Day 5: Elevation: Afton, VA to Vesuvius VA

31 miles (50 km) – Total so far: 290 miles (467 km)
Leaving Afton this morning, I was filled with dread for the upcoming crossing of the Eastern Appalachian range. The route goes up to and then along the Blue Ridge parkway for about 25 miles and then over a pass and into the town of Vesuvius. Crossing these mountains has been the primary anxiety in my mind since dipping my wheel in the ocean. Given the combination of their steep grade, (8-12% much of the way, but up to 16%), elevation, and my physical condition early in the trip, I was convinced this would prove to be the hardest day outside of external factors such as weather conditions. Speaking of which, at 5:00 AM this morning, the forecast was for 20 MPH headwinds and thunderstorms. Gulp.

Elevation Profile. Mineral to Vesuvius in 2 days.
Elevation Profile. Mineral to Vesuvius in 2 days. 

Fortunately, by 6:00 the threatened rain hadn’t come and so I started up the mountain. I confess stopping for breath no more than 500 feet from my starting place. I was deeply concerned about how tired I was already and was seriously considering taking a rest day before trying this climb. Overcoming my reluctance I set out again. To my delight, I realized that the switchbacks in Afton are much worse than the merely ridiculously steep sections of the blue ridge parkway. I decided to implement a strategy of stopping for pictures every few hundred feet and taking my sweet time to get up the mountain.

Overlook climbing up from Afton -1900 ft
Overlook climbing up from Afton -1900 ft
View looking back down towards Afton at 2500 ft.
View looking back down towards Afton at 2500 ft. 

Having crested the first peak, on my next vertical section, I found a couple cool distractions. First, a mountain stream. Having had Giardia twice in my life already, and working under the assumption that the body builds up a tolerance to such things, I happily sipped away at this cool, pure stream. I should point out that both times I had Giardia was related to sanitation in cities in the developing world, and not related to drinking from mountain streams. I firmly believe that many of us equate nature with “germs”, “toxic” and “gross”, when in fact the exact opposite is true. I’ll continue drinking directly from mountain streams, thank you very much. Though… to be fair, only if I can identify they probably don’t go through a town or hiking trail first.

Mountain stream on the way up from Afton - 2700ft
Mountain stream on the way up from Afton – 2700ft 

After the stream, I saw a sign for “Greenstone Trail.” Liking both the color green, stones, as well as reasonable combinations of the two, I decided to take a gander. Thanks to Mike Z for pointing out after my last post I should be stopping to smell the roses more often. Or in this case, taste the lichen.

Greenstone Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Greenstone Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Enough lollygagging. Onward and upward. And upward. And upward.

Rock Point Overlook 3000 ft
Rock Point Overlook 3000 ft
Bald Mountain Overlook - 3200 ft.
Bald Mountain Overlook – 3200 ft.

Bald mountain is the end of the serious climbing. There’s a little bit of up and down to get to highway 56 and turn towards Vesuvius. I had a fantastic time climbing this mountain. A total of about 4,000 up with 1,000 down from bottom to top.

I had promised myself that I would rest after cresting the mountain. Also, I’m trying to do *less* planning and see what comes along. Lo and Behold! Just 5 minutes into my descent I came across a lovely mountain B&B. A quick call to the innkeepers reveals that yes, they have room. Yes, they serve dinner and breakfast. Yes, they can make me a lunch basket. Since they were still away getting supplies they told me to go to a cabin and make myself at home until they showed up. I am now rested, showered, well-fed, mountain climbed, and happy. In about an hour I’ll be enjoying an almond crusted trout dinner. I suspect it will be better than the mac & cheese I had last night.

Sugar Tree Inn.... A well earned treat.
Sugar Tree Inn…. A well earned treat.
Along with the lunch basket "for 2" the room had a teddy bear.
Along with the lunch basket “for 2” the room had a teddy bear.

Published by Mike Evans

Founder of Founded GrubHub in 2004. Rode my bike across the US. Wrote a sci-fi novel.

4 thoughts on “Day 5: Elevation: Afton, VA to Vesuvius VA

  1. Other animals besides Homo sapiens can spread Giardia. I wouldn’t drink from a mountain stream unless I were confident that there were no mammals around and that no mammals of any kind had passed by, or had passed by anywhere up stream. Wikipedia says, “In the U.S., outbreaks [of Giardia] typically occur in small water systems using inadequately treated surface water.”

    I’m thinking “strong, powerful, enduring quads” thoughts, and sending those thoughts directly to your legs via psychic astral instant messaging.

    May the Force be with you, and may red-neck assholes in pickup trucks realize that you are not the cyclist they’re looking for.

  2. Oh that sounds like a great day. A big climb (bigger for sure are to come) followed by the comforts of a nice B&B.

    I’m curious about your bike. For me, recumbents have been in the same category as bow ties: sure, you can do it, but what’s the point. But I found your rationale for going with a recumbent to be interesting. How’s it working out?


    1. I’m loving the ‘bent so far. It has two big advantages:
      1)The head angle allows me to see more of the scenery by default instead of having to intentionally look around.
      2)My wrists, shoulders, and unmentionables are all perfectly fine. No soreness.

      The much talked about uphill disadvantage hasn’t materialized yet. I’m finding the climbing challenging, but doable. Just takes a steady rhythm in a low gear. I don’t have a number on, so no big deal if it takes a while.

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