Sunday, July 12, 2015

Spectacular final day

Saturday  July 11   Day 7   Asheville to Cherokee, NC   94 miles, 11,680' of climbing

634 total miles with 66,612 feet of elevation gain (avg of 91 mi and 9516 ft per day)

We completed the ride successfully yesterday! Lots of climbing, lots of incredible scenery, and a great final day of bike riding. This photo was at the highest point along the BRP, where we ate our lunch with only 38 miles to go. Only Mark was missing since he hadn't arrived yet. Chuck is in street clothes because, unfortunately, his Achilles tendon swelled up and was very painful. He was disappointed not to ride, but at least he'd ridden it on two previous occasions.
 Just after riding past Asheville in the morning, we crossed the French Broad River, which flows northward. At that point, we had a long climb to Mt Pisgah. Probably due to its being a Saturday and close to a big town, vehicle, motorcycle, and bicycle traffic on the BRP was significantly busier than usual. The day before was busier than usual too, and many bicycles climbed Mt Mitchell that day.
During this tour, we had 27 tunnels, which required both front and tail lights. On this final day were about 19 of them, and here are Alvin and Jill about to enter one of them (it's a blurry shot, but still my best out of about 10 tries over the previous several days).
We're about to finish riding through it. Out of the 27 tunnels, only two of them got completely dark inside due to their lengths and curves.
Another of thousands of spectacular views as we pedaled along this National Parkway. This photo, however, doesn't begin to capture the distant views of green mountains and valleys.
 Devil's Courthouse refers to that rock outcropping up there. This particular turnout was jam-packed with cars and tourists, many of whom were taking hikes. Certain other turnouts were too, presumably because they were trailheads for these weekenders.
One more viewpoint I decided to photograph. As I say, these views were never-ending during our seven days of riding, as long as there was no fog. My favorites were the many times we were right at the mountain crest and could look to both the eastern and western valleys simultaneously. 
This photo and the one below were taken at a visitor center called Waterrock Overlook. This was another crest point, so this photo is to the north and the one below is to the south. The top photo shows our BRP and where we had been riding a few minutes earlier, whereas the photo below shows the ominous weather we were heading into (we did get rain).
This location brought back clear memories from seven years ago because we also had a rest stop here. And, with only 18 miles left to go, most of which was downhill, I remember the emotions were beginning to bubble up in me because I knew I was going to complete my goal of finishing the BRP after my broken-neck accident 9.5 months earlier.
This is Mile Post 468, to begin the final mile. As described in Head Over Wheels, this was where my emotions spilled over and I was sobbing in gratitude almost the entire final mile.
I didn't cry this time, but this was where I balled last time as I saw the completion of the parkway. This is Bryan riding past me.
There is the final Mile Post in front of the river, the official end of the BRP (or the beginning, if going in the other direction). The Great Smoky Mountains are just beyond.
And then along came Alvin and Jill, with their tunnel headlights still on. In the background, you can see the familiar sign for entering the Blue Ridge Parkway. Quite an accomplishment for us!
My final photo of this tour shows kids playing in the Oconoluftee River.

There were five of us who rode into the finish there (I did not get Jeff's picture, but I did cheer for him!), and then we needed to pedal a few more miles to our motel in Cherokee. With a long day and so much climbing, it was after 6 pm by the time we got there. We needed to get cleaned up and to our dinner, and our chance to reflect on this super tour that Chuck and Suzette planned and executed so well for us all. Everyone had a wonderful time, with new friends and memories.

Now I have three weeks before Tour #3 begins in Washington. However, I will depart by car on July 25th, so that gives me only two weeks at home. For the first two tours, my mileage comes to 2081, and my elevation gain is 128,212. Tour #3 is supposed to be the most difficult. I'm glad I've gotten into good shape!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mt Mitchell time trial

Friday July 10   Day 6   Little Switzerland to Asheville, NC   62 miles, 6860' of climbing

As Alvin said it, this was the "podium" shot, meaning the first three people up to Mt Mitchell. That's the summit right behind us, a five-minute walk we all did later after eating our lunch from the van in the parking lot. This posting is titled "Mt Mitchell time trial," but only Alvin and I actually raced up it for time. He gave me a one-minute head start, and I was determined to not let him catch me. I gave it everything I had; I haven't panted so hard in a long time like I did up that five-mile grade from the BRP. Alvin said he had to give it his hardest too, and he did catch me with about 1/4 mile to go. 
Alvin set his best time ever, and I was with him at the finish, so I was able to get my time (his time was recorded by GPS). I did it in 25:54. Chuck looked it up using his "Strava" program and said my time was the 106th best out of about 2200 recorded times. I was so spent after the "race" that it took a LONG time to recover. Alvin took this photo of me while we both were still panting.

The day began beautifully on the side of the mountain at our Alpine Inn.
Check out the view from the porch where we ate our breakfast! We all marveled at how slanted the whole lobby/restaurant building was -- they said it had settled over the years ever since it was built in 1929, and it now slants noticeably back toward the roadway. I don't think any of us could have handled it if the slant was the other way -- down the hill! We finally departed by about 9 am, and our first mile was up the steep grade back to the BRP.
As you can see, it was another beautiful day, with the by-now usual vistas of the valleys and mountains off to both the east and west. In this case, I got to see Mt Mitchell for the first time, 1860 feet higher than where I was standing.
A selfie at the base of the climb. From the previous photo, we had to descend a long ways, then climb again to get here.The vans were parked to the right, and we all had a chance to eat or drink prior to the ascent where lunch would be in full swing.
After lunch, we all walked the short distance to the very summit. That's a big platform behind me for people to get views in all directions.
From that platform, I took this picture showing a portion of the road we had ascended. Once we descended back to the BRP, most of the remaining 30 miles to Asheville was also downhill.

There is a side story I want to tell: WEEVILS! Thousands of tiny weevils were blowing in the wind atop Mt Mitchell that stuck to everything - our clothes, our food, our bikes, everything! They looked like little ticks, but we heard they were harmless. Every time we'd brush them off, a hundred more landed right away. It was a major memory of everyone up there on the mountaintop, including hundreds of tourists. At all times, people were brushing off weevils. 
There was a visitor center at Craggy Rock, just after riding through one of six tunnels today. I loved this wooden poster you could buy, but this photo will suffice.
 They also had these rocking chairs to view the scenery. Gosh, Alvin doesn't have a bald spot!
From Craggy Rock, it was ALL downhlll for the final 17 miles. THAT was fun! This is my final photo for the day, during the long descent. Once off the parkway, it was just one mile to our motel. I had rolled up my vest and stuffed it into my jersey pocket back after we descended Mt Mitchell. At the motel I unfurled it and picked out the dozens of weevils inside.

Mexican restaurant for dinner, then yesterday's and today's blogs, and now bedtime.

Tomorrow is our final day, and it's a tough one - 92 miles with 11,680 feet of elevation gain. I'm looking forward to it, especially the final few miles, when I'm sure I will be remembering how I felt 7 yrs ago.

A diversion to climb Beech Mtn

Thursday July 9  Day 5   Laurel Springs to Little Switzerland, NC  113 miles, 13,476' of climbing

Chuck, Alvin, Bryan and I took a special diversion/excursion to Beech Mtn, which is famous in the world of cycling since it is such a steep climb. "Everyone" wants to see if they can do it, or to see how fast they can climb it. It had been a climb in the Tour DuPont, and then Lance Armstrong made it famous in his book because that's where he realized he had fully come back from his cancer.

Let me just say: My time was "only" 10  minutes slower than Lance's! Doesn't that sound impressive? Well, not so much if you give the times: His was 17 minutes, and mine was 27 (so I was 59% slower). Alvin said he beat his old best by three minutes, and he was one minute ahead of me.

The day started with us needing to ride 6 miles to a place that served breakfast earlier than 8 am - a gas station! (with an attached cafe). This added 6 miles to our planned total, but then the four of us added about 18 miles in going to Beech Mtn. anyway.
Mark and Jeff emerged from their rooms with these jerseys. Both their wives died in recent years of cancer.

The topic of the breakfast at the gas station-cafe was "livermush". Most of their items offered a choice of bacon, sausage, or livermush. Not even our two North Carolinians had heard of it. The waitress could not describe it. We all agreed it sounded yukky, but hey, I decided to give it a try. It was a square patty, and Carol came over to take a picture of it. How did it taste? Well, pretty bland; I did not even note any liver flavor. Oh well, I tried it. The fried eggs and grits were normal/good.
Quite a few times we've seen old cabins just off the parkway. Cool to see them. By the way, you can see it was another glorious day. When I did the ride 7 yrs ago, it was another rainy/foggy day, so I was seeing lots of things for the first time.
I always stop (almost) at every overlook, of which there are hundreds along the BRP, not only for their vast views, but also because sometimes they provide local color or history. I loved this one, although I always thought it was spelled Dooley.
 Another old cabin. I couldn't help but stop to take its photo.
That looked like an interstate down there, I'm guessing I-81. There's never a shortage of great views from the BRP as you've surmised by now -- as long as the weather is as nice as this.
"Daniel Boone was here."
The Moses Cone mansion was just off the parkway, and it's now a craft center. This is the only home like this we've seen from the BRP! From the front porch, you could see down into the valley where there was Price Lake, which we descended to quickly once we left this mansion.
Nice porch, huh?
Here's the lake you could see from Moses Cone's front porch. Bordering the lake over there on the left are more rhododendrons. We have continued to enjoy the flowering bushes along the parkway since we first saw them several days ago.
Eventually we reached an engineering masterpiece for the BRP, the Linn Cove Viaduct. It was not completed until 1987, which means the BRP took 52 years to finally be finished. I didn't marvel it seven yrs ago because it was raining and foggy, but this time I took lots of pictures!
The bridge is 1243-feet long (414 yds), and is S-shaped around the side of the mountain. It consists of 153 50-ton pre-cast sections of concrete, which you can see in the photo below. No two sections are alike, and only one is entirely straight. The amazing thing was how they built it so as to not disturb the forest around it.
They set the main posts first, but then put the roadway pieces together piece by piece working from one side only on the bridge they'd already assembled. My description is probably difficult to picture in your mind, so here are two pictures I took in the visitor center to illustrate how they did it.

Even the ranger at the visitor center could not understand how these sections of unsupported bridge could hold all that weight of the cranes as they continued to attach each 50-ton piece. It had to do with how deep the tongue-in-groove attachments were and how strong the epoxy was to glue them together.

Our lunch was at the visitor center, and during this rest, we talked ourselves into riding up Beech Mtn. We put our four bikes on the truck and Suzette drove us the 10 miles to the base of the climb (past a huge crowd of people attending an annual Grandfather Mountain Festival).  The climb is really steep. Most of the BRP climbs average 4 to 7%, but Beech Mtn had consistent stretches of 15% and a maximum section of 18%. Alvin had done it many times, and actually didn't think we'd all make it up without getting off to walk for a part.

Well, we all made it! I had to use my lowest gear for the first time this week, but it wasn't that bad. We just plugged away. After a short rest, we continued up the mountain -- not quite as steep -- to see the Land of
See? That's the Yellow Brick Road! It really was an amusement area halfway up a ski slope, called Land of Oz, but the gate was closed and locked. So, I took this photo through a crack in the gate.
Here's a selfie of us just outside Oz. On our descent across the ski runs, a hiker took the picture at the top of this blog posting, and off to its left you can see the chair lift.

Descending the Beech Mtn road was dicey due to how fast we would accelerate by simply releasing our brakes. Alvin gave us some serious advice about how to descend it safely and to make sure our rims did not overheat due to constant braking. Once down, we had to ride about 20 miles back to the BRP, re-entering it many miles south of where we departed it. By then it was getting awfully late, about 7:00, and we still had 15 miles to reach Little Switzerland and our motel. I didn't make it until 8 pm.
This was a welcome sight, our Alpine Inn, built off the side of the cliff, a mile downhill from the BRP, all by itself. We took showers as fast as we could, and then drove off to the nearest restaurant that was open that late (9 pm). We even got lost getting to the town of Spruce Pine, and arrived a bit after 9 pm, but they let us in anyway. It was a buffet, and we gorged!

We got back after 10:00, and I was so tired I went straight to bed (I am writing this blog posting the next night in Asheville).  My riding time was 8:31, but motel-to-motel time was 13 hours! Hard to believe we climbed 13,476 feet! It was comforting to know that the next day's ride would be 53 fewer miles!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Along the Blue Ridge crest

Wednesday, July 8  Day 4  Meadows of Dan, VA to Laurel Springs, NC  76 miles, 6030 ft

"The most photographed spot on the BRP" is what they say about Mabry Mill, which was just three miles from where we stayed last night. Jeff took this picture of me early this morning. It was a fabulous day (no rain!) with tons of beautiful scenery and "only" 6000 feet of climbing. So many times we were right at the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains, when we could look both east and west to the valleys below, at the same spot on the road.
A few of us spent 30-40 minutes at Mabry Mill because they had several historical exhibits to view. Interestingly, when we rode past this picturesque spot in 2008, no one stopped because it was pouring rain. I do, however, have a photo of the mill with me in it from 1978 when Penny and I were on a driving vacation across the country. The photo above shows the flume for the water to turn the mill wheel. Water was apparently scarce, so Ed Mabry had three flumes from different sources to ensure enough water.
 An old cart.
 Inside his home.
 Outside shot of his home.
In the background is the back of the mill and the BRP. Anyway, it's always interesting to see the way our pioneers lived and worked. The mill was from early 20th century, abandoned and fallen into ruin in the mid-30s, then restored.
 Rhododendrons! The parkway was decorated with rhododendrons all morning and some of the afternoon. They were all flowering, although a week or so past their prime. Made for much beauty today as we rode along.
Chuck got his 2nd flat of the trip. At least HIS CO2 cartridges were still good. I still cannot believe I carried an empty cartridge for a couple years.
Anyone want to live and work a farm on the BRP? The price could be attractive!
 An old fort along the parkway.
Old Ma Puckett lived in this cabin in her older years. She died at age 102. She was well known in these parts because she was a midwife who delivered about 1000 babies. She had 24 herself, although none lived past infancy. That's Terry (left) and Mark.
And here are Mark and Terry again, chugglin along up yet another hill. As we've said, we like the downhills, but they also mean you're just going to have to climb a hill again.
 This was interesting. A set of cabins for visitors, built in a ring on the hill.
And here we are having breakfast/lunch in Fancy Gap, VA. Alvin had told us there was a restaurant that served pie at our mile 25, so we decided to give it a try. It was just off the parkway. When I got there, everyone was eating a full breakfast, even though we'd had breakfast back at our motel. It turned out, they decided that this would be our lunch. Still, I was set on pie as a snack, so I ordered a large slice of coconut cream pie. YUM. A bit later, after watching everyone else eating a full meal, I ordered a cheese/egg sandwich.
 This was the restaurant, and I love all the bikes lined up there.
 It was raining when we began the BRP on Monday morning, so we decided to get our group shot in Fancy Gap as we got back on the parkway. We were missing only Jeff who had gone on before we decided to gather the group for this photo. L to R: Chuck, me, Mark, Bryan, Jill, Terry, Alvin.
 This was just off the BRP on a parallel road, so I just HAD to go over and get this photo.
There's a Music Center on the BRP! I was riding along merrily enjoying the scenery when I saw a sign for "Music Center". As I got to the left turn, there was a temporary sign saying "music today". I decided to investigate. It was a full-fledged Blue Ridge Mountains music museum. I decided to listen to the two performers, and then I toured the museum and also visited a temporary exhibit on banjos.
The banjo exhibit was really interesting. It was the history of banjos, and the fellow there had made all of them based on people's memories and drawings of what they looked like. We could see their evolution dating since the slavery days when slaves recalled what they had looked like in West Africa. I loved the whole visit, and I saw Jeff there too.
 At about Mile Marker 217, just before one of our rest stops, we crossed into NC.
Nearby was this sign saying that the construction of the BRP began near there in 1935. Tomorrow we are going to see where it was completed, in 1987! (52 years later!)
 One of dozens of photos I took today of the vast views into the valleys below,
This was a telephoto shot of Stone Mtn, a huge slab of granite on this hillside.
This was our rest stop at Mile Post 236. The day had warmed up enough for me to remove my vest. It was supposed to rain, but never did today.
 Another great view to the west in my final 12 miles.
 A roadside exhibit of the old Brinegar Family home from the early 20th century. He and his wife were completely self-supporting.
A memory from my 2008 trip. It was raining all day back then, and we stopped at this restaurant for lunch after 69 miles of riding that day, when the total was 125 miles (today we had only 6 more miles to go). It was such a welcomed stop then since we could shed our wet clothes and warm up with hot cocoa and a hot lunch. It's all written up in my book. Unfortunately, it went out of business a few years ago. The bad part that day was having to put back on the wet clothes and go back into the rain for our remaining 56 miles.
This set of five photos shows a spectacular spot in the descent from the summit where the out-of-business restaurant was. Rocks on the left in a wide sweeping curve, with a drop-off cliff on the right.
 I stopped in the middle of the curve to take this photo of the lake at the bottom of the steep drop.
This is looking back at the end of the curve, with Bryan who also stopped to take photos. In 2008, I remember numerous waterfalls coming over those rocks after all the rain that day.

This was my best attempt to get a picture when the parkway was at the very crest of the mountains. There were numerous places where that was the case, but it could never be captured in a good photo. But I loved it when you could look east or west at the same time, down into the valleys on either side.
If you look closely on the right, you'll see a small cemetery. We've seen many along the BRP, usually small family plots.
There was another magnificent view at this Basin Cove overlook, but I thought the big tree was more interesting.
I've been saying for years that the BRP is either going up or going down - there's no level roadway for the entire 469 miles. But by golly, here I was going level for about two miles as I approached Laurel Springs, our destination at Mile Marker 248.
Just as I was about to turn right off the parkway into Laurel Springs, this old broken-down ranch was on the left.
And here we are! Just a few yards off the parkway is our Freeborne's Motel and Restaurant.
Here's Suzette posing inside, where we enjoyed our "recovery" beverages. In my case, an ale and an IPA! We later ate dinner here, and talked about tomorrow's ride.
One final photo: Directly across from our restaurant/motel is the Jail/Wedding Chapel!! Too much!

Tomorrow we will ride 88 miles to Little Switzerland, with 9462 feet of elevation gain. Time to hit the hay.