I left you in Kentucky and now I’m in Kansas. What happened? Bicycle touring happened.
Illinois was, in summary, a blur, largely due to the fact I was in and out of the southern portion of the state in less than four days. After crossing the Ohio River on Day 23 I rode until I reached Simpson, IL, and camped at a horse ranch. Apparently it was their off-season because the place appeared empty except for me, the owners and another couple in a trailer. Needless to say, it was quiet and peaceful, which makes for sound sleeping.
Day 24 started over coffee with Linda, one of the ranch owners, a retiree from Chicago and avid horse rider. These morning chats tend to delay my daily progress, but they’re often so enjoyable, as this one was, they’re worth it. From there I pedaled on thinking I would end the day in Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University. Upon reaching the outskirts of Carbondale I had yet to hear back from my potential hosts for the evening and decided to press on a few more miles for Murphysboro where I grabbed a motel. Here, I attempted to seek out a cheap dinner at DQ with the hopes that it wouldn’t make my stomach churn too badly. It so happened that I managed to stumble upon some killer BBQ at a little joint called the 17th Street Bar and Grill. Apparently the likes of Bon Appetit and Food & Wine also think highly of 17th Street. A real treat it was and easily one of the best meals of the trip. Theme of the day: Plan on one thing and end up with another – for the better.
Back in the saddle on Day 25 I follow my map to the Fraternal Order of the Eagles in Chester, IL. Why? Well, the Eagles have a little bunkhouse out back setup just for cross-country cyclists like me. What are these Eagles all about? Not too sure, but they don’t seem like a fussy bunch and their beer is served extra cold in a frosty mug. After a long day of riding that’s good enough by me. Apparently I’m a simple fellow after all.
While finding my way through town on the morning of Day 26 I’m reminded that Chester is home to everyone’s favorite spinach chugging sailor, Popeye. My camera couldn’t resist, and upon spotting the Popeye museum and gift shop, neither could my wallet. Popeye overload as well as my last stop before crossing the Mississippi River to enter Missouri. Illinois was quick, eh? Quicker for you than it was for me, but yeah.
Crossing the Mississippi felt like an accomplishment. Like I was no longer ‘just getting started’ with my cross-country journey. The pancake flat plain, or so it seemed, on the Missouri side of the river suggested the terrain might want to take it easy on me for a change. Wrong! After about 15 miles cruising the flats I was back in low gear. The hills roll on and therefore so do I – and vice-versa.
At some point in the afternoon I get a text from my buddy Raghu. This maniac wants to drive ten hours from Minneapolis to play bicycle tourist for the weekend. Um, why not? And so he sets off to meet me the very next day. Meanwhile, I eventually make it to “Al’s Place” in Farmington, which is likely to be the most luxurious cyclist hostel I will encounter. Situated in what used to be the county jail, the three bedroom interior living space has been updated to modern standards while hanging onto the rustic wooden beams and exposed brick. It looks nice, and not like a crash pad for dirty, sweaty cyclists. Clean beds and linens, cable tv, internet, laundry, and more. If this place were back in Boston I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Lucky for me it’s located along the TransAm route in Farmington, and so it’s $20 per night exclusively for cyclists. In need of a rest day, I think I’ve found the perfect spot. Speaking of rest days, upon my arrival who do I find on the tail end of their own day off? None other than Klara and Flo! We catch up on our tales of the road before I finally trackdown something to eat and call it a night.
Day 27 is a day off in Farmington. My first latte since Berea tastes like liquid magic! I wander the downtown a bit before Raghu arrives. A familiar face in an unfamiliar place is a very welcome sight. After grabbing burgers and beer, Raghu picks up some touring gear from the bike shop. Upon making our way back to the hostel we meet Pete and his wife. Pete is a local guy who has recently returned home to Farmington after completing a cross country bicycle trip of his own along the very same route as mine. Go figure. We chat for a while about the ground we’ve both covered and Pete offers up some helpful tips for my road ahead. The rest of the day is spent relaxing and catching up on the blog.
That brings us up to Day 28 when Raghu and I set off toward the Ozarks beneath uncertain skies. Actually, just before departure we fortuitously spot Pete again and he agrees to fetch Raghu from wherever we land after a day and half of riding. Minor (major!) detail we had yet to sort out. Thanks, Pete! So, on we ride. As we enter Ozarks territory the hills steepen noticeably as the roadway shoulder disappears. We catch a few heavy downpours along the way as well as a bit of hazing from some of the local mountain folk who seem to enjoy beeping and yelling as they buzz by at 60 mph. After my first encounter of this sort in almost 1500 miles of riding I’m eager to reach our destination for the day. Raghu and I split a motel in Ellington and call it a day. Thankfully alive to tell about it.
Day 29 pounds us with many short, steep Ozarkian hills. The roadway is largely flanked by forrest leaving little to gaze upon except for the climb ahead. Having been at this bicycle touring business for about a month by this time I was feeling rather adept at handling the inclines. However, I also felt slightly guilty for not warning Raghu that he was coming in cold to tackle some challenging terrain. To my relief he was up to the task and we both made it to Eminence to meet Pete for lunch before I would continue on solo. I’m certain Raghu’s company made this segment of the trip much more enjoyable than it otherwise would’ve been. As Pete put it, ‘it’s just nice to know there’s someone out there with you’ and if that person can be a good, reliable friend, then so much the better.
Leaving Eminence in the afternoon I handled some of the longest and steepest climbs of the Ozarks or so it seemed. It was almost dark by the time I reached Houston (MO), and fully dark by the time I located the city park where I would camp. This would also be my first evening without a shower. When it comes to morale, a shower after a long day of riding comes in a close third place behind food and beverage. Oh well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
As I ride on Day 30 the landscape opens up and becomes less mountainous. Back to scenery! The welcome sight of grazing cows, horses along with a few llamas and goats. And more reasonable terrain. I reach Marshfield and locate another city park late in the day. Despite the efforts of the local dispatch assisting me in finding public showers that should be open, they are locked until the next morning. Nonetheless, the park is nicer than the last and I sleep well.
Having showered, finally, on Day 31I’m headed off for my last full day in Missouri. It’s been a more challenging state to pass through than I had anticipated. Not so much for the oft hyped hills of the Ozarks, but since leaving Farmington I carried the feeling that the state or perhaps just the portion of it that my route carried me through is far from ideal for cycling. The lack of roadside shoulder, absence of signage for cyclists, frequent dog chases and intimidating drivers too often left me uneasy to say the least. Perhaps the Katy Trail might’ve been worth the detour. Live and learn I suppose.
Making my way to Everton for the evening I do manage to find a cyclist haven in the form of a hunter’s inn with nearly all the amenities of Al’s Place back in Farmington at exactly the same price, plus beer in the fridge! After a long shower I enjoy mac ‘n cheese on a camouflage couch surrounded by stuffed pheasants.
Day 32 and I’m on my way to Kansas. Actually, after some early hills it starts feeling like Kansas already or at least how I imagine it. Straight, flat and wide open. While still in Missouri of course I encounter some nasty dogs at the top of a hill I need to pass. The nasty looking dogs don’t want me to pass. They want to keep me in Missouri. After several phone calls to the local authorities an officer from the county sheriff escorts me through. Friendly, effective and professional, he scored some big points for Missouri, at least in my book!
Along the way I meet another eastbound cyclist, Marie, who tips me off on a good lunch spot in the next town that serves some mighty tasty pie. She was right. Freshly baked in just about every flavor you can imagine, I opt for the cherry-rhubarb. Sweet enough, but slightly tart with filling that wasn’t cooked to oblivion, easily ranking among the best slice of pie I had ever eaten. Or so it seemed. Sometimes it’s hard to tell because, as I’ve said before, when bicycle touring everything seems to taste that much better. Ten percent, 20 percent? Who cares? It was good pie!
After that stop for lunch, with the exception of a few gentle uphills, I may have coasted the next 30 or so miles to Kansas. Kansas! Ending the day in Pittsburg. It’s not Cambridge, MA, but I actually saw a few people riding bikes for transportation here. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that!
Clear skies at this point, but knowing the remnants of hurricane Isaac are headed my way I find a motel for the night, and erring on the side of caution, the next night too. So, an unplanned rest day it is and I’m fine with that. Who’s in a hurry? Not me.
As previously mentioned, the first few days spent in eastern Kentucky would’ve been a lot less enjoyable without my temporary riding partners, Klara and Flo, whose company did a good deal to neutralize the rough terrain and sub-postcard scenery. After my day off in Berea, I set out on the morning of Day 18, solo once again. Five miles, ten miles, twenty miles pass and things are looking good. From what I can tell I’ve arrived in farm country. Perhaps ‘small farm’ country relative to what I’ll find later, but it’s a welcome sight to say the least. And where there aren’t farms there are tidy yards and houses. The occasional untethered country dog still makes himself known. It’s Kentucky after all.
The mountainous landscape has largely given way to undulating hills. Sometimes gently so, sometimes not. Although this certainly doesn’t mean I get to pack away the climbing legs. However, climb, turn, climb, turn, climb, turn, climb turn, climb, turn, climb is now an unlikely pattern. More like climb, shift, wheeeeeeee!
Passing by fields of corn, tobacco and what I will eventually learn to identify as soybeans, I end up at the Lincoln Homestead State Park near Maud, KY, which is oddly tied to an adjacent golf course. I don’t question it because the camping is free and the golf pro shop has a shower! After munching a peanutbutter and jelly burrito and settling into my sleeping bag for the night I hear a noise off in the distance. Is that a truck? Or a train? Instead of fading away the noise keeps getting louder and louder. Is that … wind!? Uh oh. It is. A steady rush of wind precedes the stormfront that will keep me company throughout the night. I’ll be honest, it was a little hairy there for an hour or two, but things finally calm down and I’m able to get some sleep after replacing a few tent stakes that the wind had blown loose.
Day 19 starts off damp and misty. I pack up and start off for what will be a long day of riding. After stopping for lunch in Bardstown, seemingly a hub of sweet smelling bourbon distilleries, I saddle up with a healthy chunk of miles remaining. While heading out of town, who do I spot? None other than my westbound Austrian friends, Klara and Flo, who had decided to take a rest. We catchup briefly along the roadside before saying goodbye once again. To my liking, the sky slowly clears throughout the afternoon. Along the way I pass several horse drawn carriages of the Amish folk based around Sonora. The are friendly an offer me a wave as I pass. I briefly entertain the notion of how interesting it would be to spend an evening among them. What would facilitate this? A wooden bicycle perhaps?
At the end of 85 long miles I come upon my day’s destination, a small roadside country store situated among fields of corn and not much else. The windows are dark. I’m too late! No shower tonight I assume. As I investigate further a truck rolls up the driveway. A man gets out and offers, ‘Looks like they’re closed. I sure could use a nice cold Coke. Should we break in?’. I reply by suggesting this may not be such a good idea. A woman exits the truck. Something seems odd here. Neither one looks to be the ‘breaking and entering’ type. Meet Arnold and Lucy, owners of the Double “L” Grocery. As you may have guessed, Arnold is also a real jokester. Adam, another cyclist I’d crossed paths with earlier had given me a ‘heads up’ about Arnold, but after riding so many miles I was half brain dead. My only excuse. Sorry, Adam, you tried to warn me.
The gracious grocers open the store – with keys – welcoming me in for a shower and impromptu dinner. We chat late into the evening as if I’m an extended family member. There is ‘southern hospitality’ and then their is Double “L” hospitality. I’ll take the latter. Eventually retiring to my tent I settle in for a very deep sleep that even the ‘coyotes’ (I still don’t know if Arnold was joking) couldn’t touch.
The morning of Day 20 I pack up my gear and chat for a while longer with Arnold and Lucy before setting off. Bright and sunny, I cover about 70 miles. Even though I’m off to a late start, within the first few miles of riding I cross into a new time zone, which works in my favor. About this time my bicycle’s computer also indicates that I’ve logged 1000 miles. An impressive if not arbitrary benchmark. I meet a couple eastbound cyclists throughout the day, namely Scott and Rolf. I particularly enjoyed chatting with Rolf, a tall, slightly wild looking, and charismatic Londoner. Even though his blog is hosted elsewhere, he would make a good representative for CrazyGuyOnaBike.
Ending the day in Utica, the volunteer fire department is easy to spot. Door unlocked, I make my way in. Nobody home. I’ve got the place to myself! Finding my way around, I shower, start some laundry and prepare a dinner of whole wheat pasta with heirloom tomatoes, fresh from Lucy’s garden. I also discover a few old VHS tapes sitting next to the TV. Among them is the Woody Allen flick, “Deconstructing Harry” and I realize I’ve struck gold. All the essentials, plus dinner and a movie. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Day 21 is a short 28 mile ride over to Sebree. If I were still in elementary school, it’d be called a ‘half-day’. Santigold playing through my bar-mounted speakers oddly enough seems to be the perfect soundtrack for the scenery of blue sky, puffy clouds, tractors and farmland. I stop frequently to snap photos. At the intersection of the bike route and main street in town I spot two cyclists coming up behind me. Once again, Klara and Flo. I shouldn’t be so surprised, but of course, a welcome sight. We get settled in at the local church hostel and find our way to some Mexican food. Being a hungry cyclist it always tastes better than it is, and this place was just “ok”. Again, considering the locale, this shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Upon retiring to the hostel for the evening we watch a DVD together. “We Are Marshall”, a sports melodrama about a young West Virginia football team overcoming tragedy. It was the only DVD so it was that or nothing. Not sure we chose wisely.
Klara and Flo are off early the next morning while I linger to update my blog. You’re welcome. Day 22 is just an easy 40 miles over to Marion, KY, which will be my last stop in Kentucky. I’m taking it easy and enjoying the ride much like the previous day. Always keeping an eye on the landscape for photo opportunities, but this time the tunes are dominated by the acoustic stylings of William Fitzsimmons. Again, the music seems right for the scenery. This time less oddly so.
Arriving at the church in Marion, Brother Wayne greets me and takes my photo for the neatly organized cyclist guestbook. Of the church hostels I’ve stayed in so far, this one might just be my favorite. It’s also conveniently located around the corner from the Marion cafe where I’ll enjoy two sturdy meals before departing. While enjoying the first meal there the cafe owner suggests I try to fit in a tour of the mineral collection at the nearby Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum. When I arrive the museum is closed, but the door is open and so I walk right in. It turns out the museum committee is holding a meeting which I’m invited to sit through to earn a tour from Ed, the son of the museum’s founder. The committee members enthusiastically and sometimes humorously strategize how to raise local interest in the museum. From what they tell me, the collection draws international interest from those who know what they’re looking for, but local support and attendance isn’t nearly what it should or could be. Knowing I’ve seen a good number of mineral specimens due to my background, Ed gives me an abridged tour, hitting all the good stuff. The inner 3rd grader in me particularly enjoys the wall display of fluorescent minerals!
On Day 23, after a short morning ride, I reach the border with Illinois, defined by the Ohio River. Crossing the river by ferry was fun, even though brief. Like the month of March, Kentucky came in like a lion, and went out like a lamb. From east to west, that is.
Well, actually, I’m nearly through Kentucky as I type this and quite a lot has happened along the way so I’ll bring you up to speed gradually with two installments. A two parter also most accurately reflects my own experience. Here I’ll mostly focus on my route through eastern Kentucky …
But wait! Last I left you I was still in Virginia! Good, I’m glad someone’s paying attention. Right. So, one more full day of riding in Virginia, Day 13, took me from Rosedale to Breaks. Nearing my destination with a few hours of daylight remaining I stopped at Breaks Interstate Park to checkout the view and quite a view it was. As I looked out upon the mountainous river sculpted landscape I couldn’t help but think “I climbed that … and more!” Pretty cool. From there I coasted a few more miles downhill to enjoy a tasty BBQ dinner before settling in at the motel conveniently situated across the street.
On the morning of Day 14, after sharing coffee and an extended chat with the motel owner, I’m riding for about one mile before crossing into Kentucky. Not bad for a morning’s work. As I press on through the day I begin to notice changes. Some subtle, some not. While riding through the hills the first thing I notice is the quantity of trash strewn along the roadside. This litter appeared more voluminous than what could be accomplished by a few random slobs chucking soda cans and fast food wrappers from car windows. It looked more like the local dumping ground. Sad and ugly, especially considering the natural beauty of the landscape.
Riding on I see quite a bit of evidence suggesting that sizable pockets of eastern Kentucky are struggling economically and otherwise, an observation seemingly at odds within a region touting it’s own richness in natural resources. Too frequent are the clusters of decaying motor homes, junked cars, rubbish filled yards, often guarded by nasty looking dogs and faded signs within the theme of ‘stay away, or else’. The word “isolation” comes to mind, whether self or outwardly inflicted, it’s hard to tell. Perhaps a bit of both.
I finally make my way to the Knott County Historical Society … and Cyclist Hostel, in the apparently more populated and prosperous town of Hindman. After pushing my bike most of the way up the very steep hill to the hostel, David, the host, greets me with a welcoming smile and a glass of iced tea. Perfect! As I get situated I’m happy to meet two other westbound cyclists, Klara and Flo, a young Austrian couple also headed for San Francisco! The Austrians and I swap stories and take jabs at the spectacle-like (not necessarily spectacular) Olympic closing ceremonies while David prepares a tasty and substantial dinner. An evening of good luck and luxury hostel living it was!
The next morning, Day 15, David prepares a breakfast spread of breads, cereal and fresh fruit! Klara and Flo invite me to ride with them and I accept thinking that company might be a nice way to pass some miles given the less than comforting scenery I’d witnessed the day before. As I’d suspected right from the start, the Austrians are fun, thoughtful and good natured people. They are also fairly experienced cyclists having previously toured through Romania and Iceland among other places I’m forgetting. We end up riding together for two full days until we reach Berea. But before we get there, we camp behind a church in Booneville where we spend the evening with a young eastbound cyclist from California. For some reason, the Austrians nor I can remember this guy’s name. I found him entertaining though. Or perhaps amusing is more like it. He exuded a laid-back, west coast, surfer vibe. Vegan, background in agriculture, in a hurry to take over a sublet in Brooklyn he’d inherited from a friend for $450 month. ‘Good deal. So, what are you going to do when you get to Brooklyn?’, I ask. He answers, ‘I’ll start work as a bike courier, maybe get a job in a cafe or something, hopefully find a rich girlfriend.’ Well, at least he has a plan.
Day 16, Klara, Flo and I set out from Booneville for Berea. Riding and scenery continue on much as it has. Flo puts his bulky digital SLR camera to good use as we ride along. Nearing Berea we are caught in some heavy rain. The rain clears, we make our way into town, pickup some essentials at mega-Walmart and find the campground where we’ll spend the night. Along the way Flo and Klara announce their plans to continue riding the next day as I stay behind to take a much needed rest day to rest my legs. Frankly, I was initially sad they’d decided to go on without me, but it worked out in the end.
Day 17 ended up being a pleasant rest day where I was able to sniff out a proper latte, good burger and explored the numerous craft shops in Berea. My favorite shop ended up being that of a local craftsman that makes handmade dulcimers. The remainder of the day and evening was spent enjoying the relative luxury of a motel room while resting my legs and pondering the next day’s destination.
Here I will conclude Part 1 of the two part series and feed my hungry readers a few photos:
This post’s title may be a bit of a mystery at first glance. I assure you, I know what I’m doing. You’ll just have to trust me and read on.
Pulling away from Blacksburg on Day 10 was no easy task. If you’re wondering why then go read my previous post. After getting a very late start I wasn’t exactly sure where I’d end up. After logging some miles I knew it’d be wise to start thinking about where I’d spend the night. 0 for 3 after trying various options, including a campground, a random fundamentalist church, and a fire station. It was now dark as I pedaled along a backroad that runs parallel to I-81. Knowing a cluster of motels lay ahead was somewhat reassuring. Just a matter of picking the right one, or more accurately, not picking the wrong one. After taking a look at the first motel I decided to move along. The next motel seemed inhabitable. I’d seen worse, anyway. A single non-smoking room cost $35, so this is where I decided to call it a day just outside of Max Meadows. You’ve heard of ‘beer goggles’, right? Well, by now I had developed a case of ‘motel goggles’.
I promised myself I’d get off to an early start on Day 11 to avoid the previous night’s scenario. Early means options. I mostly succeeded. The day’s ride took me through small towns and farms. The sun was out, along with a few raindrops. Both in tandem and simultaneously. About 10 miles from my planned destination the surroundings became heavily forrested and the climbing was slow. Along the way a hefty storm rolled in and my phone service rolled out. I guess with all these trees there isn’t much real estate leftover for a cell tower. Wet and weary I finally roll into the town of Troutdale with a severed umbilical cord. Alas, I spot a pay phone leftover from whenever it was that these still existed. I pop in $0.40, figuring this seems about right and the pay phone voice upsells me to $0.50. While scrounging for spare change two local fellows pull up in a well used pickup and ask if I need any help. Explaining that I’m trying to contact the hiker/biker hostel run by the local church they ask how fast I can ride. Uh, slowly, unless there’s a big downhill. Fortunately I was able to keep up as they led me about 200 feet to the church I was seeking. The sign reads “Troutdale Baptist Church – hikers and bikers welcome – bunkhouse straight up hill” with an arrow to indicate the hill. Very efficient and thorough people these baptists. Also, very accomodating if you’re traveling by bicycle or boot.
I head on up the very same hill indicated by the arrow on the sign. The bunkhouse consists of two rooms. The first room I try is vacant, the other occupied by an older gentlemen listening to the radio in his pajamas. Meet Ken, whose accent suggests he’s a native Virginian. Ken comments on my bike and seems to know something about what he’s talking about. It turns out that he’s done some touring himself as he proceeds to tell me about his multiple trips up and down the east coast with his Fuji touring bike and BOB trailer. By the way, Ken is not on tour, but is staying at the bunkhouse while completing a painting job for the church pastor who is currently on vacation. Where do pastors go on vacation I wonder. Vegas? Cancun?
My stay at the Troutdale hostel ends up being very pleasant. The showers are warm and stocked with colorfully mixed and matched hotel soaps and a stack of equally mixed and matched clean towels. For dinner I put my cook set to good use and prepare some instant ramen noodles, which after a long day of biking taste like they came out of the kitchen at Momofuku. I realize by stating this that David Chang now hates me. Oh well, at least he knows who I am now. Before falling asleep I checkover my maps while listening to NPR on my portable speakers. At least they get a good radio signal up here in the middle of nowhere. Not a bad way to end the day.
Day 12 starts off earlier yet. Hey, I’m getting good at this! Oddly enough the day is a near repeat of the previous with a few modifications. The late day climb is steeper than the previous one, elevating me nearly 1500 feet in the matter of about three miles. The climb lived up to expectations. I’ll say that much. And of course there was the obligatory downpour. This one also bested that of the previous day’s.
Here comes the unique twist for the day. About a half mile from yet another church hostel in yet another ‘dale, this time it’s Rosedale, a couple dogs spot me from afar as I coast downhill while munching on a Snickers bar. As I close in on the dogs it becomes clear that these two don’t fit the ‘man’s best friend’ description. Barking is one thing, but when they charge my bike that’s when the remaining Snickers bar drops and the pepper spray comes out. Two and a half direct hits! The extra half consisting of my own left hand and part of my left knee. Damn, that stuff stings! I can only imagine what it did to their canine snouts. Hehe! I chalk it up to 90% self-defense and 10% pure evil on my behalf. Oh well, I’m headed to a church so I suppose I can spend 10% of the evening repenting for my sins. Turns out to be more like 10 microseconds in reality.
By the way, Ken was not waiting in pajamas at the hostel in Rosedale. Fortunately. That would’ve been awkward.
So, what’s new? Nothing. Ha! Actually, when bicycle touring there is almost always something new. New places, new people, and new things to consider, ponder and figure out while the miles pass. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Where to eat, sleep, fill up water bottles? Did I miss the turn!? What’s around the corner? (Hopefully not another steep climb.) I could go on, but you probably get the picture.
Last I left you, in photos at least, I had spent the day tackling the ups, ups, ups and one big down of the Blue Ridge Parkway with a new friend and temporary riding partner, Geff. He actually spells it “Gef” because of it’s supreme efficiency, but I figured that might be one letter too removed for readers to interpret as “Jeff” and, well, this is my blog and I’m not quite that efficient. Sorry, Geff.
The following day, Day 8, Geff headed west to get back to his family in Blacksburg and I found myself riding solo again, also heading west, but at a slower pace. The scenery wasn’t quite as nice as the previous few days, I’ll admit, as the backroad I was riding mostly paralleled I-81. I actually passed a few cars due to a traffic jam on the highway. I’m sure they returned the favor shortly after. A few things came up that made the ride interesting however. Around noon it started raining a bit. Not enough rain to be problematic, but enough to give the afternoon an extra boost of adventure, or so it seemed.
Along the way I met another rider, Ron, in Buchanan. Ron was headed east, days away from completing his cross-country trek, but more immediately in need of bike shop where he could get a cracked wheel rim repaired. The bright orange tape job he’d improvised wasn’t likely to hold up much longer. We briefly chatted along the roadside and quickly decided to grab a late lunch. Ron shared some stories from the road, including the five days he spent in a motel recuperating from heat exhaustion after trying to keep pace with a former Marine doing 100+ miles a day in extreme heat. Five words. Stop and smell the pedals! Ron learned this firsthand the hard way. I’ll take his lesson as a very effective reminder that touring is not a about how fast you get there, but how well, physically and mentally. Am I feeling good and enjoying myself? Am I stopping to smell the pedals often enough? Same thing. Anyhow, good luck to you, Ron. I hope you got your wheel fixed up and find yourself in Yorktown any day now.
Eventually I made my way to Camp Bethel just outside of Troutville. I say eventually because I actually flew right by the turn for the campground on the first pass and had to backtrack about four miles. It was early evening with plenty of daylight left, so this wasn’t much of an issue. Upon (second) arrival, I set up camp next to a small stream, showered and cooked some whole wheat noodles with salt and pepper. Eh. Cooking on the road for the first time was a bit of fun, but I could’ve really used some butter, Sriracha and parmesan to pep things up. Frankly, at this point I view cooking, especially since I’m touring solo, to be more of a novelty than a necessity as there is usually cheap and satisfying grub to be found nearby or along the way. I’m not ready to ship my cookset home just yet though.
Day 9 started off slowly. After getting everything packed up I headed out to re-ride the 4 mile stretch I’d already covered twice when missing the campground the night before. Then finally on to new territory. The day’s riding wasn’t unpleasant per se, but lots of rolling hills and similar scenery with few places to stop for refreshment and refueling. There was one convenience store, which was perfectly situated to get my by though, so I was thankful for that.
Along the way I managed to snap a few photos and got around to testing out the video button on my camera. It’s a red button in case you were wondering. I could see the camera shaking around like crazy and figured that handlebar mounting was probably not the way to go, so I used my Gorillapod to mount the camera to my helmet. I had high hopes for some film festival award winning footage, but no such luck. Helmet mounting improved things somewhat, however, still enough shaking to induce nausea remained. In other words, it may be a little while before you see any video. I’ll keep trying though. Just need to find the proper mounting setup.
When I got in range of Blacksburg my riding buddy from a few days ago, Geff, came to pick me up as I’d be staying with him and family for the night. This was a real treat on many accounts. While spending the majority of the day and nights solo, a welcoming home and friendly human interaction helps maintain a healthy balance. As you’ve probably guessed, covering ground on my bike isn’t my number one priority. The people I’ve met and interacted with in the short while since I’ve started have easily been the best part of the trip and I suspect this will continue. Geff and fam are right up there. Thanks guys!
It’s also my good luck that Geff is a former racer (well, as he puts it, he’s in the process of quitting), bike mechanic and bonafide bicycle nut like I’ve never quite encountered before. His collection of bikes, parts, tools and accessories take up a healthy portion of a two car garage and extend into the basement. He’s quite organized about it, considering, but it’s a lot. Wendy, his wife, is clearly a very understanding woman. Before the night was over Geff insisted on giving my bike tune-up. Overall inspection, neatly re-wrapped handlebar tape, clean chain, and lube in all the right spots. The equivalent of winning the bicycle tourer’s lottery!
Soon after this post I’ll be headed west through Christiansburg, marking the endpoint of my first full ACA map. One map down, and a short stack to go! Before I go I’ll leave you with a few photos.
Visiting Colonial Williamsburg, day before the tour begins
Day 1 – Yorktown to Glendale, VA
Day 2 – Glendale to Ashland, VA
Day 3 – Ashland to Mineral, VA
Day 4 – Mineral to Charlottesville, VA
Day 5 – Charlottesville, VA (A busy rest day)
Day 6 – Charlottesville to Rockfish Gap, VA
Day 7 – Rockfish Gap to Lexington, VA
Although it’s now Friday that I begin tapping out my first post I did actually manage to start my tour on Monday, but you knew that already because you’ve been following my progress via the TrackMyTour updates. Right? Right. If not, you need to pay closer attention and do more clicking of buttons on my blog.
The day before setting off from my starting point of Yorktown, VA, my friend Jenn and I explored one of the more notable locales that I’d soon encounter on Day 1, Colonial Williamsburg. By the way, she hasn’t been my only helper, but Jenn was instrumental in setting me on my way by receiving me at her lovely casa in Alexandria, booking lodging closer to Yorktown and hauling me, my bike and gear down there. Thanks, Jenn, you’re the best! Anyway, we had a great time in Oldburg and if you’re ever passing through I’d highly recommend a visit. And they have scotched eggs and good beer!
Day 1 was divided between assembling what will essentially be my home for the next few months, i.e., bike + gear, and then just riding like a semi-maniac to a destination that was not where I started from. Notably different than what I’m used to while going for a spin on my commuter and road bikes. Of course, there was lots to be seen along the way. I think that will be a constant, erm, to varying degrees. I ended up making it to Glendale to camp behind an old restaurant by the side of the road. Mom, it’s okay. I had talked to the owner earlier in the day and upon arrival I was greeted by the current residents as they rolled up in a pickup and asked ‘Can I help you with something?’ Yeah, and not in the tone as if they actually wanted to help me, but more like ‘Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?’ Everything was suddenly cool after I explained that I’d talked to “Neil” and I was just touring by bicycle and needed a place to camp for the night. Garden hose shower!
Day 2 landed me in Ashland. Not the day’s intended destination as stomach trouble held me back a bit. Maybe not a good idea to drink the garden hose water in Glendale. Or maybe it was the half-dozen ripe plums I bought at a roadside farmstand. Maybe both. TMI, agreed. Within minutes of making my way to the Ashland public library the sky unleashed an Olympic-scale downpour. A few of them actually. Lights flickered. Looking back it was exciting. Hindsight does that. At this point I called it a day and searched for a place to spend the night. The local women weren’t having me, but motel 6 was. I also learned how hushpuppies should not taste.
Day 3 more than made up for the previous. Prior to departing town I stopped into Ashland Coffee & Tea, a perfectly acceptable joint by my northeastern standards, or by any standards for that matter. Good coffee, old books, friendly folks. As I munched a breakfast sangy and slurped some joe while anti-socially smartphoning and perusing my day’s route a couple fellows looking to be dose/tres-ish decades my senior asked if the bike outside was mine. Uh, yep. The guys had just finished an early morning club hike. Enthusiastic inquiry ensued. This was my first full-on experience with this sort of encounter. It would not be my last. Sort of catches you off-guard, but ultimately fun. I think this is called bicycle touring.
A few miles out of Ashland I come across an older couple hanging signs by the side of the road. Drive-by greetings exchanged, but then the the man says something that gets my attention and I double back. It turns out the signs they are hanging are for their grandson who is with a friend heading eastbound on the same route I’m riding west. The Virginia boys, Patrick and Charlie, are due for arrival within the hour. I should pass them soon! About thirty minutes down the road, sure enough, “Hi Patrick, Hi Charlie” yells the stranger from the north (me). I’m half in awe. They may look like normal college seniors, but, um, they just rode their bikes across the country. I’m pretty sure P. Diddy never did that. Anyway, they turn out to be great guys, as I suspected they would be. (Congrats, Patrick and Charlie!) After chatting and swapping photo shoots we continue on our way. Oh wait, my camera is falling out of my handlebar bag. Let me try to catch it … and crash in slow-mo. More comical than anything. I’m just glad the eastbound duo got to see it.
Onwards to Mineral, VA. En route I gain a newfound appreciation of the country store. I never really thought about it before, but it makes a lot of sense. A store that has all the stuff you actually need in the middle of nowhere. Bananas, turkey sandwiches, Coke in a glass bottle. Previous notions loosely suggest a store that sold ‘country things’. Also true. Fishing rods and ammo.
Upon arrival in Mineral I make note of the fire station as I pass by, knowing it’s potential lodging for the evening, and continue right on to what else, the country store. Parked out front and enjoying the Coca-Cola brand contents of a bottle-shaped window, I spot a skinny, tanned Dutchman wearing flip-flops coast up to the store on his … touring bike! Meet Harm. No, he’s not dangerous. That’s his name. Really. Like Patrick and Charlie, Harm has arrived here after riding all the way from the west coast. And he even knows them. You shouldn’t be surprised and neither should I. Hours divided by months is a small number. My good fortune in meeting Harm sends Day 3 off the charts. We chat briefly, get situated at the firehouse and head off for BBQ, beer and a far better version of hushpuppies than I encountered back in Ashland. (I think this is what they’re supposed to taste like.) Probably.
Harm turns out to be a soil-scientist by training, now mostly working in water quality modeling and planning. He enjoys Americana and cycling is in his blood by birthright. Where else would you expect to see him? Holland? Okay, you might see him there too, probably enjoying photos he’s taken of water towers and beefy American fire trucks. After dinner we head back to our temporary h.q. and Harm proceeds to go backwards through his notebook and maps giving me a list of all the good spots to stay (or avoid) in the order I’ll encounter them. The ink wasn’t gold, but the information sure is.
Day 4 starts off with Harm and I sitting curbside enjoying coffee and egg sangy while discussing the wonders of cycling, the sometimes crapiness of public transportation and the mostly crapiness of automobiles, except for the vintage silver BMW that passes by. It’s hard to hate a car that looks that good. Afterwards we take a few photos and Harm gives me his remaining pepper spray. He won’t need it anymore and I might.
Thank you for your very fine hospitality, Mineral Volunteer FD!
Bye, Harm. Stay out of your own way!
Solo again and headed for Charlottesville. My newly discovered favorite podcast, Uhh Yeah Dude (Thanks, Jeremy!), playing on my handlebar mounted speakers helps me beat the unrelenting sun and heat. Mostly. I must look like a nut laughing to myself as I ride by rural windows. Are bicycle tourists such as myself the reason why every odd house in these parts bears a “No Trespassing” or “Beware of Dog” sign. And I thought texting was anti-social.
As I near Charlottesville the woman working the store about 7 miles out of town assures me it’s almost all downhill the rest of the way. I want to smoke some of her stuff. Must be mighty strong. Let me tell you, Route 53, uphill by Monticello during rush hour going westbound is no joke no matter what you’re smoking. Westbound = cliff to my right for part of the way. Fun. Can I be in the Olympics too? Mark me down as cyclist … or high diver. And Virginians, there is such a thing as being too courteous to cyclists. Please pick your spot and pass, rather than slowly creeping along behind me. I know my ass isn’t worth staring at for 2 miles.
Arrival in C’ville and I’m beat. I’m normally pretty good with urban navigation, but one missed turn and it took me a while to get my bearings. Finally straightened out and found my way to Stephen’s place, where I’ll spend the evening … with four other cyclists. Among them, two older eastbounders, seeming a bit road weary, and two Londoners, Mari and James, who started their tour earlier that same day from a starting point of Richmond, VA, rather than the route’s true starting point of coastal Yorktown. Cheaters! Oh wait, I forgot mention, Mari and James are embarking upon a very ambitious – world – tour. Apparently the US doesn’t = world.
Stephen was a gracious host, not only providing A.C., shower, and shelter, but some tasty pasta for dinner! I almost managed to befriend Stephen’s skittish adopted canine, Bean, but Mari definitely did. Full credit to her. By the way, Stephen and I are planning a future bicycle tour of Japan. If he reads this, then he’ll know we’re planning it.
Day 5 was destined to be a full rest-day in Charlottesville and so it was. Stephen had friends coming to town and I found my way to the Alexander House Inn and Hostel. Since the hostel was all booked up I was brutally forced to take a room in the inn. They put a gun to my head and everything. Very traumatic. Actually, quite the opposite. Thankfully.
Pics up soon, but it’s 3 AM and I have a big ride ahead to Vesuvius. Yeah, it’s in Virginia. You didn’t know? I hear they speak a very twangy version of Italian there too.