Day 4: Caught in a storm before getting out of the mountains - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

April 26, 2022

Day 4: Caught in a storm before getting out of the mountains

Today I repeatedly asked myself: In this moment, is this Type 2 fun or self-torture?

I shot this selfie as I waited for my breakfast to rehydrate. You can see Blue and my tent hammock in the background and a pile of random gear on the picnic table beside my smiling face.
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I tried to establish a better morning routine including a few exercises for some muscles that don't get exercised by riding a bike. Oh, no, if anyone just felt impressed by the fact that I did some exercises on top of all the cycling I'm doing, you should banish the thought. I'm still just making up for (and recovering from) all the sitting during the pandemic. I especially need to make sure that the muscles that move my leg sideways get some action or else I might have knee trouble. Doing all this biking often makes me feel young, but I'll be 40 this year, and I've learned that relying solely on biking is not enough.

Of course, I was slow as ever in getting ready to go. I start rolling at 10:05. This has good and bad implications. The good part:  Just as I was about to leave my campsite, the park attendant stopped by on his golf cart and asked me which way I was going, and he strongly cautioned me against riding back up the road I had come down yesterday. He directed me along another road to get back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. "I've seen guys torturing themselves" on the road I had originally planned to take, he said, "and they didn't have panniers they had to carry." I smugly thought about what else they didn't have — a gear ratio as low as Blue's. One of the primary reasons I bought Blue was that he has pretty much the lowest gear I could find on a bike that was not custom-built. But I realized I was being stubborn in thinking that way (yesterday two people had already told me that road was crazy steep), and I decided I'd better start taking the locals' advice. Besides, I can handle Type 2 fun, but I'm not into self-torture.

And so my thoughts all day focused on exactly that question: Is this just Type 2 fun, or is this self-torture? So many opportunities to ask myself that question today!

The road that the park attendant suggested was still a lot of climbing. Type 2 fun. 

Back on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the riding included some climbing, but nothing too steep, and the views did a lot to distract from the effort required. I also enjoyed a great spot to stop for a break to eat my last bit of food before the last 12 or so miles on the Parkway. Type 1 fun!

In this selfie, I'm perched on a rock and smiling at the camera as a tree on either side frames the view of the mountains in the distance, which are covered in multiple shades of green.
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But soon after that break, I saw the dark clouds ahead. This is why I really should've left an hour earlier. I thought to myself: "It's gonna rain today, isn't it?" I had checked the weather when I last had WiFi access ... which was more than 24 hours ago (and I've been out of cell service since yesterday afternoon too), and I thought rain was coming Wednesday, not Tuesday. Well, either I got the days mixed up or the rain came early. I stopped at the first drop off rain I felt. The temperature dropped suddenly. I had a feeling this was not going to be a short sprinkle. At this point, my options were: Put on my rain gear or try to make shelter somehow. I thought about a rain tarp that I had considered bringing on this trip (designed for a hammock that I was also not bringing, in favor of a tent-hammock hybrid). That tarp might've been a great way to great shelter, I thought to myself. But — shit! — there's the thunder. Well, a tarp doesn't offer much protection from lightning. Let's throw on this jacket, rain pants and booties, and get the hell outta here.

Of course, still being on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few more miles, I still have a little climbing ahead. Yeah, heading even slightly uphill did not seem like a good idea, but I figured I'd minimize my risk if I could get off the mountain entirely and the only way to do that was through the rain. As I took off again, I got lucky: The thunder stopped. Phew. But the rain did not. Good thing I spent so much energy finding decent rain gear!" I thought to myself. Not a second later, I felt my foot get wet despite the booty covering it, which had WATERPROOF emblazoned on its side. Also, I foolishly put on my cycling jacket and not the waterproof rain jacket, thinking the rain didn't seem like it was that heavy. Now my arms are wet. I'm sure my shoulders and back are getting wet too and I just can't feel it because my jersey was already soaked in sweat from climbing earlier. Well, at least the jacket is trapping some of my body heat. This is not exactly pleasant, but it could be a lot worse, right?

A couple in a small SUV pulled up next to me. "Need a hand?" asked the woman in the passenger seat. "I'm okay, but thanks!" I said cheerfully. I had quickly calculated that I could probably not have fit Blue in their trunk without removing a wheel, which is a bit of a hassle because it requires a tool that is buried at the bottom of one of my giant panniers.

As they pulled away, I questioned my decision. I'm hungry and wet, and getting hungrier and wetter by the second. 

"Is this self-torture?" I asked myself.

Sooner or later, I reached the point to get off the Blue Ridge Parkway, found some shelter under a small overpass and got a cell signal! I checked my route into a tiny town called Vesuvius, switched jackets and flew down the rest of the mountain. Inside Vesuvius, I stopped at an intersection for a moment and a self-proclaimed trail angel named Rick pulled up and asked how he could help. "FOOD!" I screamed in my head. "Anyplace I could get some food?" I asked aloud, in as non-animalistic a voice as I could muster. I actually knew, thanks to the TransAmerica Trail map, that there was food somewhere off to the right, but it was so reassuring for another living, breathing person to tell me exactly where to go.

And the answer is Gertie's.

A small establishment named Gertie's has a few vehicles parked in front of it on its gravel parking area. It's in the middle of a rural residential street. Its sign says: "Gertie's. Your Gateway to the Parkway. Great Food. Great Company. Great Experience."
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If it weren't obvious yet, I'd rolled into rural western Virginia. As I stepped into Gertie's, an old woman at a table looked up and smiled at me to say hello. A younger hostess greeted me with that warm, slightly twangy accent and said I'd found just the spot to dry off and have some lunch. The place was small, with just a few tables and walls covered in welded-metal art and messages written with markers. It's probably not the kind of place that ever would have been on my radar if not for this trip and the fact that I was so hungry and out of food. I'm glad the trail led me here.

From my booth in the corner, I have this view of the inside of Gertie's. On the left hangs a sign for Bike Route 76, which has been a big part of the TransAm so far.
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I wolfed down a salad with grilled chicken and most of a big plate of sweet potato fries. (Note to self: I need to relearn how to eat because I am becoming an animal when I get hungry and have been starting such meals by shoveling food in my face as fast as possible, so fast that I find myself stopping to catch my breath. Eventually someone is going to ask me to step outside if I don't control myself.) I could've eaten more but stopped myself, knowing I wasn't done riding yet.

I eventually set off again, back in the rain.

Eventually the rain stopped and I found myself in Lexington, Va., which was very pretty. I lost a little time messing with the three apps I'm using for navigation (the Adventure Cycling Association's Bicycle Route app, Google Maps and the app that works with my Lezyne GPS device).

When the apps give conflicting advice, I had learned to trust Google most of all, but I thought I should lean more on the Adventure Cycling Association app. After all, its their route I'm following. But when it comes to campgrounds that are a couple of miles off the route, it seems that, even though there were explicit directions about how to get to such sites, those directions sometimes lead you down questionable roads. 

An uphill, unpaved road is marked on both sides with signs that say: POSTED. Private Road. No Through Traffic.
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I should mention that it took me a few hours to get to this point. Needless to say, the hunger has returned. I managed to snag a Clif Bar at Gertie's, but that was not going to cut it for dinner. Between my current location and the campground I was aiming for (the Natural Bridge / Lexington KOA), there were only about 2.5 miles to go and two places where I might get food: the Pink Cadillac Diner and a gas station. Google said the diner closed at 8. It was already 7. I check the map. There is no way I'm making it there by 8 unless I take this private road. So here we go.

I guess I'd call this one Type 2 fun. I crawled up some gravelly hills, rode right past someone's garage and startled their horses despite being as quiet as I could. I'm not proud of it, but I made it through the private road. And I ended up here:

A Buddhist Stupa sits in a clearing with mountains and a cloudy evening sky in the background. The Stupa has a white base and is topped with a golden, almost doll-shaped tip.
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I did not expect to find a Buddhist shrine in a clearing in rural Virginia. Pretty cool. And just then, not 30 second after I had stopped here, a vehicle approached from the other direction and proceeded down the private road. Wow, that was close.

So I made it to the Pink Cadillac Diner, where every waiter made it sound like they had practically nothing to offer because their deep frier was down. I told my waiter that anything edible would be fine. I ordered a chicken parmesan which meant grilled chicken rather than breaded. I was probably the worst chicken parm I'd ever had, but when you add in this trip's special hunger sauce, it still ranks as pretty darn good. I think I want dessert but want to get to the campsite so I move along.

I stopped at the gas station to grab a couple of snacks for dessert and breakfast. I parked Blue directly in front of a sign that says: NO PARKING IN FRONT OF STORE. If I sound like a rebel, the store clerk was outside smoking a cigarette and I asked him if he cared before I did it.
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Finally, I reach the campground! 

As the sun sets beyond the green horizon, orange and pink clouds line the sky above the road leading straight —and ever so slightly uphill — to the campground entrance, which is flanked by two giant signs that say KOA KAMPGROUND. I feel like I'm in a Far Side cartoon and I've reached Heaven, only to discover that Heaven is a KOA. Well, at least it has hot showers.
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Day 4 stats:

The Daily Progress: 53.1 miles

Elevation gain: 4,278 ft

Lodging expenses: $33 (Natural Bridge/Lexington KOA Holiday)

Food expenses: $44 (lunch at Gertie's, dinner at the Pink Cadillac Diner and grocery shopping at a gas station)

Today's ride: 53 miles (85 km)
Total: 227 miles (365 km)

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