Mt. Airy, MD to Front Royal, VA / 94.8 miles
Day 1, while long, was pretty uneventful. Had a big egg sammy breakfast at home then said bye to my dad and Susanne and was on the road by 6:30am. Intermittent rain during the morning but really nice riding through Maryland and into VA. The climb up Mt. Weather was a good preview of the long, steep climbs that the next few days on Skyline Drive had in store. Rode past 20 or so road bikers throughout the course of the day, waved to all of them, and maybe 2 or 3 waved back. Lame.
I got to Front Royal around 5pm, had an awesome burger and some beers at Pavemint, then rode the remaining 3 miles to Mountain Home, where I stayed that night. Mountain Home was great. Sean and Lisa, the owners, were really nice and made an awesome breakfast the next morning. I shared a room with Adele, a long term tenant, and Mick, a German AT hiker. Stretched a bunch then passed out pretty early after taking care of some work. Overall a pretty nice day but shouldn't have done 95mi right out of the gate...especially with the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway climbs coming over the next couple days.
Front Royal, VA to Big Meadows (Skyline Drive, VA) / 57 miles
The second day kicked my ass. Woke up sore from the long first day then struggled through ~7,000ft of climbing over 57mi. I moved really slow and was pretty bummed at the end of the day. The campground I stayed at was awesome though and felt pretty rejuvenated mentally the next morning (but definitely not physically). Even after shipping a few things home my bike was still pretty heavy with my laptop and camera and I was discouraged because of my pace.
The views on Skyline Drive were very picturesque and awesome, but definitely got a little monotonous after the first 5 overlooks. I rode with a guy named Larry for a while who was on a 5 week "bicycle vacation". He had a camper and was just driving around the eastern part of the country biking wherever he felt like it. I made it to Big Meadows campground around 6:30pm, set up camp, ate and crashed. It got down to 35 degrees at night...was glad to have some warm stuff with me.
Big Meadows (Skyline Drive, VA) to Afton, VA / 56.8 Miles
Today was much mellower terrain. Generally downhill. Still moving kinda slow with the heavy rig. Need to ditch some more stuff. The descent at the end of Skyline Drive leading into Afton was so awesome. On Skyline Drive at one of the rest stops I met 2 ladies named Patti and Linda...they were both super nice and we talked for a while. Linda said she was from Maine and that her and her husband did the Southern Tier trail a while ago and only had 1 day of rain! She also bought me a blackberry milkshake that was so insanely good!
I got to the "Cookie Lady"/bike house in the early evening, where another cyclist was already hanging out. Her name is Holly and she's from York, England. She came over to the states to do the TransAmerica trail on sabbatical from her job. We talked for a while, made some dinner, and crashed. Here's a link to her blog for anyone interested: http://hollyaread.blogspot.com. The bike house is so cool...June Curry (the "cookie lady") hosted over 14,000 touring cyclists on the TransAmerica trail over the years. It was really cool to see all the things people had left behind (the walls were covered with postcards) as well as be part of the story!
Afton, VA to Lexington, VA / 55.1 Miles
The first 15 miles of this were long and steep on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but pretty uneventful. Listened to an audio book (The Will to Climb by Ed Viesturs) to help pass the time on some of the slow/long/monotonous climbs. The scenery was beautiful going through the mountains. I passed Holly at the Humpback Rock visitor's center and said hello, then kept on. Also passed a guy named Skip who I talked to for a minute. He said he was 70 but looked waaay younger. He was bike touring the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. He said everything was "back asswards" and that he wishes he had bike toured when he was younger.
The Rt. 56 descent down into Vesuvius, VA was crazy. Very steep and windy with lots of blind corners. I made it to Vesuvius with no water or snacks left, and was pretty desperate for both, so I went to Gertie's (a convenience store recommended by the lady at the post office, the only thing that was open in town). Gertie's was closed, so I went back to the post office, got some water from their sink (which was pretty gross according to the lady there) and used that to make my last bag of instant mashed potatoes. Rt. 608 from Vesuvius to Buena Bista is pretty much all downhill so I gunned it there. Stopped at Mallard Duck campground to refill water. At the gas station where rt. 608 meets rt. 631 I met 2 guys, Neal and Sean, who were trying to do the TransAmerica trail in 20 days. Pretty amazing. This rejuvenated me and got me psyched to keep going (had been in a bit of a mental rut). Gunned it the next 10mi to Lexington.
I checked into the Econolodge in Lexington. Needed to catch up on some work and was pretty physically and mentally beat from the first leg of the trip/wasn't quite feeling it yet so hoped the bed/shower combo plus a rest day would get me more pumped. I showered and took a cab into town and worked for a while/ate and drank at Rocca, an awesome italian restaurant, on their roof deck. I befriended the hostess, Maureen at the hotel, who proceeded to buy me chicken nuggets and fries from Cookout in Oprah fashion (saying "YOU GET FRENCH FRIES and YOU GET FRENCH FRIES" to the other employees at the hotel she ordered for). Went back to the hotel and slept for a long time.
Lexington, VA / Rest Day
I went to a cool coffee shop in Lexington called Lexington Coffee and worked there all day. Walked from there to Kroger and got food for the next couple nights. Went to Southern Inn restaurant for dinner. Sat next to a couple at the bar Jim and Maryann who were from Louisville KY and going to a wedding in Charlottesville. Both very nice and intrigued by the bike journey. My cab driver Eric is from Buena Vista and recommended the Jamaican place there (more just a personal note to remember to check it out if I'm ever back in Buena Vista)
Lexington, VA to Catawba, VA / 72.6 Miles
Weather was pretty bummer. Cold, windy, and rain all day. My rain shell/all clothes were totally soaked through by the end of the day. The actual terrain/riding was pretty mellow though so was able to move kinda quick. About halfway through the day I stopped at a convenience store called Mama D's and got 2 hotdogs and a coffee for $3. Sufficient energy for the rest of the day. I got to Four Pines hostel and Joe said it was full, but that I could sleep in the barn in front if I wanted to. I started to set up my sleeping pad in there, but then walked into the hostel to go to the bathroom. I decided I'd rather squeeze in there on the floor and be warm than sleep outside in the cold with all my stuff wet from the day. I talked to a few of the AT hikers there. One guy, Captain Mud, was "walking home" to Maine after his boat broke down in Florida. He decided to do it via the AT and left a week later. I claimed a small spot on the floor, put on Daughter, and stared at the ceiling for a while before falling asleep (after eating my usual combo of 1 bag of instant mashed potatoes and 1 bag of Uncle Bens)
Catawba, VA to Wytheville, VA / 84.1 Miles
Long, tiring day but pretty uneventful and nice weather. None of my stuff had dried out from the day before so putting it on sucked but it dried out pretty quick once I started riding. I stopped in Christiansburg and worked for a few hours. I met a British guy named David in Christiansburg who was doing the TransAmerica trail with outdated maps and didn't know there was a hostel in Catawba so he bivvied outside in the cold/rain the night before. He looked pretty frazzled and said he was thinking about skipping the middle part of the country and heading out to the west coast because he wasn't sure if he was going to have enough time to do the whole thing before he had to go back home.
During the 2nd half of the day I ran out of water a bit before Draper...when I got to Draper I just wanted to get a snack and some water but they wouldn't let me have the kids meal, so I had to get 1/2 a chicken that included a buffet. Had some stuff from the buffet then put the chicken in on of my panniers and had for dinner. I planned to stay at the Elizabeth Brown Memorial Park in Wytheville, however when I got there there was a guy sitting there saying he would be sitting there all night, and that sometimes kids come up and vandalize stuff. I had to get some work done and reply to some emails and had no cell service so opted to hotel it once again. I stayed at the Bolling Wilson hotel which had a pretty awesome roof deck with a bar...I talked to the bartender for a while (Francis), and eventually a couple (Debby and Larry) came up and joined in the conversation. They brought up a bottle of wine that we all drank together. I worked a bit and also worked a while the next morning. Expensive night but ended up being very productive.
Wytheville, VA to Damascus, VA / 58.1 Miles
Got a really late start...worked at the hotel until around 11am, wasn't pedaling until around noon. Just as I was getting ready to leave, I met a guy named Courtney, and his dad Dick. They were both veterans and doing the cross country trip eastbound from Salt Lake City to raise awareness for POW/MIA. Weather was nice but there was an insane headwind most of the day that was pretty annoying. Also my brake pad was rubbing on my rim, so I pulled over to adjust it. In adjusting it, the 2mm screw fell out and was immediately lost (it's very tiny). Without this I was unable to get the brake pad into a decent position where it wasn't rubbing, so I took off the brake pad and just had to trust the front brake for the remaining 50mi into Damascus. The climb up to Konnarock/Troutdale was pretty tough, but the subsequent descent into Damascus was amazing. It was cool, early evening, smelled like a bonfire, and the sun coming through the trees on the way down was awesome. I stayed at Crazy Larry's hostel, where I met several AT hikers and talked to Larry for a bit. I ran into 2 hikers, Big Target and Sleepyhead, a bunch of times over the next couple days. They were great to talk to, from Boston and headed northbound to Maine. I took a shower at Crazy Larry's, ate some pizza he offered me along with my usual mashed potatoes and Uncle Ben's, showered, and fell asleep pretty early after drinking a beer on the porch with a guy named Jefferson.
Damascus, VA / Rest Day
I spent the day running some errands and taking care of some bike maintenance, then working for a while in Mojo's, a coffee shop in Damascus. They had this amazing drink called the Iced Bananas Foster which was basically a banana flavored iced chai latte. Yes and yes. Instagram celebrity and Dayton hero @katielayla was scheduled to arrive that afternoon around 5pm. We planned to do some hiking and exploring over the next couple days, so I tried to chill out a bit on Monday during the day. I shipped some more items home that I didn't anticipate needing anytime soon (some off bike clothes, small backpacking tripod, etc). Katie met me at the AirBnB we were staying at a little bit outside of town with some AWESOME hosts, Jon and Carol. We talked to them a lot the whole time we were there. They are both incredibly smart, resourceful and kind people. We learned about Jon’s past career in social work and how he now does his own sort of DIY social work wherever he goes (including using their AirBnB income to subsidize housing for at-risk people in other shelters on their property). They have built a number of livable structures on their property, and Jon calls himself an "eco landlord." After getting settled in and me doing some laundry/setting some stuff out to dry, we walked around for a bit on the Virginia Creeper Trail. We then decided to drive into Abingdon, a nearby town, to find some booze. We went to a very cool brewery, Wolf Hills Brewing. Their barleywine was really, really good. Enjoyed perfect weather and drank a whole bunch of delicious beer.
Damascus, VA / Mt. Rogers Hike / 13 Miles
In the morning I kindly offered to make some brown cinnamon sugar instant oatmeal for breakfast, as this had been my de facto meal for the past week. Katie was not into the idea and made some eggs with avocado instead (much tastier). We drove out to Mt. Rogers, the highest mountain in VA, and hiked up. It was real hot but we were in the shade most of the day. Also, for being the tallest mountain in VA, there were very few times where it felt like we were on anything steep. We had a super awesome couscous/tomato/avocado combo for lunch. Saw some wild(?) horses and a bunch of AT hikers, presumably headed to Damascus for Trail Days festival. Got back down then headed into Abingdon and had an awesome dinner at JJs.
Damascus, VA to Rosedale, VA / 36.6 Miles
I didn’t leave Damascus until around 3:30pm. Katie and I talked to Jon, our AirBnB host, for at least an hour that morning, and I got some work done there before we left. After we left, I went to Mojo’s and worked there for a while. It was insanely hot with 0 clouds in the sky. Every time I walked outside to my bike I would just think to myself “well, if I work another hour then that’s less time I’ll have to be in the heat” so I took my time leaving. I left and rode about from there to the cyclist-only hostel just before Rosedale and got to the hostel/church where I planned to stay that night around 6:30pm. The ride was pretty mellow and uneventful for the most part. Hayter’s Gap was long, steep and tough, but the downhill was great and the rest of the ride was a breeze. Right after Hayter’s Gap I was taking a quick break/eating an apple and a guy who introduced himself as Steve pulled up next to me in a pickup truck. I could barely understand Steve through his thick Appalachian/VA accent but we talked about biking for a second and where I was coming from/headed to. He started to drive away, then stopped and put his car in reverse and came back to where I was and said out the window “Ya know, I have a bike too….ITS A HARLEY” and laughed and drove away. I was greeted at the hostel by Sarah, a lady who was there for bible study. She said I had gotten there just in time for dinner and immediately loaded up 3 plates of pizza, salad, breadsticks, and cake for me. Everyone there was very nice. After dinner, I took a cold shower outside which was amazingly refreshing. I met another TransAmerica cyclist, Matt, there as well. Matt is from Wisconsin and also doing the ride solo. We talked for a while before passing out on the floor in the church sanctuary.
Rosedale, VA to Lookout, KY / 65.1 Miles
Matt and I had loosely agreed to ride for a bit together, but I didn’t set an alarm and woke up a bit after he had left. We had gone over our route for the next few days and it looked like we were planning to hit the same hostels/campsites so I was sure we’d run into each other again. I rode for a bit then stopped in Honaker and worked in a Chevy dealership guest lobby for about an hour. I kept riding through a few mellow climbs, then cruised through some awesome downhills around Council. I stopped again in Haysi and worked for another hour. When going through Breaks state park, I missed a turn for a detour on Rt. 80 and ended up in a blasting zone then at a dead end. Had to backtrack ~2mi to get back on 80. Crossed the Kentucky state line then rode for a bit longer before doing a quick stop in Elkhorn City. Made it to the cyclist hostel in Lookout around 6:30pm, where Matt was already along with another solo cyclist on the TransAmerica trail, Charlie. Charlie recently retired and is doing the ride for fun. Most of the day was extremely hot and humid, so it was great to be able to take a shower at the hostel.
Lookout, KY to Hindman, KY / 50.5 Miles
Got an early start…were out the door around 7:30am. We all knew the forecast for the day was thunderstorms, so to lighten the mood when we stepped outside I said something along the lines of “its totally gonna be a beautiful day today”. The second I finished my sentence we heard thunder :). Charlie stopped pretty early on in the day and waited out the storms. Matt and I decided to mostly ride through them, stopping only when it got really, really bad. We got out to Hindman pretty early, around 2pm. I got on the Wifi at the Arts center and replied to some work emails while I waited for Matt to arrive as he had stopped to grab some groceries. We walked up the insanely steep (14% grade) hill to the “hostel”. We were greeted by David, a very interesting character, who showed us where we would be staying (a tent he had pitched outside). He seemed a bit annoyed that we had gotten there so early, and I guess wasn’t aware we were coming until just a couple hours before as Charlie’s text to him hadn’t gone through. Matt and I took showers then went back down to Main Street, which consisted of a pizza restaurant, 3 law offices, a courthouse, and the arts center. I posted up at the arts center and worked for a few hours while we waited for Charlie to arrive. While we were exploring, another cyclist, Jay arrived. Jay is from the UK and, due to some unforeseen changes in his girlfriend’s schedule, has to make it to LA by the end of June. As such, he needs to average 96mi per day, including rest days. He had done 145mi to get to Hindman, and planned to do 120 the next day to Berea. Jay told us about 2 cyclists near Damascus who were new to biking (and the outdoors in general from what it sounds like) and were biking cross country. He said they came to a snake in the road that wouldn’t move and was hissing at them, so they made a truck driver stop and run it over and throw it in the woods. When Charlie arrived we all met up and ate a ton of pizza. I then went back and sat outside the arts center and worked on their wifi for a few hours until around 10pm. I went back to the tent where everyone was already asleep and crashed. We got woken up by a torrential downpour in the middle of the night. Like reeeeally really intense. David walked through the storm to our tent to try and convince us to come inside. Our whole experience with David had been a little strange and we didn’t particularly want to be inside the house, so we stayed in the tent and made it through the night without any trees falling on us or anything.
Hindman, KY to Booneville, KY / 67.4 Miles
Got up and hurriedly packed up and got out of there. Grabbed some coffee and breakfast at a convenience store then got started. Rode together with Matt until Hazard, where I stopped to adjust clothing/use the bathroom/grab another quick bite. The rest of the day was very brutal. We had about 6 really long hard climbs back to back in 100 degree humid heat. I ran out of water before a series of 3 back to back climbs and felt really dehydrated/dizzy by the end. Stopped at a little food store thing and got a milkshake and BLT and a bunch of water, then continued on to Buckhorn. Took a quick 20min power nap in Buckhorn because I had very little energy left after all the heat/climbs plus not really sleeping the night before in David’s tent. Got through the last couple climbs very slowly and into Boonesville, where I met Matt. We took cold showers at the church/biker hostel then walked into town and grabbed some food at the only restaurant in town. We got a 6 pack of Corona at the dollar general and came back to the pavilion behind the church/hostel where we hung out for a while. Matt napped and I messed around with my bike and experimented with ditching more gear/different packing configurations. Thinking I may need to change my approach for the next 2-4 weeks if I want to get out to PNW with time to hang out. That night we got hit by the most insane storm I've ever seen. I had to hold down my tent...water was getting blown in through the sides of the pavilion, hardest rain I've ever heard/seen, etc. Both our bikes blew over, very thankful nothing flew in and hit us.
Booneville, KY to Berea, KY / 48.5 Miles
Mike (Smedes) told me that when I was in Berea I should stay with a friend of his named Maya, so we headed out towards Berea and coordinated staying with her that night. We got in early afternoon and chowed down on some Mexican at Mariachis. As we were biking to Maya's house, we rode past a car that was pulled over. Maya was in it waving out the window at us yelling "I'M MAYA!!". We followed her back to her house and she showed us around. We instantly felt at home and relaxed and talked to her. The weather was beautiful outside, I sat on her porch for a bit and worked. We did a long overdue load of laundry and fell asleep pretty early.
Berea, KY / Rest Day
We woke up feeling very refreshed. I tinkered around with my bike for a bit (I planned to lighten my load even more by sending some more stuff home) and Matt worked on Maya's front steps a bit. Matt drove Maya to work, then we stopped at the post office, then headed downtown. I worked at a coffee shop for a while. Charlie rolled into town a bit later, and him and Matt ended up getting spotted by a professor at Berea College who convinced them to give a lecture about bike touring in his class. Pretty wild. After picking up Maya from work, we went to get some things to make dinner for us, her, and her friend Janet. Matt made an outrageously good Indian meal...chana masala, homemade naan, and rice. I made a salad and got us a blueberry pie for dessert. We had an amazing evening hanging out with Maya and Janet. After eating dinner we relaxed on the porch for a while, where Maya had made a fire. The whole day and evening was so awesome and rejuvenating. Maya's energy and positivity got me really excited to get back on the bike (while at the same time not wanting to leave!). She is such a great person. The world needs more Mayas.