Day 33: Near Barrett, NC to Meadows of Dan, VA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 15, 2011

Day 33: Near Barrett, NC to Meadows of Dan, VA

I'm warm and totally dry in the sleeping bag when I wake up at 6:00. All I want, more than anything in the world, is to stay there, to not put on wet clothes, to not go outside into the cold. But I'm sitting in a tent with a bright yellow rain cover, camped next to a Baptist church on a Sunday morning. There's no way I can stay.

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I head north in shoes and socks and gloves still heavy with water, wearing rain pants for the first time. The sticky stuff that holds the mirror to the left side of my helmet couldn't handle yesterday's rain, so the mirror hangs loosely because the duct tape didn't hold well when I attached it with wet hands. A few miles up the way I cross into Virginia. North Carolina kicked my ass up and down the Blue Ridge and it only makes sense to leave tired and cold, slogging slowly into the wind over rolling hills. With the rain having washed away most of the chain lube, the bike squeaks loudly and shifts poorly all morning.

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Full on breakfast, the sun comes out on the hill up from Fancy Gap and everything is instantly better. I pedal past farms and fields that shine bright green, separated from one another by thick stands of trees. It's not stunning or challenging riding like the southern end of the Parkway, but today that's ok.

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Dark clouds loom behind and to the sides, and within a few hours I trade the sun for rain. I'm almost to the oddly named town of Meadows of Dan when I notice an old white building called the Mayberry Trading Post off to my right and across a field. I pull a quick u-turn and head over.

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The musty smell starts to pour out as soon as I get within 30 feet of the front door. Inside it's a unique collection of modern candy and soda, locally made fudge and nuts, and a strange selection of food: Beanee Weenee, 40 cans of sardines past their expiration date, spaghetti noodles, crackers, and old tins of onion salt and turmeric. Preserves and t-shirts line two walls, designed to separate tourists from their cash. Dust covers most of the fixtures and a good bit of the products. Red and white checkered tablecloths serve as counter covers and mason jars of all sizes sit on the top shelf along the near wall, most clear but some a pale blue. The place has hardwood floors—not like in an expensive home, but old and creaking, with slightly uneven joints and boards that have settled with the building such that the floor in the middle of the store rises a few inches higher than the parts along the north and south walls.

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Peggy sits behind the counter. She's in her 70s, styles her silver hair short, wears a yellow shirt with a gray pullover, and flashes a wonderful smile. I buy as much food as I can hold in my bags and she slowly runs up the total on an adding machine from the 1980s. I ask her how old the place is and she tells me it's from 1892. Almost all of their business comes from tourists driving the Parkway, which sends people past between the middle of April and the end of the holiday season in December.

"We sell a lot around Christmas," she says. "Gifts an' stuff. Make our own apple buttah right heah, sell a lot of that."

It snows all winter long, so they just don't open the store then.

"We only had three days a school in Febahwary this year," she explains. "Last year in Janahwary only five."

We talk about all the days and weeks of riding I've done to get here. She's impressed.

"That sure is a long way ta come," she says with a smile. "Tough with these hills, too, but ya just gotta keep on truckin'. I never started ridin' 'til I was a big woman. Never could find my sense a balance. A friend a mine told me we should ride down from Maine anyhow, said it was downhill all the way!"

I buy a few more packages of crackers. As I jingle the change in my hand, Peggy offers to switch all the other coins in my bag to dollars. I pull up a stool and we sit carefully counting quarters and dimes and nickels and pennies, slowly passing dollars back and forth and talking about the Parkway, her brother named Jeff, the weather coming this way, and how she thinks I ought to write a book about the trip some day.

"It turns out ya smartah than ya look!" she says with a big laugh as we finish up and I pack up my things to leave. Amazing—I'm being flipped shit by a 70-year-old woman in a century-old building deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I bust out laughing.

When I step onto the creaking front porch the sun is out and the sky shines bright with blue and white. It's a wonderful and short ride into Meadows of Dan.

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A few hours after setting up camp I head into town for dinner. Rain pours as I finish, so I hustle to the covered porch in front of the country store next door to take cover.

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Jim's in his 60s. He's a smoker and a retired state trooper with silver hair who speaks with a slight Southern twang. Eugene's past 70, with glasses, blue jeans, a mesh hat, and a Western Virginia accent so strong it's sometimes hard to understand what he's saying. They ask me questions about the bike, where I'm going, where I'm from, and where I'm staying tonight.

"I live just up the way heah," Jim says. "I see ya bikahs ridin' by all the time. Saw a couple of 'em just today, looked like they had everything they owned on them bicycles. Bags in the front, bags in the back, stuff all piled up."

We talk a bit more about bikes, about the Appalachian Trail, and about what's coming up on the Parkway. Then Eugene turns toward me, a serious look on his face.

"Carruh plenty a watuh and fruit," he says.

I nod my head and give a little laugh.

"No, I'm serruhs. Always carruh lots a watah and fruit and stuff lahk peanuts and trail mix."

He's legitimately concerned.

"A few years ago it was I came up on the big mountain ovah theah and saw these three bikahs layin' off the side the road. One comes up and says, 'I's jus' about passed out.' He ate sumpin' at breakfas' and then didn't have nuthin' all the rest the day. He was outta food, outta watah. So I says, 'Go throw ya bicycles over by the side a the road theah, get in the truck, and I'll take care a ya.'"

And he did. He took those crazy bike riders to town, waited until they filled up on food and water, and then took them back up to the spot along the Parkway where he found them. I feel good that I'm riding through here in May instead of August, but even better knowing that people like Eugene are around to help, just in case.

The old boys wish me good luck and safe travels. I know they really mean it.

Before I pedal away, Jim turns to me and asks, "Do we really sound different than folks up in Seattle?"

"Yes," I say with a big smile. "Yes you do."

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Just after I tuck into the sleeping bag a white light shines into my tent.

"What the hell's that thing?" I ask myself. "Is that gonna be on all night?"

I unzip the tent flap, pull open both sides of the rain cover, and see the moon rising up and shining through the trees.

Today's ride: 48 miles (77 km)
Total: 1,683 miles (2,709 km)

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