Friday, April 30, 2010

All the way into NYC

Well, I've been putting off getting this post for awhile. It's been a fun but very busy past week +. I made it into New York City yesterday and have some time to relax here while staying with my friend so here it goes...

Leaving Virgina I took the historic Whites Ferry over the Potomac River and into Maryland where I rode the C&O Canal towards DC. It was rainy all day and I didn't know the trail I was going to ride on was unpaved, so my bike was filthy in short time. The trial was very nice though, almost no other people and in pretty good shape.

Riding the C&O Canal

That night I was happy to have a place to stay with the sister of one of my Forest Service supervisors. Sue welcomed me into her home, helped me clean up my bike and made me right at home with a good meal. It's a lot of fun to meet new people with whom I have common threads and especially who are so kind.

With Sue

Next it was the ride into Washington DC to meet up with Raya and find my sister. I'd met Raya back in Louisiana and she'd offered her place just outside of DC. It was fabulous to see Raya again, see her work (she's an art professor at Corcoran College of Art and Design, just a block from the White House), and her lovely community of Glen Echo, MD. It was also such a treat to be able to meet up with Holly in DC (since I knew I wouldn't make it to Alaska on this trip), catch up with her and have someone to explore the city with.

We walked all over, seeing the sites, wandering through museums, and eating some great food. One of Holly's college friends and her younger sister also happened to be visiting DC so we were able to go to a nice dinner with them as well.

Holly and Me (yup, per usual I got to wear her clothes for a little change from my carharts and t-shirts)

While relaxing out on the National Mall, Holly decided to do a strength workout. I joined her for what I could do in a skirt as some of the endless groups of passing students cheered us on.

After Holly flew out, I met up with Jeff who'd I'd met touring down in Tennessee. He happened to be in the area and having used to live in DC offered to show me around. The weather wasn't great that day, but I got a good tour of the city and a world-wide tourer to chat with for the day.

Ready to ride with Jeff

Raya outside her house with some of her sculptures

Washington Monument and Reflection Pool

The incredibly generous person Raya is, she offered me to stay as long as I wanted. With the Climate Rally, a celebration of the 40th Earth Day and push for comprehensive climate legislation, I opted to stay another day. The forecasts threatened rain and thunder storms, but the weather held out and even turned beautiful in the afternoon. The day was spent on the Mall with over 60 speakers and numerous musical acts. Though many people were just there for the music (with The Roots, John Legend, Jimmy Cliff, Sting, and Joss Stone some of the biggest names), it was a large crowd estimated at 150,000. Most of the speeches were very short but some were very good and inspiring. The speakers were a variety of government officials, heads of nonprofits, students, athletes, and celebrities.

A view of the Rally early in the afternoon (before the crowds really built up)

Michael (who I also met down to LA) roasting one of Raya's homemade marshmallows. They were fantastic!

Next it was off to NYC. I rode out of Maryland in some heavy thunder storms and made it across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge by hitchhiking (no bikes allowed and the only other options being a $30 shuttle or a two day ride around the bay). That night, while sitting in my tent, for the second time on this trip I heard: "Come out with your hands up!" Ugh, not again. I'd gone into some woods off the road, but was across from a house. An old women there had seen me go into the forest and called the police reporting a person "on a moped who might be living in the woods." The worst part was that I'd been sitting in my sleeping bag without pants and tried getting them on before getting out of my tent. The officers were getting impatient so I had to pull my pants up as I stepped out of the tent. They turned out to be very nice once I explained my situation. They ran my ID and talked with the property owner who'd be called out to the scene. He didn't have a problem with my staying the night, so that was that.

The ride through Delaware was short (only 45 miles, such a small state), but that was fine with me. The roads were good but chicken farms were everywhere and semis with chickens off to slaughter passed frequently; it did not smell good. I then took a nice long ferry ride to Cape May, New Jersey. As soon as I got into New Jersey, the wind hit me and didn't let up with whole way through the state. I tried riding the coast, but it was endless development and a battle with the winds, not too much fun. After riding through Atlantic City (thought I should see it, but 7am off season was the perfect time being that most everything was closed and very few people were out), I cut inland hoping to escape a little of the wind, I'm not sure if it helped much.

The boardwalk in Atlantic City

I can't say I liked much of New Jersey. The wind sure didn't help, but it just wasn't very nice, especially compared to Maryland and Virginia. Once I started to get close to NYC, Jersey got really bad. The last 2 hours of riding were pure survival, with very busy, large roads I couldn't avoid full of trucks and fast moving traffic. It was not any fun, but I made it through and got out to the harbor for an excellent view of Manhattan.

Looking out at Manhattan

My friend, Colin, met me and we took the ferry across to NYC. He then rode me into the city "the least traumatic way" along a bike path and strangely quiet roads; it was great!

Colin, ready to guide me through the city.

New York is of course very overwhelming for me. The streets seem dark with such tall buildings, the noise and people are everywhere. It's wonderful to have Colin's apartment here in Manhattan as a retreat to relax. Colin's parents are also in town visiting, so we went out to dinner last night and walked to and around Central Park this morning.

So many people.

In Central Park

With Colin off at work, I'm taking it easy this evening, realizing I'm worn out. It was a push to get here from DC, now to enjoy and recoup, then continue north to Maine!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive

This past week, and nearly 500 miles, I've been within National Park Service lands riding the ridge line of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The views have been fabulous and the riding tough. I'll admit that I'm all right being done with mountains for a little while-at least me body sure needs the break.

The Acton Family I stayed with in Asheville (Don, Joanie, Gunnar, and McKenzie). Can you tell they're a big bike family?

Although the weather's been great, it's still early season here, meaning light traffic but in an area with already few services, most all are still closed. That meant I had to be sure and have lots of food and plan water carefully ( I do have a filter if I need it, but facets are just so much easier!). Some sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are still closed due to rock slides or down trees. North Carolina had a particularly harsh winter and the amount of trees down is overwhelming. Crews were working on one closed section which I was able to get through, but another hadn't yet been touched. Seeing the number of down trees I'd have to climb over just at the beginning I opted for the detour.

My favorite section of this stretch was in North Carolina around Lineville-Grandfather Mt. area. The scenery was truly spectacular with rocky peaks and stunning views. Many other areas are also quite nice, just didn't stand out as much. I've managed a few little hikes to falls and up peaks. Each time I'm on the trails I get comments as to why I'd hike when already biking; I tell people the views are to good to miss.

My second day riding out of Asheville my rear tire blew out. I'd expected that one to get me to New York City so was disappointed-it was toast. Fortunately I had an old tire, though it was worn near to threads (I won't throw away a tire unless I have a spare-just for cases like this). I still had 150 miles and 2.5 day to the next town. Those were a nervous few days, unsure if I'd make it and preparing to hitchhike. With just two flats and two patches to the tire I made it to Roanoke, Virginia for a new tire. It was a huge relief, especially not to have to worry about a tire blowing out down these long hills!

Views from the Blue Ridge Parkway:

Lineville Falls

Road closure

The Viaduct around Grandfather Mt.

The dogwoods and redbuds are out in full color and just gorgeous!

During this trip I've gained a much greater appreciation for my body as I constantly test just what it can do. Having competed in athletics my whole life, I did have some of this before; but this is different, being pure endurance and so long-running. On numerous days I've ridden myself beyond exhaustion either to try and reach a goal for the day or to find a camping spot. Somehow my body has always held out and I've been able to ride again the next day.
However, there are times like these past few days where I wake up exhausted, take a long time to get moving, and then struggle through the day not knowing if my body can take another. Once my body goes my mind soon follows. Each uphill became too long, the downhills too cold, my back hurt, feet ached, the drivers made dangerous passes or came too close, and I questioned whether I should leave the mountains and retreat to the flats; it got hard to enjoy the riding. On days like that it becomes a mind game to keep myself moving forward. I get through it by constantly setting little goals throughout the day: telling myself to just get around that corner, up that hill, or to the next mile post, then the next, mile after mile. I ride slower, take more breaks, and may not get me usual miles, but I manage to keep plugging on.
At times like that I know it's past time to give my body a rest. However, resting is one of those things I just can't do well on this trip. It's hard to stop, and when I do I'm usually moving-hiking, riding, walking, eager to explore a new area. Even on these past days when I've been so tried, if I stopped riding before 7pm, I couldn't just rest, I'd go out on little runs and when I couldn't run any more I'd walk. It got to the point one evening where I was limping around a lake. It's hard to stay still and relax.

Views from Shenandoah National Park (Skyline Drive):

I'm in Front Royal now, having left Shenandoah and headed for D.C. My sister is going to be there for a White House visit with the Olympic Team and staying a little longer. That's one of the reasons I've been rushing this time around-in order to catch her. After pushing hard this past week I can take it a little easy to get to DC so should recover a bit.
So, it's not been over 7 months on the road (a week ago), but I haven't done stats in a long time so here are my 7 month stats:
Miles: 8808.3
Flats: 36
Tubes: 15
Tires: 5
Jars of PB: 25
Nights under a roof: 67
Warmshowers/Couchsurfing hosts: 13
States: 17
National Parks: 26
Bike-free days: 29
100+ miles days: 7
Rain: 31
Riding in Rain: 17
Riding with a companion: 6
Books: 13
Ferries: 4
Fuel: 2.5 gal

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Living the Dream

Entering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I was back in my element. The mountains were beautiful, the forest floor was carpeted in blooming trillium, with streams and waterfalls abound, blue sky's and hot weather. I felt strong riding and did a few hikes as well on which my body felt amazing. It was great to do something active off the bike (it's been a long time), especially to get up some peaks and ridges for the fabulous views.

One of my favorite flowers!

Having been awhile since I'd been in a national park, not to mention the most visited national park, I'd forgotten how bad the traffic could be. Being spring break time also didn't help. Most vehicles were very patient, only got screamed at/cussed out by one. All of the side roads in the park are closed for repaving, so everyone was confined to the main road going up and over the mountains, though there are a number of pull outs, there is no shoulder and it's a steady climb with a narrow, winding road.

Waterfall along the side of the road.

On my first little hike in the park I made the mistake of doing a 1.3 mile paved trail to a waterfall. I felt like I was waiting in line as I walked up the path, then waited to see the fall, waited to splash water on my face, then quickly retreated. Although it's nice to see so many folks out enjoying the day and getting a walk in, I can't really enjoy nature when I feel claustrophobic.

Part of the crowd at Laurel Falls

The road up.

Late in the afternoon I made it to my next trail head, for Chimney Top. This time my timing was right; most folks had already left, of those still around all were hiking down, and the temps had cooled down. This was also a much more difficult trail, through only 4miles to the peak. Having changed into my trail shoes I felt so good and sped up the trail. I then had the summit to myself the watch the sun start to go down then ran back down the trail. I hadn't felt this good in months! Although it's difficult for most people to understand, I haven't felt in shape for the last few months. Now that I've been climbing again and working my body harder then I have for a long time, I've been whipped back into shape. I still climb slowly, but feel better, especially off the bike.

The summit of Chimney Top

Oh how I love self portraits, but I was VERY happy!

Instead of feeling like I was on a bike tour, these two days in the park felt like I was hiking and just riding from trail head to trail head, a nice change. The next morning I got an early start up another nice trail along many streams and up to some nice bluffs, running back down the hoards had begin up, I was glad to have missed most of them.

Water is everywhere!

Climbing up to the top at Newfound Gap.

Newfound Gap

Of course, up at the top of the road, the parking lot was full and people were everywhere. I'd planned on another hike a ways on the Appalachian Trail, but was immediately distracted. I first ran into Cheryl, who was out on a week long hike to celebrate her 60th birthday and a pleasure to talk with.


Then the AT thru-hikers started coming. Gumbo was way ahead of the group he'd been hiking with (thru-hikers all have trail names) so got to chat with him awhile. It's always great to find kindred spirits on adventures, especially doing something I'd always dreamed of (though I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail). Soon more and more hikers showed up, taking a break at the Gap, most planning to hitch a ride into a nearby town. Then the "trail angels" arrived to do some "trail magic" (yes, these are the terms used on the AT). Two guys who'd hiked the trail last year, along with another friend came up for the day to do a bbq for thru-hikers. They let me join in and I loved sitting around talking with all the hikers abut their experiences thus far (all about just two weeks into their trips) and eating awesome baked good, cold drinks and boca burgers. I wish bikers had road angels! I think they had ~25 hikers come by that day.

trail magic

Trail Angels: Jukebox Hero, Double Vision, and Hannah

I took a little break from the party to run a few miles up along the ridge to one of the shelters. Parts of the trail were still pretty snowy or muddy, but was good trail running. I had into a group with a women who'd broken her ankle, one of the few back country injuries I've come across, but they didn't need my help. I'm forgetting all my WFR training and want to practice! Oh well, I passed the ranger hiking up on my way down, hopefully they got her out before dark.

Icewater Shelter, this is such a different world of hiking then I grew up in, strange stuff.


Late in the afternoon I finally rode downhill to start on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 20 mile downhills are pretty great. At the bottom they had a bunch of cultural exhibits, giving a feel for life in Appalachia.

Grist Mill

Homestead, had lots of farm buildings/barn as well.

Once on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469 mile road from the Great Smoky Mountains NP in North Carolina up to Shenandoah NP in Virginia run by the Parks Service, it was back to steady climbing. The weather had been so warm and clear the last number of days that I hadn't checked the weather and was surprised by a huge thunder storm that came through. My rain jacket was buried in my panniers and I'd hoped the storm would be quick, so once it started pouring and the wind picked up I managed to dash under some rhodies for a little protection. However, being soaked through, the cold soon hit me and I dug out my rain jacket.

The rain died down a little so I started back up the climb, happy to warm up a little. Unfortunately this was not just a few hour storm, i made it up to a closed visitor center and ducked into a restroom entry for cover. With some chocolate and a dry shirt, I decided staying on the parkway above 5000' wasn't an option. Visibility was terrible and the wind and rain wasn't letting up.

Hiding in the bathroom at Waterrock Knob.

The lower I got the better the visibility was but the harder the rain. Stopping in at a visitor center which had a few trees blow over that morning, I was told told that it was supposed to rain "hard and harder" into the night. I made my way to the Waynesville library for refuge. After seeing no sign of change I decided it was time to give in, there was no way I was going to set up a tent in that kind of rain. Maybe I've gone soft. I got advice of a responsible motel right across the street and dashed over. The room was more expensive then i wished, but I'd picked the wrong town for a cheap place. I got the room. during this trip I'd been dreaming of getting a pizza and just laying around watching TV all day-so after a long hot shower I made that dream come true. Although I did feel a bit guilty, it was great. Sometimes you've just got to spoil yourself a little.

Living the dream

The next morning was cool and windy with a short ride into Asheville. This is a place I've known I'd like from the way people described it and was very excited to explore. I took a little walking tour around downtown when I arrived, then met up with Don, my warmshowers host, who rode me to his house. Don, Joanie, Gunnar, and McKenzie have been outstanding hosts making my feel very comfortable and treating me so well. Don is a chiropractor and offered to give me an adjustment, my first ever. It was really interesting to find out what was out of alignment in my body and hear the philosophy behind the technique. Joanie does beautiful bead work and home schools her kids. They're a huge biking family, just having got two new tandems for their trip in Holland next week.

The next day in Asheville Don rode me to the other side of town, showing me an old nascar race track now turned into a course for track racing (bikes), then to a friends bike shop. After 8700 miles on my bike it was time to finally get some work done. I had my rear cassette, chain, and brake pads replaced. Then I explored the River Arts District and downtown, art galleries/studios are everywhere, along with street musicians making for a very beautiful and lively town. I immediately felt comfortable here and this is the one place in the south east that I could definitely see myself living.

Sights around town

The bike shop owner gave my number to her friend, Mike, who'd done a bunch of touring and leads the bike advocacy effort in town. Mike invited me to a friends barbecue that evening. It was a lot of fun to met so many new people, all extremely friendly and welcoming. This town just gets better and better!

The gang at the BBQ

Yesterday I rod e out to check out a year round farmers market, then to an outdoor shop to get some seam sealer and a new dry bag. I'm hoping that now I shouldn't have to replace much else the rest of my trip. Now it's back to the Parkway, hoping that I can get through the many miles of closures and that the roads aren't too bad.