VIRGINIA

Photos are here.

JUNE 2: THE GATHERING

 
What a diverse group we are! If nothing else I will relish the ability to share more than just a few days with folks outside the military community. Having shared dinner the evening prior, we got a chance to get to know one another. So for those of you reading this, who are we? Since you asked, here you go:

VILMAR (the author): 45 years old, retired from the USAF, trying to self actualize. My motivations for making the trip are several: 1.) Because I can; 2.) To see if I can; 3.) To sort out some “life” issues; 4.) Because I always wanted to do this.

MERLE: 62 years old, retired from a trucking company and trying to see what retirement really means.

HUGH: 67 years old, retired from NASA and had wanted to do this for a really long time.

KURT: 25 years old, the youngest of the bunch and CPA with a major accounting firm. Able to do what many of us wanted to do while working — taking a paid sabbatical to challenge himself.

DICK: 48 years old, retired auto parts distributor and an avid biker. Just wanted to do it.

DENNIS: 33 years old, quit his job while his wife took a temp job in another state and filled his time without her with us.

The “group of six” met around 12 noon to begin the journey. As it turned out later on in the journey, our group name became appropriate because as we ran across East bounders they mentioned hearing of the “group of six” going West. We got quite a send off from Hugh’s wife and friends, Dennis’ family, Merle’s daughter, Julie, and Kurt’s lady friend.

Earlier, as I waited for the guys to show up, I chatted with an Adventure Cycling group headed West. There were 12 in the party and I did not get a warm fuzzy from them. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the weather, maybe they were nervous. I don’t know.

After our group met up at the Victory Monument in Yorktown, we toasted to our trip with some wine I’d brought along in my camel-back bottle. That was fun! We took tons of photos at the monument, at the waterfront getting our bikes’ wheels dipped in the semi-Atlantic, etc. Finally hit the road about 115 PM and got to Jamestown at 430 PM. I was feeling a bit tired as I’d pedaled my ass from Langley AFB to Yorktown — 20 miles. My legs were a bit sore but that’s to be expected.

Although the weather did not cooperate too much, we did not get rained on. At least that was good news. So we set up camp and had dinner. Later on I called my parents to tell them that should anything happen to me, I loved them and for them not to take it hard as I was doing something I loved. You just never know when your time will come and I felt that it would not be fair to them if I did not tell them how I felt. Wanted to do the same thing for my son but could never get in touch with him. Teenagers!! Can’t live with them, can’t shoot them.

As the day progressed we felt each other out a bit (huh-huh) and personalities developed. I did observe that Dick, Dennis, and Kurt have a sense of humor.

JUNE 3: TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF ROAD TRAVEL

 
My body does not like being subjected to the abuses I’ve put it through the last couple of days.

Last night I kept getting up every hour because my side hurt. I could not find a comfortable way to sleep and my side kept going numb. After a couple of days, though, all these aches went away so it was a matter of getting used to.

Kurt said there was quite a bit of log sawing going on as well as quite a few other “indiscreet” noises we later came to accept as unforeseen methane releases. Sometimes they were preceded with warnings, other times they came unannounced but definitely detected by our olfactory senses.

It was at the time we began our nicknaming effort. Dick was our first and we nicknamed him “Tooter.” He took great pride in that.

As we left Jamestown it started to rain. A light drizzle at first but enough so that when we had to cross the Chickahominy River on a steel bridge, we walked our bikes across. The roads were really good and the trees formed a canopy above us that acted as an umbrella. They also formed a green tunnel for us to ride through. Route 5 is very nice to ride on. Took a break at the I&S Food Store and grabbed some snacks.

The temperature never quite climbed above 62 degrees and actually ended the day lower than it began. The rain then began to come down very hard and at a 45 degree angle aided by nasty winds. UGLY!! UGLY!! UGLY!! My leg started to hurt and the muscle in my right knee was acting up, too. Mr. Butt was not a happy camper, either!

We did not feel like camping so Hugh called his friends, Tom and Rosemary Tyson, who said we could stay at their place. Rosemary got off work early to wait for us and as we pulled in she pulled up. To kill time before getting to their place, though, we hung around a mini-mart eating, drinking, and getting warm. While inside, I took off my outer jacket and water poured out of it. Fortunately my inside wind breaker stayed relatively dry as did my shirt but my shoes were drenched and my feet were cold. Lucky me.

Soon as we got into the Tyson’s it began to pour. We dried our clothes, took a shower, got warm again then sat around trying to figure out which one of us pissed off God enough to cause him to pour rain on us. We watched the weather channel and it looks like a rain cell will follow us for the next 150 miles.

After Tom got home we went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant and bought both of them dinner. In moving about from house to car to restaurant I realized just how sore my knees were. I was hoping like hell they’d last for the trip. I was also able to get the old ticker up to 160 BPM but for the most part it stayed in the 125-140 range. My goal is to get it down a bit more than that but only time will tell.

The fastest speed I got today was 26 MPH.

JUNE 4: THE BEGINNINGS OF A ROUTINE

 
There is no doubting that, as human beings, we need a certain amount of routine in our day-to-day. It’s no different with cycling across the USA. Up early, out early is the first routine of our group. Not all groups do this but we decided that the earlier we started the less risk we’d run with hot weather and temperamental winds.

Thanked Rosemary and headed out. It looked as if the weather would turn decent so we were pleased. Then at 930 we saw our shadows. Felt like groundhogs! Couple of other good things were that my knees did not bother me nor was my crotch crotchety. Mr. Butt was pleased, too.

We did witness lots of traffic on Route 156. Must have been people going to work. HA HA. We all laughed out loud at that revelation. Then again, there are those that would rather work in an office than do what we were doing. And there were times I felt like that, too, on the trip. But those were fleeting thoughts.

Another routine is to not pass up good food stores for you never know where the next one may be. Since we are beginning to eat like pigs we stopped at the Food Lion near Ashland and stocked up. Prior to that we’d stopped in Mechanicsville (one of three, same name, towns in Virginia!!) and mailed back some stuff, bought stamps, and went to a local drug store which had a lunch counter operation. AAAHH, this is rural America at its best!! These stores are getting rarer and rarer. I had a great breakfast for only $3.50. Eggs, sausage, toast, hash browns, coffee. Yum! Yum!

The sun finally made its appearance about 1030. What a glorious sight to see. We were so thrilled. Sure does not take much to excite us! Considering that the temperatures have been 20 to 25 degrees below normal, then maybe it is not so surprising to have us get excited.

Made it to Americamp which is a really nice campground, paid our $5.60, washed some clothes, showered, and ate lunch. A park worth a return visit, this place was extraordinarily clean, had a pool, all the sites were nice and had running water, plus the park had clean rest rooms and showers, too.

The entertainment of the day was Kurt buzzing his head with Dennis’ electric clippers. We each brought some thing that others would not have bothered lugging the weight of. Dennis brought clippers and boy! were they well used throughout the whole trip.

Another routine we are attempting to perfect involves placement of all our shit in our panniers. It’s such a pain in the ass to need something and not remember where you put it. This necessitates opening all the bags and rooting through them. As it turns out, it was much later into the trip that I actually got this particular act together.

Did a little bike maintenance, mailed off some cards, and took it easy the rest of the day.

JUNE 5: WHY? BECAUSE WE CAN!!

 
Slept well and awoke at 6 to 48 degree weather and sunshine. Snarfed down some breakfast and got underway.

Today was the first morning when the ride was as I’d envisioned it: warm, sunny, wonderful aromas of grass and wildflowers, birds chirping, ruined only occasionally by a bloody car going by. Otherwise, just beautiful.

The ride was a bit brutal today with considerable hills. I got up to 29.7 MPH but just as quickly lost all momentum and slowed to 2.5 MPH going up the other side. I thought I was going to die! Actually had to resort to switch backing to make it to the top of many of the hills.

Since I am in the habit of keeping my micro-cassette recorder handy to jot down thoughts, I’d do so at all times of the day. Later in the evening I’d review them for topics to write about. Today was one of those days when, in listening to the tape, I was able to “HEAR” how hard the day was: huffing, puffing, panting for all I was worth.

As the day progressed we realized we needed a theme song for the state of Virginia and decided to use “On The Road Again” by Willie Nelson. Hugh came up with lyrics:

On the road again
on the way to Oregon
through the Appalachian Hinterland
we’re on the road again.

Again, cheap thrills.

Stopped at Coatsville General Store and was introduced to the store dog, “Pee-Wee”. Weird dog. If you say “bye” he starts up such a barking ruckus and charges you from wherever he is. Seems he does not want you to leave without him. Cute wiener dog.

On a bike, time passes a bit more slowly and you should have the opportunity to think about weighty issues of life. Love, death, money, etc. All I could think of this morning was how great I felt knowing I did not have to put on a uniform to go to work. Funny how after 26 years I would have expected to wake up thinking it was time to punch the clock at the salt mines but that never happened throughout the whole trip. It’s quite a liberating feeling. I did, though, feel pity for those I saw on the road in suits and ties, gabbing on their cell phones, putting on make-up, eating breakfast, reading a newspaper, and trying to quiet the rowdy kids in the back seat. All rushing to their jobs.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many people that enjoy doing this and will do so until they die. That’s fine for them. But I did it for as long as I needed to and I no longer need to. Life is too short for that silliness.

Virginia has lots of Bike Route 76 signs all over the place. I am fairly certain the route number commemorates the first trans-America ride in 1976. You’d have to be blind in one eye with no ability to see out of the other to miss these or lose your way. That’s not the case in all the other states, though. I never was able to determine why Virginia seemed to be in the lead for its abundance of signs.

Another good method to keep on the right route is to follow the banana peels left behind big groups like Adventure Cycling!!

Could not go by Bumpass, Virginia without taking a photo of the sign. What a hoot! We took photos of one another covering the “P” to indicate the portion of our anatomy that was feeling “more fatigued” than others. I also went into the post office and had the postmaster hand stamp a bunch of postcards for me. They got a fairly decent reception at their destinations.

The end of the riding day brought us to Mineral, VA. The climb into town was brutal as it sits on the top of a bunch of hills. It seemed as if every time we crested a hill there would be another one in front of us. AARGH!! There we camped behind the Volunteer Fire Department. A collection was taken up and we left an envelope for them in one of their ambulances as they were closed down for the day. The Adventure Cycling group was there also and as a group we voted on losing them as quickly as possible. Not because we did not like them but because having too many bicyclists appear in a town diminishes your chances of getting a decent reception, finding accommodations, and, most important of all, finding food.

Mineral is a cool little town of 430 people where 830 PM brings a slow down in virtually all activities—except the local hot rodders goofing around, burning rubber and revving engines. You can still see kids playing baseball in backyards, people sitting on porches, etc. There sure are a lot of birds in this neck of the woods and boy!, do they make a racket! A pleasing one to me but not to the other guys who are light sleepers and can’t fall asleep. And these birds chirp and squawk and sing well into the night. I thought birds slept at night. Goes to show what I know.

As a group we also spend a lot of time discussing routes and stopping places. This allows those that are slower to catch up or for those that are faster it gives them a place to rest and let the rest of the group catch up. It also lets everyone know where to be in the evening in case one of us decides to do the tourist thing somewhere along the line or breaks down and takes longer than normal to get back on the road. So far, Hugh and Dennis seem to be the more enthused map readers with Hugh having more knowledge of this area; Dick likes to ride alone, Merle is very quiet and Kurt is struggling with bike and equipment problems.

We all set up tents but if I had been thinking properly I’d have popped up on one of the picnic tables that were under the shelter. It was supposed to be clear at night and I ended up wasting time setting up the tent and will waste just as much in the morning tearing it down. Routines! Routines! Routines! Plus the shelter would not let dew form on my bag as it is sure to form on the tent.

So far on the trip we’ve climbed about 2900 feet (not to be confused with being 3000 in elevation above sea level.) It is a sum of all the inclines we climbed. It will not be unusual for us to begin a day at 2000 in elevation and end at the same elevation but to have climbed 2500 feet during the day.

Our first two days we climbed only 750 feet each with 1400 feet today. Tomorrow we are supposed to do 3000! I am bummed – – and my bum will be, too!

In our travels we’ve come across quite a few people who ask us what we are doing and why. So we decided that our answer to the “why” portion would be, “Because we can!” Which is true. A little pompous, maybe, but still true.

Phoned home and all is as can be expected with elderly parents. Mom’s getting treated for an arthritic and painful foot, Dad’s dealing with Parkinson’s. He paid off my Visa bill using a check I’d left but forgot that I told him I pay my Visa bills through an automated service at my credit union. So I had to make some quick phone calls to sort that out. Called him back to let him know not to worry and that all was well again. No big deal to me but to him that seemed like a crisis about to happen. Called Danny to let him know where I was but, again, he wasn’t home.

The old ticker is also acting up. Must be the adrenaline rush from the excitement of the trip. I need to be careful not to over stress myself under these conditions. Especially going up hills what with all the damned hills we have to climb the next three weeks! YECH!

As part of a continual process, I am learning about gearing, weight distribution, loading, and proper ways to climb hills. Most of this comes from Dick, Merle, and Hugh. They are all experienced riders having done this kind of thing before. The gearing on my bike is not what I would want it to be. Some of the guys have such low gearing that while I crank once on the pedals, they crank twice. It makes spinning so much easier and the name of the game is spinning. If you can spin at 80-90 RPM you generate much less wear and tear on the legs.

As it turns out my legs were real tired today and muscles I’d not used in a long time got a work out climbing hills today. Things will only get uglier!

JUNE 6: HILLS, HILLS, HILLS

 
Something else that takes some getting used to is the volume of water needed on a daily basis. I personally do not like drinking water and even much less so when I know that it will wake me up in the middle of the night and disrupt my sleep. Such as it did this morning and will do so for every morning from here on out. Fortunately I was able to get back to sleep but at 6 we were all up and about. Went to Joe’s Place for breakfast and on the road at 740 AM. When we walked in we got some pretty strange looks since we were all in tights. We then ran through a scenario where we’d walk in, spring into an ABBA song, and pirouette into the bathroom. Now, THAT would be bizarre.

Kurt is maintaining contact with the outside world through his lady friend, April. So he calls her every day, several times a day, earning him the provisional nickname, Ma Bell.

Passed lots of beautiful pastoral scenery today heavy with cow smells—if you catch my drift. The roads we were on tended to be the crests of hills and so the farmland would fall away to either side of us as we rode.

The hills, however, for those on a bicycle, were brutal. Add to that the FUCKING dogs lunging out of the woods, barking and snarling, and I was not too thrilled. As far as I am concerned, if the dogs can not stay in a yard or leashed to a tree, they should be shot. What I experienced today was only a precursor to what I can expect in Kentucky.

Over the hills, down the hills, up the hills. That’s what we did today. I got up to 35 MPH—what a rush! In Palmyra Dick got a picture of me cresting a hill with my tongue hanging down around my navel, panting like a dog in 25 heats.

Along the way we stopped in Ashlawn, home of James Monroe, 6th president of the US. His house was designed by Thomas Jefferson. We also stopped at the Riverside Diner in Palmyra where I snarfed down a decent lunch.

Made it to Jefferson’s house in Monticello about 10 miles from Charlottesville. It had to be the worst climb of the trip. And with more to come I am beginning to feel some anxiety about my ability to do so. Felt like I was going to die; sweating like a pig, totally drenched. The only saving grace was that it was not 85 degrees like it normally is this time of year. As a matter of fact it only got to 66 today. LUCKY US!

We ended up climbing 2500 feet and are supposed to do 5000 tomorrow. I am dreading it. As I write this my legs are killing me. So sore. I can just imagine what they will be like tomorrow.

Only at the last minute did we realize it was graduation weekend for one of the Universities and we were concerned we’d not be able to get a room. Merle arrived in town first and got us a reservation at the Super 8 Motel. We did not feel like taking on tomorrow without a decent night’s rest, getting our laundry done, etc. so therefore the reason for the Motel. Cost us $62 a night per room. We divided each 3 ways and one of us slept on the floor.

Send another “go-back” box to Florida which freed a lot of room in my panniers and hopefully will give me a psychological edge on tomorrow.

For dinner, Dick, Hugh, and Merle went out to eat. The rest of us fixed spaghetti in the room. THAT was a sight to behold!

JUNE 7: THE RIDE FROM HELL

 
I slept well at night but the exertion from the day’s efforts left my body’s engine working overtime to cool me off so I stayed hot well into the evening. With the A/C on and only wearing underwear I still could not get inside my sleeping bag because it made me sweat.

Up at 6 and with a cool 60 degree day to begin with, I took off, got air in my tires, and stopped to have breakfast.

As we approached Greenwood we began to do some serious climbing. Hugh, Kurt, Dick and I got warned by a painter (who used to bicycle until he injured himself) of a Rotweiler and a Shepherd near the top of the next hill as well as a couple of other dogs towards the bottom. It was certain we’d not be able to outrun the former but the latter would be easy. So we stayed in pairs as we climbed this tortuous hill. Fortunately no dogs showed up.

Got to Afton and visited with the Cookie Lady (June Curry.) What a horrid climb to get to her place, though! Listened to some of her stories about other cyclists and then met up with Merle and Dennis and got our pictures taken. June is 76 years old and has been doing this for 22 years. She keeps two houses. One for her and one for the riders. There are places to sleep and eat. She offers cookies, soft drinks, PBJ sandwiches, fruit, etc. I ate a couple of cookies, a PBJ, and had lemonade. Left her some money as a donation and finished the climb to Rockfish Gap, elevation 1850. Went over one mile at 3.5 MPH and climbed 750 vertical feet in the process. UGH!!

At the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, some of us stopped at the HoJo for lunch. By this point we’d done 30 miles and thought the worst was behind us. WRONG ANSWER, HOME BOY!!

At 330 PM I was climbing as I’d never climbed before. Long, seemingly never ending, hills rising to a crest only to continue rising to the next. Hoping to have reached the top around the next curve only to find the Hill gods had it in for us really pissed me off.

That said, however, the views are stupendous and it is easy to see why the Blue Ridge Parkway is called what it is.

Lots of times, though, I did not have time to enjoy the views because my head was down and my legs were pumping away for all they were worth in dogged determination to not be defeated by the climb.

I was absolutely tired, exhausted, thoroughly drained. Felt like I’d reached my stamina breakpoint. And this with 21 more miles to go! I told Dick to send out a search party if Kurt and I did not make it to camp by 7 PM.

It would not have been so bad if this leg of the trip were later on where I’d be in better shape to tackle it. Maybe get a bit more acclimated to grueling hill climbing. But to do so as early as we are is really disheartening. My butt hurt so bad and my shoulders were sore and fatigued from the stress and strain. My hands were numb and I was a walking (riding) disaster area.

Got to Rock Point Overlook, elevation 3115 feet and I dictated the following into my cassette: ” It’s 1617 hours and looking pretty FUCKING grim.” Took a break to look down into the valley and the cars were soooo… small.

As Dick said, “we could look at it as the high point of the trip or the low point.” HA HA That’s Dick, the comedian. It WAS funny, though. He’s been great, Dick has. Mine and Kurt’s personal daddy rabbit. Hanging around when he didn’t have to in order to make sure we make it OK. Dick has no problem powering up these hills since he’s used to riding in Oregon.

Here’s another jewel from my cassette: “(pant, pant) got picture taken (pant, pant) at sunset cliff (pant, pant) where the people in the town below, (pant, pant) White Rock, look up (pant, pant) and when they see the sun (pant, pant) on the cliff during the summertime (pant, pant) in June/July (pant, pant) they know they have no more than 20 minutes until dusk (pant, pant) (pant, pant) to do their harvesting.

“Fucking climbing never ends (pant, pant) (pant, pant).”

As if it weren’t bad enough we were trying to get this ordeal over with, a Park Ranger drives by and announces a warning on his loudspeaker that we need to stay on the right hand side of the road. If he was doing what I was doing he’d not be in the right hand lane, either. Just doing his job, I guess.

By 6 PM I still had 9 miles to go. It seemed to be taking forever. I’d go from periods of intense overheating to serious cool-downs on the steep descents. Never did figure out the 25 MPH wind chill effect on an overheated, sweating, wet body in 55 degree weather. Damned cold, though.

The high elevation of the day was reached at Bald Mountain overlook (3252 feet). The fastest descent was 39.7 MPH and would have been a bit faster were it not for my loose fitting and flappy wind breaker.

So far I’ve not had to walk the bike up any hills. Wonder if that is a point of pride or just sheer stupidity. The next few days will tell. Then again, walking up those monster hills pushing an 85 pound bike is not an easy task and would call into play totally different muscle groups than what I’ve been using.

Felt the need to do so and let out several primal screams across the valley. Sounded cool as they echoed!! The sun teased all day by popping out from time to time while nasty clouds loomed over the mountain tops. Towards late afternoon the sun stayed out and made things more pleasant.

To date, only one member of our group (Dennis) has almost gotten run off the road by an impatient driver. The driver kept honking, then passed, then sharply cut in front of Dennis. Must be a “lack of penis” thing with these assholes. Also heard bikers get bottles thrown at them, get spit on, get doors opened on them, etc. I came to the realization that people in general piss me off. When riding where there is little traffic all is well with my world. Go into a big town and the morons are out in droves! Who lets these assholes out, anyway? The world would be a great place if it weren’t for all the asshole people in it!

Finally made it to camp at 1850 hours. Had to negotiate some very steep downhills on Route 56 to Vesuvius and stay constantly on the brakes such that my rims got hot to the touch. Now, THAT’S some down hill! And the C-G is only half way down the mountain.

Camped at Tye River campground and even the campsites were situated at the bottom of serious downhills. Damned if it did not get cold and windy in there. Dennis got there early and Merle missed the turn so took a room 7 miles away. He was not about to climb back up to the campground from the bottom of the hill. The location was full of trees and hilly. If the weather gets inclement the owners allow you to sleep inside their game room.

We had planned to lay over here but since the store was inadequate we voted to move on tomorrow. Fortunately, to make it more pleasant this C-G has a stream babbling over some rocks not too far way so it creates a pleasant sound to fall asleep to. Very peaceful after such a strenuous day where we climbed about 5700 feet.

As with most evenings we sit around talking about our day and what happened to each of us. Kurt relayed that he was so tired at one point he just laid down his bike and lay down on the grass spread-eagled. The next thing he sees are three vultures circling overhead eyeing him out. He quickly picked up his bike and hightailed it out of there. That was funny. I can just picture it.

JUNE 8: WAITING FOR THE SCHOOL BUS SIGN

 
Our seventh day on the road.

I left camp with Dennis about 7 AM because we were cold and did not want to wait around for the other guys. Fortunately we came across Julie just before leaving the park and she gave us directions to where Merle was supposed to be. It didn’t sound like a bad ride so we headed out. When we reached the bottom of the hill at Vesuvius who should be there? Merle—waiting for us. It’s a good thing, too, as the road to the restaurant was long and hard. We then learned another lesson: never fully believe what you are told about the severity of a hill if it comes from the mouth of someone who does not ride a bike!! Julie, bless her heart, never made the mental translation of a pleasant 5 mile drive in a car to what is really a nasty hill on a bike.

We chatted a while and Julie returned to volunteer to drive us to the restaurant. Dennis, Merle, and I left our bikes chained to one another behind the Vesuvius Post Office and off we went to stuff our faces. The hill to Steele’s Tavern in Raphine was a bitch and we’d have been upset to have to climb it so early in the morning. I had two orders of pancakes (one normal, one buckwheat) because I was hungry and the waitress said they were small. Au contraire, mon frere!! They were huge. There was no way I could eat them. Oh, by the way, the buckwheat pancakes sucked.

We waited and waited and became concerned when Julie did not return. We were afraid she had an accident or one of the riders had an accident on the way down the perilous hill. 40 minutes later Hugh shows up with Merle, Julie, and Julie’s boyfriend, Dan. There was some missed communication between Hugh and Kurt. Apologies were rendered later and all forgiven. No harm intended. No harm done.

By 1100 AM the sun was out and the temperature shot up to 62. Ideal riding conditions. For the first 15 miles the ride was “mahvelous dahling!” No traffic on the roads, we rode along a river, and the sun was out. Who could ask for anything more? I made sure to thank God for these moments. There were instances where the only noise we heard was that of our tires singing on the pavement and the river rushing alongside us.

I, though, committed a big screw-up. Decided I could take my camera out of my handlebar bag while riding along at 15 MPH. That’s right! I dropped it. All I heard was this thunk, thunk, thunk as it crashed along the roadway. Stopped, picked it up, and it still worked! The wonders of technology. I will write Pentax to thank them for a job well done.

Whereas the first 15 miles were gorgeous, the last 13 were killer. We had to deal with long hills until we reached Natural Bridge Campground. We cruised downhill for 4 miles to get to it. Of course, we now have 4 miles of uphill to do when we leave. What a pain in the ass.

After a while I began to look forward in anticipation to road signs which said, “School Bus Stop Ahead.” This usually signified that I was quite close to the top of a hill and be able to get a break from the climbing.

The campground was very nice, clean, well laid out and we had a choice of camping by the trees or the river. The tree sites were cheaper. The place even had a recreation hall. We celebrated by having beer.

For the day we climbed 2600 feet giving us a total so far of 14000.

JUNE 9: REST DAY

 
Up at 630 with the sun out, 65 degrees, robins singing in the trees. Very idyllic.

Pigged out at the Natural Bridge Restaurant on their lumberjack special which cost only $4.75. Yum Yum!

Got off a couple of cards in the mail. One for Father’s Day and one for my niece’s birthday.

Spent the day lolly gagging around doing bike maintenance, writing in the journal, resting. Unfortunately there were lots of little gnats flying around trying to get in our bodily orifices. Not pleasant. Got a little annoyed at my Performance sunglasses which cracked in many places. I called them, explained my situation of not having a receipt, they dug up my records, and verified I bought them. Gave me return instructions and refunded my credit card. Good customer service!

Met and talked to a gentleman names Orland Lee, an Army vet from W.W. II who was involved in the invasion of Normandy. He brought out his German helmet and Dennis paraded around with it on his head. Orland was a machine gunner who carried 150 pounds of gear on his back as he hit the beach. He told us his training preparation was hiking around Ireland. He is currently touring the US in a 27 foot Itasca motorhome complete with satellite dish. Nice vehicle. Even nicer lifestyle!

JUNE 10: THE FIRST FLAT

 
One of the beauties of sleeping out of doors during this trip is the ability to get up in the middle of the night to take care of business and be guided to your favorite tree by the light from the stars. Last night was one of those nights. The stars were out in the millions like diamond studded jewels affixed to a black crown resting on the tops of shadowy trees.

Left early to get to the Country Café. It was 48 degrees, very foggy, and at 6 in the morning a bit too chilly to hang around. Hugh ate there last night and recommended it. Finally got on the road at 830 and climbed that damned 4 mile hill to get back up to Route 11 again. I felt like I was back at the Blue Ridge Parkway, tacking back and forth to get to the top.

Considering how many aspirins and ibuprofens I’ve been eating, I should have bought stock in the companies. Those things allow me to get through the day. Almost as if I am dependent on them.

One of the frustrating things about riding bikes in this area is the deception that occurs when roads trick you with the optical illusion of going downwards when, in fact, you are going up. Everyone in our group noticed it. And it sneaks up on you. First you climb a hill then crest it. Soon afterwards you think you are going down, let off on the pedals and slow down considerably. Perplexed, you begin to pedal again, let off, and almost come to a stop. Then you look backwards and see that you’ve been climbing—almost imperceptibly, but climbing.

Inevitably it had to happen to someone first: in Buchanan Merle got the first flat of the trip. We all hoped it was not a sign of things to come. Little did we know!

Buchanan is a cool little town nestled in a valley with a fishing bridge right alongside a roadway bridge. Many folks were trying their luck. It looks like a typical rural town with a drug store which came complete with a soda fountain counter. It also had lots of eateries I wish we had the time to investigate. Once out of Buchanan we got on Route 640 and away from Highway 81 and its noise. We paralleled a railroad track and a creek and had very little traffic. Just beautiful for riding. Thank God we are alive to enjoy this.

One thing I like about riding in this area is the smell of honeysuckle in the air, the birds chirping, crows cawing, and jays squawking. So pastoral. But the climb to Troutville was brutal and not even close to what I expected. All in all we climbed 2600 feet today.

In Troutville we camped in the city park. It has no showers but does have water and bath rooms. I need to rest up for the 60 mile ride to Christiansburg tomorrow complete with lots of hills. My left knee is particularly bothersome and I suspect it is more of a muscle/tendon than any problem with the knee itself.

Met the couple in charge of the park (Mr. and Mrs. Poulin.) He’s retired from the Marines in 1968 after 20 years of service. They told us the only problem with the park, apart from the lack of showers, was the trains that blast past at all hours. With the tracks only 75 feet away I could understand why he said that.

I could grow to like a place like Troutville. It’s 15 miles from Roanoke (which has a sucky newspaper) and 7/8 miles from shopping centers on the outskirts of Roanoke. The town is a mountain (and world) away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Kurt showed up a while after we did and snuck up on Hugh (who was asleep) and undid his therma-rest’s air plug. Hugh gets up suddenly, somewhat confused and wondering what’s going on. Kurt ‘fessed up and said he’d blow it back up for Hugh who promptly told him to save his blow jobs for his girl friends. We were astounded-and promptly flew into fits of laughter. What made it particularly funny was that just last night Kurt commented how April had told him she thought the trip would be a good idea for Kurt and that he’d benefit from the collective maturity of our group. Boy, was she ever mistaken! Little does she know how much raunchiness our 255 collective years contain.

Robin and Ali arrived and we went out to eat at the Country Cookin’ Buffet. For $3.69 soup and salad we damned near ate the place out of food. When I left I felt as if I had a bowling ball in my stomach.

As the evening progressed I planned on sleeping underneath the pavilion on a picnic table but there was a party going on so I put up my tent. I intended to get as much sleep as possible so found this little depression on top of which I put the tent while inside my sleeping bag went over the depression. Within a minute I was fast asleep and stayed that way sleeping like a baby until 6 AM.

JUNE 11: A LOUSY NIGHT’S ACCOMMODATIONS

 
The long sleep was just what the doctor ordered. Coupled with the small depression I slept in (good thing it did not rain!) I was very comfortable all night. My knee feels much better. Left with Hugh about 730 and am getting concerned about Kurt. He’s having knee problems and is not sure if it is his pedals or his shoes or whatever. Hopefully it’ll sort itself out.

We rode for about 19 miserable miles and stopped at Catawba. It has a cool general store complete with wood burning stove inside with chairs along the side of it. I can just imagine the scene in winter. Picked up a candy bar and coffee.

The ride from Catawba to Ellet was much better. Quiet with nice scenery. Helped also that the weather brightened a bit. While in Ellet I picked up some veggie juice to go with my sandwich and a Moon Pie for desert.

From Ellet we had a not very pleasant ride to Christiansburg. All of us met at the old Depot (built in 1848) and plotted our next move. Fortunately, the stores we needed were along the way to the campground and I stopped at a pharmacy, also. Told the pharmacist I needed professional help (which elicited a chuckle from him) about what to do for my knees. He recommended eating Ibuprofen and if that didn’t work to take Naproxen. Also got some sport cream to rub on the affected areas. I guess I can’t complain too much because my butt no longer hurts as much and my knees did a good job of behaving themselves today. Everyone else seems to be fine but not happy about all these damned hills.

We camped at Interstate Park. It sucks. We had to pay $9 per tent for the privilege of being put in a tent area way out in the boonies of the park. The showers and laundry were far enough that we had to ride our bikes to get there. To top it off, the owners had no change for the machines and blamed it on the kids and the video games. Incompetent! They wouldn’t take VISA, either. Amazing they are still in business. What frosted our jaws even more was that RV’ers got to stay for $5 more, get water, electric, sewer PLUS are closer to all facilities. ERRR! Does not help that two interstates bisect the area so there is lots of noise.

We found another Country Cookin’ Restaurant and pigged out again. I can grow to like this! They made no money on us.

The 3200 feet of climbing today made me very tired so I turned in early.

JUNE 12: A NASTY SURPRISE

 
HARUMPH! Did not sleep well. Maybe I was too well rested. Had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant and made off with some jelly packs for our bread.

Made it to Radford and had the USPS help me relieve myself of some weight. Sent back the first map! Now we are making progress!! Interesting little town Radford—home of an all female college. HMMM!?!?!

The weather played cat and mouse with us today. It started to rain so I donned my rain gear. Rode for a while and it quit. I sweated and took off the gear. Rode some more and it rained again. Put the gear back on. Sweated and it stopped raining so off it came again. This was getting silly. Then it began to rain again and I just said screw it and got wet.

Upon leaving Radford the route took us along the New River. It was really pretty and peaceful. Sure would be nice if the whole trip were like this.

It’s Ying/Yang time: had a 4 mile long, tortuous climb to Draper along Route 611. I knew the New River was too good to be true!

Stopped at Bryson’s Grocery and picked up a sandwich, candy bar and a drink called Dr. Enuf. Never heard of it before but it is very good. Also got an ice cream made with chocolate chips and small peanut butter chunks covered in chocolate. Man! Was it good! We figured we could stuff ourselves for lunch knowing we’d already done 1700 feet of climbing and only had 500 more to go when we run right smack dab into a series of hills! Did a 1.5 mile climb of what seemed to be an 8-10% grade.

I was mentioning to Hugh that we need to question the rational sensibility and sanity of 6 grown, well-educated men wanting to undertake a trip with all these hills. I also question the sense of routing this trip through side roads that are so steep because if the purpose is to enjoy the country side, then it is very difficult to do so with your nose pointed downwards at the road. You can’t see anything that way. It’s better to be on Interstates. Whoever designed this route should be summarily shot!

We ended up riding an upward headed crest between two ranges that had 10-20 MPH headwinds blowing through them. NASTY NASTY NASTY. I was hurling primal screams at anything and everything.

Ended the day with climbing almost 3500 feet. A far cry from 2000 we were expecting. Donna Ikenberry lied! Discouragement seemed to be the word for the day. It was so bad that Kurt stopped at a church along the way to pray for guidance. Now, that’s bad! We just need to tough it out a few more days. This kind of attitude is normal on rides like this because for every bad day will be several good days.

In Wytheville (named after one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence) we stopped at the Elizabeth Brown Park. Quite nice with free showers and rest rooms. Met up with the Adventure Cyclists and also Coleen and Gary. Found out Gary packs a gun. Bully for him. I’m afraid I’d use it so it is better I not have one. Our experiences with dogs lately led me to make a suggestion that we get 100 riders to start in western Virginia, space themselves 1000 yards apart and with silenced .22 caliber automatic pistols shoot every fucking dog in Kentucky that showed its face out of its yard. May be a radical idea but I liked it.

Although very tired I still managed to make a stew of potatoes, onions, carrots, tomato soup and a can of ham. YUMMY!

JUNE 13: WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT A FRIDAY THE 13TH?

 
Was awakened at 5 AM by the melodious sounds of thunder and lightning. No rain for a few minutes and then it began to pour. By 6 AM it slacked off and everyone was up so we packed our bikes and headed for a restaurant to see what else the day had in store for us. The tent leaked a bit but some of it was due to the improper way I set up my ground cloth.

Found a restaurant a bit out of our way and down a hill from where we needed to go but had a good breakfast there. The waitress told us a way to get to where we needed to go that would not entail climbing the hill we just descended. Coleen and Gary met up with us and we chowed down together. What the waitress failed to tell us was that even though we did not have to go back up the hill we descended, there other worse hills we had to climb. Add to that the fact that the roads were not well marked and we almost ended up in Mississippi. Slight exaggeration. I, too, need artistic license. We also did not properly learn the lesson which states never to trust non-bike riding folks!

I did not feel comfortable with where we were headed so backed up a bit and knocked on a door to confirm the road we just passed was where we should have turned. BINGO! Poor Colleen and Gary. We never saw them the rest of the trip. For all I know they may be fishing in the Gulf of Mexico right now.

Fought headwinds all the way to Damascus. Hill after hill after hill. Several were miles long. One was 4 miles, one was 5 miles, the others were 2-3 miles. AARGH!

Working would be easier to contend with than this shit but the worst will be behind us soon. No one is talking of quitting yet. Whenever the thought slips into my head I tell it to go packing because I will be damned if I quit this trip after having wanted to go on it so long. I’ll need a major catastrophe to make me stop.

FUCK FUCK FUCK these hills.

On the bright side, it’s nice to have clouds for the sun to poke through while at the same time see fog and mist draped over the tops of the hills on either side of us as if it were a shroud.

Had to climb to 3100 feet elevation to get to Troutdale, only to drop 300 feet and then climb again, this time to 3500 feet in the next 5 miles. Got to 37 MPH downhill and it is very exciting even though I realize that the slightest twitch of the handlebars can cause serious stability problems. I did not even want to think about what would happen if I’d had a blowout at those speeds.

In some respects, the days would not be so bad if we had a chance to warm our leg muscles up before tackling hills. But it seems like all we do is get on the road and immediately begin to climb. What a son of a bitch. I hate it. To make matters worse, Merle had another flat.

Ran across what’s called the Creeper Trail, part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy Program. Looked like a nice trail but there was lots of gravel on it and none of it was paved. Some of the guys were thinking of taking it and Kurt actually did so. He regretted it. It crossed over lots of railroad bridges and must have been very scenic but not good riding for how our bikes were configured.

Got to Damascus and what a thrill it was to descend the hill coming into town. Almost 10 miles of downhill. It’s about time we ended the day by not having to climb a hill into the town!

The Place hostel is a big house that sleeps lots of people in bunk beds or on the floor or sofas. It has cooking, bathing, and kitchen facilities. Also sports a sitting room to read in along with a phone on the wall. A cool place.

Pulling into the hostel, Kurt and Hugh had some cross words. Kurt was really pissed. I guess Hugh was at the laundry when Kurt pulled in and Hugh said something to him that did not sit right. On top of that Kurt is suffering from butt sores. He needs medical treatment as those things can cause lots of problems later on. Told him he needs to start using triple anti-biotic cream and to put baby powder in his shorts several times a day. Since April is supposed to meet up with him tomorrow, maybe she can take him to straight to Breaks Interstate Park and he can rest there for three days and wait for us.

Spoke with a couple of AT’ers on their way to through hiking the Appalachian Trail. They’ve got quite a journey ahead of them.

Many of the Adventure Cyclists are in Damascus, too, and camped out in the yard. We had our tents set up there, also. Our group of six went to Quincy’s to have dinner. I had a calzone that was fantastic. Snarfed it right up. Hugh, Merle, and I went back to the Hostel and the others stayed drinking beer. Then about 830 we got a warning that there might be a tornado in the area. I looked up the mountain and it was downright dark and ugly. We could see the weather front creeping down the hill side. I started to batten down my tent when I saw Merle go inside the Hostel. Not wanting to tempt fate, I quickly tore down my tent and so did Hugh. No sooner did we get inside then the skies literally opened up and the wind began to howl. Not pretty. Visions of Dorothy and Toto floated in my head.

Decided to make tomorrow a rest day so we could get rested up and our bikes serviced.

Hugh’s wife, Betty, and their two friends Graham and Helen, will meet us tomorrow and fix us lunch. They may even ride with us the following day.

After the storm blew over, things settled down a bit. Dennis, Kurt, and Dick made it back and we helped them tear down their tents (with the exception of Dick who stayed outside.) We all had bunks to sleep in as most of the Adventure Cyclists stayed outdoors, too.

Met a “wired” At’er named David “The Fool” Covin. He walks in and I thought it was a robo-cop that strolled inside. This guy had a mini-cam rigged on his helmet, an eyepiece monitor that flipped down over his eyeball, a 486 processor, PMCIA card for his modem, a keyboard that strapped to his wrist, a power supply and the processor on a belt around his waist. What a setup.

Went to bed about midnight and woke up to a siren going off in the middle of the night. At first I thought I was another tornado warning but it must have been a fire. My body keeps throwing off a lot of heat well into the night. A natural furnace. Makes it uncomfortable to sleep sometimes.

Only after completing the trip and going back to look at the pictures and align the word picture with the actual picture picture did I realize that today, Friday the 13th, a day normally associated with bad luck and other things supernatural, was also the day we came across Route 666. For those not familiar with it, 666 supposedly signifies the mark of the devil. (Play the Outer Limits tune here!)

JUNE 14:REST

 
Sure rained a lot last night. It was nice to be indoors. Finally got my ass up at 630 and with it being cloudy all day, was a perfect layover day.

Dennis and I walked to Cowboy’s for breakfast. Nothing to crow about but not bad, either.

Spent the day in conversation with thru-hikers and determined that although I still want to hike the trail, I will do so in smaller increments. Don’t know if I can stand the lifestyle for 6 months all at once. Also did periodic bike maintenance and so far no problems. It’s staying together well and nothing seems to be coming loose. Called Amtrak and may take the train back home instead of flying. It will be a longer trip (4 days vs. 10 hours) but I’ll be able to wind down better and see some country side I’ve not seen before. Cheap, too. I was really surprised. Only $240 with military discount to go from Portland to Williamsburg.

Wandered around town and blew my budget on a spare gas bottle. Finding stove gas is not easy and even harder finding it in small quantities so this way I can share a gallon container with Merle or anyone else needing it.

It was Dick’s birthday so we sang Happy Birthday to him. In the afternoon we bought him a card along with a gag gift (literally) of canned sardines. He loves those damned things and when he starts to eat them we have to stand upwind. Also got him a make-up kit with fake nails, glitter, etc. It was funny. Planned on drinking the Royal Crown given me by Sergio (a friend back in Florida) but he had a sore throat so we put it off for another day.

April finally showed up (Kurt was upset she was late) and they left to get a hotel in Abingdon. He thinks he can ride tomorrow and she’ll sag him to our destination.

Seeing as how the hikers have trail names we’ve been working on nicknames for ourselves. So far, Dick’s name is “Dick- Dick- Dick- Dick- Dick” We changed it from “Tooter”; Hugh is “Pie Man”; Kurt is “Slacker” in honor of his generation or “Ma Bell” cuz he’s always on the phone. He prefers to be called “Cartographer” but I doubt it will stick. Merle is “Locomotive.” Dennis and I still have no names. We believe the process needs to work naturally and that something needs to occur to generate the name. So we will wait.

Hugh’s friends showed up and we had a nice lunch. They will ride with us tomorrow.

JUNE 15:THE GAP WE LOVED TO HAYTE

 
Had a rough night last night. It was hot and humid and I could not sleep well in my bunk. Finally about 1130 I moved to the living room and slept on the sofa. Much better.

Kurt showed up about 1030 to get his stuff he’d left behind. We were all kinda curious to see if he’d be back since he had stuff scattered from here to hell and back. There was stuff on the fence, on the back porch, on the front porch, etc.

Partook of breakfast at Cowboys (again) and got a message from Kurt that he wouldn’t make it yet it did not say where he’d meet us. So it looks like he’s dropped out. Dammit! Very strange, indeed. Some of us headed out for our ride into the cool and foggy morning. Good riding weather. Maintained a good pace for the first 23 or so miles and then hit Hayter’s Gap (pronounced High-ter’s) Although when I was through climbing it, I did, in fact, “hayte” it immensely. For a good long way before the gap, the path took me along some very nice creeks and streams still swollen from all the recent rainfall and roaring/rushing to beat all hell.

As they said they would, Betty and Helen came along with Hugh and I. Before hitting the hill we rested a bit and when we got ready to go Hugh just keeled over. He fell off his bike! Scared all of us but he was OK. Since I could not power up the hill as well as he could, I stayed with the “girls” for a while and then I left them behind ¾ of a mile into the ride from hell. Did about 1.3 miles into the climb and had to stop for a breather. What a wicked sonovabitch. I hurt like the dickens, too.

The roadway is narrow and winding. On one side there are precipitous drops that go down hundreds of feet and on the other the ground goes virtually straight up hundreds of feet. Sure would ruin my day if I feel off the precipitous side! All in all the total climb was 5 miles long at about an 8% gradient.

Got to the top and zoomed down to meet up with Hugh at the Elk Garden Hostel run by the United Methodist Church. While waiting for the ladies we ate lunch (I’m getting damned tired of trail mix but had little choice) and also got to meet the pastor. She told us to make ourselves at home and that she leaves the church door open for bikers and hikers. We went in and read the log entries made by the Adventure Cycling gang that came through.

The ladies showed, ate a bit, and waited for Graham. We fully expected him much sooner but Hugh and I could wait no longer and left the women to wait for him. As it turns out, miles further down the road I saw him coming toward us, totally off the path. Hugh was waving at him to stop but he must not have seen him. He pulled over and I told him where he could find Betty and Helen. He’d taken one wrong turn after another. Thank God he’s not MY navigator! It was not that difficult. Hugh called home and everyone arrived OK. A bit frazzled, but OK. Good.

Since we decided not to stay overnight at the hostel, our next stop was Council – – and two very nasty 1.5 mile long hills separated us from our destination. I keep going back to re-read this journal and find almost too many references to nasty hills and sore knees. This has got to end soon if for nothing else than my sanity. What the hell was I thinking when I decided to do this trip? Yes, misgivings are making their presence known.

So glad we stopped at Council, though. First, the ride down to the town was exhilarating. The county had just finished paving and re-routing the road which used to have 101 curves in it. Got told by a local that the way the road used to be, there was a point where this one mobile home could be passed three different times on the way down. Not sure how that is pulled off but I believe him. Also, if you did not pay attention you’d blow by the park and then have to turn and climb back to it. Second, we had our own serenading group. Third, Kurt made it!!

Set up our gear at the pavilion in the William P. Harris Park, showered, and ate lunch. Hugh commented on how a small town could have such a large, well laid out park and we found out it was a brainchild of Mr. Harris who wanted the town to have something respectable. He pulled together a group of investors and that was that. Guess they were tired at being located at the end of the county and getting no respect.

Noticed there was some sort of reunion going on but did not pay much attention to it. The excitement in town was for some of the kids to drive their cars up and down into the park, into town, and back again. Then a trio of folks came by to rest in the shade of the pavilion we were under. After a few minutes they took out their instruments and began to play and sing. We felt we were being serenaded! Too Cool!

Shortly after beginning they were joined by a fourth person so now we had a quartet playing banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and guitars. One couple was Mary and Harry Haas from Dayton OH. Kinner Turner was another. He’s also from Dayton. Both Kinner and Mary were from Council and are here now for the all-class reunion. Before today they did not know one another. Imagine that! Raised in the same town, knew some of the same people, moved to the same place in Dayton, and did not know one another until today. Amazing! Mary was telling us she had a grand father who was sheriff during the Hatfield and McCoy feud. I bet that it made his life (and his family’s) very interesting. From what I’ve heard and read, that feud was one nasty little affair.

Considering the weather today, I can not imagine how anyone would want to start this trip on the West coast and come this way in this heat and humidity. UGLY!

Back to Kurt, now. We were sitting there minding our business after the musicians left and who should pull up but April! She was looking for someone somewhere in order to go back up the road to tell Kurt where he should stop. I am amazed she saw us from up on the road. Lucky, I guess. Hugh and I were pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, the message we got early in the morning should have stated that he’d catch up and for us to go on. Asshole messengers!

April spent the night in her car and Wheezer, the dog, stayed chained up outside. She had to park the car outside the gates because they’d be locked up at 9PM and she had to leave early. As it turns out she left at 4AM because she could not sleep in the car. She is a task master. Made Kurt ride the whole way but she did take his bags. He was pissed because he lost his cyclometer with built-in altimeter, his light, and a tube of grease back at the hostel.

NOTE: when leaving, walk bikes up the steep hill instead of riding back to the less steep hill because if the park is closed you have to circumnavigate this fence and it takes much longer.

JUNE 16: CATASTROPHIC BREAKDOWN

 
If I didn’t know better I’d say our little group is coming close to the third stage of group dynamics – – norming. The others, of course, are #1: forming, #2: storming, and #4: conforming. We are also settling into two riding groups—one faster and one slower. I’m in the slower one along with Kurt and Hugh. For some reason I can not seem to be able to gain strength in my legs. It’s aggravating to lose strength and energy on hills. Again, my gearing does not help. No one else seems to be having the same problems. If I do this ride again I think I’d go with 42-32-22 chain rings in the front and a range of 12-32 in the rear. My butt still hurts but may be improving. I’ll know for sure the next time I have to be in the saddle for 7 to 8 hours.

Had breakfast at the JDM Deli-Market six miles from Birchleaf, VA.

The roads were decent for the most part until we got to Haysi and then we had three brutal climbs of 1.5 to 2 miles in length in our approach to Breaks Interstate Park and then a nasty one miler to the entrance along with several smaller ones within the park itself.

The park is quite nice with an EXCELLENT restaurant!! Chowed down for lunch for very little money. I honestly expected to pay quite a bit more.

Bring groceries because the store has slim pickings! Very basic canned goods are available and the proprietor will engage you in conversation and rude jokes punctuated with unusual props.

Sure looks like our stay at the Hostel in Damascus was not friendly to us. Merle is sick as a dog, Dick is also ill. There was a young lady who stayed in a separate room in the Hostel and was very ill. Her friend took care of her and I think Merle and Dick were undone by her as they have similar symptoms. Dick has more of a stomach problem caused, he believes, by the sardines we gave him. Bad meat in a can, Dick. There’s a very crude joke there but I won’t go into it. They’ve been sick since yesterday so Hugh, Kurt, and I missed it all by being in Council and not doubling up the day. Whew!

Yesterday I started hearing this strange chunking noise coming from my bottom bracket. It would make it if I back pedaled and was quieter if I forward pedaled. Soon as I had my tent up and gear put away, I put the bike up on the picnic table and started messing around with the pedals. The situation got really ugly as the bearings froze up and made the ugliest of noises. My heart sank! I felt a small panic attack coming on realizing I was in the middle of nowhere and with no idea where to get help.

Called the Sheriff’s Office in Elkhorn City but got no answer so I called the Park Superintendent’s office who turned me on to a shop in Grundy called the Mountain Bike Shop. I had no idea where Grundy was but was told it was about 7 miles away. Sure the hell was not in any map I had with me. I called the shop, explained my situation, and gave pertinent information to help the owner locate the right parts. Since his was a mountain bike shop I was not hopeful. He asked what spot I was in and said he’d be at the park at 10AM. Cool!, I thought. But what is this going to set me back? Budget busting fear gnawed at me but I also realized I needed to get the work done or I’d not finish the trip. So off we go.

Funny how God works in mysterious ways. This is the first way in several that manifested themselves throughout our trip where we faced some sort of adversity or decision yet circumstances and events proved to overcome those difficulties. In this situation, the group was torn between hanging around to wait for the bike to get fixed (so we could stay together) or go our separate ways. That decision was made easier by Dick and Merle being sick and even though they’d already been there two days, were not well enough to keep going. So that resolved itself. Let’s see what tomorrow brings and who does what—just in case I can not get the bike fixed and need to wait for parts.

In any case, Hugh and I wish for more layover days. Firstly, because we see no reason to kill ourselves and secondly, we have no fixed time to be back. Dick thinks we may be taxing ourselves and that says a lot coming from a guy who rides in hilly country!

So far we’ve climbed 33000 feet. That’s over 6 vertical miles! And along the way have noticed the bizarreness of the Post Office buildings—trailers (mobile homes) with faded horizontal red, white, and blue stripes. YECH!

JUNE 17: THE STRANGEST APPARITION

 
Normally I do not title rest days but this one is unusual enough to warrant a title.

Woke up at 2 AM to a huge rainstorm. I’d left the fly unzipped and the rain sprinkling through the net woke me up. Fortunately not much water got in. Zipped up and went back to sleep with the raindrops pounding on the fly. Very soothing. When I finally got up at 630 the rain had stopped but the place was a mess. BIG HINT: never put your tent on the dirt. Make a bed of leaves or pine needles first; then set the tent on it or you’ll end up with mud splattered all over the place.

At 10 AM, I hear this engine growling up the hill. I figured it was the bike mechanic so I looked down the road to confirm it. Saw a Cadillac rolling up and blew it off to a false alarm. Then I looked a bit more closely and the Caddy had a bike rack on the roof with a couple of mountain bikes mounted on it. It also had “ROK SHOX” for a license plate. Guess who, right? How bizarre, I thought! As it got closer I saw the poor Caddy had had its share of not-so-kind encounters with trees. The interior was a parts shop as was the trunk.

Owner’s name is Mike Young. He’s 42, married, with one son. Quite a character. Worked in the coal mines for 22 years but now does occasional jobs for them. For this he needs to down into the earth 1400 feet and then 5-10 miles laterally to get to where he needs to be. The temperature down there is generally 56 degrees year round, humid in winter and dry in summer. He explained how that is but I can not remember it. He also described the different ways to get coal out of the ground. Sometimes the manner of coal removal causes peoples’ homes to settle down into the earth for years afterwards. The settling will result from ground shifts or the re-settling of a huge boulder. Not really too far out of the realm of reason considering how large the holes are they dig that far deep.

He also suffers from silica in the lungs and has a hard time breathing when he exerts himself. It still does not keep him from doing what he loves—riding mountain bikes and developing new and challenging trails.

Fortunately I did not trash my axle so about the only things needed were bearings. Unfortunately he did not have the right bearings for the bike so he had to return to his shop and look around for something suitable. He had a sealed cassette with him but it was too short. I told him if he could find a cassette that fit I’d just as soon have it than new bearings. His shop, by the way, is not 7 miles away but more like 16 so it takes about 45 minutes to get there. He left at 11 and returned about 2. Replaced the bearings with a sealed unit and also adjusted my rear derailleurs so that the chain would not drag across the tops of the teeth.

I was a happy camper again. His rates are more than reasonable. Phone number is 1-888-257-5290.

Tensions were running a bit high trying to determine what was going to happen next. Dennis decided to go to Pippas Pass at about 11 AM. Dick was feeling better but not well enough to go on so he and Hugh got a room in the Park hotel. Merle moved on to Elkhorn City, (just down the road a few miles) and got a room. He still is not well and I think he just needed a better location to spend the night. I hope I do not catch what he had. He was miserable. Kurt flip flopped between hanging around and going on. Finally went to Elkhorn City and split the room with Merle.

I packed up my tent and made it to the restaurant just before the skies opened up. It had been promising to rain for a while so I got there just in the nick of time. Kurt and I had an enjoyable lunch and lazed around bullshitting about all sorts of issues. Fun. I enjoyed relaxing in conversation after that bit of stress about the bike. In retrospect I am lucky to have made it as far as I did considering how shot the bearings were. Got to be Someone looking after me.

Stayed at the gateway hotel near Elkhorn City. It was not too bad and a cheaper alternative than the Lodge at the Park. $36 vs. $78. Along the way got offered a ride to Berea. Boy! Was I ever tempted! Especially with the forecast being a 90% chance for rain and thunderstorms!

Ate supper at the Breaks Restaurant. Just super great food at very reasonable prices!

Continue reading: Kentucky

Photos are here.

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