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.