Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The First Thousand

Our rest days have been so busy - with recuperating, catching up on things, buying things, spending time with our hosts, hitting the town, etc. - that it's really hard to justify setting aside an hour or two to blog. That said, I do still want to chronicle our journey in some fashion, and I know that the longer I leave it, the harder it will be to catch up. So here's the "2:30 AM at the Bichell home in Tennessee" version of an update for the first 1/4 (!) of our trip. One to two sentences per day; short and sweet.

Day 0 (6/5): Drove down to Virginia Beach, had the best nachos I've ever eaten (Baja Cantina, in case you get the chance to visit). CouchSurfed with Run Away Bill, a fantastic, hippy-type, 50-year-old guy with a house full of curios and one driving mission in life: to find the best parties, mostly of the festival type.

Day 1 (6/6): Took forever to pack, dip our wheels in the Atlantic, clean the sand off our wheels, and hit the road (at 1 PM!). Spent the day working out kinks, and the night sleeping illegally in a park - only to be woken at 3 AM by some very wary police, who fortunately decided our trip was super cool and that since we were already in the park we might as well stay out the night.

Day 2 (6/7): Biked to an area north of Richmond, where we tried and failed to find the "cyclists only campgrounds" indicated on the map (it helps to read the info on the back, which we didn't find until a week or so later). Had our first experience with southern hospitality when we were lucky enough to run into John, a guy who lived nearby (nearly inside the Richmond Battlefield Park) and was kind enough to stop and offer his front yard as our campsite.

Day 3 (6/8): Had a rough day (tardiness, hills), especially for me (soreness, developing a monster of a rash on my legs, and semi-debilitating bowel problems), and ended up rolling into Middle Of Nowhere (Beaverdam), Virginia as darkness closed in. Stopped at a Baptist church, used whitepages.com to find the pastor's number, and got permission to camp (AND a free shower - and strawberries! - in the morning).

Days 4-5 (6/9-6/10): Undertook the long, hilly climb into the center of Charlottesville after an already-long day (79 miles, our farthest at the time by a large margin). Stayed with the family of my friend Nina, who were so wonderful to us (and we were so sore) that we decided on the spot to take a much-needed rest day.

Day 6 (6/11): Our first day of rain had me worried about drivers and visibility (especially given the road we were on), but there was also a silver lining in that we climbed our first major mountain (onto the misty Blue Ridge Parkway) without too much heat and sweat. Spent the night at Lake Sherando (a campground a few miles off the TransAmerica route) and got to see Olivia, a good friend from high school.

Day 7 (6/12): Discovered that going to Sherando, which involved dropping about 1,000 ft after making a 1,500-ft climb the day before, was a horrible mistake; we had to regain those thousand feet in short order, in a climb that has been the most devastating and difficult of our trip to date. Only managed about 35 miles, ending at the Mallard Duck hostel, where we met a very interesting cast of characters - including Steve, whose parting story to us is so great that it has to be reproduced, below:
"And when this guy tried to sucker punch my friend, it was like he was trying to sucker punch ME! So I clotheslined him. And then I clotheslined him again. And then I said, 'Who's your daddy?' And he said, 'Well, I guess you are.'"

Day 8 (6/13): Biked to little old Daleville, VA, where we once again became the recipients of some southern hospitality: a Mr. Painter pulled up on the side of the road as it was getting dark and offered his back porch for us to camp on. By the time we left the next morning, we had also enjoyed his shower (which had so many knobs and dials that he had to explain "the controls"), a hot breakfast, and a parting gift of blueberries.

Day 9 (6/14): Finished Section 12 of the TransAmerica map (it's labeled for eastbound cyclists) and ended the day at the home of a friend from school, Ian. Enjoyed their hospitality, the decor (his dad had shot a bear in Alaska, and its pelt was mounted in the living room), and the small college town of Radford, VA.

Day 10 (6/15): Took a rest day by biking - literally about a block, as it turned out - to the home of (the aforementioned) Olivia's grandmother. Had the best food of the trip so far (mostly because we really love meat now - and also, blueberry pie?!), and shared some great drinks with our host and her friend (the former had a fully stocked bar).

Day 11 (6/16): Didn't get as far as we wanted (I think we were 3 for 9 on that score by this point), so we had trouble finding a place to camp in the smallish town of Marion, VA (but did get to practice our Spanish at a Mexican restaurant, so, yay). A guy offered us his yard, but he lived 7 miles back the way we had came and it was already dark (and thus a safety issue), so we admitted defeat and spent our first night in a motel.

Day 12 (6/17): During a lovely lunch in sleepy Meadowview, VA, we finally met two other cyclists doing the TransAmerica fully loaded (self-sustained touring, as opposed to with SAG wagons / RVs). We managed some very solid climbs (1,500 and later 1,000 ft) without breaking a sweat (okay, just kidding... but we felt good afterward!), which made this the first day that I felt that I must be getting significantly stronger (or at least better adjusted to cycling), and that the whole "We'll train on the road!" idea seemed to be working.

Days 13-14 (6/18-6/19): After 600 miles or so (the TransAmerica route/Interstate Bike Route 76 is pretty winding, and Virginia is wide), we finally crossed the state line into Kentucky! Rode a rather frightening road (one lane each way, and, coal trucks) to Pikeville, where we stayed at Steve's friend's house, and where I finally got to do what I had been meaning to do all through Virginia: talk to some of the people who run/work at Chinese restaurants in tiny/completely random towns throughout the U.S., and listen to their stories.

Day 15 (6/20): Had a much rougher day out of Pikeville than we could have possibly anticipated, which seemed to be ending particularly well when a guy in an unmarked white van pulled up behind us on the shoulder... and proceeded to tell us about the youth ministry of a church nearby that would be happy to host us. It turned out that the church was no longer hosting cyclists, but by the time we discovered that it was so dark (thinking we were set for the evening, we had taken a detour to get pizza) that we had no choice but to fork over $25 each for the only cycling hostel in town - which nonetheless turned out to be completely worth it when we discovered that the guest tent came with a beer, a hot shower, laundry service, a double shot of brandy, an ice pack, and a breakfast of cake, fruit, and cereal.

Day 16 (6/21): Started our secret detour to Great Britain (aka eastern-central Kentucky) when we pulled into Manchester that evening (in the following days to be succeeded by London, Somerset, and Glasgow). Had a superb dinner, then once again paid dearly for the time we spent at the restaurant: rode the 5 remaining miles to the local park in the dark, chased by dogs part of the way (and I can testify that this is frightening at best when you can actually see them).

Day 17 (6/22): Made it to Somerset just in time to catch the tail end of a monthly antique car show extravaganza (and listen to a pretty great cover band, and buy some pulled pork from the vendors). It was dark and we had no particular place to stay (are you seeing a trend here? we're trying to correct this. I probably shouldn't have gotten that haircut in London.), and the police pretty much told us to take a hike when we asked about campsites in town, but with the help of some friendly people we managed to secure the permission of the venue's security guard to camp just off the parking lot at the site of the car show that had just closed up shop.

Day 18 (6/23): Biked our first century of the trip: 100 miles (or 105 for us that day, to be precise), and it. felt. good. Stayed at a pretty happenin' campground near Glasgow, KY, run by the Army Corps of Engineers - a member of which had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years back and was so happy that we were doing something cool and similar that she brought us hot chocolate.

Days 19-20 (6/24-6/25): Biked just shy of a second century to my friend Rae Ellen's home on the southern end of Nashville, TN. We've had a fantastic time at her house - seen the city, eaten incredibly well, listened to some great live music, met her gorgeous family, even resolved some bike issues - and we're kind of reluctant to leave. Fortunately we're looking forward to a smooth ride down the bike-friendly Natchez Trace Parkway to the home of Elvis in Tupelo, Mississippi.

That last thing is supposed to be starting in about seven hours, and it takes us a few hours to get ready and pack each day... so that means I'd better stop with the blogging and start with the sleeping. I hope the format of this was digestible; I'd like to be a bit more thorough, but off-the-bike alone time has been shockingly elusive on this trip.

We'll be taking a rest day in Oxford, Mississippi, where we hope to arrive in three days' time. Until then, I bid you all adieu. Know that I am still alive, still in reasonably good health (though, I'm going to need to visit a dermatologist as soon as I get back to Yale), and pretty satisfied that that's all still true after completing the first thousand miles of our trip.

Love from Nashville,

1 comment:

  1. So adventurous and fun...and that cycling hostel is a deal! Looking forward to hearing more!