Vermont to DC via Blue Ridge Parkway


Fall 2011


Denis Kertz, ©2011


Day 15: Mon, Sep 19, 2011 - Cumberland, MD to Jordan's Junction, MD [87.6, 8:44:47, 9.9 mph, 470']

I went downstairs for the breakfast buffet and was surprised to find the place packed at about 6:45.  I had to grab a chair from the Internet PC station in the same room for a place to sit.  I discovered there was no hostess or waitress and eventually figured out that breakfast was included in the stay.  I loaded up on just about everything.


When I left shortly after 8am I was able to ride right onto the C&O Canal from the parking lot.  My goal was to get to Harpers Ferry in two days, a total of 120 miles, and ideally I wanted to get there early tomorrow to have some time to look around.  So I was figuring on something like 80 miles today.  The good news is that the canal path had hiker-biker campsites every 5-10 miles so you could pretty much ride as far as you wanted and be close to a campsite that didn't cost anything and had water and a chemical toilet.  That made accommodation planning easy.


The canal path varied in consistency with crushed gravel and hard packed dirt and occasional pot holes with water.  Most of the time the pot holes were easy to dodge but some of them extended pretty much across the width of the path.


Early on I saw some walkers out for early morning exercise near Cumberland and one cyclist who breezed past me and was apparently on an exercise ride since he wasn't carrying anything.  For the rest of the day I saw about 10 touring cyclists all riding towards Cumberland except for one guy who was riding in my direction.  I was fortunate to come upon a couple of guys who were stopped to fix a flat tire.  The fortunate part was they told me about the Western Maryland Rail Trail option later that covered about 25 miles.  The only problem with the C&O path was that it wasn't paved and that cost 1-2 mph whereas the WMRT was all paved.  That turned out to be a nice change when I switched to it after 50 miles.  What wasn't so nice was when the WMRT ended it wasn't clear how to get back to the C&O.  I assumed it would lead right back to the C&O but maybe I had to turn off before the WMRT ended.  Instead I rode to the Fort Frederick State Park about a mile down the road from the end of the WMRT and a park ranger told me how to get back on the C&O from the park.


Once I was back on the C&O I had to decide where to camp as it was getting late.  The first hiker-biker site wasn't that appealing and I still had riding time left.  It was almost 6pm when I decided to ride to the next hiker-biker, another 9 miles.  I boosted my pace at that point and got to Jordan's Junction around 6:45 and it was a nicer hiker-biker and I was the only camper.


For most of the day the path followed along side the canal which didn't always have water and sometimes the water was covered with algae.  Other times there were views of the Potomac River although the views were through the trees and not good photo opportunities.  Most of the time the path was lined with trees on both sides.  It was an overcast day but had it been a sunny day the trees would have blocked most of the sun.


I saw a number of deer, mostly towards the evening.  When I returned to the C&O from the state park I saw a herd of 5 or 6 run across the road in front of me.  I also saw a tree that was almost completely cut down from beaver activity.


The only access to food for the day was at Hancock where I stopped for a cold drink.  After being on the path all day it was strange to suddenly encounter noisy traffic.  When I left Hancock on the WMRT the path closely paralleled a freeway for several miles and the traffic noise was rather annoying.


Day 16: Tue, Sep 20, 2011 - Jordan's Junction, MD to Harpers Ferry, WV [49.4, 5:17:33, 9.3 mph, 1,102']

The weather forecast predicted showers over night and they came but not until almost 5am.  I was worried that the showers wouldn't stop but they finally did a little after 7am.  I waited until then, noticed there was another cyclist in camp who was finishing packing, and packed up another wet tent and then rode just a couple miles to Williamsport for breakfast.  I stopped at the first breakfast place I found.  I suspect it wasn't the best but I wasn't interested in touring town to find the best.  There were 4-5 guys shooting the breeze and only one person eating breakfast, which wasn't a great sign.  I sat at the counter and the waitress seemed to be challenging, with her dour mood, whether you really wanted to eat there but I stayed.  There was no inviting pancake menu so I had a regular breakfast and it was fine.


The interesting part of the local conversation were the picks in the local football pool.  One guy picked Dallas over Washington because he said when he looked at the Dallas line there were only white faces...


It was almost 9 by the time I left.  The day represented some of the worst part of riding the C&O.  Since it had rained, the normal puddles were even wetter and muddier so it was a constant dodge effort.  Then the gravel just messed up the bike.  Fortunately I had fenders or I would have been equally messy.  There was one section of the trail that was closed off for restoration so there was a 6 mile detour on the roads to get around the closed trail.  This did take me by a small store so I stopped for milk and my second breakfast.  Then I noticed that I couldn't be headed in the right direction despite the clear detour signs.  So I reversed directions and got on track, maybe wasting a couple of miles.


The day turned out longer than I expected.  I thought I would make Harpers Ferry by noon or 1pm.  Instead it was around 2pm before I finally approach Harpers Ferry at the same time a group of 3 other cyclists riding in the same direction arrived.  Then I encountered the hardest part of the day.  To get to Harpers Ferry required crossing the Potomac River.  There was a railroad crossing with a pedestrian path that did the trick but getting to the path required carrying the bicycle up a spiral staircase.  Luckily the staircase had 3 or 4 sections to it and only the last section was steep.  The others were modest steps that I could navigate and then rest in between sections.  But the last section was steep and that was a challenge to make it to the top but make it I did.


On the other side I played tourist for a bit.  Harpers Ferry has an important Civil War history and there were quite a few exhibits to check out if so inclined and I checked some of them.  But I had other things to do to so I started looking for accommodations.  There were 2 hostels in town that I knew about.  The first one was just up High Street that was a steep climb.  I favored the other hostel because it was a little cheaper and included breakfast plus this one didn't look like it had a place to clean a bicycle and hang a tent to dry.


So I rode further on and High Street turned into Washington Street where the other hostel was.  As luck would have it I rode right past a post office so I stopped to ship a bunch of maps and brochures home that I no longer needed, and lightened my load by about 5 pounds.


The hostel cost almost $30 for a spot in a room with 5 bunk beds with one guy already there.  I was able to hose off my bike and set up my tent to let it dry out.  I also used the dryer to dry my day's clothes after rinsing them out in the shower.  Then I walked a couple blocks to a pizza place for dinner.


When I got back to the hostel there was a young couple signed up.  Turns out that Harpers Ferry is on the Appalachian Trail and this couple and a guy from the UK were hiking the trail from north to south.  They had actually encountered each other once before on the trail.


Finally, I called it a night.  I had thought of the day as a partial rest day with only about 40 miles of riding but it seemed much harder and not much of a rest.


Day 17: Wed, Sep 21, 2011 - Harpers Ferry, WV to Front Royal, VA [45.2, 4:33:48, 9.9 mph, 2,002']

Breakfast was included in the hostel rate and we had agreed that 7am would be a good time for the five of us.  So around 7am our hostess started churning out waffles until we said no mas.  There was also some bananas and cantaloupe as well as coffee so it was a reasonable breakfast.  Since we all sat around the table upstairs it was a good time for the 5 of us to chat and learn a little more about each other.  The Appalachian Trail hikers were heading south about 20 hiking miles and the other woman was riding back to the DC area on the C&O Canal path, which she had planned to do yesterday but put off because of the weather.  I was headed south too but to Front Royal to start the Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway riding that was the planned highlight of this trip.


Our young hiking couple made plans yesterday to fly home on November 17 so they now had a hard deadline to complete their AT trip.  Then they planned to spend a year or two in India.  So they had a lot of adventure ahead of them.


My bike was locked away in a shed attached to the rear of the house so I retrieved it after our hostess unlocked the shed.  I packed up the stuff I had carried upstairs to the dorm room yesterday and then I was off around 8am.  The Teahorse Hostel turned out to be a good place to stay.  It was very clean and nice inside, looking much better than the outside exterior suggested and the hostess was very gracious.


I didn't have a great route south to Front Royal.  I had tried using Google Maps to set up a bicycle route but it gave a route with a lot of turns so I ignored it.  The easiest route was simply to ride south on Washington Street where the hostel was located and picked up US 340 when the two merged.  I could stay on 340 all the way if the route looked reasonable or I had an option to split off from 340 and take SR255 and then SR624 and a couple of other roads to get to Front Royal.


Initially 340 was a 4-lane freeway type road with a wide shoulder so it was fine for cycling, just noisy.  I rode all the way to Charles Town on what I thought was 340 only to follow a sign in Charles Town directing me to follow to get to 340.  So I dutifully followed it thinking it was just a little jog through town and then became uncomfortable when I kept riding and it was obvious I was not on 340.  Worse, I couldn't get any info from my GPS to see what road I was on but I knew I was at least heading south so I couldn't get too lost.  Eventually the road junctioned with 340 and I picked up 340 again.  So the route turned out fine by putting me on a country road for a while.


However, I was still plagues by the inability to get any info from my GPS.  I began to worry that somehow the subset of maps I had selected to download to my Garmin 60CSx had gotten garbled.  So at that point I was pretty well stuck with 340 knowing that would get me to my destination.  Then after 15 miles I left West Virginia and entered Virginia and suddenly I had detailed road map information again.  So what apparently had happened was I hadn't realized that my route would include just a neck of West Virginia around Harpers Ferry and had neglected to download it to my GPS.


I rode with more confidence after entering Virginia.  On the other hand the wide shoulder on 340 deteriorated to about a foot and a half which was okay for normal traffic but was too skimpy for big truck traffic.  I stopped in Berryville for my second breakfast and continued on 340.


When I got to the junction with SR255 I had to make a decision.  I could see that 255 didn't have a shoulder and was a fairly narrow road so I decided to stick with 340.  That decision lasted about another 100 yards when the 340 shoulder basically disappeared.  At that point I turned around and decided to take my chances on 255.


This turned out to be a really good choice.  Although 255 was narrow there was little traffic and it took me through the quiet country side.  There were farms, some horse ranches, and generally fairly scenic areas that I wouldn't have gotten on 340.  In fact, when I turned on to 255 it was labeled with a Virginia Byway scenic sign.


There was a fair amount of roller coasting on this route and 255.  Somewhere south of Millwood 255 turned into 624 and the roller coaster continued.  Then I started noticing that the bike didn't seem to handle quite right and I soon noticed my rear tire going flat, the first flat of the trip.  I pulled over, found the puncture in the tube and patched it, and found a little piece of wire still stuck in the tire that caused the puncture.


A little while later 624 also became known as Morgan Ford Road.  When I crossed the Shenandoah River a single lane bridge the road joined another road and the quiet country riding was dispelled.  Now there was a fair amount of traffic and a good part of it was a fairly steady stream of dump trucks in both directions on a road with no shoulder so riding became a little precarious.  624 became Happy Creek Road when it crossed under I66 and it took me the rest of the way into Front Royal.


After a short refreshment break in town I rode south on the main drag to Main Street and followed the Visitor Center sign.  I stopped first at a coffee shop with WiFi and noted the uncertain weather forecast with prediction for some evening showers which dispelled any idea I might have had about continuing on another 22 miles to the first campground in Shenandoah NP.  I checked out the motel situation with Google Maps and then with the Visitor Center.  I was surprised the VC showed a yellow page listing of $43 for a Budget Motel when I didn't expect to find anything under $50 in a tourist town .


The Budget Motel was at the north end of town so I had to backtrack a little ways.  Then I learned the $43 was $49 and got it talked down to $47 with an AARP discount.  I walked to a Subway for dinner and then settled in for the night boning up on the riding ahead on the Skyline Drive, with questionable weather ahead for the next couple of days.


Day 18: Thu, Sep 22, 2011 - Front Royal, VA to Big Meadows CG, VA [57.1, 8:52:14, 6.7 mph, 5,458']

I ate at a nearby breakfast place that would have been okay except I confused the menu prices.  The men listed 3 pancakes for $3.75 and, I thought, with ham $4.95 whereas these were 2 totally separate items.  So it was an expensive breakfast.


On my way out of town I stopped at a grocery store for a few last minute items and then it was just a short distance to the turn off to Shenandoah National Park.  My senior pass got me in for free and then I immediately started climbing to get up on the ridge.  Climbing would be the operative word for the day.  There were 3 major climbs, all harder than any climb previously on this trip.  However, those climbs led to numerous outlooks with great views of Shenandoah Valley and other valleys.  It was a pretty hazy day but the views were still great.


The one problem is that the first campground was only 22 miles and the next one was 50 some miles – one too close and the other too far.  Naturally I chose the one too far, knowing full well that I would be riding all day given how long the climbs would take at 3-4 mph.  I did get a couple breaks, the first at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center where the area was so nice I was tempted to lay down and take a nap.  The other was at Elk Wallow, a stop that had food and drink.


There was some wild life viewing.  One time I missed a mama bear and her cub that others had stopped to check out.  Later I saw a bear wandering off into the woods.  Then later I saw a mama bear followed by a cub cross the road in front of me, and then more cubs followed.  There must have been 4 cubs but none of them had the presence of mind to pose for a photo.  Late in the day deer seemed to be everywhere.  Most particularly they were around the Big Meadows area and they seemed to barely pay attention to the humans gawking at them.


The weather turned out pretty good.  Early it was fairly sunny and then clouded up later.  It looked like it could rain but never did but the clouds dipped into the mountains.  Interestingly, the clouds seemed to gather on the east side of the ridge and not on the west side, as if the ridge provided a boundary between two weather systems.


I was dragging pretty well by the end of the day with over a mile of climbing.  The campground was fine but in my state almost any campground would have been okay.  I got a site for $10 with my pass and it also had a bear locker so I didn't have to worry about hanging food.  Showers cost $1 which was very reasonable and I was really glad to have a shower after the hard day.


A tough day with all the climbing but a good cycling day with some great scenery.


Day 19: Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - Big Meadows CG, VA – rain day

There were a few drops of rain in the morning so I hurried to get the tent packed up before it could get wet, with a couple deer passing by as I was packing.  I rode to the nearby lodge for breakfast and had 3 very good buckwheat pancakes.


By this time it was drizzling a little so when I noticed folks using laptops in the lounge I deduced there was WiFi and I got my netbook out to check the weather.  It was not encouraging.  The weather radar was showing a big glob of green with some thunderstorms.  So I decided it was not a good day for riding.  I also didn't want to spend the day in a tent so I got a room at the lodge for $125, the cheapest rate.


I couldn't check in right away so I hung around in the lounge and finally got checked in at 1:30pm.  My room was on the terrace so I would have had a great view if it hadn't been for the clouds.


I spent some time studying my route using the guide, Bicycling the Blue Ridge by Elizabeth & Charlie Skinner, and my elevation profiles created from routes created on  It was clear that finding campgrounds was going to be a challenge.  Accommodations along with climbing would determine how far I could reasonably ride in a day.  Some days it might be 30 miles and others 60 miles.  There were campgrounds off the ridge but that usually would mean riding down off the ridge and then having to ride back up to the ridge the next morning, not an appetizing thought when there was enough climbing just staying on the ridge.


The rain finally moved out of the area by late afternoon.  It would have been a pretty miserable day to be riding.


There was a guy singing folk songs in the tap room that I thought might be interesting but he spent most of his time giving background information and then trying to get the audience involved in singing choruses to his songs that I didn't find the entertainment very entertaining and stayed for only one beer.


Day 20: Sat, Sep 24, 2011 - Big Meadows CG, VA to Waynesboro, VA [59.1, 6:06:49, 9.7 mph, 2,832']

I didn't wake up until 6:45 and was surprised I slept that well since I hadn't done anything yesterday and had taken a couple of short naps.  I packed up and had the same breakfast of 3 buckwheat pancakes as yesterday and they were as good as yesterday. 


All last night and during breakfast I agonized about today's route.  The problem was the only realistic camping was 30 miles down the road, shorter than I wanted to go.  The ideal route was to the end of the Skyline Drive but there was no camping there.  Last night I had looked for motels near Waynesboro and there were a couple near the exit to Waynesboro, one expensive and one unknown.  The unknown one, the Colony Motel, had a website but I was denied access which didn't bode well.  Nevertheless I decided to call the motel and was pleasantly surprised to get an answer and more surprised to find a reasonable price of $50.  So that gave me a reasonable ride for the day that meshed well with the following day.


When rolling my bike out of my room onto the terrace another guy approached me.  Turns out he was cycling the Skyline Drive also with a friend and staying in motels.  He had cycled yesterday and it was pretty miserable, coming up from the south.  He and his friend were cycling to Front Royal and then reversing the trip.  I feared they didn’t have good weather.


I picked up a few items on my way back to the Skyline Drive and hit the road about 8:45.  The route today was much easier than the other day.  The climbs were both shorter and less steep.  The views were not as good because of the clouds.  Initially there were some views with clouds below but then the clouds moved in and became fog and I turned on my red blinkie light.  For much of the day the turnouts were so foggy that there weren't many views.


After 10 miles I passed the 1,000 mile marker for this trip.  Despite the fog this was still a good cycling day, much better than yesterday would have been.  Around 12:30 I stopped at Loft Mountain for a ham and cheese sandwich.  This would have been my camping spot if not for the motel near Waynesboro and I would have been done for the day.


When I called the motel in the morning I had given 4pm as my arrival time and I hit that almost on the button.  The motel was closer to the exit at the end of Skyline Drive than I expected and it was a good thing.  The road to Waynesboro had no shoulder to speak of and the less cycling on it the better.


Like many motels these days, the Colony Motel was run by an Indian family.  The lady who registered me said she would take me into town for food for $5.  This was a good deal.  Waynesboro was only 3-4 miles away but it was downhill meaning I would have had to regain altitude coming back.  On top of that once I saw the lack of shoulder I would not have wanted to cycle into town even if the road were flat.


So after cleaning up I took my taxi into town to an all-you-can-eat buffet where I got my fill.  I also picked up some milk for breakfast in the morning and called for my taxi to come get me and return me to the motel where I settled in for the night.


Day 21: Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - Waynesboro, VA to Buchanan, VA [72.1, 6:40:03, 10.8 mph, 3,089']

So far on this trip I had met two other touring cyclists and, Mark Boyd, a third touring cyclists had invited me to stay with him and his wife when I reached Asheville.  Mark has toured extensively in the US and Europe but more importantly he was familiar with the Blue Ridge.  When I checked email in the morning I found an email from Mark which I should have gotten last night.  He suggested that the north end of the Blue Ridge wasn't that interesting and that I might want to follow a route he took from Waynesboro to Buchanan on a previous tour to avoid this northern section before getting on the Blue Ridge.  This got me agonizing over whether I wanted to start on the Blue Ridge or not as Mark suggested.  Eventually two things swayed my decision.  First, it was very foggy and likely I wouldn't see anything on the Blue Ridge at least in the morning.  The other issue was that starting on the Blue Ridge would end the day at the lowest point in VA immediately followed by a 3,000+ foot, 4-5 hour climb to the highest point in Virginia the next morning.


I had picked up milk on my excursion into Waynesboro for dinner yesterday so I had my cereal breakfast in the motel.  Then I packed up and rode down the hill into town.  On a Sunday morning there was almost no traffic heading into town or riding through town to catch 340.


340 wasn't the greatest road to be riding, a 4-lane divided highway with virtually no shoulder but I only needed it for 11 miles to catch 11 south.  There was also relatively little traffic so traffic was good about easing over into the next lane when passing me.


11 was a better road, a 3-lane road initially with the middle lane a turn lane and then later used as a passing lane for whichever direction was climbing.  I looked for a breakfast place in Stuarts Draft although I didn't really need a second breakfast yet.  Instead I found a grocery store and picked up a few things.  Later 11 turned into a 4-lane divided highway but it paralleled I-81 so it didn't have a lot of traffic and it was fine for riding.


For at least a few days I was hearing an annoying rattling sound that seemed to be coming from my front wheel/panniers.  It would start around 17mph and get louder.  I had no idea what was causing it.  Today I noticed that the rattling was less consistent and seemed to have diminished, which I took as a good sign.


Riding got messy as I neared Lexington and I took the 11 Bypass to skip town.  When the bypass reconnected with 11, the riding characteristics changed.  Previously 11 was a rolling highway with more downhill than up but after Lexington it turned into more uphill than down and riding became noticeably harder.


Around 12:30 there was some clearing in the sky and I could see parts of the Blue Ridge.  Then a little later just south of Lexington it began to drizzle.  Since it didn't look like it would last long I stopped under a tree for 10-15 minutes to see if I could wait it out.  Just after I started again it started drizzling again, just as I was passing a Day's Inn with an Aunt Sarah's Pancake House.  I took the rain as an omen that I should stop and have pancakes.  I had 3 banana nut pancakes with each pancake wrapped lovingly around a slice of banana and pecans sprinkled on top with whipped cream.  This sinful creation was so well presented I took a photo and then demolished it and the sun started shining.


I continued south in my quest for Buchanan.  Just south of Natural Bridge 11 merged with I-81 and I stopped at a food mart for a drink and a little info from the lady running the register.  She didn't know of any camping around Buchanan but wondered if I could camp in the town park.  She also mentioned the motel I knew about just outside town.


There was a frontage road that took me to Buchanan.  It was a nice road and the best riding of the day except for the noise from the nearby Interstate.  A couple miles before Buchanan I found the motel on the hill so I rode up to check on the rate and it was $60+tax.  I was actually kind of hoping it would be too expensive and give me the excuse to see about camping in Buchanan.


So I rode downhill into Buchanan and saw the town park as I rode into the main part of town.  As I cased the town park I rode by a restaurant that had some outside entertainment.  Then I rode up main street to see if there was a police station where I could ask about camping but found nothing.  So I rode back to the restaurant and inquired about camping in the park and they didn't know of any restriction.


So I decided to eat at the restaurant outside and take advantage of the entertainment, a guy playing guitar and singing and accompanied by a woman singer singing mostly country songs.  I figured this was about as good as it gets and then the woman who was the owner took my order and said I could camp in their yard after the entertainment was done at 7pm.  So I settled in for some beer, good  BBQ, and good entertainment, thinking how much better this turned out than staying at the motel on the hill.


When the entertainment group had finished and removed their equipment I started setting up my tent under a canopy which would protect my tent from rain.  While setting up the guitar singer introduced himself and asked about my touring.  He had a bicycle and did some riding and had also hiked the AT.  Bicycle touring was out of the question for the time being with a young son but was something he hoped to do in the future.


So it turned out to be a great ending to an unexpected route for the day.

Day 22: Mon, Sep 26, 2011 - Buchanan, VA to Roanoke Mountain CG, VA [42.5, 5:31:19, 7.7 mph, 3,393']

I planned to have breakfast at a pharmacy that also had a grill but supposedly didn't open until 8:00 so I took my time packing up.  When I stopped at the pharmacy there was no sign of life and the schedule said closed on Monday.  So I rode across the street to the service station with a Burger King and had what they called breakfast.


I was right at the junction with 43 that would take me up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As I was eating breakfast I was alarmed to see a bunch of large truck traffic coming and going on 43.  Fortunately, there was a quarry only a half mile down the road and after that there was no truck traffic and truck and RV traffic was discouraged on this narrow and steep road.


It was a 4 mile climb of 1200 feet to the top and steep.  I climbed at mostly 3mph to the top with just occasional traffic.  I was delighted to find the annoying rattle from the last several days had disappeared but a clicking sound had replaced it.  The clicking seemed to be coming from the bottom bracket and only happened under heavy load, which means I had to listen to it all the way up the climb.


When I got to the Parkway there was fog.  I rode a little further until I found a suitable place for my well earned second breakfast but first I had to remove my jersey which was drenched with sweat from the climb.


There was some more climbing but nothing significant compared to the climb up to the Parkway.  The fog varied and there were times where the clouds thinned out enough to give a view of below.  Some of these views were probably more interesting than the normal view because of the play of light where the clouds consented to let some light through.


Then I started a long descent that gave back much of the hard earned altitude.  The heavily wooded areas gave way to some residential and farming areas.


Today's route was a fairly short route since the next campground after Roanoke Mountain was another 45 miles and outside my range.  So when there was a chance to turn off the Parkway into a town just off the Parkway I decided to see if I could find Internet access.  I found it at a Shell station with a Taco Bell and learned that the world appeared to have survived my absence.


When I got back on the Parkway I rode a little further and took the turnoff to a Visitor Center which I normally would have skipped but I was within easy reach of my planned campground.  I spent about a half hour there and then took the turn to the Roanoke Mountain CG where I got a site for $8 with my senior pass.  I took a walk-in site and appeared to have the area and the restroom all to myself.  I set up quickly because there was some on again off again drizzle.


With the occasional rain I ate in my tent and then hung up my food for the night.


Day 23: Tue, Sep 27, 2011 - Roanoke Mountain CG, VA to Tuggles Gap, VA [59.4, 7:35:17, 7.8 mph, 4,387']

Around 10:30 it rained along with lightning but this didn't last too long.  However, it rained again at 4:30 and then again at 6:00.  I was worried I would be packing up in rain but the rain moved on and my tent wasn't too terribly wet when I packed up.


There was just a little fog in the morning and that cleared up and it looked like it was going to be a nice day.  After some easy miles I had a 6-mile climb.  Near the top clouds moved in and it became very foggy, the worst of the trip.  Then after about an hour or so the fog just mysteriously disappeared.  It was as if someone had turned on a light switch and I could see again.


One of the highlights of the day was meeting someone on the road who was slower than me – a turtle trying to cross the road.  I hung around to make sure he made it successfully and he did although one car passed while I was protecting him so I might have saved a life.


Once the fog left it became a sunny day with clouds and fairly scenic.  There were some open areas with farms right up against the Parkway.  This was some nice diversity.


Then the big problem.  My guide book suggested that Adney Gap was a good place to stock up on supplies or have lunch or dinner.  Since I was making good time I figured it would be a good idea to stock up but when I took the exit and came to 221 there was nothing in sight.  My guide book made it sound like you could go left or right and find success.  I should have reconsidered when nothing looked promising but I went left because an old sign pointed towards a grocery store in 3 miles.  Big mistake.  I went at least 4 miles with nothing even hinting of food.  Finally, I cut my loss and turned around and just got back on the Parkway, having wasted a lot of miles and energy.


This put a bummer on the day.  Riding was hard enough without wasting energy and all I could think for the rest of the afternoon was where I would have been now if not for the wasted miles.  Fortunately, there were some good views that finally got me out of my funk.  Most memorable was looking east at Devils Backbone Overlook.  Then later some nice views of pastoral settings near the road.


I did meet a motor cyclist at one of the turnouts who said yesterday he rode 175 miles through rain and fog and saw nothing.  So maybe I was lucky to only have had rain at night while I was comfortable in my tent.


My destination for the day was Rocky Knob CG but my guide book advised there was a motel just off the Parkway a mile and a half before the CG so I took the exit and carefully looked around.  This time the guide book was spot on and the motel/restaurant was only a couple hundred yards away.  However, I was worried when I approached and saw a For Sale sign for the motel but the motel was still open for business.  The restaurant was part of the deal and I inquired about price at the restaurant and was told $53.  I was told there was no AARP discount but the owner eventually offered a $10 discount since I was planning to eat dinner there and maybe breakfast.  I had a pretty decent and filling lasagna dinner.


Then I retired to my room and hung up my tent outside to dry.  The motel/restaurant had WiFi but it wasn't accessible from my room so I went back to the restaurant to plan my next couple days.  The biggest issue with riding the Parkway is finding accommodations and food/drink.  The National Park Service has a series of campgrounds right on the parkway.  Unfortunately, the next one, Doughton Park, was 70 miles away with a lot of climbing and I didn't think there was anyway I could make that in a single day.  However, there are some places where other accommodations are available just off the Parkway.  The key is to find out about these and avoid dropping off the Parkway into a “nearby” town that involves a substantial climb to get back on the Parkway.  Tomorrow I would be able to stop at Fancy Gap, virtually on the Parkway and 35 miles away.  In a case like this the accommodation defines the day's ride even though I could do more than 35 miles.


There was some good and bad news regarding the bike.  At first both the rattling and clicking sounds disappeared but then the clicking noise returned later in the day.


Day 24: Wed, Sep 28, 2011 - Tuggles Gap, VA to Fancy Gap, VA [38.0, 4:33:45, 8.3 mph, 2,528']

The restaurant at the motel didn't open for breakfast until 8am so I took the opportunity to clean my chain.  I doubted it had anything to do with the clicking noise but it was about time to clean the chain anyway.


I had a good breakfast – 2 large pancakes and a slice of ham.  The choice of staying at this motel/restaurant turned out to be a good one.  I left a little before 9 and rode back a short way and got back on the Parkway.


It was a cool morning but there was no fog and it promised to be a good weather day.  The next major campground, Doughton Park, was 70 miles away and I doubted I could make that in a single day so I opted to ride about half way and planned to stay at Fancy Gap.  There was some significant climbing initially but otherwise the day was about as flat as the Parkway is going to get with only 2500 feet of climbing for the day.  For that climbing and less than 40 miles the day felt almost like a rest day.


Nine miles down the road I stopped at Mabry Mill, a one time mill and now a restaurant which was reputed to have great buckwheat pancakes.  So after the only significant climbing for the day I stopped for my second breakfast figuring this would be a highlight – two pancake breakfasts in the same day.  Unfortunately, as often happens, the hype did not match reality.  I found the buckwheat pancakes to be at best okay but nothing I would recommend.  My earlier breakfast was better in every respect – better pancakes, bigger pancakes, less expensive.  The first two pancakes I had for breakfast were at least as large in total as the 3 buckwheat pancakes.


Fortunately, this disappointment didn't extend to the rest of the day.  Scenery was very nice with some open spaces and some riding through the trees.  There were a couple of awesome views of hills to the east.  I stopped at Groundhog Mountain and climbed the observation building that gave a nice view of the surrounding area.  And while I was there I saw a cyclist climbing the road.  I couldn't tell but it looked like he was carrying something on his back.


Later as I was zooming down a fair hill I was surprised to find a food mart along the road.  Almost nothing will get me to stop while zooming down the road but food will.  So I braked and pulled in and found the cyclist I saw earlier.  It turned out he was touring the Parkway but he only had a Kestrel racing bike for the job.  Not wanting to make a substantial investment in a touring bike and equipment he carried everything in a moderate backpack.   He had started just yesterday from Waynesboro and had already caught up with me but, of course, he was carrying much less weight and he was decidedly younger.  Still he was nearing the 200 mile marker in less than two days so he was putting in mega miles and was hoping to make Doughton Park by the end of the day at the 240 mile marker.  I wanted to take his photo but my camera took this opportunity to claim the memory card was full.  So I couldn't ask him to hang around until I switched to another memory card and he missed his opportunity to become famous.


It was only a few more miles to Fancy Gap where I stopped to pick up a few things in the food mart and then had a simple sandwich/fries meal at the next door restaurant.


There was a KOA campground just down the road where I got a tent site for $24.  Not the cheapest camping but it did have WiFi and included showers.  I actually had WiFi access from my tent site but then the skies kept unleashing a few sprinkles and I finally moved to the laundry room.


It was a good cycling day and amazing to feel like this was almost a rest day, marred only by the disappointing pancakes at Mabry Mill.


Day 25: Thu, Sep 29, 2011 - Fancy Gap, VA to Laurel Springs, NC [60.6, 6:36:05, 9.2 mph, 4,138']

It was nice to have WiFi in my tent.  I checked email and the weather before packing up and riding back into town for breakfast.  After yesterday's disappointing buckwheat pancakes I went for regular pancakes and bacon this morning and was not disappointed.


It was a cool morning but good weather.  There was an initial steep climb but after that it was rolling with an overall descent.  The road went through farmland and forests and flipping back and forth made for interesting scenery.  This was really good cycling with good weather and good scenery.  I also saw some wild turkey and several deer.


I thought I might make a quick stop at the Blue Ridge Music Center but I couldn't see anything from the turnoff and when the road went into a steep descent I passed and returned to the Parkway.  A little further I took the exit on 89 to find a grocery store supposedly a mile north.  This exit at least looked somewhat promising compared to the other day and I found the grocery store after a mile – closed for good.  But it was only a two mile waste so it didn't put me in a funk.


Shortly after, I entered North Carolina where the Parkway construction first started in 1935.  Just a little further I stopped at the picnic area at the serene Cumberland Knob for my second breakfast.  It was a nice place but just up the road was the Fox Hunters Paradise that offered a panoramic view of the Piedmonts.  If I had known about this I would have had my second breakfast there.


I rode another 10 miles just enjoying the day and thinking it couldn't get any better.  But it could get worse, lots worse.  Suddenly I saw signs warning of a detour off the Parkway ahead.  My initial thought was to ignore the detour and find a way to finagle my way through whatever construction was taking place.  But then there was a sign explicitly warning cyclists they couldn't get through (a cyclist can often get through places where vehicles can't) and then I met a ranger coming the other way.  He made it clear that I had no option so I reluctantly took the 21 exit to Sparta and the start of a 28 mile detour to Laurel Springs.


What a disaster the detour was.  No one in their right mind would force a cyclist to ride to Sparta on 21, a road with no shoulder and truck traffic.  I considered this reckless endangerment of a cyclist's safety.  I thought about how I would write a letter of complaint to the NPS.  I know if whoever made this decision would have to ride this road to Sparta everyday he/she would quickly find an alternate solution.  Fortunately, traffic allowed for me but I had to get off the road a couple times to let a truck pass as it was waiting behind my turtle pace.


At least this detour route offered some services.  I stopped at a food mart before Sparta and got some advice about taking a bypass to get to 18 to ride to Laurel Springs.  The description was hard to follow but there were signs as I neared Sparta how to get to 18 south without going through town.  Amazingly, the marked detour route didn't bother to use this bypass, as clear as it was.


I was afraid 18 was going to involve a lot of climbing to get back to the Parkway but it was mostly rolling with only a few moderately difficult climbs.  Without any traffic it would have been a fine road to cycle.  But it contained large truck traffic and had no shoulder.  So I had to continually watch for traffic and had to get off the road to let a school bus and the traffic behind it get by.


I eventually ran into some road construction that had a single lane and a pilot vehicle.  I think this was the source of all the truck traffic because I didn't see any after this area but I was almost to Laurel Springs by then anyway.


I stopped at another food mart thinking I had a ways to go yet but the attendant said I was in Laurel Springs.  It was hard to know what actually constituted Laurel Springs but I had to ride another few miles to get to where the services were, which were right by the Parkway.  There were two motel/restaurant combinations in town and, according to signs, they obviously catered to motorcyclists.


I stopped at the first motel thinking I might be able to do a deal with a motel room and eating at the restaurant but when I was told a room was $75 I knew a deal was out of the question.  I rode over to the other restaurant with the intention of having a meal and then riding up the Parkway a mile to Miller's Campground.  However, there was no one in the restaurant.  Turns out the waitress was in the outside patio area gabbing with some guy.  She came in and offered me a menu and got me a drink and then nothing.  I eventually decided this place wasn't going to get my business and I paid the waitress for the drink just as she finally decided to take my food order and rode over to the other restaurant.


I got much better service there and they had WiFi that I could get from outside.


After eating I rode up the Parkway less than a mile to the campground where I got a tent site for $19 but had to pay cash.  This place was mostly an RV campground but they had 4 or 5 tent sites where I settled in for the night, finding WiFi access in the laundry room.


A great day until about 1:30pm when I was detoured on to a dangerous section of road.  The direct route from the 21 exit to Laurel Spring was 19 miles and the detour was stated as a 28 mile detour so the detour cost 9 extra miles although it avoided the big 1000 foot climb to Doughton Park. The only bright side was that I got a little further past Doughton Park than I might have otherwise.


Day 26: Fri, Sep 30, 2011 - Laurel Springs, NC to Julian Price CG, NC [61.0, 8:25:00, 7.4 mph, 5,177']

I packed and rode the mile back to Laurel Springs for breakfast.  Breakfast was very good with 3 pancakes, 2 scrambled eggs, ham, and coffee for $6 – the value of the trip.


I hit the road a little before 9:00.  It was a cool, cloudy day.  There was a lot of climbing for the day and the day started with a good climb and I had the Parkway virtually to myself for a good part of the morning.  The scenic highlight of the day was the view of the Piedmonts to the east.  There were a number of these panoramic views.


Around noon the clouds cleared up and the sun put in its appearance.  In the early afternoon I met Ben, a touring cyclist from west of Philadelphia, who managed to sneak up on me as I was climbing a hill.  We chatted a bit and then he stopped at a picnic area while I continued on.  Ben was in his 20s touring on a mountain bike with small panniers and was faster than me.  So it probably wouldn't have worked too well trying to hang together.


As the afternoon wore on the wind picked up and became gusty.  Most of the time it didn't matter too much because the hills and trees blocked the wind but in an open area one needed to have a good grip on the bike.  I had thought about stopping in Blowing Rock for food and groceries but it was getting late so I headed straight for the Julian Price CG.


It was a little after 5pm when I wandered through the CG to pick out a site near the lake.  When I went back to the registration desk to announce my choice and pay Ben was just pulling into the CG.  I figured Ben would end up here but wasn't sure when.  We ended up sharing a site which I got for $8 with my pass so it cost us $4 each to camp, a great bargain.


The wind was howling all night while we were in the CG.  It was a good thing the lake area was sitting in a low area and there were lots of trees to block the wind.


Turns out Ben had had some problems with broken spokes and had been lucky to find a couple places to stop to have that taken care of.  One place was in Sparta when Ben was told that cyclists had ignored the detour and ridden through Doughton Park.  That’s when the Park Service put up the special sign warning cyclists not to ignore the sign.


I also had what turned out to be a relatively minor bicycle problem.  I noticed early on that my cyclocomputer stopped on a couple of fast descents.  That suggested to me that I had a weak battery and installing a new battery took care of the problem.


Day 27: Sat, Oct 01, 2011 - Julian Price CG, NC to Crabtree Falls CG, NC [43.5, 4:52:06, 6.7 mph, 4,950']

It was a windy evening and night.  The wind was howling but our tent site was sitting low enough and surrounded by brush that it didn't bother us.  But it did rain during the night and then stopped.  Unfortunately, it started raining again around 7:00, just when we were getting ready to pack up.  So we waited it out and packed up when the rain stopped.


It was a chilly morning so I put on my seal skinz socks, the first socks of the trip, along with a lightweight sweatshirt and windbreaker.  It was 8:30 or so when we headed out, starting with a steep climb.  Instead of raining it started snowing, which was good because the light snow was better than rain.  I quickly traded my normal bicycle gloves for my two-fingered lobster claw gloves.


The riding wasn't fun with the weather and there were no views but it was tolerable riding.  This lasted most of the morning.  Both Ben and I were looking for some food so we stopped at the first opportunity, at Pineola, where an exit off the Parkway brought us to a store with a deli.  There we ran into a touring couple that Ben had met yesterday.  They had stayed at the same campground but weren't quite prepared for the cold weather.  They bought socks and gloves at the store and were planning on staying in a motel at Little Switzerland.


There was little in the way of groceries but the deli was good.  I had a chicken sandwich and a cup of chili that was particularly good under the conditions.  It was also a good time to visit with the touring couple.


The sky cleared up in the afternoon and there were a number of good views that seemed unlikely given the morning conditions.  But it was still a lot of climbing, more than the elevation profile seemed to suggest.  There were also some screaming descents, the reward of all the climbing.


Ben and I pulled into Crabtree Meadows around 4:30.  We stopped at a little store because I needed to get WiFi access and was lucky to find it there.  I was able to email Mark Boyd and confirm that I was still on target to meet him tomorrow at Craggy Gardens as planned.  I got done right at 5pm when the place closed.


Somewhere during this time the wind started howling.  We rode to the CG and picked out a site that was as low down as possible to provide the most shelter from the wind.  Nevertheless the wind was howling and the tree tops were shaking.  Ben was low on fuel for his stove so he made a fire that also provided some warmth.  The real question was how cold it would be in the morning.  The CG ranger said it was 37 last night and projected to get down to freezing tonight.  That wouldn't be a problem in the tent but would make for a cold start in the morning.


Day 28: Sun, Oct 02, 2011 - Crabtree Falls CG, NC to Asheville, NC [46.4, 5:39:41, 8.2 mph, 4,086']

The wind howled all night. It eased up a bit in the early morning but not that much.  So the question was how cold it was going to be for riding.  Ben had an Amtrak ticket for Monday night in Columbus, SC, so it made no sense for us to ride together.  He needed to get down the road as far as possible today so he took off first.


I left camp around 8:15, dressed for cold weather.  There were 3 major climbs today before a long descent into Asheville.  The weather was chilly but there were clear skies and the views were great.  The first climb was the hardest, a fairly steep 1300 foot climb.  My legs felt tired and I thought it might be a long day.


There were some great views along the way.  On the west side there was a string of white clouds that clipped the top of the mountains.  On the east side there were hills and mountains with the sun creeping over the mountains.


I made the first climb okay as hard as it was.  As a reward I had my second cinnamon roll for the day, the first with my cereal breakfast in my tent.  After a descent the second climb of another 1300 feet began.  This climb was a little easier with more good views.  The reward for this climb was my third cinnamon roll for the day.


After another descent the last and shortest climb of 500 feet began.  This climb brought me to the Craggy Gardens which brought a surprise.  The trees lining the road were filled with ice, probably from the rain yesterday.  I first noticed this while getting sprinkled by some ice while riding and wondering how it was raining ice with a clear sky.  Eventually I noticed there was ice in the limbs of overhanging trees and the sun was melting them to drop on me as I passed underneath.


After some photos of the ice laden trees I stopped at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center where the plan was to meet up with Mark Boyd who was riding up from Asheville to escort me to Ashville.  I browsed the center but there wasn't much there.  Then I donned my rain gear to handle the wind chill I expected on a fast descent.  Just as I was about to begin the descent and meet Mark on his way up Mark pulled into the VC.


Mark didn't need a break so he turned around and led me down the mountain to Asheville.  There was almost no pedaling needed on the 15 mile descent.  Eventually Mark turned off the Parkway and led me to his North Ashville home where I met his wife Barbara.  Mark and Barbara spent some time describing some of the history of and their history with Ashville where Mark is a recently retired Professor of Computer Science at the UNC-Asheville.  Later, we went out to a relatively new restaurant that features a menu consisting of local food which was quite good and fairly inexpensive.


Then Mark gave me some ideas about routing for the rest of my trip.  Originally I had planned to head east to the Atlantic Ocean and ride up the coast to DC but I was too far behind my planned schedule and needed a shorter route to DC.  Mark gave me enough pointers for me to research tomorrow on a rest day.


Day 29: Mon, Oct 03, 2011 - Asheville, NC

I needed to do various things on my rest day so I intended to find a breakfast place first and then find a coffee shop with WiFi.  Unfortunately, I got my directions messed up and walked to Merrimon Ave but walked in the opposite direction that I should have.  This led me to walk around Beaver Lake before coming back to Merrimon.  By the time I got back to Merrimon I decided to skip a regular breakfast and go straight to the Mountain Java coffee shop and set up shop with coffee, a muffin, and a bagel, which was okay because I didn't need a big breakfast.


I spent several hours writing email, paying bills, and researching a route to DC based on Mark's suggestions.  Most importantly I found that the US Bike Route 1 which ran north-south looked like a good choice to get me through Virginia and near DC.  I also found a Virginia bike map web site that contained a map for this route.  That plus Mark's knowledge about riding northeast from Asheville looked like would be sufficient for basic route planning.  Later, Mark put together a RideWithGPS route and he also had a trip report that covered a good part of this route.  I made some map copies at the library that was nearby and did some grocery shopping since there were 3 grocery stores right in the vicinity.


When I got back “home” I had an interesting conversation with Mark and Barbara, who wasn't feeling too well and had taken a sick day.


Later, Mark had a long standing dinner engagement on Monday evenings and Barbara wasn't interested in going out or cooking but she suggested a Chinese restaurant that turned out to be an easy walk and was a good choice for dinner.


After Mark returned from his dinner we had a fairly long discussion about his upcoming touring and general touring.




Copyright Denis Kertz, 2011. All rights reserved.