and black bear along with other abundant game.
We climbed nearly 7000 feet today in hot, steamy humidity over a course of 52 miles. It was labeled as one of the toughest days of our tour.
We slowly climbed to Dickey Ridge at the 10 mile post (mp), then again in a22 mile stretch to Hogback Overlook. (I love the names given to the numerous scenic overlooks in the Park.) We stopped on occasion to view the panorama of layers of mountain ridges in the hazy distance.
The SAG wagon with cold water and snacks was waiting for us at the 21 mp and again at 41 mp. A refreshing stop after the long and steady climbs was a welcome relief to all of us on the difficult first day.
The comeraderie of our small group (4 women and 7 men) is outstanding. We have all done many cycling trips together and it is clear that we enjoy each other's company...and the joy of cycling.
Passing Elkwallow picnic area and Thorton Gap, we crossed the Appalachian Trail and stopped to talk to a lone hiker. she was carrying an enormous pack on her back. She informed me that she was headed to Maine, where she expected to arrive in September--"sometime".
I took several photos of the mountain vistas visible all along the roadway. The automobile traffic was light--no trucks allowed--and limited to 45 mph.
The ride took us about 5 hours to our lodge, the historic Big Mountain Lodge, located right on the Skyline Drive. President FDR and thousands of guests stood in that meadow in 1936 and celebrated the official dedication of the Shenandoah National Park.
Rick, Dan and I rode together most of the day--as we have so many times, on so many rides. We three have also taken on the responsibility of being in charge of WATER for the SAG stops, which is simply filling the coolers each morning and loading them on the van. Everyone pitches in with help in some area.
We are off to a great start having completed one of the toughest climbing days on Day 1. We have a lot more climbing (with some great descents) to look forward to.