Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Monday, October 31, 2016

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Although this isn’t a cycling post, it's perfect for Halloween.

In my 7/18/16 post, I wrote about how I first became familiar with Ray Bradbury’s writings when I read The Martian Chronicles for my 10th grade English class.  I loved that book so much that I went on to read a number of other Ray Bradbury books.  My favorite was Dandelion Wine, but I also really liked Something Wicked This Way Comes (SWTWC).  As I re-read Dandelion Wine over this past summer, I did a little research and learned that SWTWC is the thematic sequel.  That makes perfect sense.  Dandelion Wine is set in the summertime and has a decidedly bright tone.  SWTWC, in contrast, is dark and autumnal with elements of fantasy and horror.  Furthermore, although the two books have different characters, they both feature boys around the same age.  Twelve-year-old Douglas in Dandelion Wine is closer to the youthful innocence of childhood.  Will and Jim in SWTWC are only slightly older (13 on the verge of 14), yet their shadowy circumstances thrust them toward adulthood.  Taken together, these two books brilliantly portray the transitional cusp of adolescence.  I’ve been waiting until October to start re-reading SWTWC.  The time is now, and I’m loving it.

A few other notes from my recent Bradbury research: Dandelion Wine, SWTWC, and Farewell Summer, constitute Bradbury’s “Green Town Trilogy.”  All three books take place in fictional Green Town, which is based on his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois.  Additionally, Bradbury wrote a collection of short stories called Summer Morning, Summer Night, which is also set in Green Town.  I had never heard of Farewell Summer (published in 2006 and his last novel released in his lifetime) or Summer Morning, Summer Night (published in 2007), two of his last works before he died in 2012.  I can’t wait to read both of them!

My research also taught me the term fix-up.  A fix-up is a novel created from short fiction (e.g., short stories) that may or may not have been initially related or previously published.  The author modifies the original text, perhaps adding new material to connect the shorter pieces.  Fix-ups are particularly common in science fiction, which was published mostly in pulp magazines before science fiction books became popular in the 1950s.  Interestingly, The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine are both fix-ups while SWTWC was written as a single, full-length novel.

SWTWC has inspired other authors (including Stephen King), become a movie by the same title, and been parodied in pop culture (e.g., the TV show South Park).  I was particularly interested to learn of the 1967 album by Harry Nilsson entitled Pandemonium Shadow Show, a direct reference to SWTWC.  I’ve listened to it a good bit in the last few days and love how it sounds both Beatle-esque and carnival-like.  It’s not frothy, though; the depth of the lyrics pay proper tribute to the darkness of SWTWC.

Before I began re-reading SWTWC, I didn’t remember much detail except that one of the boys was born one minute before midnight, and the other was born one minute after midnight.  What has stuck with me the most over the years is the malevolence and carnival atmosphere, a spellbinding juxtaposition.  About 20 years ago, Robert and I went out to dinner one Friday evening with his grandparents.  We were headed back to their house afterwards, and Gran suggested that we stop by a neighbor’s house because she wanted Robert and me to see his jukebox collection, an impressive array of a dozen or more from several decades.  It was dark outside.  We entered a doorway and walked down some stairs to see the jukeboxes.  The basement was dimly lit except for the bright, rather garish neon lights of the jukeboxes.  Later, I told Robert that it was like something out of SWTWC.

I've always had a fear of/fascination with tornadoes.  Some years ago I discovered an intriguing artist named John Brosio, who features tornadoes in most of his paintings.  I purchased a print from him that shows a guy grilling in his backyard, oblivious to the impending doom of the tornado bearing down on him.  John later sent me a postcard with another of his works, called "Rides."  I keep it in a frame in my office.  It's always reminded me of SWTWC.

Speaking of rides, now would be a good time for one.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ashes to Ashes Alley Cat

What is an alley cat?  Besides the four-legged creature, it's a type of bicycle race originally done in urban areas by bike messengers.  Participants are given checkpoints, and they map their own route between them.  Thus, it's like a scavenger hunt and traveling salesman problem all rolled into one.  An alley cat is informal in that the emphasis is more on participating than competing.  A friend told me about a popular alley cat held in southern Indiana, in which partcipants ride on dirt roads and visit cemeteries.  Immediately, the wheels started spinning in my head because my Jasper County home is full of dirt roads and cemeteries.  I decided to devise my own similar type of alley cat and hold it yesterday, the last Saturday of October.

The Plan

As I began planning my alley cat several months ago, I wanted to come up with a good name.  With it being Halloween weekend, I considered names like Spooky Alley Cat, but nothing really grabbed me.  Then it hit me: We would be visiting cemeteries, and the ride would start and end at Jordan Engineering, where Ashes the cat lives.  Thus, it became the Ashes to Ashes Alley Cat.

Ashes showed up at Robert's and my door early this year.  She was the cutest thing, but we couldn't keep her at our house.  I'm allergic to cats, and our greyhounds aren't kitty friendly.  Therefore, she became the Jordan Engineering office cat.  I love visiting her when I go to Jordan Engineering every Monday evening for spin class.  Ashes is very affectionate and always wants attention.  Happily, she doesn't seem to trigger any allergic reactions in me.

Planning the checkpoints was fun.  Between my existing knowledge of local cemeteries and some online research, I came up with a list of cemeteries to visit.  I selected ones that could be visited in a roughly circular route; I didn't want to make navigation overly complicated.  As I visited the sites during the planning stage, I couldn't find one of the cemeteries that was supposed to be there.  I wanted to keep the other cemeteries that I had already selected, and I wanted to keep the total route length around 35 miles.  So, I used a bridge sign as one of the checkpoints to force riders to take a particular path.  I told them that if they complained about it not being a cemetery, they would be dead to me.

Another fun part of the planning was coming up with a question to be answered at each checkpoint.  The question usually involved a particular grave.  I selected a grave close to each cemetery entrance so that participants wouldn't have to search very long.

To set the mood as we gathered, I created a playlist of songs:

"Ashes to Ashes" by David Bowie
"Cat Scratch Fever" by Ted Nugent
"Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin
"Wild World" by Cat Stevens
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens
"Santa Baby" by Eartha Kitt (and a tongue-in-cheek poke at the fact that Christmas advertising begins at Halloween these days!)
"Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor
"Animal" by Def Leppard
"Josie and the Pussycats" TV theme song
"The Pink Panther Theme" by Henry Mancini and His Orchestra

Bill the Cat also greeted everyone.  Like Ashes, he is Halloween colored!

Bill is stylin' in his Mardi Gras beads

Cemeteries (Part I)

I didn't expect a big crowd, and I really wasn't surprised that it turned out to be only Robert and me and our good friend Chad.  I didn't mind a bit, though.  We purposely rode at a mellow pace and took our time exploring the cemeteries.

Our first stop was the cemetery at Robert's and my church, Monticello Presbyterian.  Although the official question there was about my friend Miss Blossom, who died several years ago at age 97, we lingered longer at the grave of Robert's great grandfather:

By the way, do you know the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard?  A graveyard is always next to a church, but a cemetery is located on a piece of land not adjoining a church.  Cemeteries came into being because over time, people realized the impracticality of tyring to bury everyone next to a church.  Most people use the two terms interchangeably, however.

Farther down the road, we went to Adgateville Community Cemetery.  I made the guys read and answer the official question: Eeek!  I'm dead!  Wait, it's a different Betty Jean.  What is her last name?

It was interesting to note that she has two headstones.  I like Robert's theory.  Like me, she always used her middle name along with her first name.  When someone left her middle name off of the first headstone, a family member had a second one made to get her name right.

After the Adgateville cemetery, we rode on the first and gravelliest unpaved section of the day.  It touches on the northern side of the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge, one of my favorite places to ride or just be in general.

Toward the end of this section, Robert got a flat:

At least we had a pretty view while he changed his tire:

Robert was concerned about getting another flat, and he had a few more hours on his training schedule anyway.  Therefore, when we got to the next paved road, he rode home to get his road bike and started riding the course backward to meet up with Chad and me again.  (The course had one other dirt section later on but was all paved after that.)  In the meantime, Chad and I continued on the original route.

Chad is a huge history buff, and I knew he would like the next cemetery - actually, a graveyard :)  Neither of us had ever seen another headstone for a Spanish American War veteran:
Today is the 60th anniversary of Mr. Thomson's death.
Chad also pointed out these nearby headstones:

They are made of concrete and have hand carved inscriptions.  We suspect that that's all they could afford because they died in the Depression/World War II era. 

A few miles and cemeteries later, we discovered this headstone:

The more we studied it, the more intrigued we became.  The first interesting point was that Mr. Stone, on the right (can't quite read his first name), was killed in a Civil War battle in Florida.  We don't often think about the Civil War extending into Florida.  His wife Lucinda is buried on the left.  They married in 1862, when Lucinda was 27.  That would have made her rather a spinster for that day.  However, maybe that's not the whole story.  Next to these graves are other Stones.  I didn't take a picture, and I've forgotten their first names, but they are a husband and wife who were born in the 1850s.  The man could have been Lucinda's son.  But his last name wouldn't be Stone, would it?  Hmmm...maybe the Mr. Stone buried with Lucinda was actually Lucinda's second husband, and Mr. Huff was her third husband.  Mr. Stone could have adopted Lucinda's son from her first husband who died.  This may not be what really happened, but regardless, Lucinda certainly has an interesting story to tell.

Chad and I speculated some more about Lucinda, wondering whether she was born in the area or maybe moved here with her husband.  About that time, Robert rode up on his road bike.

A Lesson in Land Surveying

Joining the discussion, Robert wound up giving us a fascinating overview of land surveying.  (He's a land surveyor in addition to being a civil engineer.)

In the late 1700s after the Revolutionary War, each head of household in Georgia was granted a 200-acre tract of land with the option of purchasing an additional 50-acre tract for each family member or slave, up to 1000 acres.  These were known as headright grants.  They occurred in the original part of the State of Georgia, east of the Oconee River.  These parcels were shaped irregularly, with creeks, trees, and other natural objects forming boundaries.

As whites moved west and obtained more land from the Native Americans, land lotteries were conducted.  The first land lottery in Georgia occurred in 1805 and conveyed the area between the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers, including Jasper County.  In this land lottery, the square tracts were oriented at a 45-degree angle from north.  Subsequent land lotteries in Georgia and farther west had parcels oriented at 35 degrees from north and later oriented due north.

Large tracts, such as townships, were laid out in states farther west.  It was noted that the vertical boundary lines of these larger tracts aren't parallel due to the curvature of lines of longitude.  An adjustment is required to represent the three-dimension surface of the earth on a two-dimensional mapping system.  Some systems more accurately adjust east-west dimensions, and others more accurately adjust north-south dimensions.  Georgia, being a longer state than it is wide, uses a system that more accurately adjusts north-south dimensions.  (Georgia actually has two state plane coordinate systems, east and west.)  Tennessee, in contrast, uses a system that more accurately adjusts east-west dimensions. Each state has its own state plane coordinate system.  All of these state plane coordinate systems were combined into one with the North American Datum of 1927 (NAD27) and, later, the more accurate North American Datum of 1983 (NAD83).  So, this accounts for necessary adjustments to horizontal position.  What about elevation adjustments?

The shape of the earth is idealized as an ellipsoid (3-D ellipse).  However, the gravity vector measured from a given point on the earth might not point to the earth's center of mass because of influences like mountains, which skew the direction of the vector.  In some places, measured gravity is greater than the idealized ellipsoid; in other places, measured gravity is less than the idealized ellipsoid.  The true set of gravity vectors is the earth's geoid.  Surveying involves using GPS data to calculate the difference between the ellipsoid and geoid at each measurement point.

We represent the physical world as accurately as we can with our measurement systems.  That's all they are, though - representations.  They aren't the actual world itself.  This is similar to all of the people in the cemeteries that we visited.  The best biography in the world is only a two-dimensional representation of a real person and can't capture all of his/her nuances.  I also remembered a quote that Robert once shared with me.  The gist of it was that even the most well-written, multifaceted fictional character isn't nearly as complex as the most seemingly ordinary real person.

Cemeteries (Part II) and Semi-Fabulous Prizes

We had a couple of cemeteries left to visit.  The last one was Westview in downtown Monticello.  We stopped to say hello to Robert's grandparents:

Robert never knew his grandfather, who died when Robert's father was a teenager.  Robert's grandmother ran their dairy by herself for about the next 25 years.  I never knew her because she died a couple of years before I met Robert, but I think I would have liked her a lot.

At last we arrived back at Jordan Engineering.  Chad got the semi-fabulous prize for the first male finisher.  He is a physics professor, which makes this particularly appropriate for him:

As the only female participant, I got the semi-fabulous prize for the first female finisher.  I'm not sad.  Note that the top reads both hello and bye, another reference to Schrödinger’s cat:

The lanterne rouge prize went to Robert.  That's only because I had three semi-fabulous prizes, and there were three riders.

Then it was time for refreshments.  Nothing like beer and cookies after a ride.  I had made the cookies the night before.

Ashes was her usual sweet self as we sat around being refreshed.

Then we went to The Vanilla Bean on the square for real lunch:

The day held all I could ask for: beautiful weather, great friends, a little history, and simply being outside and pedaling in the fresh air.  And maybe just a touch of spookiness.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

It's a Circus Out Here

September and October are my mellower time of year for cycling.  The days have gotten too short for Tuesday Worlds, and Peach Peloton won't start until mid-November.  It's a good physical and mental break.  I still ride, but I don't do the Strava monthly distance challenges, and I don't focus on intensity.  I simply ride when and where I want to.  Yesterday I did a longer dirt road ride, a weekend treat I like to indulge in this time of year.  I wanted to ride for at least a couple of hours, and I had a general route in mind.  However, it didn't take me quite as long as I expected, and so I kept adding a dirt road here and there.  I felt like Billy from The Family Circus.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Blue Ridge Parkway

Last week Robert and I rode on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) at the Kinetic Potential Coaching (KPC) training camp.  It was like the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) on steroids: more miles, (much) longer climbs, plusher accommodations, and fancier food.
We got connected to KPC through Christian Parrett, one of its coaches.  Christian grew up in Macon and was in his early teens when Robert and I started doing group rides there.  The first person whose name and face I learned was Christian’s dad, Dave.  I remember riding with Dave and him telling me about his son, who was into cycling.  Dave said that Christian had gotten into racing and was really good.  I thought, yeah, sure, every dad is going to say that about his son.  It turns out that Christian is the real deal.  He joined the US National Team when he was 17 and has ridden on several pro teams since then.  For the last few years he has also been coaching.
KPC has a weeklong training camp on the BRP each year in late September to early October.  Robert and I decided to make it our vacation for this year.  We’ve done a number of cycling vacations, and I thought we had experienced a pretty good variety of locales and riding conditions.  This training camp was different from any other cycling trip I’ve taken – in unexpectedly fantastic ways.
Riders and Staff
The BRP camp typically has about a dozen riders.  This year’s group was smaller than usual.  The other riders included Charlie, Nancy, and Wes, who are some of Christian’s coaching clients.  It was a delightful surprise to see Charlie at our meetup location!  He’s a cycling friend from Macon who moved to North Carolina a few years ago.  Christian also joined us on the rides.
Tony served as soigneur, setting up rest stops, hauling bags, and generally doing whatever was needed to make camp run smoothly and help us riders have a great experience.  Brian was our chef, who kept us deliciously well fueled.
Our group gathered on Sunday morning in Asheville, NC.  Normally, KPC uses team vans for the BRP training camp, but because of the smaller group this year, they used Christian’s pickup truck and Tony’s car instead.  This also slightly simplified the logistics; vehicles with commercial logos are prohibited from the BRP unless they obtain a special permit.
We shuttled to our first overnight stop, a condo at a ski resort in Wintergreen, VA, located about 14 miles from the northern end of the BRP.  It was one of the nicest places we stayed that week.  Christian did a great job of lining up accommodations.  He had to balance daily riding distance, proximity to the parkway, availability, and swankiness that didn’t break the budget.
Brian showed his cooking prowess from the get-go, preparing an array of fixings for make-your-own burritos.  Our delicious dinner also made us less sad about the lack of view that evening.  Heavy fog obscured the surrounding mountains.
We were ready to ride the next morning.  Getting back to the BRP proved to be a challenge itself.  The road from the condo to the main road has a long, steep downhill.  Overnight rain had made the surface slick.  I’m always extra careful on steep descents anyway, but I couldn’t be too cautious in these conditions.  Even so, I fishtailed and narrowly missed running into the back of Robert at the stop sign at the bottom.  Maybe the resulting adrenaline rush helped propel me up the climb to the parkway: a 15% grade!  That was steeper than any part of the BRP itself.  It really wasn’t bad, though, particularly with fresh legs.
The fog continued all day.  Christian (and Nancy and Wes, who have done this trip previously) said that if it had to be foggy, it was the best day for it to happen because the most spectacular views from the parkway are toward the southern end.  The fog kind of suited my mood anyway.  Although I was fine physically, I didn’t feel like myself for the first few days of the trip because I had several big things on my mind.  I pedaled my bicycle, not being able to see very far down the road.  It seemed like life itself.
There was an unanticipated benefit to the fog.  The muted lighting made the multitude of lichens much more noticeable.  They took all kinds of forms, from covering trees to growing in rounded clumps on the ground.  Lichens are fascinating organisms, consisting of algae and fungus.  The composite organism has quite different properties from the component life forms.
I'm lichen this.

Monday had one of the toughest sections of the week, a nearly 4000-foot climb over 10 miles near the end of the 87-mile day.  We also had a rather white-knuckling descent off of the parkway to get to our next lodging: about three miles at 5% in the not-quite-raining fog.  But we made it – whew!
That night we stayed at Vanquility Acres, a bed and breakfast run by Ellen and John Everett.  The B&B itself was Ellen’s parents’ house.  Ellen and John live a couple of doors down in a separate house.
After a much needed shower, I got my first taste of a KPC training camp post-ride, sort-of ritual: soup by Brian.  That evening it was French onion soup and steak sandwiches.  Serious yummage.  And believe it or not, we still had dinner a few hours later.  I had time for a good nap between feedings.
It was good to see some sunshine the next morning.  We walked the short distance to breakfast at Ellen and John’s house.  Served family style, it was delicious: fruit, juices, some kind of breakfast casserole with eggs and green chilies, bacon, and apple-cinnamon French toast.  John also regaled us with various tales, perhaps mostly tall ones.  But I’d kind of like to believe the story he told about proposing to Ellen.  He had asked her to marry him about 20 times, and she always said no.  Then, one day he tried again as she went out to milk the goats.  He had attached a ring to a goat’s udder.  That time she said yes.  I guess he just had to find the right way to melt her heart.
As we started the day’s ride, we had to go back up the steep climb to the parkway.  Because it was still early in the week before too much fatigue had accumulated, I was able to hang with Charlie, Christian, and Robert for the entire climb.  (Nancy and Wes perhaps wisely got a car ride from Tony up to the parkway and started pedaling from there.)
The remainder of the day had one relatively small climb (about 5% for 5 miles – funny how your perspective starts to shift) but was mostly rollers.  Not rollers like here in Middle Georgia, but up for about a mile and then down for about a mile.  By the way, one interesting thing about the BRP is that you don’t have to brake much on the descents, even if you take them pretty aggressively.
It’s amazing to ride on the BRP mile after mile and see no houses, just woods and mountain vistas.  Our trip was right before the leaves started changing, and so traffic was pretty light.  I did notice more volume near bigger cities like Roanoke, but because of the 45-mph speed limit on the parkway, even then traffic wasn’t a big concern.
At 96 miles, Tuesday was our longest ride.  I had planned to keep it at 96 miles and not go for the extra four miles to make it a century, but then I missed the turn to that night’s lodging.  (I was riding by myself at the end of the day.)  By the time I realized my mistake, I only needed about a mile and a half to get to 100.  So I went for the century after all.
This section of the BRP has limited accommodations.  We stayed at the Woodberry Inn, an apparently 1970s-era motel with restaurant.  Even though it was the least luxurious of the places we stayed all week, it was perfectly adequate, and it was essentially right on the parkway.  Also, when Robert and I visited the restaurant bar, the owner taught me the correct way to pour a hefeweizen.  Pour most of it into a glass.  Then, pour the remainder into the middle of the glass so that you can see all the delicious yeastiness dispersing.
Although we ate dinner at the inn restaurant, Brian still had soup for us when we came in from the day’s ride.  We got a text telling us to bring our water bottles to Christian and Brian’s room.  Huh?  Yes, we had soup in our water bottles because we didn’t have any other containers.  It worked just fine (we simply washed our bottles out well to convert them back for riding), and it made a great, quirky memory of the trip.  That night we had some kind of southwestern chicken soup with cumin and other spices.  One of the fun things about Brian’s soups (and really all of his dishes) was trying to figure out what all was in it.  The most delicious aromas would waft through the air, and I always seemed to taste an ingredient that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Wednesday was our rest day with only 55 miles of rollers.  Christian planned that well, knowing that the rest day would be most welcome after our longest day.  Also, this gave us more time at the best lodging of the week, Glade Valley Bed and Breakfast in North Carolina.  It’s constructed of logs and beautifully decorated.  Owners Jim and Margaret Connor pull out all the stops to make guests welcome.  As soon as we walked in the door from our ride, Margaret greeted us with lemonade and homemade cookies right out of the oven.  Soft, soothing music played over speakers.  The bathroom was filled with all kinds of good smelling soaps, shampoos, and lotions.  Still not feeling like myself inside, I greatly appreciated these simple comforts.
I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and napping.  At dinnertime our group gathered around a long table for Margaret’s delicious homemade spaghetti and meatballs.
Afterwards, Tony called everyone to the back porch for a “safety meeting.”  That was code for having a few beers.  I’m not sure if the Connors would have minded or not, but we were discreet, didn’t act like idiots, and cleaned up after ourselves.
Even better was looking at the stars.  Tony pulled up an app on his phone so that we could identify various constellations.  At first the sky was too cloudy to see many stars.  Everyone chatted for a while.  All of a sudden, we looked up and saw that the sky was as clear as a bell.  Amazing!  We could even barely discern the Milky Way.
Margaret prepared another fabulous meal for breakfast, which included eggs, bacon, sausage, cheese grits, hash browns, and biscuits.  We filled up so much on those that we barely put a dent in her sweet rolls.  No problem – she let us take them with us for our rest stops.

Thursday’s ride was 93 miles.  More rollers and climbing.  We also had some more fog, but it wasn’t nearly as thick or extensive as on Monday.

We stayed in Linville Falls that night.  The accommodations that Christian usually books here were full, and so he arranged for some cabins.  They certainly weren’t the Glade Valley B&B, but then Jim and Margaret probably spoiled us.  Brian, Christian, and Tony stayed in one cabin, where we all met for dinner and breakfast.  Charlie and Wes stayed in another adjoining cabin.  Nancy, Robert, and I stayed in a third cabin, which was most notable for the incredibly steep slope as we walked between it and the staff cabin.  It was so steep that we had to plan strategically to minimize our trips as we hauled our bags back and forth.

All of Brian’s soups were outstanding, but Thursday’s was my favorite.  It was broccoli soup with a dollop of goat cheese in each bowl.  I could have made a meal off of that, but later we had a full dinner with chicken, rice, green beans, a mixture of other kinds of beans, and kale.  I can’t do Brian’s cooking justice by simply listing the dishes.  He takes these seemingly ordinary foods and makes them sumptuous.


On Friday we rode 84 miles and started doing more climbing.  In fact, we had 20 miles of climbing before our bonus of the day, Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in eastern North America.  Mt. Mitchell itself isn’t on the BRP, but the entrance to it is.  I had never climbed Mt. Mitchell before (or even been on the BRP before this trip).  I’ve heard of the Assault on Mt. Mitchell ride and had visions an incredibly steep, nearly impossible climb.  You know what?  It wasn’t that bad.  I suppose it’s all relative, considering all of the mileage and climbing we had done already that week.

The climb to the summit is about 4 miles.  The first couple of miles are the steepest, about 9%, but I didn’t know that.  I was doing fine, pedaling away as I had been doing all week.  I thought maybe it would get even steeper near the top, a la Brasstown Bald in Georgia, but it actually got flatter.  I felt great as I reached the top and pulled up to our rest stop.  As I’ve found so often before, things often loom larger and scarier until I actually do them.

The beautifully sunny day gave us marvelous views.  Also, the vegetation at the top of Mt. Mitchell was significantly different than at lower elevations.  Gnarly tree branches had been sculpted by the elements.  Bright red berries blazed in the sunlight; later I learned that this was mountain ash.

After descending Mt. Mitchell, we had a few short climbs.  We stopped at Craggy Gardens, a great photo op:
Me and Robert
Me and Charlie
Tony, me, Robert, and Christian

The last 20 miles of the BRP that day were almost all downhill as we rode into Asheville.  Even with as much cycling as I’ve done, it’s hard for me to conceive, much less convey, what it’s like to do these long climbs and descents.  You climb for several hours at a time at 6-8 mph, sitting then standing.  Sitting then standing.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  Then, you descend for nearly 45 minutes at 30+ mph.

Our lodging was about seven miles from the parkway.  We had to ride on a four-lane highway that was busy with rush hour traffic.  To get us off of this highway more quickly, Christian led us riders onto a cut-through road.  Yowza!  What a climb: 15% for over a mile!  That’s more like what I was expecting on Mt. Mitchell.  I definitely didn’t expect it at the very end of our ride with 80 miles in my legs.  But we made it, even if we did have to stop partway up.

After another hair-raising descent, we made it to our home for the next two nights, a house that Christian found through Airbnb.  First things first:

PBR after riding on the BRP

Then it was time for a shower and Brian’s final soup of the week, sweet potato.  It was savory, not sweet.  I have no idea what all the spices in it were, but the soup was delicious, as always.

I started checking out the house.  Apparently, a family lives there and moves elsewhere when they rent it out.  It was the grooviest place I ever stayed:

Brian even found a stash of dried golden chanterelles, which he used to make a delicious mushroom sauce to accompany dinner:

I love how he's cooking with his cycling sunglasses on his head.

Robert and I stayed in a room that belongs to a young girl who is probably about 10 years old.  It had several cool things, including some of her drawings hanging on the wall and some photo booth photos of her and presumably her older brother.  My favorite thing, however, was her Wall of Quotes, which had several dozen of her favorite quotes from books.  I love this one:

If I lived near her and were about her age, I think I would be good friends with this girl.


The house became even groovier in the morning when we got to see the chickens and pig:

There were many more chickens, but these two happened to get in the picture I was trying to take of the pig.  I posted this photo on Facebook, and a friend commented that her daughter asked if the chickens were getting married.  Ha ha!  That’s exactly what it looks like (with the pig officiating).  I petted the pig and was fascinated with its fibrous hair.  By the way, he has a door, just like a dog door, where he can enter the house and hang out in a small enclosure.

It was nice not to have to load up our bags because we would be staying here a second night.  We headed out for our final day of riding.  Fortunately, we didn’t ride back to the BRP via the killer hill.  We headed out in the opposite direction from the house, taking the route that kept us on the four-lane highway for a longer time, which was less of a concern on a Saturday morning.

I was feeling pretty good physically, considering that in the previous five days, I had ridden over 400 miles with some major climbing.  Still, I could feel the fatigue, and I knew that my power was down.  I couldn’t keep up with the guys, and so I just rode at a steady pace that I could maintain.  It was the hardest day of the trip; we climbed over 10,000 feet in 92 miles.  And it was my birthday!  I was kind of glad that it was the hardest day of riding because starting another revolution around the sun with such a challenge gave me confidence to face whatever the next year brings.

After we reached the highest point on the BRP, we had a good descent and then two more climbs.  The grand finale was about a 5-mile descent to the southern end of the parkway outside of Cherokee, North Carolina.  I simply coasted down those last five miles.  I was tired.  But I was excited to have completed the journey!

Saturday night we went out for a group dinner in Asheville.  Nancy wasn’t with us because her husband picked her up at the end of the BRP, but Wes’s girlfriend Melissa joined us.  Christian suggested that we go to A Taste of El Salvador.  I was all for that because I had never had Salvadoran food.  A good sign when we got to the restaurant was that the only other customers were Salvadoran.  Although they were out of all but one entrée and all but one type of tamale (corn), we ordered what they did have available, and it was delicious!  I love trying different types of cuisine.  I’ll be on the lookout for other Salvadoran restaurants.

After dinner we went to a KPC training camp favorite hangout, Wicked Weed.  It’s a brewpub with local beers and other high quality domestic and foreign drafts.  I enjoyed hanging out with everyone and toasting my birthday.  I don’t know when I’ve stayed up until 1:00 AM!  It was a festive and fitting end to a terrific week.

Love in an elevator
Livin' it up when I'm goin' down