Thursday, September 26, 2013

More about Virginia...

I just have to add this.

I had a family emergency right after this trip. This meant I was flying to Austria.
When I am stressed my attention span shrinks. So it happened that I got on the last bus that left from Washington DC to the airport with exactly $1.- in my pocket. Not making this bus would have meant a 20+ mile taxi ride. I got on not having the fare blushing at my predicament. The bus driver waved me on, I was floored.
The next day at the airport, I realized I still had a $60.- Leatherman knife from the trip on me. There is no post office at the airport, no service to mail things home and no time. I went to the information counter and offered the knife to one of the people as a gift. Mr. Cote took the knife, promising to mail it from home. I just got it, plus the change, which I told him to keep.
Virginia, you have a new fan.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Virginia, Generosity and The End

Day 62, September 1, Hindman to Elk Grove, 68 miles, 4700 feet ascent

Darin and I left at slightly different times, agreeing to meet at the end of the day. I think both of us very very used to riding alone at this point.
The good thing is that since I have entered the Appalachian mountains, the dog issue has largely disappeared. You get an occasional one, but almost all are either on chains or in kennels. Sometimes hard to see a large dog in a very small cage, but still better then on the road. As I said to a woman in Kentucky the issue with the dogs was culture, not money or logistics. She was not pleased.
The roads are very steep in parts. Dotted by really nice homes with some barley standing barracks. More than once I was thinking that a home is abandoned only to see a car or children toys later.
The people are much friendlier than Kentucky. I really like this part of the country.
This is coal country. Lots of trucks with it on the road. I spoke with several people I met about coal.
I stopped to rest in the afternoon, when a man stopped his car and asked me if I needed a place to stay for the night. He introduced himself as the major of the town and offered city hall for me to stay. I gratefully accepted and spent a comfortable night spread on the carpet and was able to use their little kitchen. It was great. Thank you Elk Grove.

Day 63, September 2, Elk Grove to Damascus, 87 miles, 9700 feet ascent

I left early to ride to the campground that Darin and I had agreed to meet at last night, worried that she may thing something happened to me. The campground was huge, and I did not see her.
A beautiful ride. Lush forests with some agriculture. I caught with Darin again. We rode together for a bit. I rode behind her, when I had another flat tire. It took 11 minutes to fix. By the time I got into the next town, I was surprised to find she did not wait. I did not see her again. Also got lost again.
It did not want to go that far, but could not find a good place to stay. I crossed the first of two mountain ranges that make up the Appalachians. It was beautiful. The main climb all in the afternoon shade.
When I arrived in town, some people helped me to a hostel. In this town, my route intersected the Appalachian Trail (2000 mile long hiking trail), which meant good options to stay and eat. I stopped at Subway first and wolfed down two foot long sandwiches, watched  by the employee with surprise.
The keeper of the hostel was a disarmingly honest man with a colorful history. I liked him quite a bit.
We talked for almost two hours. I had a single room and slept well. Maybe from the most climbing of this trip in one day.

Day 64, September 3, Damascus to Wytheville, 60 miles, 5400 feet ascent

I had dense fog for the first two hours, and it was cold. This was also the day Dietmar found out what it felt like to over eat. I had a big lunch in front of a grocery store.
A very big lunch. I also had bought 1/2 gallon of rice milk. I filled 1/3 into my water bottle and attempted to drink the rest. I was kind of hard to get it down. I did succeed, but at a cost. I found myself standing there with rice milk forming a standing column half way up my esophagus. Do not try this at home! I landed up walking gingerly through an adjoining lawn for 45 minutes, trying to dislodge air in my stomach. It worked. Even when I ate a whole fried chicken the week before did I not feel this full.
I did not manage to ride fast that afternoon.
I stayed in a motel that night, could not find any decent camping spot.

Day 65, September 4, to Wytheville to Catawba Mountain, 79 miles, 6200 feet ascent

I got very lost in an effort to secure good food. The town was Christiansburg. I landed up in Blacksburg, nearby. Part of the problem was that the maps I have give me little sense of surroundings, and there were mountains between me and the correct trail. I did not want to backtrack.
I had another flat, patched it, but I was out of water. So I did the unthinkable. I knocked on someones house to ask for water. Nobody was home and then I slipped on the stairs coming from the house.
The step was not wood as I thought, but plastic composite. It was like somebody pulled the rug.
I fell with my back onto a low concrete retaining wall. I got very lucky, just a painful scrape on my left arm. For the first time on this trip, my ego launched an attack on me: This is hard, people are stupid for having plastic steps, asking for help is dangerous and so on. This lasted a few minutes. I stepped in, and put an end to it. First I told my ego, I should have taken my shoes off, knowing how slippery my clip on shoes are, flat tires happen and I could had bought more tubes. If I needed water, go ask.
I rode to the next house, looking for an open garage. I walked up in my socks, did not slip, was invited in, got ice-cold water and directions. Case closed.
Being lost takes time. I ran out of daylight. The horse took time too. I saw him grazing about 100 feet inside this beautiful property. Something about this horse made me get off. I landed up being one of the most beautiful encounters with an animal in my life. I stood and called him. He ignored me, but I noticed, that he was grazing slowly in my direction. He never lifted his head. Ten long minutes later I was caressing his head. It is hard to communicate what connection I felt to this animal.
I continued with darkness approaching. The road linking me to the correct path was very steep. I rode it in total darkness with my headlight. It was densely wooded and quite serene.
Being on a roll knocking on strangers doors, I did just that again. I asked some owners if I could pitch my tent on their property, having no other options (heavy vegetation). I was invited to stay in their beautiful home. I have rarely in my life felt so comfortable in someone else's house. They were smart, balanced and generous souls. I easily had the best night sleep of this trip.

Day 66, September 5, Catawba Mountain to Lexington, 75 miles, 4800 feet ascent

I had another flat. I was out of new tubes, so I decided to patch all three I had. In order to find the leaks I had to run down to a creek, which lucky me was close. It still took two hours and six patches. During this a man passed me on a motorcycle with a side car. He turned and came back. We talked for an hour. He was a local judge and full of wisdom and grace. It is encounters like this, one of many, that makes this kind of travel so enriching to me.
I was resting along a beautiful creek, when a lady stopped and offered me her home for the night, after warning me about snakes where I was sitting. OK everybody, I just look trustworthy! For the only time on this trip, I declined, I had no way of getting food for dinner, she had none. Virginians have been incredibly generous to me, all the way.
I got lost in Lexington. I asked for a grocery store at a fire station. One of them guided me there. Really nice. I stuffed dinner into my trailer, and found a great spot behind a commercial building just out of town. I was dark by then. I saw something glittering in the grass. I was a big spider. The body was reflecting light with little sparkles. I do not know if it was water reflecting from the body which looked very rough.
Zip tent tight, go to sleep.

Day 67, September 6, Lexington to Rockfish Gap, 51 miles, 6500 feet ascent

 I woke up to lawnmowers buzzing by at 6:00 AM. When do those people sleep? Lucky for me, the stretch along the creek, they were mowing, was so long they did not come back for an hour.
I found a beautiful spider as I walked to the creek to answer nature's call. It had a yellow triangle on it's back. This being a photo moment I rushed back to my tent, without paying enough attention (for the first time in my life) and ran, well hmmm... right through said spider net. Yes it was head level.
I tore off my T-shirt and brushed my hair with my fingers....for a very long time. I do not mind insects, but this was too close. Way too close.
This was the day, when I crossed the second spine of the Appalachian mountains. It was 3.5 miles of some of the steepest climbing on this trip. Lowest gear out of saddle, going 2.5 miles per hour.
I had lunch in the tiny town of Vesuvius at the foot of the mountain, prior to the climb. A local farmer, chatted me up while I was reading my book, which is a big behavioral Faux Pa in Dietmar's world.
But he was nice. Outside he offered me a beer. I told him not before the climb, give it to me on top.
He did. I arrived panting at the top with him parked with an outstretched hand holding a beer. OK I drank two. We talked for a couple of hours, and I was able to ask him a question, that had been bugging me all trough Kentucky and Virginia. Why would somebody mow 1-3 acres of lawn. I was hesitant to bringing up the carbon footprint for fear of giving away my west coast credentials. He informed me that his neighbor mows 50 acres meaning that he is pretty much on the mower all sunny days. It is prestige, fear of snakes and the ever present, driving me nuts argument (worldwide), that this is tradition. Never mind there were no lawn mowers 100 years ago. In my new friend's defense, he thought it was silly too.
I had 2 more flats and a low front tire as I arrived in Rockfish Gap. I was starving but there was no real food in this hamlet. I ate some good pop corn and two hot dogs, I bought from a very friendly black couple. They owned the trailer with a thriving business. He gave me a discount, just nice people. It reminded me of how few African Americans I have seen in the last few month.
I stayed in the worst motel of the trip. The first one that with stained sheets, but I simply could not go on, in the dark with a front tire I had to pump every five minutes.

Day 68, September 7, Rockfish Gap to Charlottesville, 46 miles, 3400 feet ascent

I bought tubes, real thick ones. Since the store did not open until 10AM, I got a late start.
In the afternoon I was studying my map alongside the road, when a woman stopped and offered her  home to me for the night. (STOP all of you, I am just cute....?). She knew her husband had brought home strays before and would be OK with it. This was 20 miles before her hometown of Charlottesville. This would make it a short day, but I could not refuse. I experienced the by far greatest concentration of aggression towards me as a bicycle rider through town along this trip. I almost T-boned a kind of driver that causes a lot of problems in my hometown area as well. The other incidents, too much to write. Her husband who owns a bicycle store and rides 350 miles a week, told me it was not normal. Good reminder of how one visit to a place can give you the wrong impression. The couple was super nice and I felt at home right away. They and the last couple that invited me a few days ago, give me hope for what beautiful intimate relationships may be possible. Both live a very healthy life and my head is bowed  to their beauty.

Day 69, September 8, Charlottesville to Sherwood Forest, 146 miles, 8400 feet ascent

This was the day I chose to go as far as my body would take me. I made myself available to family and friends for about 2 hours by phone and stopped for lunch with some minor breaks in-between. Other than that, I rode, sunrise to midnight. Shall we agree I arrived tired?
It was surprised as to how much forest there was near the coast. I was was told by several sources, that virtually all forest in Virginia was second growth. The early settlers had clear cut just about everything. Many people (who are still grieved over their loss of freedom) were asked to remove their cattle from land, they did not own anyway, some were paid, in many of their opinions, too little. I am encouraged by the result. The epic battle between individual rights or greed and the common good (or bad) played out here and just about anywhere else in the world.
I found a pretty good spot to camp next to a field and slept decent.

Day 70, September 9, Sherwood Forest to Yorktown, 61 miles, 3300 feet ascent

My last day riding. It felt odd to have the end within grasp. I had anxiety creep in, which I beat back.
I got very lost in Williamsburg, the last town before Yorktown. And then I finished, after getting lost one mile before the end. It was 2PM. I was very proud.
After, I realized, that I had no real exit strategy. I mean I had a ticket home for the 14th, knowing I wanted to spent a few days adjusting, relaxing in Washington DC. I was not really fond of riding more that day. I did my trip. OK? I was smart enough to call a friend gifted in opportunistic thinking. It took him exactly one second to come up with a solution, no exaggeration. He said rent a car from Enterprise, because they will pick me up and then drive, one way. Said and done. They picked me and my equipment up and drove me to Newport News (what a funny name). Their system was not working, so they drove me free of charge back to Williamsburg, 20 miles. They were super nice. In Williamsburg, no train or bus would take me and my bicycle, at least that day. So I spent the night camped behind a church. Before I could leave in the morning the groundskeeper came.
I left out the back through somebody's driveway. I am assuming they were suprised seeing a guy on a bicycle and a trailer come OUT of their driveway at 7:00  in the morning.
I rode the 60 miles to Richmond, VA (not counted in milage total) and shipped my bicycle and trailer through a Bike store ($75.- +shipping). I left the store with two plastic bags of stuff, feeling utterly lost
without my bicycle. I walked 1.5 miles to the Greyhound station, buying a backpack on the way.
I arrived in Washington DC at 8:00PM. Life is good. This happened to be one of the better things I ever did. I am better for it.

Total miles: 3,985
Total ascent: 266,800 feet, or 51 miles

Your mileage will vary...

I have done my very best to be accurate with all I wrote. Logistics not being my talent I may have made mistakes. I doubt there were any big ones. I apologize for the ones did make.
On the other hand, driven by my temperament, as all of you are with your individual ones, what mattered always to me, was the meaning of this trip, not it's numbers.
I counted all miles ridden in a day, including miles to get food or to find my way back from wherever my legs took me while my brain was taking in my surroundings.
I still rather get lost, than to miss a spider or a cloud....
I used few things to enhance my performance. One cup of coffee in the morning. Three pain pills  during the whole ride and last, I think three energy drinks.
I sometimes used towns near where I stayed as begin or end point for the day, having no other reference point.

What this trip helped me understand better, taught me:

I am calmer.
I know more about this country that I ever had.
I find asking for help easier.
I learned how good I can be by myself.
Endorphins make me talk (even) more.
More people could do this than they think.
The human body is an awesome machine, if maintained properly.
I want to do it again, in 9 years.
I will loose 15 lb riding 3,985 miles on a bicycle.
This country has a huge infrastructure deficit.
I have really good friends.
It takes a lot of time to eat well, once out of home turf.
I am stunned by the amount of climbing I had to do.
I never met another person doing this who used a road bicycle (just touring ones)
My best guess is, that 250 people did this in 2013.

Biggest mistake(s) I made:

Not bring spare tires, or buy them when I could.
Leaving without spare tubes for trailer
Starting the trip with a bicycle seat, designed by the Marquis De Sad.

Best Equipment I brought:

Jetboil cooker
REI Folding chair
3 Inch thick sleeping mat
Quality head light

Most difficult moment of the trip

Watching the woman in the fruit and vegetable market in the process of braking her little girls spirit.

Scariest moment of the trip:

The time I was cut off by Idaho militia as I was fleeing the Mormon and Indian attack.

Best moment/time

Too many best moments to start. Best time was when my body was beaten down enough, after about three weeks, in order for my creative mind come come alive. (does this sound too new age?) Oh well.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dogs, Appalachia and Noisy Bread

Day 56, August 26, Utica to Madrid, 76 miles, 4600 feet ascent

My intestinal track is not happy, but on I ride, starting at about 11:00AM. Shortly after I start, a golden retriever, tried to....well retrieve me. Not as a friend. He came within 3 feet of me at full speed. I waited, aimed and hit him right between the eyes with my pepper spray. That dog learned two things that day: Bicyclists do not always good targets and this was not a good day for him. The additional favor he can not get, is that I may have saved him from being hit by a car and of course any driver would not get hurt.
Otherwise uneventful, all of it beautiful. I found a nice level ground behind a church and made camp.
One interesting event has been radio. I have only listened to (Internet) radio maybe two hours total. The station was NPR (know to the more conservative folks as "Radio Free Havana"). They had a series on farming in America. I was an awesome feeling to ride through some of the kind of fields they were talking about. Honorable mention: My shoulder. It has completely healed and I now ride pain free. Isn't the human body awesome?

Day 57, August 27, Madrid to Bardstown, 77 miles, 3700 feet ascent

A few more dogs chase me. I met up with a German guy, who said it well: Why would you let your dogs run onto sometimes very busy street if you love them? He found good words. He also told me about a great website They connect long distance bicycle riders with people willing to host them. I have signed up since.
Otherwise uneventful day. Still not feeling well. By the end of the day I was so finished, and so hot, I needed a motel. I just could not stay out. Felt good.
I must say Western Kentucky felt like a harder place than Missouri or Kansas, people have not been as open or friendly to me. Even the religious messages were more pointed. On one Baptist church the sign read:
Speak to be heard
Move to be seen
Shut up about your accomplishments

Day 58, August 28, Bardstown to Berea, 93 miles, 5900 feet ascent

 A few more dogs, one more sprayed. I was riding through tobacco fields. Never knew what they looked like. It is a natural plant, not all natural is good. I saw some trucks with the harvest of about 3000 pounds of the leaves on the back of a trailer. When they stopped, I asked them if they had a smoke. They said no....and did not think it was funny. I did.
I was so sick that I started looking for a motel at around fifty miles or so. Then I got very lost.
Changed course to a bigger town of more than 4000 people. There was no motel. At first I felt defeated. But all that know me, that never is more than a fleeting moment. First I decided to reward myself. I bought a large can of beer, not really knowing how that would affect my body, the state it was in or effect any more riding. Well it was like medicine, I do not understand why. Believe me, it was still not an easy ride, but I rode about 40 more miles, bought groceries. By the way I confirmed again, why you should not go to the store hungry. Here is a list of what I bought for dinner/breakfast:
1/2 Gallon of rice milk
2 Bananas
3 Plums
2 Avocados
4 lb Of oranges
1 lb Of sausage
1lb  Of bread
2 lb Of frozen vegetables
12 oz Box of blueberries
This was so big, I could not of it into my trailer. I rode one mile with those bags on my handle bars,wobbling like a drunk sailor. I found a city park, ate and....crashed
It was one of those rare times, I slept the sleep of an exhausted man.

Day 59, August 29, Berea to Booneville, 53 miles, 4200 feet ascent

I woke up to a headache. Having gluten sensitivity, and haven eaten a pound of bread for dinner, was of no help, I am certain. In my defense, it was the first loud (crunchy) bread I had seen since I left Carson City, Nevada. I had actually seen a few places before that sell baguette, but they were always out. It was the first day of the trip I took some Ibuprofen in order to ride. To be exact, three, during the day. I could not get going until 11:00AM.  I was entering the Appalachian mountains. The initial climb out of the city was very hard. It was really hot. I have never sweat so much in my life. The only way I could ride was with my bandanna over my forehead to stop sweat from from running into my eyes.The town had a nice setup behind a church, available to people like me. A sink, cool shower, benches and a roof. It was very comfortable. I was grateful and slept decent, almost 7 hours.

Day 60, August 30, Booneville to Hindman, 66 miles, 6400 feet ascent

I got going. Very nice weather. I had gotten lost more days than not, for the last 2 weeks. This day was no exception. I did not know exactly where I was and had been riding on one of the scariest roads of this trip, when I had another flat. The first one on my front tire. This tube held more than 3000 miles. Not bad. Lucky me, it happened next to a side road and I saw a cool, four feet long snake. A harmless black racer. I was able to videotape it sliding into it's den. Bad news, I was out of tubes, the old one had burst. I forgot to restock, dam logistics. A really nice guy picked me up, brought me to his brothers house, who used to own a bike shop, fed me grapes and gave me water. Just a sweet person. His brother who used to ride a lot locally, had crashed because of a dog before and get this, once because of a squirrel. It ran perpendicular into his front wheel, got stuck in the spokes and the turned into the fork, where.... it could not fit. I bought two tubes and started to install them. As I pulled out my tools from the little bad beneath my saddle, I found a hmmm, sigh, a tube. Embarrassed, I quickly zipped it shut.
I continued riding and landed up in Hindman as darkness fell. I knew there was a bicycle hostel. Even with help, it was very hard to find. Almost no signage. The road leading up to it had an astonishing     26% grade for the last 100 yards or so. It was the first time I pushed my bike up a hill, in my socks, so I can bend my toes for enough grip. I roused the unhappy owner of the hostel. He complained that I should have called, even though he knew that it was left off my map to do so, and thus I could not have known. He fed me dinner and I slept in a very large made, up for this, tent. I was the only guest, nice.

Day 61, August 31, Rest day

I landed up warming to David, my beautifully quirky host. We talked quite a bit. He had a snake phobia, while living amongst them. He was a good resource for some things. In 20 years of living on this property, surrounded by woods, he had seen 7 venomous snakes on his land. Killed them all.
He had been a teacher and an actor among other things and I enjoyed his wit and humor. He served beautiful dinners and breakfasts to all his guests. Late in the day, I was joined once more with Darin who arrived at the hostel. We were genuinely happy to see each other and exchanged stories. It was a nice and relaxing day.  

Dietmar's tidbits and other silly questions.

What is the third ingredient in Tropicana 100% juice after water and concentrated juice?
Natural Flavoring

What is natural flavoring?  (without Google please)
The answer is in the book "Fast Food Nation"

How many of you, are uncomfortable about how little we know about what we eat?

How many ingredients are in (at least the one I found) white, enriched, healthy, bread (counting white flour as one)?

Total miles so far:  3312 miles

Total ascent so far: 214.400 feet