Southern Yellow Pine

I’m convinced that hinge season is really the only time when riding through the South would be pleasant day after day. Yesterday brought with it simply lovely conditions for a tourist with heat-addled senses: cool weather and overcast skies that brought occasional spritzes of rain. I left the Davis homestead right around nine in the morning, then made my way through remarkably mellow country roads straight North to Danville, right on the northern side of the Virginia border. Riding that day was short, and the local bike shop affirmed that there was no camping anywhere around (note to self: check for lodging feasibility when planning routes), so I grabbed a cheap motel and crashed out for a nap. Dinner was mediocore, even though the diner parking lot was full. More proof that dining in Virginia is a haphazard affair for out-of-towners.

I rode out at eight this morning, crossed the Dan River on an inviting pedestrian footbridge that locked me into a multiuse path heading out of town, far away from useful roads. After a meandering first hour, I hooked up with highway 58, anticipating easy miles on a straight path to the next town. In creating this straight path, the road neglected to pass across the terrain in a graceful manner, and climbed across too many hills for my liking. After 20 miles things flattened out and riding turned reminiscent of back home in the Purchase area, complete with farms and reservoirs filled with fishing boats. Winds were variable, though not light, making for generally unpredictable riding.

While the weather in these last two days should be more of the same, I can feel the coastal plain just out of sight. In the last ten miles, forest stands have changed over to coniferous, instead of hardwoods, and the evening humidity has abated slightly. Tomorrow’s riding into the coastal wetlands should be interesting.

Adventures in Gastronomy

I never expected to find my penultimate legs of the tour to be the most interesting with respect to cuisine! The tall mountains, narrow valleys, and tree-lined climbs of Appalachia have been amply rewarding in their own right, which is fortunate because – and I regret to say this as a Kentuckian – there’s little else to endear Appalachia to a touring cyclist. Dogs are fierce, road conditions are often adverse, and locals simply don’t get us cyclists. (though hospitible and friendly exceptions can be found) But whether through luck or a keen eye for good food, I’ve managed to wrangle some wonderful meals out of the ridges and valleys in the region.

Outside of Elkhorn City, I enjoyed locally-caught fish in a city restaurant. After months of beer and bourbon whiskey, I got to relish a glass of wine at a winery in Rural Retreat, VA. I’m taking several days off in North Carolina with family, where I’m getting a crash course in low country cuisine from my Aunt Lynn. I’ve sampled five types of barbecue, including a really exemplary Lexington-style sauce. And, lest we forget that I’m in Appalachia, I was served a really dismal pizza near Max Meadows, VA by a meth-addicted waitress who was the very picture of inefficiency and duplicity. This served to remind me that while not all experiences on this trip have been pleasant, they are, by and large, very memorable.

It was my fervent hope on leaving Louisville that I would remedy my poor record of updating the blog, but that certainly hasn’t been the case. In my defense, I spent four days through the mountains without data service, and the wonderful fog that crept up the valley near Haysi, VA in the evening brought a stifling humidity that bricked my cellphone and cut me off from the outside. This fog preceeded rain, which I kept away from the phone, but the damage had been done. That being said, the rain was simply

    wonderful

, having been entirely absent since early June and my ride through Nevada. Temperatures stayed down for my climbing and the flora on either side of the road became brilliantly green in response.

The humidity has only increased as I’ve marched eastward, and I expect it to continue to do so as I near the coast. My hard work through the mountains set me up with four days of free time, which I’m using here in Greensboro, NC, to wait out the oppressive heat that seems to be inescapable across the nation. I’ll set out tomorrow and work my way up an easy 50 miles to Danville, VA, then pick up highway 58 tomorrow and spin my way all the way to the beach. Weather willing, I’ll write again soon.

Across Appalachia

Hello readers. This dispatch is being penned at a machine that appears to date back to the late Paleozoic, so I make no promises about formatting. That being said, I’m in a library in Wytheville, VA, between the older Appalachians and the Blue Ridge range, enjoying air conditioning and riding the stoutest tailwind I’ve seen since Carson City. Camping through Appalachia has been pleasant, with cool breezes and foggy mornings encouraging me to early starts and tallying up miles before lunch. The terrain here is very mixed: valleys are flat, except when they aren’t, and mountains are milder than other cyclists let on, except when roads are tortuously steep. Much the same can be said of the weather, which alternates between sweltering, balmy, wet, stormy, and placid with alarming speed. Fortunately, all of these factors make for some of the most exciting and engaging riding I’ve experienced on the trip, with every mile bringing a new sight, and a new sweeping vista unfolding ever few hours.

The day’s ride after my last post was mild, an easy 48 miles into Hindman, much spent tracing the courses of river valleys. Nevertheless, after the previous night’s poor sleep, I elected to take a hotel for the evening, and was asleep by 8. The next morning I woke with the sun, got off to an early start, and worked my way across the 75 miles into Haysi, VA. Taken in total, these past two days were very eventful: I had a wonderful pork tenderloin sandwich, raced a rainstorm into Boonville (beating it to town by two minutes), met a New Zealander tourist, ate lunch next to an old dude in a fedora smoking a huge – really huge – cigar, climbed 5000 feet, saw what a catastrophic flood in Appalachia looks like, left Kentucky, dealt with a hotel manager who couldn’t find his butt with two hands and a road map, and fit three days’ worth of riding into the space of two.

Yesterday’s ride took me from Haysi to Damascus, VA. I awoke to rain at some unknown hour, hastily pitched my fly, and swore profusely at the aforementioned hotel manager. Before the rain had abated, dawn was breaking, and I struck camp as best I could, taking the rainfly down the moment the rain finished and getting on the road around six. For my discomfort, I was treated to six hours of riding up cool valleys under cloudy skies, an amazing change of pace from the sun-baked two months I’ve experienced in the past. With respect to terrain, the ride was punctuated by two large climbs across major mountain ridges, with several smaller climbs to take me across minor drainage divides. I gained Damascus at 4:30, 70 miles down the road from where I started, and stayed at a hostel the Methodist Church had provided for hikers and cyclists riding through on the various trails near town. The early hour of approach allowed me to set most of my gear to dry out in the yard before cleaning up and grabbing dinenr. My New Zealander companion joined me, along with a half-dozen boy scouts just finished with a section hike of the Appalachian Trail, and we traded stories for several hours after dinner.

This morning, I worked my way up the mountain outside of town. The previous day’s long ride in sodden socks had left me with two blisters under my big toes, my first of this affliction so far on the trip. So traveling was slow at first, but since dropping over the pass between Troutdale and Sugar City, riding has been swift and enjoyable. I took lunch at a winery in Rural Retreat, relishing the chance to imbibe something that wasn’t Budweiser or bourbon whiskey, and felt dangerously close to being civilized and comfortable. If rain holds off this afternoon, I’ll ride another few towns down the road, the take an easy day into Christianburg tomorrow, where I’ll take a hard-earned rest day.

Other people’s forebodings

I’ve heard tell, increasing as I make my way east, about the challenging nature of riding across Appalachia. This baffled me, as the scale of that range simply doesn’t compare to the ranges of the western states: elevations are lower, and the mountains, being older by several million years (predating the formation of the Atlantic Ocean), are more rounded and regular in profile due to erosion. However, two days of riding have brought me to the very foot of the range in Berea, and the very same erosive forces that have knocked down the Appalacian peaks have dissected the plains on their western margins into the maze of rolling hills that make up the Bluegrass region. If the slopes here are any indication of what’s to come, riding through the mountains will be a challenge of a different sort than previous mountains.

After Tuesday’s weather passed, I set off Wednesday, taking familiar roads out of Oldham county, and enjoying the opportunity to just ride without uncertainty about my location or the road ahead. I ate two lunches on Wednesday: one in Shelbyville and one in Lawrenceburg. Traffic was heavy, but flat roads an broad shoulders brought me into Harrodsburg.

Today’s ride was short, a scant 50 miles, but the terrain rolled almost every inch of the way. I welcome long climbs, in fact, for the opportunity to duck my head down and push the pace for a long distance. I arrived in town early in the afternoon and hid from the heat in an ice cream parlor while I outlined my ride through the western Appalachians. The thermostat is slowly turning up through Kentucky, I hope to climb far enough into the hills soon to beat the worst of it.

Missourri, bad knees, and a nice hiatus

For those of you all still with me, or perhaps just tuning in, I’m sorry about the long absence of news. The few days of riding after my last post were arduous, and I rolled at least a hundred miles each day. I was taken in by another cyclist for the night in Centerville, KS, found a bike shop on a back road in the middle of Mennonite country outside of Versailles, MO, and burned up 120 miles on the Katy Trail between Jefferson City and St. Charles. Stepping up the extra 30 miles daily, combined with the rolling hills throughout most of those few days, really did a number on my knees. Stretching only went so far to relieve the tension, so I let off the throttle a bit and have taken a week off back home in Louisville.

I use the term “week off” loosely, because it’s been eventful catching up with the real world. Of import to this blog and my trip, I’ve worked on a few things to keep your eyes peeled for in the next few days:

1. I worked through my photos from the trip up until St. Louis, editing as I went. I’ve pared down 6 GB of original photos to about 100 MB of jpegs, which will be making their way onto blog posts from the past over the next few days. Expect a big update to facebook once the trip’s over.

2. I’m collecting my thoughts on the major parts of my gear loadout (bike, wheels/tires, panniers, etc.) and will probably be adding review pages in the next few weeks discussing them.

3. I’m still dropping gear weight! Most significantly, I’m abandoning my tent in favor of a hammock system. While the tent was plush and cool, I’d always somewhat disliked the weight and bulk of carrying around a three-person tent for solo touring. After running around town a bit, the folks over at The Trail Store fixed me up with a Grand Trunk Air Bivy Extreme hammock. A trial pitch yesterday certainly took longer than setting up the tent did, but I suspect that will speed up with practice.

4. In addition to a change-up with the tent, I’ve dropped my three-season sleeping bag in favor of a cheap, light fleece blanket. I’m leaving my camp pillow at home, and I’ve decanted my bourbon from the original glass bottle into a plastic flask.

5. Since I’ve mailed back so much gear over the course of the trip, I’ve edited my gear list page on the blog, annotating which items of gear I’ve mailed home. Keep your eyes peeled, as this will surely change a bit more over the final leg of the trip.

6. Megan came down last week, and is hoping to meet me in Virginia Beach. We’ve set a target date for the end of the trip (July 30), and are looking at some post trip activities up in the Appalachians. So keep watching the blog after the conclusion of the trip for more trip reports.

I intended to set off this morning to rejoin the Transamerica Trail at Berea, but rain all morning simply didn’t seem appealing or auspicious enough weather to draw me out of bed. Needless to say, I had better ride out soon before lethargy and comfort take over. My next post will be from the road.

Grain elevators and water towers

I’m leaving the high plains behind. Today I dropped below 2000 feet, I’ve entered the Flint Hills region of Kansas, fields are closing in, and traffic is stepping up. I’ve stopped riding between grain elevators, and started hopping from water tower to water tower. The hills, while mild, do a fine job breaking up the monotony of previous days’ rides, but their coming signals the end of my chances for rallying up huge-mileage days.

The travellers hostel at Zion Lutheran in Hutchinson was, hands-down, the best night’s sleep I’ve had since setting out: the bed was soft, the basement cool and quiet. The Lutherans had a weekly lunch after church on Sunday, and were kind enough to let me carb-load with them. I visited the Cosmoshpere in town, a remarkable space museum. Exhibits were very readable and engaging, but I was disappointed to find that material ended at the conclusion of the Apollo program, omitting completely things like Hubble, ISS, and the space shuttle program.

I set out for Newton late in the afternoon since it was a scant 30 miles down the road. Riding was uneventful, but warm. The city park in town was one of the prettiest so far, with a large population of old trees offering shade. Unfortunately, trains shuttled back and forth in the nearby railroad switchyard starting in the wee hours of the morning, disrupting sleep. I woke before sunrise, struck camp and headed to the post office to collect my tires I had forwarded from Pueblo. The office wasn’t open, though it wouldn’t matter as the tires were AWOL. Breakfast was wonderful however, and I rode off on 50 some hours after waking. Weather has been wonderful though, and riding in the afternoon into Emporia was brisk. Since I’ve forsaken a rest day, I’m smlurgin on a hotel and dinner. I’m heading for the Katy Trail tomorrow, hopefully Missouri will have nicer riding weather.

A hot skillet

Today, when I walked down to the grocery to get food for dinner, I realized just how sun-addled my brain had become. The shock of transferring from the 100-degree air of Hutchinson into the surgically cool grocery store conflated with the opening strains of “Chariots of Fire” to lend a pleasing, even mood to my shopping experience. It was only after leaving that I realized I had been conned by Muzak, and concluded that this Kansas heat’s effects on my brain are potent indeed.

While my previous observations about this region’s inhabitants still holds true – they’re wonderful, charitable, and sensible folk – the mild weather has gone off to somewhere else. Since leaving Tribune, the wind has journeyed around the points o the compass, never abating during daylight, to settle in the South. There is an occasional westerly aspect to it, but it is largely a crosswind. Save for certain parts of the trail where the road goes south, whereupon cycling quickly becomes a death march under a cloudless sky. The terrain has been predominantly flat, with some broad hills during yesterday’s death march as I changed watersheds, and some rollers today that reminded me of the terrain back near Murray. While the terrain is a welcome mitigation g factor in the presence of wind and heat, it has the undesired effect of making my memories of days on the road run together, though I’ll try my best here.

Riding out of Tribune early, I was greeted with light winds and lovely views of wheat fields and grain elevators in the distance. I had a short stack of pancakes in Leoti, lunch in Scott city, and camped in Dighton. I swam, ate at a bar, and fended off swarms of beetles from my city park campsite with two fellow riders.

The wind blew from the south all night, though temperatures were comfortable enough to sleep in by 9. I set out early in the morning, with the sun extra low in the sky from my recent entry into the Central time zone. I had another short stack breakfast in Ness City, saw the girls ride by, and headed east. I took a long break at a biker-friendly rest stop in Alexander along with a number of other cyclists heading both directions. Lunch and hiding out from the heat in Rush Center. After hydrating, I filled my bottles with ice and headed south toward Larned; the water was tepid in three miles, hot in another four. The southward pitch was brutal, enervating, and demoralizing as I came face-to-face with the full force of winds coming off the Texas plains. I was exhausted when I made Larned, another century day under my belt, and got a hotel room. At some point I’ll have to come to terms with hot nights, but that didn’t have to happen last night.

Another early morning today, with hotcakes for breakfast at the Don Do Diner. I mention the establishment by name because, unlike every other diner I’ve eaten at on the plains, pancakes here were far from the mealy, burnt status quo I’d grown accustomed to. The pancakes were needed, as this morning had a 58-mile drive devoid of services. I did get to ride through a lush wetland, reminding me of my closeness to the great rivers of the central U.S. The riding again was hot and windy, but mostly completed by lunchtime. After a tenderloin sandwich, I rode eight miles further in to Hutchinson, where I got a spoke replaced and took up residence at a wonderful hostel on but the neighborhood Lutheran church. Tomorrow I’ll attend services, check out this Cosmodome I’ve been hearing about, then leave in the evening for a 30-mile ride to my rest day tomorrow.



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