Tuesday, April 6, 2010

O' the Hills

These last few days have been a bit crazy with lots of ups and downs in both terrain and attitude. I've learned quite a bit, including many things that I constantly have to relearn.

One of the most important realizations I had was how important mental preparation really is. As I rode out of Walhalla, SC in the afternoon heat (mid 80s), the real climbing began. I was back into the mountains, doing long, sustained climbs that I haven't done since New Mexico. I was certain that my tire pressure was low, my brakes were rubbing, or someone had hooked a tow line to me; there was no way I could be working so hard for a mere 4mph! But no, I'd just forgotten how what climbing was like. It was frustrating that I've been riding over 6 months now and yet felt like I'd just started it hurt so bad. During the last month, the only times I even shifted were for bridges; so, mentally I just had unrealistic expectations.

A taste of the the road up, hard but beautiful and twisty.

I struggled all afternoon and into the evening. By the time I made it to Highlands, NC at the top I was so exhausted I took a wrong turn and ended up riding an extra 3 miles uphill before realizing it. Frustrated, I set up camp only to find that my fuel had been leaking and somehow penetrated my dry bag, covering my tent in white gas. I was so spent, I was overwhelmed. Both mentally and physically this was maybe the most difficult day of my trip (at least top three). For the first time I started to doubt whether I could actually do this ride. All I could do was tell myself to give it two more days, then I was sure I'd be fine, then go to sleep.

I didn't need two days. The next day was incredible. It began with a fast and fun 15 mile winding downhill, some beautiful waterfalls, and an unexpected surprise. In Franklin, NC I saw an event in progress and stopped to see what was going on. It turned out to be a festival for AT thru-hikers. Exploring the booths, talking with folks, and listening to a local bluegrass band was just what I needed. There were also two speakers at the event: Jennifer Pharr Davis, the current women's record holder for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 57 days, and Gene Espe, the 2nd person to thru-hike the AT, back in 1951.

Dry Falls, just below Highlands, NC. Named such because you can walk under it without getting wet, though the mist is pretty strong.
Meeting Jennifer and listening to her speak was truly inspiring. Hearing another young, strong, adventurous, woman speak about her experiences of solo long distance hiking, her ups and downs, and how much she's accomplished was amazing. Somehow it worked out perfectly that just went I was doubting myself, I was able to meet her and regain my focus and determination. (It also renewed my dreams of doing a long hike.) I met a number of folk at this event who'd walked/hiked all directions in this country; I love meeting people for which this type of thing is not just a one-time trip, but a lifestyle!

With Jennifer and Scot Ward. (Scot is another crazy adventurer, having hiked and cycled all over this country and back again).
Leaving the festival, I felt a could conquer any mountain and had a smile back on my face. The mountains here are gorgeous, clear rivers flowing alongside the road, and constantly twisting and turning up and down made for once again interesting riding. However, that evening I got another surprise with the road I'd planned on taking closed due to a rock-slide.

I spent a peaceful night up on a ridge contemplating my next move. (A huge thanks to Kyle for looking up routes and info for me since I had no other way to get it). I awoke Easter morning to the singing of a sunrise service just a few hundred yards from where I camped. Back on the road I met Ronnie Justice who was out to scout a day hike for his boy scouts who'd be up there doing a chili fed for the AT hikers. With the encouragement from others, I decided to see if I could get through the closure.

The view Easter morning

Ronnie Justice, an incredibly friendly and generous man.

More idyllic riding.

Unfortunately, my luck didn't extend that far. Being Easter, I'd hoped the road would be unguarded, but at the TN boarder two men had no heart and refused to let me through. That meant I had to ride a 100+ mile detour with an extra 4000' climb. I was upset, more so because of their attitudes then for turning me around. The sheriff told me right off, " I could arrest you and take you to jail just for being here," I'd crossed 10' beyond the blockade so that I could talk to them. I know they were just doing their job, but they didn't have to be so smug and unfriendly.
Roadblock on the NC side.
This is the section of road I missed out on. Very popular for motorcyclists.
The detour took me over the Cherohala Skyway with a steady 12 mile climb (again in the heat of the day). However, after that first rough day of climbing, I'd remembered how to enjoy it again, accepting the 4-5 mph and just chugging along. This whole area is hugely popular with motorcyclist due to the views and twisting roads, and I met a number of very nice folks.

At the Chellowa Dam

View of the mountains

After all that climbing my entire body was sore. I hadn't felt that since my first days on the road. Back down in the lowlands, I met a guy who'd ridden a horse and mule for eleven months from West Virginia to Texas and back as a teenager. I'm always amazed at some of the things people do; it's pretty cool.
Finally, I reached the other end of the closure after 115 miles to avoid a 15 mile section of road. I ran into Jeff who was cycling from Knoxville to Atlanta and had also been caught by the closure. He filled my water bottles as I'd been lazy and neglected to do so, not knowing I had a 7 mile climb ahead-yes again in the 80s. I've got to get better about my timing, every single big climb I've done lately has been right at 2-3pm. I did enjoy multiple dunks in the lakes and streams yesterday, that helped a lot.

The other end of the closure.

Riding up the Foothills Parkway, bordering the Smokey's.
Presently, I'm in Townsend, TN, just on the western edge of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I'm thinking of taking today a little easy with a shorter ride and some hiking in order to rest my legs a little before the huge climb over the Smokey's, then the continuous climbing of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Gone are the easy 90 mile days, now I'm having to work hard for 70 miles again; at least I'm back in that mindset.


  1. Hey,

    This is Jeff the biker who filled your water bottles. Glad to see you made it up-and-over the foothills parkway... Hope we cross paths again...maybe on a bike tour. I envy you for taking your great journey. I bike anywhere there's no wars going on, so keep me in mind for your next big adventure...

    --Jeff (bicycle_everywhere_jeff@hotmail.com)

  2. Hi, Robin, Ronnie Justice here. I hate to learn that you got busted at the Tenn. border by the not so friendly men in blue. What a detour! Talked with my friend Dan Rogers today who met you at the AT thru hikers gathering in Franklin. He's a Scouter, too, and has walked the AT and across the US of A! It's a small world, isn't it? Good luck with the rest of your ride. If you are ever back in our area and need help, give me a shout (drjjustice at verizon dot net).