My Parkway Experience

aaron car

Last week I got comfortable writing in the third person about the group that rode the entire Parkway in six days. That confused many new and infrequent readers, many of whom thought that I was riding as well. That was not the case. I had been ramping up my training and doing well at it, but my injury got the best of me and ended my season early.

Instead I drove and supported the other six riders. I lived the week through them and wrote about their experiences. Even though they did all the work, I was invested in their success, while supporting and encouraging them along the way. When writing, I focused more on them and less about me.

This post is about how the week went for me.

Brian and Steve operated the 5-Hour Energy van, which was the primary means of support for the riders. Mine was the backup or ancillary car. I would keep up with the riders, and if they separated, I would stick with the rear group. Since the van cannot be in two places at one time, and occasionally there was a wide gap between the groups, I kept plenty of food and water in my cooler for emergencies. At other times I was the errand boy, picking up things for the riders, or helping get groceries before the riders arrived.

The first few days were quiet for me. I drove ahead of the riders and stopped at key points for photo opportunities, but most of that time was in solitude. As I drove, I stopped at most of the overlooks, parks and historical spots. Even though the government was shut down and most major parks were closed, I still saw quite a bit. I had a guide book that gave me valuable context and background for each location, as well as a Parkway history book. I was completely immersed in the Parkway, which was actually kind of nice. If I had ridden, I would have missed 95% of what I experienced and learned.

Much of this time was extremely relaxing. I would sit at overlooks with the windows and sunroof open, chilling, breathing the mountain air, listening to music and reading. When the muse struck, I would write my blog posts. That’s why I was able to publish so quickly after the day’s rides were finished, because the majority were written before we reached our evening destination.

As the week progressed, there was a clear split in paces. We had a front and rear group, the latter of which would leave a little earlier with me as support. The front group with Bobby and Christian pulling would catch them at about the midpoint where both groups would rendezvous with the van. The higher elevations in North Carolina brought more challenges, and that gap widened. Wes, Julie and Nancy were happy to take their time and ride at a casual pace, while the other guys pushed a little harder.

While the first couple days went slow, the last few went fast. I would continually drive back and forth to check on the riders. On the last day I tried to position my car behind the riders as they went through long, blind tunnels, with my high beams to light the way. When Julie was struggling on the last day, I would stop at key points in case she needed help. I would also ride ahead to the end of climbs, and come back to let her know roughly how far until it ended. I think she appreciated that.

mitchell summit

Meanwhile I made time to explore. After the riders left Mount Mitchell, I hiked to the actual summit, where I had never been. I was able to explore the areas that surrounded our lodging, whether that was checking out Linville Gorge in the evening, Linville Falls in the morning, or driving around Sparta, NC, unsuccessfully trying to find AT&T cell service.

Things had gone smoothly until the last day, when my car broke down in Asheville at the French Broad River overlook. I had been sitting with the door open and with the lights on, waiting for the riders to drop layers as they began climbing Mount Pisgah. That drained my battery and prompted the electrical system in my car to freak out. I called a Mazda dealer, who referred me to a wrecker service, who had to get permission to drive onto the parkway, and the government was closed. It was a mess, and could have taken hours for me to get back on the road. As I was talking to Motion Makers Bicycle Shop, hoping I could get one of them to take pity on me, a good samaritan stopped by and asked if he could help. He had jumper cables. We gave that a try, and it worked. I was able to re-connect with the riders at the top of Pisgah, but I had to keep the engine running the entire day. Needless to say, I didn’t leave the car.

After the ride was finished, I strangely felt a sense of accomplishment. By no means am I trying to compare what I did to the riders, but it was harder work than I expected. I was relieved to be able to take a breather at the end. The entire group had some delicious Thai food in downtown Asheville, and then a nightcap at the Wicked Weed brewery. Usually I’m not a big drinker, but I was happy to partake in the local brew.

Even though I would have much preferred to ride, I’m glad I got the chance to participate in a different capacity. I learned an enormous amount about the Parkway. Next year I plan to ride, and won’t have the free time to explore. Knowing about the Parkway will enhance all of my future Parkway riding experiences.


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