Cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway, May 2014

I have a friend that always went to North Carolina for a week-long cycling trip with friends. She mentioned lots of climbing along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It sounded like a lot of fun.

When I announced that I was moving to North Carolina, my friend put me in touch with her friend that organized the trip. The intent was to hook up and find some cycling in the area.

Instead I ended up joining him, my friend, and several of their friends on their week-long trip in May, shortly after my move to NC. The trip was to take place in Virginia – Lexington and the Hillstown areas.

Even though I didn’t have a lot of cycling miles in my legs, I felt I could do it because of the compact gearing on my bike. What I didn’t realize was that the bike I took actually didn’t have a compact crank but a double instead. No wonder I struggled on some of the climbs! And I only found it out when I went back to Maine for a visit in June and rode a bike I had left behind for The Trek Across Maine. I wondered why the gearing felt so different and realized THAT was the bike with the compact gearing. DUH!

Even with my poor gearing, it was an incredible week cycling on some gorgeous roads. It seemed like every corner was an “oh my gosh” view. Virginia is a wonderful place to bike!

First day pre-ride meeting makes it feel very official.

First day pre-ride meeting makes it feel very official.

Elizabeth and me at Goshen.

Elizabeth and me at Goshen.

Ready for the Vesuvius climb. I want a redo with better gearing!

Ready for the Vesuvius climb. I want a redo with better gearing!

Another great view from The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Another great view from The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Elizabeth and I in front of another great view.

Elizabeth and I in front of another great view.

Mabry Mills, one of the most photographed places along The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Mabry Mills, one of the most photographed places along The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Evening bond fires.

Evening bond fires.

Cows loved to run with us as we biked by.

Cows loved to run with us as we biked by.

The views were amazing!

The views were amazing!

Views from the walk on Vesuvius.

Views from the walk on Vesuvius.

Did I mention some outstanding views?

Did I mention some outstanding views?

One of the many great views from The Blue Ridge Parkway.

One of the many great views from The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Carrying along a small digital camera allowed me to get some great shots of the group in front of me.

Carrying along a small digital camera allowed me to get some great shots of the group in front of me.

Trailing behind but enjoying the views.

Trailing behind but enjoying the views.

Learning to Like Snow

I have friends that are avid cross country skiers and use that as a means to stay fit in the winter months. (Or perhaps they use cycling as a way to stay fit for XC skiing.) I had toyed with the idea of giving it a go as a way to keep in shape and to do things with my friends during the off season. I never got around to trying it until a coworker was selling a pair of skis and boots in the winter of 2013 that were my size at a very attractive price. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose so I bought them.

I used to downhill ski when I was younger but I didn’t love it and certainly wasn’t good at it. The older I got the more I realized how terrifying it was to go downhill fast without brakes. Also, being deathly afraid of heights was an issue going uphill on the chair lifts. I’d always seem to be stuck on a chair with someone that didn’t want to lower the bar and wanted to swing his/her feet, making the chair feel like it was going to swing back and pour me out several feet below to the earth. No thanks!

Being blessed with so many friends that are good at XC skiing made it easy to get pointers on what to do and what not to do. I still was never “good” at it, but I did get better and better the more I did it.

My skis were the classic, wax less kind. With my bad form I was always the slowest one in the bunch. But my friends were great and very supportive in my desire to keep at it and they would always wait for me to catch up.

The more I skied with my friends, the more I began to like it. I found myself wishing for lots of snow. Who was this person I had become??

My first ski outing - what a big group! With friends like these, what's not to love about skiing?

My first ski outing – what a big group! With friends like these, what’s not to love about skiing?

One day a number of us took the day off from work on a Monday to hit the trails at a local ski place, Pineland Farms, following a little bit of snow the previous weekend. It was a beautiful day with blue bird skies, glistening new fallen snow, and gorgeously groomed trails that were nearly empty. It was one of the best days off from work! This was a photo of our group on that day.


The views at Pineland Farms are incredible.

The views at Pineland Farms are incredible.

We have a mutual friend that owns a condo in Jackson, NH, right on a the Jackson XC ski trails. In early February we made a girls weekend out of it by driving 2-hours west to stay at her place for the weekend to do some skiing, hiking, along with some great eating and drinking.

Covered bridge at Jackson, NH.

Covered bridge at Jackson, NH.

Look at me - excited to ski!

Look at me – excited to ski!

The group.

The group.

I couldn't resist this photo op!

I couldn’t resist this photo op!

I could get used to this apres ski thing!

I could get used to this apres ski thing!

The following year was Jackson 2.0, on the same weekend, but with an expanded group of skiers. It was a spectacular weekend and only reinforced my love for skiing, even though I still sucked, and my admiration for my friends. I had even purchased a new pair of skis, boots, and poles because I wanted to get better at it.

My new skis.

My new skis.

First day on the trails with a big group.

First day on the trails with a big group.

Trailing behind the group.

Trailing behind the group.

Smiles and dinner after the first day of skiing.

Smiles and dinner after the first day of skiing.

Second day of skiing - we lost a few after the first day.

Second day of skiing – we lost a few after the first day.

Unfortunately with everything I had to do over the course of the past winter to prepare for our move, I didn’t get a chance to ski nearly as much as I wanted to. And it’s ironic that as soon as I realized I loved XC skiing and gave me an excuse to look forward to the snow, I was moving to an area where I wouldn’t be seeing any snow. I hope to be invited to Jackson 3.0 in Feburary where I can do a little skiing with my friends then.

How We Got Here

It started about a year ago when my husband was working on a project that required him to travel to the North Carolina office for a few weeks. I had mentioned that if his job ever required us to move there then it was something we could do. His reply was something like, “Don’t be so cavalier about a move like that.”

Our daughter was grown and gone, my mother who I saw rarely lived 2 hours away in the summer but wintered in Florida, and my sister lived in Utah. Sure I had plenty of other relatives but with one grandmother gone and the other on her way out via a nursing home for Alzheimer patients, there wasn’t much family to stay for. The biggest loss would be some close friends and a strong cycling community that I was a big part of. There was nothing really holding us in Maine.

Not to mention I had lived in Maine all my life and the thought of moving someplace without snow, and potential year round cycling, was very appealing. I didn’t hate the snow – it was more of a nuisance and I remember on more than one occasion growing tired of the repetitive snow removal and exclaiming we were going to move to Atlanta. Of course it was mostly in jest. Seriously, I’ve been to Atlanta and it’s probably not some place I’d really want to live.

Soon after my husband’s project ended, things changed at his office. There was a reorganization that resulted in several people being let go and new ones to take their place. It ended up being a good opportunity for my husband and after several months he ended up with a new position in the company. That also meant a move to North Carolina where his team would be located. I was more than overjoyed.

My boss didn’t see it that way. After working for him for almost 7 years he was completely blindsided by the news. We had a great working relationship and I never gave him any indication that I wasn’t happy with my job. It was a new opportunity for my husband and I fully intended to support him.

Our biggest decision to make was whether to sell the house or keep it and rent it, being 900 miles away. If we kept it and rented it, and if North Carolina didn’t work out, we’d have our house to come back to. In the end, we thought selling was in our best interest.

My husband started work the first of December at his new office in North Carolina, just north west of Charlotte, and I stayed behind to pack and prep the house for sale.

At the end of March 2014 we removed the snow tires from the vehicle, packed it full of all our remaining belongings that hadn’t been packed in the POD or shipped via UPS, which also included two new adorable feline additions to our family, Athena and Hercules, locked up the house one last time, and left at 4:30am for the 15 hour journey south.

Welcome Back!

I say this more to me than to you, if you are still there and interested in reading.

I can’t believe it’s been years since I’ve posted to this blog. However, I felt it was time.

You see, the big reason is that I have moved from Maine to North Carolina as of the first of April this year. (No, I won’t be changing the name of the blog to North Carolina Velophile. I consider myself now and always a Mainer.) It’s been an exciting change for me and I’m looking forward to living in a climate where I can ride my bike all year long.

That said, my life has definitely changed a bit. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just different than when I was in Maine.

For starters, I’m not working. So I have a lot of time to devote to household chores, yard work, and growing some wonderful veggies and flowers in containers on our deck.

I must say that riding has taken a back seat at various times throughout the summer but I am still in the process of exploring group rides in the area as well as other roads to ride.

Stay tuned as I write about my adventures south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I’ll try to incorporate some of my day-to-day adventures in addition to talk about things that have happened over the last several months upon my arrival.

It really has been a great experience and I am excited to get much of recorded here on my blog.

Thanks for reading!!

Strength from Cycling

I met Linda Braley on a ride a couple years back. We had just formed the PVC women’s team and I invited her to join us on a ride. She was hooked on the camaraderie of the women’s club and quickly joined and has been a member ever since. She’s been a staple on all the rides and we love her to pieces! (PS I’m the one with the helmet cam. Linda asked that I take the camera for some on-bike video and I think I did a pretty good job. LOL)

Night Riders

Who says you have to stop riding just because the sun has gone down?

Well, that’s what I used to think. Once we reached the point where we didn’t have enough evening daylight for our mid-week afternoon/evening rides they came to an end. Unfortunately so did the fitness until you started hitting the trainer.

This year a club member who grew up in Philly and used to do “night riding” with her club there has organized a night ride with our group.

Last week was the first one but I didn’t go. It was dark and windy. I had gotten home early enough to settle in for the evening and I would be damned if I was going back out on the bike.

This week was different. I had bike commuted to work so my return trip got me home a little later than driving. I was dressed and ready for biking so I didn’t change. The ride departure was also a little earlier, which meant there was less time to settle in. It was also warmer – in the mid 50’s.

I was excited and a little apprehensive, not ridden in the dark much. However, two days earlier I was out on a club ride and heading back when it was getting pretty dark. Surprisingly I felt pretty comfortable with it so I was ready for a full-on night ride.

A small group met at 6:10 to head north to rendezvous with another group 15-20 minutes away and then we headed off as a larger group. There were 11 of us total with a nice mix of men and women. Everyone had at least one head and tail light on. Some of us had two, like me who had a bike mounted front/rear light in addition to a head lamp and rear light on my helmet. Many of us also had reflective clothing on, or additional items for reflection. In short, we were highly visible and I was really surprised at how much we lit up the road.

I found the drivers seemed more courteous as well. I’m sure many of them were more than a little surprised to see a group of hearty, and perhaps a little crazy, cyclists out on an evening ride well after sunset.

We ended up with a 30-mile route and the pace was such that we all stayed together. That’s key so no one gets dropped or left behind in the dark.

Two hours later I arrived back home and thrilled about my first successful night ride and looking forward to next week’s ride with my fellow night riders.

I’m Not Really A Sprinter

In cycling you have certain body types that are good for certain disciplines. I don’t have the body type for climbing – I’m way too bulky and short. I never considered myself a sprinter, either. I guess I thought that I’d make for a much better lead-out guy. I’d be the type that could to hard and steady for a period of time and then blow up, pulling off to allow a teammate to get a win.

On our fastest ride of the week, the Saturday morning ride, we three sprint lines. The middle one is at the top of a hill – I say hill because it’s not a huge climb but enough to tax you before the sprint. The last is along a short flat stretch, after a series of rolling hills, again enough to tax the legs before the sprint. The first one is at the end of a along a flat stretch of road.

The first flat sprint is the one I sometimes try for. I know there are certain people I need to mark for the sprint – not everyone goes for it but there are a few that do. I often get caught being boxed in with the sprinters making their way up the outside and others in front or to my side sitting in that prevent me from making a move.

Last week I thought I was in a good position with a couple coming around to the left. I jumped to go but one of them pulled in front of me and sat up – she must have realized what was going on then realized she shouldn’t be there in the sprint. I tried going around to the right but was faces with a couple garbage cans in the way on the shoulder of the road. (Who has trash pickup on Saturdays other than Scarborough?)

There have also been times when the legs just haven’t been there. But today I was actually feeling pretty good, even after biking all week.

So I did my usual marking of certain women who would be looking for the sprint. I was behind one girl who always sprints. I lost her wheel to another woman as we got closer to the line but that wasn’t going to deter me.

Linda, the woman I always mark, was feeling a little boxed in herself as the group took up the entire lane (it was much larger this year with 25 women) and crossed the line to go around the front riders and head for the line.

I just accelerated with her and the other woman and then finally jumped when they did. The other woman, Cody, ended up going around Linda for the win and I wasn’t far behind for 3rd. That was the best sprint for me ever!

I chose not to contest for other sprints for the remainder of the ride but did manage to stay up in the front working hard and taking pulls.

With the upcoming long weekend my plan is to get in a couple long rides (50-60 miles) Sunday and Monday then my rest week begins. Taking that last rest period a couple weeks made a HUGE difference so I made sure to plan another one 3-4 weeks later. My rest week will also include a massage and a trip to Canada for the Pro-Tour races in Quebec City and Montreal.

A Man Named George

Sometimes it is well worth the time to slow down on the bike.

As I left my office by bike today I noticed a cyclist in the distance with panniers. This is not uncommon around my office – I often see groups of people riding through (always south) loaded down with gear.

I knew I would catch up to him/her and figured I’d slow down, say hi, and chat for a bit.

After saying hello, it was the usual questions. I asked him where he was heading. He replied in an accent, “Oh, Portland, then Portsmouth, and finally New York.”

So I asked him where he was from, expecting to hear Canada. I was wrong. He was from the Netherlands. Okay, now I needed  to know more!

Where was he coming from? Again, assuming Canada was the correct answer, which it was, but there was more. Turns out he had flown to England on June 21st to bike up to Scotland before flying to Iceland and biking around that country then finally flying into Hallifax, Nova Scotia. He explained he was biking to New York and need to be there by September 1st, which was when his wife was flying there to meet him. He was also making this trip solo.

We hit a hill and he said, “Okay, bye-bye.” He was much slower than me on the little hill, and with 50 kilos of gear and on a mountain bike,  you would be, too! I slowed and he caught up to me at the top. I told him that I wasn’t leaving him because I was enjoying chatting with him and if he didn’t mind, I’d like to ride with him for a while. He was agreeable to the idea so we rode and chatted more.

I asked him what the best part of the trip had been. He told me it was Prince Edward Island. I have heard it’s beautiful there and told him that. Then it occurred to me that he didn’t just land in Hallifax and head south. The guy headed north and rode around Nova Scotia before turning towards New York.

His average day is between 100 – 120 kilometers (60-75 miles) a day. Every day. He typically stays at a campground and sleeps in a tent but a few days ago, when I rained a lot, he told me with a sly grin that he stayed in a motel instead.

Soon I got to the intersection where I would normally turn right. Knowing George was going straight, I decided to go straight and continue to ride with him.

We talked about what we did for a living, how many kids we each had (and how many grandchildren he had), etc.  I’m not sure what it is about being on a bike but I can talk to anyone when I’m out biking. Put me in a room of strangers and expect me to mingle and I struggle. When I’m on the bike I can roll up to anyone and strike up a conversation.

He had ridden all over France and Switzerland in his life. I joked that this route must have seemed pretty flat to him after biking in Europe.This trip had been a dream of his for 10 years and here he was making it happen.

As we neared Portland I was already late getting home but decided a detour was in order to show him an efficient way to get him through the city and towards his destination a bit quicker.

We got to a point where I was going to leave him and wanted to get his picture. He was happy to accommodate my request.

My commuting companion, George from The Netherlands

I called my husband to report that I was late, had a good reason for it, and would explain when I arrived home soon. He informed me that he still wasn’t home and would be in about 30 minutes. I made the decision to ride a little further with George to make sure he made his way okay.

Then I realized it would be really nice to take a photo of him in Portland and email it to his family. He also thought this would be a great idea. So we did!

"Greetings from George in Portland, Maine"

It was finally time to say goodbye to George. I wished him well and told him it was a pleasure to join him on part of his journey. I will be thinking of him often over the next few weeks as he continues on his trip and especially on September 1st when his wife arrives to meet him.

Tonight I got home an hour later than normal, took a route I wouldn’t normally take, all because of a man named George. And I was happier for it.

Time For Rest

I think I mentioned previously that earlier in the spring, when it was cold, rainy and I had other meeting and social commitments, I had spent more time off the bike than on it. Surprisingly, I think that was better for my fitness. I was well rested and my hard efforts were good. I also didn’t feel burnt out by the time July rolled around like years past.

Since then the weather became great for cycling, I was commuting to/from work by bike when the weather and my schedule allowed, which was a lot. Not to mention being on the bike for my weekly group rides.

However, last week I was on the bike riding home from work before the Wednesday night ride and just knew I didn’t have it in me to keep up with the group. I knew it physically and mentally. Luckily I promised some less experienced girls that I would be on the ride to hang back with them so they would have someone to ride with.

It didn’t take long for me, with the two girls behind me, to get dropped. The pace was high and with a gap I couldn’t close I fell behind quickly.

When I returned home every part of my legs ached. I realized then that it was time for a rest week. It’s been a while since I’ve had any significant time off the bike and I am way overdue!

The only ride I have done during this week was the recovery ride on Monday yesterday. Since today was pretty much the pick of the week I thought a little easy spin to commute to work couldn’t hurt either – keeping my recovery slightly active.

The part I dread is getting back on the bike with flat legs and the time it will take to work through that. Still, it should be worth it, both physically and mentally.

Living in Vacationland – Part 4 – Wild Animal Park

This is the final installment in this blog series.

We saw some kids at the Portland Observatory that were here on vacation and mentioned they were headed to the Gray Wild Animal Park during their stay here. That reminded me that I hadn’t been there since I was a kid and though Dad might like it.

They are a lot of native Maine animals at this park. Unfortunately it was so hot that many of the animals were trying to stay cool in some of the shade, including the moose so we didn’t really get to see them – they were too far away under the cover of some trees.

Moose hanging out in the shade very far away from us.

This fox was finding a little shade in the scrub.

I think the bears had it the best – a pool to cool off in.

The deer and the bears knew the routine – people meant food. There was a food dispenser not far away that you could buy to throw to the animals. This guy was enjoying the corn we provided him from a nearby dispenser.

Even the albino porcupine was dealing with the heat in his own way. This was the funniest photo we took all day.

There were a fair number of birds at the park. Many of them in cages so taking photos was a challenge but we did get a few:

We hoped he was going to spread his feathers but never did.

A golden eagle. They are always majestic. There was a bald eagle too, but we were not able to get any photos.

One of the best displays there was this display of two moose that whose remains had been found a while back with their antlers locked. It’s believed that they got locked during rutting season and never came loose and the animals died as a result.