We had to wait until Saturday to get my wife’s van to the car wash. This wasn’t a quick drive though and vacuum sort of wash that we needed. We were looking forward to removing the cycling and cyclist residue from both the inside and the outside of her black Honda Odyssey. Her vehicle had served as our primary support and gear (SAG Wagon) as we cycled the 469 miles (or a bit less) that composed the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, we had a lot of catch-up items that we had to prioritize with our home and business; that meant that cleaning up both support vehicles would have to wait a few days. As we pulled in for drive-through service, we were amazed at how quickly the use and abuse came off. It came clean and returned to normal in about 15 minutes. That is a lot less time than the seven days it took to ride the entire Parkway on bicycles.
I philosophically wondered as I ran the floor mats through a cleaning machine if the people who came with us on the trip will return to normal as quickly as these matts did. The first time my son and I rode the entire parkway in one visit, we got hooked on adventure cycling. The Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s greatest cycling route and should be a bucket list item like Climbing Everest or running the Boston Marathon. Too many people falsely conclude that there is a traffic problem on the road that makes it unsafe. Park Ranger Matt told me that 90% of the traffic is on 10% of the roads, and that was certainly the case with us, despite part of our trip falling on Memorial Day weekend. We would go half an hour sometimes without seeing a car, and there were some mornings when I saw more wildlife than I saw vehicles.
Maybe riding the parkway is like getting tattoo, in that riding a road so thoughtfully built to encourage unending scenic views is like getting a permanent mark on the inside of your soul. I can’t stop thinking about cycling, as well. Every time I have seen a hill since I left the parkway, I wonder what the grade is. I wonder how long it would take to climb it using the small chain ring. I sometimes wonder if there will be a store or SAG wagon at the top, with real food and cold drinks waiting on all who make it.
My family owns and operates this trip. My son rides and does SAG with me, and we alternate days. My wife and my son’s girlfriend Rachel own all things that don’t happen when cycling. They are everyone’s hospitality services. They check us into hotels, carry our bags into our rooms, make reservations at restaurants, make our lunches and snacks, and occasionally go battery and raincoat shopping, upon request. After the customers were gone and we debriefed, we found ourselves telling a couple of stories about the trip and checking in on the people in our group.
By far, the best part of cycling tours is meeting other people. My son and his girlfriend really liked Lenny. Lenny was the last one to join the group, but he was the first person that we met as the trip started on the first day. He showed up in the driveway as my son Alex and I finished loading up the van. Unknown to me, Lenny had already met my wife. Lenny and his wife Lucy met my girls near our driveway, as they got lost trying to find our house. It turns out that Lenny and I knew a lot of the same people, and our stories had cross overs literally every few hours all week long. However, Lenny had many more stories that none of us had ever heard, and he was a great storyteller. No one needs to use a remote control with Lenny. You just see him, and he turns on the stories. He was a great gift to us all on this trip.
We picked up Sara and Paul next, care of our unpublished free taxi service. Sara’s cousin agreed to let them park their van on their property north of Charlotte for the week. Both Sara and Paul had “ride the entire Blue Ridge Parkway,” on their bucket list, but making that happen with a primary residence in Las Vegas was a challenge. Between their cousin’s offer and our shuttle service, their obstacles to participating were greatly reduced. Both of them were racing an Ironman event the following week that included a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the bike course, so this fit not only their schedule but their lifestyle. Both of them were retired Navy pilots, and they nearly always had a story to add to the present circumstance that brought back some perspective.
Within an hour of all of us getting on the road, I smiled and said, “it’s happening,” quietly under my breath. When I sold my IT company a couple of years ago, I decided that the Eagle Scout and motivator in me needed a new place to call home, and Threshold Academy came into being. My triathlon club has been growing, and my books are selling. I still do a bit of IT consulting to pay the bills. However, COVID had curtailed my guided trip participants for most of the last two years. For the first time, I had a car full of cyclists who were looking to push their Thresholds and get better. This was the ‘dream come true’ moment for me as much as it was for them. Tomorrow morning, we would be starting the ride of a lifetime: 48,000 vertical feet of climbing from Rockfish Gap, VA, to Cherokee, NC.
The story telling continues. We already have “Lenny” jokes that we tell, and they make all of us feel good. We would tell them even if he was with us. We made some great memories. Ever since we have returned, we have talked about how we got rained on during a H/C Climb on Day 1. H/C is a French way of saying, “This thing is too long and steep to measure!” However, everyone in our group had “Ironman experience,” having raced several of those events in addition to spending many hours on a bike. They were not deterred by the label and they rode uphill in the rain for what seemed like half a day. OK, it was only half an hour, but it was still half.
We talked about how nice some of the pubs were that Rachel found for us. Rachel brought value to the group with her unsolicited willingness to find the perfect menu and brewery that would be open when we “arrived” at our destination. After a long day in the saddle, everyone in our group looked forward to cold beer and a new scene. The little towns on the parkway always delivered what our group wanted.
We talked about the woman who drove in front of us who hit a bear with her car, but none of us ever saw the bear. I got to see the hair stuck the bumper, and Lenny talked to her, but we have no visual evidence. We lost count of the deer we saw on the roads as we left before the cars each morning, and I think we saw one every couple of hours all day.
One day, I had to hit the brakes, making everyone else brake, as a wild turkey couldn’t decide how he wanted to get off the road and avoid getting hit. Eventually, he took flight and landed on the side of a hill next to the road, and I smiled at him as he passed. At least he could decide and not remain paralyzed like many in society do when confronted with a choice. “Good job, Turkey,” I said as we went by. Made me wonder how many people were “really thinking” about coming on this trip but never committed. Lenny waited until the last minute to join. Why didn’t others? Where was this turkey when it was time to sign up?
Some mornings required warm clothing. Indeed, one morning, my feet felt like frozen ice blocks, as I didn’t wear adequate foot protection. Sure, I knew it would warm up, but for a moment, I wondered if I made the right choice to leave the predictable hot and humid of Charlotte to come north to do this ride. Once the morning warmed the air and the sun came out, I looked to my left and saw a valley that probably hasn’t changed much in a last thousand years. It was worth a bit of suffering and some cold feet to get that view.
After Rachel had returned to school, my son, my wife and I sat down at the dining room table and discussed what we want to do differently next time. The discussion turned into a list. That list became the next iteration of Threshold Academy’s Blue Ridge Parkway Cycling Tour for 2022. We decided to make it better.
We decided that our free shuttle service needed to made known to everyone. Logistics of getting to and from the parkway are complicated, but for us they were easy. We would need to rent a larger vehicle, and we put that into our revised budget.
We agreed that the extras we gave everyone shouldn’t be kept hidden until everyone arrives. We need to make it known that end of day beer and wine upon arrival is part of the trip price, as is room delivery of all of your gear and an every-other-day laundry service. Having individual storages boxes for each rider’s personal snacks and gear was great, and the size was perfect.
We also agreed that we made some mistakes. Using the Chetola Lodge over the holiday weekend was too expensive for the value. The following morning when I downloaded and sorted all the transactions, I ran a job cost report for the trip. Granted, I knew that we needed four people to make any money, and we only ran the trip with three. However, we all agreed that having the trip with only three people would still be fun and educational. We netted $186 for a week of effort and a half a year of planning. Whooptidoo! I can live with that, this time. However, if I am to teach my son and maybe-to-be daughter-in-law the basics of a good business, and I glad that I started by teaching by example that customer service skills are more important than profitability. Too many in the modern generation invert that order, and it shows.
On Sunday morning, I logged into the Ironman tracking system and watched how Paul and Sara faired. They used this trip as a cycling boot camp, and I saw that Paul had a great bike leg. We texted back and forth after the race was over. Paul isn’t a customer. He is a friend, now. His texts reminded me why I do this stuff in the first place.
I must have spent 2 hours on the phone with my marketing company during the two days after we returned to make a new BRP Tour page with all the updates that we agreed to. It is now live. My wife thinks that after two full-length run throughs, we know the route and the road well enough to offer it twice next summer. For now, though, we will start with a single trip. If that sells out, we will do it again. Send me a message if you think you can rustle up enough people to have a private tour.
As we finished our discussion, we all agreed that we could not have had more understanding people. Sara knew that she was going to be the slowest, but she didn’t let her fear of being left behind impact her choice to come. She and I decided the best thing to do was leave first each morning, and either Alex or I would ride with her. When we reached the end of the parkway, that choice was deemed perfect. She never needed to get picked up, and she joyfully road every mile of the road we travelled.
For his part, Lenny helped unwind all the objections I got from retired people who didn’t think that they could do the tour. At 71 years old, Lenny had no interest in allowing the numeric of his age slow him down. When I would pass him either on the bike or in the SAG wagon, it was obvious that he was hurting. Yet, he knew that it would be the wrong thing to do to justify quitting because he was too old to go. He knew how to suffer, and he pushed himself to the top of every climb, never once getting off his bike and walking it to the top. Sure, he had some 5 mph moments when walking might have been faster, but that was not what he signed up for.
My kids like Lenny because he knew how to talk about things other than cycling. He also knew that it was just useless to complain, and he let my kids see the beauty of a lifetime of fitness. Both Alex and Rachel have family members Lenny’s age who are in failing health and could not dream of doing what Lenny just did. Alex will most likely run into Lenny in the months ahead as we ride around Charlotte together. Lenny gave them hope that they do not need to be like their family and can truly age with grace. Lenny was their hero, even if only for a week.
Another unscripted decision turned out to be a good one. Without any thought, I agreed to let Lenny’s wife Lucy join us for a couple of days. She fit right in with the group, and Linda took care of her like she was a paying customer. Should have known that Lenny’s wife would be as friendly as he was. We all decided that, going forward, family who jumping in for a couple of days are welcome.
We also decided to continue using the same little restaurants and ice cream stands in the future. The variety was great, and they really made the trip interesting. We used only one chain hotel, and we never visited a chain restaurant.
We already had our first commitment for 2022. Tim from Fayetteville, NC, got his wife’s permission to come. I got a phone call from the president of a local cycling club, and he was interested in our trips both on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Spain. I put some pictures up on social media, and a couple of hundred likes and some great comments convinced me that people are ready to come out of their holes and take up some challenges again. I can see that the fear of COVID it near its end.
On the last day, as we neared the end of the trek, we drove near the spot that I almost died. I remember the four days I spent in the hospital, asking unanswerable questions about why I didn’t die. I was at peace with the end of my days including a bike accident, but God had another plan for me. Even as I sit in front of this computer, my brain returns to the descent up Craggy Gardens, knowing that a long and fast descent into Asheville awaits me. I knew that the suffering was worth the gratification. I needed that wreck to appreciate this tour. I smiled a lot on this trip and even let a tear gracefully fall from my cheek as I passed that lonely place that should have spelled my doom. I realized then that God knew I would be back here, even though I didn’t get that memo when I was in the trauma ward. I have decided that as long as God and my body let me do these tours, I will.
Consider joining us in 2022. The price isn’t the same, but the quality is better. But if you don’t come, I am still going. You will be amazed with the views; that is for sure. You will really be amazed with the people you meet; that I promise.