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
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 created 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.
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 southbound 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.
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.