The Climb

Everything is going well and I am safe!  It’s been rumored that there is limited cell service upon entering the Blue Ridge Mountains, but little did I know I’d be entirely off the grid for such a length of time!  There is so much to share, and I’ve been finding it difficult to formulate a proper post that will do this past week justice.

Last week, I got a glimpse of what was to come.  In the distance, beautiful mountain ranges in shades of blue that belong on color swatches in every paint store on the planet.  More majestic than intimidating from afar, but as I approached the base, it began hitting me how physically challenging this would truly be.

As I neared Charlottesville from Palmyra, there were signs for Monticello; Thomas Jefferson’s famous home.  It was decided right then that I would take a day to go back and explore this historic landmark and learn all I could on the guided tour that’s offered.  That evening, I made arrangements with a local couple to stay at their home, which doubled as a shared space / hostel for travelers.  They were very accommodating – I highly recommend Fair Haven, owned by Flame and Raven; a very warm and welcoming couple just east of Charlottesville.

Monticello was built in 1772 by our 3rd President and one of America’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.  This neoclassical style home is located in Albemarle County on an 850 foot peak in the Southwest Mountains of the Blue Ridge.

Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of our Declaration of Independence and served as President from 1801 to 1809.   He briefly practiced law, at times defending slaves seeking their freedom.  During the American Revolution, he represented Virginia in the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration, drafted the law for religious freedom as a Virginia legislator, and organized the Louisiana Purchase.   He was an inventor, architect, linguist, mathematician, horticulturalist, philosopher and brilliant writer.  His final resting place is near his home in Monticello Cemetery.  What a privilege it was to tour his home and visit his grave site…

Before heading out of Charlottesville, I stopped at The Bike Factory for a little tune up before approaching Afton Mountain, which is notoriously difficult for cyclists.  The shop’s staff was very helpful and informative – great guys.  The owner informed me that roughly 50% of westbound cyclists quit their journey while attempting my upcoming climb.  He also mentioned that I would most certainly need to stop and walk my bike up at some point.  I smiled and said, “We’ll see.”  While at a late lunch at BJ’s Brewhouse, a man by the name of Greg Trojan, a fellow cyclist, approached the table and asked about A Vicious Cycle.  We chatted for a while and as it turns out – Mr. Trojan is the CEO of the BJ’s Brewhouse National chain, and was visiting from L.A. to attend a local graduation.  Incredible…

After spending some time at the shop, picking up a few things at the store, I rode to White Hall, VA and set up camp behind a community building across from Wyant General Store.  The local gas station had Campbell’s tomato soup in stock and I was taken right back to childhood.  Even found some grilled cheese crackers to dip and ate dinner under a little wooden lean-to.  It was really special…

The next day, we went across the street to the General Store, which has been owned by the Wyant family since the 1800’s.  Even got to spend some time with John Wyant and the amazingly talented locals of White Hall.

I was honored to meet Dale, a decorated Air Force Veteran, who hand made me a beautifully crafted wooden top on the spot and also gifted me an original Army pocket watch he’d been holding onto for many decades.  It was incredibly meaningful and emotional hugs were exchanged…

After packing up the camp site, we met back at the General Store to listen to some amazing, spontaneous, authentic Bluegrass Music, played by the people of White Hall.  Talk about being in the right place at the right time…  It’s always a treat to get a behind the scenes peek into their every day lives and an honor to be included in the local traditions.

The time has come to take on Afton Mountain.  I’ve been hyping myself up, but not psyching myself out.  All that I can do is give everything that I have.  Numerous cyclists have warned me of this climb, and the grade of the incline is a menacing 20% – 30% for miles at a time, nothing like the mild, timid grades the signs warn you about on highways.  I was determined, forbidding myself from getting off of my bicycle and waking.  I set out and began the climb:  Mile after mile of unforgiving inclines, sharp curves, and non-existent road shoulders.  I began using my entire body to power my legs, using my clipped in shoes to pull up on the pedals as well as push down, taking in massive breaths of the ever thinning air.  All of a sudden, I realized…  I made it.  I DID IT.  I was in Afton. I didn’t walk – not ONCE!!  I pulled my phone out and immediately made a video.

I arrived in Afton around 9pm, just after dusk, and took in my first breathtaking (and very much earned) view of the mountains from a guard rail by the Inn at Afton.  The next morning, as I returned to the same guard rail for a day lit version of the view, an older gentleman approached me and introduced himself.  He had lost his beloved wife a few years back and frequents this very spot and view regularly.  I was touched that he’d want to talk to me during his alone time here.  After a few minutes of conversation, we quickly realized we were both Army Veterans, and he had an impressive 40 years of service under his belt, separating from the Army as a First Sergeant.  The stories he must have – I wish we’d had more time to talk about our shared military sentiments.  But, he was heading home and it was time for me to head toward the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and continue my journey.

On Monday, I entered the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.  Although I’ve driven it in the past, the opportunities to experience its tremendous beauty would be much more abundant and intimate while on a bicycle.  Nature never seems to disappoint, so always make and take the time…

After tackling an obnoxious number of inclines, I arrived in Love, VA, at a really neat destination called Royal Oaks Cabins and Campground.  The owner, Keith, still happened to be at their general store 2 hours after closing time, so not only were we able to stay at the campground, but Keith fired his grill back up and made us delicious, hot paninis and we enjoyed an ice cold beer.  This was seriously a huge treat…  Keith and his wife, along with their son and daughter, run this hiker / cyclist friendly establishment, which I HIGHLY recommend.  I also got to witness a bicycle with a 14 speed automatic transmission, apparently invented and patented by the creator of Porche.  Fascinating.

I set back out into the Blue Ridge Mountains, coming across inclines that were challenging, but mild in comparison to previous climbs.  That day, it became official – I had reached the peak of the mountain.  On top of the world…  Scattered sunlight decorated endless layers of cascading mounains.  A gentle breeze made use of my perspiration to coax a chill.  The storms in my mind dissipated briefly and laid placid.  It was quite a moment.  What was left of the air in my lungs was stolen away by the breathtaking scenes waiting to reward me with the title of Cyclist.  Can’t wait to know what’s to come as I descend from this mountain top and continue my journey…

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Video Recap: