When John Hughes asked me to write an Ultra Lore story for the magazine about a first time ultra distance ride, I knew instantly that I wanted to write about my fully loaded, un- supported tour from Florida to Alaska. 7,000 miles in less than 100 days. But I have a better tale of dancing bears, orange salamanders and Ziggy Startdust. It goes like this…………
I had 12 days off from work and I wanted to make the most of it. I decided my perfect first-ever solo bicycle tour would be the Blue Ridge Parkway. I would fly to Dulles Airport (Virginia) , ride to Front Royal (start of the Parkway), ride the Parkway, and ride back home to Gainesville Florida. 960 miles in 12 days, fully loaded, no problem.
I arrived at the airport in the middle of the night, slept on a bench and put my bike together early the next morning. Maps in hand, I headed out on back country roads and arrived into Front Royal by early evening. I made it to mile marker 36 by dark and set up camp about 50 feet off of the side of the road.
I woke up the next day at 6:30 AM and low and behold I found out why one doesn’t leave their cycling clothes drying outside on the bushes over night . All of my clothes had holes chewed in them. No worries, I’m on my bike, solo and having a blast.
The next day’s ride was full of old country home steds, split rail fences, historic structures and views in every direction of spectacular mountains and valleys. Mile markers made it easy to see how I was progressing and there were car pullouts so easily accessible that I could ride through them hardly putting on the breaks to see the spectacular views. The tour was all I had envisioned of long climbs, fast descending, great scenery, and little traffic. I was truly doing this on my own and having a blast. Well, maybe a little too much alone.
By the end of day three, and nearly 210 miles into my tour, I realized I was unintentionally in a hurry. So much in a hurry that I realized I wasn’t getting off my bike much, even to take photos, but I would sit up with the camera ready and shoot photos while riding past the views I wanted to remember. Hhhhmmmm, no worries, I’m on my bike and having a blast. I’ll take more time tomorrow and get off my bike, take photos and look around.
I woke up on day four and it was pouring rain. I mean pouring rain. I was somewhere near Jeffres Park and the rain was coming down so hard that I had very little photo opportunities. I could see about a half a mile in all directions. Not much to do but ride and ride and ride. No worries, I’d been in rain before, Rain can’t last forever.
I woke up on day five with more rain and the visibility now to about 10 feet around me. I couldn’t see a thing. Well, OK. I could see the dashed lane lines in the middle of the road, the tiny orange salamander-looking things on the wet pavement, and the grass and guardrails on the edge of the road when the road took a sharp turn. I was no longer loving life, loving the solo tour, loving the rain or loving the Blue Ridge Parkway. I needed something to change. Anything.
So I got my Walkman out, put the earphones in and cranked up the tunes. “Major Tom to Ground Control………”. And just then…….as I’m on this really steep climb…… I look up… ““Major Tom to Ground Control…..”. And there it is… on the guardrail… a black bear. ” This is Major Tom to Ground Control…….”. As I round the corner, he sees me, stands up on his hind legs and walks one foot in front of the other. All the bear needed was a pink tutu. It was then I knew then that the tour was real, it was solo, and it was life.