“Keep Moving” is a Lifetime Challenge

My reason for writing these blogs is to encourage people in or near retirement to “Keep Moving”.  Even those who are years away from the traditional retirement age should follow this advice or the advice of some retirement expert.  Most of us hope to have a full and active retirement, but just like preparing financially for retirement we also need to take steps to maintain good overall health and healthy habits in order to achieve that goal.

A recent article by Kelli B. Grant for CNBC follows along with my thinking (or visa vera) that “not all investments for retirement are financial.”  She cited an Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey from early 2017 that polled 14,000 workers and 1,600 retirees in 15 countries.  This survey found that few were taking steps to stay healthy to achieve their retirement goals.  The survey looked at behaviors such as:

  • avoiding harmful behaviors (alcohol, tobacco use, etc.)
  • eating healthy
  • regular exercise
  • thinking about long term health when making lifestyle choices
  • taking their health seriously (regular medical check-ups)
  • practicing mindfulness (i.e., meditation)

The study found that globally, half of the workers got regular exercise and 57% ate healthy.  Almost half engaged in 2 or fewer healthy behaviors, while 8% did not do any of these.  Only 5% said they engaged in all healthy behaviors.

The report also concluded that poor health in retirement could have a severe impact on a retiree’s financial well-being because of increased medical costs.  Incorporating healthy lifestyle behaviors early in life doesn’t guarantee a happy and healthy retirement but it does give you a better chance to meet your retirement goals and “Keep Moving”.

Staying Active in Durham, NC

My wife and I spent this summer in Durham, North Carolina.  Being a college town, Durham has much to offer in the way of cultural activities, trendy restaurants, numerous shopping opportunities, and sporting events along with venues to “Keep Moving”.  For example, Duke University has a cross country trail that circles the Duke University Golf Club.   Called the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail, named for the long time track and field coach, it is a little over 3 miles long and runs through a beautiful wooded area with just enough hills to make it challenging.  I took advantage of this trail several times throughout the summer.

The University track and field facility was open to the public for use except when the school was holding summer track and cross country camps.  I mostly used this facility in the evenings and there always seemed to be adults coaching young children and high school aged kids on various running techniques such as how to properly use starting blocks, arm motion, body posture, etc.

But to me the best amenity the City of Durham and the adjoining counties of Durham, Chatham, and Wake offers its citizens is the American Tobacco Trail.  I like riding on rail trails and I have ridden on many over the past 20 years.  Some include the North Bend Rail Trail, the Greenbrier River Trail, and the Panhandle Trail in West Virginia, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Montour Trail near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to name a few.  I was glad for the opportunity to add the American Tobacco Trail to that list.Att4ATT beginning

The American Tobacco Trail is a 22.6 mile rail trail that begins in downtown Durham near the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the Durham Bulls Triple A baseball team. This abandoned rail bed was originally built for the American Tobacco Company as the New Hope Valley Railroad.  It later became the Durham and SC Railroad (but never reached into South Carolina), then finally part of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad.  This rail corridor was preserved in the 1980’s by the Triangle Rail-Trail Conservancy and is a wonderful multi-use trail.  Starting from Durham the first 14.5 miles is a paved 10 foot wide path and the remaining portion is a hard packed crushed limestone base.  This trail is now part of the East Coast Greenway which will eventually become a 3,000 mile route from northern Maine to Key West, Florida.  Presently, approximately 900 miles of off-road pathways are designated as East Coast Greenway.ATT 2

If you have a rail trail in your community or your community is planning for such a trail I encourage you to avail yourself of the opportunity to use an existing trail or support any planning activities.  These trails offer citizens a place to ride bicycles, walk, roller blade, push strollers, even horseback riding if permitted.  Rail trails can take you to areas in your community that you have never been before unless you passed through on a train.  Many communities use rail trails to interpret their history and help locals and visitors understand the purpose the railroad served.  In some rural communities rail trails often serve as an economic stimulus for small businesses to serve trail users. Businesses like bicycle rentals, restaurants, outfitters, and campgrounds are a few small businesses I have seen along rail trails.  The economic benefits of rail trails can spread to outlying areas from trail users who stay an extra day or two to visit other nearby sites and attractions.  I have been in small communities that have old train depots that have been restored to their former glory and the surrounding area transformed into a small park that hosted community celebrations and holiday events.  These are little things that bring pride to a small community and it is all because of the restoration of the rail trail.

In my opinion, rail trails offer communities unique opportunities for citizens to improve their health in ways they would not do otherwise.   Many people would not ride bicycles, roller blade, or jog on city streets because of vehicle traffic, but rail trails provide a safe place to exercise where the only traffic is other trail users.  So if you have a rail trail near your community give it a try and “Keep Moving”.

 

Heard of Broccoli Sprouts?

If you followed my early blog posts I chronicled my bicycling trip along the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  This was a long term planned event to get me out of my comfort zone and do something I had never attempted.  Before beginning those trips in May 2016 I was having some issues with my PSA numbers (prostate specific antigen).  My numbers had been bouncing around for several months and my urologist scheduled me for a biopsy in September.  The results showed there was cancer in two of the samples taken, but further test results reveled the cancer to be slow growing.   My urologist suggest we just watch it for the time being (active surveillance or watchful waiting) and do another biopsy in 5 to 6 months.  Another biopsy was performed in late January 2017 and the results indicated the cancer from this sample was more aggressive than the sample taken earlier.  We discussed treatment options and there were 3 available to me.  One was to continue active surveillance.  The second option was 60 days of radiation, which I did not want to do and my urologist would not recommend because of my age and good physical condition.  The third option was to have the prostate removed, and if the cancer is encapsulated within the prostate this is a cure. So I chose option number 3.  My recovery went well but kept me off my bicycle for a couple of months.

The reason I mention this medical condition was to segue into the point of this blog. Between the two biopsy’s my son sent me a link to a Youtube video about broccoli sprouts and their beneficial effect on cancer cells.  The Youtube video is by Dr. Rhonda Patrick and is entitled “Sulforaphane and its Effects on Cancer, Mortality, Aging, Brain and Behavior, Heart Disease, and more.”  The video is approximately 47 minutes long and is very technical in some spots but overall is very informative.

There are many articles on the Internet from many sources highlighting the benefits of broccoli sprouts.  If you are interested,  I encourage you to do more research.  In the meantime, you can begin to grow your own sprouts.  Here is where I purchase my broccoli sprout kit and seeds.

Briefly, broccoli sprouts are 3 – 5 day old broccoli plants that look like afalfa sprouts but taste like radishes.  They contain high levels of glucosaphane, a cancer fighting phytochemical isolated in 1992 by Johns Hopkins scientists.  When chewed, broccoli sprouts release glucoraphanin that combines with myrosinase, an enzyme found in another part of the plant cell, which work together to produce sulforaphane.  A 1997 study found that 3 – 5 day old broccoli sprouts contain at least 20 times (some researchers say 10 – 100 times) the concentration of glucoraphanin than full grown broccoli.  Which means that broccoli sprouts are rich in sulforaphane and offers promising anti-cancer protection.

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Broccoli seeds soaking in jar and sprouts on the right

Sulforaphanes combat cancer through the removal of carcinogens, prevention of cancer cell production, destruction of breast cancer cells, and tumor reduction.  Other benefits include promoting detoxification, lowers cholestrol, improves diabetes, has antioxidant properties, anti-microbial properties, and anti-inflammatory properties to name a few.

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Harvested sprouts

Broccoli sprouts are easy to grow.  Place 2 – 3 teaspoons of seeds in your jar or growing container.  Rinse them thoroughly then soak the seeds for 6 – 12 hours.  Rinse again then place the container in an area out of direct sunlight.  Rinse the seeds once or twice a day even after the seeds sprout.  The seeds should begin to sprout in 2 – 3 days.  Harvest when the sprouts are 1″ to 2″ tall.  They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

You can add the sprouts to sandwiches, salads, combine with other vegetable dishes, sprinkle sprouts on top of a baked potato, add to stir-fry’s, salsa, cole slaw, or add to humus or other dips.  Use your imagination and enjoy.

The Skyline Drive, a Black Bear, and Big Meadows

After becoming disillusioned with the weather in Roanoke and not wanting to sit in a motel for two days waiting for the skies to clear and knowing I didn’t finish what I started I needed to get myself in gear and plan a ride that I knew I would complete. Planning to bicycle 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway on my first self-supported bicycle tour was a healthy goal, yet I still had a desire to do more bicycle touring in the mountains. So I set my sights on the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

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In hindsight I should have started my bicycling touring on the Skyline Drive, you know like learning to walk before you run.  I did this bicycle trip in August, 2016 and planned to complete this trip in two days.  The Skyline Drive is 105.5 miles long and runs from Front Royal, VA to Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, VA, and seamlessly continues on as the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The longest climbs are on the northern and southern entrances, but once you reach the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains the elevation varies, so don’t think you won’t have some climbing to do, but the climbs are not as long as those on the Blue Ridge Parkway.   I started at the northern entrance at Front Royal where elevation is 1,390 feet.   From there you climb 10 miles to Dickey Ridge before connecting with the Blue Ridge mountains at Compton Gap.  The climb continues to Hogback Overlook at an elevation of 3,385 feet.  So in the first 22 miles you climb nearly 1,995 feet.1024px-Blue_Ridge_Parkway_from_Ravens_Roost

The day I began this ride the weather was spectacular.  Clear blue skies and visibility from the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains was endless.  From most overlooks looking west you can see the Massanutten mountain ridge that divides the Shenandoah Valley for nearly 50 miles.  Beyond Massanutten you see mountain ridges for as far as the eye can see.

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Massanutten Mountain in the distance

I enjoyed this ride more than my experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway because I understood the effort it took to climb these mountains,  I finished what I started, and I took time to enjoy the scenery and views from many of the overlooks.  The climbs were hard at times but I made sure to enjoy the experience instead of focusing on reaching the next hilltop.  I took more pictures, breathed in the fresh mountain air, and was not pulling my trailer.  My wife accompanied me by driving our van to serve as a support vehicle so I only carried a small backpack with snacks and water.

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Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Experience

At the time I decided to bicycle the Blue Ridge Parkway I had several goals I wanted to achieve.  First, was to get myself into better physical condition to handle the mountainous terrain.  Second, I have never been on but a few miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC.,  so seeing and experiencing this linear National Park and the amazing vistas was exciting.  Third, was to get me out of my cycling comfort zone.  It is one thing to go on long rides in an area that is familiar, but another where there is more wilderness surrounding you than civilization.

A person should take their time when experiencing the Blue Ridge mountains from the saddle of a bicycle.  Most of the time you are going slow enough to enjoy the miles of scenery that open up around every turn. spring As you look out across mountain ranges that stretch to the horizon 30 to 40 miles away you can’t help but be amazed at the majesty of these mountains.  They appear as different shades of color depending on the amount of light reflecting off the trees and vegetation.  Many areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway are made up of such a vast wilderness that there are probably places in these mountains that no man has ever set foot.   In early May, when I began my trip, the azaleas and other spring wild flowers were emerging from their winter hibernation as the sun warmed the forest floor. Trees in the lower elevations were breaking out in brightly colored light green leaves while trees along the ridge tops were still clothed in their wintery gray.  dogwood

Climbing mountain roads that snake through the Blue Ridge mountains was hard for this lowcountry senior.  The grades on the climbs varied from 4% to 7% with an occasional 8% grade for a short distance.  My speed varied from 5 to 8 miles per hours on climbs so I had time to notice the scenery and I would find a cadence and rhythm that was comfortable and tried to enjoy the experience.  But to be honest, there were times during some of the extended climbs my legs were screaming and I could have cared less about the view.  All I was focused on was reaching the top so I could coast.  However, reaching the crest of each hill despite my aching legs was more satisfying than the last hill.

These mountains are beautiful but they can be cruel.  There were times I would be climbing for miles and the road ahead would appear to level off as it curved around the mountain giving the illusion I had reached the top of the climb only to discover the road continued upward and I could  see the road cut into the mountain several hundred feet above me.  So I continued to climb.

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You may or may not have reached the top of this climb

Roanoke or Bust

After a restful night at the Peaks of Otter lodge day 3 dawned with sunny skies and cool, crisp temperatures.  My goal today was to reach Roanoke, VA, 39 miles away.  The route included a detour because 15 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed for maintenance.  According to the National Park Service Blue Ridge Parkway website the detour didn’t add more miles to my route and began about 8 miles south of Peaks of Otter and took me onto Goose Creek Valley Road.  The first couple miles were downhill and steep with a road surface that had recently been repaired using the tar and chip method that left a lot of loose “chips”.  I had to control my speed down this hill that had sharp turns to keep from sliding.virginia valley

Once I reached to bottom of the hill the next 8 miles opened to a wide, beautiful valley,  I assume was named Goose Creek Valley,  which featured rolling farm land and a fairly level road.  The map I printed from the Blue Ridge Parkway website was easy to follow, except you had to follow their directions to keep on course.  I had one turn to make at the end of Goose Valley Road and when I consulted to map at the beginning of the detour I was sure the turn at the end of the road was to the right.  Did you ever have the feeling that something wasn’t right but you couldn’t put a finger on it?  After 3 miles and several climbs I had a feeling I was going the wrong way.  It just didn’t feel right so I stopped and looked at the map again and sure enough I was heading in the wrong direction.  After turning around and pedaling 3 miles back to Goose Creek Valley Road my 39 mile ride quickly became 45 miles.  Had I made the correct turn I was only 1 mile from Rt. 221 where the detour continued.  The remainder of the trip was uneventful and I got back on the Blue Ridge Parkway about 16 miles from Roanoke.Roanoke River overlook

My initial itinerary included camping at the Roanoke Mountain campground but it was closed so I checked into a small motel near the parkway in Roanoke for the night and found it to be lacking in cleanliness (I am being nice).  The bed was comfortable but the bathroom left much to be desired.  You get what you pay for.  I turned on the television in the evening to check on the weather for the next day.  The local weather the next two days called for 90% chance of rain.  It began raining later and continued into the morning.   Across the street from the motel was a Walmart and behind the Walmart was a mountain.  The next morning that mountain was blanketed in fog.  I was bummed.  I waited for two days to begin the ride and now I was going to have to wait two more days for the weather to improve.  I made the decision to end this trip and called my wife and had her pick me up.

The thought of  biking the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway was a romantic notion and the 121 miles (plus my side trips) I rode from Waynesboro, VA to Roanoke, VA while hard at times stopping now was disappointing.  I was certain that with better weather I could at least finish the Virginia section in two more days.  After training for so long I felt I should have ridden farther but I wasn’t prepared to spend more time in that motel waiting for the weather to improve.  But the Blue Ridge Parkway will always be there and I will Keep Moving and would like to try to finish the Virginia portion some time in the future.

I did not finish what I started, even though one of my goals was to improve my physical conditioning, which I did.  One of my daughters lives in Asheville, NC and she and I have biked some of the parkway near Asheville, and I still have a strong desire to bike more of the Blue Ridge Parkway at some point and maybe finish the entire distance over time.  In the meantime I still had a desire to finish a route that I started.  IMG_0023Enter the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park.  I made plans and was determined to complete that 105 mile bike ride later in August, 2016.

Peaks of Otter via Apple Orchard Mountain

Day 2 on the Blue Ridge parkway began with a breakfast of oatmeal then breaking down my camp at Otter Creek campground.  I had a 3 mile ride to the James River Visitor Center where I stopped to charge my cell phone while taking in the exhibits.  The James River Visitor Center tells the story behind the construction of the James River Canal and the Kanawha Canal that was begun in 1758 and not completed until 1851.  During those years the project encountered many difficulties that interrupted construction including the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, financial failings, and frequent flooding.  When completed there were 90 locks between Buchanan, VA and Richmond, VA.  A walkway underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge leads visitors across the James River to the restored Battery Creek lock.  Eventually, rail travel proved more efficient in moving goods and the towpath was converted a railroad bed.

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Blue Ridge Parkway crossing the James River

The James River crossing is the lowest elevation on the Blue Ridge Parkway at 650 feet.  My journey this day was to reach the Peaks of Otter lodge 25 miles away.  Twenty-five miles might seem like a short day in the saddle but it included a climb from the James River to Apple Orchard Mountain at an elevation of 3,950 feet or a climb of 3,300 feet in 13 miles.  Let me tell you that was a beast of a climb.  I was introduced to this climb by a gradual grade for the first mile or two and I was able to manage speeds of 10 mph to 14 mph.  However, knowing the amount of climbing ahead of me I know the grade would steepen very soon and it did.  Most of the remaining climb averaged in the 6% to 8% range and my speed was a pedestrian 5 mph to 6 mph.  The longer I climbed the more my legs began to ache.  Finding a cadence and rhythm and keeping it was difficult to maintain.  Every now and then I would stand up to pedal to stretch my calves.  My first rest stop came about 5 miles into the climb.  I would stop for 5 minutes or so to grab a snack and hydrate.  As the climb wound up the mountain I would stop every mile or so. Even though the rest stops were short my legs felt refreshed as I got back on the road. However, that feeling only lasted for a quarter mile of climbing then my legs began to feel the burn again.  Overall, I think I stopped 7 times during the 13 mile climb.  The National Park Service has built guardrails out of large timbers along sections of the Parkway.  During two of my rest stops I laid down on a guardrail to rest and improve circulation to my legs.  I was so tired that I would lay very still and any time a vehicle passed by I made sure to more a hand, an arm or leg just a bit to let them know I was still alive.

The climb was taking a huge toll on my legs.  One mistake I made was not bringing enough water to stay hydrated. Two miles from the summit at Apple Orchard Mountain my calves began cramping and I was very low on water.  To prevent more severe cramping I dismounted the bike and walked the bike and trailer about three quarters of a mile before resuming the climb to the summit at Apple Orchard Mountain.IMG_0454

After reaching the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain you would think I would have taken some time to rest and enjoy the feat I just completed.   However, temperature at that elevation on this day was in the high 40’s and there was a brisk wind.  Add to that my clothes were wet from perspiration and I was cold and still had 12 miles to go to reach the Peaks of Otter lodge.  My wonderful wife made me a reservation at the lodge so I could get a good nights rest on a bed instead of  sleeping in a tent.  Over the remaining 12 miles the elevation dropped about 1,400 feet and was a mix of short climbs and longer downhills so I was able to coast a good bit and rest my legs.  I was glad to arrive after spending 5 hours in the saddle that day and having traveled 85 miles over the past two days.

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Peaks of Otter Lodge

Headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway

My bicycle trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway began in Fort Defiance, VA the second week of May 2016.  My wife, Marilyn, and I stopped to visit friends for a couple days and Marilyn was going to stay with them while I was riding.  On a clear day from our friend’s patio you can look east

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The Blue Ridge Mountains are blanketed in fog

and see Rockfish Gap on Afton Mountain which is the confluence of the southern end of the Skyline Drive and the northern entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway.   The morning my trip was to begin I awoke to a cloudy sky and a crisp chill in the air.  From the patio I looked east and the mountains were shrouded in fog.  A weather system had FullSizeRendercreated a blanket of fog from the ridges of the Blue Ridge mountains eastward.  Undaunted, I had to go to Rockfish Gap hoping the fog would lift by the time we reached the parkway entrance.  As we ascended the mountain from Waynesboro, VA we entered a fog bank that was thick as pea soup.  It was obvious that beginning the ride in these conditions would be foolish and unsafe.  So we turned back to Waynesboro and went shopping (not my idea).

The next day was more of the same.  The weather system that created the foggy conditions had persisted for another day.   It was like I was in a shortened version of the movie “Groundhog Day”.  We had clear, sunny skies until you were near Rockfish Gap then thick fog just like the day before.  The only people we saw moving near the entrance to the parkway were hikers passing through on the Appalachian Trail. FullSizeRender(2)

To make the best of this situation I did get in several miles of riding each day along some back roads in Fort Defiance.  The roads offered small hills which I took advantage of to get some last minute leg work in before climbing the big “hills”.

The third day was the charm.  Clear, sunny skies over the Blue Ridge mountains.  So away I went.  Most experienced bicycle tourists will recommend that on the first day you should ride about half the distance you expect to average each day.  The route I mapped  averaged approximately 38 miles per day.  However, the first Blue Ridge Parkway ridesouthbound campground on the parkway, Otter Creek campground, was at Milepost 60.8.  I was in for a long day.  Around Milepost 38 I could see dark clouds forming to the west.  Within the next two miles I stopped to put on my rain suit just as the rain began to fall.  For the next 15 miles I rode in a steady rain as the temperature began to fall.  One thing I learned is you sweat going uphill and get chilled going downhill even when wearing a windbreaker.

The elevation at Rockfish Gap is 1,909 feet and the first ten miles are primarily uphill to Ravens Roost at 3,200 feet.  From there to Otter Creek campground the elevation varies from the highest point north of the James River at 3,334 feet and descends to the James River at 650 feet, the lowest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  So from Milepost 0 to the James River at Milepost 63 the total feet climbed was 4,802 feet.  I did cross the James River on the first day to reach a restaurant for dinner and acquire cell service to let my wife know I made it this far.

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My bike and trailer

To say I slept well that night is an understatement of epic proportions.  Even as the nighttime temperature dipped to 40 degrees I crawled into my one-person tent laid on top of my sleeping bag and my legs felt like they were floating.  I barely moved as I reflected on what I had accomplished.  Even during training over level terrain back home I had never ridden what actually totaled 69 miles in one day and 6.75 hours in the saddle.  Let alone 69 miles through mountains.  It was both exhausting and exhilarating.  This may not seem like a big deal to experienced touring cyclists but it was to this lowcountry senior.

If you thought biking 69 miles in the mountains in one day was a good day wait till I tell you what I faced on day two.

Lessons Learned About Equipment and Packing for Bicycle Touring

There are many excellent books available for novice bicycle touring cyclists to get vital information that will aid in planning the trip and make the experience more enjoyable.  I didn’t want to re-invent the wheel so I used my resource from Elizabeth and Charlie Skinner in their book Bicycling the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive: A guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive.  This book provided a list of necessary items to include when packing for a self-supported bike tour.

The first decision I had to make was to decide between a single wheel trailer or panniers.  This was a big decision that I should have spent more time researching and ultimately lead to what I consider a big lesson learned.  I looked at panniers but for some reason felt drawn to a single wheel cargo trailer.  I bike trailerpurchased a single wheel cargo trailer from I10direct.com.   This is a good trailer for road touring and it tracks well.  It included an orange water resistant bag, has a load capacity of up to 75 pounds, and is very well built.  The downside is it’s weight.  The trailer weighs 21 pounds.  I could have spent another $200 or more for trailers that were 5 – 6 pounds lighter.  Panniers and the mounting frames on the other hand can weigh, depending on the manufacture, anywhere from 3 pounds to 8 pounds.  When climbing mountains weight is an issue that I did not give much consideration during the planning stage of this trip.  This was a major lesson learned.   A touring pro by the name of Darren Alff has a website called Bicycle Touring Pro.com.  He once did a survey of subscribers to find out how many bicycle tourists used panniers vs. trailers.  Ninety-five (95%) of over 2,500 respondents said they used panniers.  Now I know why.

Other equipment I carried included:

My gear weighed 21 pounds which I felt was a good number.  But add the weight of the trailer and I was pulling 42 pounds.  Had I used panniers I could have reduced the weight by about 15 pounds which would have helped on the long, winding climbs along the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia.

Now that I’ve researched, planned, and trained it was now time to ride.

Do I Really Want to Bike in the Mountains?

1280px-Blue_Ridge_Parkway-27527-2In June of 2015, one month after I purchased my Diamondback Edgewood hybrid bike, I challenged myself to undertake my first bicycle touring expedition.  I can’t explain why I felt compelled to do this.  In a way it’s living off the grid only with a few more creature comforts.  There is something about living outdoors and traveling from one location to another that is appealing to me.   Maybe because as a family we went camping most summers and I need to do more of that activity while I still can.   So I planned a self-supported bike trip of the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Waynesboro, Va. to Cherokee, NC.  Had I had this epiphany earlier I would have bought a bike that was built for touring, but I had the hybrid so I would make the best of my purchase.

Now other than a desire to be outdoors and biking in whatever the weather throws at me,  what would motivate a 62 year old man to undertake such a challenge when he had never considered doing anything like this in his life, and then spend most of the next year training, planning, and researching for this trip?  I have a cousin who is my age and  retired late in 2014.  The first thing on his bucket list was to hike the approximately 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Mount Katahdin ME.  He began his trek in March 2015 and finished in early July 2015.  His journey inspired and motivated me to challenge myself to go beyond my perceived physical abilities.  While I had no desire to walk 2,200 miles I do like to bike.  When we travel back to West Virginia we take I-77 north and just a few miles north of the Virginia-North  Carolina border there is an overpass that carries the Blue Ridge Parkway over the interstate highway.  That gaveway to the idea to bike the parkway.  However, before I provide more details on the preparations for this trip I should probably provide a disclaimer that I did not complete the entire 469 miles – yet.  I’ll explain later.

The first thing I did was look for books written by people who have biked the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Why reinvent the wheel.  I chose a book written by Elizabeth and Charlie Skinner entitled Bicycling the Blue Ridge Parkway: A guide to the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This was an excellent resource that helped me locate restaurants, grocery and convenient stores, hotels, campgrounds, waystations, etc. since most of these conveniences are not located on the Parkway.  This book also gave a valuable description of the range of elevation changes that I would be facing. Using this information I created a spreadsheet that helped me identify the mile posts where these facilities were located which helped me decide how far I would ride each day and where I would be spending nights.  Using this information I mapped out what would be a 14 day trip to complete this ride that included two days of rest.

Right or wrong my training regime was simple.  Ride, ride, ride.  I didn’t know any other way to get in the kind of condition I would need in to bike the Blue Ridge Parkway.  You have to understand, I live in the lowcountry of South Carolina.  The terrain is a bit different than the Blue Ridge mountains.

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Blue Ridge terrain

Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway you are either going up hill or down hill.

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Lowcountry terrain

In the lowcountry we do not have anything approaching a hill let alone a mountain.  We don’t have elevation changes, we have what I refer to as grade changes.  Like from flat to maybe a 3% grade that only goes for a short distance.  The only natural obstacle that provides any resistance is a strong head wind.  So ride I did.  During inclement weather I would go to our fitness center and ride a spin cycle and gradually increase the tension on the wheel to simulate hill climbing.  From the time I decided to make this trip in June of 2015 until I began in May of 2016 I rode nearly 2,000 miles.  The only thing in our county that resembled a hill is the Cross Island Expressway bridge on Hilton Head Island.  This bridge has what I would guess to be a 6%  to 7% grade for about 3/10’s of a mile.  On two occasions I rode back and forth over that bridge about 10 times each to get a little bit of hill work.  Other than that it was ride Sally ride.

In my next blog I will talk about the equipment I chose to take and what I learned about packing for such a trip.