Day 5: A stiff wind, the new reason I'm carrying a U.S. flag, and a crossing into an alternate traveling universe - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

April 27, 2022

Day 5: A stiff wind, the new reason I'm carrying a U.S. flag, and a crossing into an alternate traveling universe

This shot of the road following Bicycle Route 76 shows more mountains on the horizon ahead, with lush green grass on either side of the road. The sun is at the top of the image, reflecting a bit off the road and providing some warmth on a windy day.
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Editor's note: To make this blog a little more user-friendly, I'll start putting some basic stats at the top, then mention the highlights before jumping into the rambling stream of consciousness that follows. 

Oh, also, some sighted readers (and I guess some blind and visually impaired readers also) might be wondering why my photo captions are so literal. I can't find a way to provide alt text for the images. If you don't know what alt text is, it's text that describes what is shown in the image so that screen readers can describe the image even if the user can't visually see it. We all need to use it with images we post online so that everyone can access it. I'm reaching out to the folks running this site about this apparent lack of functionality.

Feedback about anything is always welcome! On with the show:

Day 5 stats

Starting point: Natural Bridge / Lexington KOA Holiday, north of Natural Bridge, Va.

Ending point: Four Pines Hostel, Catawba, Va.

The Daily Progress: 56.37 miles

Elevation gain: 4,199 ft

Average speed: 8.9 mph

Maximum speed: 35.8 mph

Flat tires: 0

Falls: 0

Lodging expenses: $40 (donation-based hostel)

Food expenses: About $35 (lunch in Buchanan and dinner and snacks at Sheetz)

Day 5 highlights and lowlights

Here's my campsite at the Natural Bridge / Lexington KOA. My hammock is hanging between two trees just next to my designated space, which is actually a fenced-off flat area topped with what I'm guessing is crushed limestone. Blue and my panniers lean against the fence.
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After feeling beaten up by the rain, I decided to sleep in and savor puttering around in the morning. I even ate breakfast in bed! (Belvitas and Pop Tarts and milk. Hey, it's food and I'm in bed. That's luxury.) I didn't leave camp until 12:30 p.m. Don't judge. I'm on vacation. I can still bike 50 miles after lunchtime.

Especially after yesterday's rain, abundant sunshine and pleasant temperatures were quite welcome.

A swift wind in the face was not. 

In fact, the wind was so strong at one point that I had to look down to prevent my face from being pelted by dust and small but painful flecks of debris as I crossed the bridge into Buchanan. I decided I should stop for lunch at the Buchanan Fountain and Grille. I leaned my 32-pound bike, with 40-something pounds of gear on it, against a wall on a slight incline — and the wind pushed it up the incline! I still traveled 53 miles despite all that wind. I'm not sure how.

The rolling hills were a perfect mix of challenge and then relief. They also probably shielded me from wind many times. Oh, that's how I made it so far.

I passed many, many, many yard signs and flags declaring the suckitude of Joe Biden. I'm used to seeing Trump signs, especially on rural areas like this. I don't think I saw any today, just signs about Biden sucking. I think "Biden sucks" signs even outnumbered American flags. 

This is a terrible photo, but it captures the area's political sentiment as seen from the side of the road. This one yard has four signs, with the following messages: "BIDEN SUCKS." "NO TRESPASSING. HIDEN FROM BIDEN." "AMERICA FIRST." "DEFEND POLICE."
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I had the first bear sighting of the trip! Two juvenile black bears crossed the road less than fifty yards in front of me! I immediately stopped to wait and see in a mother was following them, and I remembered my friend Alice asking moments before I started this journey: "Can you outrun a bear on a bike?" Dani's reply: "Only going downhill." Well, I'd be heading downhill! I gave it a minute to be safe, figured those bears were definitely not cubs and probably didn't have a mother following them anyway (and if they did, she would have been leading them), so I took off.

I did my first night riding of the trip tonight, arriving at the hostel just before 9 p.m. Oh, I should probably go charge up my lights again.

This photo shows the road ahead, at right, at twilight. At left is a grassy field where I saw some cows. I previously saw a bunch of young cows cutely frolicking and/or running away from me.) At the horizon in the background is a mountain ridge, of course, and a pinkish-blue sky.
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Stepping into the hostel tonight was crossing through a portal into an alternate traveling universe. I am a cyclist among hikers. Appalachian Trail hikers, to be specific. About 12-15 of them. There's a lot in common between bike tourists, bike packers and backpackers, so I expected to fit in right away, but I guess I was still surprised by the grunginess. I actually thought you myself, oh yeah, take off the helmet and they'll see that you shaved your head and you're edgy too. I immediately laughed at myself for wanting to fit in. These people were all plenty friendly, just generally tired and in many cases not giving a rip about me, so long as I don't take too long in the lone bathroom. 

Here's a view inside the hostel the next morning, Thursday. There are about eight sofas, plus a long table and chairs behind the couches to the right. Back and to the left are about six bunk beds (12 beds total). The structure is a garage with three bays that are to my left and not visible in the photo. Every bunk was taken last night, but there was a an empty couch for me.
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Speaking of the bathroom, I did not expect to get a shower every night, but that's been happening every night except the first one. Cool. Glad I'm not carrying the weight of a stick of deodorant. I figure, no amount of deodorant is going to mask any smell that comes from biking all day (or multiple days if I have to go without a shower some nights). The only way to stop a real stench, I figure, is to shower, and that has been happening. And when you stay with a Warmshowers host, that's generally the first order of business, right after "Welcome! You can park your bike here." You're probably thinking that's because they smelled me coming. The point is, deodorant is weight and it doesn't help me get from A to B; therefore, I've decided it's not worth it. I may reevaluate in the hotter months.

Ramblings: Why I'm carrying an American flag — and a new reason to do so

Warning: The following episode contains profane language. Viewer discretion is advised. ("But they started it!") (Okay, I know, I know, "they started it" is not a valid excuse to use obnoxious behavior. I actually just think it's hard to talk about language without using the language you're trying to discuss. And boy, was it discussed at me today.)

Okay, so I just explained why I don't think deodorant is worth its weight to warrant carrying (at least not in current conditions). And yet I am flying an American flag on the back of Blue. What gives?

I came across this flag — and two others so far — sitting in the gutter on the side of the road on previous bike tours I've taken. I don't want to get political, but it felt a little hypocritical to me that so many people got up in arms over Colin Kaepernick and embraced the flag as a sacred symbol and then I see these flags strewn about the side of the road like an unwanted banana peel or a cigarette butt. Two of the three flags I've rescued are attached to little plastic poles designed to hook into a car window, so it's easy to imagine how the flag got there. I first made the assumption (and I know what happens when you assume) that the people flying these flags were conservative. And then I thought, I don't really know that. It doesn't matter what their political beliefs are. The flag should not be a political statement. I'm reclaiming the flag as an apolitical symbol of identity. I'm an American. I can fly the flag whether I lean Republican, Democrat, Independent or whatever else I choose. Maybe doing so will help just a little bit to normalize and de-politicize it. Or maybe not, but I figure it can't hurt. 

There's a second reason I started flying the flag on my bike when on a tour: I'd like to think it helps signal to motorists that I have something in common with them. So, just in case my humanity does not prompt them to treat my life with respect and give me plenty of space when passing me, maybe seeing that we are both Americans will remind them we have something in common and they'll feel a need to be careful and look out for my safety when driving near me. I heard a fellow cyclist once say that wearing a John Deere jersey resulted in motorists being much more courteous around him. I can believe it.

But today … Today I found a new reason. I've got no problem with anyone flying a flag or putting up a yard sign to support a cause or a candidate. But today I felt like I was accosted by the number of signs and flags screaming BIDEN SUCKS or FUCK BIDEN. I saw many of those signs today and I don't think I saw any of the usual TRUMP signs. Mostly just hatred for Biden. And I mean hatred, not just "Dump Biden" or even "The Election was Stolen" — which might hint at something to be done about these feelings — but all-caps F-bomb that guy right here on my front lawn, thank you very much. 

For the many people posting these signs, this hatred was apparently more important that affirming any particular candidate or political belief and even more important than flying an American flag. The thing that really got to me was a flag that said "Let's Go Brandon" flying in someone's front yard on a proper 20-foot flagpole that I think most people would have assumed was meant to display an American flag. It was as if someone took down the nation's flag, which I believe is a way of simply saying "I believe in our country," so that they could instead say, "fuck this guy." 

Don't get me wrong: I fully support everyone's right to say that and don't question their freedom of speech. I just felt like it stung to see that as the prevailing sentiment today. So I'll keep flying this tattered flag on my bike. I guess what I'm saying is, I still believe in this country — and everyone I've met on this journey gives me good reason to — but for the sake of many people, I believe we can and must strive to be better. 

One of the U.S. flags that I rescued from the side of the road hangs on top of my hammock-tent on Blue's rear rack. The flag is about 9 inches tall and maybe 12 to 14 inches wide and severely tattered at the right edge. The white plastic flagpole is tied down by the same bungee cords holding the hammock-tent onto the rack. The flag usually drapes a little bit over the side.
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And now I will get off my high horse and get back on my bike.

UPDATE: In the few days since writing this blog entry, I have been realizing, as I pass by Confederate flags, that there are many expressions and symbols on display in this country that are far more offensive and/or hurtful than F*** BIDEN, and it is probably a reflection of my privilege that I was so surprised by the latter and not the former. I'd like to think that the real reason for my surprise is simply that the f-word-laden flags are not something I've ever seen before (and I have definitely seen Confederate flags on previous trips, and they certainly made an impression on me the first time I saw them), but of course my reaction is probably shaped by my privilege more than I'd like to admit. So I'm acknowledging that now and working to be better. Use of the f-word and/or whether the American flag is prioritized over such messages are not the hills to die on. 

Today's ride: 56 miles (90 km)
Total: 283 miles (455 km)

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Brent IrvineYour comments struck a chord with me. Every previous tour I have proudly flown a little Canadian flag on my bike. After this year's blockade with 'freedom' fighters tootling everywhere in their pickup trucks, with horns blasting and with our flag roughly tied to a hockey stick in the back of their truck, I no longer feel the same about my flag or my country.
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3 months ago
Brent IrvineTo Brent IrvineThough I have maintained the tiny ones on my panniers so all is not lost. :)
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3 months ago
Chris GeorgeTo Brent IrvineThanks for chiming in. I was a little weary of sounding political when that's really not my intent — or the meaning of the flag.

Also, this afternoon, I passed a house that displayed a U.S. flag on top of a flagpole with another flag below it that said, "Biden is not my president," and I had to appreciate that the nation's flag was prioritized above the other sentiment and that the sentiment was at least something more than grade-school cussing.
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3 months ago
Keith AdamsI was guessing from your captions that your professional duties include website accessibility and consideration of compliance with section 508.
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3 months ago