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 9: Blacksburg to Wytheville
I woke up earlier than my Blacksburg hosts and tried to be as quiet as possible while leaving the house.
I picked up the Huckleberry rail-trail to leave the town on my way to Christiansburg and then on to Wytheville. I was heading Southwest, through the mountain valley. When I hit the town of Radford, VA I almost found a new person to ride with.
I was making my way down the town’s Main St. when I saw a lanky guy on a bike pulling a sleek trailer asking for directions to a bike shop from a local. I quickly pulled over and introduced myself.
The man was from Sweden and was heading to San Francisco.
We both shared a common need, because I needed to pick up some extra things since I was on my own now so I went too. He needed new brakes since his had worn out in the mountains, but the shops here didn’t have them in stock.
We got some breakfast as he tried to figure out what to do, and he decided to hang out in Radford for a day or two while the shops had the brakes ordered.
I couldn’t hang out that long so I pushed ahead. I left Radford and headed southwest to Wytheville.
My extended time in Radford put me out on the roads in the heat of the afternoon and it was a tougher ride than I expected.
I was in the foothills of another range of mountains and even though there were no major climbs, I would go up one very steep hill only to have another one waiting at the end of the downhill. It was frustrating and I wasn’t enjoying being by myself. I finally made it to Wytheville after riding truck heavy roads and went straight to the air conditioned library.
I was only sitting there for a half hour when three girls with handlebar bags, spandex shorts, and tanktops walked in. We immediately recognized each other as fellow riders.
We introduced ourselves to each other and I found out that Lauren, Kersten, and Katie were from Dickinson College.
After a trip to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for dinner, we headed to the city park, where the police department allowed bikers to camp out.
It was awesome to have people to hang out with after a hot day alone. They welcomed me into their group and we woke up early the next morning to cross the next ridge of the Appalachians.
Day 10: Getting to ‘The Place’
The girls kept the same early rising schedule I had been keeping and we were on the road by 6:30AM.
We decided to ride ten miles to Rural Retreat, Va. where we would get snacks for the day.
It was supposed to be another hot day so we wanted to get as many miles in before the afternoon.
The Rural Retreat gas station we stopped in was also a truck service station and we got the usual stares and questions in the store.
The road up the mountain to Troutdale followed a mountain stream and there were not many cars on the road at all.
The mountain was tall and the climb looked huge on our elevation maps, but the grade was so gradual that it wasn’t bad at all.
We got to the top and realized the Special-K bars weren’t gonna cut it for the rest of the ride to Damascus, so we stopped in the restaurant in the tiny mountain-top town.
Some locals lounged watching the T.V. and we ordered Gravy Biscuits and eggs.
The girls had a siesta in the afternoon so I decided to just meet them in Damascus.
I pedaled a little further up the mountain to the highest point and then found out my favorite part of mountains: the killer downhills. I had finally figured out the braking techniques and cornering so I let loose going downhill and (safely) exceeded the suggested speed limit for cars.
In Damascus I headed to “The Place”, a hostel reserved for Appalachian Trail hikers and Transamerican Bicyclists. It was run by the local Methodist Church and was located in an old house
All the rooms hadbeen cleared out and fillled with bunk beds. The hikers that were leaving told me that about 30 boy scouts were on their way so when the girls got there, we locked our bikes to two bunk beds to claim them.
The boy scouts never ended up showing up, so we had the house just about to ourselves. As we made our dinner on the front porch, a police officer showed up. It seemed like the town wasn’t thrilled with the open house and had it checked on often.
We appreciated the security though, and talked to the police officer for a while. He lingered longer than expected, and we figured there wasn’t much crime to fight in a small town fueled by bikers and hikers.
Day 11: Damascus to Council
After a great stay in “The Place” we were sad to leave Damascus, but today was another big day of Appalachian climbing. It was also expected to be as hot as the day before.
We made the morning push into Mountain View, VA northwest of Damascus. We all had some things we brought with us that we ended up not needing so we headed to the local post office.
I stuffed the bag I didnt need in a bag and off it went,back to Wilmington. We got more of my new favorite food—biscuits with gravy—at a gas station combined with a market and restaurant, and headed toward Hayter’s Gap, the hardest climb for the rest of the entire trip.
When we told the lady at the post office we were climbing it, we pronounced the name of the landmark as “Hater’s Gap”, and she cringed at our mispronunciation and corrected it, informing us that is was called ‘Hi-ter’s’ Gap. We thought perhaps “hater” was more appropriate, because we definitely hated it while we were climbing. It seemed to last forever, and once we got around another switchback, there was another waiting for us.
Finally, we got to the top and headed down to the valley. We took a break in the backyard of a church that provided open facilities to bikers.
We lounged a little too long, and as we napped, storm clouds rolled in. We needed to make it to Council, VA which was about 24 miles away, and at the top of another mountain. At about 3:00 p.m. we headed out, and raced the storm clouds to as far as Honaker.
We couldn’t pedal fast enough and as the storm errupted, we took shelter in a laundromat. Council was still another 10 miles away, completely uphill, and it was now 5:30 and the storm was taking its time.
There were no campgrounds or motels in Honaker and before the storm had gotten bad we could ask a church if it would allow us to camp on their lawn.
We were stuck. As we sat there trying to figure out our next move, a middle aged lady walked into the laundromat and unloaded some soot black clothes into a washer.
I struck up a conversation and asked if she knew of anywhere to camp in Honaker, since we were stuck. She said no and looked very concerned.
We needed to get to Council and I asked if she thought hitch-hiking was a good idea.
She thought about the idea for a second and then said “you knowwhat, if you just wait I’ll go get my truck and give you all a ride to
She was a lifesaver. As her laundry washed she went home and got her truck. When she got back she grabbed the laundry and we loaded our bikes into the back and got in.
On the way up the mountain she pointed our her house, which was at the edge of a stunning cliff. She explained that she was washing her husband’s clothes, because he worked in the coal mines.
Miners, according to the woman, make a minimum of $70,000 per year, and with overtime can make around $100,000.
She was extremely nice and talkative, and wanted to know all about our trip. She even stopped at a lookout point so we could take pictures.
We finally got to the town park in Council nestled between two mountaintops that allowed bikers overnight We said goodbye and thanked her for being so kind and taking the time out her day to help us out of a tight spot. Once she left, the park caretaker showed us the bathrooms and told us we could camp anywhere in the park, so naturally we picked the enclosed wooden pirate ship playground.