Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Sunday, August 9, 2015
And suddenly, it's over.
Everyone was up early again this morning. The church kitchen was open to us and Rodney made a pot of coffee; we all sat in the common area and had breakfast. Everyone was mostly quiet again this morning as we became aware that this would be the last morning we would pack our gear. We took a group picture before we left and hit the road heading east to Yorktown.
The morning was cool, sunny, and perfect. We had a beautiful bike path that paralleled the road for a good part of the 50 miles to Williamsburg. We stopped for a celebration lunch, and then only 13 miles remained.
The route followed the Colonial Parkway, which was a bumpy and busy road, and my thoughts were interrupted by my concentration on the passing cars. Still, I reminisced about the past two months and the thousands of miles we've ridden. I remembered the hectic first day in San Francisco: touching the Pacific, navigating the city, and catching the ferry. California, specifically crossing the Sierras, was such a struggle that I doubted our ability to cross the many ranges that stood ahead of us. Nevada was hot but manageable, and I was encouraged as we slowly progressed across the patterned mountains. When we hit the extreme heat of Utah, I was again overwhelmed by the brutality of the desert, but Colorado was completely opposite and I felt strong as we crossed the highest passes and completed the Western Express. The mental struggle of Kansas was grueling but it made the rolling farmland in Missouri that much more beautiful. Illinois and Kentucky passed quickly and riding through the mountains of Virginia was even better than I had hoped, calling forth memories and evoking possibilities.
I teared up thinking about what a long way we had come, and the feeling was very similar to when I approached the end of the Appalachian Trail...the excitement of completing what I had set out to do, and the sadness of leaving a simple, free lifestyle behind. On my strong days the east coast seemed so close, and on the weaker ones I wasn't sure if I would ever arrive. After we crossed the Mississippi, it felt like the trip was nearly over, yet each day had to be completed, had to be ridden with the same determination as the days in the desert.
George, Seth, and I fell behind the group, and we rode into Yorktown from the opposite direction. We all reached the monument that signifies the end at the same time, and it was an emotional time as we exchanged hugs and congratulations. It was amazing to be able to finish with these other people who have shared the same experiences, and to have ridden with them these last few days. After pictures at the monument it was time for the ocean. The original four--Josh, George, Seth, and I--put our front tires in the Atlantic, still pointing east. We had ridden as far as we could ride.
I carried a small bag of sand with me from the Pacific coast, and my sprinkling of the sand into the water truly signified the end of this journey. I cried at the edge of the water, and I cry now as I remember the emotion of that moment.
The eight of us celebrated with ice cream and said our tearful goodbyes--Andreas will return to Germany, Claudia to Italy, Rodney and Parker to California, Josh to Mississippi, and the rest of us to Florida. We loaded our bikes and gear into the car and drove away, and just like that, the trip was over. Two months of travel and in two days I will be home. It is strange how quickly it ends.
Many people are asking, "What's next?" and I do not have an answer. It is a difficult transition to be thrown back into the "real" world, and I fear this second round will be even more challenging. There is something sacred about seeing life beyond the daily grind, and I wish such an experience for everyone. Reflections will surely come in the following weeks.
62 days - 9 states - 3658 miles
Saturday, August 8, 2015
Today was one of my favorite days.
Everyone was up early and we met at the gas station in town for breakfast and coffee. There were no tables inside so we sat outside on the curb and hit the road at 7:30. The seven of us rode together: Rodney, Parker, Andreas, Claudia, Josh, Seth, and me. We had great conversation about the experiences on this trip and our lives in general. It was a cloudy morning but the sky cleared around lunchtime. We made great time and stopped in Ashland for lunch after 43 miles.
As I mentioned before, Josh has been "slackpacking", having his parents carry his gear. We all give him a hard time about it, and today Rodney decided to make him some makeshift panniers out of paper bags. We all had a good laugh when he came out of the restaurant and found them on his bike!
We continued together out of town, and Seth broke another spoke! That makes 5. It's a good thing we bought spares! Again it was not on the cassette side so we pulled over at a McDonald's and he and Josh fixed it. So frustrating!
My mom has driven back down to see us finish and she stopped and gave us Gatorade and homemade granola bars from my aunt! It was the perfect snack, and we continued on to Glendale to the Methodist church, where they allow bikers to sleep inside. They are having vacation bible school and had leftover pizza, so they gave it to us for dinner! George met us here at the church so we are all spending this last night together.
It is so hard to believe we are finishing this trip tomorrow! The mood tonight has been very strange...last night everyone was very chatty and tonight we are much more somber. Everyone seems to be having their own personal reflections about the previous weeks, and we're all contemplating how it will be to finish. We have been talking about the end for so long and riding as a big group today truly made it sink in that our journey is nearly over. What an incredible trip it has been, and what an amazing feeling it will be to touch the Atlantic Ocean.
Friday, August 7, 2015
The morning was gray again with a light rain that continued off and on throughout the day. George left early from the hotel while Seth and I hung around until the bike shop opened at 10. Seth only had one spare spoke, which he used yesterday, so he wanted to get a couple more. We navigated our way out of Charlottesville and stopped at Bojangles for second breakfast.
Google maps showed a 38 mile route to Mineral as opposed to the ACA 53 mile route. Fifteen miles is significant so we took our chances on the short cut (obviously we did not learn our lesson yesterday). Things were great at first; we were on small roads with good scenery. Suddenly, we rounded a corner and the pavement stopped. Gravel! It was one mile to the next turn, so we pushed on carefully praying the next road would be paved. The next turn was actually worse: a gated gravel road with a "no trespassing" sign! We could hear the highway so we kept going another mile on the first road, encouraging our bikes the entire time: "Come on girl/boy; I promise I won't take you on any more gravel roads if you just make it through this one...", etc. We came out on the highway and developed our own route after seeing that the next Google-recommended turn was another gravel road--we chose to do 4 miles to connect with another state route that would take us into Mineral. It was raining harder and the 4 miles were harrowing on the busy road with no bike lane. We both were watching each car in our mirrors to make sure they saw us. I think these next few days we will stick to the TransAm unless we are certain the alternate is good for riding!
The last 17 miles were less hectic and we stopped at a McDonald's for a late lunch. It started to rain more heavily so we waited about 2 hours for it to pass, although it was still drizzling as we pulled into Mineral. The fire station here allows camping in their yard and use of the shower and bathroom. It is busy here with us, Josh, Claudia, Josh's parents, Andreas, Greg (another eastbounder we met 2 days ago), and Rodney and Parker (a father and son duo also riding east--Parker is only 16!). Seth and I had dinner at the pizza place in town with Andreas, Rodney, and Parker, and we shared stories about our trips.
Tomorrow we are all headed to Glendale for our last night on the road. Unbelievable!
Thursday, August 6, 2015
I was literally woken up by the rooster outside this morning. I had slept hard but I was still tired as I packed my gear. Eddie, who works at the hostel/farm, agreed to shuttle us up to the post office where we left off yesterday, saving us the 3 mile ride back to town. We loaded our gear into the van, and as we lifted my bike in I saw that I had run over some chicken poop in the yard and there was a huge chunk stuck to the front tire. Once we were at the post office unloading, I completely forgot about it and grabbed the front tire, getting the poop all over my fingers. Lovely start to my morning! I wiped my hand in the grass and made a mental note to wash it well at the next town!
Daleville was 16 slow miles away. I felt very fatigued again this morning and struggled on all of the climbs. The terrain wasn't any different from the last few days but it felt so much more difficult. I think I may have been slightly dehydrated so I made an effort to drink frequently.
We stopped for lunch in Buchanan and had only done 30 miles in a little over four hours. As we rode out of town, I pulled over to check my tire pressure, thinking that something had to be wrong with my bike, because I couldn't believe how much I was struggling to pedal. Turns out the tires were fine and I was actually that weak!
I started to feel a little better this afternoon, and we had a beautiful downhill ride on an unlined country road. We saw several deer, and it was peaceful and beautiful. Seth and I talked about the end; we have less than 300 miles left, and it's so hard to believe that we have been on the road for 2 months. They have truly flown.
We rode through Lexington, an old historic town with a beautiful main street full of shops and restaurants. We passed a cemetery and saw that Stonewall Jackson was buried there, so we stopped to walk around a bit. We debated whether to stay in Lexington, but decided to ride 12 more miles to make tomorrow easier.
Two people stopped us on the road today, and both had previously done a cross country bike tour. We chatted about our experiences on the side of the road. It's very interesting because some people are aware that the TransAmerica trail passes through their town, and others have never heard of it. Just yesterday we passed a lady doing yard work and she asked if we had "come the whole way". We replied that we had, and she said very excitedly, "Congratulations! You're almost there!" Outside of Damascus a few days ago at a gas station, the lady behind the counter asked me, "Is there some bike thing going on? I've seen a lot of bikers come through lately." It's shocking that some people have no idea that a popular bike route passes through their town.
We stopped at a gas station for hot dogs and ice cream, and asked a local about a campground up the road. He told us we were only 4 miles away, so we rode the flat stretch quickly and ended up at Mallard Duck Campground. A lady in a RV next to us brought over a plate of pizza for us, and it was the perfect dinner as I had been planning to cook ramen noodles!
Tomorrow is our last real climb before we head down to sea level, and it looks to be a doosy: 1500 feet over 4 miles, up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I hope I feel strong!
It was cool enough for my sleeping bag and I cannot express how wonderful it was to sleep comfortably. This morning was damp and our sleeping bags and clothes were cool and wet. Seth and I left around 7:30 with Josh and Claudia right behind us. It was another gorgeous morning but my body was sluggish and tired. I felt so strong yesterday and today I felt completely opposite...my legs were tired and I was uncomfortable. I thought it would improve after a convenience store breakfast stop but unfortunately the fatigue lasted all day.
The terrain itself was easier than yesterday but still full of ups and downs. We pushed the 40 miles to Christiansburg to meet my family for lunch, and the whole gang enjoyed a pizza buffet at the Pizza Inn. I said goodbye to my parents and we continued 30 more miles to our destination of Catawba. I cannot describe how much it warms my heart to ride through the Appalachian mountains, among these forests and gentle peaks.
Catawba is an Appalachian Trail town and Seth and I both stayed at Four Pines Hostel on our thru-hikes. We rode the 3 miles off route to stay here tonight and it is almost just as I remember...although Joe, the owner, says his cats were eaten by coyotes so he "had to get new ones". The hostel is simply couches and cots in his garage but it has everything we need. It brings back great memories to be here.
Claudia cooked pasta for dinner and she, Seth, Josh, Josh's parents, and I ate at a table here in the garage and drank beer and wine from mugs that we found sitting on one of the shelves. It has been a true "trail" experience!
Whew! If I didn't know we only rode 10 hours today, I would have guessed it was many more.
We were out of camp early for the 10 miles to the bottom of the mountain. The morning was gray and one of the guys at the campground told us there was a chance of rain. We have been very lucky with rain so I was hoping our luck would hold!
We made it to the town of Vesuvius and turned to head up the mountain. Our map had a warning that after Vesuvius, the road is a very steep switchbacked road for 4 miles. We have been hearing about this climb since Nevada and it was finally time! It started gradual and quickly turned upward; the morning was cool but I was dripping sweat in just minutes. It was indeed steep, but there were shallow sections dispersed throughout that offered some relief. George was already at the top, and Josh passed Seth and me about a mile from the top (he and Claudia are "slackpacking", having his parents carry their gear). I kept pumping and breathing and before I knew it, I saw a Blue Ridge Parkway sign...the top! It was much quicker than I expected and, though difficult, not nearly as much so as people had told us. It felt great to be at the top of our last big climb, but we still had almost 60 miles to go for the day.
The parkway was a beautiful, beautiful ride, although my legs were tired from the big climb. We went up and down over the ridgeline, and saw several bikers riding the road. I would love to ride it in its entirety! We stopped for lunch with Josh and Claudia at a wayside, and ate hot pockets and microwave burritos. Before long we were starting the descent into the valley and I said to Seth, "Say goodbye to the mountains..." We were leaving them behind!
The ride down from the parkway was steep and curvy; our map had another bold warning that it was a very steep and winding mountain road and to use extreme caution. My hands ached from pulling the brakes as we wound our way down the mountain. We stopped at a country store at the bottom for a popcorn, gummy bears, and soda snack, and decided to use Google maps to navigate to the hotel where we were planning to stay in Charlottesville. Oh, Google maps. After about 8 miles, during 7 of which it rained, we passed a gravel road that was supposed to be our turn! We kept going to try to reroute the trip, but I lost service. We rode until we had service again, but the new route called for another gravel road! It was only a mile so we decided to "be adventurous" (as Seth put it). It was bumpy and rough but we managed, and the last 1/10 turned to pavement. Not 10 minutes later, I heard a pop come from Seth's bike. We both knew in the backs of our minds what it was, but not wanting to believe it, I asked, "What was that?" We stopped to look and sure enough, a spoke popped on Seth's new rim. It was rideable so we finished the 8 miles to town; thankfully it was not on the cassette side so he was able to fix it tonight. So frustrating to have something break so close to the end!
We had dinner at Burger King and did laundry here at the hotel while we discussed the next few days. The ocean is so close!
Monday, August 3, 2015
My parents made another delicious breakfast again this morning and we left Damascus before 8. We all wished we could have stayed another day! We saw Josh and Claudia on the edge of town; they were stopping at a diner for breakfast.
The climb out of town looked horrible on the map but as we started climbing it felt very easy. The Virginia Creeper Trail parallels the road and Seth tried to talk me into taking it instead of the road...it is a hard packed gravel surface and we started riding it for about a half mile. We came across a man jogging and asked him about getting back to the road from the trail 10 miles up, and he told us it was a very steep gravel road between the Creeper and the main road. Determined not to walk my bicycle, we opted for the road. It was still a beautiful ride through the thick forest with the morning sun peeking through the trees. The traffic was light and the air cool, and Seth and I talked the entire 20 miles, making the time pass quickly.
On the way down we came to a section of road construction and had to wait nearly 15 minutes to pass. They had a pilot car to lead us through and Seth and I were caught between two cars. We did our best to keep up, shifting into our highest gears (I think this was the first time for me this trip) and peddling as hard as we could. We made it through and laughed about how exhausted we were, but we made great time for those 3 miles!
We took a lunch break in Sugar Grove at the bottom of the mountain, and the next several miles were easy riding. My parents came and surprised us, and we enjoyed cold water, soda, and Gatorade! We are planning to see them again tomorrow before they go home.
We got a text from George today that his front sprocket was bent and he kept losing his chain. He wasn't sure how it happened but he rode off route to Marion to get it fixed. He and Mary are in a hotel tonight.
The rest of the day was similar ups and downs, and we stopped for an afternoon snack in Wytheville at Taco Bell. We crossed under I-81 and over I-77 and continued to Pioneer Village Campground where we are staying for the night. We arrived at 5:30...a surprising 73 miles on a day after a zero! Josh and Claudia arrived around 7 and Josh's family is camping here as well.
Unfortunately we can hear the interstate from the campground but the mountain view is beautiful in the evening light. This is the first night I have not been miserably hot inside the tent and it is wonderful! I hope I can snuggle down in my sleeping bag tonight!