Friday, December 9, 2011

The Great Bicycle Trip Section Completed!

So I'm proud to say that today, after nearly three months, I have finally completed my blogging of the Great Bicycle Trip adventure. To start from the beginning of the journey, click here. Then progress through the posts, by clicking the "newer post" link at the bottom of each page.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The last leg

This is not my last post, but it is the last leg of this journey. I did it, I've finished. It was probably the hardest part of the trip - really - but some of the most adventurous, some of the most beautiful, and, I really am going to miss being on the road.

So let's tell the story, shall we?

We left off in Radford, Virginia. I woke up surprisingly refreshed and thinking that yea, maybe I'd just got for the whole enchilada. I would ride the 140+ miles in one day, no matter how long it took, just to get back to Boone. So off I went. The day started good enough, warm, sunny, past most of the steep mountains for a while, and there was an actual bicycle trail ahead of me! Not only that, but it would last for over 60 miles of my trip. Not only that, but, yes, the trip even started down hill!

I surged down the road, got off the main highway and took a nice side road with much less traffic. Then through a small town, and down yet another mountain. By this time, there surely wasn't much of the mountain I climbed way back up in Christiansburg, so I expected it to bottom out and have to go back uphill, which it did, for a bit, but not nearly as much as expected. Then I passed an Interstate 81 overpass for the last time and coasted into Polaski,Virgina. Polaski is important. Why you ask? It's the start of the New River Trail, a beautiful addition to Rails to Trails system. One that hugs the New River for over 60 miles, with a slow, effortless, 1% incline for almost the entire duration, and what's more, definitely my second most favorite part of the whole trip, and a really close second at that.

But good things are sometimes hard to come by, and I actually overshot the entrance to the trail, mistaking it for what else? A railroad line. This ended up being an egregious mistake, as once I noticed, I was already down a steep hill. But luck! Google indicated that the trail would also meet up with the road I was on, and it kind of did, just 30 feet above atop a steep, rocky ledge. There was no way I was going to get on that trestle bridge, and I was too stubborn to turn back, so on I went, thinking that maybe I'd climb a mountain to meet up with the trail again when they crossed by the river, but I went down before I went up, and the satellite communication on my navigation started to get iffy, worse, I was already almost out of power on my first battery. Being an extra long day in rural mountainous, Virginia, I needed to conserve, so I winged it for a while.

 And sure enough, up a steep hill I went, which winded up and around the hills in this area. IT was a bit out of the way, but it looked like I'd be at just about the right height when I was going to meet the trail again. I looked on the phone and, ACK! I had misread it, the road and the trail never would touch, but there was this tiny park that may be the connector I was looking for. When I got there, it wasn't looking good. The trail was again up on this rocky ledge, and the park was down below. There was this dirt road that was adjacent to the park, so I took it. After a while, I started seeing signs such as "No trespassing" and "private driveway." I nearly turned back, but after another bend, I saw it, a tressle bridge on the same level as me, there was a problem though. Two houses, two properties, between me and the bridge - lots of signs. I made a break for it anyway. I passed the first house and driveway, then shot through the driveway of the other. There was a car and then a chain that the had put up in their driveway to cordon off the New river trail from their connecting driveway. So I quickly passed the car, picked up the bike mid ride, hopped the chain in one simultaneous leap, and got back on the bike as fast as I could.


On the trail. Not a peep from the house, fortunately. Maybe they were just as freaked out as I was, or maybe they didn't notice at all. I wasn't taking any chances. I got on the bike and started the ride down the trail. It was amazing! Not even but a mile down the road, I encountered a huge bridge crossing the New River. I felt compelled to stop and take a few pictures. Then I had to take a few more on the bridge, you can see them below. I had a fleeting fear that I might have dropped the cell phone off the bridge and into the water, but I think the pictures were worth it.

The trail took me along the bank of the New for miles, just right along beside it. IT would curve and then I would curve. It kept at a very, very slight 1 percent grade all the way up. The trail cut through mountains and got very narrow at times, just barely wide enough to fit a train. You could see the grooves where the pickaxes cut into the rock. I started thinking about all of the workers and how long it must have taken them to make such a wonder through the Virginia mountainside, and how it's still here, being used, albeit for a much different purpose. You could still smell the coal ash on the bridges, I've always been fond of that smell for some reason. It takes me back to a simpler, bygone, era. One where the  community that you were born into was likely the only community that you'd ever experience. One where it took tremendous effort to travel any great distance. I often wondered what it would be like to live in those times. I passed through a tunnel, again, with the axe marks, encircling me from all angles, it looked like a rough-cut gem, stained black by coal soot, and the smell! So incredibly intense, like a train had just passed through. On I went, through the rural countryside for another 20 miles, until I encountered a - caboose and train station?

So apparently midway through the trail, the have converted an old rail station into the park's gift shop. It had that old timey feel, but inside, in the middle of nowhere, they had electricity and running water! Awesome! I was able to fill my depleted water bottle with cold, fresh water and, after talking with the park ranger who managed the shop, I even got to charge up my cell phone again. Of course, buying over $10 in snacks, chips, peanuts, and candy probably helped to convince her. She told me that they were hosting a triathlon in 3 weeks and that I would be a good candidate to try it out. And I felt like I really could have done it too, so I took wrote down the information to look at later. Unfortunately, I didn't really have a ride to go, but it planted the seed of things to consider some day in the future. I also met a few other cyclists who had apparently seen me at the big trestle bridge earlier, who showed up about 20 minutes after I had arrived, that kind of made me feel good - apparently I was booking it up the trail. They left promptly after a quick purchase, but said that there were going another 10 miles and then turning around. So I waited around a bit for my phone to charge and as a little challenge to myself, I had hoped that I would pass them up before they turned around. So I waited until my phone was a charged a good bit, thanked the ranger and floored it down the road. My phone was telling me that I was going 25km down this dirt fastest consistent speed of the entire trip. Even with breaks, I was able to hold onto roughly 20km for the entire duration of the New River Trail, about 40 miles. Oh, and I did end up passing those two cyclists right before they turned around too! The trail had some beautiful views, countless trestle bridges crossing the river, and even a few hydroelectric dams to give it the occasional old-industry feel. This is a place that I will absolutely return to at some point in my life.

The clouds came in on the last couple of miles, it had been a clear day before then, but I had heard that it was supposed to be rainy. I knew that I was almost to Galax, but I just didn't know how far. And it was looking like it was going to get bad, and I needed to race to the end to find shelter. So after 7 hours of riding almost nonstop, I mustered the energy to throttle myself back up to high gear. I had to be pushing 25km/hr and above. I could hear the mytracks ticking back up to an average of 20km/hr, first 18, then 19, then 19.5, and so on. CRACK! Lightning struck the trees on the other side of the water, I could feel the energy in the air, and feel my ears pop ever so slightly. BOOM! As the thunder came not even a second later. I pedaled as fast as I could. Then that ominous wind came bustling through right before the downpour. Then the rain and before I knew it, I was drenched, completely drenched. I had to slow down for the sake that the ground was turning into flash-floody mudslush. The water mixing with 7 hours of sweat turned to salty acid and was furiously burning my eyes to the extent that I had to keep them closed as much as I could to stop the burning. Long straightaways became blind straightaways, only looking when I thought I was close to a turn or when the road got bumpy. I kept on at a relatively quick pace. Galax was fast approahcing, I started to see houses and cabins and parks along the path. I knew I was close. Then came the winds, it was like a full-on instantaneous tempest. The first surge took me from my right side during a right hand turn and nearly blew me and the bike over and took me clear from the inside track all the way to the edge of the trail on the other side. The rain was bouncing off of my face like tiny water balloons. I started to wonder if hail was in my future. Lightning continued to strike and thunder continued to boom shortly thereafter. I must have crossed one of the most severe cells of the storm. All the more fodder for me to hurry and get to a shelter. Then another gale passed by, but this time I was in the forest and the wind hit me more towards my back then to the right, but I heard something eerie. The taught SNAP of a tree and then the creaky moan and the thud of hundreds of leaves and branches hitting the ground. A tree had fallen into the path not but a few hundred feet behind my...where I just had been. I started to actually feel fear for the first time on the trip. I had to get off this path. I raced to the next clearing, and hit....paved road? A parking lot, a caboose, the end of the trail! I had made it! I was in the middle of town. So I quickly crossed the street and sought shelter under the awning of the CVS across the street.

The water had nearly washed away all of the sweat by now and my eyes were pretty much no longer in pain. I rubbed them for the first time since the rain. It felt so good to wick away the rainwater and salt. The little things. I wrenched my shirt creating an instant puddle on the formerly dry sidewalk. Got slightly drier, to the point where I felt it wouldn't upset the store clerks too much, and promptly walked inside, got cleaned up in the bathroom and asked how to get to the next town on my list - Sparta. The clerk didn't know, but a customer did, but the route was confusing, so I thanked him and decided to pull out my phone from the dry pouch (a tennis ball tube that I had bought in Newport News and promptly gave away the unneeded balls that came inside) - the only thing still dry in my luggage. I got a quick idea of where to go and proceeded to down a few energy bars - my dinner for this zealous day.

It was after 5pm now and the rain had stopped. The sun came out through the clouds and gave the whole area that shimmering angelic clarity you sometimes get after the rain has cleansed the air and made everything new again. It warm sun added some much needed energy and I got on the road again. I went down the downtown bypass and started up the mountains again. I had been spoiled from the slow, relaxing 1 percent grade up the mountains for so long, and it was tough acclimating to actual climbing again.  It didn't help things that this happened to be a particularly steep road. "Skyway Rd" or something like that. It was starting to get to that golden hour and the sun would be going down soon. I pondered bypassing Sparta and the short route and taking the windy, curvy, steep up and down road that is the Blue Ridge Parkway, it would be safer for bicycles, but at the same time, the time it would take to conquer it would be nearly double, so I forewent the parkway for now and opted for the highway. I thought back to climbing that mountain in Christiansburg and it gave me the determination to keep climbing this slightly less monolith, it seemed to go on forever, but finally my secondary road came up. It was a relatively unused road that straddled the peaks of the mountains. IT gave some more clear, crisp views of the mountains in twilight, but I didn't get to enjoy them as much, since my brakes were wet from the road and weren't handling the down sections all that well. I had to keep at a slower pace going down, especially with the way the road curved and followed the mountain peaks.

The road kept going through the rural mountains for a few miles, I started to see Christmas tree farms. The road started to plateau now, for a few miles. I passed a small village, consisting of a small diner that was in the center of a few of the farms, but the diner was closed for the night. But right after the diner? Welcome to North Carolina! I had hit the border! I was back in the area I had started from! Not only that, but I was less than 10 miles from Sparta, and what's more, I made a right turn back onto the main highway and it was a steep downhill! So I flew once again - the road was straight so I didn't have to worry nearly as much about braking. By this time, I was hoping, practically begging, that the road was going to be all downhill to Sparta. It was nearly night time now, the sun had set behind the mountains and I realized that I was tired of riding for the day.

But this road was just like all of the others, and eventually it bottomed out somewhere between the fourth and fifth mile it bottomed out and I was once again climbing. I was starting to get angry at inanimate things. Cursing the hills, cursing the road, cursing any cars that passed by, cursing the stream, the river, the bridge. It was almost a game finding anything I could curse at, but it kept my mind off the aches and pains from nearly 10 hours of riding - there was no one really around to hear anyway.

I got to the top of the hill and started down again. Hoping once again that this would be all downhill to Sparta (I originally thought Sparta was in a valley - and it kind of is, but more like a plateau). Alas, this downhill petered out after about a mile. I needed a rest, so I pulled over at the next road. Night had fallen now, and I was still a long way away from my destination. So I broke down. I called a few friends to see if I could get a ride, and I only got some maybes, and I kind of convinced them out of it anyway. Regardless, it was nice to talk to everyone, get a rest, and get some energy again. I checked the map on my phone, and oddly enough, it was telling me to take the road I stopped at, but Sparta was straight ahead? Was I to bypass the town? I kind of had wanted to rest and maybe eat something at a restaurant in Sparta, but I wanted to be done even more. So, I took the road.

It was a very dark and somewhat busy road, very up and down, so I was wondering what could have been so much worse about the other way. Google often tries to give you the easiest route, so the other way must have really been a nightmare, because this was no dream. I passed through more tree farms and suburban houses, climbing roads that were nearly as steep as the one by Ashland. There was very little downhill reprieve and I was starting to move at a sloth-like pace. Finally, a gas station sign in the distance! I had hit the highway on the south side of Sparta and I was done with that terrible road.

The gas station was closed. So I got out my last few remaining snacks and sat down in the rocking chair in front of the store and started to work on my bicycle's brakes. The clerks were counting the cash inside. A guy drove in finagled with the gas pump and came to the door. The automatic pumps weren't working so he knocked on the door and asked the clerks. they got him working and saw me in the chair. I guess they took pity on me because they let me in the store to buy snacks after they had closed down the registers. I bought some chips, a juice, and a few packs of peanuts for the road. I thanked them profusely and then went back to sit in the rocking chair to enjoy my feast. As they were leaving, I asked them about directions to the Blue Ridge Parkway. These busy rural highways were freaking me out and I didn't want to get sideswiped by a car on my last day of riding. They told me it was about 10 miles down the road, but the asked me which way I was going, I mistakenly said north (because Boone is northwest of Sparta?) and they said good, because the south route is closed. So I had to make a decision - to take the Blue Ridge or take the mapped out way that turned just 5 miles down the road. This time I opted for the parkway.

After passing the road that Google told me to take, and another 2 miles thereafter, I realized my mistake. I was to be going south, but it was once again too late in my mind to turn back. What's more, I realized after not stopping in Sparta that I wouldn't have enough battery left to navigate my way back to Boone and the parkway was a sure shot. I wanted to take the Blue Ridge Parkway.

So there it was, the onramp to the parkway, and there also it was, the sign telling me that the parkway was closed a few miles up ahead. I decided to give it a go anyway, if it was a bridge out, hopefully I could climb the mountain on foot to the other side. If it was a bridge over a stream, my bike and I would cross it. So on I went, with more and more ominous signs along the way. One car actually passed me along the way. I was afraid it was going to be a ranger telling me to turn back, but it was just a guy with Florida plates, and I saw him again about 10 minutes later going back in the other direction. I hoped that I would be more fortunate, and by this time, over 12 hours of riding, I honestly just didn't really care anymore. Only one thing was on my mind, getting back to Boone, and I really felt like I was close....maybe even just another 30 miles, that wouldn't be so hard, right?

And there it was, the barrels starting to block the road, there was a lookout point on the left, so I laid down, took a break, and thought really hard about what I was about to do. I wondered where I was, it was dark, I found a sign but couldn't read it. I checked the cell phone, about 30% left. I turned off the navigation, turned off the maps, texted a few friends about the general idea of where I was and then turned off the ability to make calls so that I could conserve power through the night. I turned on the light for a moment...stone mountain overlook. "Stone mountain? Isn't that by Winston Salem?" I thought. Well fortunately for me, it wasn't that far, but was still much further from my destination that I thought, over an hour by car. I put up the phone, got up, decided that I was ready to do this, and made my way past the barrels. There were still work zone signs after the barrels, which I thought was interesting, you know, just in case you happened to barrage through all of the barrels standing in your path. I also missed the sign that was apparently next to the road blocking barricade I went under that said "this area is dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians" hmm, oops.

So on I went, maybe illegally, but hey at least there wasn't going to be any cars. I took it nice and slow, I was spent by now anyway. I kept going, but the road was no different then before the barricade, strange ideas started popping into my head, like maybe I'd encounter some sort of secret alien meeting ground, or military training exercise. About 5 miles down the road I started encountering boulders in the middle of the road. One side of the road would be littered in them and the other side would be clear then the other side would be littered in boulders and the opposite lane would be clear. I saw drainage ditches and masonry work. They were merely doing shoulder work. They had lines drawn to make partitions, like road markers? I dunno, but it went on for miles, up and down the mountains. Then an area would be clear, and then I'd see construction equipment large enough to carry boulders, then boulders, and of course, the occasional work truck - which I kinda feared may have the occasional person in one.

So on I went, for over 20 miles. It felt eerie being the only person around in the area. Solitary, and with the roads, it almost felt post-apocalyptic. Fortunately, no bridges were out, just the shoulder work. The road work ended with the barricade on the other side, the side where I did actually notice the "dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians" sign. Whatever. It wasn't that dangerous. The construction work dumped me out at Doughton Park, where there were actual RV's in the campgrounds. Civilization again! SO on I went, down a hill, and wow, actually even passed a car going the other direction at 2am on the Blue Ridge Parkway! I'm sure he was actually even more surprised to see me.

 So one I went, up and down the mountains, in the dark, well after midnight. The parkway was windy and foggy, just as it always is, but I was able to keep a good pace downhill by riding in the center of the road. From driving the parkway at night once before in November 2010, I learned that there are almost no cars traveling at night, and the ones that do, you see and hear from a mile away. So on I went. Even in the middle of the though, I started smacking into spiderwebs. Now this was a new thing for me. These webs that stretched across the parkway must have been massive, and if that was the case, then the spiders, well I don't even want to think about how big these spiders must have been. Seemed like one of these fellers must have hitched a ride with me too, because every so often, I'd get a web shot into my face, or on my hand...yea, it was kinda freaky. I started flailing around a bit, trying to smack the hitchhiker off while I road, this didn't help remove the spider, but it did help me stay warm, as traveling on the parkway at night in late summer was starting to get a little frigid. I sped up down the hills, maybe the wind would push him off of me. No luck it seemed, but after a while, the web spinning just kind of stopped.

By this time, it was after 2am and I was beat, I'd been riding for 16 hours, that's two eight hour shifts for those of you in the working world. I could not longer pedal up the mountainous terrain anymore, so I started doing what I did last time I rode on the parkway, I hoofed it up the steep parts and rode down the mountains and on the flat sections. I wasn't getting very far at all, maybe 4 or so miles per hour and I was losing steam fast. I felt like I had traveled so far on the parkway, the road to Boone must have just been past the next bend. Alas, this was not the case, and after another hour more, I stopped, stood, not knowing where I was, not seeing any signs for anything familiar, I decided that this was the end of my journey today. I would not make it to Boone on this final day. The Blue Ridge Parkway had beaten me once again. So I walked to the next overlook, conveniently just a few miles down the road and I parked the bike by the only picnic table. Too tired to even set up the hammock and knowing that I was in for a frigid night, I wrapped myself in it, and covered myself from head to toe in my shelter blanket. I would have even put on my other sets of clothes had they not been still wet from the torrent earlier, and I slept on top of that picnic table.

Shivering while the tenseness and heat from 18 hours of physical activity was escaping my muscles, my back sore from sleeping on a hard tabletop, the sun peeking on the treeless overlook kissed what little was exposed of my face early in the morning. It had to have only been maybe 2, maybe 3 hours. But I couldn't bring myself to get up just yet. I knew I was so close to my destination, but my body was too ravaged from the night before. The wind was just strong enough to whisk away the heat and so I continued to shiver. I wrapped up tightly in the hammock/blanket and the sun gradually warmed my body as it slowly rose in the sky,

Around 8, a guy in a hatchback drove up to my quaint little overlook. I'm sure I looked part explorer and part bum, laying there atop that picnic table, but I was apathetic. He must have noticed me stirring, because he asked me from afar if I needed a ride. I told him that I didn't think there would be room for me and the bicycle. HE asked where I was going, and I said Boone, astounded at this point, he asked how in the world did I end up here. I assumed at this point that I really must be in the middle of nowhere, and quite a ways from Boone. I thanked him for his generosity, and after a time of enjoying this pristine overlook he drove off, headed the way from which I came.

At around 10, I was finally starting to feel a bit uncomfortable from the heat, and rested enough to embark on whatever distance was left ahead of me. The loud exhaust blasting the air from group of bikers that came to the overlook was the motivation I needed to get up. So I folded everything neatly back up onto the bike and walked the bike to the road. I don't remember who spoke first, but I ended up talking to the bikers, asking them how far Boone was, they had come from Asheville and they said the dreaded words I feared....that Boone was still quite some distance away. They offered me a pack of cookies, yes,bikers with cookies, as a condolence. Running out of food. I hesitantly took it and thanked them as they went on their way. So I got to the bike, and realized that I had left my sunglasses on the picnic table, and I'm glad I had to go retrieve them, because when I got back to the bike, the largest freaking spider I have ever seen was sitting atop my bicycle seat and he looked pissed! Like, "I was snatched from my web last night and taken for a sadistic joy ride for 20 miles" pissed. And, ya know, he actually looked like he was ready for a bare knuckle fight. Being 100 times bigger than him, I wasn't too terribly scared. I picked that bike up, lifted my leg up over the center bar and sat right on that little sucker. "Blast me with web and then commandeer my bicycle will ya?" I thought...

Naw, just kidding, I took my water bottle, put the bike in the overlook, and scooped him up onto a nice thick green patch of grass. He still looked pretty upset though. Spider free, I got on the bike and embarked on what I hoped would be short, enjoyable half day trip.

The road still looked familiar, and I never saw any signs for West Jefferson and the like, but after 10 miles, I eventually came up upon a country store on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was open, so I walked in. Alas, no plugs to charge the phone, but they did have a map. What luck! I was less than 15 miles from the Cascades! A group of three steep waterfalls that swiftly surge down a mountainous embankment, abutted by a set of castle-like rock terraces - and a place that I'd been before. I finally knew where I was!

Knowing how far something is can be a boon and a curse. Now that I know how far I was from the cascades, I could taste victory, however, those last few miles also go sooooo slooooow that it's mentally painful. It felt like hours before I finally made it, and come to think of it now, it probably was hours. "Just over the next hill" I thought over and over and over again. It got to the point where I just stopped thinking about it, and then, there it was! There was a fountain there, and lots of people enjoying their day. I hovered over that water fountain for minutes. The water was so cold, so was the most delicious water I've ever consumed. After a long stint at the water fountain, I took off for the next goal - Jefferson mountain overlook.

It wasn't too far before I reached my next destination, surprisingly much faster than I expected - just up one mountain. There were some bikers there, and I felt accomplished, so I asked them to take my picture, the same type of picture I had taken a few years before. Atop the overlook sign, on the edge of the slope, and with nothing but mountains and air in the background. I couldn't help but give it the "I'm a freaking warrior" pose. They were glad to help and took some more from their camera, they said one of the pictures were going to be shown during their performance at the local motorcycle festival they were playing in that night. Felt good, man.

We exchanged goodbyes and I got on the road for one last trek. I remembered from my previous trips to this overlook that the road up to it from the other side is long and steep. I was going to get to go down this epic mountain at full speed. I sailed, I mean, really flew. It took up until about halfway down the hill before the band of motorcyclists finally passed me. It felt dangerous, but thrilling at the same time to see them slowly pass me on their motorized vehicles with much thicker tires. I got to the parkway/421 bridge. The parkway section was over! Now, just 10 miles down the busy 421 highway, lay my destination.

I got the phone out, which had just enough battery left, and tracked my last 10 miles, my speed, the height, everything. I was so excited that I tried to keep a speedy pace on this very last leg up. I wanted to get there in less than an hour. The shoulder on 421 was so wide that I had no worries of cars getting too close, so I didn't even look back, I just went. Then the sign for Boone, 5 miles. Then the Old 421 light. Then the dealerships. Then Bamboo Rd. Then I was there! Boone! I had made it, I was done! I stopped by one of my favorite coffee shops, turned off the mytracks - just under an hour of riding. And I celebrated with the sweetest, most caramel and chocolate filled "would you like some coffee with that" drink I have ever drank. And it was good.

But I had 2 more miles to overcome before I was back to the June house. Hills that used to cause me trouble were effortless, nothing like how I had remembered them before. I was at the house in a blink. No one was home, so I sat in the armchair, patiently awaiting the return of my friends. They got home shortly thereafter and were absolutely surprised to see my beaming face looking up at them as they entered the house. That night, we all celebrated over at the Russians' house. We took the car.

Here are some stats from the trip:

Days of the trip: 36
Days traveling via bicycle: 19
Distance traveled: 1200 miles
Average distance per day: appx 60 miles
Longest day: 9/2 - nearly 18 hours of riding ; nearly 150 miles
Weight lost ~ 20lbs

GPS coordinates map - Here
Summary/Rough map of route taken (easier to read) - Here

Well that's it! It's done! It's over.

I feel like I have accomplished something. I've met some amaing new people and reocnnected with some great old friends. I've learned more about myself,and what I'm capable of. I've found something new to do that I love doing, and I've learned the power in setting small little stepping stone goals that end up turning into one extraordinary achievement. Lastly, I've reaffirmed my belief that most people you meet are inherently good, just living their lives one day at a time. Just like you and me.

I had an adventure.

And I can't wait for my next one.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I climbed a mountain

It's been a good, restful few days! I was able to, finally, catch up on some restful sleep. I'm starting to realize the value of a nice warm bed and a temperature controlled shelter.

Dad drove me from Mineral to Staunton. The drive was a little over an hour. Far more than I had hoped to leave, but 76 was just so incredibly windy. I think I'll stick to Google here on out.

After a restful sleep, I got up fairly early and we spent the day talking and catching up. We talked about Joe and Ashley and what's new with them. It had been a since I saw them last. Ashley finished nursing school and is looking to go back to school soon. Joe is doing well and has a steady job as a mechanic. Dad was doing well and continuing to manage the Peebles stores in the area. We just basically affluent the whole day catching up. Holly made some delicious lasagna  for dinner and all of us were able to sit down together to share it. It was the first real dinner that I'd had I since biker guy's spaghetti. I was so hungry that I ended up polishing off 4 pieces. Bed came early that night as I prepped to get back on the road in the morning.

 It took a while to finally leave. About two hours later than I wanted, but I was able to say my goodbyes by 1pm. I felt bad for leaving so soon, but was excited to get back on the road. It took a while to break free of the urge to turn back around and stay for a while longer. But I had come so far already, I just couldn't stop now. It took about a full 15 miles, once I had rode down a fairly steep hill before
Felt bad for leaving after a shirt stay, but decided to make another trip later this year once the motorcycle is fixed.

The first 15 miles were the hardest, I felt like going back, but I had gone too far to stop.
About about 2 hours, I ended up in Lexington, where I saw the infamous VMI with which I was threatened to be sent to as a troublesome kid. But judging by the age of the students, they probably wouldn't have taken me when I was twelve, thanks Dad for inciting all of that terror earlier in my youth. After VMI, I was getting hungry, so I stopped by Macados in Lexington, it was Wednesday and 5:00pm , Mexican night! The first Mexican I'd had since I left Boone. I remembered later on why I had forestalled Mexican on this trip, but I remembered after I had eaten, and I got to understand later why jalapenos are not a good idea when you have limited access to bathrooms. Rest stops just don't appear nearly as fast when you are on a bicycle. I'll leave it at that.

Anywho, I left Lexington and still had a good 3 hours left of daylight. Google was spot on with this part of the trip. They took me on a route through done beautiful rolling hills and farm lend and then down right by a stream for miles. The sun setting beyond the mountains gave the day a prolonged golden hour and the water shimmered like crystal. Plank road was the name, 20 plus miles along this beautiful route.

A strange thing happened down this road. I started having an out of body experience. I no longer felt like I was the one riding, it felt like I was viewing everything from someone else's eyes. It was like I was in a tunnel assing through time at a different rate than everything else. Everything, the trees, the leaves, the gravel on the road, would start in the front of my view and then pass along my peripheral. It was like when you are speeding along in a car and you look down at the grass on the shoulder and it's all just a blur. It was eerie but at the same time calming, like the paper bag floating along in the leaves in that scene from American Beauty.

It was getting dark and I was about out of batteries. The area was very rural, but by now I was parallel with interstate 81, and, surprisingly, also back on the 76 bicycle route. I knew that I couldn't be too far from a gas station, and right as night fell, about 10 miles down the road, there was a small gas station. I stayed for a bit and talked to the old man behind the counter. By 10 I was on my way to find a sleeping spot. I wanted to stay by the road main, but I kept having to go further down a hill out of my way to find a camp site. Many of the places had no trespassing signs. One was especially creative and basically said that they shot first and asked questions later, painted on the side of their shed right by their big ole' confederate flag. So I kept moving, far away from them, further and further down the hill. Google said I was nearly in a national forest, by the town of Arcadia. So I trudged on more in hope of getting to the forest. Then I was there, and I found a decent bridge to sleep by, but there was no place to stash the bike. So I kept on, crossing the beginnings of the Johns river that I had to cross over for 10 miles back in Newport News. It was just a little more than the size of a creek at this point in it's journey. I thought about sleeping here. There was a small ramp for boats, but they fad signs posted that specifically said not to camp. So again I kept going...

Then I neared a small bridge that I thought was perfect, lo and behold, dogs started barking right as I slowed down to make camp. So on I went, and finally reached Arcadia, dead tired and miles out of my way, down to the bottom of a large hill. That night I slept on the bank behind the Arcadian church. Aching with my guts full of spicy Mexican food.

A few hours later, I heard cars and noises in the church parking lot. Surely they weren't going to church. It had to be about 5am. Then I heard dogs barking, and the distinct noise of guns cocking. At this point, I grabbed my bear mace and laid still in my hammock. They likely couldn't see me in my green hammock in the woods up on the hill, but their dogs must have noticed me, as they were going crazy and the hunters were having a tough time quieting them down . So I sat still and hoped that they were going elsewhere. I thought that coming out of the hammock would have likely been a worse idea, and if they were after me, I'd hear the rustling of the leaves first.

Keeping quiet worked. They weren't after me at all, they were just hunters meeting up at the church parking lot. I thought hunting wasn't allowed in national forests, then again, I was just on the fringe of it. They left in one of the trucks and I was able to conch right out again for a few more hours of much needed sleep. The hunters eventually cam back around 8:30/9:00. I was so tired that I stayed in the hammock until around 10.

It took a while to get back up the hill back to the gas station and the main road. I knew that it was going to be a trek up, and starting the trip uphill doesn't make for an encouraging start for the day. But I was excited to get back on the road. This was going to be a long day of riding, one of only two left and I was excited to be done soon. The area was rural for a long while, but eventually I turned back onto Lee Highway, now two lanes, and stuck to that for the majority of the day. The day was hot, and the 1 to 3 part of the days was just as hot as every other day had been... oh the dog days of summer. But I kept on, making it to Roanoke and then Salem by around 3.

The road after Salem was long and hilly, with steep troughs and grinding peaks. It was slow going, grueling, but I was feeling ambitious...forceful even. Throwing all I could into the hills. After a rather long downhill ride that took me near 40 mph, I saw it. One of the steepest inclines that I have even seen on a main highway. The trucks going up were traveling less than 20 miles per hour and were barely passing me by as I climbed. This was a test and I was determined. I was going to climb this ridiculous monolith and what's more, I was going to stay on the bike the entire way, no hopping off and walking up this thing as I had done when I was tired on the Blue Ridge Parkway. No, I was going to ride up this mountain. And so I did, slowly but surely, with a consistent rhythm. Left, Right. Left, Right. LEFT, RIGHT. The pace was slow. The climb was steep and lasted for over a mile and a half. And then, as I saw the crest, I learned something about myself. I CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN. And I can do anything, ANYTHING, I would ever want to do, as long as I have the mindset and determination to do it.

I have fallen back on this moment a countless number of times since then. When I wanted to quit my ride further on, I remembered that I climbed a mountain. When I was stuck one of my invention projects and was ready to give up, I remembered that I climbed a mountain. When I've been down and feeling pitiful, I pulled myself out of it by remembering that I can achieve anything when I'm in the right mindset. I climbed a mountain!

And so there I was, once again on flat land. A plateau in the middle of the mountains. Christiansburg, right by Blacksburg and the ski slopes. I had driven through this area on I-81 before, but it felt different now that I was taking it at 10 mph. It might have been the euphoria, but I really liked Christiansburg. The brick-lain downtown area was reminiscent of the 1800's, completed with a large spire church and clock tower right in the middle of town. It was getting to be twilight again by now and I was starting to wonder where I should camp for the night, but I kept going. The road once again turned to a steep decline that sent me flying. It was nearly dark by the time I got to the bottom, but decided that I'd keep traveling until I got to Radford.

By the time I got to Radford it was dark. Fortunately, I was in downtown and the city lights kept me well lit until I could find a decent place to make shelter.  I was hungry and my phone was almost dead. I had been sort of craving and curious about one of those new guacamole burgers at Burger King (I know of all places right)...well I guess more curious about what fast food avocado would taste like. So I looked up for the nearest Burger King. Ugh, another 2 miles away. Well, I decided it was worth the effort, so on I went.

Alas, the BK was out of the guacamole. I gave the guy at the front counter a bit of grief in jest...telling him how I traveled another 2 miles after 80 miles just to get here, and I have to say, he did go out of his way to search for some, albeit to no avail. So I stuck to a salad and a sandwich. Oddly, the salad was just what I needed after today's trip. So I stayed and consumed probably another 1000 calories in soda alone while my batteries recharged. That night, I camped out behind an unused tractor trailer that was behind an abandoned Big Lots (maybe Kmart?) Fortunately, this time, I found a nice sturdy tree that held me high above the ground and I was pretty much out of the way of anyone who would notice. It was a chilly night, but being wrapped in the blanket kept me warm. I slept like a babe.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Newport News to Staunton

Alright, well, it's been a wile since I've posted, so, I figure it's time for an update. Sunday I started off again from Newport news. I met up with the bicentennial trail in Williamsburg. The trail was a nice reprieve from the 4 lane busy roads I had taken for the last 80 miles or so and the trail at this point "seemed pretty straight forward. The route had lots of damage from the storm all over, it looked almost post apocalyptic. Felled trees everywhere. I had to climb over a few with the bike. Large power lines where they were still standing, but a tree had fallen and brought the actual lines to the ground. It was beautiful in it's own respect. That evening, I about made it to Mechanicsville. I guess I was wobbling pretty bad by the end of it, because as I passed a trailer near Roxbury, a small group called me over for a rest and some food.

Actually, it kind of went like this.

Party: "Hey" Me : "hello" Guy at the party "Man you look rough, you need a break?"
Me: (looks back, thinks)
Guy: (sending the hesitation) "Get over her and soot down for a bit, we've got food, yo hungry?"

I hesitate and actually think about it. Which only encourages them more. The guy continues to be persuasive. At this point a woman gets out of her chair and starts to wave me off.

Woman: Donchya worry bout him, keep on going.
Guy: (with authority) "GET OVER HERE AND HAVE A HAM SANDWICH!" (repetitively)
Me: (leery) "it looks like your lady doesn't want me over there"
The whole group, save for the woman: Don' mind her none.
Guy: "Come on over here and get a ham sandwich"

At this point, I'm thinking, not 10 minutes ago, I was worried about what I was going to eat for dinner here in the middle of nowhere, so maybe this was a sign. They seemed like nice enough. Just a group of people having a little party, they invited me over, so I figured why not. So I got off the bike and walked over.

Turns out they were great people, just having an aftermath of the hurricane party, cuttin' up and finishing off the rest of their ham and booze. They immediately offered me up their water jug and a ham sandwich. There was Nicki (the host) , Tug (the authoritative one), Anna (the one that shooed me away), Bubbles, and another older guy. Tug was hilarious, in an extremely dirty kind of way, almost everything that came put of his mouth was about picking up women or "eating that p*ssy" as he called it. He was after all the girls,  and of course, talking about his wife too, never giving it up. His tenacity was hilarious, even if it was crude, the women didn't seem to mind either.

After a while he was just like "you just need to go set up your tent in those trees over there and forget about riding anymore tonight. " and tried to play matchmaker with me and Nicki. Nicki was a little more soft spoken than her counterpart, they had been good friends for a long time. We did talk a bit. She was going to school to be a welder, and she already had her own business hauling junk, though she had employees now to do a good bit of the work. Hers was an inspirational story. Someone out in the country could make it starting out their own business. We talked until the sun came down, then it was time for everyone to leave. I was going to pedal another mile or so down the road, but Bubbles offered a ride to Roxbury, and everyone else encouraged it. So I took him up on it and got another 5 miles down the road.

Bubbles dropped me off at a park in the median of the highway. I thanked him for the ride, but I thought that this could possibly be a dangerous and loud place to try to catch some sleep. So I rode down the road another few miles down to the gas station that Bubbles said would be open. Well, it was open, but it was also crowded, as it was the only place with power for miles. There were cars lined up for nearly a mile, purchasing gas to fill their cars and generators. I got in and purchased a drink and tried to charge my phone. No luck, there were no outlets that carried a charge in this emergency setup. So I sipped on my soda for a few hours and then took off to find a camping site. I noticed a little dirt road off the main road that led to a patch of woods. Unfortunately the words were covered in thorns and I couldn't seem to find an edge in. So I parked the bike and walked around looking for some loose trees. The lighted gas station was still off in the distance and I was somewhat worried that someone would notice my light and call the cops, so I kept the light as low as I could. The dim light made it tough to walk around and I somehow stumbled into a impromptu bog left by the hurricane. So it seemed like the whole area was a no go.

I took a side road off the dirt road, by this time, I've been walking around for about an hour an I was starting to get tired and impatient. I walked nearly smack into a small unlit house. It looked like it could be occupied, I've been trying to stay away from house visibility the entire time so as to avoid and confrontation. So that was wasn't going to work either. And on the other side was a house behind the gas station, with power, likely form the same generator, so I didn t have much to go with. Fortunately their was an expansive field between me and the gas station, so I traipsed through it, which had a few sparse trees, but in open visibility to the dirt road. At this point I realized that I wouldn't be getting much sleep tonight and I'd need to wake early. So I tied the hammock to two large limbs of the pine tree and climbed in. SNAP! The limb that I thought was the stronger of the two sheared right off at the trunk of the tree, and I fell to the ground. There were no other limbs easily accessible that would provide sufficient support for the hammock. So I tried to balance on the one limb, no luck, it sagged to the ground, but surprisingly held. So I swung a loop around a high limb on the tree, unfortunately, this made the hammock rub against the tree trunk. So I needed a counter balance to pull me off of it. I found some old posts and a few old window frames in the field, perhaps from an old house long since collapsed, and used it as a counterbalance, but it wasn't heavy enough. So I went and got my bike from where I left it, hoping to not pop in the burrs. I got it over without a scratch and leaned it against the rest of the improvised counterweight. It was just enough, and I mean JUST enough. I hung mostly off of the tree, as the counterbalance swayed to and fro, and I remained abo to 2 inches from the ground. It wasn't comfortable by a long shot, but it was enough to get some much needed sleep.

I woke early, 6:30ish, after tossing and turning all night. But oddly, I felt well rested. The warm sun kissed my face a chilly night and though I thought I sho sleep more, I decided against it for safe reasons. I packed up and was on the ro by 7. The place looked like a ghost town even the McDonalds was shut down, but cars were still lined up at the gas station as if the business kept operating all night. I set on the road and caught up with the bicentennial trail just about where the road I was on connected with the Interstate. This would be the first full day that I would be on the '76 and I was excited to see what was in store. Oddly enough, the road immediately started to turn east, back towards where I had come from, at first I was concerned that I may have gone the wrong way, but then I remembered that the road kinda makes a hairpin around Richmond, I was fully reassured about 20 minutes later when I started seeing "adopt a highway signs" with the local Mechanicsville cycling club as the sponsor. The road was beautiful, winding me around an old civil war route, chocked full with plenty of history. With that I went through Mechanicsville with what seemed like half the day. Passing by an historic Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill and veered to the north perimeter of the city. The looped back hairpin turn and outside loop did finally take me into the town at around 10:30, I was getting hungry so I stopped by a local CVS, which had just got their power back. I told them about my travels and their jaws dropped, as has been the case with most people who aren't endurance cyclists...they also called me has also been the case with most people who aren't endurance cyclists. I stopped by and got some juice and trail mix, which I downed along with an energy bar. This would be the first day that I would seriously chow down on some energy bars. I got to wondering if I'd hit the point where my body started needing calories and couldn't just merely consume most of them from all of those fat reserves I had accumulated during my 5 year desk job. I also calculated that I was burning 4000 to 9000 calories per day.

So after a good 2 more hours on the '76, I hit up Ashland, Virginia. And I'll have to say, it was one of my favorite little towns on the trip. A two directional railroad bisected the town, with a small one way road that ran parallel to the railway all the way up until you got to main street. Running parallel to the roads we the small town shops. A portion of the road was brick and in the center of town, between the rails was a small rail station and platform. They kept that old timey feel. Further down was Randolph Macon University, a small school that lined the other end of downtown Ashland. I passed by and followed the road out to a....major highway? With no signs? There were always signs, especially at large intersections. Something wasn't right, so I headed back to downtown, almost all the was back to where the town began, there weren't any more signs showing a different direction. So rode back to the middle of town and asked a woman there. Turned out that she was also an avid cyclist and she and her husband had done a few tours in Europe. She also knew plenty about the routes in the area, which was a huge plus. Apparently, the college had just expanded and redid the intersection by the ball field, well they neglected to put up a turning sign for the bicycle route, and coincidentally, after a train passed, we were right across from the turn I needed to take. As a final warning, she said that the road would be a bit more "hilly" than was expected...too hilly for her, I was surprised since she had been to Europe, she said I'd probably be okay with it since I'd been riding a while.

So I went down he road, and it was hilly, but nothing really that bad, I was beginning to wonder if she was just overplaying the hillyness. But then came the steep downhill down to the river...and then shoop, a big scoop downhill to the bridge, and on the other equally big scoop right back up. I'd been up and down the hills and mountains and I have to say, this was one of the steepest declines and inclines on the trip. Then I rode until about 3pm and passed by Thomas Payne's home, it was about midday rest time so I figured I'd go see it. The place had a phone tour which I thought was pretty cool, though I didn't take it. The area also had signs with descriptions of the area. The home was about the size of an average house, odd as this would have been considered a manor back in the 1800's. There was a woman tending the site. She said the house itself was closed, but that I could take the tour and stay a while. She also said that, with notice, cyclists are allowed to camp there for the night. After a bit of reading, I stopped by the picnic shelter and took a rest and let my phone charge. I got up about an hour and a half later and got back on the road. The '76 was hilly and windy, very windy. I was getting nowhere, and I had hoped to get to Charlottesville, or even Staunton by the end of day. But it was just too windy.

The road took me up to Lake Anna, where I discovered that there was a nuclear power plant. Moreover, the power plant also apparently was slightly damaged during the hurricane that struck by Mineral Virginia...not but 15 miles down the road. Glad there wasn't any damage, especially since I wouldn't have known about it. The '76 also took me to Mineral, Virginia -the epicenter of the earthquake. Their were multiple buildings where the front brick facades were cracked. Some of the weaker buildings were being held up by wooden braces as the buildings were being repaired. Mineral is also a very hilly town, with a few nice long, steep roads. It was a bit of a push, but enjoyable all the same.

At this point, it was nearly nightfall. So I called my Dad and coordinated a ride that we had talked about. We met up in Cuckoo, Virginia of all places. I was glad to be off the road after being on it for nearly 14 hours (with 12 hours of riding). I was looking forward to a nice restful sleep in an actual bed in an actual house.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's a bright and sunny Sunday

Well the storm has passed and they kicked us out, one day earlier than expected. Newport news seems to have survived, though some branches are down and we did lose power. The woman's husband did get in, but right as the worst was found over us, he came all the way from Illinois , took him 16 hours. I also met a hard luck homeless guy named Doug who gas a sad story to tell and a nice cafeteria lady named Carolyn, I'll write about them later, but now, off to Williamsburg.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weathering the storm

So I'm sitting here in the gym of Warwick high school, one of the designated red cross shelters here in Newport News. The gym has slowly grown in occupancy from just about 5 of us originally to now nearly all cots are now occupied. Originally, there were about 80 cots, I counted 7 rows with 11 cots each, give or take, but now they're bringing in more as more people seek refuge from the storm. Two cots were broken in the middle of the night, both by heavier set people who struggled to get out of them, one of these was the guy next to me, I asked if he needed assistance but he wouldn't take it. Poor guy had a respiratory infection too so he ended up sitting up all night because he was physically unable to lay down.
The wind started last night and has gradually kicked up with the rain to the point where it gusts every minute or so and the locked double doors to the outside jostle and slam back together. I hear that the storm is about 120 miles south of Virginia beach now and has been downgraded to a category one, so not terribly bad, but I am glad to be out of the rain, or worse, camping under a tree. The only thing that's worrying me so far are the windows lining the tops of the walls of the gym, but I'm assuming they wouldn't house us here if they weren't sturdy.
Most everyone is very nice. The volunteers are incredibly friendly and enjoyable to talk with, we're just riding out the storm. I've met a few people, one woman with her 4 kids that she has with her, she has 8 altogether. Her husband is a truck driver and was supposedly driving into the area last night to be here with her, but I haven't seen her since last night. The other person I've met is a 20 something college student named Page, the volunteers all were excited when I came in because they were worried she wouldn't have anyone to talk to. They promptly brought me over to her for introductions. She's a sweet girl who ended up stranded. Her car broke down and her college closed the dorms on her. Worse, her school didn't even tell her where to go and didn't know of any shelters, she didn't seem to be too pleased with her school, but she's been in high spirits. We joked around a bit about our school lunch dinners last night. Pizza and corn...old school pizza too, the kind that we used to put ketchup on. Bonus, they had a big tub of Texas Pete... I thoroughly drenched mine. We joked that we hope that they also don't continue to serve us milk once the power inevitably goes out...which it has flickered off a few times.
Well it's noon, so off to lunch, then maybe get a bit more laundry done in the bathroom sink.

Friday, August 26, 2011

My first 100+ mile day

Well I'm beat, in fact, I'm more than beat. I'm falling asleep as I write this. I almost feel asleep in the spaghetti Theresa had just made for me. I logged over 100 miles today, my first, hopefully not my last, but hopefully my last for a while. It all started at 830am on the southern tip of the currituck peninsula. I ended at the northern section of Newport news. There were a few stops along the way, one for chili dogs on Knott's island, another to tighten all of the spokes on my new rear wheel. Oh yea, after two hours of frustration, I learned how to tighten and align all spokes on a wheel, protip, make sure all of the spokes are somewhat tightened before you align the wheel, or else your wheel will flop around like a wet noodle.

Today also happened to be the day of my first big fall. I'm a little bruised up and bloody from night riding...just missed the abrupt truncated shoulder coming off the bridge. Both the bike and I went flying into the road, fortunately no cars...but I don't think I'll be doing any more night rides anytime soon, dangerous add it is, it's not worth thinking about in urban areas. But it was worth it this time to see Teresa before she evacuates tomorrow. I finished up sometime right before midnight. The 8 miles on the James river bridge bring the most harrowing experience to date and the last 10 miles in Newport news being the most life draining.
Well my eyes can no longer stay open, so I'm heading to bed. night!