Friday, September 9, 2011

Lessons Learned: What to Leave in and What to Leave Out

I strongly believe that we should learn from our mistakes. Of course, I make a lot of mistakes, so I should be very smart by now ... which, of course, makes no sense. Or at least I don't think that it does ... but what do I know?

Anyhow ... here's what I learned from our Blue Ridge Parkway trip:
  1. Failure to plan is a plan for failure. We came to this idea kind of late, since we had to adjust for all of the other crazy stuff that was going on (we call it "life"). Nonetheless, I spent time working on our route and lodging, and not enough thinking about the configuration of the bike.
  2. This kind of ties in to the above, but you should never do loaded tandem touring on a hilly route (and the Blue Ridge Parkway is nothing if not hilly) without a drag brake. Although we did not get a flat tire -- from overheated rims or otherwise -- worrying about the heat from my caliper brakes ruined much of the potential fun from those descents.
  3. Whenever possible, use both front and rear panniers when touring. The bike just balances better. Although we were able to fit our stuff into the rear panniers, we could have left some empty space and distributed things. Also, it would have left us enough room for extras.
  4. Speaking of extras, when you know that you've got a 50-mile day with no place to stop and get a meal, go ahead and pack a couple of sandwiches, and maybe a spare bottle. A picnic on a long touring day is always nice.
  5. The Blue Ridge Parkway is pretty and well-maintained, but is not really bicycle friendly. At least, not the portions that go through Asheville, and I've heard that the same thing goes for Boone, NC. The park service apparently turns a blind eye to speeders and commercial traffic ... similar to what they do in Tupelo, MS on the Natchez Trace.
  6. The Pisgah Inn is a nice hotel with great views. You might want to eat somewhere else, though.
  7. The Little Switzerland hotel is also pretty nice and has almost as good views, but the food is better.
  8. Just because the sign says "Dead End," don't assume that this means bicycles.
  9. Epic Cycles is a great bike shop.
  10. Since it has a good bike shop, Black Mountain, NC is a place that I would not mind living in, or at least spending a few more days in.
  11. You can take a loaded touring tandem up a gravel road with a three-mile climb.
  12. Your shoulders will hurt the day after you take a loaded touring tandem up a gravel road with a three-mile climb.
That's about all I learned. One of the things that I didn't have to learn, because I've always known it, is that any kind of adventure is better when you've got someone that you really LOVE with you. RandoGirl and I may have been less than happy with life -- and, by inheritance, with each other -- occasionally on this trip, but I would not have had it any other way, and would not want to have done it with anybody else.


  1. Last year, my buddy and I started planning the first weekend of February for a May north-to-south BRP trip. LT's wife and dad were also going on the trip, but they were going to drive and visit places along the route, so we didn't need to carry panniers. All planned -- then we checked the dates with LT's wife -- uh, no -- she can't go then.

    Put off the trip until mid-September. AFTER summer tourist season, but BEFORE leaf viewing season in October.

    I definitely wouldn't want to be on a bike on the BRP during LEAF season.

    Another cycling buddy did a fully loaded trip of the BRP in early July a few years ago -- the things he most recalls? HOT, HOT, and HOT. He has only ever mentioned the motorcycle traffic -- and found it was supportive and respectful.

    Our biggest concerns were WATER, WATER, and WATER.
    Y'all were unfortunate enough to ride during summer tourist season, and spent most of your trip next to the largest North Carolina population center along the BRP. Asheville to Mt. Mitchell -- lots of tourists. And in that section, the BRP becomes a bit like the Trace near Memphis -- almost "just another road".

    We were fortunate near Asheville on our trip last year -- due to significant re-surfacing, there was only one lane of traffic for most of the distance from near Mitchell to near Asheville -- with traffic behind a follow car at 25 mph -- going south, was all downhill -- it was perfect for a bike -- keep your speed down to 25 mph, and no one could pass you.

    The busiest and most disconcerting place I found last year was Grandfather Mtn (near Boone). Visitor's Center on one side of the road; parking lot on the other; oblivious pedestrians everywhere.

    Fyi, south of Asheville, all the way to Cherokee -- almost no traffic. Of course, having less traffic also seemed to encourage allowing the road surface to become worse than anywhere else. And the WATER sources along the BRP are slim.
    The only traffic that I thought was annoying during my trip last year? The Harley's. Could hear them coming for miles, esp. when climbing one of the LONG climbs. Got on my nerves.

  2. I've motorcycled the BRP occasionally since 1976, and have to say I'm almost always shocked by the speeding and heavier traffic around Ashville. It must be some sort of short-cut for commuters. But they are hell bent on getting where they need to be.