Blue Ridge Parkway
May 16 / June 6
1995

Michael J. Ferguson
Montréal

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index

Contents

1  Tuesday May 16, Montréal
2  Wednesday May 17, Washington
3  Thursday May 18, Front Royal
4  Friday May 19, Big Meadows
5  Saturday, May 20, Humpback Rocks
6  Sunday, May 21, Otter Creek
7  Monday, May 22, Otter Peaks
8  Tuesday, May 23, Smart View
9  Wednesday, May 24, Fancy Gap
10  Thursday, May 25, Glendale Springs
11  Friday, May 26, Julian Price Memorial Park
12  Saturday, May 27, Crabtree Meadows
13  Sunday, May 28, Hot Springs, NC
14  Monday, May 29, Maryville, TN
15  Tuesday, May 30, Hiwassee Scenic River
16  Wednesday, May 31, New Salem, GA
17  Thursday, June 1, Gadsden, AL
18  Friday, June 2, Birmingham
19  Saturday, June 3, Birmingham
20  Sunday, June 4, Coleman Lake, (Heflin), AL
21  Monday, June 5, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA
22  Tuesday, June 6, Decatur
23  Maps

1  Tuesday May 16, Montréal

Ever since I started bicycle touring, I have wanted to ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Washington, DC to visit my Aunt Mary in Birmingham, Alabama. Aunt Mary is my father's sister and was born in China in 1901. She is now 94, or as she likes to count in the Chinese tradition, 95 - that is, in her 95th year.

During my trip to California last year, I discovered that I was not drinking enough water. On this trip I discovered I was not eating enough. There is a phenomena in Marathon Racing called ``Hitting the wall'' where the blood sugar is depleted. On this trip it became obvious to me that I have spent a large amount of time on my trips on the wrong side of the wall. I usually describe it as ``terminal exhaustion''. It was also on this trip that I discovered what all those monkeys were doing when they stopped in the trees to eat their banana. They were indulging in an almost instant replenishment of blood sugar. As a kid in Sevierville, NC, who was also a mountain biker, said ``Bananas are magic!'' They can almost instantly replenish your low blood sugar. They work better than ``Power Bars'', and as Rick, another bicyclist said, taste much better. For me, it was a momentous discovery.

This was a trip of 1200 miles (1900km) horizontal, and over 12 miles (19km) vertical. It was the most difficult bicycle trip I have ever taken.

I am visiting friends at both ends of the trip. Jerry Smith, one of my Stanford roommates and classmates lives at Fort Leslie McNair in downtown Washington. Jerry is a full Rear-Admiral (2 stars) in the US Navy who has, much to his dismay, been stuck on shore for the past several years. At the moment he is finishing an assignment as Commandant (President) of Industrial College of the Armed Forces. In Atlanta I am going to visit Sally Mahoney, another friend from Stanford. Sally is another College President - Agnes Scott College. She used to be Registrar at Stanford.

This is the first vacation trip I have had since 1992 when I went to Ireland with Peggy. I tried to reduce my junk to a minimum but failed. My camping gear seems to take up an inordinate amount of space. Virginia drove me to Dorval Airport for my 6:40am flight. Technically I am supposed to pay for my bicycle when I fly in North America. however, my bike folds, and does not take up much more room than an oversize suitcase. I have never paid for it on American Airlines in over ten years of travel. Whether I pay is at the whim of the particular ticket agent that I pick. This one insisted on charging me. I argued that it was really unnecessary and he finally relented, but with the warning that the next time I flew, and if he were on duty, I would pay. I may have to change my flight times.

The US customs official was slightly incredulous when I told him my plans. ``How long do you expect to take?'' I told him that it should take about two and half of my three weeks. He still didn't believe it was possible but sent me on my way.

Chicago was warm and cloudy with much worse on the way. The CNN Airport Network reported that St. Louis had just received 2.75in of rain in one hour. The satellite map showed a cloudy mess over the entire centre of the US. It hit me two days later.

Although this is a vacation, I do not get to avoid work. I am on the programme committee for FORTE'95 and received seven papers yesterday. I have to send in the reviews by June 21. I brought them with me to read on the plane and in idle moments in the evening. The plane for Washington was late, so I decided to continue reading the papers - then I discovered that I couldn't find my glasses. I searched and searched to no avail. Then I went to the counter and told the lady that I thought I had left my glasses on my last flight. She phoned them, and after several entreaties to go and look carefully in my seat, told me that they had indeed been found and would be delivered. Just before we were to board, a skycap came into the waiting area waving my glasses. It was nice to get them back. They were only inexpensive reading glasses but it saved me from having to hassle finding another pair.

The approach to Washington National Airport is convoluted, but delightful. We approach Dulles Airport, turn 90 to go north of the Potomac and then another 90 to go along the Potomac. Then we followed every curve of the river into National. We looked down over the top of the Washington Monument towards the Capital Building an then right beside the Jefferson Memorial - finally we banked right to land on the runway rather than splash into the river.

Washington My bike jammed up the conveyor belt making both myself, one other poor passenger believe that we had lost our luggage. However we both left happy - no damage to anything. This is the first time at National with my bike and I was delighted to find a bike path along the Potomac just as I left the airport boundary. The path cuts across the end of the main runway and the landing planes are only a couple of hundred feet above your head.

I arrived at the front gate of Fort Leslie McNair at about 1:30 and after a phone call, was allowed in. Both Jill and Jerry happened to be home. Jerry had just come home from a reception at school to change his Navy Whites - a clash with the brown of spilt coffee. He went back to work and I spent the afternoon sitting on the porch of their Neo-Classical mansion reading my papers. It was a beautiful, sunny, 75F day.

Jerry is giving up his seven bedroom, 9000 square foot, public housing house in downtown Washington on July 1. He is retiring from the Navy on August 1, looking for a new job as a College President, and moving back to his ``little'' house in Falls Church, VA. I am glad I was able to visit.

2  Wednesday May 17, Washington

It is now 5:30am and there is no signs of a sunrise. I wonder when this will be. The mocking birds are singing outside my window and the possible rain has not materialized. Today I am on my way to Front Royal, the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

It is now Tuesday and I am completing yesterday's log in the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center of the Shenandoah National Park. Front Royal was further than I thought - 88 miles (140 km). I didn't arrive until very dark - 9:40pm. I followed the Lee Highway to Gainsville. Virginia 55 then headed west across the Bull Run Mountains - ``run'' is another name for ``creek'', usually down the side of a mountain - through the Manassas Gap that Lee used on his way to the Battle of Manassas. It was gentle and wide open all the way. Virginia 55 was supposed to go all the way to Front Royal but it disappeared into I66 and Virginia did not allow bicycles on the Interstate. Fortunately, my Washington - 50 mile radius map ended just where 55 came back, and showed the back roads. These were mostly gravel, sparsely populated, with the occasional bunny, lots of cardinals, a few bluejays, and many soaring hawks. I was forced several times to push my bike uphill - my skiing this winter did not really help for bike riding but did improve my hill pushing muscles.

When I got back on Va55, I had already gone 73 miles and would have settled for any campground. What I really needed was water. Linton was 5 miles away, and the only town before Front Royal. It's only grocery store, one small room, did have Gatorade. I had two bottles, some potato chips, felt a little better - dehydration replaced by a slight feeling of bloatedness. All the hills between there and Front Royal seemed steep - but not as steep as the ones on the other side of Linton.

It was just getting dark when I reached Front Royal, and completely dark after I finished a gourmet supper at Burger King. The only campground near was a KOA, 3 miles up hill and south. I made it there put up my tent, had a shower, some wine, and went to sleep. It poured rain all night - all day it had been drizzly on and off - and was still raining when I woke up in the morning. I was contemplating putting on my complete rain gear but after breakfast, it had essentially stopped. My tent was completely soaked and I discovered that the floor was no longer waterproof. I will obviously have to live with it for the trip.

3  Thursday May 18, Front Royal

The KOA office was still closed when I left. Three miles later I was entering the Park. It was a slow gentle climb for five miles to the visitor center. The Shenandoah Valley opened out on the right and the deer were frolicking on the left. About a half a dozen bicyclists have stopped to talk as I have been writing. There is much interest in my funny bead seat and a certain amount of astonishment at my load. One group gave me a very nice addition to my maps - a detailed elevation profile of Skyline Drive - which I promptly lost.

Shenandoah National Park - Skyline Drive

Skyline is positively over run by bicyclists. They are all from Washington out on extended day trips - 4 days really. All of them are going to stop 35 miles down (really up) the road at the Skyland Lodge, next day to go 65 miles to the park boundary, and finally two more days up the Shenandoah Valley to Front Royal. None of them were camping. All of them were much faster than I was, but I continually met them again at overlooks and after a stop to admire a little black bear that ran across the road. The trash can design shows that the rangers believe that this is truly bear country.

At Thornton Hollow Overlook, we had some concern about a huge black cloud to the east, thunder, and a few drops of rain. One guy said he really didn't want to haul out his rain gear - such a pain. In five minutes we both put on our rain jackets - it is so warm that getting your legs wet is no problem. It was no light shower. The rain drove down in all directions, even coming in the rear flap on my jacket. One poor guy was stuck by the side of the road wishing for wipers for his glasses, and another girl hitched a ride back to Front Royal with a passing ranger to get her car. The storm lasted for about 30 minutes and soaked me from my waist to my toes.

I found the uphill going incredibly tough and was averaging only about 4mph on the uphill stretches. At this rate it will take me 3 months rather than 3 weeks to get to Atlanta. At overlooks, I would usually say hello and leave quickly to get a head start on everyone else. It was getting late and I was now a trifle concerned about getting to Big Meadows Campground about 10 miles beyond Skyland Lodge. At about 6:00pm, I stopped at an overlook for a rest and was quickly joined by about 7 other bicyclists. It was clear to me that it was virtually impossible to get to Big Meadows before dark. As I was sitting there, Don, known as ``Mississippi'' to his friends came along with his pickup truck and offered us all a ride. To emphasize the necessity of taking it he gave us intimate details about how far it was to Skyland - 3 more miles - and each of the grades that we had to climb. I took him up on his offer but all the others declined. The girl that had gone back for her car said ``No thanks, I have cheated once today.'' I have no idea where she left her car.

Mississippi drove me all the way to Big Meadows. He worked in the stables at Skyland and was immensely proud, in a quiet way, of his knowledge of the ups and downs of the road - announcing each grade and dip before we arrived. He was also extremely considerate about his smoking. He opened the windows when I got in the truck, closed them again when he had finished, and said he did not like to smoke around other non-smokers, even in his own ``vehicle''

We arrived at Big Meadows at about 7:00pm and Mississippi let me off at the gate. I had my tent up by about 7:15pm and went over to have a shower - they shut down at 7:00pm. There did not seem to be any place to get food so supper looked like it would be an English Muffin and beef soup. On my way back, I asked a camper I saw whether he knew of a store where I could buy food. He thought that the one at entrance sold food but that it was closed today - and possibly not yet open for the season. After hearing my plight, he invited me to share dinner with them - fried chicken, onions, tomato and rice sure beat my possibilities. I supplied the wine. Mike and Beth were from the Piedmont region of north western South Carolina, and were here for three days with there Golden Retriever. It was a delightful supper.

During supper the wind had dried my tent. However, by morning that had been all undone. We had another tremendous storm, with very strong winds overnight. The tent next door sounded as though it was blowing away. Mine did well, except for the non-waterproof floor. It is still windy this morning, but not raining.

4  Friday May 19, Big Meadows

I started out at about 8:00am, after a conversation about my future ride with Don Larsen from Wisconsin. He thought that our storm last night was the end of the bad weather and that I should have a nice time when I finally get to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I am now in the South River Picnic Area, 13 miles from Big Meadows, and it has been mostly downhill, as I was promised by ``veterans'' of this ride yesterday. Today has been a bird and flower day - brilliant yellow hooded warblers, indigo buntings, and many others for which I have no names. The Pink Trilliums and Dogwood are every where, as is an Azalea that reminds me of a Fuschia. There is also a sweet fragrance on the air whose origin I cannot identify - maybe later.

** The ubiquitous creepy crawly is the millipede ... all over the road. The rare one is a tent caterpillar - what is most unusual is that the tents are only occasional and quite widespread.

It was a beautiful day - no rain, but several threats. The road was, indeed, mostly down or so it seemed compared to yesterday. The overlooks seemed to concentrate on Hollows, such as Thornton's but no Sleepy. A decent homestead in a Hollow was one where there was space to graze some sheep and a garden that was not so steep that you would fall off.

I stopped for lunch at Loft Mountain and had a barbecue sub - seems to be the hill version of shepherd's pie. Provisioning and eating along Skyline is very difficult. There was a campstore here, sort of - it was 1 mile up the mountain. The next place I found to buy food was when I left the park - a convenience store at Afton - the only thing edible was some sliced ham. Even eating out is difficult. The grill here closes at 5:00pm.

I reached the entry to Blue Ridge Parkway at about 5:00pm. I estimated that I had about 15 miles, probably all uphill, to get to the Sharandon Lake, and 5 miles to get to the Visitor Center at Humpback Rocks. I stopped at the first overlook to refuel (brownies and trail mix) and asked some advice of a motorcyclist who was studying for his Medical Boards. He had come here because it was relaxing and a spectacular view of the eastern valley. He also said the road climbed for a ways, then was downhill, and then up and down from that point.

The climb up was relatively easy, except for a headwind, and that was followed by a reasonably long down. Then there was an exhausting uphill for a mile or so to the Visitor Center. After one more refueling, I arrived at the Visitor Center at about 7:00pm - it was closed. It was there, that I discovered that I still had 15 miles to go before I reached the Sharandon Lake exit - then it was 5 additional miles off the Parkway. After looking around the Visitor Center for a place to camp, I continued up around Humpback Rocks. After about 5 miles, I found a huge Picnic Area - it was now close to 8:00pm - this would be my place to stay. The whole area was surrounded by woods and I found a nice spot under some trees that was big enough for my tent. I was out of view of the main Picnic Area - it was beautiful. I pitched my tent just beyond the Hog Wall that surrounded the picnic ground. Hog Walls were built by slaves for something to do during the winter. They were intended to discourage the semi-wild pigs that roamed the area. Supper was, beef soup with red wine, sliced ham, and some red wine. After supper I carefully threw out my trash - no bears tonight please.

It may have been mostly down but I managed to climb 4300 feet (1460 m) in 69 miles (110km).

Blue Ridge Parkway

5  Saturday, May 20, Humpback Rocks

There were no bears last night and no rain - things are almost dry. I am late this morning. I had to replace about half a dozen spokes in my front wheel. I have increased the weight on the front wheel because I have my backpack full of camping gear on top of the front rack. The front wheel did not like it - hopefully this will fix it. Yesterday my packing was admired by a guy bicycling from San Diego on his to Washington. He said there were 19 that started from San Diego behind him and some he had not seen since he left New Mexico.

Today I lost 2500 feet - down to the lowest point on the Parkway (700 feet) at Otter Creek.. However I managed to climb 3700 feet (1130m) in the process. This has been, without exception, the most strenuous ride I have been on. In four days I have climbed over 3 miles and only gone a total of 267 miles (430km). The Blue Ridge Mountains seem to be a melange of caps and razor sharp ridges, all of which rise sharply about 1500 to 2000 feet above their base. In one place the road ran on top of one of these ridges. It dropped off very sharply on both sides but it was impossible to see down very far - the trees climb right up the side to the very top. There were several overlooks to such places as Bald Mountain, Rocky Point, or Rock Mountain, all of which had trees right to the very top and almost completely covering them. In some cases a few small rock slides showed that the name may have been accurate sometime.

At one point, the road opened up into grassy fields on both sides. It was still about 3000 feet and I was wondering if it would be like this all he way to Otter Creek. It was not - very soon we were running along a ridge back into the melange of ridges, caps, and peaks..

I have changed my riding regimen and am stopping every couple of hours to refuel. I have just about finished all my trail mix and everything else is gone. A critical thing for me today was to resupply. I stopped for lunch at Whetstone Ridge - an old source of whetstones - for a hearty, but dull roast beef, gravy and mashed potatoes. I asked the waitress if there were a store nearby. She said ``Yes - just down the road to the left.'' I asked ``How far?'' and she of course replied ``Not far.'' I persisted and she said much less than a mile. After lunch I started down. At about 1/2 mile I found a very dead Anderson's Grocery. At this point I had dropped down one very steep grade and started down another, just to see if they had been just put out of business. There was nothing at by the next leveling. At this point I quit and started back up. The road quickly became too steep to ride so I pushed. Part way up, a Park Ranger stopped to suggest that I should push on the other side. I asked him about the store. he said it did exist - about another mile down the road - impossible.

At an overlook dedicated to the narrow gauge lumber railways that used to run through these mountains, I discovered that Sharandon Lake was not only five miles off the highway, it was virtually straight down. The couple I met there thought about driving down last night but quit - it was taking too long and they wanted to get supper some place. Later information confirmed that this campground was not one for bicyclists.

About ten miles from Otter Creek, I got my reward for the day - the road started down and stayed that way - much wind and exhilaration for a change. Unfortunately you don't see very much at 35 mph, especially when you are avoiding going into the ditch. The last few miles ran right beside Otter Creek. Apparently the otters left a long time ago, being displaced by people.

As I rode into the campground, I was greeted by a couple of couples and their children. Mohan (Moe) Nadkiri was a bicyclist and MD from Charlottesville, VA who was nostalgic about when he used to bicycle a lot. I asked him if he knew of any where to buy provisions. He had seen some stores about ten miles away when they had come in from Lynchburg. He offered to give me a lift to a store if I wanted to go. The lady in the Otter Creek Gift Shop told me about a closer one. I tried to follow her directions, ended up on what appeared the wrong highway, turned around and asked for clarifications - I was going the wrong way. Later Moe drove me to the store, which we found, although it did not match her description. I got some cinnamon-pecan swirls for breakfast, some packaged meat for suppers and some Kraft Dinner for a real emergency.

Moe invited me for dinner, hot dogs, fruit and veggies, and I supplied the red wine. He has two small children, and his friends Rick and Lisa have two more. They were here from Charlottesville for the weekend. Moe is an internist that works three-quarter time for a community health center and one-quarter time teaching at the University of Virginia. After dinner, with the kids in bed, Rick brought out his guitar and we started singing 60s folk songs - much fun.

6  Sunday, May 21, Otter Creek

Unfortunately, the washrooms here do not have any power outlets so writing my journal is a bit of a problem. I am writing this in the Otter Peaks Visitor Center. I have just checked the campground here and have discovered that there is no power in the washrooms there either. Apparently my information about showers was incorrect too. I had also hoped that there would be laundry facilities but that was also incorrect. I am not quite certain how I am going to do my laundry, but to keep me clean, before I left Montreal I found a special, no rinse water, washing liquid. You just towel dry. It is apparently going to be used on the space shuttle. I used it last night for the first time - it had been too cold and/or wet before that. It is not as good as a shower, but it sure beats not washing. You use the towel to actually remove the sweat. I am sure that the towel will need washing rather frequently.

The cinnamon-pecan-swirls were quite good - I stopped by the store again on my way to Otter Peaks to buy some more. The store was a mile off the Parkway and quite painless. The Parkway from there was unrelenting up, from the its lowest point to the highest point in Virginia (635 feet to 3980 feet). Part way up, the Parkway enters the Jefferson National Forest. I stopped just inside for a water break, and a small Black Bear bounced across the road just in front of me and up the side of the cliff. Here the Black Bears are really black rather than brown like their California cousins. This was the first wildlife that I have seen on the Parkway.

I am stopping about every hour to refuel, still brownies and trail mix - it has improved my outlook immensely. At one of my water breaks, Mark Bond from Asheville stopped to talk. He was on his way to Washington on his bicycle and was interested in my experience about getting in and out of Washington. Mark teaches Computer Science at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. He has toured the Parkway often, and practices by riding up the Parkway, and occasionally up Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi - apparently it is few feet higher than Mount Washington in New Hampshire. He manages to get all his gear in front and rear paniers. He does admit that his tent is a disaster in the rain, and he does his best to avoid it. He departed downhill, and I continued up.

Near the top, we could see 3000 feet down into the Arnold Valley. It was quite impressive. The rise here is quite sharp from a flatland at about 1000 feet. Interestingly enough, the summit is not marked. I knew I had passed it when the road started down in earnest. The Peaks of Otter area is a very developed area with a Lodge, Campstore, Visitor Center, Gas Station, Gift Shop, and tours. The Visitor Center has postcards but no stamps. I am still in the Visitor Center, and unfortunately SAM still is not fully charged. I am finding the ``Web of Life'' audio a little repetitive.

7  Monday, May 22, Otter Peaks

Today started with a drowning of my Thermarest mattress in Otter Lake. It had been evident for the past two nights that I had a very slow leak. The bubbles rose and I marked it with my pen. Unfortunately in my zeal to reduce weight I managed to forget my Thermarest Repair Kit. Roanoke is only 30 miles up the road - everything is up - so I dropped off the Parkway to look for a repair kit, to restock my refueling supply of Trail Mix, and to replenish my wine supply. The old wine bag will become a second water bag, increasing my load by another 13 lbs (6 kilos).

I dropped off the Parkway on US221, hoping that this main highway would have a large sports store. There was a Food Lion right at the beginning but it did not have anything. I went right into Historic Roanoke and still did not find anything. Near Market Square I found an Orvis Outdoor Store. Unfortunately ``outdoor'' means hunting and fishing. They did not carry Thermarest and did not have a repair kit. One of the salesmen thought that they might have a hip-wader repair kit that would work but they were all out of stock. There were other sports stores in town but they were all in the wrong direction. To save me a long ride, he went back to his car, took out a brand new kit of his own and gave it to me. He was going to cut up an old wader to get me the right nylon patching but they did not have any in back room. It turned out that my little bag for my Swiss Army knife was the right material. The mattress seems fine - after a night's sleep at Smart View Picnic area.

I wandered around the Market Square looking for Trail Mix, with no success. It was noon on a Monday, crowded, and quite joyful. This is the tourist center of Roanoke and also has the Visitor Center. With a map from them, and some directions, I started out of town, carefully going around, rather than over, Roanoke Mountain, even though the people in the Visitor Center insisted it was a magnificent view. I had an excessively large lunch at a Long John Silver's with the extra piece of fish later becoming supper. I did find some Trail Mix, in small packages at another Food Lion and made it back to the Parkway. It was an absolute delight and relief to be back on a road with no trucks, and people who believed that you, as a bicyclist, had a right to use the road too.

Roanoke is in a large valley with mountains to the north and south. The Parkway comes down here and rises on both sides. I had about 35 miles to go to my only reasonable destination, the Smart View picnic area. The first 20 miles is up along the sides of steep ridges with the road occasionally hanging over open space - about 500 feet straight down. Then it opened up into farmland and continued this way to Smart View. Here the farms come right down to the road with access at most of them. It looked as though the first haying of the season was in progress. At 7:00pm, I still had 15 miles to go to Smart View. Everything near the road was private so it would have been impossible to find a place by the side of the road to camp, even if I had had enough water. I arrived at the place with a ``real smart view'' at about 8:40pm. It was getting quite dark. I was all alone so there was no problem taking my ``bath'' outside my tent. I put the tent up in pitch blackness, had my fish and wine, and went to sleep.

It was a long day - 75 miles (125km) horizontal and 5200 feet (1600m) vertical.

8  Tuesday, May 23, Smart View

It looks like another beautiful day. I start out with a 15 mile, 1000 foot climb to Rocky Knob, which ``rises like the cresting of a wave'', and I don't even get to surf down.

I discovered today that my ten day estimate for riding the Parkway was ludicrous. At a refueling stop I met a kid from Atlanta who was riding his racing bike the full length of the Parkway. He trained in the mountains of northern Georgia and had his mother along in a chase car. His estimate for the entire trip was eight days. I mentioned that the grades on the Parkway were not too bad. His comment was that they get worse further south, and that where he trains in Northern Georgia it is really steep. There is no question that I will not be able to do the entire Parkway. In one week, I feel I have used up 3 to 4 of my 5 days of margin. I also don't think that, at this point, I need an ``interesting'' and steep trip across Northern Georgia.

The top of the Blue Ridge here is quite wide so you spend your time going through fields, marginal farmland and up and down valleys. This is eminently livable land and today's ride was highlighted by overlooks with an ``exhibit''.

The Visitor Center at Rocky Knob, is one small ten foot square room, and calls itself an Information Center. It had the best collection of books that I had seen on the Parkway, including one I bought - ``Bicycling the Blue Ridge Parkway''. It changed my destination for tonight and allowed me my first real shower in a week. I was aiming for the Groundhog Mountain Picnic Area but the book said the Fox Trail Campground at Fancy Gap, just ten miles beyond was excellent. I arrived there at about 7:00pm, set up camp, had a shower, did my laundry, and stuck my Kraft Dinner to the bottom of my cooking cup. It's nice to be clean and have all clean clothes. I washed everything but one pair of bicycle undershorts and a green T-shirt.

Today was supposedly and easy day - 48 miles (77km) and only 3400 feet (1000m) of vertical.

9  Wednesday, May 24, Fancy Gap

I started out at about 8:00am prepared for the long grade up from Fancy Gap - it did come, but the first small hill was really a fake.

I arrived at about 5:30pm at the Northwest Trading Post - Northwest North Carolina - a must stop for handicrafts and found that they are only open from 9/5 - strange hours for a tourist establishment. I will probably miss it in the morning too. My campground was only about a mile away from the Trading Post and I arrived there at the extremely civilized hour of about 6:00pm. However, I didn't get set up completely until after dark - too much conversation. The Sierra Clubbers kept asking whether I really needed all this stuff. They are traveling with van support so they don't have to carry very much at all. Some, who had done some independent touring understood how the weight built up, but most were just astonished and some convinced that it could only result from consummate stupidity.

Today, even with some help, was 58 miles (94 km) and 3800 feet (1150m).

10  Thursday, May 25, Glendale Springs

There was no rain last night but the dew is exceptionally heavy, and there was a mist covering the valleys - a first. Last night there was what sounded like a rifle shot - a brand new Kevlar tire on a new Cannondale had exploded. One of the advantages of group travel is that someone has parts. There was a spare tire around. Some guys always carried a spare tire. Company reduces my efficiency - I did not get away until 8:45am. However, one compensation for my tardiness was that the Northwest Trading Post was open. I bought a couple of Christmas presents, some trail mix, fudge, and one of Thelma's Biscuit Ham Sandwiches. The fudge disappeared after three refueling stops and the trail mix is almost finished. Tomorrow I shall have to replace them. I have not yet run out of refueling stuff but I am getting close.

I stopped early today to camp at Julian Price Memorial Park. The alternative was another 15 miles and an immediate, 1000 foot climb over Grandfather Mountain. The Sierra Clubbers did that but I declined. One advantage of Julian Price is that the campground is on a lake - and rare in the south, not muddy. I have a campsite right by the water and went swimming to rinse myself off - quite refreshing.

Today was up and down all day with the occasional impressive view. One overlook was dedicated to Tom Dula - better known in the Kingston Trio song as Tom Dooley. This was near where he was ``hanged''. I stopped at the Moses Cone Estate to buy some postcards, but no stamps unfortunately. Cone willed his estate to the Park Service which uses it as a Craft and Information Center. It has an inspiring view.

The totals: 43 miles (70km) and 4100 feet (1250m) vertical.

11  Friday, May 26, Julian Price Memorial Park

Today was the first day of real mountains rather than razor sharp ridges, knobs, caps, and hollows. The early morning climb that I had delayed from yesterday went around and Grandfather Mountain, that had the granite to go with its height, up to the Linn Cove Viaduct. Now the Italians have made viaducts like this into art forms for their autostradas but this was state of the art 60 years ago.

Real intimidation occurred just before I reached the Crabtree Meadows campground. I reached the top of a 600 foot (200m) climb through the trees and came out on top of the ridge to see a line of mountains that towered over everything else. My feeling was ``Am I really going over this tomorrow?''

Today I reached my highest point on the Parkway - 4300 feet (1300m) but that apparently is only practice. Tomorrow it will be over 5000 feet. The Parkway passes a spur road to the top of Mt. Mitchell. I will decline the ``challenge''. My book says the grades approach 33% - a decent ski hill.

I found out again how much fun it is to ride on the Parkway. I dropped off the Parkway for about ten miles into Pineola to get some stamps and bananas. The traffic was heavy, the truck horns loud, and the degree of impatience unfortunately typical. The whole area seemed to be one nursery after another with few other services. The grocery store - not plural - was attached to a gas station and did not have any produce. There was a produce store a mile and half away - even in the right direction. Yesterday, one of the Sierra Clubbers told me that a banana was as good as a Power Bar for refueling. He was right. The banana was far superior for delivering energy than may chocolate or brownies. I bought five, ate four, and was quite impressed. I will have to get more.

After 51 miles (83km) and 4700 feet (1430m) the day was ended with the steepest climb of the day, the access road up to the campground. I stopped early (5:30pm), but none too soon. Just as I was putting the rain fly on the tent, the thunder storm hit. The tent was dry, but everything else, still on the bike got soaked. After I got everything into the tent, I took the opportunity to have the open air shower. It was wet but didn't get the sweat off. My ``no rinse'' bath came after the showers stopped. I was eating supper in the tent when the second round hit. No problem, but some others who had hoped that the first was the last were not so lucky. It continued raining until well after dark. It has now stopped, and I am writing in the only washroom that I have found on the Parkway with power.

Tomorrow - on to a ``bicyclist's delight'' - that's how my book describes the Black Mountains.

12  Saturday, May 27, Crabtree Meadows

I did not go over the Black Mountains! The ceiling was at about 2800 feet and we were well over 3000. At the Black Mountain Overlook, the sign said that the ``mountains towering a half mile above you are the highest range east of the Mississippi''. I could see only fog. This was not the way to see the Blue Ridge Parkway . I was also had only one banana left. It seems impossible to buy produce on the Blue Ridge Parkway . Even the restaurant at Crabtree Meadows where I had breakfast did not have any.

I dropped off the Blue Ridge Parkway  at NC80 on my way to (17 miles) Burnsville. It was a drop - about 500 feet. I was glad not to be going back up. The first store I saw sold bananas - I bought seven. This should last for the day and early tomorrow. Instead of going to Asheville, I will go north of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park towards Knoxville and south towards Chattanooga. NC80 is ``exploit Mt. Mitchell'' territory. Almost every business is *** Mt. Mitchell ???? ***. Mt. Mitchell may dominate the landscape But I can't tell.

NC80 ran into US16e on its way to Burnsville. This is Memorial Day Weekend and the ladies in the new Burnsville shopping center were entreating passers-by to wear their free poppies ``in memory of our veterans''. I still have my poppy. The road continued on towards the village of Mars Hill, the home of Mars Hill College, a Baptist College founded in 1839 that became an ``Elder College''(?) in 1962. The campus is home to the only Senior Hostel that I have ever seen.

** Almost every small town in the south has a College - some of them must need new presidents.

This part of North Carolina is Baptist land - with more flavours, it appears than exist in the rest of the Christian church. There are Reformed, Freewill, Old, Independent, Missionary, ... One curious note was a Roman Catholic Church on another hill (there are more than enough to go around here) outside of Mars Hill.

My destination for tonight was a campground that my CAA map says is in Hot Springs, NC. At an intersection 6 miles outside of Hot Springs, I asked a group that had converged on the corner cafe to play Bingo if there were a campground. I have been misled by CAA maps in the past. It did exist, ``five miles up the hill''. When I blanched slightly with her description, she modified it to say that it was ``one mile up and four miles down''. It was really somewhere in between - but the ``down'' was fast, through very impressive hills ( mountains in the Laurentians), and wet. The nightly thunderstorm had hit as I was going up. It was just after dark, and still raining when I arrived. The campground was quite full, mostly, I think with white-water canoeists out to tackle the French Broad and other rivers in the neighbourhood. I passed several ``White Water Adventure Centers'' and was passed by numerous cars with kayaks on their roofs.

Mike Malone, a private contractor for McDonnell/Douglas in Huntsville, AL. is one of those down for the weekend. We spent about an hour talking in the back of his pickup, that was considerably dryer than my tent. He loves this part of the country. Certainly, the hills were as impressive as some that I saw from the Blue Ridge Parkway , and there is kayaking too.

** One curiosity - I have seen only one black in the 70 miles that I have gone since I left the Blue Ridge Parkway .

Although I have moved off the ridge, I still managed to accumulate 4100 feet (1250m) of vertical in my 72 miles (116km).

North Carolina, off the Blue Ridge Parkway

13  Sunday, May 28, Hot Springs, NC

It started dribbling, on and off, when I woke up. The Tennessee border is only about 6 miles away, but they are rebuilding the road, slicing through hills that before they went around. Early Sunday morning is an excellent time to ride through major construction. They had not even bothered to remove their ``Flagman Ahead'' signs.

The road follows the French Broad River valley all the to the Tennessee and the other side of the mountains. The hills, which still decently could be called mountains, are covered with pines and hardwoods. In North Carolina, the road runs high above the river on the sides of the cliffs. In Tennessee, it dropped to run beside this ``Tennessee Scenic River''.

Tennessee

Logging has replaced nurseries as the visible industry here. Thankfully there do not seem to be any logging trucks at the moment but there are a succession of sawmills. The smell of freshly cut wood is in the air.

Newport, TN is my first ``major'' city in Tennessee. It must be ``major'' because it has Hardees, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Long John Silver's, and ...  I needed a map of Tennessee, but the first few gas stations I stopped at did not have any. Interestingly, the lady at the campground in Hot Springs, NC, said during our conversation about finding a Tennessee map in Tennessee, ``You never can tell, in Tennessee they probably don't have their own maps!''

Leaving Newport, I got the first of two flat tires for the day. A number of the highways have paved shoulders that make decent bike paths, except for one thing - shards of broken glass and other dangerous things. I managed to pick up one in my back tire; could not find it, or the leak in the tube, and then punctured a second tube 10 miles later. Fortunately, the second puncture was by a stream so I was able to find the hole in the tube and the piece of glass in the tire. I will still look for a new tube tomorrow.

Today's afternoon thundershower caught me in a shopping center in Sevierville, about 10 miles out of Newport. I was about to leave when it hit so I decided to wait it out. After about 40 minutes, it had passed, and unlike yesterday, stayed passed. This is, and has been, rolling farmland since the steep little hills just outside of Newport. I have been making reasonable time while riding, but am being interrupted frequently. My destination for the day is Maryville, at the point where US411 officially becomes a designated ``Scenic Parkway''. It seemed to me that there would be campgrounds near there. Unfortunately, at 8:00pm, I was in Newell Station, 15 miles from Maryville. There were no campgrounds or motels in the area, according to local expert? information, so I started out to Maryville. Several times, just out of Newell Station, I asked about campgrounds or a place to pitch my tent for the night. No one knew of any. After about five miles, I found a huge Presbyterian Church. It looked perfect, except that there were three teenagers playing basketball. It was isolated, but not enough, and I decided it was too dangerous. I continued on towards Maryville. I seem to inspire the dogs to howling and chase as I go by, and everyone seems to have dogs. The whole 15 miles was semi-urban with no isolated areas. Several times dogs took chase, and one time, one almost got killed as it jumped out in front of traffic coming the other way. I traveled with both front and rear flashers without my headlight. I could see the road for distance, and it was well maintained. This way, I did not disturb the fireflies.

Maryville is a long linear town. This was nice, because it meant that my last four miles were essentially in town with street lights. Just outside of town, I asked again about motels or campgrounds. The lady did not know of a campground, but did know of the Budget Motel, just pass the first ``red light''. That was where I stayed, arriving at about 10:00pm. I needed to do some laundry so a ``motel'' night was almost in order. I always ask for a ``non-smoking'' room and, so far, have not found one in inexpensive (cheap?) motels in the south. This deficit is one reason I like my tent. Cheap motels and KOA Kampgrounds cost about the same.

Today: 86 miles (139km) and only 3200 feet (975m) - an easy? day.

14  Monday, May 29, Maryville, TN

I would like to get to Chattanooga today but it appears to be about 99 miles. I have not done a ``century'' fully loaded since crossing Belgium in one day - and that was flatland.

The first campground was 20 miles from Maryville, and another 3 miles off the road - an impossibility last night. It was during this time that I decided to stop at Hiwassee State Scenic River Park, about half way to Chattanooga. My map shows no campgrounds between Hiwassee and Harrison Bay just north of Chattanooga, and after last night, I was a believer.

The US411 Scenic Parkway runs through rolling countryside, or really light ``suburbanside'' with mostly middle class houses, but some decorated by old cars, washing machines and the mandatory TV satellite antennae. It was also light commercial, some alive and many abandoned hulks. It was not particularly ``scenic''. The only decent clean places to stop for my refueling breaks were at churches, of which there were more than enough.

I arrived at Hiwassee at about 4:00pm. This is a beautiful, wooded, and quiet (night after Memorial Day) campground with a large new bath-house that has electricity and hot water. The river runs just behind the campground, and is fine for rinsing and canoeing, but really too swift and shallow for swimming. This didn't prevent a lot of kids, with their families carefully watching, from trying. The rinse was refreshing, but the water in the ear was not. I left my ear stuff at home when I was consolidating my bathroom bag. The ear would not clear, even after an hour of lying down and then some shaking. Although the first group of ``oldsters'' that I asked had nothing for ears, a second group, there to kayak and mountain bike had some Swimmer's Ear - it worked - I will add some to my medicine bag, today or tomorrow.

It was dry all day, and hot. The daily thunderstorm stayed a few miles away.

Today: 56 miles (93km) and only 1500 feet (450m).

15  Tuesday, May 30, Hiwassee Scenic River

Today started with the typical overcast and intermittent drizzle, cleared by 1:00pm, but did not have any thunderstorms. From Hiwassee, US411 almost started to live up to its Scenic Parkway designation. I passed through rolling countryside for about 15 miles until I hit the US11/64 from Cherokee - at this point I was back on my original, intended, routing. US11/64, also a Scenic Parkway, was a divided 4-lane highway through very gentle peaks and valleys about a mile long.

I arrived in Cleveland, TN at about 11:00am. This is a nondescript and quite depressing town - everything looked semi-abandoned. it is quite large and there evidently was some real industry here at one time. Whether there still is now is not clear.

It was too early to go to Harrison Bay so I continued on US11/64 until it disappeared into the Interstate I75. I couldn't go on the Interstate so I followed a service road parallel to the Interstate. After passing Honestville Baptist Church, it dead-ended in the new Hunter Village subdivision. As I was about to find that it dead-ended, a young couple came out their front door. I asked if it were possible to get to Chattanooga by continuing straight. They explained that I had to go all the way back to the Interstate - fortunately it was down hill - go along a service road on the other side, and take the Old Lee Highway into Chattanooga. The ``service'' road was the brand new Debbie's Parkway, quite pretty and enjoyable. It dead-ended into the Old Lee Highway which I followed into Chattanooga.

Chattanooga started in the country, and remained that way for at least five miles. It is very hilly with the impression that all of the houses are linear along the main roads. The sections that I saw did not look very prosperous, but they did look relatively clean. In fact, I did not see a really prosperous part, either residential or industrial, during my linear sample of Chattanooga.

I replenished supplies, with some difficulty - still no replacement for my tube - and continued towards Lookout Mountain and the Lookout Mountain Parkway. I discussed the possibilities of how to get up to the Parkway while rearranging my bike. Since I showed some reluctance about going up over Lookout Mountain, and a certain amount of ignorance about possible campgrounds, it was suggested that I go around. I followed the directions, and discovered that while I was going around the mountain, I actually was on the bottom of the Parkway. Since the Parkway was in the shade and the suggested route was not, I decided to make the climb. It was very pretty, wooded on both sides, and afforded only the occasional glimpse of Chattanooga and its valleys. After 1250 feet (350m) of climb, I reached the first top. This whole area was very upper middle class, and continued that way into Georgia - very, very prosperous. Chattanooga straddles the Tennessee/Georgia border with its southern suburbs being in Georgia.

Georgia

After about ten miles, the Parkway - the addresses were ``xxxx Scenic Highway'' - it became much more sparsely populated and even semi-wild. It was also getting late and I did not really know how far, or where my ostensible destination, Cloudland Canyon State Park, for the night really was. I also did not know whether camping was allowed. At about 8:00pm, I asked a man mowing his lawn how far the park was. he said seven miles down the road, and then four more miles off it - a long way at that time of night. On the way I passed a Methodist Church Camp. It was wide open, including the lodge, but there was no one around. I continued on. At about 8:45pm I found my turnoff, and then, two to three miles later, a small fishing campground in New Salem, GA. It has its own pond, Lookout Mountain Lake, showers and bathroom (for men only - the women's is locked), and a delightful cacophony of bullfrogs, calling out to each other.

Today: 90 miles (145km) and 4500 feet (1370m) - there was more vertical that I thought - most of it from Lookout Mountain on.

16  Wednesday, May 31, New Salem, GA

Today started as usual, overcast with the occasional drops, cleared by noon, and finished with the mandatory thundershower(storm really) in Gadsden, AL. The Lookout Mountain Parkway  reminds me very much of many parts of Ontario and Québec - trees, topography, rocks and even flowers. Only once did I really realise that this was a road on a plateau 1000 feet above the ``flatland''. There was a rusted guard rail, obviously for an older version of the road and short path (10 feet) to the edge. 1000 feet below was another civilization of farms and forest. Normally, this view is reserved for the lucky ones with houses at the ends of each Private Road that leads off the highway. Several times the highway stretched in straight as an arrow in front of me for a mile or so looking like a roller coaster. Unfortunately this roller coaster was badly designed - usually I had to pedal furiously up the next peak.

The Lookout Mountain Parkway  is abysmally signed. Several of the side roads, including the one to New Salem say that they are the Lookout Mountain Parkway . I managed to lose it when it ceased to be GA157 and became GA???. When my error was confirmed, I had the choice of going up the hill back to the Parkway, or down the hill to Menlo, GA and continuing on county roads towards Gadsden. I opted to go downhill. In two miles, and four minutes, I lost the 1250 feet that I climbed to get up to the top of Lookout Mountain.

Alabama

Alabama announced itself with a sign that gave the road a number (AL15) and another that said ``Keep Cherokee County Clean''. I saw how effective that was when I stopped to have lunch an laid my bike down on the sideroad AL15F. I had finished my can of Vienna Sausage - an exalted name for drab weenies - when an Alabaman, who lived up the road, stopped to see if there had been and accident. I assured him no, and asked him to take my can and throw it in his trash. His comment was ``Throw it in the woods when you are finished with it!'' I carried it another 40 miles to Gadsden. AL15, and its continuation AL273 were quiet gentle roads that ran along side Lookout Mountain - quite pleasant. However, US411 from Leesburg to Gadsden, although very flat, was quite busy, and not entirely enjoyable. I arrived in Gadsden at about 6:00pm and was leaving Sears after buying a replacement tube, when the thunderstorm hit. I decided to try and wait it out at a Taco Bell, and have some supper too. It took about an hour and a short power failure before I decided that the storm had blown over. It was slightly premature, but the rain finally did quit in about five minutes. Just south of Gadsden, after having passed up a Hampton Inn and Days Inn, I saw the Friendly Village Inn. They had a vacancy and, much to my delight, a non-smoking room, all for $30.00 plus tax. I am dry, and about 60 miles from Birmingham.

Today: 84 miles (135km) and only 2000 feet (600m) - some of those ``small'' roller coaster hills were not enough ``up'' to register on my altimeter.

17  Thursday, June 1, Gadsden, AL

Last night, the Weather Radar Channel was full of rain, both present and to come. This morning, there was sun to start, but it quickly became, overcast and occasionally drippy. The clouds were at about 300 feet (100m) so, the mountains, if any, were hidden. For the most part, the country is flat, with some hills on either side. Out of Gadsden, it is a mix of reasonably prosperous farms and suburbia. By the time I got to Ashville, AL (25 miles/40km) it was really country. I had toyed with getting this much closer to Birmingham last night, but it was just as well I did not try - no motel to be seen.

** The Magnolias are starting - sometimes the fragrance is stunning. A brilliant wild orange and yellow striped Tiger Lily is everywhere. It has no obvious fragrance but is quite beautiful.

My first really noticeable hill was leaving Ashville. For a few miles, the countryside had some very nice and local up and down character. After this ridge, the road turned 90 and settled down into flat green. I followed US411 until it hit US78, the road that runs parallel to I20 between Birmingham and Atlanta. Here US411 runs parallel to an Interstate, was quite, mostly truck free, and quite relaxing. It continued to be mostly rural with bursts of residential neighbourhoods. In one isolated burst, there was, on a front lawn,

** A small painted football with the words ``Christie, Cheerleader''.

When I started this trip, I had my handlebars padded with ensolite foam, covered with electrical tape. The arrangement was not entirely satisfactory. I discovered that my sweaty hands were sticking to the tape. When I left Washington, I started wearing my thin polypropylene liner gloves. They worked well, but were a little warm and awkward. I decided to look for some toweling tape to cover the bars. A few days ago, I found some elastic pressure bandage by the road. This was a great cover for the handle bars, and my gloves were put away. Yesterday, on the other side of Gadsden, I found, by the side of the road, a small piece of foam insulation for water pipes. The ensolite, was dying, so there was some relief when I was able to replace one of the covers with the new piece of foam. The surgical tape made it very easy. Ever since then, I had been looking for a hardware store. Today, I found one, and the only one that I saw all day, in the middle of the countryside. They had the foam, but only in sealed packages of four. They wouldn't open a package that was for sale on the floor, but did go back into their plumbing repair section, opened a package there, and sold me one. The new foam was better than the piece that I had found by the road, so now, for 75 cents, I have two new foam pads on my handlebars.

Birmingham has a remarkable number of hills, and one 300 footer (100m) that you must climb about 5 miles out of town. This was the last trial of the day and I arrived at about 1:30pm after 62 miles (100km) and only 1300 feet (400m).

Aunt Mary has been asking me to give her a picture of me and my bike from one of my travels. When I stopped for my first (over)look at the Black Mountains, there was a couple from Delaware who wanted to take my picture. After that was done, I asked them to take a picture of me with my camera. Today, I stopped in at Wolf Camera in the Century Mall and had my films developed. They had one of these neat Kodak ``5 minute'' enlarging machines. Now Aunt Mary has an 8x11 picture of me with bike in front of the Mt. Mitchell.

Even with all this, I arrived at Aunt Mary's at about 3:30pm. She has arranged for the ``Guest Apartment'' to be ready for me tonight, but tomorrow I shall have to find a motel. There are several very close.

18  Friday, June 2, Birmingham

Today is a ``layover'' day to visit Aunt Mary (Teague) and Bill Parker. Bill drove us around to visit their (Mary and Bill's) old family plantation, which is the ``Wallace'' plantation in Shelby County, AL, along with the Wallace Plantation house, and the cemetery put together by the founder of the clan, Sam Wallace. How is a ``Teague'' and a ``Parker'' related to a ``Wallace''? Two generations back, the Wallaces had two daughters and a boy. Aunt Mary's father-in-law married Rosa Wallace and Bill's grandfather to the other sister Taliaferro Wallace. Aunt Mary lived in Columbiana, near the Plantation, during the depression, working as a Federal Examiner for determining the eligibility of Shelby women for aid.

The Wallace Plantation is currently being restored (saved really) by Joe Wallace with Bill's legal advice. It could be a beautiful place, but the it will take a lot of work, care and ``This Old House'' love and patience. The roof was being replaced today, but Bill was dismayed that it had not been done sooner - the water damage is extensive. There are four free-standing chimneys and the house has pulled away from all of them. The house has not been lived in for over 60 years. Bill used to use it when he was a kid when he and his friends came down to fish - it was a ``camp'' away from home.

Sam Wallace and his family moved into the Coosa River Valley of Shelby County from Tennessee. He received ``Land Patents'' - equivalent to ``homesteading rights'' signed by President Martin Van Buren. We also visited the ``Wallace'' family cemetery where, William and William Jr. (Teague) are buried, along with Wallaces and Parkers. This cemetery and the slave cemetery were carved out of the woods by Sam Wallace. Both cemeteries were delineated by stone pillars which were originally connected by chains. The most recent graves in the slave's cemetery are those of the sons and daughters of former slaves that stayed on after emancipation. These graves have ordinary marble tombstones, and in some cases, because it was a mark of prestige, a visible, concrete or marble vault, barely above ground. The older graves were originally marked with wood which had already disappeared when Bill was a boy.

It was a very interesting day to visit the remnants of an old cotton plantation way of life.

19  Saturday, June 3, Birmingham

I spent the night at Bill Parker's and returned this morning to retrieve my bike and eat breakfast with Aunt Mary. Bill's dog, Muffin, suffers from short term memory loss. She eventually learned to stop barking at me before I went to bed but had forgotten again by morning. Fortunately, Bill was up so no damage was done.

I started out at about 8:00am but did not really get started until 9:00am. This was ``talk to Alabamans day''. After I had re-bananaed and made up my trail mix from packaged ingredients such as fruits, yogurt raisins, and honey-roasted peanuts, I talked with a kid who worked at the market, and an old man who reminisced about his early exposure to bicycles, motorised bicycles, and motorcycles during the depression. His ``long distance touring'' was from Leeds, about 20 miles away to Birmingham. Neither the roads or the bikes made it as easy as it is now.

I followed, and will continue to follow US78 to Atlanta. It runs parallel, mostly, to I20. The ``mostly'' is because there is one section where you must get on I20 for one exit (about five miles). There is a wide shoulder here but it is too chancy to ride. It is littered with broken truck tires. If you go over one of these, you very easily can end up with hundreds of tiny broken steel wires in your tire. These shred your tube, and will eventually cause your tire to blow out - usually when you are filling it with air. I don't have any more tires. US78 is an uninspiring highway, but has the advantage of very little truck traffic. It has a few hills, about 2500 feet (760m) worth today, and occasionally gets back in the woods. There is one pretty section going around a mountain (hill?) getting to Pell City.

By the roadside: a southern scourge,

and a lesson on life

I stopped by a church around noon in Pell City to refuel, and was greeted by a ``Century'' afficionado, who came over to say hello because he had seen my bike. He tries to go on every ``Century'' - 100 mile bike tours (races?) that are held in the neighbourhood. My normal 10 minute refueling lasted 35 minutes.

The Cheaha Challenge

He also tried to convince me that I wanted to ride over Cheaha Mountain (2407 feet - 730m), Alabama's highest point. He even gave me detailed instructions how to get there without going too far out of my way. At about 6:30pm, I stopped at a gas station in Oxford/Anniston and met Rick and Anna. They were helping organize the 3rd Annual Cheaha Challenge, that was set to go tomorrow and had a dinner tonight at the Cleburne High School. At this point, I was looking for a place to stay. The only motels within 35 miles were about 6 miles away in Heflin, and the only campgrounds about 7 miles further down the road and 12 miles off it. Rick thought that there was special participant camping behind the high school, and he invited me to come to their spaghetti dinner, and camp. I wanted to go further if possible, and didn't have any idea where Cleburne High School was located. Rick was a local boy but Anna was a Newfie, who spent much of life in Toronto, and is now down here in small town Alabama - actually way out of town. She felt that living in Toronto, after being born in Newfoundland had prepared her for any kind of culture shock.

When I got to Heflin, it was clear that the only place to stay was a HoJo's about 3 miles away down by I20. On the way there I stopped to get some more bananas and met Annette Smith in the checkout line. She asked whether I was here for the ``Challenge''. I said ``No'', told her of my own challenge and she also invited me to dinner at the High School, and gave me detailed directions on how to find it. She told me to eat a lot - she had been cooking all day. I found it at about 7:30pm, after almost giving up because I passed the football stadium almost a mile away from the school. The school was crowded but most people were there for a baseball game. The Cheaha Challenge dinner was being held inside.

When, I walked in, I was not expected but was recognized as this ``guy with an overloaded bike who had ridden down from DC'' - Rick had warned them. I was invited immediately to have dinner, but my real concern was where I was going to stay. It was the other high school in Piedmont (Italy?) that had the camping. Max, one of the chief organisers, said he would try to see what he could do. After some time, it was clear that I couldn't camp at the school. The back lot of an Antique Store in Heflin was offered, but that did not have water. Gene Houston, an Alabama Forest Ranger, offered to drive me up to Coleman Lake State Park. It had showers, was very pretty, and was 19 miles away. I had crossed that one off my campground list for tonight as infeasible - it was 12 miles off US78. I accepted the offer, and went in to have some supper. Nikki Smallwood convinced me that I should have some carbohydrates rather than just the salad that I had in mind. I ate it all and found it delicious. There was entertainment - a Hillbilly (Country?) Western Band that played a mix of classic western and gospel music - much fun. Before I left, Nikki gave me a T-shirt because I come the farthest of anyone for the challenge.

It was completely dark when Gene and Stella drove me out to Coleman Lake to camp. We had a little trouble finding the bath house, but Gene saw one of his Ranger friends there, and I ended up at a campsite right beside one. The bath house has no electricity, flush toilets, and cold showers. It was cleansing but quick. I suspect that they would be a little warmer during the day. I finally got to bed, in pitch dark, at about 11:00pm.

Today: 80 miles (130km) and 2500 feet (760m).

20  Sunday, June 4, Coleman Lake, (Heflin), AL

It is a beautiful morning. Since there was no electricity, I had to wait until after breakfast to write the journal. It was after 9:00am when I left. I start out towards Atlanta with a 11 mile ride back to the US78 - and several short and one long climb out of the campground. Although this is a Wildlife Management Area, and Gene assured me that there are lots of different animals, I had to content with the Bluejays and Mocking Birds - oh well. This was a nice 11 miles of quiet back country road before I started back on US78.

For some reason the first 25 miles to Tallapoosa, GA was much more difficult than yesterday. It seemed like much more work. I discovered that my energy production was comparable but the bike was not as efficiently doing the conversion. I have a strange slow leak in the front tire. I first discovered it on the Blue Ridge Parkway . For some reason it seems fine until it ``suddenly?'' drops to about 20 lbs pressure. Apparently it had done so last night1. I discovered this after I had phoned Sally Mahoney to tell her that I would be quite late. Putting the tire back up to 55 lbs restored the behaviour to yesterday. My hourly average went back up by 3.5mph and I felt much better. Maybe I would arrive in Atlanta before the end of the millennia.

** The most common comment when I told people that I had started out in Washington, and was headed for Atlanta, was ``How did you get here?'' - I then had to explain that I had just visited my Aunt in Birmingham. Then it was ``OK''.

I followed US78 and then US278, almost to Sally's front door. It was much hillier than yesterday, moderately pretty, but far from inspiring. The first motel that I found as in Tallapoosa - about 100 miles from Birmingham, and about 60/70 miles (depending on where you are going) from Atlanta. There is no convenient ``middle'' in either direction. At about 6:40pm, in Mableton, on US78/278 just outside of Atlanta I was stopped by a guy that has two tandems, two mountain bikes, and takes part in the ``Ride across Georgia'' every year. He was quite interested in my story but seemed more interested in telling me that the next part of the road between here and Decatur was ``quite rough'', and that I might not be able to finish it before dark. He also said that it took an hour by car to get to Decatur. I do remember, from the last time I visited Aunt Mary, that the western ridge line around Atlanta was quite formidable. However, from Mableton, it was mostly down hill. There was a slight rise on the eastern side of I285 which is part of Atlanta's Interstate perimeter, but all in all, it was quite easy.

Coming into Atlanta from the west on US78/278 is a study in contrasts. It starts out with the Black neighbourhoods in Fulton County, which is a mix of decent lower middle class with pockets of devastation. Then you pass right through the heart of downtown - Peachtree Center, Georgia Tech., ... The city remains mostly Black until you reach its outer edges. Just outside of Atlanta and before you reach Decatur - in the county but not in any city - the houses suddenly become almost Private Estates. This dramatically changes as you go under the tracks, circle a MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Area) station and get onto West College in Decatur. The area south of West College, and the mainline train tracks that run down middle of the street are small, is well kept houses and a mostly Black community.

Agnes Scott College defines a very large block right in the center of Decatur. Sally, lives just down South Candler, the college's eastern border. Much of the college endowment comes from Coca-Cola and her current house, where she is living while the President's house across the street is being renovated for the new President, used to be the house of one of the Candlers that founded Coca-Cola. It has been recently renovated, and is rather spacious and pleasant.

It took me about two hours to go from Mableton to Decatur, the last hour being inside the city of Atlanta proper. Atlanta is very hilly. I accumulated about 700 feet (200m) of vertical without even leaving the city. I arrived at Sally's at just after 8:00pm. The shower/bath was very welcome. We then talked until midnight - the time flew. This is the latest night on the trip.

Today: 93 miles (140km) and 3800 feet (1450m) of vertical.

21  Monday, June 5, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA

I have several quests today, while Sally is at work being ``Presidential''. I have to look for a portable barcode reader for Virginia's library, and to check out the MARTA ride to the airport. MARTA goes directly to the airport and welcomes bikes - what an enlightened transportation system. Furthermore, they are very ``disabled'' conscious so there is elevator access to all platforms. This means I shall ride to the airport tomorrow - which is just the half mile to the Decatur station. The barcode reader search was less successful. It is too specialized an item for all the big computer stores and even the specialized business computer stores did not have them in stock.

Other than that, today is a culture day. The Fernbank Museum of Natural History has an exhibit of Mongolian Dinosaurs from China. The Asian dinosaurs grew up in a dryer climate and so evolved differently than those in North America. Along with having the largest dinosaur ever displayed - it looked similar to a Brontosaurus but was of a slightly different family - they had the best collection of bird like dinosaurs I have ever seen. However, it was the Mammothesis, a 13 foot Wooly Mammoth (not to wooly now) that stole the show for me.

The Fernbank is a modern ``hands on'' museum that even tried to make the dinosaurs tactile. It is clearly aimed at school kids, and the ones I saw were delighted. There was one small Exploratorium or Ontario Science Centre hands on science exhibit. It was small, but well thought out. For me, though, the highlight of the visit was the IMAX movie ``Ring of Fire''. It was a spectacular exploration and recording of volcanos and earthquakes around the Pacific. They had great coverage of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the 1984 simultaneous eruption of Mauna Loa and Kilauea on Hawaii, and Mount St. Helens. Although it was not the closest I have ever been to a volcano, it was quite impressive. See it when it comes to an IMAX screen near you!

Today has been a very drippy, nay rainy, day in Atlanta. I have no inclination to go long distances.

The day ended with Sally giving me a guided tour of Agnes Scott College, which looks very ``collegial'' and with a very nice dinner at the Surnin Thai restaurant - not very hot but quite tasty.

22  Tuesday, June 6, Decatur

It took me only 50 minutes, door to door, to get to the airport via MARTA. I left at about 7:00am when Sally also left for a breakfast meeting. The trains were quite uncrowded, especially towards the airport. I was the only one on the car when it arrived.

I put my bike together, easily, except that I couldn't get the pedals off. Much to my dismay, I had to pay $45.00US for my bike. I unfortunately ran into a ticket agent that could read but not exercise judgment. I am going to have to figure out how to put my bike inside a hockey bag.

Here are the daily statistics ... 


    Blue Ridge Parkway -- Washington/Birmingham/Atlanta --- Trip Distance - Altitude
                              Horizontal                                    Vertical
       Location      Daily/mi  Tot/mi  Daily/km  Tot/km  Daily/ft  Tot/ft   Daily/m   Tot/m  Tot/miles
      Washington        0.0      0.0      0.0      0.0        0        0        0        0     0.00
      Front Royal      89.0     89.0    143.6    143.6     3200     3200      975      975     0.61
      Big Meadows      47.0    136.0     75.8    219.4     5300     8500     1615     2591     1.61
    Humpback Rocks     69.0    205.0    111.3    330.8     4800    13300     1463     4054     2.52
      Otter Creek      62.0    267.0    100.0    430.8     3700    17000     1128     5182     3.22
      Otter Peaks      32.0    299.0     51.6    482.4     3800    20800     1158     6340     3.94
      Smart View       76.0    375.0    122.6    605.1     5200    26000     1585     7925     4.92
       Fancy Gap       48.0    423.0     77.4    682.5     3400    29400     1036     8961     5.57
    Glendale Sprin     58.0    481.0     93.6    776.1     3800    33200     1158    10119     6.29
     Julian Price      43.0    524.0     69.4    845.5     4100    37300     1250    11369     7.06
    Crabtree Meadow 51.0    575.0     82.3    927.8     4700    42000     1433    12802     7.95
    Hot Springs, N     72.0    647.0    116.2   1043.9     4100    46100     1250    14051     8.73
     Maryville, TN     86.0    733.0    138.8   1182.7     3200    49300      975    15027     9.34
      Hiwassee,TN      58.0    791.0     93.6   1276.3     1500    50800      457    15484     9.62
     New Salem, GA     90.0    881.0    145.2   1421.5     4500    55300     1372    16855    10.47
      Gadston, AL      84.0    965.0    135.5   1557.0     2000    57300      610    17465    10.85
    Birmingham, AL     62.0   1027.0    100.0   1657.1     1300    58600      396    17861    11.10
      Heflin, AL       80.0   1107.0    129.1   1786.1     2500    61100      762    18623    11.57
      Decatur, GA      93.0   1200.0    150.1   1936.2     3800    64900     1158    19782    12.29
   18 Days -- Avg      66.7             107.5              3606              1099

23  Maps


Footnotes:

1When I got home, I examined the tire carefully. It had a leak on the inside which, under water leaked one bubble, then built another and it came out - very slow. The tire only lost pressure when the leak was on the top of the wheel for some time. This means that the loss of air at night was dependent upon how the leak was oriented overnight. The leak ws so slow that all night only dropped the tire from about 55lbs to 20lbs.


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 12 Nov 2008, 10:59.