Day 42: Wytheville, VA to Damascus, VA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 24, 2011

Day 42: Wytheville, VA to Damascus, VA

I rumble over the railroad tracks that run through the center of town in Rural Retreat and drop into its only open restaurant. It's a small place, with fake wood paneling lining the walls and flower-printed shades covering each of the windows. The Weather Channel flashes silently on the TV mounted above the counter and Billy Joel and Lynyrd Skynyrd play from the sound system. The menu lists breakfasts named after the regulars: the Roger, the Billy, the Willy, the Donny, and the Cleve. I go with the Mr. Mitchell because I haven't had gravy in almost 24 hours. When I step in the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror, I see the two permanent grooves that run straight along the top of my head. I've ridden enough that helmet hair is now just hair.

Heart 1 Comment 0

I beat the wind yesterday by starting early. It doesn't work today; by 9:00 it's already blowing strong. The wind makes it hard to think about anything else. It screams across my ears, rustles the trees, and does its best to knock me off balance and point the bike into the shallow ditch that runs along the edge of the road. It seems like every time I hit a flat or downhill stretch, heavy gusts arrive at the same time, willing to give me a firm shove backward. The wind makes the grass look like water, causing it to ripple in waves across the broad hillsides.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

"How fah yew dun rahd that thang?"

The question comes from a man on a beat-up red moped that idles in front of a convenience store in Sugar Grove. He wears dirty clothes, a cigarette hangs from the left corner of a mouth with seven rotting teeth, and he looks roughly as old as the Commonwealth of Virginia. The moped sits upright on the kickstand and the rear wheel turns slowly just above the ground.

I tell him a little about where I've come from and how long it's taken me. Then I ask if it's always windy around here.

"Yimma hum dum jimma time inna winna anna sprang yamma nah," he says to me. "But inna summa ibba gubba sam dem hot ah abba tom heah."

I'm pretty sure that means the wind blows hard in the winter and the spring, and that it's really hot in the summer, but that's only an educated guess. Around this part of the country I've had a lot of conversations like this, made up of one part talking, one part listening, and two parts trying to figure out what the hell the person standing five feet from my face is trying to tell me without looking like a condescending jackass from the West Coast.

We try to work through a few more questions and do our best to have a talk, but it just isn't happening.

I try to imagine what's coming in Eastern Kentucky, where almost everyone speaks like this.

Heart 1 Comment 0

I'm pushing up an easy but long hill when it starts to rain. I don't stop. Within a few minutes it comes down harder. I keep going. Then the lightning flashes and thunder rumbles. I pull off along the shoulder and within two minutes the torrent arrives, turning the road into a river and soaking every part of my body not covered by the rain jacket. It's not safe to ride so I just stand there with my back turned to the road.

An 18-wheeler rounds the corner and heads my way. I know exactly what's going to happen. The truck roars past with moving over even an inch, sending a wave of water directly toward me and soaking everything below my waist. For 20 more minutes I stand there, dripping and cold, hands in my pockets, signing Decemberists songs in my head, rocking back and forth, patiently waiting for it all to end. Except for the sky exploding around me it feels just like I'm standing on a sidewalk in the city, watching out for the bus to work. I'm calm, very zen-like. The psychic I met back in Cassadaga, Florida would be impressed.

The rain nearly stops by the time I reach Troutdale and goes away soon after. The sun comes out a few miles farther, shining through the trees and drying out both the roads and the crazy guy on a bike. The wind disappears completely. I drop down an easy downhill into Konnarock and it feels like a totally different day.

Heart 0 Comment 0

I meet up with Chris in front of the tiny store in Konnarock. From there the road becomes instantly amazing, snaking its way down toward to Damascus, running crooked as a question mark next to a rushing mountain stream and small waterfalls. I fly through the switchbacks in a warm breeze with a smile on my face, knowing that the end of the day's riding sits only a few easy miles away. Chris calls it the best stretch of road he's ridden so far. It's firmly in my top five.

Heart 1 Comment 0
Chris riding far ahead, as usual.
Heart 0 Comment 0

In Damascus we ride to The Place, a two-story house run by the local Methodist church that's legendary for hosting Appalachian Trail hikers. We walk through the screen door and immediately the baked-in smell of filthy white guy hits us in the face. Maps, ads, rules, and religious pamphlets cover the walls. All the furniture is beat-up, tired, and stained a medium shade of brown. I could sleep in one of the bunks and clean up in the shower, but yesterday I read that a large number of hikers have been coming off the trail sick, with a condition that doctors haven't been able to identify. I'll trade stinking a few days longer for avoiding explosive diarrhea.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Chris and I poke around The Place but feel like outsiders. Everyone else knows each other, having met at some point along the 500 miles between Georgia and Virginia that they hiked to reach Damascus. We're not part of the through-hiker fraternity; we only rode in on bikes. I completely understand. A six-month walk up and down over mountains and along ridges, sleeping outside every night, and going weeks without showering or shaving makes my cross-country bike ride seem ridiculously easy in comparison. I ease the pain by eating a stromboli as long as my forearm.

Stromboli shown to iPhone scale.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

A tornado warning stays in place for the early evening, but when the weather arrives it's only a short, loud thunderstorm. I head to bed early again, listening to the hikers camped next to me piss under the tree and have philosophical conversations about religion and weed, dude.

Today's ride: 61 miles (98 km)
Total: 2,152 miles (3,463 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 0