Blue Ridge Bliss – Part One

Timeline: June 11-18

We returned home from the west coast with one imperative, start riding our bikes as much as we could to make up for the lack of training our busy spring travel schedule had caused. We had committed to (as in signing up and paying money) a weeklong 330-mile bicycle tour on the Blue Ridge Parkway through Adventure Cycling. While the total miles didn’t bother us, averaging between 45 and 60 miles per day, it was the 30,000 feet of climbing that would challenge us the most.

Route Profile

Route Profile

Weather permitting, always a dicey proposition here in North Carolina, we started putting miles into our legs and rode as steady as we could for the next month, gradually accumulating what we hoped would be enough physical conditioning to get us through the tour. Our rush to train culminated with a 63.2 mile charity ride (The Cannonball’s Ride for Pride) on Saturday June 4th, which we accomplished in good form, leaving us fairly confident that we’d not embarrass ourselves too badly when we started the tour a week later.

Ride for Pride

Saturday afternoon June 11th found us heading up I-77 to Fancy Gap, Virginia, a drive of about two hours. We arrived at the Fancy Gap KOA around 4pm and were directed to the area where our group was quartered. It’s a pretty nice campground, not your typical flat lot KOA with neat rows of campsites. It’s in the foothills so the layout follows the contours of the hillside; we were situated on the backside of the facility, near a covered picnic area that would be the gathering place for our meals and briefings.

Fancy Gap KOA Map

Fancy Gap KOA Map

We were greeted at the site by two of the staff members we’d get to know much better in the coming week, Sue and Marianne. They showed us where we could set up the tent, which we did in short order, providing us with some time to relax before the scheduled briefing at 5pm and dinner at 6pm. We’d brought a few beers along just in case we’d not have access to any that first night, only to find out later that this would not be a concern as staff made regular beer and wine runs. All we needed to do was state a preference and add money commiserate with our rate of consumption to the drink fund jar.

Sites Near Ours

Sites Near Ours

We gathered at the appointed hour with a short warm up from our tour leader, Greg Edwards and then the staff was introduced, with each telling us about themself and providing valuable information about the week ahead. These first impressions inadequately prepared us for how supportive and friendly these folks would be throughout the week. It just proves that one shouldn’t judge quickly, instead allowing someone to demonstrate his or her true self over time.

We’ve been on a number of bike tours and so weren’t quite sure what to expect on the food front. Often what is furnished is hearty and filling but doesn’t lift the spirit, just some variation of camp food. We were totally knocked out when we lined up to sample that first night’s meal, foretelling a week of what turned out to be restaurant quality food, delicious and imaginatively prepared. We had fish every night, along with a pork or chicken dish, something for the vegetarians and a variety of side dishes.

Dinner Sunday Night

Dinner Sunday Night

Breakfast was always an attractive offering; bacon and eggs dishes for those who could handle something heavy like that before riding. As I can’t, I hit the hot home made oatmeal each morning with cereal and yoghurt also available. Our caterer and his wife were from the area and relied on local sources for their ingredients, often serving something freshly caught or butchered.

We drank a few more beers as we sat around post dinner, engaged in conversation with our fellow tour participants. There were eighteen in total, down from a full capacity of twenty-five. In years past Adventure Cycling would have hosted a contingent of forty, but the National Park Service will now only issue a permit to access the Parkway for twenty-five. We were glad that they continued to offer this tour as fully supported, as the lower participant count must make it tough financially to cover the cost of the caterer.

Rest Stop Grub

Rest Stop Grub

From this point on each day would have a similar rhythm, wake around 6am, eat breakfast, stretch, get dressed, break camp, and try to be on the road by 7:30. Our first day would be the easiest of the tour, from Fancy Gap to Floyd, just a little over 43 miles with 3,381 feet of climbing. Here is part of the ride description from the tour brochure:

Today, we’ll pass the 1892 Mayberry Trading Post (could this be where Andy got the name for his fictional town?) and then, at Milepost 176.1, arrive at Mabry Mill, one of the most photographed spots on the Blue Ridge. Here, at a restored gristmill/sawmill/woodworking shop and blacksmith shop, docents demonstrate basket weaving, seat caning, spinning, and more old-time mountain skills.

Mabry Mill

Mabry Mill

We arrived at the Eco Lodge just outside of Floyd and set up camp, then after showering and changing went into town with others from our group. The entire stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway is known as the home for local music and the Floyd Country Store hosts a weekly jam session on Sunday afternoons, the first half devoted to Old-Time Music and the second to Bluegrass. We dropped in to listen to the music for a bit; it didn’t take much as what gets played is long passages of the same chord progression to accommodate a crowd composed of players of all skill levels.

Jam Session at Floyd Country Store

Jam Session at Floyd Country Store

We walked around town window shopping and stopping at a few places and then returned to camp and another fine meal. With long days of riding ahead of us bedtime comes early enough and we dropped off to sleep around 10pm each night. The next day would bring longer miles and even more climbing. We’d need the rest.

One of Many Gorgeous Views

One of Many Gorgeous Views

Links

Adventure Cycling: https://www.adventurecycling.org/

Blue Ridge Bliss Tour: https://www.adventurecycling.org/guided-tours/fully-supported-tours/2016-blue-ridge-bliss-va/

Fancy Gap KOA: http://koa.com/campgrounds/fancy-gap/

The Floyd Country Store: http://www.floydcountrystore.com/

 

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