Well, It’s been a couple of weeks since we started our cross-country voyage, and after twelve days of cycling more than we ever have before, we can honestly say that it hurts. It hurts like the Emily Dickens. Maybe even the Charles Dickens.
That being said, everything has been incredible so far. The people we’ve met, the places we’ve been, the scenery through which we’ve biked, and the food we’ve eaten have all been positive experiences that have really kept our energy high and excited for what’s to come.
Since we last checked in with you, we were just leaving Yorktown and heading west. Now we are 300 miles into the trip and find ourselves in Lexington, Virginia. Yes, it would be sweet if we were far enough to be in Lexington, Kentucky, but I guess we’ll settle for the lesser-known Lexington for now. Interesting fact about Lexington–it’s named after Lexmark Printers (please don’t look that up, just take my word for it). The first couple of days we were spoiled with sleeping indoors and home-cooked meals. We had friends in both Williamsburg and Richmond who offered us some excellent meals and accommodations. We came across some locals doing some swimming and rope-swinging under the train tracks Richmond, and also got sidetracked on a very popular and scenic pedestrian catwalk over the James River. Michelle and I did some shooting, but mostly answered the ever-popular question, “Where are you nuts going with all that stuff?!”
From there, we headed to Ashland, Virginia. It’s a small, quaint town (at some point I should just stop using the word “small” in front of these places, because they’re all small) that has a 7-Eleven, a Dollar General, and train tracks that run right down the middle of Main Street. We found an awesome coffee shop that had a hearty breakfast, a stage for live music, and even a journal for cyclists to sign. The owners told us stories about the other cyclists who had come through recently, like a guy who rode a 36-inch unicycle across the country, and a couple of happy-go-lucky-guys going down the Atlantic Coast promoting “To Write Love on Her Arm”. That night we set up camp by the First Baptist Church, which also happened to be near the home of a family of foxes who weren’t annoying at all, and didn’t make any noises to wake us up in the middle of the night. Those foxes have no courtesy, you know.
The next morning we left a little later in the afternoon and headed for Lake Anna. Once we got to the lake, we searched around for somewhere that looked adequate for us to camp without getting hassled by the man. We’re not gonna let the man bring us down, so we kept searching. We took an ambiguous path and found ourselves in someone’s back yard, and asked the older gentleman sitting on his back deck, Gilbert, if he knew of a place to camp. “Just go ahead and set up right there,” he replied with a friendly smile. Awesome!
Then we arose to the sound of a little dog barking and barking and barking, and figured this was as good a time as any to head out. We said goodbye to gracious family, and headed to Palmyra. After eating at Two J’s Smokehouse (definitely try the succotash), we ran into a local man named Bob and his two dogs Rosie and Mia at a nearby park. He walked his dogs and told us about his own cross-country bike tour as he showed us the way to our campsite that night near the river. This was all of course after Michelle took a quick power nap on the picnic table outside the restaurant.
As we got closer and closer to Charlottesville, we got more excited about, well, tacos. It had been over a week since we last had tacos, so we were going through some major withdrawals. Although the peaceful small towns are quiet and low-key, it was nice to get into a more urban environment. We had some good food at an interesting liquor store/restaurant/bar combination called Beer Run, and their beer selection was a mile long if it was an inch, I tell ya!
We found a hostel called Alexander House Inn & Hostel, and met some other people staying there for the night. There were two backpackers: a Brazilian guy named Eduardo, and a Danish guy named Rasmus, and there was a Pennsylvania local named Nina who has lived in Norway for 25 years. She was also biking across the country, to “see the country I never saw when I grew up here.” We talked to her a while and learned that all of the property in Norway is open for anyone. No one really owns any of the property privately, so you can camp anywhere for the most part. So we said “NOrway? More like YESway!” No one laughed.
Next up was the unforgiving Afton Mountain and Blue Ridge Parkway. It was just about as hard as they said it was. I threw up, Michelle started to pray, and I tossed all of my bags off the side of the mountain in a fit of rage. Okay, not really. But it was tough. We ended up pushing our bikes up the mountain for a bit, and hit the halfway point around 7 pm. We were looking for the infamous “Cookie Lady,” and sure enough, the halfway point is right where she is. She is a landmark among cyclists doing the TransAm trail, and we’ve only heard amazing things about her. However, when we went to her door, she was not home (sad face emoticon).
Instead we cooked dinner and made our camp behind the “Bikers Welcome” Baptist Church, and finally got to use our rain fly for the first time as a rain storm made it’s way through the mountains that night. Stopping in Afton was a good idea, considering the next day was the hardest part of the ride so far. We went up about 2800 feet in 10-15 miles. To give you some perspective, think about a football field. Now think if that football field were 2,800 feet long and really steep uphill. Crazy, right?
After making the long, tiresome ascent we ended up in Love, Virginia. We were in LOVE with Love, Virginia. All we needed was LOVE, Virginia. Love, Virginia lifted us up where we belong. I believe in a thing called Love, Virginia. No, the store owner wasn’t impressed by these references, either. the Royal Oak Country store was great, and the owners let us pitch a tent on their newly constructed Love Mountain Festival stage. Flat ground with a roof over our heads? Yes please.
As we sat outside the store and ate our freshly made paninis after setting up camp, a biker was making his way up to us. His name was Robert Van Der Kroon, a 44-year old Dutch man traveling down from New York to San Francisco. We talked with him about life in the Netherlands, cycling, and about how we were carrying way too much weight. We had some laughs, some beers, and made a new friend (hopefully the first of many).
Yesterday was day two of conquering the Appalachians, and probably the toughest to boot. It was a lot of climbing in the morning, then we finally hit the plateau a couple of hours later. Once we saw the big downhill we were excited, and knew we didn’t have to pedal at all for 3 miles as we came back down. It was ridiculously steep. And windy. Not like wind was blowing, but it was windy. Long “I” sound. You get what I’m saying, right? By the end, our forearms and hands were burning from squeezing the brakes furiously, and the sweat had dried off our bodies from the quick descent. The road flattened out, we hit a few more jerkface hills, and finally made it to Lexington. We had a big meal, a beer, and found the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department to pitch our tent. We heard good things about Fire Departments, and what we hear was definitely true about these guys. They offered us food, showers, bunks, and even XBOX. The hospitality was an unexpected surprise.
So here we are in our moment of zen, relaxing our bodies before another ass kicking week in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. Stay tuned.