It had been a miserable two weeks in western NC. Pretty much continuous low clouds and intermittent rain. I decided I would start despite the low clouds, and I certainly paid for that decision today. I saw the sun from the restaurant, but once I descended into the clouds at about 6000 feet, It was pea soup down to 3000 feet or so and I rarely was that low. I spent 80% of my day riding in fog, often very wet fog. The temperature varied from 45 to 55 F, pretty much as a function of altitude. It wasn't a great day to be riding the Blue Ridge Parkway.
My new bike (Cannondale touring frame with a Softride stem and Command Control shifters) did fine, but I didn't. After 50 miles and a mile of climbing I was hurting and would have packed it in for the day if there had been a suitable place to stop. The low point of my day was the area around the Linn Cove Viaduct. After climbing back up to 4400 feet for the nth time my left leg was really hurting, the almost rain made it impossible for me to wear my glasses, the temperature was in the mid 40s, and visibility was less than 50 feet. Oh yeah, I was also damn hungry since I hadn't had a meal since leaving the restaurant on top of Mt Mitchell. I had 20 miles to go and very little desire to do so. Fortunately there wasn't any real alternative (the Parkway is like that!) so I made it to Blowing Rock. Actually, and I knew this because I have ridden this part of the Parkway several times, there is a great downhill a few miles after the Viaduct followed by a nice flat section, low enough to be out of the clouds, which ends only a few miles from Blowing Rock. The hill before the 221 exit to Blowing rock is no fun, but it isn't nearly as bad as the hills before Chestoa View (at 1250 ft of vertical, the biggest hill of the day) or the Viaduct. So, if you find yourself really exhausted near Grandfather Mountain, just keep pedaling and you'll make it to Blowing Rock.
Blowing Rock is a nice little touristy town with good restaurants, fun shops, and a cheap motel (Blue Ridge Motel - $29 plus tax per night) that isn't fancy (no phone in the room) but is comfortable. This motel is also near a decent restaurant, Knights, where I plan to eat breakfast tomorrow. Tonight I was too late (9 PM) for any of the cheaper places, so I ate at Stephens. It was good, but anything is good after a hard days ride, and the service was excellent. About $15.
I saw one group of three bicycle tourists today. They were headed south up a pretty good hill about mile post 350 and I was heading north. They appeared briefly out of the fog, we exchanged greetings, and they disappeared back into the fog. Three guys and, from the accent, I think the one that spoke to me may have been German. I'm sorry that we didn't meet at a better place.