When last we saw our intrepid adventurers, they had ridden 50 miles, climbing over 6,000 feet with a fully-loaded touring tandem on the busy Blue Ridge Parkway. They barely survived running out of food and drink, and had topped off their tanks again with tasty sandwiches and steak dinners.
Monday, we mostly hung out at Little Switzerland. I awoke early and went to the lobby to watch the sun rise over Marion, enjoying a wonderful conversation about bicycle touring with the night manager of the hotel. He had spent a number of months doing a tour of New Zealand, and his description of this beautiful country merely helped elevate this destination on my bucket list.
I also used the lobby computer to begin planning our return trip to Brevard. Although it would be mostly downhill back to Asheville, I knew that there would be enough climbing to make the trip a lot of work. Also, I was tired of the descents being ruined by the lack of a drag brake and the work required to feather the front and rear brakes, worrying about the rims overheating and melting the glue around the valve on the inner tubes.
At breakfast, RandoGirl and I discussed the new plan for our return. Just as we were finishing, there was a thunk at the window next to us when a bird flew into the window. We went outside to check on him, and he seemed dazed but alive. When we looked again later, he had flown away.
We again did a little laundry -- this time by hand -- but mostly lounged about and read this day. I talked again with RandoGirl's coach, Tracey Drews, who gave me some tips for our return route. We went back to the same restaurant as Sunday for lunch, but this time we were not so demanding. They had Lavazza espresso, so I had a wonderful latte and a piece of pie.
After another excellent dinner, we turned in early again. The restaurant at the Inn did not have breakfast until 7:30 am, so we bought snacks to tide us over so we could leave early.
Tuesday, the plan was to retrace our route south on the Parkway to Hwy 80, then descend there to Marion. It was foggy and a little cool as we rolled out, but there was enough climbing to quickly warm us up. Soon, we were on 80, stopping twice to let the rims cool, before we came to the flatter sections going by the lake, and then turning onto US 70.
As anyone who's biked around Tennessee and North Carolina much will tell you, US 70 is fluky. Parts of it get a lot of truck traffic and can be horrible. However, most of it follows I-40, so the faster traffic tends to get on the interstate instead. RandoGirl found this section to be fine, and really enjoyed zipping along the gentle rollers here at about 20, cars and trucks generally moving way over when they passed us.
Tracey had suggested we veer off for a few miles onto Old US 70, which was very nice. There was one longer climb there, but we rode past a lot of parkland and even took a break at a pull-off with a historical marker and a porta-potty.
Just past this, we came to a sign saying that the road dead-ended ahead. Our directions had us turning left, but we were a couple of miles away from that. We took the right turn, instead, and found our left turn. Unfortunately, though, the left turn here took us on an unpaved road that climbed for the next three miles. Although the grade wasn't too bad and the gravel was fairly hard-packed, some of the pitches were steeper, and we were very happy to eventually rejoin US 70. It was not until later that we discovered that we should have stayed on the "dead end" road, since it was only closed to motor traffic and we would have been able to get by, staying on what is supposedly a very nice, flat, paved road.
Soon, we entered the town of Black Mountain. We were both hungry, and I had seen on Google maps that there was a bike shop here -- Epic Cycles. We found the shop, and had a great time talking to the guys there. They let us top off our tires, told us about the "dead end" road that we should have taken, gave us some route tips, and recommended an excellent place for lunch. They even watched our bike and stuff for us while we walked into the little town and ate.
After topping off our bottles and buying some fuel at the bike shop, we headed on towards Asheville. Our plan had been to stay the night at the same hotel that we had used on our outbound leg, but only if we were there after 1 pm. It was 12:30 when we rolled by, and we both felt pretty good, so we stopped at the same store that we had used last time to get more Gatorade, and then headed back onto the Parkway.
Once again, we had about 10 miles of dodging the Asheville traffic. This was the only time that we saw any law enforcement, when a North Carolina State Trooper passed us. Of course, he has no jurisdiction there, and was technically violating the "no commercial traffic" law of the Parkway himself.
We got off on Hwy 191, taking a series of turns to avoid the hectic traffic along this road. Finally, we reached the more quiet roads southwest of Asheville, and then turned onto Hwy 280 for the last 20 miles to Brevard. This road is supposedly part of a Bike Route, but doesn't have much shoulder. Fortunately, it is a five-lane road and most of the cars seemed comfortable moving over for bikes.
When we finally got to Brevard, RandoGirl and I were starving. We were only a couple of miles from the Carmichael offices, but when we saw an Arby's we immediately pulled in. After pigging out, we leisurely headed downtown to finish our 93-mile day.
Once again, the folks at Carmichael were very nice. The let us use their showers, lent us towels, and pushed drinks on us. We soon got cleaned up and loaded everything back into the WatzzWagon, then headed back to the RandoDaughter's college for another visit. Heading over the mountains, we began discussing what we would do differently next time.
But that's tomorrow's blog ...