Thoughts from the Blue Ridge
Bike the US for MS: HOMECOMING!
With their cross-country tours sidelined the last two summers because of, well, you know, Bike the US for MS organized a ride for alumni through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains last month.
The route was a loop departing from Roanoke heading south along the Blue Ridge Parkway before heading north through Galax and winding along the New River, before cutting through Blacksburg and back into Roanoke.
It was less than a week long, and from my front door, Roanoke is just a three-hour drive away. This was a chance to do a bike tour without the logistical headaches.
At first I was apprehensive about getting back on the road. What if the magic I felt years ago touring with Bike the US for MS was nowhere to be found? What if it’s a type of fun that no longer suits me? Shoot, what if I don’t have the legs to get my ass up and over those mountains?
Saying “yes” to Bike the US for MS has led me to some life-defining moments, for better or for worse. Sometimes I spent a truly magical 72 hours in a city I’d never given serious thought to. Other times I ended up in northern Idaho with a stomach bug that turned me green like a maple leaf in the spring.
So this ride was too good an opportunity to turn down. Big picture, it was a nice opportunity to see if touring is still in my bailiwick. Small picture, it was a chance to spend a few days with a bunch of friends I haven’t seen in years, people with whom I have a special bond. I had to do it.
I signed up and some family and friends very generously donated to the cause, something that has very real and very immediate positive effects on people living with MS. If you’re feeling generous, you can donate to BtUSfMS here.
I was driving toward Roanoke on U.S. Route 460, the same road that carried me away to college dozens of times a decade ago. It was late August, and nostalgia rushed over me. In some ways I was chasing old feelings, I realized, and I was trying to decide if it was a fool’s errand to do so.
20,000+ feet of climbing were packed into only 240 miles spread over four days, and the days on the Parkway were tough. I could feel the heat emanating from the pavement on the bottom of my forearms as I’d occasionally guide my front wheel around piles of bear scat on the road. I tried to not think about how far away its maker might be.
We all fell into a rhythm pretty quickly, despite it being such a short trip. It’s funny, you do not have a choice in this on a bike tour. You’ll have good days and bad days on a bike tour, usually dictated by things like wind direction, elevation profiles and amount of gas stations ridden past.
Sitting at the picnic table at camp after day one, a few of us wondered out loud if we’d be able to bounce back the next morning.
Yet, the second day of riding was great. Beers at a brewery in Galax and a dip in a creek to cool off at camp left me smiling ear-to-ear that night.
Then of course on day three, 60 miles into an 84-mile day, I started to wilt. The heat. The hills that were just steep enough to grind my quads into dust. I ran the mental math: given my average pace on the day, I had another 90 minutes of riding today, not counting stops.
When I made it to camp in Blacksburg, I was excited at the idea of maybe rolling downtown for a meal and a beer at The Cellar. Then the sky opened up and rained like hell until nightfall.
But the sourness always melts away, because the floor for fun you have on a trip like that is so high.
I got cleaned up, had a slice of Benny’s and a few beers. I heard Adam tell a story about getting his condo’s tub fixed that was way, way funnier than it had any business being, and then we all retired to our tents.I fell asleep to the pitter-patter of raindrops on my tent’s rainfly. I couldn’t help but smile.
I’ve learned some real life-defining lessons through BtUSfMS, like what to do when you’re camping in a Midwestern summer monsoon (text your friends who are in their tents and hope to God your footprint and tent floor hold the line) and how to shower when a spigot’s the only running water source at camp (fill up your bottles and spray with a deft hand).
Some of the lessons from my days with BtUSfMS weren’t immediately learned but instead unearthed in the months and years after. I learned the “real world” I came back to after first reaching the Pacific is a lot less real than the one I lived in while on a bike seat 5+ hours each day.
I learned that living a transient lifestyle for a few months with people of all ages, backgrounds and breakfast ritual preferences showed me that a life can be built into whatever you damn well want it to look like.
I love bike touring for what it is — the satisfaction of riding to the opposite coast is honestly indescribable, and hanging around camp each night with a bunch of delightful, like-minded bozos is the best — but I love even more what it’s grown to symbolize for me: a way of traveling and living that I’d have never considered an option otherwise.