Day 40: Troutville, VA to Christiansburg, VA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 22, 2011

Day 40: Troutville, VA to Christiansburg, VA

I peek out of the tent at 7:00 and see Chris pushing his bike toward the park's front gate. One older man walks quick laps around the blacktop path that runs around the edge of the park. I watch him carefully, to make sure he's out of sight and doesn't get an eyeful of bright white butt cheeks when I change into my riding shorts.

It's overcast but warm and humid. I startle a muskrat snuffling through something on the side of the road, causing him to bolt off to the side of the road in sheer terror. Just past a giant cement mine and processing plant I fly down a hill, rumble across an old concrete bridge, see the lane markings go away, and watch the bike computer's odometer roll over to 2,000 miles even.

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I push into short but very steep hills—a taste of what my life's going to become for the next couple of weeks. I'm in a valley, but it's very narrow, with mountains covered in dark green trees shooting up on both sides. It's such a tight section of countryside that it only runs flat on the five or six feet of land that line either side of the skinny, rushing stream at the bottom. That forces the road onto the side of a hill that runs up and down, up and down, and then up and down a little more. When the sun comes out it shines hot. A strong wind shoots between the tall hills and right into my face. At different times I curse, I growl, I sigh in frustration, and I yell at the gnats that keep trying to fly into my eyes. It's tough riding. To distract myself I try to spit on an electric fence and make it zap, but my aim's off.

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I smile when I round a corner, see the valley open wider, and feel the hills start to level a bit. I think about the thousands of people who rode across the country before me on this same bumpy stretch of road. Knowing that riders younger, older, smarter, and dumber than me, in all kinds of physical shape, in good weather and bad, managed to overcome the challenges of this stretch adds some more kick to my legs. When I stop to look down, I see them stained with streaks of orange from the guts of at least a dozen dead bugs.

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I cruise easily until the mountain that stands between Christiansburg and me gets in the way. It throws me one string of steep hills after another, including an especially tough one called Rat Bastard Motherfucking Piece of Donkey Shit. I named that one myself.

I haven't showered in five or six days. I need to work and write. It's 85 degrees and the hottest part of the day hasn't yet passed. It's a motel night.

I ride up to the only place that isn't four miles out of town to the east and next to the interstate. I stop in front of the office, where the strong smell of creosote makes me feel like I'm standing next to a line of pilings on the waterfront back in Washington. The building is green and yellow with brick accents, well-kept but showing its age. Only one car sits in the parking lot out front: a mid-1980s Chevrolet Caprice Classic. It's a mostly gray land yacht with a white front section, a tan hood, and a brown door that won't shut with the number 104593 written across it in blue chalk. Red fuzzy dice hang from the rear-view mirror, it has a racing-style steering wheel, and the front and back bumpers sit attached at odd angles. I don't expect much from the place.

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My room's non-smoking, but the baked-in scent of the 40 years worth of cigarettes that came before still punches through. The rest of the place is tired, but the closer I look the more it turns out to be just fine. I clean up, change into normal clothes, relax, and feel human again. It's a quiet night until 9:00, when thunder starts to rumble in from many miles away. Soon the sky flashes every three seconds, mostly in big pops but sometimes in jagged bolts. Within half an hour the center of the storm reaches Christiansburg and charges through like a hurricane, dumping down rain in buckets, blowing wind so strongly that it shakes the room's old window panes, and booming and flashing in a show I've come to recognize but still sit in awe of. I open the door door to take a couple of pictures, but within five seconds the wind grabs hold, slams it wide open, and blows a wave of rain straight into the room, soaking my camera and me instantly.

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Twenty minutes later it's all gone. The pleasant spring night returns, as if the rage and fury never happened.

Today's ride: 49 miles (79 km)
Total: 2,035 miles (3,275 km)

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