Day 3: This s$!&'s about to get real

by James

Pictures will be on Flickr. No time to embed them.

For a brief summary of today, let me refer you to the elevation profile. The values on the vertical axis range from 700 feet to 3500 feet.

The day got off to an ominous start. We left camp early, having taken a while to cook breakfast and clean up. We dumped our trash behind the elementary school which was earlier eminating strange bells and loudspeaker voices which I could only characterize as something you might hear in a concentration camp.

We stopped at the nearest grocery, which was so ritzy I would’ve been less surprised to find it on Madison Ave. instead of in podunk VA.

When we figured the place was out of price-range, we decided to keep trucking. I stepped on my pedals and snap, my chain broke.

Uh oh.

We pulled out our one reserve chain and Mike began to install it. We decided we’d better do our shopping here after all (for the sake of parallelizing our tasks), so I went in and bought six duck eggs for, I kid you not, $4.50.

Mike got the chain installed a-okay, so we were rolling once again. We went five miles or so.

Then we hit the hill. The hill that wouldn’t end. Probably the steepest grade I’ve ever encountered for more than a few seconds. On the elevation profile, it’s the part of the line where the tangent is almost vertical.

Climbing the hill took some Karate-Kid-mental-gymnastics. I had never encountered anything like grinding my cranks up this sort of grade before, and I can only thank the preparation that my Dad gave us when he took us snowboarding as kids. We’d sit and cry on a hill with wet asses and he’d ease us down with enough care not to break us but enough expectation to help us grow.

Biking up a hill for a prolonged period of time eventually results in two options. If you’re on a good hill, you’re in your lowest gear. This means that you can either keep pedaling, or collapse on the side of the hill. With two of us, the latter isn’t viable. To keep pedaling, you have to (and I’m going to sound like some snake-oil salesman zenmaster here) disconnect your mind and your body. You have to keep your head down and look only at the ten-foot stretch of pavement in front of you, else you look up and all you see is hill and you want to stop immediately.

Something is theraputic about this kind of climbing. Most of these hills force me into my lowest gear; I have no other options. I stop fidgeting with gears, positions. I have to put my head down and grind it out.

Eventually, a sort of rhythm comes and the climb isn’t so bad.

This is the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s 420 miles long, and we’re really hoping not to keel over on the side of it.

We stopped a few times throughout the day to eat and rest our legs. Once, we hit a visitor’s center manned by an old Park Ranger. I asked if the two of us could use an electrical outlet to juice up some of our gear and he agreed hesitantly. During the bout of charging, Mike and I chowed on two-day-old angel-food cake and one-day-old Hawaiian surprise.

After only thirty miles, we decided it was time to call it quits for the day. Camping is not allowed on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we managed to find our own little hideaway on a reasonably mild incline behind a picnic area. We set up camp here, and I’m writing this from within a warm tent on the side of a hill maybe ten degrees in grade at 3211 feet.

It’s amazing that the same landmass we fought with throughout the day is the same that provides us with a soft place to lay our tired bodies. Nature doesn’t care one way or another; one minute she’s thrashing you, the next offering you nutritious sustenance.

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