31 May 2013

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, day 13

In the morning our tents are soaking wet with dew, and inside with condensation; when we pack them up the footprint/tarp things are again crawling with slugs. For breakfast there is boiled eggs and pre-cooked bacon. I'm the last one packed up but Dan has to change a tube due to a slow puncture so I'm not the last one ready to roll, which we do at something like 9 a.m. We stop after only 6 miles at the first gas station we find for an ice cream and soda break, which takes way longer than it should but hey whatever today's gonna be a shorter day than yesterday at least.

The first part of our day is mostly uphill, but it's thru a national forest with plenty of shade and the gradient is very gentle. Yellow butterflies flutter like early autumn leaves amidst the green of spring. (Their carcasses also, sadly, litter the road. At some point Anna Faye and Ben witness one get creamed by a passing truck.) I'm the slowest up the hill but the alone time in the lush forest is quite nice. At some point we pass the hill-walking cyclists again, as they stayed in Wytheville last night and passed us early in the morning. They're only going as far as some campground in this forest today so it's doubtful we'll run across them again--but, hey, you never know.

It's a long and wonderful downhill after that climb and for lunch we pull over by a stream and eat on its banks, sometimes dipping our feet in the swift, cold water. It's another climb after that thru similar roads and another luxurious downhill. At some point we're passed by a group of motorcyclists but we catch up to them at the bottom of the hill where they'd stopped at an old, abandoned gas station for a snack break. They offer us ice-cold sodas (I take a sprite), cookies, and candy, and we stay with them and chat for a while. Their kindness makes our day. Turns out they're from Kentucky and some of them actually live right along the route we'll be taking. They give us phone numbers and say to call when we're a few towns over, and they'll come out to meet us with more food or something. It's people like these that make this trip worth it. Should be seeing some of them again in about two weeks!

There's a nice coasting downhill thru a small town and then a winding, curving uphill thru another forest. The gradient is gentle enough that I can take it at 7-10 mph. Dan shoots up ahead of me on the climb but I stay ahead of the others all the way until the wicked-awesome downhill starts. It's bendy and all downstream; I go something like 30-35 mph, taking a few turns a bit too fast and having to be careful not to scrape my pedals on the ground while leaning over for them. I didn't manage to film much of it at all but I will say that was my favorite stretch of road so far, and it's gonna take a lot to top it.

When we reach Damascus the first thing Dan and Jenn do is get ice cream, and I get a 24 oz sprite and down it quickly. We sit outside in the shade for a long time, talking, me writing up day 12 to post. We take a nice, long, leisurely break, buying a few bits of gear (sleeping bag liners for Anna Faye and Ben, serving spoon and spatula for chef Travis, etc) and chatting with shop owners. We spend some time trying to find a place to camp tonight either in Meadowview or Hayter's Gap, but nothing pans out. We consider staying in Damascus but ultimately decide to press on to Meadowview and see what we can find.

The hills roll thru sun-stained, stereotypical farmland from Damascus to Meadowview. The first stretch is on a kinda busy road but once you turn off onto a little 1.5 lane county road it's really nice. We string out along the road quite a bit, Travis, Dan, and Jenn up ahead where I can't quite see them, Ben and Anna Faye behind where I can't see them, either. At some point we almost stop and knock on someone's door to ask if we can camp in their field but a bit of intuition tells us to press on to Meadowview proper. Sure enough, when we're cycling thru their little downtown a truck passes and a gentleman leans out the window and asks if we're tired and ready to set down for the night. We say yes, and he offers up Mount Carmel Christian Church to us, telling us how to get there before driving off to get a key and come back to open the door.

He's an elder of the church and says he usually offers their building to cyclists when he sees them and we thank him profusely as he opens it up to us. There's a covered pavilion outside to leave our bikes in and inside there's bathrooms and a kitchenette. We hang our tents out to dry while we eat supper at the pavilion--hot dogs, rice, peas, carrots, and black beans--and the boys have a philosophy discussion I'm too tired to really join in on. My stomach is still bothering me something awful and I actually throw up a little at some point, so I go in to lay down before my whole dinner comes back up. Can't afford to lose calories like that on a trip like this.

While inside I discover a tick on my ankle and yank him off. Scary stuff.

We put our dry tents away instead of setting them up and decide to sleep inside so that we don't have to pack up wet gear in the morning. We set up in one of their classrooms, rolling out our sleeping mats and bags. I go to type this blog and my word processor on my phone crashes and deletes everything, so I get really upset (that's the 3rd time it's done that) and give up blogging for the night. I've now downloaded a new note-taking app so hopefully that works better.

There's a pretty steep, tough-looking climb coming up tomorrow--wish me luck.


today's numbers
distance: 53 mi
riding time: 5 hrs 5 min
avg speed: 10.4 mph
max speed: 37.2 mph
odo: 684.4 mi

[picture below of mount carmel christian church, a one-storey brick building topped with a cross]

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, day 12

We get up pretty early in the morning with the goal to be rolling by 8 a.m. It's made a bit easier by not having to pack up tents and sleeping bags first. Breakfast for me is almond milk and fruit; the others eat leftovers from the potluck last night and things like that. Carla watches and helps us pack our bikes up, and Brian rolls up at 8:05 on the dot. After a few more pictures and farewells we head off.

Brian escorts us for our first 20 miles--probably the best part of the day. The hills are gentle and there's shade and running water. Brian usually stays up front with Dan but finds time to chat with each of us before peeling off back home. After we leave this last representative of Radford behind, we stop for second breakfast at the abandoned and kinda creepy-looking Pulaski Motel. All the doors are locked and chained and it seems like no one has been here in years; the sidewalks are crawling with little red bugs that Travis thinks are harmless spider mites. I make a dent in my new jar of chocolate peanut butter and put it on rice cakes. I'm starting to feel a little nauseated, but that won't become a big issue until later.

After 2nd breakfast we press on, and there's hardly any shade for a very long time. The predominant smells of the day are cow poo, skunk funk, and roadkill. Our path crosses over the highway several times because we follow county roads that parallel it to keep out of traffic, but quite a bit of traffic finds us anyway. There's long strings of gas stations and trucker stops all in a row here that's why. We pull into one at some point and I have a grape soda which is super refreshing on a boiling day like today.

At some point we come across two other touring cyclists, who are on their way to San Francisco, where they're from. They walk their bikes up any hill that I'd be using my granny gear on, and I find myself wondering, how are they going to make it over the Rockies and thru Nevada etc if they have to walk their bikes up Virginia hills? But their whole thing is "Cycle Slowly" (the name of their blog on crazy guy on a bike, iirc). They only do about 30 miles a day, they say--provided there's a place to stay; otherwise, they press on. (Such as doing the whole blue ridge parkway and then some, something like 80 miles, in one sitting!)

After I while a start to have serious muscle pain/weakness and I slow down way behind everyone in the breezeless heat. I'm worried about heat stroke a little bit, so I drink a lot of water and rest in the shade periodically. Still, tho', the nausea and muscle pain persists. It's related to my autoimmune disease, I think--it's not muscle soreness or muscle burning like working hard, it's something that happens to me from time to time and usually on those days I just stay in bed until it's over but I can't because I have to cycle. The hills today aren't quite as steep as what we've been doing but they're taller and last longer so I can't ride my momentum up them, and there's no breeze and no shade and the sun is boiling us so it's really hard. At some point I pull over by a duck and goose pond and just cry until I can pull myself together enough to follow and find the others again.

We finally stop for lunch in Wytheville, pulling into the shade of an abandoned shop front. All the stores we need--bike shop, camping goods store, gas station conbini--used to be here but are closed down now. I try to eat some clams for protein but they taste like fish poop and have the consistency of phlegm (ordinarily I like clams, but today my stomach won't have it) so I force down half the can, toss the rest and keep eating chocolate peanut butter on rice cakes. I take a really long time to eat because I'm dazed and in pain so while I eat Jenn, Dan, and Travis go to the post office to mail the key to Radford back home for safekeeping, along with some other things they'd been carrying but didn't actually need and didn't want to carry anymore.

Turns out we've just done 500 miles as a team, so we decide to go out for a couple drinks to celebrate. We only have about 20 miles left to go and it's only like 4 p.m. so we have time for a longer break. We find this log cabin restaurant place down the street and wait 10 minutes for it to open and go in and sit down. Everyone gets beers except Dan, who gets a Pepsi, and I get a hard cider. The decor of the place is really interesting and rustic and we have a nice time sitting there, me trying to gather some strength to continue without throwing up or giving up. I try to order another type of cider but when it comes it's just an apple-flavored beer, which is disappointing, but I don't want to deal with sending it back so I give it to Anna Faye and settle down with water.

I don't remember anything of the cycle beyond this except for latching on to Dan's back wheel as he acted the wind break for me, pulling me into Cedar Springs. I tuned everything else out but that wheel in order to actually make it to where we decided to camp that night. Except that where we thought the national, campable forest started wasn't and all we can see is POSTED: NO TRESPASSING signs. We go another 6 or 7 miles beyond where we wanted to stop and finally pass another abandoned, creepy, ivy-conquered house and decide to just camp in the flat area behind its barn because, well, who could possibly mind? The grass back there is tall and full of spiders which is hard for Jenn to take but we get our tents up and start on supper well before the light starts fading. We don't have water to cook with so Dan cycles down the street a bit to an inhabited house to beg a gallon of water off someone. Turns out it's an old lady living alone and Dan is pretty sure she's super scared of him but she does fill up our canteen in her kitchen while he waits outside on the porch. Hot links, canned spinach, kidney beans, and rice it is. We eat our fill and then all retire to sleep. There's no phone signal and I'm exhausted so I crash pretty hard, waking up later only as it gets colder so that I can wiggle into my sleeping bag.

Tomorrow hopefully my muscles will calm down and I can actually enjoy myself.


today's numbers
distance: 67 mi
riding time: 6 hrs 37 min
avg speed: 10.1 mph
max speed: 37 mph
total trip: 631.3 mi

Today's featured guest cyclist:

Brian riding Flagondry

29 May 2013

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, day 11

Today I roll out of bed at the sun-ripened hour of 9:30 a.m., and end up being the first up and moving about downstairs. For breakfast I eat three bowls of apple-cinnamon chex with almond milk. The others filter into the living room while I sit typing out the blog for day 10, and Carla comes at some point and makes coffee and we all drink some and relax together. Dan cooks the biscuits and sausage gravy; Travis and Dan look ahead at the maps and try to plan our next week's worth of mileages and camping spots. We're a touch behind schedule but not too badly, and we think we can make it with an average mileage of 60 miles a day and once-a-week rest days if we make up some distance once we hit the flat plains in Kansas and eastern Colorado (pre-Rockies). We won't have any more climbs like the one onto the blue ridge parkway for a while. While we're discussing our plans, Carla comes in and gives us each a little present: for Anna Faye a rose, for Ben a smiley face, for me and Travis two clownfish, for Jenn and Dan a sunflower. They're little stuff sacks that unfold into shopping bags. They weigh nothing and take up very little space; they're perfect for a trip like this!

When we finally find the will to move about, we pull out our tents and set them up in the sunny backyard to dry and air out. Then we introduce Jutta to our bikes before loading up her dishwasher with all our camping dishes and gathering three piles of stinky laundry to be loaded into the washing machine and later hung out to dry.

We have the keys to a six-seater SUV courtesy of Jutta, who is using another vehicle today, so we go to Wal*Mart to buy a few clothing items (a 2nd sports bra for me, off-day sandals for Travis, etc) and food. I get some more dark chocolate peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, and rice cakes to eat it on, and the rest of us get food for our next two communal dinners and breakfasts because there won't be much civilization for the next few days as far as we can tell from the maps. We try to find a bike shop but the one google gives us is only open on the weekends and the one across the street with a bicycle hanging above its awning moved to Blacksburg and their old space is now apparently a church. (Inside they tell us we can have the bike if we can get it down from there, haha. They haven't taken it down yet 'cause it's so hard to reach.) We don't have any other errands to run so we head back to the house and finish up our laundry, re-pack our tents, snack, and nap.

Brian comes over for a spell later in the afternoon to ask when we're headed out in the morning and we chat a while. Then at 7:00 the mayor of Radford, Bruce Brown, and his wife Karen come over, along with a big group of people who arrive bit by bit, bringing food and fellowship with them. There's a bucket of fried chicken and chocolate-peanut-butter buckeyes and a whole host of delicious-looking things that I didn't really pay attention to since I can't eat them due to my allergies. (I ate supper before everyone arrived.) Turns out Mayor Brown came over to present the Handlebarbarians with the key to the city of Radford. We graciously accept, with a little bit of fanfare, awed by the gesture. It's pretty special to me, considering I was born here. We all agree to mail it to Grandmamma and Granddaddy for safe-keeping when we have the chance, considering that without them we would never have known Jutta and none of this would be possible.

Everyone who came over is friendly and kind and we mingle and chat and talk about our trip so far and our plans for the trip ahead and our backgrounds and, well, a little bit of everything. I wish I could remember everyone's name but I'm not so good at that. I'll remember their faces, tho'. Maybe someday I'll come thru Radford again and see them. I really am touched by everyone's well-wishes and encouragement and camaraderie--that's a big part of what trips like this are all about.

When everyone has trickled out the door back home we look at some footage we've taken of the trip so far on Dan's GoPro and my ContourROAM, then bid goodbye to Jutta, who won't be here when we're stirring in the morning and preparing to go. There's no words to express our gratitude for this rest day, for our Rivendell. Hopefully Jutta--and Carla, too--understand the depth of our thanks, even if we can't say it enough. We wish nothing but the best for both of them, and for the entire town of Radford, VA. It's sad to leave so soon, but we've got 90% of our trip yet ahead of us.

Tomorrow will start early and last long. But I'll be ready. One more sleep in a real bed will be enough to get me thru another week of camping.


today's numbers
distance: 0 mi
riding time: 0 hrs 0 min
avg speed: 0 mph
max speed: 0 mph
odometer: 564.3

[below is a picture of the key to the city of Radford. It's about twice the size of a regular skeleton key with an "R" as the key part and the city's corporate seal in the handle; motto is "sic semper tyrannis"]

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, day 10

We had set our alarms for 6 a.m. but of course don't get up till like 7:30. Breakfast is chili beans and mandarin oranges out of cans, which I supplement with some gluten-free blueberry muffins I had picked up at Kroger in Lexington. We make sure everything inside the church is clean and tidy as we use their bathrooms one last time and then get going again. It's mostly downhill thru the Catawba valley until we reach a gas station and go in to get lunch there. Mostly everything is poisonous to me in there but I find starburst (there were no skittles... sadface) and a bag of BBQ cornchips labeled "gluten-free" so I grab those things and also a tub of cotton candy which I eat right then and there all at once because I can. For protein I'll have some canned herring in tomato sauce that I've been carrying around for a few days now.

We keep on cycling thru gentler rolling hills for 20 miles, me and Dan in the front with Jenn sometimes with us, powering up the small hills rather than gearing down to climb them. As long as you still have momentum by pedalling down the last hill in a higher gear, it's easier to crest the top of the next that way as long as they're not too tall. Dan gets in front to cut the wind for me and Jenn for a while and it's really easy to just tootle along in his slipstream at like 18 mph. At some point we see a live snake on the road and take pictures and Jenn gets a short video of it crawling thru the grass. Dan and I want to pick it up, but we're not sure what species it is so we refrain. Now that I think about it, tho', I think it was just a harmless corn snake. We'll look it up later.

After those 20ish miles it's time for lunch so we settle down in the first bit of shade we find, in-between a wooden fence and the quiet road we'd been on. There's a farmer a field over mowing grass--I assume for making hay. When we get back on the road the hills start rolling a bit taller and it's harder to keep up with Dan on the uphills. At some point a deer jumps in front of me and I inadvertently chase it down the road a ways because it decides to run along my trajectory before panicking back into the woods on the left. Poor thing.

Later on, we decide if we were all members of the Fellowship of the Ring which person everyone would be. Ultimately we decide that I'm Gimli, Dan is Legolas, Travis is Aragorn, Anna Faye is Frodo, and Jenn and Ben are Merry and Pippin, respectively. We don't have a Sam or a Boromir but none of us has a personality like them, so.

Before the significant uphill into Christiansburg we stop for another soda break and I get a sprite in a glass bottle from a tub of ice and pop the cap with a bottle opener attached to the tub and it's the most refreshing thing. They give us tap water for our water bottles too but it's really sour and tastes even more like minerals than most Virginia water so it's hard to drink. We then go up the hills into Christiansburg, passing straight thru on Depot & College streets and not stopping at all. A school bus passes Jenn just to try and turn right immediately after which is annoying 'cause if it had waited another 30 seconds behind her it wouldn't have had to come to a complete stop mid-turn to avoid running her over. When we reach route 666 (yes, yes, I know; it's actually a lot of really well-manicured 'burbs tho') the traffic lightens up and we press on to Radford.

The sun burns us all a little but we make it to Radford at a reasonable clip (the hills are a bit taller so I can't keep up with Dan and Jenn anymore) and follow the map onto the bike path in wildwood park. It's a nice bike path, mostly downhill until a small tunnel, and then when it ends we turn around and have to climb an obnoxiously steep hill to get onto the bridge to cross the New River. When we cross the river it's time to deviate from our trail in order to find our Rivendell--also known as Jutta's house.

Jutta (the j makes a y sound) is a close friend to our grandparents--the ones me, Jenn, Travis, and Anna Faye share in common--since before I was born. Last time I saw her I was a senior in college and Mama and I had come out to Radford to see where I was born (oh yeah, p.s., I was born in Radford, VA) and to see Blacksburg where she grew up and to hike the Cascades. Jutta put us up in her house and we had a wonderful weekend. Jutta then found us all on facebook, and since we started this trip has been the Handlebarbarians' biggest fan. When she discovered that we were going thru the New River Valley she offered to put us up for a rest day. Turns out her house is only something like 3 miles off our course. We gratefully accepted and decided that her house was our Rivendell--a place to rest and obtain provisions and make plans, but still really near to the beginning of the journey with the hardest parts of it yet to come.

We put in Jutta's address and follow the iPhone directions from the river to get there. As we approach, everything looks more and more familiar... then, miraculously, we're there! We knock on the door and there she is, Jutta, in all her gracious, welcoming glory, telling us to put our bikes on the back patio and to come inside and have orange gatorade and showers and a nice sit-down rest in air conditioning and it's the best thing. We all get clean and sit and chat and relax, meeting Carla, Jutta's sister visiting from Germany (also a lovely and kind and wonderful person to be with) and neighbor-friend Brian who's a racing cyclist and brings us an air mattress so that we all have a soft place to sleep and we talk about racing and he says he'll join us for a while in the morning on Thursday when we get started again. Jutta brings me two giant packets of skittles because she's been reading my blog and knows how addicted to them I am and it's the sweetest gesture (pun intended) and then we go out to a gourmet pizza place in Dublin, VA so the others can pig out on pizza and sandwiches and fried mac-n-cheese and I can drink wine and talk nonstop because everyone else's mouth is full of food, haha.

After dinner Jutta and I go grocery shopping for tomorrow and she gets the groceries as a donation for our tour, including zebra cakes for Jenn in honor of her bicycle being named Zebra Cake. I get some apple-cinnamon rice chex and almond milk for breakfast tomorrow and for the others we get biscuits and the stuff to make sausage gravy with. I also get a bit of stuff for dinner tonight, and eat it when we return. Then, it's bedtime. Time to sleep in a real bed and get up whenever I feel like it and lounge around eating and talking and blogging and whatever else needs done.

*Insert long sigh of relaxed relief here.*


today's numbers
distance: 51 mi
riding time: 5 hrs 21 min
avg speed: 9.5 mph
max speed: 35 mph
odometer: 564.3 mi

[picture below is of me climbing a hill on bike rothar, in a bit of blessed shade from the trees overhanging the road]

28 May 2013

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, day 9

[author's note: if days are posted late or multiple days posted at once, it's due to lack of cell phone reception when the blog posts are written... we're gonna be passing thru a lot of low- or no-coverage areas so I apologize in advance for posting delays]

This morning for breakfast we have eggs, sausage, and a mix of cubed potatoes, onions, and peppers. It is hearty and wonderful, especially compared to yesterday's lack of breakfast. We're ready in an hour and a half and bid adieu to the haunted house but it takes another hour to wash our dishes at the gas station down the road. While there we meet a group of folks from Maryland who were just coming back from seeing car races in North Carolina, if I remember right. They're really friendly and ask us all about our trip and we chat for a while before we get going. Rolling start is still pretty early tho' which is good.

The 20 miles into Buchanan is super easy and mellow. It follows both a railroad tracks (altho' it can't decide which side of them it wants to be on) and a creek thru 1.5 lane country roads and lovely scenery. At some point on our way a cyclist coming in the other direction warns us about an unchained pit bull about a mile down the road. Fearing a confrontation, we get our can of bear spray ready, and I carry it in my back pocket. When Travis spots the dog, we all make a sprint for it, but it doesn't even make chase. That's a huge relief to everyone. It's pretty scary to be chased by a dog while on a bike, even if it isn't vicious, because of how easily it can knock you off.

We stop in Buchanan at a dollar store to grab lunch and supper and breakfast because there won't be much civilization for a while after this.  We cycle another 10 or so mellow miles after that and stop in the tiny parking lot for the Bethel Church of the Bretheren by a creek to sit and eat lunch and relax by the water. From there the hills start getting steeper, pastureland on each side and a ridge of wooded mountains beyond on the left. We pass the Roanoke cement factory (NO TRESPASSING, MINING AREA) and just go until it's time to stop for a breather again and try to talk to the cows. They look confused but Jenn says that's just what their faces look like.

Eventually we pass by a church Catawba and we look for people but no one's there but the door is unlocked so we figure they won't mind if we use their bathrooms as long as we don't make a mess of it. We're pretty tired so we decide to camp in a slightly angled field behind and to the left the church, right in front of some wild-lookin' woods. It's a good spot since it's not visible from the road so we pitch our tents. I accidentally drop Bike Rothar in the parking lot and crack all the eggs I've been carrying so we're forced to eat those now for dinner instead of for breakfast. We mix them with hotdogs, rice, and peas and it's actually pretty good. I also eat a few spoonfuls of marshmallow fluff for dessert which I've been hoarding for a while but now it's all gone :(

There's basically no cell phone service out here. There's not much to do so we all go to bed at like 8 p.m. I slide down in my tent due to the slight angle of the field but it's not so bad. Tomorrow we're gonna reach Jutta's house ~


today's numbers
distance: 41 miles
riding time: 4 hrs 23 min
avg speed: 9.4 mph
max speed: 37.7 mph
odo: 513 miles

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, day 8

When we get up in the morning there is a woman there who works for the Appalachian trail; she says we look like an advertisement for REI--we kinda do, me with my quarter dome, Jenn and Dan with their limelight, Anna and Ben with their half dome plus, lots of REI logos. She and the others exchange pleasantries while I try to wake up and get ready. Due to the wind and the bump under me I didn't sleep so well. When we finally go to put our tents away there are little slugs all over the bottom.

The blue ridge parkway has a lot of long, difficult climbs, even tho' the worst of it is behind us. Being able to see out over the mountains like this makes it all worth it, tho'. Wooded hills as far as the eye can see, all shades of blue and green under an aquamarine sky. It's sunny but there's plenty of shade and the downhills are actually kind of chilly. There are little pink flowers all over the sides of the road that are the perfect shape, the epitome of the word "flower," like something a kid in kindergarten would draw.

There are lots of cyclists out today on their racing bikes. Most of them talk to us, and have done touring themselves. When we reach the junction with state road 56 we take a turn and it's a long, steep, windy downhill to Vesuvius town. My brakes aren't too good by now and that means I have to take the curves a little faster than is comfortable lest the front wheel wobble uncontrollably under the brake. Tho' the others were WAY ahead of me I pass or catch up to them by the bottom. I got that descent on film so hopefully it turns out.

Supposedly according to the map it's all downhill to Lexington so we take only a short soda break at Gertie's country store (I have a proper Coke in a glass bottle with real sugar) and then get going again. Truth is it's only all downhill to Riverside, and even then due to a headwind it's not a particularly relaxing downhill. It's beautiful tho', mostly along a river with clear, cool waters, and it's a green, quiet road.

In Riverside at the bottom of the hill we find a small gas station and have a quick break there too, eating candy or ice cream or just sitting for a little while. We still think it's downhill to Lexington so we get going again but it's actually mostly uphill. Since we skipped breakfast and barely ate at the snack breaks we all start getting really crabby and tired. Food makes a big difference on trips like this. You have NO idea.

We take a wrong turn at some point, following the river instead of crossing it. We pass some cool houses built on stilts due to periodic flooding (there are signs that say, ROAD MAY FLOOD). When we find out it was a wrong turn it's really disappointing because it was a big hill we climbed and we didn't need to. When we finally roll into Lexington we pass the Virginia Military Institute which has a lot of cool buildings and reminds me of Dad, and we have to take a detour around a giant pit in the middle of the road to get to a grocery store to eat (Jenn and Dan go get Dominos). We're all completely knackered so we take a really long, hazy lunch in the small amount of shade afforded by for-sale patio furniture. There's a really friendly cashier from Jersey who talks to me as I go in and out getting things. She says she'll pray for us, which is nice, and I give her our facebook group and the address to this blog.

The road after Lexington rolls real easy and is full of cows and sunshine. We still find some things to argue about tho'. It's one of those days I guess. When we reach Natural Bridge there's a gas station where we take another potty/water/snack break and the sun is getting really low in the sky so we ask the guy if there's a place to camp anywhere around since after all we have gone 60 miles today already. He says there's a field down the road a ways that nobody owns so we could prolly camp there. We head to it and there's an old, creepy abandoned house attached. Jenn vetoes camping inside it but we all get flashlights and go in to explore, looking for ghosts. The floor is full of broken glass and there are half-packed suitcases in some of the rooms like someone moved out in a real hurry. There are even filled-out checks scattered across the floor, half of them filled out to the signer, from 1994. We ponder the mystery for a while then go out to pitch our tents in the last sliver of light left before the sun is completely gone. For some reason everyone pitches their tents really close together but mine is far away and lonely. Closer to the haunted house. Jenn thinks that she'll be scared of that house whenever she gets up to pee at night.

We have to cook supper in the dark but we have the front lights off our bike and we also build a small wood fire under our little grate dad gave us. Dinner is great... black beans, sausage, rice, mustard greens. The others drink some Pabst Blue Ribbon and I have a cream soda. Fireflies flit around us and all the stars come out--all of them. The little fire is just enough to warm our bare legs as we stand and talk. We'll get up earlier tomorrow so we can stop for the night with enough light left to have a proper camp.



today's numbers
distance: 60 mi
riding time: 6 hrs 1 min
average speed: 9.9 mph
max speed: 40 mph
odo: 471.7 miles

26 May 2013

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, day 7

You see, my sister had a friend in middle school whose parents were friends with our parents, and they now live in Crozet, a little town between Charlottesville and Afton. Tho' they were not home as we passed them by, they graciously invited us to stay in their house nevertheless. It is really nice to be indoors after getting up in a mud pit last night. In the morning we make eggs with spinach and red bell peppers, and dry our tents in the sun a little as we get ready. We do our best to put the place exactly as it was before we arrived and leave a thank you note as we go out the door.

Due to our exhausting night last night we sleep in and we get a late start, rolling at about 11:30. The clouds look as if they were spread across the sky with a butter knife. In Crozet there's a little peach orchard farmer's market and we have second breakfast there, the others buying apple cider doughnuts while I buy an apple but eat marshmallow fluff and dark chocolate peanut butter. We don't have enough food for lunch and wont be in civilization for a while after this so Jenn, Dan, and I take a detour to get food for our next three meals while the others go on and get a head start up the big hill we have to climb today. I don't like splitting up but I go along. The grocery store turns out to just be a gas station market but we get what we can (pork & beans and corned beef hash) and stop at another small farmer's market for eggs and mixed greens.

From Crozet to Afton it's all uphill and I flag pretty hard, going about 3 mph and stopping periodically to rest my butt and thighs. The road is pretty and mostly empty until Afton, but it's all uphill and I'm in a bad mood. We stop for a quick snack before hitting the blue ridge parkway, and that gets my spirits up. The blue ridge parkway is all uphill for a long while too, tho'. We meet the others at a sobriety checkpoint (we don't have to go thru it, haha) and continue upward. I'm the slowest one for this type of cycling. I lag behind basically all day because we climb well over 3,000 feet and on a fully loaded bike, it's really slow going.

When we've gone 35 miles the sun is setting and it's getting really cold and we're at the junction that would take us to Reed's gap, so Dan and Travis try to scout out the crossroad. Dan comes back after a while huffing and puffing, saying the hill he just went down and up makes everything we've done so far look like a joke. We hesitate what to do because we don't have enough daylight to finish the parkway today, but thankfully another cyclist comes up behind us (coming back to his car from a day's ride) and since he knows the area he tells us what's what. Turns out we're right next to the Appalachian Trail so people camp in these fields all the time and it's okay. So we just walk a ways on the actual Trail and veer off into a field and pitch our tents in the grass.

It's getting really cold because it's dark and we're over 3000 ft up, and Jenn has a real rough time of it, huddling in her tent as the rest of us cook. I let her borrow a fleece vest of mine that I'd brought for Colorado weather and she warms up enough to come out and eat her corned beef-pork & beans-hash. When we've eaten we retire to our tents to sleep. I pitched mine right over a bump but if I sleep curled on one side or another I can curl around it but I still toss and turn a lot. It's windy all night and the rattling of my tent wakes me up many times but at least it doesn't rain on us.

Tomorrow there's not as big of a climb so it should be easier.


today's numbers
distance covered (Jenn, Dan, and I): 36 miles
riding time: 4 hrs 56 min
average speed (for me at least): 7.2 mph
maximum speed: 35.8 mph
total so far: 411.5 miles


today's featured cyclist: my cousin!

Daphne riding Christopher Robin

24 May 2013

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, Day 6

Jenn wanted an early start this morning but by the time we pack up our wet and dirty gear and get fully ready to go it's about 9 a.m. Though this was a nice campsite, it becomes a mud pit in the rain. We take Carter's Mountain road for a ways and it's really nice, but then have to get onto a more trafficky road to Monticello. When we reach Monticello, Garry bids us farewell and presses on to Charlottesville while we go on to the Monticello visitor's center and pay the $24 fee per person for a tour of the house and grounds.

For those who don't know, Monticello is Thomas Jefferson's old digs, the seat of a 5,000 acre slave plantation where he lived and worked and read and wrote and profited off the labor of people he owned and fathered illegitimate children. The main building is pictured on the back of the nickel, which I thought was cool. We visited the nickel today. I'm really tired and fading in and out as we walk around. A cold wind is blowing so as long as I stand in the sun I'm warm enough but any type of shade chills me a lot. We read as many plaques as we can bear to, take the house tour, then head back down the hill to the entrance.

It's only a few more miles into Charlottesville proper and we stop at a downtown market/deli for lunch. Once I've bought my food and come out, who do I run into but Garry! He's found a place to stay the night via a couchsurfing type thing and plans to spend the day in Charlottesville just seeing what there is to see. We'll probably be running into him a few more times along our way. We eat lunch together; I try a gluten-free beer made from sweet potatoes; it's pretty good. Lunch improves everybody's mood and we get going again... but we're on a road with a LOT of traffic--it's kinda scary. Apparently we took a wrong road somewhere and now we're in like rush hour on a state highway and no shoulder...! Halfway to our exit we gain a shoulder but it's small comfort because I see a bike handlebar and a smashed fender there, as if there'd been an accident at one point. We make it onto a better road tho' and from there the actual cycling route so all's well that ends well.

The wind is still cold but going up all these hills and getting hot it's not so bad really. We're going at a good clip but at some point Dan stops to fix his chain and we all pass him but he's taking really long so I stop to wait and we lose the others and then we reach a T-intersection and dunno which way to go so we stay on the same # road but we just aren't catching up and there's another T-intersection and yeah by the time the others call us we've gone like 6 miles out of our way in the wrong direction up and down hills and everything. So we have to turn back and when we FINALLY reach the others (who had been playing pooh sticks on a bridge while waiting for us), there's another big climb... honestly most of this was a blur, I can hardly remember it right now. The sun sets on us, the moon is huge and bright in the horizon, the mountains blue and solid in the distance. I'm exhausted from our like 12-extra-mile detour and kinda mad that the others didn't wait at the turns like our system has been all along and now it's late and we're trying to reach an old family friend's house halfway between Charlottesville and Afton and the last mile is so, so hard because it's an uphill but it *looks* like a downhill and I can't explain it and we actually walk our bikes up the last half mile and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna just collapse in the driveway but we make it.

I'm in a zombie daze while I attempt to eat and basically fail at that and take a shower and pull everything out of my bags in order to dry them a little bit while we're indoors. I claim a downstairs couch and roll my sleeping bag out on it and sit here typing this while everyone around me eats pasta and it's 11 p.m. and my shoulders hurt a lot and it's really nice to be indoors so thank you, so much, family friends, I'll write more about you tomorrow when I'm not so tired that thinking actually hurts a little bit.


today's numbers

distance (me and Dan): 49 mi
riding time: 5 hrs 14 min
average speed: 9.4 mph
max speed: 37 mph
trip total: 376 mi


Here is your featured (guest) cyclist for today: the Irishman!

Garry riding on The Beast

22 May 2013

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, Day 4

Everyone has some serious tan lines already. haha.

Today we all get up at about a quarter to seven, moaning and groaning and wishing to sleep in. Breakfast is scrambled eggs and paprika cooked in the parking lot on the camp stove, and whatever fruit or snacks people have been hoarding. I fully intend to eat a whole bag of potato chips but I can't so I share it with Travis and Ben. Weather channel is now saying chance of thunderstorms today. Coverage of the Oklahoma tornado continues. We've wrecked this room, too. This time it's trash instead of stink and I throw another $5 bill down to make up for it.

The day starts out moist and overcast. It was good to be dry and indoors last night. We decide to go to Mineral, VA to camp tonight, a short-ish 45 mile day. We call ahead to a few places and ascertain that we can camp for free behind the volunteer fire department there! Sweet. Definitely Mineral tonight then. Having access to a proper bathroom (and, as we discover later, shower) is a huge plus.

As soon as we get out of Ashland, the cicada swarm is upon us. Their chorus is loud, their skins cling to the underside of every leaf, they buzz out of the trees randomly and smack into us or get themselves run over. The hills today roll steeper than they have been thus far; traffic is scarce save for local traffic and the occasional logging truck. At some point we see cyclists ahead of us so Dan, Travis, and I speed up to catch them, but they're not carrying any weight so it's hard to do. I give up when I hit a headwind. Dan catches them but Travis could never get closer than 100 yards to them until they finally stop at a convenience store for lunch.

We eat lunch just outside of Bumpass (which, whether you read it as Bump-ass or Bum-pass really seems like a bad name for a town) in a convenience store. I get a grape soda there but eat lunch from what I'm already carrying while the others get hot dogs and corn dogs and onion rings and mozzarella sticks. I've got dark chocolate peanut butter on chili-spiced rice cakes. It's actually really good. The cyclists Dan caught are on the Adventure Cycling van tour... they're going on the same route as us and have the same mileage goals as us so it's likely we'll be leapfrogging each other all along this trail till Oregon.

While we eat it's super sunny out so we put on sunscreen before restarting our trek. Lunch helped a lot but I'm flagging and getting really tired by now. Perhaps because it's so oppressively hot--sun boiling us in the humid air. Jenn, Dan, and Travis pull ahead and Ben, Anna Faye, and I go at a slower pace. We pass Lake Anna and have a quick photo op with Anna Faye and the sign, then it's a few more boiling miles to Mineral. On the way the three slowbies watch a hawk try to catch a bird in midair and totally miss.

We reach the fire station very early in the afternoon and pitch our tents now so we don't have to mess with it later. There's a pavilion with a corrugated tin roof that can provide a little shelter for our bikes and a grassy field next to it. There's already two cyclists here, an older gentleman and a younger guy from Michigan. The older gentleman camps here too, but after chatting with us the other guy heads off. His final destination is San Diego. The firemen let us use their showers and after we all rinse off (a cold shower feels SO GOOD after today) we walk down the street to eat ice cream (I eat skittles).

When we're walking back we meet a guy who cycled here from New York--his accent is so familiar--he's Irish! from Mullingar! He's a photographer and seems to be just going wherever he feels like, and met up with the TransAm trail in Ashland. He's cool and we chat and trade stories. We're also joined by two older and very experienced Dutch cyclists (one has done this trail several times before) who at first are separated and looking for each other but are reunited here in Mineral by some of us Handlebarbarians. We now have quite the tent village here in the fire station--7 tents in all (see below for a picture). I hope they don't mind *all* of us using their showers.

Time to cook supper as the sun begins to set. Pretty much the same stuff as before except with pinto beans instead of black beans and with canned chicken. It's still oppressively hot but at least there's shade and breezes from time to time. Hopefully it cools down at night. Supper is good with tumeric and paprika and after we eat it we chat with our fellow cyclists again.

Now it's grocery store time. We walk to a little one and get eggs and sausage for breakfast and stuff for tomorrow's dinner, then Dan gets us all some wine in a box and we come back to the campsite, where the firemen are outside playing basketball. The sky is still clear, which is a great sign. Maybe we'll see stars?

Time to drink wine, socialize, wind down, and sleep. See what my new tent is like.



Here is your featured cyclist for today: Dan!

Scribble Ninja riding Bento (aka Lunchbox)

21 May 2013

TransAmerica Cycle, Day 5

It was really nice to have my own little tent last night, not gonna lie. It rained on us and I didn't even notice till I woke up. Basically it's rained every night since we started.

I wake up because everyone else is moving about; it's 7 o'clock when I finally emerge from my dewy cocoon. Breakfast is boiled eggs and cold sausage. Garry, the Irishman, awakens with us and we chat as everyone packs up their things and gets ready to go. Rolling start at 9. Garry joins us for the time being, and it's fun to travel with him.

There are butterflies everywhere, and dragonflies. The hills roll a little steeper every day. It's overcast for the 30 miles until lunch, which we spend in Palmyra, grabbing food at the EW Thomas grocery store. We told a deli clerk in there that we we cycling from ocean to ocean and she didn't seem to know how to take it. I never really liked soda before but now I can't stop drinking it. My body wants calories; my muscles ache for sugar-water. The sun gets super hot and we take extra time to decide what to do next, dividing up phone calls trying to find the cheapest place to stay the night. Ultimately we decide on a KOA campsite, which offers us a price of $50 for one night's plot; divided 7 ways (Garry's with us tonight) it's not so bad per person.

It's 20 more miles to the campsite and we use phone directions to get there since it's not exactly along the TransAm route. It rains on us while we're going along--the first time it's rained on us *as* we cycled. Morgan had texted us to prepare for coming thunderstorms so we panic a bit and race to cover all electronics and throw on rain coats, but it's not so bad and passes quickly. The road begins steaming from the moisture on it, shrouding the way in fog. Puddles in the road reveal a black underworld of trees and sky.

We go up and down some nice hills and sparse country neighborhoods and when we break thru the treeline about 5 miles out from the campsite we get our first proper view of the Appalachian Mountains. It's gorgeous. The clouds above are perfectly defined, as if painted onto the sky mere hours before. That's where we're headed. That's where we're going.

When we reach the campsite we pitch our tents immediately, and cook under the threat of rain, showers hitting us from time to time. We have a whole pot of sausage, rice, black-eyed peas, red bell peppers, and kale. Before it's done cooking, we boil some cicadas up in a pot since Travis says he heard they taste like shrimp when boiled. I'm the first brave enough to try one. I pull the wings off and pop the rest of the boiled bug in my mouth--it tastes surprisingly good, actually. Ben tries one too, then Travis (who gags on it), then Jenn. Ben and I decide they taste like buttered spinach. Garry comes back from doing something on the wi-fi in a common room and he tries one too. I actually like them a lot. Travis manages to eat one with rice and beans when we finally eat our full supper.

Jenn, Ben, Anna, and I then decide to go swimming because hey, why not, there's a pool here. It feels really good to be in the water after spending so much of the day slick with sweat and grime. Travis joins us later and we have a breath-holding contest and Ben (the smoker!) wins and Travis comes in a close second. When we get too cold we go take hot showers and come back to the campsite and build a fire in the fire pit (all the wood nearby is wet so we have to buy some) and make s'mores--me eating the roasted marshmallows by themselves. Garry has never had a s'more before so we introduce him to them and he loves it.

By now the sun has set and tho' the fire is warm and nice we can hear some serious thunder gearing up so we brush our teeth and Jenn and I go bathroom one last time and we get back and get in our tents no more than 10 seconds before the rain and lightning begins in earnest. We're pretty sheltered from the wind here in our lot because it's dug out of a hillside so that's good at least. It is really nice to have a tent, I have to say. It can keep all my stuff dry in the vestibule and I can use the military poncho my dad gave me as a tarp to keep the mud away. It's my own little room. I didn't realize it was going to rain SO much on this trip... it was a blessing in disguise, the nightmare night, getting this setup for me when I really needed it.

It's time to sleep now. It's pitch dark and raining and my phone battery is dying.



Today's numbers:

distance: 51 miles
riding time: 4 hrs 41 minutes
average speed: 10.8 mph
maximum speed: 38.1 mph


Here is your featured cyclist for today: Travis!

Scout riding Fred

TransAmerica Cycle 2013, Day 2

It sucks to get up in the wet and mud and middle-of-the-night dark to pee but when I exit the tent I see that the field we're in is full of fireflies. There's something magnificent about that and I'm still glad we camped here in spite of the rain.

Sharing the tent with Travis works out pretty good. There isn't much room but we're not kicking each other all the time or anything. I get a good sleep and wake up rested in the morning when we get up. By then the courthouse is open so we can go in and use the toilets and put water in our bottles and everything. We wonder for a while if someone will tell us we shouldn't have camped here but several people see us and no one says anything.

Breakfast is what was meant for dinner last night: a stew of rice, BBQ pork, black beans, diced peppers, and mixed greens from the Williamsburg farmer's market. We spread our wet stuff over the sidewalk as we eat to dry but it's so humid here it's almost no use. Because we spread out so much it takes forever to re-pack and today is another late start.

From here to lunch the roads are all wonderful. Gently rolling hills, practically no traffic, wonderful woods and adorable neighborhoods. We pass by Malvern Hill and thru part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park, past a lot of Civil War landmarks. There are period cannons dotting the landscape. It's pretty cool. I have to pee and we decide it's not disrespectful to pee on a Civil War battlefield because enough time has passed since then.

At a tiny gas station/convenience store in Glendale we stop for lunch. I get some hard cider (Angry Orchard!), sardines in hot sauce, a banana, and skittles. There isn't much else there that I can eat, in truth. There's a man outside called Dave who talks to us nonstop and tells us stories and is generally adorable. He's lived in this area since 1954. The owner the store is stocking shelves from a truck so he keeps going in and out of the doors, talking to us as he does so. He's missing an eye from an accident so he has an orange plastic ball in the socket holding it open until he can get a proper artificial eye. He's very friendly and ends up handing us all a couple handfuls of peanut chews for free. Another group of transamerica cyclists stop here and we chat with them, too. They're doing 80 miles a day so they've come this distance from Yorktown without stopping and will sleep in a church here tonight. People ask if we're gonna stop at the church too (apparently a lot of transam cyclists do) but we're headed to REI in Richmond for my sleeping situation so we need to press on. When we're done eating (the others grabbed hot food from a deli-type place inside) I put some cider in my water bottles and we bid goodbye to Dave and the peanut-chews man and get going again.

Dan thinks from looking on an iPhone that the REI is on our route somewhere so we press on to Mechanicsville, alternating between lovely quiet neighborhood roads and busier thoroughfares. When we reach where he thought it was we see that it's actually something like a 12 mile detour. We get directions off google maps and follow them for a while but then my phone dies and everyone's phone's dead so we have to remember how to get there but we're close so we make it. Except Anna Faye and Ben get left behind (sorry, guys) and they accidentally turn onto the interstate into oncoming traffic (someone gave them a thumbs up, haha) and then have to walk their bikes thru the grass to REI when they manage to get off. This last stretch was pretty hard on Anna Faye because she's not used to long-distance cycling, only sprints, and we said we'd do 45 miles but we've already exceeded that. It's hard on me too trying to keep up with Jenn, Dan, and Travis. We reach REI when it starts getting dusky and it's been 57 miles and everyone is tired and frustrated and snapping at each other. I gotta do this tho', it isn't fair to keep displacing Travis just because my bivvy turned out to be so useless.

I return the bivvy for credit on my dad's membership and look at the other bivvies and one-man tents with a super-helpful staff member (who, and I remember this distinctly, smelled really good). I decide to get a tent this time and get a one-pole kind called the quarter dome which only weighs 2 lbs (altho' that's still way more than a bivvy...) and costs another hundred dollars or so above my credit. I had let Travis borrow my compression sack for my sleeping bag but I need it back so I get it from him and buy him a new one for his things, because if I put the sleeping bag back in that sack I can fit the tent in my panniers and only need to strap the pole to the back of my bike with my sleeping mat.

When I'm done buying things (the REI staff there on 2020 Old Brick Road are all wonderful, btw; the bike shop people helped Dan with some bike problems and chatted a bit with us about our trip), the sun has basically set. Everyone's still irritable so Anna Faye and I go to Whole Foods and they go to a Mexican place and once I've got my food we join them and I eat guacamole on chili-flavored rice cakes and once we've eaten we don't hate each other anymore. We decide to ride from here another 5 miles to the same Econolodge we stayed at when we got here (our detour took us back by the train station) and so we turn on all our lights and get going. I'm chafing something terrible so this last stretch feels the longest.

When we reach the room we pile in and start showering one by one. The whole room instantly smells like sweat and dirt and exertion. We've turned a motel room into a locker room. Jenn and I draw the short straws and have to sleep on the floor while the others get beds but it's indoors and dry and I don't mind at all. I'm the last one to shower and therefore the last one to fall asleep.

Today was a 63 mile day. Tomorrow is rest. Ashland ho.



Here is your featured cyclist for today: Ben!

Exupéry riding Shadow

Transamerica Cycle 2013, Day 3

Today is going to be an easy semi-rest day so we have a long, leisurely morning, sleeping in, grabbing coffee at the continental breakfast and taking our time. I eat coconut milk yogurt that I got at Whole Foods and a mango. Anna and Dan's socks are still wet so they use the hair dryer on them and the locker-room smell worsens significantly. We leave a tip for the cleaning staff because we feel guilty about it, and check out about a minute before we're required to.

Next stop is the bicycle shop across the street--same one Dan got his skewer at on our first travel day. Ben needs new, more robust wheels because the ones that came with his bike are terrible so he buys new wheels here. Anna Faye already has a puncture and a flat rear tire so Travis and Dan help her change her tube outside the shop. She also goes to buy a multi-tool so she doesn't have to keep borrowing one all the time. Repairs and various things take several hours but today we're in no hurry at all. Some people get lunch at Burger King and others eat what we have been carrying around.

We'll meet the trail again in Ashland so we push on that direction, Travis getting directions on his 'droid that take us off the main road onto quiet neighborhood roads. There are lakes, baby geese, cute houses, everything green and humid as ever. We cross railroad tracks a few times and ride parallel to them for a while into Ashland. A cargo train passes behind us and we stop to watch it because I love trains and Anna Faye loves the graffiti on the cars. A couple older cyclists, I'd say in their 70s, see us and chat for a while. They're locals just out for a leisurely spin. He tells this story about a Korean Doctor who decided to cycle from New York to San Francisco on a junky, broken mountain bike with one water bottle, one light, and a broken cycle computer. He met him somewhere along the way and brought him to a bike store to get him outfitted better. Apparently he made it, so I have high hopes for us.

We have a reservation at the Apple Garden Inn in Ashland. It's one of those cheap motels that has people who live here more or less permanently on the rear side of the building. Half of them just sit in chairs outside their doors and stare at the world, doing nothing. We pile into a room and instantly fill every corner with stuff. It smells a bit like cigarettes in here but at least we don't stink it up again. We watch the weather channel for a while--should be sunny tomorrow! then Anna Faye and I take a nap while the others walk a little ways to a coin laundry to wash all our stinky/wet/muddy clothes. When they come back, we go out to a grocery store to get food for tomorrow and I eat ham and coconut milk ice cream while the others eat pizza hut pizzas. Anna Faye, Travis, and Ben have fun getting the nectar out of honeysuckles and hunting baby rabbits.

Today is a lazy day so we head back to the motel and get ready for bed. Travis, Dan, and Jenn go out for beers while the rest of us get to sleep. Tomorrow we want to head to a cycling campsite in Mineral, about 45 miles away, and camp there.



Here is your featured cyclist for the day: my sister!

Jennjamin riding Zebra Cake

20 May 2013

Transamerica Cycle 2013, actual Day 1

Woke up this morning to a chigger bite in my armpit. Gross. It's 8 a.m. and everyone is packing our things (which basically consumed the whole house) so that we can clear out by 10. Travis finishes packing first so he cooks bacon and scambled eggs for breakfast and then we're dressed and eating and cleaning up and leaving. We throw our donations in the box and happen across John the owner on the way out, thanking him profusely, skipping out before church starts. People see a lot of cyclists around here so everyone asks about our trip. We go down to the beach, drag our heavy bikes in the sand, and then dip our rear wheels in the Atlantic Ocean. We'll dip our front wheels in the Pacific when we reach it and reach perfect closure. We recruit a passerby to take our picture.

We got a good, deep sleep last night so the 35 miles along the Colonial Parkway is SO MUCH EASIER OMG. We easily keep up 10-15 mph instead of the 7 from yesterday. We find a Food Lion in Williamsburg and have a nice, long lunch in the parking lot. We also shop for our next few meals here. Virginia is so lush, verdant, alive. It is a pleasure to cycle this route again.

The Handlebarbarians now have a theme song. Are you ready?

(to the tune of "I'm in the Lord's Army"/"Greasy-grimy gopher guts")

We may never ride in the Tour de France
Race against winner Lance
Don't think we'll get the chance
We may never look good in cycling pants
But we'll always ride our bikes!
We'll always ride our bikes
We'll always ride our bikes
We may never attack from the Pelaton
Be a sponsored team to ride on
(but we'll always have this silly song)
We will get up right at the crack of dawn
Because we love to ride our bikes!
We'll always ride our bikes
We'll always ride our bikes
From the east coast to the west coast
We're gonna ride our bikes!


We pass our nightmare campsite and the Chickahominy river and keep plugging on to Charles City. We pull back in to the Courthouse Grille for some beers (in my case, wine) and rest. Ben shows us this cool waypoint app thing where every time we stop he adds a new dot to the map--you can find our tour here: trackmytour.com/W8s7D . He updates it regularly too.

We decide to stop in Charles City for the night since we've gone about 50 miles today. There's no campground or anything but the bartender said people are really chill around here so we decide to stay in a field behind the county courthouse. As soon as we reach it, it begins raining in earnest, so it becomes a race--who can put up their tent first? Since my bivvy didn't work I'm sharing with Travis tonight. We tie with Jenn and Dan. The inside of the tent is damp, but not wet, so it's tolerable. We can't cook so we eat boiled eggs (Jenn has to get out in the rain to get them and delivers them to each tent), grapes, and whatever snacks we had with us.

I'm reasonably comfortable in here at least. Time to sleep.


Here is your featured rider for today: Me!

Tetris Queen riding Bike Rothar

18 May 2013

Transamerica Cycle 2013, travel day 4

So. The bug-screen bivvy *seems* like a good idea, right? Considering the major problem I had with midges back in Ireland, July 2012?

it isn't. it is the worst thing. There's no way to shrink the screen so if it rains it leaks from every angle AND on top of that all the zippers in this bivvy bag leak as well. We didn't expect rain, of course. We went to bed out under a clear sky and hung all our clothes and towels up to dry... then, right as I'm falling asleep, there it is. A thunderstorm with lightning and everything. Jenn and Dan rush to put the rain cover on their tent, which in our weather-arrogance they'd neglected. I flip and flop around and try to find a sheltered angle for my face under my raincoat. After an hour or so I dive under the vestibule of their tent to protect my leaky face, leaving my supposedly waterproofed lower half in the rain and my upper half under shelter. The bag seems really moist. I try to convince myself it's just condensation from sweat or my breath, but it isn't, it's getting worse... all the zippers are leaking. Half an inch of water at my waist, soaking into my sleeve. This is the most useless bivvy bag ever. Soaked and miserable, I crawl to the campground bathroom, hang the bivvy inside-out in the showers to dry, and try to sleep in my damp sleeping bag on the concrete floor. It's too cold to fall asleep there, so I crawl up on a wooden bench less than a foot wide and catch snatches of sleep before losing my precarious balance and waking up. All-in-all, come 6 a.m., I've slept maybe 45 minutes.

most. miserable. night. ever. I spend a lot of it crying from exhaustion, kicking myself for not bringing my Army bivvy from Ireland and just adding a mosquito net to that instead of trying this new and apparently terrible bag.

At sunrise I get up, collect my rain-soaked things and try to wash the mud off them in the showers. I eat a mango while Jenn and Dan put their things away. Apparently their rushed job of rain-cover-setting  missed a spot and they woke up to a lake of water at their feet after maybe 3 or 4 hours of sleep, which forced them to bail it out of their tent with a water bottle. No one slept much last night. Lesson learned: ALWAYS expect rain.

I didn't sign up for 36-hour days but we have no choice but to move on to Yorktown. We leave the campground before dawn, before there's even a person there to charge us for our plot. We stop along the trail somewhere and eat canned meat for breakfast. Trail goes toward Jamestown. The trail is off-road and wonderful scenery and it's nice to be out of traffic for a while. At Jamestown (which costs money to see so we skip out on) we turn onto the Colonial Parkway toward Yorktown.

The Colonial Parkway is a cobblestone road, and as such going is a bit slower on it due to friction. Lots of tourist traffic, but lots of cyclists and runners as well. The hills roll gently at least, and the woods on each side give way from time to time to tidal-river vistas. The woods here are all covered in green vines, ivy or kudzu or something. I decide my favorite smell in the world is honeysuckle.

The Parkway takes us into Williamsburg, a cute little town I'm too exhausted to see. I feel nauseated and sluggish from sleep deprivation so I lay down in a patch of grass and sleep while Jenn and Dan eat somewhere. I get maybe an hour and a half of rest before they come back. I buy some ginger candies and dark chocolate peanut butter in a shop next to the baskin robbins while they eat ice cream and then we head out again. Going is really slow and my body rebels. I eat an apple and the whole bag of ginger candies while cycling. A fellow touring cyclist, a Lutheran Pastor, tarries with us for a while and chats until an inlet opens up on the left and the wind picks up and we slow down. Today was supposed to be an easy day but with so little sleep, it is harder than yesterday!

Finally, FINALLY we reach Yorktown. We research accommodations for a while before discovering the Grace Episcopal Church ministry to cyclists--a small, 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath house by the sea where cyclists can stay for no set price, just donations, on a first-come-first-serve basis. We find the house but no one is here, so we check the church, where some ladies are decorating for Pentecost, and ask where the people in charge of the house are (as no one answered when we called). They tell us to knock on the door of a nearby house. John comes out from the middle of cooking and gladly helps set us up in the house. It's the best place. After last night it is a friggin' resort--sea views and everything. I fall asleep immediately for a nap (it's like 5 o'clock?) and don't get up till my dad calls to ask about last night. Then it's time for a shower, to figure out laundry, to figure out food, to wait for the others to arrive.

...So the others from the airport are supposed to visit the grocery store on the way up but at 9:55 p.m. they text us that they haven't left the airport yet because their bikes were giving them trouble, but we're in desperate need of food so Jenn Dan and I sprint on our unloaded bikes about 4 miles north across the York river to a Food Lion to get stuff for dinner and breakfast tomorrow and also laundry detergent so we can wash our stuff in the washer downstairs. It's night and dark and we have to cross a big scary bridge but I'm determined and we do it even though it stresses Jenn out a lot. We reach the Food Lion with 15 min before it closes and grab what we need fast as we can and ride back. The fields are full of fireflies; the river slides underneath us like a ghost in the dark. It's scary but also invigorating to ride at night, in a strange city, over strange waters.

The others are waiting for us when we return, having cycled triumphantly from the airport to here. We cook a big stew for dinner with rice and salad (greens from a farmer's market in Williamsburg!) and talk a bit then head to bed. It's a late night with an early morning to follow but the real trip starts tomorrow...

picture: cool brick bridge over the Colonial Parkway, with Jenn and Dan posing underneath it

17 May 2013

Transamerica Cycle 2013, travel day 3

All my muscles are sore and we haven't even started cycling yet! Carrying my panniers around on my shoulder in-between trains is what did it, I think. My neck, upper back, shoulders, and arms are feeling it now (good thing I've been working out with my dad and getting stronger before this...). My legs are also a touch sore in weird places because of all the walking yesterday in cycling shoes, but the blisters are better.

I make coffee while Jenn and Dan walk down to the bike shop (turns out it's just across the street!) to get a new skewer and finally put his bike together. Free motel coffee, yum. Put my off-day clothes in a plastic bag to keep them from stinking up the rest of my stuff and go about getting ready. How exciting, you guys. I'm in Virginia.

It takes a while for us to pack up our gear and get started 'cause there's adjustments to make on our bikes and such and so on and so we don't actually get going till like noon. It feels really good to cycle in cycling shoes instead of walking in them! We ride thru downtown Richmond to get on route 5 toward Yorktown. My gears are super maladjusted... I make them worse by fiddling with them while riding, then make them better, then make them way worse and we have to stop and flip my bike over to mess with them more. They are still off somehow but manageable; we'll get a pro to look at them in Yorktown?

The roads are mostly wooded, lots of waterways, traffic is okay but there's no shoulder. The amount of snake roadkills around does make me a little nervous for camping, tho'! One thing I'm definitely missing about Ireland--not so many creepy crawlies. We're going an average of like 10 mph. At some point we meet a guy from Australia on his way across America from D.C. and he tells us to eat at the Courthouse Grill, which is in Charles City. We sit in the AC and have water and cokes and I talk to the chef to figure out something safe for me to eat (we go for steak wrapped in foil on the grill and plain green beans).

Dan's knees hurt him so we go a bit slower for a while. Turns out his bike wheel is a bit out of place and making trouble for him. Due to our late start it's getting dusky already; we stop at a small country store (filled with gnats and weevils... ugh), grab some canned food for breakfast tomorrow, and keep going. From here until the James river it's pure woods, swampy from time to time, very soggy, and the air cools down and the wind, which was in our faces pretty much all day, lets up for a while.

There's a campsite just on the other side of the James River so we stop here, as it's getting dark, take showers and set up camp. I brought a bivvy bag but this one has a bug net at least.

Tomorrow we want an early start. It's a bit over 20 miles to Yorktown from here, so it'll *basically* be a rest day once we reach it. Then, tomorrow, we meet the rest of the Handlebarbarians and begin in earnest.


16 May 2013

Transamerica Cycle 2013, travel day 2

Today we reach D.C. in the afternoon and bid goodbye to our awesome teddy-bear-carrying seat-friend as he goes off to his conference. Our next train doesn't leave for like six hours and we want to see some of the capitol so we go looking for lockers, only to realize because of 911 and the whole this-is-the-capitol thing there aren't any. There is a paid left-luggage place, but it's $48 for our bags for the day! We despair about that for a while then pay it and go 'cause there's no way we can carry everything all day and waiting in the station for six hours would be really boring.

After chow, we head down to the Lincoln memorial 'cause it's the farthest away, something like 3 miles from Union Station. On the way we see the Wellington monument (some call it the Washington monument but we all know what it's really about), which is under construction, apparently? 

And the big World War II memorial. 

Walking so far in cycling shoes is really uncomfortable. The soles are too stiff and the cleats crunch in the gravel. It's also really hot. Ah well. Lincoln is huge and iconic and it's good to have seen him. Jenn almost cries because she just read Gone with the Wind and the memorial brings it all to life for her.

After Lincoln we head back thru the Korean War memorial, past the big reflecty pool, thru a sculpture garden, and into the Air and Space museum. We only have something like 45 minutes before it closes but we look at all the planes on the ceiling and the solar system exhibit. There's a picture of the actual surface of Venus which is one of my favorite things ever. Because it's like, that's real, that exists on another planet, and the probe that took it promptly melted and died because Venus is basically hell. It died for that photo. I just like it, idk.

The train ride to Richmond is pretty short. I finally get a window seat. Dan sits next to a really nice old man and they talk about tennis. The staff on this train are my favorite so far. We disembark at Staple Mill Road, then panic a bit because our bikes weren't on that train--but they came early and all is well. Except it isn't because as we put our bikes together we realize that the skewer (axle) for Dan's front wheel is missing... a call to Mama confirms we left it in their garage. The motel we have reservations at is only 2 miles away, tho', so we walk our bikes there in solidarity with Dan, him rolling it wheelie-style and Jenn holding his wheel. It smells, and sounds, like my childhood here. Hard to describe. The flowers are all familiar, familial, the insects humming and chirping my memories in the fields. Virginia. We're here.

The motel is decent (showers and beds always appreciated) and they go out to eat and I go to bed and tomorrow we start cycling, guys!


15 May 2013

Transamerica Cycle 2013, travel day 1

We board our first train (California Zephyr to Chicago) in Denver... arriving late to the station with 30 seconds to convince the baggage guys to accept our bikes, considering they are already boxed and we are ready to pay in cash and all (they were literally about to close check-in as I walked in). Thank you, baggage guys! It seems everything went smoothly, so our bikes ought to be waiting for us in Richmond when we get there. Here's to hopin'.

Sleep is fitful in the rattling coach for the night, but on a train you have plenty of room to stretch out at least. I'm in an aisle seat next to a stranger, however, which can make it a bit awkward and create unique aches and pains due to leaning on one side only. I did acquire a little pillow, at least, which makes things easier.

We reach Nebraska in the wee hours of the morning and Iowa in the afternoon. The fields rolling by are green as anything, wooded, rivered, beautiful. I love riding on trains. Even if it takes a touch too long to reach one's destination and even if other methods of travel would technically be cheaper, I still love it. Maybe it has to do with my childhood in Japan. I dunno. I hate planes and I hate driving so I guess it's my only other option? (besides cycling, of course! which we'll get to)

Turns out the lady sitting next to me is really cool. We have a lovely conversation about all sorts of things while she sews a little "mug rug" as a graduation gift for a friend, whom she is going to visit in St. Louis. She also does a bit of independent publishing--y'all should check out her and her husband's e-book "Rail Tales" (by Brian Green), a collection of funny and charming facebook statuses written whilst on public transportation and collected later into book form. She also talks about her goal of learning 7 languages on her lifetime... cool stuff like that. I think she's working on number 4?

We land in Chicago in the afternoon, where we have to transfer to another train. We have two hours to kill before that, tho', so we walk down to see Lake Michigan and a few fountains and gardens, then pop into a liquor store to get some wine, as well as pick up some strongbow cider and candy (well, in my case, freeze-dried fruit) for our next long train ride. From what little I saw of it Chicago seems like a pretty cool city--certainly had a decent amount of public transportation in the form of aboveground trains. As I have friends who live here, I'm going to come back to visit Chicago someday with a few days to kill instead of a few hours. It's on my list of cities to possibly move to just-for-the-hell-of-it so I should scope it out at least. Could even take the same train there from Denver next time. Jenn is sad because we walked too much and now she doesn't have time to get a proper Chicago-style pizza *in Chicago*. The locker we put our stuff in for walking costs $10 'cause we're a few minutes later than an hour back.

Back on the train to D.C. (to union station from union station thru union station...). Whoever did the assigned seating was a little confused 'cause mine's already taken so I sit next to a guy holding a teddy bear 'cause he seems cool. Turns out he totally is! He's on his way to a feminist conference in D.C. and we get to talking about feminism and gender issues and intersectionality and families and embarrassing stories and just about everything really. We hang out, the four of us, in the cafe lounge car and drink our cider and wine and eat dinner and sugar snap peas until something like midnight. What good luck with seat partners! (Btw he writes for a blog called Queereka; you should check it out if you're into that kinda bloggin'.)

Time for sleep in another rattling metal tube shooting eastward. Tomorrow we'll have a layover in D.C. -- then, Richmond ho!


p.s. our group has dubbed ourselves the HandleBarbarians. Meet our mascot:

(thus follows a picture of a viking-like man with his mouth open, shouting; backdrop is a bike shop)

12 May 2013

Leaving on Tuesday

Okay, so forget about all the emo posts below this one. My adventure is starting soon so this blog is going to be dedicated to that from now until it's over.

Me, my sister, and my sister's fiance are leaving on a train from Denver to Yorktown, VA this Tuesday evening. From Denver we take a train to Chicago, from Chicago to D.C., and from D.C. to Richmond, where we will disembark, re-assemble our bicycles, and cycle to the Atlantic Ocean to touch the water before we head off to the Pacific to touch the water there. In Yorktown we will meet my cousin, her boyfriend, and her brother, so there will be six of us going.

This trip is far more ambitious than my Ireland one. Probably won't be as beautiful, nor as convenient (hostels ftw), but it will nonetheless be amazing.

Here's to adventuring.

HandleBarbarians Cycle Across America, Summer 2013


02 May 2013


following the diet they gave me was supposed to make me feel better.

I'm depressed again. My muscles have a constant, low-key ache that worsens but never stops. I'm closer to tears than usual. I'm tired, always tired, like I've always been my whole life and that never changes.

I'm scared and feel like my life is mostly aimless. I guess nowadays that's always part of being in one's 20s. . .