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.

top of hill

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

I’m No Lance Armstong

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New River Gorge Bridge

I never had a need for speed when cycling as if I were in the middle of a peleton on the final leg of the Tour de France while wearing the yellow jersey.  I ride for exercise, enjoyment of the surrounding scenery, and to have time to clear my head.  The only sounds I want to hear are the wind blowing past my ears and the sound of my tires meeting the pavement.

I became a serious rider when my job took me to the New River Gorge area near Lansing, West Virginia.  Riding in this mountainous area, at least in my mind, required that I have a mountain bike, although I did not do much off-road cyling.   I bought a 21-speed Specialized Hard Rock mountain bike and it served me well for many years and several thousand miles.

Later my work took me to Charleston, West Virginia, and along with a co-worker who was an avid rider, I began riding around Charleston after work and on weekends.  We would ride anywhere from 15 to 25 miles each time we went out.  By the way, Charleston is a great place to ride and is becoming more bike friendly.  After riding for several months my co-worker challenged me to ride my age, in miles, during the week of my birthday which was something he had been doing for years.  I had never done any long distance cycling but accepted the challenge and rode 55 miles in about 4 hours.  I kept this challenge the following year after moving to South Carolina and rode my age on that birthday.  While I still ride hundreds of miles a year I have not kept up that challenge.  But as I will describe in a later blog I came up with another way to challenge myself and move outside my cycling comfort zone.