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!