You’ve probably noticed by the clarity, and photography, that Laney’s been doing most of the posting lately. She took over the keyboard for a couple reasons, the main being that we only have one keyboard. I don’t lack motivation to write, but I’ve found the process doesn’t go well with camping. Too much dirt, a lack of tables/power outlets, trying to find a place to prop a phone up in your nylon cave while yoga posing for maximum typing efficiency and minimum kicking of your partner–it just doesn’t usually come together. I guess Laney makes better use of our cafe time. I’m too busy drinking coffee to do much else usually.
Ok… so we left you in Asheville, the artisan hippie midpoint in our grand parkway to parkway plan, conceived in Louisiana. As a cyclist, looking at maps of the eastern US, the Natchez Trace Parkway (NTP) and Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), once you leave aside the Inconvenience of Tennessee (IOT), start looking like I-5 to a tourer who’s been stitching a route together from half forgotten scraps of country road. A grand north-south thoroughfare! no traffic controls for 900 miles! max speed limit 45! free calf massages in every campground! The roads in Louisiana could make anyone a dreamer.
So with great anticipation, and an assist from Barney and his bike rack, we embarked from the Folk Art Museum on the BRP just outside of Asheville. This is a recommended stop for anyone in the area. Best exhibits: woodcuts, hand-dyed and quilted abstract fabric art, and highly impractical yet exquisite turned wood… vessels? sculptures? Sorry readers, photography not allowed.
With a greater appreciation of the potential inner form of the dense stands of trees around us, we slowly started winding our way toward the tallest prominence east of the Mississippi, Mt. Mitchell. Slower than usual, since the BRP lacks services directly on the route. And since “Ridge” is truly the most apt part of the name, any side excursions mean a steep decent and then a big climb for that tasty burger you were contemplating at the end of the day. Our saddlebags bulged with more than the usual food.
Our abundance of provisions actually occasioned a full-on comedy of errors later that evening. After a lot of climbing, stunning vegetated landscapes rippling out under endless clouds, we pulled into an abandoned picnic area (one of many we’d appropriate over the next week, as almost all facilities on the BRP are closed in April) and ran through our usual campy rituals with one addition–the hanging of the food. For the first time on the trip, we actually had to worry about some ravenous, cub-laden mother bear reminding us of our place in nature sometime in the middle of the night.
So we begin the ceremony: solemnly heft a rock and assess for proper size and weight; walk slowly in circles, eyes heavenward until a branch of the height and length as proscribed by those backpackers who came before you appears; firmly attach rock to your length of chord, toss over branch, haul up food and tie off by whatever method you suspect the bear will deem less of a joke when she stumbles across it. I always felt like the best potential for comedy lay in the step where you tie something to a rock and throw it high directly over your head, or when the bear easily dispatches all your precautions with some stupid animal trick. However that night, if you watched from the bushes, you would have seen two humans so completely overladen with Clif Bars, tins of fish, tortillas, and bags of nuts that even lifting it off the ground was a serious undertaking. With the weight of it all and the friction of the rope, we were completely defeated at the start. I put on gloves so I could pull harder, but with all of our combined straining, the rope only stretched, and the food undulated gently five feet off the ground, assailable by an enterprising raccoon. Finally we found a really long branch and managed to push/pull our food out of danger and retired to the tent to contemplate the simpler days of January, when my main problem was how to hoist a half-ton log into the air.
Fortunately, the steepness of the BRP, and our expedition-weight packing wasn’t as much of a concern as it might be normally. While riding less than 60 miles in a day usually makes both of us a little antsy, we’d scheduled a visit with my Mom in Charlottesville and it turned out we’d left ourselves plenty of time to dawdle. A forecast of rain in the afternoon seemed like a good excuse to ride 20 miles and then spend some quality time assessing my recent hammock purchase.
The rain showed up lighter and later than promised, and we scoffed a little at pessimistic weather forecasting. Turns out the clouds were not playing, and for the next few days they let us know about it. The temperature dropped from “chill that feels nice to exercise in” to “oh wow, that’s ice in my beard” over the next few days. We both started to realize how quickly temperature modulation gets difficult in cold, hilly terrain. Despite the cold, you still sweat pack-muling your way up these ancient hills, then thanks to the wonders of evaporative cooling… frostbite! Kidding a little, but I started spending a lot of time mentally designing layers of clothing that could be removed and replaced quickly while riding a bike (ask me about my Velcro cape!). The low point came one evening when we had to move the tent from its original pitch to a more sheltered one behind a dumpster for the dual purpose of avoiding a tree falling on us in the night and making sure the tent didn’t collapse in the wind.
We woke up to an inch of snow, and rangers who drove through the parking lot without bothering to chastise us for camping illegally in a picnic area. I don’t blame them as I usually try to avoid talking to the obviously insane myself.
Laney, modeling an experimental cold-weather riding outfit. Yes that is a sock on her hand. (I must add, Ben was the one who inspired the ever fashionable sock-mitten. To my distaste, they worked pretty darn well)