Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 15 to 19

Day 15 Lookout to Hindman started after ALL of the other cyclists left (so about 9.40 for us). Bang straight into a steep grade hill that I had to stop twice to catch my breath. Rest of the days past fast through valleys. Two more real tough climbs, one tacked behind retired couple Jeff and Barbara (who utterly smoked us on the ascent) and one after a late lunch. There were a couple of smaller hills before we got to the cyclists only camping in the Baptist church in Hindman. More new cyclists in the basement so we headed to the rafters and I slept in the music cupboard next to a drum kit.

Day 16 Hindman to Hazard was short as this was going to be a rest day. It started off with coffee inside a pharmacy and then after 10 miles or so we stopped at a beer shop where the owner gave us a taste of his corn liquor! Ted 'Blue' Ribbon's moonshine gave us a kick for the remaining 10 or so miles to Hazard. We didn't want to stay at a motel so we were able to secure accommodation at a church cottage in town. We settled down for the night with some nice warming bourbon after escaping some interesting chat with the local tattoo artist who was recently freed from an 8 year sentence for home invasion. He was a nutter.

Day 17 Hazard to Buckhorn was another quick day as we had hangovers from the previous night. We picked Buckhorn camp ground as our target (26 miles away). A few climbs again plus a really horrible stretch on highway 15 started the day. Highlights from the rest of it were talking to an elderly couple (Sheila and Willy) who delivered local newspapers, eating our first proper salads of the trip and getting a great campsite. The camp site was peaceful and we had a pretty spot on our own amongst the trees. Just what we needed.

Day 18 Buckhorn to McKee started excellent with us breaking camp by 8. We travelled 200 meters to the first cafe and then spent 1.5 hours on the Internet so we didn't actually start riding till 9.30 which defeated the object of waking early. Hills were tough going again but not as tough as realizing that we had taken a wrong turn that took us 10 miles off route! This combined with super hot temperatures over 90 degrees really took its toll. We wanted to hit Berea but decided that the motel in McKee would be more achievable. We got to the town and ate a buffet at the local restaurant. Extremely dodgy/gross sludge, but we needed the calories. Luckily no need for Imodium the next day.

Day 19 McKee to Bryantsville was efficient and fast. We finally actually managed to get on the road early as planned (7.30) and blew 25 miles to Berea before 9.30. The best section was a smooth downhill blast with a stunning scenic view over the valley below. Getting to Berea meant map 2 was completed! We celebrated by heading to an Amish shop for breakfast where we met 3 college students (Dave, Dave and Sam). We rode with these guys the rest of the day but man they were super fast. We kept up with them and were stopped around 6pm by an impending rain storm on the horizon. We saw a Baptist church and called to see if we could pitch our tents in the yard and they let us stay in the gym instead where it was much warmer - bonus.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 10 to 14 and into Kentucky!

Day 10 was our easy/rest day. We woke leisurely and went into downtown Christiansburg (approx 6 shops). The coffee shop had excellent wifi (and paninis) and thats where i wrote most of the last blog entry. We headed to Radford, about 15 miles away after kick out time at our Budget Inn. We heard in Troutville that a 'Doctor Lee' let's cyclists stay at his house for free. We got to Radford at 2pm so went for lunch at the Riverside Grill where we drank 5 pints of Virginian Stout and were pretty pissed. We got to the Lee's around 7 and they were the greatest couple. They let us camp in their yard and use their kitchen and showers. An amazing act of hospitality that I am seeing often on this trip. They even gave us the keys to their car so that we could go to the restaurant (Norah had sobered up by then). Good rest day!

Day 11 We left Radford with an aim to get to Whytheville where cyclists can pitch tents in the Town Park for free. This was a very windy day and very overcast so spirits were down. An Arby's breakfast did not improve morale. The scenery was great though as the woodland gave way to wider pasture lands. Top old guy and shop owner, Bryson gave us some tips on trapping and selling furs at one of our rest stops (his coffee tasted like mud though). We arrived around 7 and went up to an Italian restaurant that served some mega portions - great as we were starving!

Damascus was our target for day 12. Super cold start - down to around 4 above freezing. My sleeping bag and tent was not good and keeping the chill out. We got going and had a good mornings ride. We stopped in the afternoon for an hour talking to a group of people running a Church Fundraiser in the small community of Sugar Grove. Good chili dogs! We pushed on through arguably the best scenery so far. Flat, long grass fields ringed by the heavily wooded Blue Ridge mountain range. 8 brutal miles of climbing to the town of Troutdale followed by a few miles more until the greatest downhill road section of my life. Super fast and long (5 miles at least) of steep downhill, twisting down the side of the forest valley to Damascus. Definitely a go pro moment (but I don't have one). Amazing. Damascus is super chill, good wilderness/holiday vibe. Met some Appalaccian Trail hikers. They aren't as scary as the rumors have it (but still a bit weird). Few cold cans of poor Coors Lite/Busch and laundry and then bed.

Day 13 Damascus to Rosedale started slow. We stayed in Mojoes coffee shop for hours and then finally left at 10.30. I bought a thermal sleeping liner so hopefully that will keep me warmer at night. We want to cover a short distance to more free accommodation 35.5 miles away. We ended up having to go over White Top mountain which was incredibly debilitating. In 3 miles I climbed 1500 feet. Constant switchbacks made sure this took over an hour. Brilliant climb though with dense forest on either side of the road. Plugged some music in and growing up it. The church was also great - the parishioners had left lots of food for spent cyclists like us to cook (in our case Mac and cheese and steamed veg). Getting to sleep was a little creepy after making jokes about stigmata, exorcism etc. my catholic upbringing playing on my subconscious.

Day 14 Rosedale to Lookout (Kentucky) on Memorial Day. This was a big day, especially after yesterday's climbing. 62 miles to cover, across the state line, to another church in the town of Lookout in Kentucky. Started well with a couple of quick descents and then another long climb up 'big A mountain'. The downhill again was fast with sweeping turns and great vistas of the surrounding mountain ranges. Later in the afternoon we repeated the pattern as we went around the Breaks state park. Three times we had brutal long climbs followed by super fast (40mph at least) downhills. I need to get new break pads soon. We hit the state line and were ecstatic - lots of photos! So pleased to have done the first state. Quick 15 miles to the rest stop where other cyclist are also stopping for the night and sleep before tomorrow's run deeper into Kentucky.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Days 6 to 9

The last few nights have been spent camping in areas with no wifi (or sometimes no signal). This is a quick catch up post - the main news is that I am Christiansburg, 387.5 miles from Yorktown and am at the end of the first map!! Here's the highlights of the past four days.

Day 6 started as we cooked up pancakes for breakfast and headed out around 9.30. We cycled past the University of Virginia where graduation ceremonies were kicking off. We also went past the statue of Lewis and Clarke who had started there pioneering exploration from this point. We stopped at a food store for second breakfast (potatoes and grilled chicken for me) and kept going on through mist, peach orchards and horse paddocks. It seems that many shops along the route are very accommodating to route 76 cyclists. At Whitehall we stopped to chat with the worker in a village store and sign their bicycle log book. It was 15 miles further to 'the cookie lady's house' at the top of Afton mountain. The lady (June) had died the previous year and had let cyclists stay at her house for over 30 years. The place was still open for cyclists to stay overnight. Afton mountain was horrific - winding, super steep grade switchbacks for a few miles. Very tough, especially after already riding over 40 miles. Was exhausted when I arrived at the top. Great to be able to lie down! A little later in the evening Ben from Melbourne came in too so three of us stayed the night in the house (which is covered in bike postcards, cuttings, mementos...).

Day 7 had been the one that I had been anxious about for a while now. The elevation profile suggests a gain (and drop) of over 2000 feet over a total 30 mile stretch. If it wad like Afton mtn then I didn't think I would be able to get over it. Norah and Ben cleaned up their bike chains and then we left at 8.30 to get stuck in. Visibility was very low on the highway stretch to get onto the Blue ridge parkway. Quite hairy with the traffic but once we got onto the parkway the traffic lightened. The fog didn't! Visibility now reduced down to 15 or 20 meters. At least we couldn't see how long the climbs were so we just put our heads down and kept spinning up the hills. In the end the gradient wasn't too bad, and Ben caught us up. All three of us stuck together and ground up the ascents. It took 6 hours to go up and then we had a blistering 3 mile downhill into the town of Vesuvius where the road completely drops most of that elevation gain. My brakes were squealing around tight bends, a fall on that downhill would definitely corn beef your arms and legs to the bone. Food stop at Gerties country store where we wrote our names on the walls and then camped at the Mallard Duck camp/RV site. Brutal day but it was done.

The next day I was starting to feel fatigued from the past two days of climbing. The first few miles from camp to the historic town of Lexington were peppered with hills that took some effort to get over that morning. On one we met Brandon who had cycled from Boston. All four of us headed into the town for lunch and we took our time, not leaving till 12.40. We had mind blowing scenery of the blue ridge mountains in the background as we rode through the valleys. Norah had a spill outside the town of Buchanan but nothing more serious than grazes and bruises. We kept on to the town of Troutville where they let you camp in the town park and shower at the volunteer fire station, all for free. We had the added bonus of Norah's aunt Mary driving in and buying us dinner. Ben then nipped to a gas station to get some veers to celebrate the last few days of tough riding.

By day 9 I think we were all felling a little demotivated and slack. We took a long time to break camp (10.40) and then stopped for coffee at subway in Daleville. We didn't really get going until 12.30. The roads were also relatively busy all the way into Christiansburg and pretty hilly. We also had to take shelter twice from sudden thunderstorms in the late afternoon. Both times we ducked into roadside barns that were quite grim and muddy. There was a long and steep incline that sapped my strength as we rode (slowly) into the town at 7.30. We booked into a motel with some shady characters. A quick shower and a ton of Mexican food at the restaurant across the road cheered me up immensely. Over a big glass of beer we looked back on the fact that the first map section is complete and we really are riding across America!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Day 3 ending, day 4 and 5

Before I go into day 4 and 5 I want to close out day 3. We had left Mechanicsville and rode the last ten miles worrying about the black clouds in front of us. We pulled into an RV site just south of Ashland with seconds to go before the storm started and dumped heavy rain for an hour. We were forced to eat ice cream in the office watching the Weather channel with an 18 year old (half dead cat) called Charlie. Excellent hosts, these American camper types. This day wound up being our longest and hottest so both Norah and I were pretty beat and I turned in quite early.

We started day 4 early again with clear skies. This day was our first taste of riding on quieter back roads less populated with cars. The previous days have taken us on pretty fast roads, sometimes two lane highways at points. We rode onto a small hamlet called Bumpass after 33 miles. The only food available was fried chicken and burgers which we ate in the searing sun (88 degrees). Took an hour break before leaving for last 15.5 mile section to Mineral, an old mining town. Excellent scenery through a man made lake Anna and then arriving around 2.30 to pitch tents behind the volunteer fire brigade and to go off exploring this two street town (was tempted by the massage but declined). This was a great days riding and the best so far. Oh yes and we almost ran over a really mean looking turtle (so we kicked it off the road for its own good) and there are these little locust type insects that keep flying into my face.

The night was a disaster though as freight trains ran 100 yards away from the tent. One every 3 hours in the night would go through blowing its fog horn. Mixed with the high humidity equals a frankly crap nights sleep.

Day 5 started with rain that broke the humidity. I'm prepared with my raincoat and some stupid looking shoe covers so it was actually nice to have a break from the risk of sunstroke. Today continued going along the back roads, past more wheat and corn fields and horse paddocks that we saw the previous days. We had one dog incident today where a dog chased after Norah for a bit. I forgot to mention a couple of dogs came after me on day 3. People seem to leave their dogs free to roam and chase anything on the road!

Total distance for today was around 45 miles. The valleys today were longer leading to some really fast descents (30-35mph) but there were and equal amount of thigh sapping/heavy grunting power climbs too. Very enjoyable but I am under no illusion how hard the gradients will be when we hit the Appalachians properly in a couple of days. Today ends well in one of Norah's friends houses in Charlottesville so I get a warm shower and a bed to make up for last night (and help digest more southern BBQ pork).