Category Archives: Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Articles

Wes, Julie and Nancy climbing Mitchell.

Wes, Julie and Nancy climbing Mitchell.

One bit of excitement that came from the recent Blue Ridge Trip was that I landed a project to write a feature article for a regional magazine. While this isn’t my first paid writing gig, it was my first feature article about cycling.

Before I get into that, I want to touch on another article I wrote a couple months ago. Eric at Blue Ridge Parkway Daily reached out to me this summer. He has established a massive social media presence (42,000+ likes on Facebook!), and has one of the better web resources for the Parkway. He wanted to include some content about cycling, and asked me to write an article. I was given free reign to come up with something. Since his is a general interest website mostly for non-cyclists, I decided to put together a beginner’s guide. That article is here: Beginner’s Guide to Cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway

As for the magazine article, it was just published online here: Just Keep Going: Cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway

Since I was too injured to ride, we weren’t sure exactly what sort of angle to pursue. I had been corresponding back and forth with the Executive Editor long before the ride began. He had given me some good suggestions, and had been reading the blogs as I posted them during the trip. Rather than just writing a ride report, he wanted me to capture some of the adventure and human drama. This was not an easy task when writing about the complex organization to get dozen riders from one end of the Parkway to the other.

There were multiple story options. We could have talked about the government shutdown, although that would have been stale by December, when the article was planned to go to press. We could have talked about my injury and how I interacted with the other riders. I shot that down because the long injury history would take away from the Blue Ridge experience, plus might come off as a bummer, which would not capture the spirit of the event.

Finally we settled on Julie. The editor had been reading the blogs, and was particularly taken with the conquest over her physical and mental struggles. Having seen it unveil in person, I agree that it was quite the story. I hope my article captured it.

After reading my rough draft, I had Julie take a look at it and give me some feedback. After all, even though I could see her face, I couldn’t see inside her head. She gave me some valuable insight that I worked into the article, and some great stuff that there simply wasn’t enough room to include.

I sent the final draft last Sunday, making a mental note to check the website and newsstands in December. Lo and behold, I was tagged in a Facebook post about the article on Wednesday. It was online already!

What in the world? I asked Blue Ridge Outdoors about it. As it turns out, even though they liked the article, they had undersold the December issue and did not have enough print space. That means it is online only. Even now they are listing it as a ‘Reader Submission,’ which isn’t correct since it was a paid article. They said that will be corrected at some point.

So that part is disappointing. If I knew it was going to be online only, I would have expanded the word count and narrative to include some other riders and trip details. Even though this one didn’t make it into print, there will be other opportunities. I just hope that next time I can be the writer and subject.

Just Keep Going: Cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway
Beginner’s Guide to Cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway


Blue Ridge Parkway Camp, Wrap-Up

A week later and we’re back to reality, but the memories of the Blue Ridge Parkway camp still linger. One thing I failed to mention in the post about my own experience was what a fantastic time I had. Given the injury, it could have been a bummer to watch a dozen or so people have the time of their lives cycling. It was quite the opposite. I loved every minute, and cannot wait to get back there.

Our chef and “Most Interesting Man in the Room,” Brian Boyd put together this video that does a great job at recapping the experience. Not only does he capture the beauty of the Parkway and the efforts of the cyclists, but he also captures the zaniness of the week. For such a grueling 6-days, we had a lot of laughs. Brian was our storyteller, and kept us entertained every evening.

See if you can figure out which random images Brian tossed in there that were NOT from our week.

Here are the posts from the week:

Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 1
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 1 Photos
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 2
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 2 Photos
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 3
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 3 Photos
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 4
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 4 Photos
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 5
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 5 Photos
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 6
Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 6 Photos
My Parkway Experience

We had one encounter that I purposely did not mention in the blog posts because it could have blown up in our faces. On day four, due to staggered starts, all of the riding groups congregated at the same area. The first group was about to roll out when a park ranger pulled in.

The Park Ranger

I had been warned ahead of time of Park Ranger behavior during the government shutdown. There were rumors that they were ordered to make life difficult for people. I had heard about another event, the Challenge to Conquer Cancer, also having an encounter with a Park Ranger and coming close to being thrown off the Parkway.

This Ranger came out on the attack. He asked us questions, then didn’t let us answer. We had three or four people squared up talking to him, growing more frustrated every time he cut us off. He claimed we did not have a permit for an organized ride, but ours was very loosely organized. The riders were following the rules of the Parkway by riding single file and not impeding traffic. His issue was that he saw the 5-Hour Energy van, a dozen riders, and assumed this was a sponsored event. We tried to explain to him that Bobby was a pro for the 5-Hour team, and this was not a commercial endeavor.

As the situation became more heated, I was worried that we would be thrown off the Parkway. That would have been a disaster, as we still had three days to go with all hotels booked.

Fortunately Steve Sperry took the initiative to pull the Ranger away from the angry crowd. He smooth-talked the Ranger and pushed for a solution. He was able to deflate the situation, and cooler heads prevailed. The Ranger called his supervisor, who said to let us go with a warning. He took all of our information and would settle the issue when the government re-opened. Someone could end up getting a fine out of this.

We left frustrated and angry. It was already somewhat difficult with all Parkway facilities closed. This just added insult to injury. We managed to get beyond it, and this was the only major negative of the entire trip.

Thanks to Bobby and Kinetic Potential Coaching, Christian, Steve, Brian, and all the riders for making this such a memorable experience.

Here are some photos taken by others throughout the week:

Bobby Sweeting, Ride Leader

Bobby Sweeting, Ride Leader

Christian Parrett, Ride Leader

Christian Parrett, Ride Leader

Will Bosch, Connecticut

Will Bosch, Connecticut

Steve Riley, Georgia

Steve Riley, Georgia

Chuck Casagrande, FL

Chuck Casagrande, FL

Mark Jorgensen, New Jersey

Mark Jorgensen, New Jersey

Guy's cheat sheet.

Guy’s cheat sheet.

This guy just watched and counted hawks all day.

This guy just watched and counted hawks all day.

The end of day 3.

The end of day 3.

Taking a breather at Price Lake on day 4.

Taking a breather at Price Lake on day 4.

Nancy's bike near Graveyard Fields.

Nancy’s bike near Graveyard Fields.

Wes and Julie climbing Richland Balsam.

Wes and Julie climbing Richland Balsam.

Parkway completed.

Relaxing after completing the Parkway.


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.


Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 6 Photos

The last day was at the highest average elevation, and had the best visuals of the entire trip. Here are some photos from Friday when we finished our adventure.

Mt Pisgah summit from the Parkway overlook.

Mt Pisgah summit from the Parkway overlook.

Steve and Chuck descending Mount Pisgah together.

Steve and Chuck descending Mount Pisgah together.

Some of the Fall colors were out at 5,000 feet for the Richland Balsam climb.

Some of the Fall colors were out at 5,000 feet for the Richland Balsam climb.

Graveyard Fields were swarmed with people getting pictures.

Graveyard Fields were swarmed with people getting pictures.

Some of the colors on the climb up to Waterrock Knob.

Some more colors on the climb up to Richland Balsam

This is the Richland Balsam summit, taken from the highest point on the Parkway.

This is the Richland Balsam summit, taken from the highest point on the Parkway.

Chuck saying his farewells at Richland Balsam as he prepares to sit in the car for hours.

Chuck saying his farewells at Richland Balsam as he prepares to sit in the car for hours.

Jeff came up to Richland Balsam to pay us a visit. Good to meet you, Jeff.

Jeff came up to Richland Balsam to pay us a visit. Good to meet you, Jeff.

Wes taking Julie's picture at the high point of the Parkway.

Wes taking Julie’s picture at the high point of the Parkway.

Sharp curve on the Richland Balsam descent.

Sharp curve on the Richland Balsam descent.

Some of the beauty on the Waterrock Knob climb.

Some of the beauty on the Waterrock Knob climb.

Wes and Julie complete the climb up Waterrock Knob.

Wes and Julie complete the climb up Waterrock Knob.

Almost there. Those last miles would be almost all downhill. Congrats everyone!

Almost there. Those last miles would be almost all downhill. Congrats everyone!


Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 6

DSCN0322

We woke up with a groan on Friday. The legs were tight and people were tired, but ready to get this thing over with. Today would be the final and arguably the toughest day of the ride.

We kept hearing all week about a closed section on the Blue Ridge Parkway through Asheville that might thwart our plans. We heard that the Parkway could be closed anywhere from a few days to two weeks. We were prepared to make a detour when Steve Sperry inspected ahead to see if it was passable. It was clear for both cars and bikes. Phew. We went forward with our plans, and the guys started towards Mount Pisgah.

Pisgah is yet another long climb, the first of three for today. The climbing was difficult, but after five days on the Parkway, everyone was pretty much used to it. One issue was with the tunnels, of which there are several on the way up. A few of them are long enough that you cannot see the very end, which can be disorienting and scary when riding through. Not all riders had lights, so I was going to try to position myself to light their way. Unfortunately I had a weird bout of car trouble, and wasn’t able to get to them until they reached the top. No worries. They passed through without issue.

After Pisgah, the next obstacle would be Richland Balsam mountain – another 6,000 foot behemoth, and the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From Pisgah, the road rolls up and down, and the mini-climbs are a little steeper than usual. On top of the soreness, the day was sunny and warm. It was taking a toll.

Most of the riders made it up to Balsam tired, but without issue. Chuck had to leave early to make it back home for an event tomorrow, and arranged for a car to be there. He was riding strong, and if he had the time, he would have easily completed the ride. Will had cramped the day before, but he rode strong the entire day, finishing with the front group. The same for Guy, Steve, and of course the pros had no problems.

Julie, Nancy and Wes rode together, and Julie was struggling. They urged Nancy to go ahead, and she absolutely crushed the remainder of the course. She finished in most impressive fashion. Wes had helped Julie up the climbs, and when she saw me at the highest point, she was ready to give up. ‘Please tell me we have a long descent!’ she said. As luck had it, we did. The descent down Richland Balsam is roughly 12-miles, and one of my favorite descents of all time. She told me that she expected to get in the car afterward. It simply wasn’t fun anymore I understood.

Meanwhile, I was expecting Scott from Cullowhee to meet us for the final climb of the day, up Waterrock Knob. Since I was keeping a close eye on Wes and Julie, I wasn’t able to meet up with him, but he connected with the front group. He brought Brent, a friend of his. They were very familiar with these roads, and had also ridden the entire Parkway previously.

I must have failed to tell them that Bobby and Christian are pros. As they were climbing, Scott warned Bobby that he was going at an unsustainable pace, and that he might blow up in a couple miles. This was no problem for Bobby, and I’m glad he got a few opportunities to get in some training for his upcoming trip to China. Scott and Brent could not stick with Bobby, as he destroyed the mountain. If he ever gets his Garmin working, he’ll surely have the fastest time on Strava. Christian rode with the guys and having ridden 5 days with Bobby at a blistering pace, was cracked and in no mood to attack.

I parked just a little further up from Balsam Gap, at the base of the Waterrock Knob climb. When I saw Julie and Wes, I was ready to put Julie’s bike away. To my surprise, she kept on going. She felt better having recovered on the descent. I was honest that the climb was 8-9 miles at a consistent pace. She would give it a go.

By this point, riders were slightly immune to the beauty if the Parkway. After every corner we turned, there was yet another beautiful and majestic mountain. Today was no different, with colors at 5,000-6,000 feet very close to peak. The colors on all the peaks and Graveyard Fields were stunning, a sea of orange and red. Even in the summer, Waterrock Knob is a gorgeous climb, but it was on another level today. Maybe that is what propelled Julie along, or maybe it was just mental toughness.

I kept checking on them, still fearing that the climb would be too much for Julie. She and Wes kept at it, and I’m sure that without his support and encouragement, she would have failed. They kept going, and going, and soon enough, they had reached the summit.

Another descent followed, not as long as the last, but enough to give them a chance to recover again. The last climb of the day was to Wolf Laurel Gap, just under three miles. Again, they stuck with it. A tunnel was at the end of the climb, so I made sure to be there to light the way. I yelled at Julie that this one disproved her theory about Gaps, as this was the last bit of climbing for the day. She didn’t hear me.

The day ended the day with a rush! The final descent to Cherokee is steep and exhilarating. They had earned all of it. The only obstacles were more tunnels and an overbearing sun. We had to slow down in order to see, and some of the tunnels were too long for them to see the end. I helped with the first couple, and they struggled through the remainder.

I could see the joy and relief when Julie and Wes coasted over the Oconaluftee River bridge, the last few hundred feet of the Blue Ridge Parkway. They, along with all the other riders, had completed an amazing task.

Congratulations to everyone. It was truly an honor to experience it with you!

The first thing Bobby said to me was that I’d be riding next year. Definitely. He also said that that since there was a 100% success rate this year, that next year would be tougher. Ugh!

Strava link from Wes


Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 5 Photos

I took a ton of photos today, and it was tough to trim them down to just a few. Here are the ones I feel best represent the day.

That is Table Rock in the far distance.

That is Table Rock in the far distance.

The towering Black Mountains were in our face all day.

The towering Black Mountains were in our face all day.

There were often vibrant colors in the foreground and mountains in the background.

There were often vibrant colors in the foreground and mountains in the background.

Grinding it out on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mitchell.

Grinding it out on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mitchell.

The colors were amazing on Mitchell.

The colors were amazing on Mitchell.

Guy riding up Mitchell.

Guy riding up Mitchell.

Bobby working his way up Mitchell. Game face.

Bobby working his way up Mitchell. Game face.

The Mitchell summit looked a lot different than the base.

The Mitchell summit looked a lot different than the base.

The first riders to the top talking about their conquest.

The first riders to the top talking about their conquest.

Riding up to Mitchell was not enough for Nancy. 10 pushups!

Riding up to Mitchell was not enough for Nancy. 10 pushups!

Mount Mitchell completed.

Mount Mitchell conquered!

This is the road up to Mitchell.

This is the road up to Mitchell.

The Craggys were bursting with yellow color.

The Craggys were bursting with yellow color.


Blue Ridge Parkway, Day Five

riding up mitchell

The riders were feeling surprisingly strong on the second to last day. Sure, the muscles were sore and the bodies tired, but they have settled into the climbing mentality.

They were particularly geared into Parkway landmarks and mile markers. Julie said that she looks for gaps, overlooks, and state parks. Gaps are usually not good because they mean the descent is over and a climb will be coming. Overlooks are usually at the end of a short climb, while parks are usually at the end of a big climb.

Today’s route would take us further into the Black Mountains, including the highest in all of the Appalachians, and we would leave via the Craggy mountains, descending into Asheville. There would be lots of gaps and overlooks in the early going, and one state park – Mount Mitchell. That would mark the end of the big climb, and the beginning of the big descent.

The climbing was top-loaded. There was some up and down from Linville Falls to Little Switzerland, maybe a little bit more up then down. By the first rest stop at the Black Mountain overlook, we were about 1,000 feet higher than we started, with plenty more to come. Along the way there were plenty of familiar, distinctive sites. In the far distance towards the east, we could see Table Rock and Lake Lure. To the west, we could see the the towering ‘Sixers’ in the Black Mountains.

At Buck Creek Gap, the terrain became quite familiar to Assault on Mount Mitchell riders. This is where that route enters the Parkway from Highway 80. From there it is usually a slow grind to Mount Mitchell State Park. That grind today was even slower.

This segment of the Parkway is the one that I am most familiar with. Today, however, it looked completely different. As we climbed higher, the colors really jumped out. The reds, oranges and yellows were overwhelming. I’ve also never been on the Mitchell route with weather this good. It was bright, sunny, and 60 degrees. We couldn’t ask for better weather, which has been a continuing theme this entire week.

The parkway climb is tough, comparable to the big climb they did on day one, and a couple that they’ll do tomorrow. The road just continues on and on, seemingly endless. Julie’s theory doesn’t stand up on the route to Mitchell, as there are several overlooks, but the road continues upward.

The views help, as you can see smaller mountains and valleys on one side, and as you get closer to Mitchell, you can see it and other large mountains in the distance. The colors continued to get better as we climbed up to 5,000 feet to make the turn into Mount Mitchell State Park.

The Mitchell summit wasn’t quite as colorful, mostly because of the depleted trees (long story). The view, on the other hand, was indescribable. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Bobby and Christian laid down the hammer heading into the Mitchell State Park, zooming by everyone. Guy was shortly behind them, followed by the rest. Bobby pushed hard on the climb, and eventually Christian fell behind. No shame in getting dropped by one of the top cyclists in the area.

Everyone finished excited and spent at the same time. Some of the guys had climbed Mitchell for the first time. This was Julie’s third time to the summit, all from different starting points. Wes got some revenge, having cramped up earlier on the Assault. This time he had it easy, and cruised up to the top. Bobby has probably been up there 20 times this year, and probably broke his own KOM with this attempt. That’s saying something when there are over 1,000 riders listed on Strava.

As if climbing to Mitchell wasn’t enough, Nancy decided to do pushups at the elevation sign. Not to be outdone, Julie did the same.

We descended via Craggy Gardens along the Mitchell ridgeline, which was pretty impressive. There were two little bumps on the way. They called them ‘heartbreak hills,’ before a wicked descent all the way back to Asheville. The Craggy area was particularly vibrant, with a lot of bright yellows. It was just absolutely gorgeous riding (and driving).

Now we’re in Asheville, back to civilization and cell phone coverage, with one more day remaining.

Strava Link (thanks Wes!)