Timeline: June 11-18
Our second day out (Monday) at a shade under 50 miles would also be one of our easier outings, as we worked our way slowly up the Parkway to the serious mileage and climbing we’d be tackling later in the week. So far the weather gods had smiled favorably on us, bringing mild temperatures, low humidity and no rain. This would hold for the rest of the week until our second to the last day when all hell would break loose. But that is for a future telling.
I felt pretty good on the bike that day and maintained a good pace throughout, taking in some extra miles towards the end to visit the Mill Mountain Star as described in the tour literature:
Floyd to Vinton, VA, 49 miles. We’ll enjoy another fabulous day of finding our way through a rolling landscape of homesteads tucked against low hills, trickling streams, grassy knobs, and distant farmhouses. Characterized as our easier day of riding, the parkway drops down into the Roanoke Valley as we stay a stone’s throw east of the city of Roanoke. Riders looking for a challenge can add up to ten miles of serious climbing to take in the view of Roanoke from Roanoke Mountain or the Mill Mountain Star, the world’s largest freestanding, illuminated man-made star, constructed in 1949 at the top of Mill Mountain.
Camp that night was another private facility used for conferencing like the Eco Lodge the night before with one minor exception; it didn’t have showers. The tour leaders though had made arrangements with a spa in Roanoke and we shuttled a few miles there to spend time getting cleaned up and to use the facilities, especially the whirlpool bath and sauna.
By now we were getting to know the other tour participants pretty well and the evening was filled with much conversation. I had the tour mechanic, Don, do a bit of work on the Lightspeed (my road bike), adjusting the front shifter and replacing my rear brake pads in anticipation of some serious descending over the next couple of days.
The next morning (Tuesday) brought the beginning of multiple days of increased mileage and climbing. Our challenge for this segment would be to ascend 5,500 feet (multiple ups and downs that accumulate to the total) and then finish with a long downhill to camp. As would occur multiple times in the ensuing days, each time I thought that I had crested a climb, I’d ride around a corner to glimpse yet more uphill. For long stretches it seemed like for every 200 to 500 feet you went up, you’d give it back on a downhill before beginning the next series of climbs. It was rough going. As described by the tour, we did ascend to the highest point on the Parkway in Virginia:
Vinton to Monroe, 54 miles. As we leave Vinton, we will wake up our legs with a nice six mile climb to Great Valley Overlook, then continue north toward the famous trio of mountains known as Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Apple Orchard. We’ll find ourselves soaking in the magnificent vista at the highest point on the parkway in the state of Virginia (3950’). The day ends with a sweet thirteen-mile downhill to the beautiful James River, the lowest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway at just 649 feet. We will camp just past the James River Visitor Center.
Our stop that night was the Lynchburg NW/Blue Ridge Parkway KOA about two miles off the Parkway. A nice facility with a swimming pool, laundry room, and plentiful clean restrooms and showers. Before dinner our tour leader Greg had arranged for a local musician, Tim Seaman, to speak to us about his specialty, the hammered Dulcimer, and to play it and a number of other instruments for about an hour. It was music very much in harmony with the mountainous scenery we’d been spending time in, ethereal and haunting.
Wednesday morning dawned bright and clear, another good day of weather to frame one of the hardest of the trip, nearly 70 miles and 6,716 feet of climbing. The long downhill to camp yesterday meant having to gain that altitude back, which we did after pedaling around Roanoke, the busiest day traffic wise of the tour with lots of commuter’s using the Parkway for the first 30 minutes of riding. That being said, I felt pretty good the whole day riding consistently, staying within myself, not pushing for more than I had to give. Here is how the route is described by the tour:
Monroe to Waynesboro, 69 miles. You know it will be uphill today as we start at 649 feet climbing twelve miles to our first significant overlook, Whites Gap (2567’). We’ll ride the ridge most of the day as we stretch toward the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge Parkway and begin the gradual downhill slope toward the end of the parkway. We finish the day at Milepost 0 of the Blue Ridge Parkway and a nice three-mile downhill scream into camp for the night.
We finished the day at mile zero of the Parkway (we’d complete the tour the next two days on its continuation, the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park), pulled off the road and then finished the day with a three mile ride through Waynesboro to Ridgeview Park, home to the city’s large swimming pool and our showers for the night. It’s a spacious park and we were situated at one end near a pavilion that we’d use for meals and map talk. We set up our tent under large sheltering trees on deep grass, a perfect cushion guaranteed to bring a good night’s sleep if 70 miles of hard riding didn’t get to us first.
Dinner that night, in addition to almond crusted Tilapia, included a hearty meat sauce spaghetti, just the thing to reward us for a good day’s effort and more to come the next morning. It was the first meal where we had the type of food you’d typically get on a bike tour, that is pasta, and yet this treatment, along with the fish, took it to a whole new level. There was the threat of rain so we made sure the tent was buttoned up tight and hit the sack early, anticipating another long day in the saddle on Thursday.
Mill Mountain Star: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roanoke_Star
Lynchburg NW/Blue Ridge Parkway KOA: http://koa.com/campgrounds/lynchburg/
Tim Seaman: http://timothyseaman.com/en/