Day 3: Days like today are the reason bike touring is a thing - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

April 25, 2022

Day 3: Days like today are the reason bike touring is a thing

Alternative headline ideas for this blog entry:

Day 3: What makes the Blue Ridge Parkway such an amazing road for bike touring

Day 3: Welcome back to the Blue Ridge Parkway! Surely you remember the Hills?

Day 3: Much less heat, much more hill

Day 3: When you're pedaling up a hill so slowly that your GPS thinks you have stopped, at least you can tell that you're making progress when your ears pop

Okay, let's start the show:

Today was amazing. Good start, and it only got better. One of the many great moments of the day is captured on video:

In the video above, as a green valley and a blurry misty-blue horizon float past in the distance, my reaction is: Not bad." Please note the sarcasm. Not bad? What an understatement. I'm officially in love with the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was the inaugural long ride that I took with Blue, my bike, which I bought in October 2017 only days beforehand. I'll profess my love for Blue another time (or most likely, many times), but right now, let's remember today:

[Actually, I wrote this whole bit about getting out on the road today but I think it's too long. But rather than just cutting it, I'll stick it at the end because I amused myself with it. Also, never again will I have the energy to write so much about a single day. You can rest assured that everything will be shorter moving forward.]

I shot this selfie of Brian and me standing in front of his house and, unbeknownst to me at the time, with Shannon coming out the front door. Brian is dressed for work in a shirt and tie, topped with a reflective vest and helmet for his commute. I'm wearing my helmet and my MWABA jersey, as usual.
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Before we jump into the highlights of the day, I just have to gush about my Warmshowers hosts last night, Brian and his wife Shannon and their family. How incredibly generous and supportive they were! Experiences like these prove what an amazing idea Warmshowers is and how many amazing, kind, generous people are out there. Big thanks to Brian and Shannon!

And that theme of wonderful people continued! I was heading west out of Charlottesville toward the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is also the southern end of Skyline Drive. The roads and the weather were perfect. On some windy two-lane roads, it was hard to see around curves and when motorists got stuck behind me, they were generally very patient and waited for an opportunity to pass safely. When there was no upcoming opportunity for that, I'd try to find a driveway or other spot to pull over and let them pass. After doing this once or twice, I eventually caught up to a man waving me down. His name was Dick Vale, and he just wanted to commend me for my road etiquette and ask me if I was headed to Oregon, which might sound just too coincidental until you learn (A) that he is from Oregon, which is the state where the TransAmerica Trail ends and (B) that I was now actually following the trail and had been since shortly outside Charlottesville. In fact, just before Dick waved me down, I had stopped to take a photo of a sign for Bicycle Route 76, which I was so happy to see after riding a rather bike-unfriendly route from D.C. to Charlottesville the previous two days.

This photo shows the sign for Bicycle Route 76 to the left. Another sign points left for the town of Crozet.
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Dick told me that when I got to Oregon, just past Sisters, to head north and east toward a camp or fort whose name I can't remember to get a spectacular view of mountains whose name I also can't remember. I guess I could've written it down, but I have a hunch that it will come up again if I make it that far. It mostly felt good to see an old man get excited about places he liked to bike when he lived there. Plus, who doesn't like to be praised for their road etiquette? (When does that happen?)

Just a little later, I stopped at Chiles Peach Orchard for a snack and a little break from the sun. The woman who rang me up to pay for my apple cider doughnut seemed excited to hear that I was headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway and gave me directions even though Brian, his maps and three different cellphone apps had already done so. Good to confirm, I figured.

The heat started to creep up, and I knew I would have no options for buying food and limited options for accessing water once I got on the Parkway, so I stopped one more time at a country store and bought a cold sports drink. I ran into another bike tourist named Aaron. It was his first tour, and he was headed to Skyline Drive. He had a bunch of questions for me, so we shared notes before saying goodbye and good luck. I was ready to leave before him so I set off ahead of him even though we were headed to the same point, where Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway meet.

Well, there were two ways to get to that point. I took the southern approach, which is the way the TransAm goes. (Side note: I should probably explain, in case it wasn't clear by now, that the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail — and other official bicycle routes — are just routes along multiple roads or recreational trails. Unlike some routes such as the East Coast Greenway, it's not marked by signs.) 

One highlight along the TransAm that Brian pointed out to me Sunday night is the "Cookie Lady's" house. For some reason, I thought the house came later, and I apparently rode right past it (which makes me feel especially foolish because I also took this road to get to the Blue Ridge Parkway back in 2017, so now I have ridden right past — I mean, right in front of — the Cookie Lady's house not once but TWICE. I didn't realize this until hours later and I knew I didn't have that kind of time to go back.

But there's a silver lining. Since I didn't stop at the Cookie Lady's house — wait, let's just say that again: there's a place called the COOKIE LADY'S HOUSE and I biked right past it TWICE! Clearly, I need to go back there someday after this trip — okay, I'm over it; let's move on. Since I didn't stop there, I happened to be timed perfectly to run into Aaron again as our routes converged, so we rode together, to the extent that traffic and the elevation allowed, for the last mile or two to the entrance to Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. I reached the top of the hill before him, so I stopped and got an action shot of him climbing the last bit toward the entrance, thinking it's pretty hard to get an action shot of yourself and it might be appreciated.

Aaron and I stopped and took this selfie in front of the sign pointing south (left) for Blue Ridge Parkway and north (right) for Skyline Drive. We're both sporting helmets and sunglasses.
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And so I have returned to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which starts off with a splendid, sweeping view of Virginia farmland and homes in the valley below. My mind immediately jumped to one of the last thoughts from my first visit to the Parkway: As I was approaching the end of that ride, I was able to coast downhill for a long stretch before exiting the Parkway at about Mile 444. I was euphoric, high on adrenaline, and I started singing to the Parkway, to the tune of Kumbaya:

Blue Ridge Park-wa-ay,

You're the best!

Blue Ridge Park-wa-ay,

You're the best!

Blue Ridge Park-wa-ay,

You're the best!

Ohhh, Parkway,

You're the best!

Okay, so it's not the most eloquent thought I've ever had, but that was the thought bursting from my soul and my lips after trudging over mountains for 444 miles. And it came right back to me the second I started down the Parkway. And it did not disappoint. My photos and videos do not do it justice, but here's one attempt to capture one of the many views.

A sign on the side reads,"ROCK POINT OVERLOOK. ELEV. 3115"In the distance is a view of a very green valley below, dotted with patches of trees and few tiny-looking buildings. There's a plume of smoke in the middle, behind a patch of trees, and a few hills that seem like they might be quite big if you were closer to them. The horizon is so distant that it is a bit of a blur.Also, this is the best placement of googly eyes that I've seen in quite a while. (There's a googly eye in each "O" in the word "overlook.")
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And the views are just one reason to love the Parkway. There's not much traffic on it, especially on weekdays, and everyone driving on it is there for recreation — and they know they should expect cyclists — so no one is passing you without waiting for there to be plenty of room. The road itself is in very good condition. And its altitude and natural surroundings make it feel much cooler and provide more shade than most other roads I've ridden. Of course, it's quite hilly, but the occasional long climb is worth all these other benefits — and then of course you eventually get to fly downhill at the end.

Speaking of which, I'm camping tonight at Sherando Lake Recreation Area, which means I had to get off the Parkway — which means I got to FLY downhill. It was maybe three or four minutes of amazingness. There's nothing quite like lowering your upper body till your chin nearly touches the handlebars and letting gravity turn you into a human missile on wheels. Well, a missile that goes about 40 miles per hour and hopefully does not end with an explosion. We'll find out tomorrow, when I get to climb back up to the Parkway, whether it was really worth it. I imagine a few minutes of descent will mean at least an hour of climbing.

For now, I get to listen to the tree frogs and fall asleep under the stars.

Blue, my bike, poses for a glamor shot (i.e., stands upright on his own, with a pedal propped against the curb), with a view of the valley below in the background
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Day 3 stats:

Mileage — actually, I'm going to start calling this The Daily Progress, which is the fantastic name of the Charlottesville newspaper. So:

The Daily Progress: 46.3 miles

Elevation ascended: 4,938 ft 

Average speed: 8.11 mph

Maximum speed: 43.34 mph (whoa, I think this is a cycling record for me, and this happened on a fully loaded touring bike!)

Lodging expenses: $33 for campsite

Food expenses: $4.25 (a doughnut and a sports drink)

All right, you made it this far. As promised, here's the introduction to the day, which I almost just deleted:

I was a little slower than I should have been when getting ready to hit the road this morning. Well, if I'm being honest, I am ALWAYS slow in the morning unless I'm going to work, but today was more noticeable because I think I misunderstood what Brian, my Warmshowers guest, told me last night about when everyone left in the morning. He was very cheerful and generous about everything, including breakfast and coffee, but eventually it became clear he was ready to go to work and I felt like I needed to get going when he did even though I thought he told me last night that the rest of the family headed out later and that that was my deadline for departure. It was one of those moments when I couldn't tell if he just earnestly looked forward to showing me out so he could direct me down the best bike route out of the neighborhood, or if the lumpy-headed stranger staying at his house gave an impression of creepiness or some other inadvertent vibe that indicated for some reason that this guest is not to be trusted with only his wife and high-school-age children at home. I'm gonna to assume it was the former, but hey, these are the thoughts that go through my mind as a newly, and self-consciously, bald person who is still a little creeped out by his own reflection. (To be clear, I think every other bald person I've met pulls it off much better, and I got a pretty good impression from Dani before we parted that she felt the same.)

Alllllll that is to say, I hurried up and packed up my things as fast as possible so that I wouldn't make Brian late, and thanks to his schedule as a high-school teacher and his enthusiasm to show me out of the neighborhood, I hit the road about an hour earlier than I would have if I had been left to my own devices so that I could putter around and check things six times before packing everything up just so. To no one's surprise, I'm sure, I managed to make it through the day and don't seem to have left anything behind! And actually, the rushed packing led to me accidentally discover a better way to fit my things in my bags. Win-win! 

Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 174 miles (280 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 5
Peter BrownYou seemed to have really pared down your gear.
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3 months ago
Chris GeorgeTo Peter BrownYeah, I've been working on paring it down for years. I'm still meaning to post my packing list as a blog post one of these days. I was pretty determined to make everything fit on my rear rack and was pleased that I did. But it all still weighed 50 lbs just before I left! After the first day, Dani met up with me to camp the first night together, and I sent home with her some of the food I had packed, a cable that supplemented my lock, my iPad mini and my deodorant. That must've shed a few pounds.
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3 months ago
Peter BrownDeodorant? You may want to run that by your Warmshowers hosts. I'm joking, but extra food could ward off the bonk. I am really enjoying your posts.
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3 months ago
Jenna PeresAm I the only one still thinking about the cookie lady’s house?!
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3 months ago
Chris GeorgeTo Jenna PeresHa, I'm glad you haven't let that go. I promise to visit the next chance I get. But unfortunately the original Cookie Lady has left this world, and I've heard you can still stop by the house to see lots of paraphernalia:
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3 months ago