Week #1 – Hills and Hospitality - Sights & Second Breakfasts on the TransAmerica Trail - CycleBlaze

May 11, 2019 to September 18, 2023

Week #1 – Hills and Hospitality

Day 1 – May 11, 2019

Miles – About 60
Yorktown, VA -> Glendale, VA

The Atlantic Ocean (sort of).
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I started about 12:30PM from Yorktown, VA. Given the late start, I was anxious to move fast as the forecast showed rain. The start was pleasant, sun and close to 80 degrees. In Williamsburg, I found out navigation can be difficult. I got turned around a couple times but eventually made it through the historic site and back onto the Parkway road the trail follows. 10 miles later, I crossed the Jamestown settlement. I didn’t bother to stop. Part of me felt bad for blowing by so many historical sites, but after over a year of anticipation, I was not about to play tourist on the first day.

I hit rain about 40 miles into my ride. I was ducked under a gas station awning when the worst of it came down. Still, I was soaked by the time I made it to my destination. I stayed at Willis United Methodist Church, a church that offers cyclists a place to sleep, shower, and cook. A man named David let me in. We talked about the site of the Battle of Glendale I passed just before arriving. Evidently, 6,000 people were killed there in 6 hours during the Civil War. “War sucks,” he said. I agreed.

Willis United Methodist Church
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Eventually, Robert, a man from the Netherlands I met on the trail, showed up. We were headed to the same spot for the night but he encouraged me to ride ahead as he was moving slow. When he arrived, we chatted for awhile and made our individual plans for the day. I wanted to make it to Mineral the next day, about 80 miles.

Day 2 – May 12, 2019

Miles – About 35
Glendale, VA -> Ashland, VA

I started off at about 9AM on Sunday. It was misting for most of the morning. I mostly rode through suburbs of Richmond, which made for very uninteresting scenery and some heavy traffic. After Mechanicsville, my last 15 miles to Ashland were spent in a steady rainfall. 

By the time I reached Ashland, the forecast for the rest of the afternoon showed steady rain. I didn’t feel up for another 50 some miles of rain, so I called it a day. After finding out the bike shop in Ashland that offers camping to cyclists has permanently closed, I contacted a WarmShowers host in the area to see if I could camp on his property. WarmShowers is an online community of bike tourists that offer places to stay other bike tourists. Derryl, the host, agreed and even offered a camper on the property. He lives in a tiny house on a 6 acre lot and practices permaculture. He was great to talk to and very generous.

Planning the next section.
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Day 3 – May 13, 2019

Miles – 78.2 
Ashland, VA -> Palmyra, VA

I started the day around 8:30AM. I was very thankful to have lucked into a sturdy structure, as the rain came down all night. I waited about an hour for a break in the rain. I repacked my bags in the meantime. Yesterday, I noticed some wobbles on the front end of my bike. I assumed it was due to overpacking the front panniers, and thankfully, I was right. Once I moved heavier objects to the back, the wobbles were gone.

I was looking forward to an overcast, yet dry day. At least that’s what the forecast called for. About a quarter of a mile into the ride, it downpoured heavily for about 20 minutes. The rain kept coming in waves as I made my way toward Mineral, VA. The roads were pretty much all gentle country roads. Even in the rain, I preferred it over yesterday’s suburban sprinting. I stopped at a gas station outside of Lake Anna State Park for a banana and Snickers. The clerk asked, “Staying dry out there?” which seemed like a cruel thing to ask someone who is visibly dripping on your store floor.

I had lunch at Joe Joe’s Super Heroes in Mineral. The food was excellent, and the people were kind. I chatted with a woman about my trip, and she ended up paying for my lunch.

I finished the last 30ish miles to Palmyra, VA in sunshine. The hills started to get steeper. I practically crawled up the last hill into town. I stayed at the Palmyra United Methodist Church, another church open to cyclists. An elderly gentleman saw me approaching from his house across the street. He immediately came over to let me in. He reminded me of my grandfather, always looking to help and for the next project. The couple that runs their cyclist outreach, Cindy and Jerry, came by to welcome me and show me around. I cooked some dinner with their food supplies and called it a night.

Day 4 – May 14, 2019

Miles – 24.5Palmyra, VA -> Charlottesville, VA

I got a late start of about 9:30AM. I only needed to ride to Charlottesville, so it would not be a long day. The hills continue to get more intense, but for the most part, it was an average ride.

I had lunch in Charlottesville. The waiter asked me about my tour, and we chatted about his own touring experience. He does a week every year with his friends. As he was cashing me out, he even offered me a place to stay for the night if I needed. I already had a WarmShowers host lined up, but the gesture was definitely appreciated.

After lunch, I hung out in a park to fix a slow leak I noticed this morning. It was in the rear wheel, which makes things more difficult, but I was in a good mood because the sun was shining. My mood soured a little when I realized I had chosen a spot directly beside a statue of Robert E. Lee. Horrifying.

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My WarmShowers host, Stavros, took me to a local group ride in the evening. It was the first time I had ridden my bike without all the bags and gear since before the trip. It felt like a toy. I contemplated leaving everything in Charlottesville and continuing unburdened. The group ride was a lot of fun. It was interesting to see how urban cycling works in such a hilly city. Everyone was much more adept at the hills than me. I got caught in the wrong gear a few times and had to push my way up. We ended at a pizza shop that gave us a large cheese pizza for free.

Charlottesville Tuesday Cruise Day
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Day 5 – May 15, 2019

Miles – 48.9
Charlottesville, VA -> Love, VA 

I started the day at about 8:30AM. After leaving Charlottesville, the route turned into lots of country roads with farms and streams. The weather was perfect, sunny and about 70 degrees. 

Eventually, I came to the start of the Blue Ridge mountains. The elevation and grades of this part of the route are intense. I’ve heard it is one of the most difficult sections of the TransAm. I was pretty nervous. The first section was climbing Afton mountain along a quiet country road that switchbacks up the mountainside. The grades for this climb are outlandish. I barely averaged 5MPHs, but I actually really enjoyed it. The road was peaceful, and I was listening to Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues on my speaker. 

Eventually, I came to the top of Afton, which placed me on the Blue Ridge Parkway. As soon as I climbed onto the parkway, I encountered a few local cyclists getting ready for a ride. They knew immediately what I was doing and pointed me in the right direction. I talked to them about the Afton climb and my plans to camp at Sherando Lake for the night. They warned me Sherando Lake is essentially a descent off the mountain in the wrong direction, meaning I would have another huge climb first thing in the morning. Instead, they suggested I camp at the deli in Love. (Thanks for the tip, David!)

My ride to Love on the Blue Ridge Parkway was about 15 miles. This was a lot more elevation gain than the Afton climb but the grades were gentler. There were lots of scenic lookouts to stop and enjoy the view, so I took it slow.

Afton Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway
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I got to Love just around 3:30PM, and sure enough, the deli owner was immediately accommodating to camping on the property. It’s actually a cabin rental facility with camping spots in addition to a deli/provisions store, so it wasn’t that strange. I’m not sure why it isn’t listed on the ACA maps as a campground. I got the feeling they weren’t actually open for the season yet, as I had the whole property to myself. Before he left for the night, the property owner brought me a slice of cake and talked to me about his moving woes. He bought a large estate in an auction currently occupied by an elderly woman who doesn’t seem to want to leave. He talked for about 20 minutes without much more than nods of understanding from me. I guess he needed to vent. It was an interesting story though, and the cake was good.

Day 6 – May 16, 2019

Miles – 50ish
Love, VA – Lexington, VA

Today was a lesson in “what goes up, must come down.” I left the campground around 8:30AM and finished the remainder of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There was yet even more climbing to do before coming off the parkway. My legs felt dead, but I crawled along. Eventually, I began the descent off the Parkway to a back road. It was quick and easy, and I wondered why everyone made such a big deal about it. I rode along the backroad in the direction of Vesuvius, VA. I turned a corner and immediately started descending quickly. Turns out, the big descent is after the Parkway. The next two miles were spent switchbacking down a country road with my brakes pulled tight, keeping my eyes open for all the patches of gravel. I survived in one piece.

I rode along to Lexington on pleasant roads. After lunch, I went to Kroger to stock up on snacks and breakfast foods. As I pulled up to the store, a man named Russ approached me and asked how my trip had been. He was very friendly and knew a lot about the trail. I told him my plans to head to a campground west of Lexington, and he offered to let me camp on his property. He lives right off the trail and frequently hosts cyclists. I was thrilled. All the campgrounds were significantly off the trail and overpriced. He gave me the address, and I told him I would come on by.

I finished my errands in Lexington and headed towards Russ’s. He said he lived 15 miles west of town, right off the trail. When I got to the address I had typed into Google Maps, it didn’t seem to exist. I had only ridden about 5 miles, which seemed strange. I pedaled back and forth along the road looking for the house number. Eventually, I pulled up the drive with the closest number. A man named Mike was sitting on the porch. He didn’t know where the address could be but offered me a beer. I accepted, and we had a great chat. He was hilarious and interesting. I ended up hanging out on his porch for over an hour, and he offered me his guest house (GUEST HOUSE!!) in the event I couldn’t find Russ. I thanked him and was glad I had a backup plan.

I continued down the road and stopped to look at the map. Looking at the house numbers, I realized it was possible I may have missed a digit. I realized I probably had 10 miles to go and went for it. Sure enough, I started to see the things Russ described I would pass. I eventually came upon a house I figured was probably his, and I was right. Russ was great. He was an Old-time Appalachian musician with lots of great stories. It was a pleasant evening, and the camping spot was perfect.

Russ playing his banjo.
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Day 7 – May 18, 2019

Miles – 50.8
Lexington, VA -> Catawba, VA

I left Russ’s at about 8:30AM and immediately hit rain. It came down for about 10 miles until I ducked into a Burger King to wait it out. The rest of the ride to Catawba was pretty unnoteworthy, but a lot of the roads were beautiful.

Catawba is a small town where the TransAmerica Trail and Appalachian Trail meet. I stayed at Four Pines Hostel, a hiking hostel cyclists occasionally use as well. I was the only TransAmmer there that night, but there were plenty of AT hikers. Everyone kept asking what my trail name was, and I had to explain that’s not really a thing for TransAm cyclists. They eventually bestowed me with the trail name “Axle.” For a place considered a “party hostel,” we were all still in bed before 10PM on a Friday night. Trail life.

Week #1 Mileage: 347.4
Total Trip Mileage: 347.4

Today's ride: 347 miles (558 km)
Total: 347 miles (558 km)

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