Editor’s Note: Justin Field, UD Class of 2011, embarked on a TSD-sponsored bike-ride across America to raise money and awareness for the Food Bank of Delaware. This is an update on his progress as he travels through Virginia. To read his last entry, click here.
Day 6: Charlottesville to Vesuvius, Va.
After hearing about them for days, it was finally time to start taking on the Appalachian mountains.
We had spent the night at another of Dean’s friends from school’s house. With clean laundry in hand we got a ride back to the trail in a pickup truck.
As we moved from the suburban developments to the rural back roads, the mountains loomed in front of us.
According to almost everyone we talked to who knew about the transamerica route, and even some who didn’t, today was supposedly the toughest day of climbing on the entire route (the Rockies are considered comparatively easier to bike because the grades are gentler and more consistent).
Our legs were fresh in the morning and we powered up the first major hill with ease. We thought we must just be in really good shape, because it wasn’t too bad.
At the top of that hill, a little old lady dubbed the “cookie lady” by bicyclists gives out food and opens her home to bikers to rest, use the bathroom, or even sleep. She is a legend on the trans-america route so we had to pay her a visit.
She told us she was 90+ and had recently been having some medical difficulties, but she felt a duty to help out the passing cyclists in any way she could.
After she suffered a stroke, the only way she was able to pay a nurse for at home care was through donations from bikers who had met her and heard about her troubles. She talked for about a half an hour in a thick southern accent and with a twinkle in her eye, eagerly giving us all the good spots to stop on the upcoming portion of the route.
We moved on and reached the Blue Ridge Parkway. For a while we were in heaven, stopping at every overlook and taking in the land we had just conquered. But as would become the trend in the Appalachians, the joy was short lived.
Even though we had made it up to the Parkway, the road climbed and then fell and then climbed again. After twenty miles, I was totally exhausted and had run out of food because there were no roadside services on the parkway.
Dean was farther behind so I couldn’t have any of his food. Just when I was pretty sure my body was
digesting all my muscles for energy, I happened on a group of bikers going for a day ride. I was too hungry to be subtle and after saying hello, outright asked them if they had any food. They immediately produced a variety of Cliff Bars and energy gels.
The ride ended with a four mile downhill. At the top of the hill a passing biker warned me to pump my breaks continuously.
If I didn’t brake enough I would speed out of control the biker said. If I braked continuously, he said, my tires would get so hot from friction that they would explode.
I felt like this was probably not the best time to be learning how to brake and corner for the first time, but I proceeded with caution and made it to the bottom.
We camped behind Gerties Country Store in Vesuvius, VA, again with the twenty or so other riders from Bike the US for MS. It was nice to see other bikers but the group overwhelmed the tiny store, which nonetheless kept up with orders for BBQ with slaw sandwiches.
Day 7: Vesuvius to Lexington
We took a break day from serious riding today and made the quick 18 mile ride along a stream and railroad tracks to historic Lexington, Va.
As we entered the city, we saw the clean looking Virginia Military Institute. Everything seemed to be closed, since it was a Sunday, but we found an open coffee shop and camped out, plugging in everything electronic and changing in the bathroom.
While we tried to figure out what exactly to do with our rest day, I brought up the issue of pace.
We started with very different bikes, I was on a steel frame road bike designed for touring and Dean on a hybrid bike with shocks. Because of the August first deadline for school in Philly, I had to pick up the pace.
However, we were getting further into the Appalachians, and that was no easy task. We decided the best option was going to have to be to split up. I stocked up at a camping supplies store for the things that we had been sharing and then rode to a KOA campground.
It was the first campground I’d had to pay for all trip but the showers, pavilion, and air conditioned indoor area made it worth the price.
Day 8: First day solo
I got up extra early so I could pack in the miles. I rode past the Natural Bridge tourist attraction which looked like it was more of a trap.
Outside of Buchanan, Va. (pronounced Bukanin) I rode through a heavy fog rising from the mountain valley, Riding solo didn’t bother me, and I had the freedom to stop and take in the surroundings as much as I liked.
I had no idea where I would stay in Blacksburg, my destination, but I knew I should be able to find something, considering so many Delawareans go to Virginia Tech. I posted on Facebook asking if anyone knew of a place to crash, and sure enough my friend Melissa said that her boyfriend’s friend would be willing to host me for the night.
After a great ride through rolling fields past long mountain ridges, I was greeted to Blacksburg by a 2.5 mile steep uphill.
My legs were angry at me by the end of the incline, but I made it up and found Nate and Marc. I felt at home in their college apartment and got treated to Nate’s cooking, which was much better than the college standard.
I fell asleep, anxious but excited for my second day as a “free agent” rider