Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ain't No Sunshine

BRP Trip – 5/17/09 - Day Three

We woke up to rain so we slept in a little bit – still raining after a half hour so nothing to do but hit the road. As we packed up I kept looking out the window at Sharp Top playing peek-a-boo in the clouds, now you see it, now you don’t. Sure, I’ve hiked in the rain plenty of times working on my Smokies 900, but the goal on this trip is to see sights, have fun…stay dry.

Jim’s goal is to complete the BRP, though, and today was scheduled to be his longest – 80 miles. How could I let him bike 80 miles in the rain and not be willing to walk 3 miles? So we took the morning photo of the mighty cyclist lined up with all the motorcycles and Jim rode off into the drizzle. We planned to rendezvous at Milepost 129.6 at around noon.

 A shuttle bus runs from the trailhead parking lot up to near the tip of Sharp Top, but there wasn’t nobody there today ‘cept myself and a pileated woodpecker working on a stump. Even the bus driver was absent. It’s raining, you know. So I had the 1.5-mile trail to myself…sigh…But there was no real rain in the woods, just the trees dripping, and the temperature was just cool enough. Here was another strenuous trail, very eroded. These Virginia folks are loving their trails to death! As I climbed, I heated up a lot and thought about how unbearable this trek would be by midsummer.

The last quarter mile before the summit, the trail was lined with brilliantly blooming spiderwort in red-purples and blue-purples, a great incentive to keep going. I walked into the clouds and my heart sank – all this work and no view today? The top of Sharp Top is composed of house-sized rocks and no trees, and an old stone house that was once used for over- nighters. Now it is apparently thought of as a trash collection point - lots of water bottles on the floor inside.
To add to the fun, the wind was whistling. I stowed my hat away and began to climb the stone steps, and around the first corner I nearly went over the edge. I have never been in such fierce winds! Everything around was white and I could not tell what direction I was facing. Suddenly the white mist was blowing up into my face and rushing over my head and I could see all the way down to the valley. The lodge was in front of me – and then it was gone again. The wind kept blowing clouds up and over me as I climbed higher on the rocks, views there and then gone again. I was a bit afraid to let go to use both hands for the camera, but I tried a few pics and was surprised that they turned out at all, the way I was being blown around. It was a truly exhilerating feeling and I was thrilled that I had made the effort. Remember the scene from the movie, Titanic? “I’m the king of the world!”

I did not stay too long because wind plus wet equals cold. My hike back down was very quick, but I did take the time to fall flat on my butt once. Once I got out of the woods and to my car it was truly raining. I drove down the BRP looking for Jim and he said he was okay, so I continued to the meeting point and read my book until he arrived. (I’ll tell you about the books I read later – great stuff.) Jim ate lunch with me, reported that it was tough going but he was getting through it, and the rain was slowing down to intermittent drizzling, so I decided to go on to my next planned hike on the way to our stopping point for the day.

Smart View Recreation Area is near MP 154, south of Roanoke, with several good leg stretcher trails and a large picnic area. I confess, I did not feel like doing the planned hike, but once I started I really enjoyed it . I checked out the Trail’s Cabin here and the view from its back door out to the mountains – what they called a “right smart view.” The hike was easy-going, about 3 miles, a nice change from the lung buster going up Sharp Top. A snort made me jump as I startled two deer (and vice versa). The trail was routed to follow some enormous trees I could not identify. I really need to learn this stuff…Part of the fun was going through the “fat man squeezes” in the fences.

I met Jim at the hot spot of Tuggle Gap and we checked into the much-anticipated Hotel Floyd, a great hotel in the awesome little town of Floyd, Virginia, home of Floyd Fest and many bluegrass venues. Sad to say, we were here on a Sunday night and there was no music. BUT our hotel room had a flat screen TV, wireless internet and it was the night of the “Survivor” finale! I was in heaven!

 Before “Survivor”, though, we needed food. Jim was burning something like 4,700 calories a day (yes, ladies, I hate him too) and the next meal was always on our minds. We ate family style at the Pine Tavern, sweet tea, fried chicken, ham, all the veggies, mashed potatoes, biscuits, blackberry AND chocolate cobbler for dessert. We were stuffed like the Thanksgiving turkey. We stayed up much too late watching the “Survivor” reunion show (I hate Coach, don’t you?).

 Jim’s Day Three 

Before I start talking about today’s ride let me introduce you to my bike. It is a Specialized Allez Comp with Columbus FoCo steel frame, Shimano 540 wheels, carbon fork and all Ultegra components. I invested $200 in a top of the line Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle about a year ago and it has been well worth it. The only thing unusual about my bike is the steel frame. Most bikes now are aluminum, carbon or titanium. When I was looking to replace my mid 80s vintage Trek a few years ago I came across this Specialized at a decent price for all Ultegra components. I wasn’t looking for a steel frame but it was not much heavier than aluminum and I knew steel has a more supple ride. Carbon and titanium were significantly more expensive at the time so I went with the steel. I have been happy with it. I considered getting some better wheels before the BRP trip but decided to save the dough. I’ll consider upgrading to a carbon frame in the next few years. My body and this bike have become very compatible though so I’ll think hard before any changes. The best thing is my bike has been very reliable and it did not let me down on the trip. 

Now to the ride. I thought this was going to be my toughest day and it was. The plan included 80 miles with a considerable amount of climbing. The BRP dipped into the Roanoke valley. It is about a 2000 ft climb back out in addition to numerous other smaller climbs throughout the day. In addition the weather had turned bad. It rained through the night as a cold front swept in. I delayed leaving by 30 minutes hoping it would let up but it did not. As long as it was not a deluge I was ready to go. I put on just about all of my riding gear including long sleeve base layer, wind vest, raincoat, leg warmers and arm warmers. I pulled out in a moderate rain, chilly temperatures and a stiff wind. I had ridden several times this past winter in similar conditions so I felt I could survive. I purposely made sure I did not wimp out during the messy rides this past winter. On a few Saturday group rides we only had 2 or 3 folks due to the cold and/or wet but I knew I needed the riding and the bad weather practice.  

The views were not spectacular but they were interesting due to the swirling clouds. Most of the ride to Roanoke is either on the ridge top or the side of the mountain so there are plenty of views. The BRP was desolate and that was good and bad. Not much traffic to be concerned about but between the wind, the rain and the lack of people it felt kind of ominous. For the first time I felt a little vulnerable. A guy on a bike is no match for Mother Nature. Speaking of Mother Nature, I did see my first 3 deer of the trip as well as a snapping turtle. The first deer ran along the road side about 25 yards in front of me for about 15 – 20 seconds before darting into the woods. It’s amazing how they mix leaping with running. The turtle was only a few feet into the road. At first I thought I would move him off the road but I had no idea where he was really headed. I decided to let nature take its course and let him continue on his way. I thought about the turtle during the day especially when I found myself pushing a little too hard. 

The ride around Roanoke was not as bad as advertised. Folks talk about the heavy commuter traffic and the “unscenic views” on this stretch of the BRP. It was a rainy Sunday so not much traffic at all. As far as the view, those folks must not have driven around Charlotte much. A bad view on the BRP is way better than all the views on my regular rides. The BRP goes over the Roanoke River on a very tall bridge just outside of Roanoke. There is a hydro electric power plant there. I am a mechanical engineer that has been in the power industry my entire career. I love power plants in addition to biking, the mountains and Smoky Scout. I never pass up a chance to take a picture of a power plant in my travels. 

Simply put, the ride out of Roanoke was hard. It was steep, long and had a few brief down hills that annoy you because you know you will need to regain that elevation again. I met Smoky Scout for lunch at an overlook about half way up the 2000 ft climb. I was tired, wet and hungry. I did not want to linger long and get cold and stiff. About 5 minutes after I left I felt I was in trouble. My legs were like lead. The brief lunch stop had not helped much. I still had 35 miles to Tuggle Gap. I set an intermediate goal of 15 miles. I told myself don’t think about 35 miles just think about 15 miles. Instead of sitting and spinning I stood and used a smaller gear. It worked. I can stand for a long time if I need to. I also kept my theme song in mind. I sang out loud and in my head the phrase “Come on up for the rising, come on up and put your hand in mine” over and over. 

The road finally leveled out somewhat and the rain fully quit. My lunch kicked in, raising my blood sugar and lifting my spirits. I wasn’t kickin’ butt on the few flat spots but I went past my 15-mile intermediate goal without stopping because I felt much better. I did finally take a break somewhere to take a few pictures of some nice houses and a few scenic spots. The terrain had changed from mountains to rolling hills and farmland. I monitored my effort level by feel and my heart rate monitor. Once more…’s all about energy management on long rides. Oh yeah, I did do a GU on that break. I really think they help as long you have not totally bonked. 

On the way into Tuggle Gap the sun finally came out although the temperature was dropping. The terrain was relatively easy for a bit. I stopped at the Floyd Dry Goods store which looked interesting but was closed. The final 3 – 4 miles into Tuggle Gap included an 830 ft climb but my GU had kicked in and I was tired but fine. All in all I rate this as the toughest ride I have ever done. There have been longer ones and certainly faster paced ones but this was long, in the mountains, in bad weather and solo.  

Smoky Scout met me at the Tuggle Gap Restaurant and gas station with a Mountain Dew in hand. It was a quick 6-mile drive to Floyd VA. Floyd is a cool little town. It is a Mecca for bluegrass (which I also happen to love) as well as mountain arts and crafts. We checked in at the Hotel Floyd (a great place by the way). We found the perfect spot to eat…the Pine Tavern….family style, all you can eat, great country food. It’s not a replica of a 1940’s roadhouse it is a 1940’s roadhouse. I loved it. It was Sunday evening so there was no bluegrass to be found but I was quite tired. Back at the room I cleaned and lubed my bike and got in bed to watch the Survivor finale with Smoky. Tomorrow was another 80-mile day and I did not have much time to recover. 

Stats for day: 

Mile marker start: 85.6 
Mile marker finish: 165.3 
Total day miles: 82.1 
Climbing for day: 5000 ft 
Avg speed: 13.4 mph 
Max speed: 36.3 mph

 The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew--and live through it.  ~Doug Bradbury

1 comment:

Bill the cybrtek said...

This particular story reminds me of my days growing up in Lynchburg, VA. In 1980 I was getting ready to try out for the soccer team my senior year of high school. My goal was to ride to Beford and back home. I rode my 10-speed to Beford, then to Peaks of Otter. I locked up my bike and ran to the top of Sharp Top (no view 'cause it was cloudy though I had been many times before and the view is phenom!) then ran back down again and rode home. 72 miles round trip! My personal best!