Day Two on the NRT

My friend Jim noted that it was rainy the day before Napolean fought at Waterloo. I commented that I hoped Tuesday wouldn’t be Jack’s and my ‘Waterloo,’ but in fact, it was. The trail finally defeated us.

It wasn’t the weather. We had a beautiful if more than a little steamy day. There were so many critters out and about, I thought we might get run over by a bunny. Saw this deer out in the middle of the river right at the Fries Junction.


Not a great pic, but you get the idea.

We did begin our trek slightly late — around 11A. Because it was such a pretty day we were having a great ride until about 7 miles from the end. 

As things were getting hotter and more difficult, I kept thinking: “We may be going downhill (following the flow of the river north), but at least we have a serious headwind.”

Part of the trouble was mechanical: both of our bikes were suffering from the tough conditions and lack of “up-on-the-rack” maintenance.

But most of the problem was physical. We just “popped.” Pure and simple.

Even ate a pretty big lunch, including the Gatorade we packed along, an apple, and good trail mix to accompany our ham and cheese sandwiches and chips. Ate lunch at Foster Falls, as we’d done yesterday, where the heritage of the trail is celebrated in everything you see around you.


Both of us were working hard, truly making this a training ride, rather than a tour. I was hoping to maintain a 13 mph average speed, headed mostly downhill and all. And I had a solid 12.9mph right at Hiawassee. I tried really hard to bump that up to 13, but then we hit a VERY LONG uphill to Draper and I had to abandon hope. Despite the hard work, I managed to take a few pix along the way.


The New below Buck Dam

Ivanhoe shelter: the same place I took the pic of the pouring rain yesterday.
While we contemplated our sorry state of affairs at the Draper shelter, a nice fellow who lives in Pulaski rolled up and assessed our lack of determination. After a bit of a chat-up, he set off again, saying over his shoulder: “Only about a mile and a half left of the uphill, and then it’s downhill all the way to Pulaski.”

As we often say, “There was nothing left to do but to do it.”

He was true to his word and our legs felt as if they’d been reborn as we rolled at a decent (cooling) pace downhill and to the parking lot. It was really REALLY difficult to keep our concentration long enough to do all the stuff required to load the car back up. But once in the air conditioning, we headed to a grocery store for a bottle of restorative chocolate milk and felt human again by the time we reached Fries.

Thanks, Jim, for bringing up what happened to Napoleon . . . so there were three things at work here: mechanical, physical and a jinx. Ahh, Jim , we thought we knew ya . . . 

Thought I’d post this also, since it is a celebration of the Rail-to-Trail philosophy — you can’t really see the view from the “telescope” as well as in real life, so I’ve included the sculptor’s statement also.


The sculpture as it appears beside the trail
through the telescope

“Just as this trail holds traces of the former railroad and the train that once rumbled past, the red disks of this sculpture hold traces of a train. You cannot see it as you pass, but when you look through the telescope you will see it in the space between the disks. It is not solid. You cannot touch it, but it is there, like a memory.” –Harry McDaniel, sculptor.

Training for Nova Scotia

Our third adventure with our wonderful camping trailer, Roomba, is a prelude to our Big Trip to Nova Scotia and the bicycle tour we’ve been planning for over a year.

We also wanted one more trip in Roomba with the doggies, since we’re not going to see them for a month. This idea conflicts with our intended training schedule: to head down to the New River Trail, our “hometown” Rails to Trails conversion, and ride it stem-to-stern on back-to-back days. This places our butts in the saddles for about 47 miles, which translates into a 5-hour day with a lunch stop. Times two.

So we didn’t want to leave the dogs in the Roomba or at home; nor with a kennel — so we conspired with friends to have a group camping experience at the New River Campground in Fries, Virginia (it’s pronounced “freeze” for you non-swva-ers). Gloria & Kerry like my dogs, and have one of their own, so Glo agreed to be the dog-sitter over the two days of our being on the trail. In addition, Jack and Martha recently got a camper van and they got pursuaded to join the fun and come with.

On Sunday afternoon we all arrived and hooked up and began sharing adult beverages, lies, and tall tales.

Monday (today) was the first of Jack’s and my cycling adventures. We got rolling around 9:30, and loaded the bikes on the car hitch for the drive from Fries to Pulaski, the opposite terminus for the trail (it also goes off toward Galax, but that ‘s a spur. At “Fries Junction” you can choose to head right to Fries or left to Galax — if we’d done both spurs, the total distance would have been approx 50 miles).

We left the dogs in Glo’s competent care and drove to within 2 miles of the downtown Pulaski terminus and began our trek in a sunny, only slightly overcast morning about 10:30.


We sincerely love the New River Trail and we’ve spent many miles traversing it. The scenery is quite fine and varied, and when we’re running our training rides there we try to not only stay in the saddle for many hours at a stretch, but also keep our pace higher than what we can manage when we’re riding the BRP. But we charged our panniers with lunch and rain gear and set off.

As we were trundling right along we were surprised to see fellow Floydians on the trail! Penny, Sue, and Shirley were taking a break along the trail between Draper and Hiawassee. We hit the breaks hard and circled back to say howdy. We chatted a while about bicycles, and places we ride, and those pesky pressure points where the human body meets the mechanical bicycle. Funny to run into folks from the old hometown a good 40 miles from home.


We made our way along the trail, across trestles and through tunnels until we arrived at Foster Falls, where we exited the trail, found a picnic table, and had our lunch. From about 12:30 until our finish time of 1:00, we watched dark clouds mound in the sky and just hoped that they would be moving toward Pulaski instead of toward Fries.


As we began the after-lunch portion of our ride, some thunder sounded, and a few drops began to fall. Rain had hit the trail earlier, we could tell from the footing and puddles. But we still had hopes that we might not have to endure.

WRONG. No more than about 5 miles into the afternoon, the heavens upened and began truly dumping on us. IT got dark, and the wind shifted to be in our faces. 

Nevertheless, it was not cold. So I never had to break out the rain coat. As Jack says: “You’re as wet in the first 45 seconds as you’ll get all day, so why bother?”

We escaped the deluge at Ivanhoe, long enough to clear our glasses and wipe the sweat rinsing down our faces and (mostly) into our eyes. The rain let up a tiny bit and we set off again.

Passed the Shot Tower, as Interstate 77 traffic roared overhead, and we knew it was exactly 15 miles to Fries Junction. It was along this stretch that Jack began experiencing mud build-up under his fenders and between his rims and his break pads. He began having to stop and remove the interference on his wheels’ ability to turn (and his breaks’ ability to stop him). I managed to keep rolling and arrived through the dark and the wet at Fries Junction about 10 minutes before Jack made it. 

We had a bit of energy boost, drank some water, and then set off again for the final 5.5 miles to Fries. The rain finally let up from deluge status to sprinkle as we climbed up to Main Street and wound our way back to the campground. Then it began raining again; stopped long enough for me to get into the shower; but was pissing down again after I got out and had dry clothes on for the first time in 3 hours of hard, soggy, riding.

The Hiltons made us all dinner, which we enjoyed tremendously (we provided a bit of an easy appetizer of frozen shrimp and cocktail sauce). And as I write this, Jack and I are inside Roomba with the doggies, listening to it rain on the roof again; wondering how much fun we’re going to have riding again in the rain tomorrow, back to pick up the car in Pulaski. 

At least we will be riding with the flow of the river this time, so the grade is generally downhill.

Training for a Fall Cycle Tour

As a small portion of our training for an upcoming cycling tour of Nova Scotia, Jack and I headed to the New River Trail today. The NRT is our “hometown” Rails to Trails conversion, and one of Virginia’s state parks. We frequently head down to Galax, the Shot Tower, Fries, or Foster Falls to head north or south along the trail, which we feel is one of the best in Virginia.

The section of the Trail we rode today was in good shape, with the notable exception of 4 to 6 miles from right at Austinville through climbing past Billsby Dam (heading south). The rough road was due to horse traffic, whose hooves chop up the cinder trail terribly. 

Now, I’m not in any way saying that horses should not be allowed on the Trail. As an ex-horse rider myself, I get having a lovely place free from traffic where you can ride. But I really wish the riders were more respectful of other users and kept their mounts closer to the verges where possible. Certainly, there are stretches of this trail where there are no verges at all, between the cliffs on one side and the New River on the other. I get that. 

And at the road crossings, where we’re all funneled through the anti-vehicle “gates” there’s no choice but to have the hooves hit the trail.

But I wish some small consideration for other users more widely pervaded the equestrians. For example: the Trail provides mount/dismount places at each side of the trail where it follows over trestles, so riders can mind the rules and walk their mounts across the trestles. Judging by the extreme chop in the middle of the trail at each end of every trestle along this heavy horse traffic stretch of the trail, not many riders remove to the mount/dismount areas. Instead, they stop their horses, and the horses dance and circle, creating virtual troughs in front of the trestles.

These are really rough on bicycle riders, as are all the chopped-up lengths of the trail where discourteous riders insist on riding abreast across the trail instead of using the edges where possible. I wonder if one solution might be for equestrians to pay a surcharge for the maintenance required on the trail due to their “vehicles” leaving behind more damage. Just a thought. And please be clear that I do NOT advocate disallowing horses on Rail Trails. 

But the stretches for about four miles where we began, at the Shot Tower, until Austinville; and then past Billsby Dam all the way to Fries Junction were blissful. Overall, in a 30-mile ride, to have between 8 and 12 miles (hitting the rough stretches headed both ways) is not terrible — and it was a lovely day along the river. We saw canoeists on the River, and other riders of all ages, and butterflies, birds, and flowers.

And this was the highest-mileage day we’ve ridden since we began our 2015 riding in about March/April. Nice that we went 10 miles over our “long” ride-days; however, our “normal” training rides are along the hilly Blue Ridge Parkway. So it was great to extend the time in the saddle without having to climb the several 2-mile mountains we’d have to traverse if we rode the same 30 miles along our normal, nearer route.

Next up: soon we’re going to take the Roomba down into southern VA to train along another Rails to Trails Conversion, and I’ll report on that adventure soon. We’re also talking about camping near the New River Trail (the campsites there don’t allow RV campers) long enough to cycle along the full 54 miles of the Trail two days back-to-back. That’s always been a great way for us to catalog lots of time in the saddle, and to test the level of our training right before we leave on a big cycling trip like that we’re heading for this fall.