Thursday, June 4, 2009

Uhhh...Where's My Wheel?

BRP Trip – 5/19/09 - Day Five 

My apologies for the slow postings lately. I actually have real paying work coming in and it’s keeping me busy. Jim is even ahead of me in writing up his blogs! So on we go…

Day Five of our adventures brought a chill in the air and blue skies again. Jim left Bluffs Lodge ahead of me while I enjoyed a short morning hike (about 2.3 miles) directly out of the Lodge parking lot to Wildcat Rocks and Fodder Stack. This hike is also in the “Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway” guidebook. Wildcat Rocks is, of course, a rock outcropping that juts out over Basin Cove. There is a stone wall built there, I guess to keep people from going over the edge. Caudill Cabin sits in the valley below and on another day perhaps I will hike to it, but it’s about a 10-mile round trip (and the trailhead is from the valley a few miles from the Parkway). I continued on to Fodder Stack, along the way startling a deer who thought she had the place to herself. The best view along this trail is actually not at the end, but near the beginning where this bench is placed for contemplation. The best time to hike out to Fodder Stack is in wintertime when the views are much better. But today was still a treat because of the fine weather and the up-close rhodo- dendron blooms.

The primary reason for shorter hiking today was two detours coming up on the Parkway near Boone, NC. We’d heard several versions of these and were unsure what to expect. I drove ahead of Jim to check them out and see if he needed to be shuttled. Turns out that one hike I had been planning was in E.B. Jeffress Park, inaccessible as part of a detour, so I went to Plan B – Moses Cone Memorial Park. And now that I was in North Carolina I had another guidebook to play with: “Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage” by Danny Bernstein. Heard that name before?

The first detour was not difficult and we had cell phone coverage, so Jim was going to try to sneak through the detour section or, barring that, do the detour miles on his bike – no need for a shuttle. The second detour was another story. There was a bridge involved and he would need a shuttle for that. This detour route took me on a wild goose chase through Boone, past the hospital and onto Highway 321 back to the Parkway, a terrible route for someone on a bike. Jim and I talked and arranged a time for me to meet him back at the beginning of this section. (Discovered later that there was a much simpler detour that the locals use…too late to help us.)

I have visited Moses Cone Memorial Park a number of times and hiked the Flat Top Road to the lookout tower. Today I wanted something shorter, so I chose the Maze Loop. Danny’s book has a very information narrative of the history of Moses Cone Park and its 25 miles of carriage trails, and I knew I would not be hiking in the wild. I parked at the Bass Lake parking area (about a mile off the Parkway) and began my hike by going part way around Bass Lake, stopping to look up the mountain at Moses Cone Manor (sorry, my pictures were terrible). The Maze Loop is a gentle uphill walk that keeps you guessing with your map as to which switchback you’re on. At the end of the Maze I turned left at the apple barn and left again onto Deer Park Road and walked back to complete my circuit of the Lake. Just guessing at my miles walked, probably about 3 or 3.5.

Lakeside, I stopped to sit and reflect and eat – I was starving! A woman with a two-year-old boy was nearby and he chose that moment to have a complete and total meltdown. The most convenient place for this was the bench about 20 feet from my reflection spot. It would look obvious and rude for me to get up and leave, so I stayed there and reflected on toddlers and meltdowns, thinking that this woman probably came here today to get away from their four walls and find a distraction. Remember the days of parenting toddlers? When I finished eating I packed up, walked over and started a conversation. The child was calmer and Mom was happy to have someone to talk to for a few minutes.

Baby geese at Bass Lake!

Heading back to my car, Jim called and said he was quite delayed and I had LOTS of time for something else, so I chose to look for our hotel in Blowing Rock, the Ridgeway Inn. Not difficult – it’s about 50 yards off the main street of town, right behind the Bob Timberlake store. I checked in, unloaded and made everything comfy for my heroic husband the cyclist. Then I walked around Blowing Rock, in and out of stores, found a great coffee shop (can’t remember the name), and then set out for our meeting spot.

Jim was way later than expected, to the point where I drove back on the Parkway looking for him (he wasn’t far). Explanations are in his part of the blog. When we finally met, Jim detached his front wheel and loaded his bike into the car, and as we drove away I noticed a rattling sound. He turned to the back to adjust the bike and realized that his wheel was – not there! But we found it right where he left it. Then we had to go buy a camera to replace the one Jim broke – another story I’ll leave to him.

Our son Brett drove over from Boone to meet us (free meal) and we had an enjoyable dinner at Knight’s on Main. Back at the hotel we went through the now-familiar rituals of preparation for the next day. Today was a relaxing walking day – tomorrow’s hiking will be very exciting!  

Jim’s Day Five – 

 Today’s ride involves some detours off the BRP due to construction so a good side topic is planning a BRP bike trip. The info from the National Park Service is very basic but does include data on the big climbs in each direction. The bible for a BRP bike trip is "Bicycling the Blue Ridge" by Elizabeth and Charlie Skinner. It provides a narrative description of what to expect overall and for each section of the BRP from a cyclist’s perspective. It also provides detailed mile marker info on water/food/lodging availability and points of interest for the entire length. It was my primary planning tool. My secondary tool was a very helpful website titled “Techniques For Planning Bicycle Trips on the Blue Ridge Parkway”. Lots of technical info including tables that provide an equivalent “flatland distance” between any two points on the BRP. The “flatland distance” is the distance you would travel on a flat road for the same amount of energy that you expend on that section of the BRP (i.e. it accounts for the energy it takes to climb). This is helpful in judging your distances for each day. Smoky Scout, from here on known as SS, gave me a bunch of brochures and full size detailed BRP maps and they helped a lot too. One last helpful item that I also found entertaining was this blog.  

I realize these are resources, not how I planned the ride. I won’t bore you with all that. I am an engineer so it involved spreadsheets and probably more numbers than it should. 

Again the day started cold, sunny and clear, great riding weather. The ride was interesting right out of the chute. Heading south from Bluffs Lodge the BRP is carved from the rock of the side of the mountains. What a lot of work that took. The road has broad sweeping curves in this area so you can see way ahead to what you will be riding on. I recall during this portion feeling so grateful I had the opportunity to this. I felt that way for the entire trip but at certain times the sentiment was overwhelming. Riding on the edge of a mountain, on a slight downhill with views into the valleys below and swooping around big curves is the closest I think I have come to feeling like I am flying. 

After a substantial downhill the terrain was a mix of short flats, rolling hills and small climbs. The views were also well varied…..mountains, pastures, new houses, old houses and an old cabin. I came across these horses and stopped to look at them. It struck me how interested they became in me also. Probably thought I was going to feed them I guess. 

My first real stop was the Northwest Trading Post. It is a park operated store with a lot of mountain crafts and food. It was interesting to look at but nothing I would want to buy except for a humongous brownie. That’s a great thing about riding. You burn up so many calories that you don’t give a thought to eating things like these. I needed about 5000 calories a day just to break even. 

I cruised from the NTP to the town of Glendale Springs which was very close. I went to the well known Church of the Frescoes and promptly broke my camera even before I went inside. It’s a small church and the outside grounds are beautiful with lots of shrubs, flowers, etc. I was taking a picture of the steeple and bent way down to photograph the cross framed by some tree branches. My foot slipped on the slate sidewalk due to my hard soled cycling shoes and the camera hit the ground but not very hard. I still had it by the wrist strap. It any case it did not focus anymore. The truth is that it’s my daughter Laura’s camera. I was mad at myself but quickly let it go. The trip was not about taking pictures and I would get Laura a new camera. If you have been following SS’s blog you know about all the cameras she went through. I was in good company. The frescoes were beautiful, by the way. I wasn’t going to take a picture of them anyway since they were inside the church. That just doesn’t feel right to me. 

A little while after getting back on the BRP I came around a curve and spotted 2 riders a little bit ahead of me. They were fully loaded with panniers, handlebar bags, etc. They looked like RVs. I caught up with them and we struck up a conversation. They were Ben and Jack. Turns out they were the guys riding all the way from Pittsburgh that I had heard about from multiple other folks. I had finally come across them myself. I found the camaraderie among cyclists on the BRP similar to that among thru hikers on the AT. Ben and Jack are very interesting guys. I’ll tell you more details about them later in the blog. I rode with them for most of the remainder of the day including a little adventure with the detour in the Boone/Blowing Rock area. 

The word through the grapevine was that the detour at mile post 270 was just some road repairs and you could walk your bike through. We decided to proceed on that basis. First we had lunch right at the barriers where the detour started. No construction was in sight at this point. While we were eating a concrete truck arrived, opened the barriers and proceeded down the road. After eating we did the same and within a mile came to the construction. The road had washed out on a steep bank. The repairs consisted of installing a substantial concrete retaining wall and rebuilding the road. The truck we saw was making a pour into some forms so we stood way back and watched. There was no way we could try and pass while the pour was in progress. The foreman was busy with the pour but spotted us and waved his hand saying “turn back” We played stupid though hoping to persuade him after the pour. Another truck arrived before that pour was complete. We talked to that driver while he waited and he thought the foreman would eventually let us through. To make this long story a little shorter he was wrong. We could not convince the foreman to let us walk our bikes the 100 yards or so through the construction. I understood his responsibility and accepted it. I have been around many major industrial construction sites though and I knew our risk of getting hurt was greater on the detour (which was on some major well traveled roads) than walking through the site. We took the detour which was no problem until we got to 321 which is hairy for a bike rider. Also at this point I got separated from Ben and Jack. Between the slower pace they needed due to the heavier loads and the traffic, I went on ahead. I was sure I would meet up with them again. 

Once I got back on the BRP I really picked up my pace. Luckily I felt strong. SS was probably worried. I had spent a good 45 minutes in all trying to bypass the detour only to have to backtrack and take it anyway so I was late. When I finally met SS at the blockades for the next detour she was concerned but handling it well. I almost had a second big mistake for the day. As we were pulling away in the car SS said “What’s that rattle?”. I responded that it was simply my front wheel and looked into the back of the car to adjust it. “DANG!!!! MY WHEEL IS NOT IN THE CAR!!!” I had left it on the road. We quickly turned around and found it safe and sound waiting for us. Thank God. SS simply rolled her eyes at me. 

We stopped at Walmart in Boone and picked up a new camera and headed to the Ridgeway Inn in Blowing Rock, much less rustic than our previous night’s stay. I liked it though. We met our son Brett for dinner at Knights on Main, another local place, a bit larger than most of the others but same good food. Blowing Rock is a nice place but I actually like Boone better. Blowing Rock is more a tourist/retirement type town whereas Boone has a more authentic local character.  

Stats for day:  

Mile marker start: 241.1 
Mile marker finish: 289 (or so) 
Total day miles: 49.6 
Climbing for day: Still need to get this 
Avg speed: 12.7 mph 
Max speed: 39.8 mph
You never have the wind with you - either it is against you or you're having a good day. ~Daniel Behrman, The Man Who Loved Bicycles


Anne Cowan said...

I have been enjoying your blog since Ben told me about it, but did not know when your paths crossed on the parkway! Now I know! He really enjoyed meeting you both and since we are hikers, too, maybe our paths will cross again. I am really into biking now but have not done a self supported trip yet. My two long trips have been van supported but I loved every minute. I was very envious of Ben and his trip but know I will have mine long ride in August! I hope to have a long ride WITH him in the future.

We are going to Bike Virginia in two weeks so are looking forward to that very much. Hope to meet you two in the future sometime and I look forward to reading the rest of your adventure. By the way, I rode up the mountain 10 miles from Cherokee on Ben's last day, hoping to ride in with him but he was not to be found. Turns out that 10 more minutes and we could have ridden in together! I just did not wait long enough for him at the top!! It was a screamer of a ride down, though!

Anne Cowan said...

PS. Glad you found your wheel. :-)