June 1-15

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Sunday, June 1

Reality -- I will not survive the upcoming Appalachians with the gearing I have on my bicycle. Hence, I will be buying and new set of cogs and a derailleur tomorrow. This realization came today as I huffed up the hill to Monticello with a small parade of vehicles behind me and a heartbeat in my head. Otherwise a good cycling day, the weather was incredible today though a little windy. Encountered some hills but having had a day off yesterday seemed to provide a little oomph to the legs (though not to the posterior). The highlight was a visit to Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello. Jefferson's pivotal role in Lewis & Clark's journey made this an obligatory stop given my planned route along the Lewis & Clark trail. It was a beautiful little house on top of a small hill with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Charlottesville. Charlottesville proved to be a charming town and a good place to bunk.

Monday, June 2, 2003

Switching the gearing on my bicycle made all the difference on the hills. For those “techies”, I was riding on an 11x26 and replaced it with a 11x34 - absurd by normal bicycling standards but not loaded touring standards. I traveled solo today and managed to get lost, though only a six-mile detour, they were some hilly miles. Also, with 15 miles to go and the sun making its way to the horizon, I fretted a bit but found a kind individual who was willing to give me a ride back to the place where I made the wrong turn. Nicest guy, only problem was that I couldn't understand 40% of what he was saying and ended up just nodding and smiling in order to ensure I didn’t offend and that I did arrive at my wrong turn. I am now in the house of the legendary "Cookie Lady", June Curry. Apparently, in 1976 during the inaugural year of the TransAmerica trail, Jane posted a sign offering water to passing cyclists. Ever since then this has grown to include cookies and now a free hostel to all cyclists. The tour of the house included thousands of postcards and other memorabilia she has collected over the years. To provide some perspective, over 11,000 cyclists have passed through her doors. It was a fabulous experience and something that has really added another angle to my cross-country trip.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

I was abused today. Over 4000 ft. in elevation through rain and gale force wind. The blessing out of all this, if I can survive a cold wet day like today, I can't see how it can get much worse. Aaron and I got a late start from the Cookie Lady house after chatting with Tom & Carrie Rock and Tom's mother. From there it as a two mile climb to the Blue Ridge Parkway where the "real" climbing commenced. There were stretches of uphill that went on for miles through dense fog. The fog severely limited the view but there were a few moments that it cleared long enough to provide some glimpses of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. On top of the rain, it was cold and I actually dreaded the long downhills since it equated to no physical exertion and a biting cold. It has been a bumper year for rain in this part of Virginia and it is only expected to continue. Jokingly, one of the local stations stated that they have decided to eliminate all future weather forecasts since it has become blatantly obvious that everyone knows it entails rain. Arrived in Vesuvius, VA and found a very limited grocery store. Dinner consisted of beans and licorice. It's 8:30 and I'm ready for bed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Today was nice and easy and with minimal rain (ignoring our lunch break in Lexington - a small picturesque college town). I performed the first surgical procedure on my bicycle as I changed my first (and hopefully last) broken spoke. The route followed some truly remote roads along small creeks and shaded roads. The landscape was incredible and reminded me of my hometown, Galena (minus the mountains). We arrived in Buchanan (pop. 1277) to find out that all the campsites were either closed or a far from town. We opted to try and find a friendly church willing to deal with a few tents for a night and were utterly overwhelmed by all the kindness. The local Presbyterian Church was having their monthly potluck/meeting and insisted with "tank-up" as they phrased it. Needless to say, we obliged. As we waited out the rains to pitch our tents a local couple (Ed & Nancy Tolley) approached us and offered us space in their house. The friendliness and hospitality I have already encountered so soon into the trip has already exceeded all of my expectations. Buchanan is another highlight of my journey.

Thursday, June 5, 2003

The hospitality extended to us last night spilled over to today. Breakfast, lunch & laundry all added up to a late start. At least it was a low mileage day. Some more spectacular scenery including small waterfalls and streams nestled in between some mild mountains. For the past two days our path has paralleled the Appalachian Trail and today we finally crossed paths in the town of Catawba at an all-you-can-eat restaurant (The Homeplace). Hard to believe a restaurant could stay in business serving such a calorie-deprived clientele. We then wandered out behind the restaurant and cashed in their gazebo with a fantastic view of the stars.

Friday, June 6, 2003

I awoke earlier than normal today for a nice view of the sunrise over the mountains. This coupled with a full mug of coffee made my day. The mileage was light and the path traveled along some back country roads with minimal traffic and nominal development (we passed through a single town). Arrived in Christiansburg and again experience the local hospitality. Martha Mullen, a friend of a friend, offered us use of her vacant apartment and treated us to some great Mexican food and Margaritas. The weather forecast for tomorrow is looking foul so tomorrow might be a rest day.

Saturday, June 7, 2003

The poor weather was a good excuse for a rest day. Enjoyed Christiansburg, caught up on e-mail, ordered some gear and watched a movie.

Sunday, June 8, 2003

We’re making a bad habit of late starts and today didn’t notch our first mile until 1:30. The clouds in the distance threatened but never really bothered us. Though we had originally planned a 55-mile day, the late start, excessive heat and hills conspired against us and stopped us 12 miles from our desired destination. Accommodations were slim and we ended up sleeping in the doggy rest stop at an RV park. As expected, the weather forecast was dismal, flash flood warnings until 11:30.

Monday, June 9, 2003

Awoke to a clear sky today and to my amazement, the weather held. In other words, there was no rain today. We opted to make it another short day in order to rest ourselves for the upcoming climbs. Judging by the contour lines on our maps, it appears that this climbing starts tomorrow. Tonight's campsite is the polar opposite of last night in the RV park. A small stream behind the tents, wooded hills 360 degrees around and a degree of tranquility an RV park could never offer. During today's ride, I was pleased to realize how much more time on the road I actually have.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Finally, our first day of what appears to be summer. Broke camp early today to tackle the climb before the heat. Much to our surprise, the climb wasn't as bad as we had expected. Much of the ride passed through National Forest and some paralleled small creeks and accompanying waterfalls. Passed Mt. Rogers today, Virginia's highest point (5,729 ft.) and lunched at a classic Mom & Pop place where everyone was on a first name basis. Also encountered my first strong smell of pine which I so strongly associate with the West. Lodged in Damascus at the Methodist Church's hostel for hikers and cyclists. Damascus is the epicenter for people hiking the Appalachian Trail. The transient nature of the place was evident and all the boutiques, coffee shops and outdoor outfitters were welcome. Virginia is drawing to a close. We all look forward to the Promised Land, a.k.a. the Plains (i.e. no hills).

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

How did to today's ride treat me? Like I had hurt its dog. For days we've been hearing about (and fearing) the ascent over a section of the Appalachians. Our approach to the base seemed to draw some strange looks from the people passing by and I swear most of them were chuckling as they drove by. We had 3-4 miles of pure uphill at 7/8% grade. At times I was moving so slow that I watched butterflies whiz by. After an hour of climbing we crested the pass to see a hawk swoop down and grab a snack from the road. Quite intense. The hospitality continues, the Methodist church in Elk Garden provides food and lodging for all cyclists. Tomorrow - Kentucky.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

With a name like Big A Mountain, I figured it had to be tough. So when I crossed it and called it "kindergarten", I reckoned that I am either getting stronger or my expectations provided a reality that could never be met. Another interesting point, upon crossing Big A Mtn., we entered a whole new world. Out of the farming community and into the mining community. No more B&B's & manicured lawns, enter the smell of wood burning stoves and mullets. With all the differences, the people continue to be friendly as ever. We arrived at Breaks Interstate Park on the Virginia/Kentucky border after some more vicious hills. The humidity was thick and it often felt as though we had to pedal through it. Thank goodness the day was cool. In a moment of temporary insanity, I volunteered to run to the store and pick up some beer for the campsite. Bad idea - two miles straight down. Some kind miner that was passing by happened to notice the early signals of exploding veins on me and pulled over to offer me a ride. I'll count my blessings for his kindness.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Crossed my first state line today. My odometer read 622 miles. The geography continues to be beautiful, lots of small streams and verdant woods. Unfortunately we've found that some Eastern Kentuckians like to store their trash in these same places. We continue to encounter friendly people but are also finding our fair share of drivers that are less than receptive to the thought of possibly having to wait behind a cyclist. The terrain was tough - almost 4200 feet of vertical climbing. The present location is Pippa Passes, Kentucky, home of the Alice Llyod College and our host tonight. Since tomorrow is the weekend, we all pray that the coal trucks that have been zooming around the roads will be on hiatus.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Presently at the base of Buckhorn Dam State Park near Buckhorn, Kentucky praying for a dry day. I've managed to set up my tent on top of a picnic table. It is the only place that is away from the waterlogged ground after the torrential rains of the past few days. I'd like to say we missed most of these downpours, but luck was not with us to day. In fact the rain hit us so hard it hurt. I'd imagine something similar to a weak sandblasting. Though we logged another relatively long day, the hills were milder and we all appeared to have faired well.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

The clouds cleared just long enough to afford a spectacular view of the surrounding hills this morning. Within these hills was some low-lying mist that resulted in eerie view. Our earliest departure today, out before 8:30 and immediately climbing. Drizzle most of the morning. Rude awakening - most stores in these parts are closed on Sunday. By fluke, we caught a store owner passing by his shop after church. He apparently recognized our situation and was accommodating to our growing appetites. The route traversed along cliffs for several miles and with the rain it offered a neat scene as water cascaded down the rock faces. The dogs were more troublesome than normal though I've still managed to avoid using my dog mace. We are presently camped outside Mr. Snowden's house (outside Berea, KY), a kind individual who has been housing passing cyclists for years.