Two and a half years after my bike tour of a lifetime, I got the hankering to try another long bike ride. Nothing quite as big as the TransAm, but a week or two. I kicked around the idea of some early season rides in Arizona, and some of the canyon tours in Utah. But work presented a conflict, and my niece was graduating from high school this summer in Rocky Mount, just 20 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since my wife grew up only 8 miles away from the BRP, it seemed like a good idea to start down in Cherokee a week before graduation and ride up there.
Credit card or camping? I really like the idea of not having to carry camping equipment up some of the BRP climbs, but the motels are a bit spaced out. (As are the campgrounds, to be honest!) Late winter ‘net surfing found the ACA tour was the week before graduation, ending Friday before the Saturday ceremony. Good timing! Like the van supported group we met in Wyoming three years back, I wouldn’t have to carry all my gear. Even better, this group provides meals. OK, it requires another 4-5 hours driving to get up to Front Royal, but I can’t honestly see another time I’d drive up to do the northern part of the Parkway. Cost was honestly a bit higher than I’d expect a motel-and-restaurant credit card trip to be, but there’s the support. So I plunked down my deposit and signed up.
To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled at having to buy a new tent (my old 2-person tent was mildewed to the point of being an asthma attack in a stuff sack). And when the pre-ride email announced there would be no SAG on the trip (because of the Park Service’s no commercial vehicles rule), my wife had some words to say. But with the early spring we’ve had, I had a lot of miles under my tires, so I was confident I could do the trip.
The bike was a problem. My normal commuting bike didn’t care for all the winter trips, so it needed a new bottom bracket. While that was being taken care of, I commuted on Pig — and the day I got the Fuji back, Pig’s BB cracked. Into the shop, where it was found that the BB was seized up, and needed a long course of penetrating oil to remove. The LBS’s trusty mechanic got it out the Tuesday before I left on Thursday, but had to order a rebuild kit. So I checked out the old Fuji the best I could, crossed my fingers, and loaded it in the car for the trip north (and east).
I packed early — the night before leaving — and drove up to Front Royal, at the north end of Skyline Drive, on Friday. Loaded up the truck, and hopped on the bus that couldn’t get under the railroad track. (I was glad I wasn’t the bus driver who had to back the thing up a 1.5 lane road for a quarter mile!) The bus ride was unremarkable, except that the bus was very nice and even had power outlets (a far cry from my last commercial ride some decades ago, or my last charter trip as a chaperone a decade back). We pulled into the KOA at Fancy Gap, unloaded, and set up camp. Don, the staff mechanic, had helped me with a fender adjustment before we left, so I hopped on the bike for a 4 mile jaunt down across I-77 to make sure everything was working. It was!
There were a few oddities to be introduced. For instance, I knew about the ACA policies of “you must wear a helmet” and “you must wear our slow-moving vehicle triangle.” But there was also the introductory meeting after a five hour bus trip and after supper, at which we learned we, the non-employees of ACA, were not allowed in the rental truck, on the ramp of the truck, or on top of the van. Hmm. Didn’t we just load and unload the truck? And who in their right mind wants to play Tinkerbell walking on top of the van with racks for 15 bikes? Also, rather than use paper plates, we were supposed to use our own camping kitchen set, to be washed after each meal. Except this first dinner, which was eaten off paper plates. Pretty good food!
The funkiness was counterbalanced by the good news that, while there’s not an official Support And Gear (SAG) vehicle, we will be passed, repeatedly, but motorized vehicles that can help us out if we run into trouble. Just don’t call it a SAG.
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