Day 32: Near Laxon, NC to near Barrett, NC - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 14, 2011

Day 32: Near Laxon, NC to near Barrett, NC

It's cold inside the tent. The wet air leaves every surface a little slick. The faint smells of farts fueled by convenience store food and a biker who hasn't showered for a few days hang in the air. It's a great time to be alone in the woods.

The only dry spot in a very wet forest.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The rain is gone and the Parkway empty of traffic at 7:15 on this weekend morning. The first long climb of the day brings me to a crest that opens up 180 degrees. Looking to the northeast, rays of sunlight shine through tiny holes in the cloud cover. Fields and farms dot the hillsides in bright green. In the still air, fog hangs in the valleys below, slipping around the end of one and connecting to the next, stretching out to the east as far as I can see. I hear the sound of truck engines chugging up the hills a thousand feet down. A couple of motorcycles ride past the overlook without stopping and I can't believe it. The view is absolutely spectacular—I've never seen anything like it before.

Heart 1 Comment 0
Heart 1 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Fog spills thickly but silently over the road as I drop down. I hear only birds and crickets when I stop to rest or take a picture. As I lose elevation the fog turns thicker, and soon the tiniest drops of water form at the end of the hairs on my arms. Not long after, gray fills the road almost entirely and I can't see more than a hundred feet in front of me. I talk to myself about how amazing it is as I pedal.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 2 Comment 0
Heart 1 Comment 0

I speed down a hill and pass a couple of wild turkeys, who instantly bolt into the woods, heads bobbing wildly back and forth. The farther I go, the more subtle the terrain becomes, with gently rolling ups and downs taking the place of long climbs. Late in the morning I drop into Glendale Springs, where I fuel up at a cafe as a CD of Rod Stewart singing light jazz versions of cover songs like "What a Wonderful World" plays in the background. The service is tremendous—the cook even comes out to ask if I'm enjoying my meal—and then I realize that they think I'm a professional travel writer. I need to take pictures of my food more often.

Heart 1 Comment 0

Through three states and most of a fourth, over more than a month's worth of riding, I managed to avoid the rain almost entirely. That ends today. Eventually I leave the Parkway and take cover under the awning in front of the closed office of a campground. I sit in a dirty plastic chair with the nearby ice machine clanking quietly when a car pulls up. The man inside mentions to me that the Parkway is closed for construction a few miles up ahead. They're replacing guard rails. But he thinks I might be able to get through.

"I seen some motahcycles head by the othah day," he says, and then pauses for a few seconds. "Also seen a coupla rangers drive by, too."

He doesn't think they'll be up there stopping people and suggests it might be worth taking the chance.

"I'm not saying I'll bail ya out," he laughs as he pulls away. "But ya might wanna give it a try!"

Heart 2 Comment 0

I fill up on pasta at a nearby restaurant that blasts songs from Foreigner, Joan Jett, and Aerosmith. I think about how it makes more sense to stop for the day and then start up early in the morning to avoid any rangers or construction workers who might be waiting to turn me around. Then I leave anyway.

Heart 1 Comment 0

The Road Closed barrier comes with an extra sign explaining that dangerous work takes place ahead and bikes are specifically not allowed through. But I figure that if dump trucks and backhoes can get around up there, a bike can too. I push past the warnings and start to pedal. My heart pounds and first and I listen carefully for approaching cars. I ride as fast as I can, but pushing uphill on a fully loaded touring bicycle that just means six miles per hour instead of five.

Heart 0 Comment 0

Soon I realize that all of the rangers are probably tucked away in a gift shop somewhere, selling calendars with pictures of bears and flowers to overweight older women from Illinois. Every piece of the construction equipment sits quiet. The big trucks are all parked and empty. It's obvious there won't be anyone out here today, so I just cruise. A white-tailed deer and I both stop to look at each other on one of the climbs. Later I pass by three more, who startle and shoot off into the forest. Along the way I pass mile marker 235, the Parkway's halfway point.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

I round two corners and instantly the partly sunny skies turn to rain—light for the first few minutes, and then in sheets, in waves, in absolute torrents. In romantic movies, directors sometimes have the main characters kiss dramatically in a hurricane-like downpour as the man tenderly holds the woman's face in his hands and tells her he will always love her. I always thought rain like that was total movie bullshit. The storm I ride through proves me wrong.

The road turns into a river, clogged with water that streams both down and across it. Huge rooster tails shoot forward off the front tire. Water fills the fenders so quickly that it gushes out the sides, flies backward, and soaks through the top of my shoes. Within ten minutes I can squeeze the black fleece gloves on both hands and watch a stream a brownish water fall to the ground. Huge drops pelt my face and legs, and I can feel the pressure of them through my rain jacket. Riding quickly downhill, I hear only the rush of water and the howling noise of the wind. Three days worth of sweat and sunscreen liquify on my forehead, push over my eyebrows, and drop stinging into the corners of my eyes. All afternoon I planned to pull off into a quiet spot in the woods, but this kind of rain makes the idea of setting up the tent even less desirable than riding. There's no hope of a campground or motel. I just keep pushing.

I round a corner and all of a sudden there's a Surly Long Haul Trucker flying my way. It's the first loaded bike I've seen in more than two weeks. The rain turns our brakes slick and doesn't let either of us slow down quickly, so we coast about 40 feet past each other before turning around and riding back. I say hello and the guy on the bike does the same.

"Are you German?" I ask after hearing his accent.

"No, Svedish."

Damn—that was my second guess. I ask him if he's out riding the Parkway from one end to the other.

"I stahted in New York," he tells me. "Now I'm heading souse and zen around ze U.S. Eventually I'm going all da vay to Souse America."

All of a sudden my little trip across the country seems really insignificant.

It's still dumping rain, so we don't talk more than two minutes before wishing each other luck and shaking hands.

"Nice day for a ride in da rain!" he yells as he pedals away.

Heart 0 Comment 0

It sounds ridiculous, but he's kind of right. I've already reached a saturation point where I physically can't get wetter. The only thing left to do is enjoy the ride, which isn't hard. It's the flattest bit of America I've seen since South Georgia and I move quickly.

For miles I scan both sides of the road for some kind of shelter, for just a few minutes of relief. It's starting to turn dark when I finally spot one: the covered entry way to the small white building that's home to the Saddle Mountain Baptist Church. I pull off the Parkway and into the parking lot. And then, in a stroke of luck so amazing I can't believe what I'm seeing, I look over to the left and spot a large picnic shelter covering four tables. Hallelujah, I'm saved!

Heart 3 Comment 0

Within ten minutes the fierce center of the thunderstorm rolls through. First comes the rain, falling from a nearly black sky in amounts even greater than the mess I rode through earlier. It's almost impossible to see the buildings just down the street. Then comes the lightning. It pops like a strobe light positioned directly above my head, flashing three or four times every minute. Last is the thunder, which booms and cracks right next to me before rumbling off into the distance. Soon the wind slows and the storm parks itself above the picnic shelter. My knees shake—partly from the cold and wet, and partly because the bad weather in the Blue Ridge Mountains is terrifying.

When the fury finally passes I piece together the tent and jump into the warm sleeping bag as quickly as I can. Lightning flashes a few miles to the northeast and rain splashes down on the roof above. I think about the Swede on the Surly, hoping he made it through the storm safely.

Today's ride: 63 miles (101 km)
Total: 1,635 miles (2,631 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 1
Comment on this entry Comment 0