Days 11 and 12, Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway
Two great days of riding. If you are thinking of cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway, be forewarned that the constant ascents and descents get a bit rough after a few days. Although not as hard as the rolling hills one finds in Pennsylvania, it gets pretty wearing to climb the constant and unrelenting long hills from a saddle to the next pass on the Ridge. The grades must be between 4-8 % on average (although I never wanted to use the battery power on my bike computer to find out - knowing the elevations only makes me more tired). After two or three days, the longer hills (lasting 2-3 miles) get discouraging. The downhills are fabulous though, and no matter whether one is going up or down a hill, one is always rewarded with yet another superlative view.
Yesterday afternoon I snapped a front shifter cable about 20 miles away from my campsite. It wasn't a disaster, just inconvenient, since I was stuck in my granny gear on my front chain ring. Because I have never replaced a cable, and was unsure of how to deal with a handlebar shifter, I decided to tough it out and continue riding to the campground, where (thankfully) I could replace the cable with a spare I was carrying. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) there were lots of uphill climbs to get there, so I was stuck in the best gear I could be.
After a shower and a frozen pizza courtesy of the campground owner (food is not easy to come by on the Parkway, and come to think of it - billboards, gas stations, restaurants and power lines are also nonexistent - which adds to the charm and the challenge of cycling it), I replaced the cable. This required remembering watching fellow rider Jon Vara's technique from a snapped cable on the Southern Tier, plus several YouTube videos that helped me think through bar shifters and the vagaries of the front shifter - one of the more complicated parts in a touring bike. I admit I still don't quite understand set screws - clockwise and counter clockwise - the mechanical logic of how exactly they limit the shifter has not dropped into my brain yet. But I fixed the cable anyway after losing, and finding, several nuts in the grass and then losing, and finding again, an allen wrench blended into a picnic table just as the sun was setting. And I didn't forget it was the longest day of the year, so I took a little time to honor the solstice.
Two days ago I slept in a campground in Racoon Holler near Laurel Springs. While I was setting up camp, three different men stopped by to talk to me. They were each about my age. The first was walking with a cane. He asked me where I came from and was skeptical about my answer. He really couldn't get his mind around the idea that someone would bike anywhere more than a mile or two. While we were talking a second man drove by in a golf cart. If you haven't been to a private campground in the past few years, please know they are full of RVs and golf carts. People drive to the bathrooms to pee. They bring their house, and drive their car around the campground. It's just like being at home. In any case, the second guy started telling the first guy that people biked everywhere these days, and he mentioned some biking festival in his hometown nearby as proof. Then the guy with the cane got into the golf cart, and they drove off together to the bathroom. I continued to set up my tent. At some point I looked up and another man was standing next to my bike staring at it. He asked me what kind of bike it was. I answered, and then he began peppering me with questions - how much weight could I carry? How far could I go in a day? How did I map out where I was going? What did I do when it rained? How did I eat? I could see he was genuinely interested, and I was grateful for his interest.
Some years back, I watched two older guys bike into a campground in the Yukon, and set up camp lickity-split before my ex-wife Chantal and I could finish setting up ours. Later I talked to one of the cyclists. I remember a few salient things from the conversation - biking is as intimate an experience with nature as backpacking, and the bike carries the weight. And you can go a lot further. Although I can remember encountering a few other long distance cyclists along the way, I am certain it was that particular conversation that provoked me.
Who know how stuff gets in our heads? But it happens.
I keep thinking about climate change and patterns of migration - humans and animals. On some level, we are all hobos, either by choice or by happenstance.
More to come,
Musicians at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Parkway.
Day lillies on the side of the road.
Dinner! Edward Hopper would love this place!