Day 57: The Drone Catastrophe!
Updated: Sep 1, 2022
When I woke up, my clothes were as dry as they were going to get, and I packed up for the day. I would prefer to not stay in hotels due to the expense, but the shower (and ability to dry my clothes) drove me to them whenever I ended the day without somewhere else to stay... I just feel so gross in the humidity if I can't shower and wash my clothes. It makes next day's ride so much less pleasurable.
I was warned by a previous cycle tourist, and owner of The Spokesman bike shop in Santa Cruz, Wade, about the humidity in the East. He went so far to suggest if I was just looking to have a fun adventure on a bike, to never go east of the Rockies and have a great time in the West. I kind of brushed aside that comment at the time, as I really wanted to visit the middle of the US and the East because I felt I would never have a better opportunity to visit, but I now fully understand where Wade was coming from. I usually actually like humidity, but only so long as I can easily shower at the end of the day and wash my clothes. Without that option, it was not very fun...
Today, I planned to bike through the Monongahela Forest to Seneca Rocks, which was recommended to me by Anna, my host from a few days prior. She said it was an incredibly underrated area, which is exactly what I was seeking for my trip through West Virginia. I would be crossing over basically the entire Appalachians today, and I would be a just a few miles from the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob. But at only 4,800 feet, it was about 10,000 feet lower than my highest point on the trip, so it wasn't especially intimidating.
At the end of today's ride, I would still be too far away from the population centers to stay with any hosts, but after that I would be in very dense cities for much of the rest of my trip, and I hoped to have pretty easy access to accommodation from here on out.
I got the obligatory bakery visit out of the way in Elkins, which is just before I truly hit the climbs. It was good to be getting the calories in now because I would end up climbing more than 7,200 feet over roughly 100 miles.
On Strava, you can rate climbs. Most climbs I've seen haven't even been rated, but I would have 8 climbs today that people had deemed significant enough to rate on Strava.
For the entire ride, I would be on highways without much shoulder. But at this point I was so used to it, I wasn't bothered all that much by it. The only hard parts were when construction was happening on the side of the road, which would shove me out much closer to cars. Or even worse, when the side of the road was in dire need of construction and I would have to veer left to avoid potholes, or a sandy patch, or a grate. Luckily, I was still in West Virginia and traffic was never especially heavy, even when I got further east. I would end up riding on pretty significant multilane highways without a whole lot of worry.
As I approached the forest, just as Anna said, this part of West Virginia was fantastic riding and somewhere I would have never thought to visit unless I was on my bike. This was exactly why I wanted to take this trip, to go places I never would otherwise, and rides like today's were exactly what I was looking for.
While the Appalachians were undeniably steep, you could get the climbs over with quickly. It helps that everything is a third of the size of Colorado, but the steeper grades were what really cut down on the time spent climbing. The descents were also steeper, and I would reach 50 miles per hour. I was on a tire that had been ridden since California, so I didn't want to push it too much and try and beat my 60 mph record coming out of Tahoe, but with roads as steep as these, I also didn't want to apply too much brake (which had also stayed the same since California).
I passed over the continental divide several times in Colorado, but this was my one crossing of the Eastern Continental Divide!
But you can see what a dense (almost jungle) the forest was, and it made for some beautiful riding and a great change of pace of the type of scenery I was used to from the last couple weeks. I had been riding so hard for so long that I wasn't able to keep up with my blogs at this point in my ride. I just didn't want to slow down and take longer through what was probably one of less interesting scenery-wise sections of the trip. But now I was once again in the fun stuff! You can also see in the photos that there weren't a ton of cars on the road.
The good times lasted until my planned highlight of the day, Seneca Rocks. When I arrived, I had done almost all of my climbing for the day and was excited to take a quick break to pull out the drone and take some video while I sat on a picnic table.
Seneca Rocks has two main sections that are divided by a little valley. I thought it would be an awesome shot to go in the valley and pilot my drone around the rocks from afar. I had flown my drone outside of my vision before, but not often, and it always made me uncomfortable and a bit disoriented. To be safe I flew it especially high above the trees and rocks. But not high enough...
As I turned the drone to face the rocks, I could no longer see where exactly my drone was headed and when my screen was suddenly blotted out by leaves, I knew it wasn't good...
Luckily, my drone has two functions that help with recovery. One, it has a tracker so I can see where the drone is on a map. The second function is it can beep to help you narrow in on it.
In the photo above, the drone crashed just out of sight where the rocks dip into the trees on the right. So in my biking shoes, I hiked over to where I thought the drone crashed and it led me right to a cliff... There was a trail up to a small section for rock climbing, but looking at my map, the drone had crashed on top of the cliff somewhere and further back than the climbing routes. I decided to try and find my way up by going around the cliff and seeing if there was another way up there. After a few new rips in my clothes from branches and burs, I did manage to get to a point where I could try and climb up the cliff from the side. However, it was clear that no one had been up there in a verrrrrryyy long time as I had to bushwhack everything. I was also still on a cliff, so a fall would be deadly. But I was hopeful that once I got up on the top of the rocks, I would be able to get my drone and go back the way I came.
After battling my way through the brush and trees on the top of the mountain, I realized it would not be that easy... I was now clambering down rocks and loose brush towards the edge of the cliff, and the map showed my drone as still being in front of me. At that point, I was scared if I went down much further, one, the consequences of falling were certain death, and two, I was worried I wouldn't be able to climb back out. I was also worried that my bike would go missing the longer I was out there as I had just stashed it in some bushes. I decided I couldn't risk trying to get it from above, so I went back down.
After the trek down, I saw a group of climbers on the other side of the canyon who were just wrapping up. I asked the guy leading the climb if he would be interested in trying to use his ropes to climb up the cliff and find the drone. He said he would, but he had to hike back first and debrief with his tour group. I waited about 30 minutes for him to come back, but decided I should just head back and meet up with him at the climbing place he was based out of. When I made it there, he wasn't there, but another woman was and when I told her what was up she said she was down to help if she could.
Holly and I headed back up with a ton of climbing rope and harnesses and made it to the base of the cliff. We then had to go partway around to get closer to the second cliff, which is where I could hear my drone from both below and above, but couldn't access myself. Holly said that the reason almost all climbers stuck to the other side of the valley was because this side had much more rockfall and she was climbing was what basically a new route, so she was a little worried about it. That, and for a climbing partner she had me... Someone with very little outdoor climbing experience... So she was putting all her faith in someone who was not especially trained at this stuff to catch her if she ever fell or a rock gave way... I was honestly surprised at the effort and risk she was willing to go through for my drone. But after getting our harnesses on and ropes attached, up the rock she went!
It wasn't too long until she was entirely out of sight, and she was up there for about 30 minutes looking for my drone. Unfortunately, it was starting to sprinkle a bit and it was just too risky with the rock getting wet and slippery for her to stay up there much longer, so we had to call it... She managed to come down safely and we packed up and hiked back to the climbing base without the drone. She said that all she wanted for her efforts was a 6 pack, and that was an easy enough request as I walked across the street and was given one by the 13 year girl working the place. Before I left though, she offered to post about the drone to a local climbing group, and I agreed to place a bounty on the drone for anyone who could find and ship it to me. But with that, it was starting to rain and I needed to get to riding because I still had to find a hotel and it was getting late. I was probably delayed by three or four hours with all the hiking and climbing looking for my drone, so I had both rain and darkness fast approaching. I was still in a very low population zone, so there were few hotels. I had over 35 miles left to ride before I could reach a decently priced one.
While I was sad about the drone, ultimately it could be replaced. It cost about $700, but that's not the end of the world. What hurt more was loosing my footage... When I was in Winter Park, I was able to send back a lot of my footage with Zephyr, and I sent back all my drone footage to that point. But since then, I had taken a ton of shots traveling through the other 2/3rds of the US, and all that footage was on the card that was inside of the drone.
Before I originally left on my trip, I heard some advice online, which was to buy smaller SD cards and take more of them because even if you lose one card, less footage goes missing when that card is only 64 GB instead of 256 GB. I didn't listen in the interest of saving space and money, but in the future I won't make that mistake again...
Well before I made it to any town that had a hotel, it was dark. The rain was coming down heavier with lighting forecasted. What had started out as a really fun day, ended in the typical movie fashion for any bad day. My drone was also not waterproof, so I just decided to move past it, forget about it, and enjoy the rest of the trip ahead of me.
Luckily, I was able to contact my family and explain my situation to them in Seneca Rocks. They had arranged for me to stay at a hotel in Moorefield, now I just needed to get there.
Taillight flashing, and pretty wet, I would end up pounding out the last 30 miles. It helped I had so much time to rest at Seneca, but I was also just so frustrated I think it helped power me through.
When I did finally arrive, I checked in and hung my clothes on the A/C unit to dry and fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I get woken up by my smoke alarm going off. I get up and quickly begin waving at it with my pillow while I try to figure out what was going on. I realized that my clothes on the A/C unit smothered it or something, and that's what caused the alarm. After about 5 minutes, which felt like 30 in the middle of the night, the alarm finally went off and I (and I'm sure everyone else near me in the hotel) were able to sleep again.
A surprisingly happy photo while I wait as Holly looks for the drone.