Day One Elevation Profile

'Tour de Blue' Log:
Sunday 10/3
Day 1 - Blue Smoke and Black Rims

Wow. Just - wow. There are a lot off things one could write about a bike ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But today the story was the ride itself. The start was kinda shakey. So far I'd kill to have something happen on schedule; but there are two things you can't predict, fate and Hans. He warned me last night about the "photo shoot" he had planned for the start of the ride. Rubber chickens, Godzilla, whoopie cushions... he juggles rubber chickens you know. Mike and Karyn had not met Hans, so this was all new to them.

Quote of the day:
Karyn - "Do you dare me to leave Hans [behind]?"
Mike - "I'd pay you to leave Hans."

We got started at 9:45 AM.

After waiting to see the look on these guys' faces during the first climb I was not disappointed. It was a pretty silent climb to Waterrock Knob Visitor center, 18 miles and 3500' in net elevation away. And it took about three hours. Mike was riding Karyn's bike to get the benefit of the low gears. But at the visitor center he was heard to say, "... it doesn't matter. I know I'm gonna bonk." For those who don't know what bonking is, it is a the nutritional equivalent of a black hole. Your muscles may be willing, but you have run out of "glycogen", the body's most important source of ready energy. Hans didn't claim to mind the climb, but spent most of his time in the rear position. I felt pretty good.

The weather today was in the 60's and overcast. That meant we got to sweat on the climbs and shiver with the wind. It was jacket on, jacket off all day. Between this and eating we stopped about every 3 miles on average. Eating is not something you do when you are hungry on a ride like this. It's just something you do whether you are inclined to of not.

Heather showed up at Waterrock Knob. Turns out she is a photographer which is great for us. Much as we would have liked to be absorbed in our surroundings, we were mostly consumed (except for Hans who took time out to juggle rubber chickens for admiring spectators) with getting through the next 2700' climb to Richland Balsam, the highest point on the Parkway at 6050'. That climb took three hours. At 4:00pm we topped Richland Balsam, having gone 40 miles. Discussion shifted from how many miles we had to go, to how many hours of daylight we had left. Mike looked disgusted. Hans was non-committal, but kept pulling up the rear. I felt pretty good. In fact I had been leading on a lot of the climbs. Karyn kept making jokes about us riding in the van. Heather kept taking pictures. We had three hours of daylight left and about 40 miles to go.

One of the benefits of climbing up to a peak is that you know you have some descending coming to you. Mike gave up Karyn's bike for his Trek bike, which was less suited to big climbs, but much smoother and better balanced. I remember taking Mike on his first trail run some years ago. He was timid about it until the first time he fell. After that he got a glint in his eye and just took off running. He has always been like that. After seeing him struggle on the first 40 miles of today's ride, I'll have to admit I thought he was done for. Shoulda known better. Hans kept pulling up the rear and I kept feeling fine.

Descending a mountain alone can be intimidating, but descending with two buddies and a support van is envigorating. It's actually as hard as climbing. There is no room for error. You can't be sightseeing. You have to judge curves well before getting to them. And you have to use a lot of brake pad. I left a fair bit of black rubber on my rims. After Richland Balsam the next target was Mt. Pisagah. But by now we started noticing overlooks that couldn't be, um, well, overlooked. the Smoky Mountains hide many of their secrets until the late afternoon when the air clears and a light haze plays with sunlight and depth perception like a kaleidoscope.

Hans was still pulling up the ear. Mike looked stronger. I felt good, but had little voices in my brain saying "eat". At Mount Pisgah we had a big decision to make. There were 45 minutes of sunlight left, about 15 miles to go and the elevation chart showed a 900' spike in our way. Being the trained accountant, Mike pulled out the data source he had used for our chart elevations and said, "I'll bet this spiked data point is a typo." After explaining his theory I said, "Man, I'd rather do this descent now 'cause it's gonna be cold in the mornin'. We decided to chance it, even Hans who had been more silent today than anyone at sea level will ever believe.

After that it's kind of a blur. Mike took the lead as he is the best descender. I was right on his tail, then Hans. Karyn drove the van behind us, then Heather in Hans' Mustang. I don't know where that 900' spike was supposed to be, but Mike was right. It was a typo. With Karyn and Heather behind us we never had to worry about traffic; they held it off. The tunnels on that stretch of the BRP are long, and doubly dark. Karyn followed us into them, turning on high beams to make it easier for us to see. It was a long, long, fast descent. Mike, then me, then Hans.

Then I bonked. Yup. Going down hill. To make a long story short I should never have turned down that RC Cola Karyn offered me at Mt. Pisgah. Mike was on fire. He pulled away. I felt my brains go numb and started looking at my odometer wishing the last few miles would bloody go away. Hans took pity on me, rode beside me, gave me his last half Power Bar, then passed me. That's the way it ended. Mike, Hans, me. But we did the distance.

Confidence is something you earn. I started out the day pretty confidently because I had already done a big mountain climb out here four weeks ago and knew I could do it. Hans and Mike just joined the club, so it's a whole new ball game.


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