Day 7: Bracing for a long night - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

April 29, 2022

Day 7: Bracing for a long night

The scene: I'm not quite racing up this gradual incline, but I'm definitely moving fast, pedaling quickly but steadily. The road is straight, the pavement perfectly smooth and black, houses on either side, with lots of grass and a few scraggly trees in between, occasionally a few cows. 

The pace feels a little aggressive but sustainable — well, sustainable for now. Twenty-three miles to go. It's cloudy and sure to get dark fast. It's not time for the darkness yet, but will be soon.

This is a really dumb plan, I think to myself. I mean, I've been here before — I can do this distance after dark. I don't really think it'll rain enough to be a problem. But why? 

Well, here's why: If I get to the hostel in Troutdale, I'll have a place to sleep inside and then the morning will be soooo much better. It's gonna rain in the early morning, and it sure would be nice to be dry when you get up and get going. Plus, if we get to Troutdale, we'll be so much closer to Damascus, which means the ride tomorrow will be short and we can get to town early and try to find a hostel before they all fill up.

All that would be nice. But it means biking until at least 10 p.m., and that assumes you don't hit a wall before then. Sure, maybe — and that's a definite maybe — maybe you are a strong enough do 75 miles in a day … but just starting to do the last 33 miles, which are mostly uphill, after 6:45 p.m.? That's ridiculous. 

Well, what's the alternate? The original plan was to stay at the only campground in the area and that campground is closed. This early in the season, maybe you should've called more than an hour or two before you got there to check that they're open! 

So, we could try to stealth camp, but I don't like the idea of stealth camping, and, honestly, I just hated the times I tried it. It's kinda scary and you can't sleep well and why even bother? Then we could try knocking on someone's door and asking if we could camp in their yard. Yeah, that's a real option here, but how do you pick a house? Well, it doesn't matter yet; I want to get farther along anyway. But it's gonna get dark soon and then …well, good luck with that — you'll be the stranger knocking on someone's door in the dark. You've got to do it before dark. Okay, but the plan to ride to Troutdale isn't out of the picture yet.

But if you don't ask anyone now, while it's still light, it won't be an option anymore. And then it will be dark and potentially raining — hopefully just a sprinkle, if anything — and you'll be tired, went your only options will be to trudge uphill in the dark, rainy night until you get there. Or try to stealth camp, which you hate. Both are bad options. Why torture yourself?

But we can make it. We are cruising steadily at 11 miles per hour despite the hill. We're down to 22 miles to go! Two hours! We can do this.

This is going to suck.

We can do this.

This is going to suuuuuuck.

We are doing this.

Now is the time look at every house. Which ones are good for camping?

They all suck.

Ugh, yeah, they do, none of the yards feel big enough to feel like we would be out of the way if we got permission to camp.

We are doing this.

Okay. But it's going to suck.

Narrator: And in this way, I had steeled myself for a very long evening. Also: Yes, when arguing with myself and trying to make a decision, I apparently use first person singular, first person plural, and second person, pretty much interchangeably. In all cases, the only person is I.

Would I make it all the way up all the hills to Troutdale, in the dark, potentially rainy night? Would I hit a wall? And what would I do then?

Suddenly, there is a man on the shoulder pointing at me with both hands and then pointing at the ground in front of him. Pointing at me. Pointing at the ground. He wants me to stop.

What does this guy want? I hope he has an idea for me because if he just really wants to chat about road etiquette, well, that's very nice, I gotta keep moving. I hope I didn't do something that ticked him off.

He's got some years on me, maybe a generation, but not a lifetime. A young woman steps out of the car from the driver's seat. He asks me if I'm heading to Oregon. He asks me where I'm staying tonight. The foolishness of my plan is as obvious as the asphalt is black. He tells me the obvious: that I'm not gonna make it before dark. I point to my lights and say I can ride in the dark. But, I say, if you've got any suggestions for a place to stay that's nearby, I'd love to hear them.

They sure did. How about their guest room?

And just like that, these trail angels, Chris and Cassidy, just solved my dilemma for me. 

I am honestly dumbfounded. Chris says he picks up cyclists all the time. He did a cross-country trip himself years ago and likes helping cyclists, which is pretty easy, considering that he lives so close to the TransAmerica Trail. 

Still, I can't believe they spotted me just when I thought I was in a for long night. 

You know, occasionally a motorist does something that really gets under my skin and makes me wonder if I had been naive, makes me think maybe we are just surrounded by jerks. And then something like this happens again and I can't help but feel optimistic again. So many generous, helpful people out there. 

Here's a view from Mountain View Avenue, the street my trail angels live on. In the foreground is a large grassy yard, with a white house to the right side. To the left is a group of pine trees. Several more houses stand behind all this, and behind them is a mountain ridge and a cloudy, subdued sky that's about to go dark.
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Day 7 stats

Starting point: Radford, Va., at Warmshowers hosts Sharon and Keith's house

Ending point: Rural Retreat, Va., at trail angel Chris's house

The Daily Progress: 55.21 miles

Elevation gain: 3,976 feet

Average speed: 10.0 mph

Maximum speed: 31.8 mph

Lodging expenses: $0

Food expenses: $17.59 (dinner and snacks from Food City)

Today's ride: 55 miles (89 km)
Total: 378 miles (608 km)

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Keith AdamsI'm hoping to meet some trail angels myself but not planning to rely on it. I've spent many hours in the last three days developing detailed routes- including targeted places to stay and considering alternatives in the event that my plan (created three to six months in advance of reality) proves inviable for whatever reason.
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