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.

James River

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