Day 34: Meadows of Dan, VA to Roanoke, VA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 16, 2011

Day 34: Meadows of Dan, VA to Roanoke, VA

It's the middle of May. It's wet and cold and the wind blows. Around every corner there's a hill, and everywhere I look I see green. If it wasn't for all the unusual accents and hush puppies on the restaurant menus I'd swear I was back at home in Washington State.

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I'm paranoid all morning, waiting anxiously for the rain to start. The wind fakes me out several times when it blows drops of water from off the tree leaves above and down onto my head. Motorcycles speed past, some with old riders on Honda Gold Wings towing trailers, others with old riders on Harleys who wear scraggly beards and blast Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." The hills roll constantly, but I start to look forward to the ups because they give me a chance to unfreeze.

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The rain never comes. First the gloves peel off, then a bit later the rain jacket, and finally the black undershirt. Streaks of blue cut across the sky and the sun tries to break through the clouds. I take a break along the Parkway and watch a couple of retirees from Texas take more than a hundred pictures of crisscrossed sections of wooden fencing and flowers that haven't yet bloomed. I hope all of those years of hard work and saving were worth it.

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After a long stretch of pedaling I come to the top of a climb, turn a corner, and pull into another incredible overlook. With the clouds cleared I see more than a hundred miles to the east, where the bright greens and yellows of the valley below fade to blues and grays and blacks far in the distance. It's quiet except for the faint noise of the wind. I've seen dozens of views like this in the last week and it still blows me away.

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While I sit on the grassy slope and chew on a handful of peanuts, a truck with Ohio license plates rumbles into the overlook pulling a huge white fifth-wheel trailer. The husband and wife both slide out. She walks back and and climbs into the trailer, but not without first bending down and extending the two tiny metal steps that fold beneath the floor, because that two-foot high gap above the ground is a killer. The man pulls their dog from the truck's back seat and plops him on the ground. It's the fattest, most out-of-shape dog I've ever seen, an old and sad-looking black thing that's more like a pot-bellied pig. The two walk to the end of the parking area, where the dog takes a dump and rolls around in the grass for a few seconds. The wife pops open a soda. Then, just as quickly as they rolled in, everyone piles back inside and drives off, the trailer creaking and clanking over little bumps in the pavement. The entire episode takes less than three minutes. They never once stop to take a look around. It's as if this clear, beautiful, postcard-perfect, amazing snapshot of Western Virginia spread out before them doesn't exist.

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Country riding means little traffic. Little traffic means it's safe to stop in the middle of the road. I've been traveling long enough now that I've become ok with standing over the bike in the lane of a quiet road and taking a leak off to one side. There aren't many things in life I'm incredible at, but this is one of them. On a short uphill I stop and rest, admiring the view and my work, when I hear buzzing—faint at first and then subtly louder. A few seconds later I look to my right and see a giant swarm of bees moving toward me in a hazy black cloud, ready to pick up both me and my fully loaded bicycle and carry us off to Ohio to live with the trailer-towing couple and dog from the overlook. I freak out and bolt instantly, adrenaline pumping, pedaling up the hill like a mad man, and looking back over my shoulder every ten seconds. Within a minute I reach the crest and fly down the other side, winding my way to safety. I narrowly miss running over a confused wild turkey who wanders out into the middle of the road because he doesn't hear me coming.

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Sprawl along the Parkway.
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I bomb down Roanoke Mountain in the early evening, thinking of all the things I want: pizza, a bed, a long shower, the chance to catch up with the people I love for the first time in a week. I leave the Parkway as soon as I hit the edge of Roanoke and grab a motel room. The place is stunning—barely wider than the queen-sized bed that sits in the middle of it, dozens of patched holes on the far wall, and strange stains on the brownish-purple carpet. Cars scream by on the nearby highway and trucks downshift, their compression brakes chattering loudly. I close the window to muffle the noise, but the glass is so thin that the room sounds exactly the same either way. Only two things hang on the walls: a mirror opposite the foot of the bed, and directly above the head a picture of a Cocker Spaniel mother and her three puppies sitting in a wicker basket. I smash a little bug crawling up the wall next to the gold-plated desk lamp. The TV turns on and off at random. I flush the toilet once and the water runs all night.

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If a man in Roanoke needed a discreet place to take a prostitute or mistress, this motel room would fit the bill. I take the top covers off the bed and spend the night in my disgusting sleeping bag instead.

Today's ride: 60 miles (97 km)
Total: 1,743 miles (2,805 km)

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