Wednesday, August 31, 2016

131: August is the cruelest month

Never mind what T. S. Eliot says . . . August is the month that kills you.
Out before the sun - but not early enough

Throughout our trip, we have met people that said, "oh - you're going to be in New York in August.  It's awful!" Or, "it's going to be so hot and muggy on the eastern seaboard in August."  Or, "you're going to Louisiana in August?  No way!"

My own personal favorite, from my own personal experiences: Houston in August?  Yuck!

But here's the deal: we had to be somewhere in August. It's not like we could just stop the trip, hibernate for a month, and start again. And so, we rode each day on our circuit, figuring August would come when it would come, and we would be where we would be.  And you know what? EVERYONE is correct!

August sucks in New York!  It was unbelievably hot in Pennsylvania and New Jersey!  Virginia was a mess!  The humidity and heat in Tennessee have worn us down! It was even hot in Vermont, and shoot, that's almost Canada! My one consolation is that it's also been crazy hot back in Redlands, so if I were not steam-frying here, I would be baking there.
You've had Bush beans - canned right here!

But tomorrow it will be September, and although it's ridiculous to expect the flipping of a calendar page to affect the weather, I know that it will, in fact, begin to cool a bit. Days will shorten, and the sun will angle down upon us just a little more softly, and before long we will feel some breath of cooler air (in the mornings and evenings, at least).

For today, though - yuck.  And again, YUCK.  We passed a church with a time and temp sign and it said 102 degrees at 3 in the afternoon. So there you have it. Hot, and muggy. And with the tropical storms, hurricanes and "invests" roaming around the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, we can only expect more of the same.

So, begone with you, August. Take your steamy, sultry, sweaty days and go. Like the dogs of Tennessee, git on back to your porch, and leave us be!

Sevierville native, Dolly Parton and me
About the Bush bean plant:  there was a big lake that we passed after the plant, which was mostly dried up. And a little bit later, we passed some signs on the fences that said the fields were part of the wastewater irrigation system from Bush's. So that's pretty cool. They probably put the water into the holding field (aka "lake") and then pump it out to the fields as needed.

And a portion of the highway into Sevierville was named "Dolly Parton Parkway" - which made sense once we got into town and found out she was from this town.

This was really good!
Courthouse Donuts has the most awesome concept:  Choose your icing, your drizzle, and a topping (or not) - a perfectly perfect custom donut! Mine was the coffee chocolate liquor drizzled over, with crushed peanuts. Crunchy, salty, coffee-y with a nice crisp edge to the donut, and not too sweet. Heaven!

Yum Yum
Or, if your tastes run to the more exotic, how about this little temptation?  Sure to please the most jaded palate!

I think I forgot to mention the other day when I was writing about kudzu that this crazy vine does have a small flower, and it was reported that it has a fragrance reminiscent of grape soda. Well, more than once since reading this, I have caught a whiff of grape - and looking up, saw that I was riding past a mass of vines. It's pretty wild.

We must be getting to horse country, for many barns around here have the Tennessee walker on them. Very pretty country. If I were a horse, I think I would want to live here!

The day's report:  Newport to Marysville, 59.7 miles/6310 to date

Our ride today

Pretty sweet place to be a horse!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

130: We're heading west, to the Cumberland Gap and Johnson City, Tenn-eh-seeeee

Yeah, I know. That's not how the song goes. It's not really what we are doing, either - we are going further south, and won't be entering Kentucky. And, what's more, the song as originally written is just not possible - the Cumberland Gap is sort of northwest of Johnson City and you wouldn't expect a trucker to take that route for any reason - but heck! you just gotta sing it anyway when you are out here in eastern Tennessee and honest to goodness riding your bicycle through Johnson City.  Which, by the way, the locals pronounce sort of like "Johnnssity"!
Repairs on the road

We left early again today, we made it through Johnnssity, and somewhere around when we thought it was time to find something to eat for lunch, Roger pulled the bike up and said, "We broke a cable." We were fortunate that we weren't far from a lunch stop.  It was the back cable that went, leaving us in the small cog, but we were able to get up the last hill and into the Wendy's, where he replaced the cable and got everything working again.  While the packs were off the bike, he got a good look at the back tire, and determined it was time to replace it, so he took care of that also. Good thing we carry spares, as there was no bike shop in the area until Newport, still some thirty miles away.  And good thing that Roger is able to make these repairs on the road!

So we didn't get in as early as we'd planned, given the extra-long lunch and repair break, but we did find a Best Western in the shadow of the Cracker Barrel, and that is where I am about to lay my head for the night.

By the way, we started the day in Elizabethton, where we made a little detour to ride through the covered bridge.
And we had a nice start to the day on the Tweetsie Trail, which runs from Johnnssity to Elizabethton. We got some great views of the Smokies in the early morning sun.

Sunlight on the cliffs
Early morning scene
This road was great! Lightly traveled, and not so steep all the time!
About dogs:  So far, most of them have been restrained. They bark at us and leap against their chains, or run along the fence line. Twice today we had loose dogs, though - which I had to sternly tell, "Go back!" until they left us alone. Good thing, too - because we were climbing and they could have easily outrun us!

The day's report:  Elizabethton to Newport, 73.9 miles/6250 to date.

Several long days lately - we have gone 213 miles in the past three days, with 10K feet of climbing. I am ready for an easier day!

Here's the route for today

Monday, August 29, 2016

129: Unbelievable!

This was just an extraordinary day! We started early again - in fact, the new moon was just rising before the sun when we went back to our room after our continental breakfast at the hotel.

It was cool this morning - so much so that I thought briefly about donning my shell - and it stayed cool for most of our ride. Starting early really is key to getting in before the shake-and-bake part of the day.

We got "bonus miles" today when we ignored these signs ("Road Closed to Thru Traffic"), and proceeded on down to the end of the road, where we found these other signs ("Road Closed")! What is it that makes one think you can get through even when the road is closed? No way to get the loaded tandem around that barrier.  Ah, well. We needed those miles!
Road REALLY closed!
Smoky Mountains are just over yonder

Golden wildflowers abound
The route was just so lovely, and we were in shade a good part of the morning, so we felt all energized and spunky and made good time as we climbed up around the northern foothills of the Smoky Mountains.  We had rolling hills for the first half (through beautiful country), and then we entered Tennessee (our 20th state or province!)

There are wonderful wildflowers blooming everywhere. These fuchsia ones are really great when they mix with the golden ones in the fields. It gives everything a warm, rich feeling, like an old tapestry.
Similar to butterfly weed, I think
We passed lots of cows on small farms. Seems like everyone here has a couple. We usually "moo" at them, and today we managed to start a stampede of about a dozen that got spooked when Roger bellowed at them.

The woods were full of rhododendron. In the spring, it must be just gorgeous to ride through here. We had a pretty stream adjacent to the road for quite some time as we headed up the mountain.

We had a long steady climb for eight or ten miles, then a bit of a push to a nice valley and a steady 8% for about a mile and a half to get to the top of the mountain. For the first time since the Adirondacks, we were over 3000 feet. And then we had just an amazing downhill through the woods!  I would have taken some photos, but I was hanging on for dear life, and grabbing my disk brake to boot!  It was the kind of road that they use for car commercials - up and down, twist and turn, canted this way and that.  It was as if someone poured ribbon candy on the mountain side. And all this in a thicket of trees with sunlight dappling through - ahh!  It was just gorgeous!  Put this route on your bucket list.
Beaverdam Creek
The day's report:  Marion to Elizabethton, 68.5 miles/6176 to date

Check out this ride!
The canopy of trees gave us a nice shady ride

Can't stop smiling today!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

128: Gotta get a move on before the sun . . .

Morning comes, and we are already on the road
We had a longer route planned today (72 miles), and we wanted to get as many miles in as possible before it got really hot, so we pulled out early - before 7:00 am. The strategy worked. We were done with the ride just after 2:00 pm today. But that came at a cost - we hadn't really had a lunch stop. So quick showers, then over to the Mexican restaurant for some dinner and a beer. I was pleasantly surprised with the food - one doesn't necessarily expect to find good Mexican food in Virginia!

Kudzu "monsters"
We have entered a zone where the kudzu-monsters roam. I didn't expect to see kudzu here, but it's apparently all over the southeastern states.  I had to Google it to learn that there are actually a number of uses for it: grazing, herbal medicine, even food in Asian countries. But out here, it just grows over everything and eventually, the trees underneath can die due to lack of sun. Anyway, we always called the resulting shapes and forms "monsters" - so here is a kudzu-monster for you!

Not a particularly scenic part of the ride
For the sake of expediency, we stayed close to the I-81 corridor today. So from time to time, we were just riding on the access road or old highway adjacent to the freeway.

We are also jumping on and off the US Bicycle Route 76. This one is named for the year that it was inaugurated, when the first transcontinental bike tour was done by the founders of Adventure Cycling.

The day's report:  Christianburg to Marion, 71.3 miles/6107 to date
The original transcontinental route

Today's route

Pretty fabulous!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

127: Chillin' in Christianburg

Not too much to say about a rest day, other than it's pretty damn hot!  And we have reached the land of the super-chilled indoors, which is to say we walk into a restaurant or store and it's freezing!  And them we walk out and our glasses fog up.

We typically wash out our riding togs each day and roll them in a towel, then hang them up. Mostly, they will be dry in the morning. However, it is so humid here, that stuff is just not drying. We've have taken them outside where it's sunny and surreptitiously laid them out on the bushes around the corner of the motel to dry! Now, I would not do this at a high-end Marriott. But this is a Super 8 - and no one seems to mind.

So here is a little summary of the trip to date:

States we've ridden in:  California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario (Canada), New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia plus Nevada and Wyoming (visited but did not ride) = 19 total

Miles to date:  6,036
Climbing: 222,485 (or about 42 miles straight up!)
Time on the bike:  520 hours
Overall average mph:  11.6
Days riding: 103
Average miles on a riding day: 58.6

Here's where we are now:

Rounding for home (sort of)

126: 6000 miles - but who's counting?

Today we hit another major milestone - 6,000 miles on this journey!  I had hoped that we'd get there yesterday, but we came up just a few miles short. So somewhere in the first couple of miles today, we passed the mark. Yippee!  Only 3 or 4 thousand left to go . . .

It's gotten hot and humid again. We hoped for a thunderstorm yesterday to clear the air, but it never materialized. So now we are climbing, looking for shade on the route when we can find it, and looking skyward for clouds to give us some relief from the sun. Man, when it hits you full on, it is HOT! In the shade, you can almost convince yourself that it's cool - tolerable at the very least.
The woods looked cool and shady - but not the roads!

The cicadas are keeping us company on our ride today. Since we headed into Virginia, they have been whirring and clattering in the trees day (and night, sometimes). It's a very familiar sound to me, coming from Houston. I actually enjoy their song, although not at night and right outside our hotel room. They can be quite loud, especially when they are attached to a metal light post and the reverb is shattering! We have also enjoyed seeing quite a few different species of butterflies. I wish I knew enough to name them, but I can just say we are seeing lovely black and yellow ones, dark ones with iridescent blue and purple spots, yellow ones, and some great brown and gold ones.

The parts of (w)estern Virginia we've been riding through are also cattle country, so we are seeing beef cattle here and there in addition to some dairy operations. Once upon a time, it was a big chicken production area also, and there are still many chicken farms along the country roads. Fortunately, they have all been set well back from the road, so we haven't noticed any smell. And today I saw the first pigs of the trip. Seems odd, given all the agricultural areas we've been through, but there you go. There were two of them in an open field. They actually grunted as we rode by - Roger thought they might be wild but they were inside a fence so I'd say no.

We're certainly into the Appalachian region now. Actually, our hosts a few days back said everything west of the Blue Ridge Mountains is considered Appalachia: come down them to the east and it's "old Virginia" but come down on the west and it's Appalachia.  So technically we've been here for days. We have met so many people who are not from here originally, it took a while to get the flavor of the region. But the locals we chat with in the convenience stores - they are the real deal. I love the accent! It's musical, almost - and slow. No one is in a hurry here. And everyone is unfailingly polite. Everyone says, "yes, ma'am" all the time. Many people are quite interested in our trip, and they have great expressions of disbelief and surprise when we say we have come from southern California on our bike. My favorite was the young man at the hotel in Salem who kept saying, "Stop." I don't know why that tickled me so, but it did.

You can't really capture the sense of the climbs in a photo
Our ride today was really two completely different experiences.  In the morning, we had a long, relatively modest climb up about 800 feet and then DOWN! Honest-to-goodness DOWN for a good long time. We were basically descending for about eight miles, with just small bumps up now and then. This was great! Almost like the climbs back home - it was just wonderful!  Even if you are not a cyclist, you can click the link to today's route at the bottom of this post and appreciate the symmetry and duration of this up-and-down portion of the ride. And then, there was the second half . . . this was the much more prevalent choppy chop-chop stuff that we've been doing for the past week or so, and there were some brutally steep sections of road. We're talking 18% - and that's when the Garmin lost it. Who knows what it finally got to be? Add to this the fact that it's coming at the end of the day and it's hot and whoa - even at this short distance, it was all we could handle today.

By the way - that hot weather had us worried. We were about out of water, with no clear option in sight for refilling the bottles. We stopped to eat a bar, and I said, "we'll just have to stop and ask someone if we can use the hose."  It was a rural area, but not uninhabited, so it's not like there were no houses on the road. And just as we got back on the road, we came upon a church, and I suggested they might have a hose bib somewhere. They didn't - but they did have a pump! So, thank you to the good folks at the Methodist Church for providing water in the wilderness.
God did provide!

The day's report:  Salem to Christianburg, 38.1 miles/6036 to date

Here's the route:  Up and down on the Excellent Adventure

Thursday, August 25, 2016

125: Hot and muggy again

Even falling down they are lovely
There were thunderstorms in the forecast today, and though they did not materialize, the growing clouds and heavy atmosphere have returned us to the hot and muggy days we had a few days back.

The first portion of our ride was out in the woods, along a stream, and for a time I thought maybe we were back in Oregon!  It was pleasant then, under the trees. But anytime we hit the sunshine - Wow! Like an EasyBake Oven, where the sun is the light bulb that cooked us.
He really seemed to like me

We stopped to have a break in the woods, and this little butterfly kept coming to rest on my leg. He must have been salt-deficient! Certainly he was not going to find any nectar there on my knee.
The tandem takes a break in the woods

Our lunch stop in Buchanan was at The Fountain. It's an old soda fountain and grill, that just happens to be on the National Register. I think maybe that's a first for me. My hamburger was perfect - juicy but with crisp bits from the grill, and a toasted bun that crunched with each bite. Heaven! Plus a root beer float. Because that's what you want at the soda fountain, right?
National Registered Soda Fountain in Buchanan

We rode past Virginia Military Institute, which is pretty stern and forbidding looking. Which I guess might be the point. Anyway, I thought it was interesting that all the buildings were the same khaki color!
Virginia Military Institute - all khaki!

The day's report:  Lexington to Salem (near Roanoke), 56.1 miles/5998 to date

Tomorrow we hit 6000 miles!

124: . . . I long to see you

(Today's blog post title is a reference to the Shenandoah River, and that beautiful song. Though we spent several days in the valley, we never did see the river!)

Another splendid day for riding, as Roger said. Although that was in the morning, before it warmed up. Even so, it was really pretty pleasant today as we climbed up hill and over dale. 
Virginia farm

Wehit a high point in the ride about 20 miles from the finish and then, quite uncharacteristically for this part of the country, enjoyed a substantial downhill for a good long spell, with just modest little uphill segments now and then. It was one of the most enjoyable portions of our time here in Appalachia - rolling through the woods with a stream off to our left. We even came upon a spring pouring out of the hillside. Since it was plumbed (after a fashion) and cascading into a mossy cement trough, we figured we could drink it. And it was delicious!  Water with no flavor at all, cool and fresh, is a marvel. We filled a bottle with it before heading off. A little further down the road I saw another spring, this one with a sign that said 'not safe to drink.' That gave me some confidence that we were going to be okay having drunk the other, but you never really know. (Since I am writing this the next morning, I can report that all appears to be well!)
From the source

The angels were looking out after us yesterday. We had just pulled past a meat market on one of these country roads when a gentleman waved us over to the side from a driveway. He said there was an impaired driver in the store, and that they had called the police. He was cautioning us not to get back on the road until the police had come. I thought it was a fine time to get a drink or something, so we went back to the market and shortly, the guy came out and got into his car. As it turned out, he went back the way we had come, and not forward down the road we were taking, but I was still thankful that someone was attentive enough to notice the erratic driving and call it in. 

Lunch was at a small place run by two guys who are basically doing catering, and have a location for lunch during the week. They were nice enough to offer us drinks on the house with our lunches, since we had come 5800 miles to dine with them. And then, he asked, "do you like sweets?" -- and presented us with this delicious salted coffee chocolate torte. Why, yes - yes, we do like sweets!  When in Staunton VA, check out Lundch!

This was one of those days when we had a Warm Showers host down the road, and at one point, we really thought - uh, oh! Have we made a mistake?  We were about two miles from their home, according to Google, and it took us down a steep gravel road for 1.5 miles. I was thinking, "yikes! we will NEVER get the tandem out of here in the morning" and Roger was thinking, "there was a Budgetel in town . . ." and well, you get the idea.  We made it through the gravel section, and as it turns out, that's not the only way out to their home, and even though Google didn't know quite where they were, we did have enough cell service so I could call and make sure we were on track - and it turned out just fine! 

Tasha and Dave had another cycling guest for the night. So the five of us had a great meal and swapped stories of road trips. Dave actually is a cycling tour director, so he had good advice for us on our route out of Virginia.  All's well that ends well, eh?

Dave and Tasha, our hosts
Marty is three days from finishing his tour
The day's report:  Harrisonburg to Lexington, 63.4 miles/5942 to date

Today's ride profile

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

123: Oh Shenandoah!

Another beautiful day for riding, particularly welcome after the sweltering heat and humidity of the last week or so. It is amazing how the heat just saps your energy.
Beautiful rolling farmland
This was not a particularly long day. We were just planning to go about 40 miles down the valley. The farms in this area are gorgeous. On both sides of the road, they roll away across the hills, with the mountain ranges as a hazy blue backdrop. Mile after mile I thought it just could not be any lovelier, but then we'd crest a hill or turn the corner and the scene would take my breath away. To the left, the Massanutten range shelters the valley on the east. Beyond them is the Blue Ridge Mountains, which I would love to ride some day. But we will leave that for another time.  West lie the mountain roads of the Alleghenies or the gates to hell, as local cyclists tell it. But we are not heading that way, either.

We are bound south in this valley, doing what we can to cross the mountains with the least possible injury!  
We love stopping at farm stands

Many of the farms have dairy cattle, so of course we are still riding past cornfields and soybeans. But there are also apple orchards, and we made a great stop at a fruit stand where a local farm had all manner of wonderful fruits and vegetables. We bought a cantaloupe and ate it on the spot, juice dripping down our chins. It was fantastic! We are also enjoying the local peaches, though all the farmers have told us the late freeze this year really devastated the crop.

Check out the lacy stuff by the post!
One thing I observe all along the roadsides here are wild asparagus! If you did this tour in May or June, you'd want to have your harvesting basket and knife handy. You could eat your weight in them. 

We stopped for a bite after a couple of hours of riding, and the old-timers at the station were very interested in our journey and the bike.  "How often do you change the tires?"  That's what they wanted to know. Wouldn't you know it, about a mile or two down the road, I notice a funny bump, bump, bump as we are riding, and we stopped to check it out. The tire is separating at the bead. So obviously it's time for a tire change. The cluster is getting wonky, so we probably ought to head to a bike store.
Tires have been our biggest issue

The guys at Shenandoah Bicycles took care of us in no time at all, and Tim was also very helpful in our thoughts about routes. Of course, everyone we ask has an opinion, and since we don't actually know the roads, we are stuck having to decide which opinion to trust. 

We stayed tonight with Warm Showers hosts Erika and Mark. They are both faculty - she in the nursing program at James Madison University and he in history at Eastern Mennonite University. In addition, they are Mennonite, so we were able to talk about the history and culture of their faith, and Mark was great at explaining about how the various sects of Anabaptists evolved and moved here and there.  The Mennonites strike me like the various forms of Judaism - you have more or less strict rules and behavioral mores, which depend on things like your local bishop, custom, and practice, It's sort of like comparing Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular Judaism. It was very interesting. In general, the Anabaptists all share a pacifist nature.  Works for me!
Thank you girls, for breakfast!

Mark and Erika

Erika and Mark have two children - Cora and Isaac. Isaac is compiling a great collection of classic rock LPs, so we were rocking to Led Zepplin while getting dinner together. We just had such a good time I did not want to leave!

The day's report:  Woodstock to Harrisonburg, 39.5miles/5878 to date

The route to Harrisonburg

Another milestone!  Today was 4 months on the road for us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

122: Now I get it!

The rain yesterday helped to cool things off a bit, and it was beautiful today. It's cool enough today that it actually feels a bit refreshing on the road, particularly when we are descending. Which we are doing quite a bit because we are still in that up-and-down stuff.

West Virginia redeemed itself somewhat this morning. The road through the woods was beautiful, though narrow, and inspired a brief chorus of Country Road. However, I have learned from our Warm Showers host that John Denver's song is actually about "lower case" west Virginia, not West Virginia!  And that makes sense - because this is where the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River are. So now you know!
Country road!
Virginia is beautiful. We are riding through some of the most scenic farmland that I've seen yet. 

The wildflowers are fading along the road side. Just a few of the blue corn flowers remain. Queen Anne's lace looks to be just about done. And the grasses are going gold and brown. Fall is coming!

We are riding past farms established in the mid 1700s. Once we hit the Virginia border, we started to see big houses on huge, manicured lots. We were curious about what everybody could be doing out here. They don't look to be working farms, but they certainly are well kept and prosperous. But then I checked the map, and we are just an hour or so from the beltway. So maybe they are commuters. From our hosts, we have learned that this area used to be big apple farms. Not so much anymore, but the folks out here are well-to-do and have the "old money" as she put it. 
I love the way the oldest parts of the homes are preserved and added to
In addition to apples, they grow peaches out here. That prompted a chorus or two of Shady Grove:
     Peaches in the summertime
     Apples in the fall
     If I can't have the one I love
     I'll have no one at all!

Roger and I just learned this song at our Family Camp at Ashokan a week or two ago. 

The other thing that strikes me as we ride down the valley is all the Civil War battle sites. We must have passed a dozen signs commemorating this battle or that. Many place names are familiar to me, though I don't know their significance in the war. Yesterday we rode for a good while along Antietam Creek in West Virginia. It is easy to see how people here, particularly, have a hard time letting go of the war. They are reminded of it all the time. 

Belle Grove Plantation - near Cedar Creek battlefield
This is the land of country ham, so that is what I am having for my second breakfast!  And a biscuit! And grits!  Yay! 

Our Warm Showers hosts Deb and Steve have a beautiful home overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. We enjoyed a great meal, sitting on the deck enjoying the view. She is a nurse, and teaches at the Eastern Mennonite University down the valley in Harrisonburg. So she was interested in Roger's elbow and gave him a compression sleeve to wear to help the swelling go down. They also told us of a Virginia state holiday - Lee/Jackson/King day. This commemorates the military leaders of the Confederacy. (In fact, we were riding down the Lee - Jackson highway all day, past the battlefields.) It is celebrated concurrently with the national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.!  So there you have it - the generals committed to preserving the rights of southern states to enslave others in the nineteenth century get equal time with the man who strove peacefully to ensure the rights of all in the twentieth. Only in Virginia! 
Roger and Deb

A beautiful setting

We were impressed also with their son's tour a year or so ago - he went all the way around the states, also. But he took over a year, and went 12,000 miles!  I think we are going to give him the distance prize. I don't even want to contest it!

Then there is the irony that Deb had to go in to work today for training on campus, before the students arrive. At the Mennonite campus, they had to have "active shooter" training. Seems out of place at a university full of pacifists. 

The day's report:  Martinsburg to Woodstock, 56.6 miles/5839 to date

Our route is here