Day 31: Linville Falls, NC to near Laxon, NC - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 13, 2011

Day 31: Linville Falls, NC to near Laxon, NC

While setting up the tent last night, the elastic cord that runs through the cracked top section of the poles and holds them all together sliced in two on the sharp edges of the sheared aluminum. As soon as I start to disassemble the tent and release the tension in the morning, the unsprung sections pop loose and clank to the ground. What should be one combined group of poles sits on the gravel in eight different pieces. I have no idea if they'll ever fit together correctly again. It dawns on me that I never called MSR about a replacement set back in Asheville.

I ride the first flat section of the Parkway so far, past farms, picket fences, and horses whose skins jump and tails flap as gnats land all over them. Within a few miles I'm back into the familiar rolling hills. I sing Beulah's "Popular Mechanics for Lovers" and The National's "Think You Can Wait" out loud over and over again, like a radio station that can only afford a two-song catalog. I mumble the words I don't know as the sky in front of me changes from a brilliant blue and white to a flat, featureless gray.

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Between the smaller hills, the long lines of trees running along the side the road, and the low clouds, there isn't much to look at today. That leaves all my attention focused on how slow I'm riding and how dead my legs feel. Whatever jump I had last night is nowhere to be found. Every uphill mile is a grind and every downhill ends too soon. I keep thinking about how I won't even hit the halfway point of the Parkway until some time tomorrow.

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I'm gonna hang by the rock wall, put out the vibe.
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Lightning flashes within a mile off to the left. I see dark clouds and rain headed my way. It's an easy decision to turn off and ride the mile south to Blowing Rock. In my mind I picture a charming, rustic mountain town with real character, but when I turn down its main street I find the exact opposite: a tourist-fueled place with brick-faced buildings, art galleries, three separate stores selling upscale rugs, restaurants that spell it Grille instead of Grill, and shop after shop selling expensive knick-knacks for rich people to hang on a wall or place on a table in the living room of their vacation home.

I eat overpriced and under-noodled pasta in a cafe. The three sixteen-year-old girls across the way talk about trips to the Bahamas and their parents' vacation condos, while the two middle-aged couples behind me reminisce about getting wasted on Southern Comfort back in college.

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Rain falls when I step outside. I load up the bike and ride a few blocks before taking shelter under the covered entrance to the town's American Legion hall, bringing the total amount of time spent riding in the rain over the last 31 days to exactly seven minutes. A severe thunderstorm watch is in effect, and soon the nearby sky booms. Lightning sparks and the gentle rain turns heavy. Long crashes of thunder pass across the sky from west to east, rolling by like a freight train 15 seconds at a time, one after another.

The show's over ten minutes later. The sun shines and the birds chirp as I climb out of town. My legs finally feel better, but my mind runs slow and my head hangs. SUVs with bumper stickers that read "This vehicle stops at all garage sales" speed by, quickly heading home on Friday afternoon. The Parkway takes on a different character, with expensive homes and cattle farms taking the place of valley views and layered rows of mountain tops. The pavement turns rougher and a couple of turkeys gobble at me as I pedal very slowly up a long hill.

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Rain clouds soon creep in again. I see their darker, angrier brothers in the distance. I know I need to start looking for a place to stop. Amazingly, not half a mile up the road I see a small, wooden marker for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail appear off to my right. I pull to the shoulder and then walk the bike a few hundred feet over clumps of bushes and branches and into the woods. It only takes five minutes to find a flat, quiet, sheltered spot off the trail within the trees. The busted poles give me some grief at first, but in the end it only takes a little extra time to set up the tent and toss all of the gear inside.

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Not ten minutes after I put on the rain cover, a bright flash explodes directly overhead, followed a second-and-a-half later by a huge boom that sounds like a bomb strike. Rain starts to dump in buckets almost immediately, the fat drops popping loudly as they fall through the gaps in the trees and slam into the yellow cover by the thousands. I sit inside warm and completely dry, listening to the world outside scream for the next several hours, happy to have made my best decision of the trip.

Today's ride: 45 miles (72 km)
Total: 1,572 miles (2,530 km)

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