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transamerica bike trip

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Day 13

While checking out of the motel this morning, the employee asked if I was heading north.  When I replied "west," he nodded towards the weather forecast on the tv and wished me good luck.  We already knew that some wet weather was rolling in, so we were leaving early to try to get to our next location before it got too bad.  

We were about six miles in and had just gotten to the top of our first climb when some ominous clouds began to engulf the area. The closest shelter was the gas station at the bottom of the hill that we had just come from, but we decided it was the smartest move.  We bought a few things and asked one of the attendants if we could hangout inside until the storm passed.  "Inside, outside, wherever" was his mumbled response.  After about two hours of gin rummy, we were able to get out and moving again.

The scenery wasn't too different than yesterday's; the extreme poverty is not something I was expecting nor is it something I will get used to.  I have noticed that the most sad looking homes are also the ones with the American flag waving the highest.  

I was riding down a street today where a man and woman were picking through what looked like a burned down (or possibly collapsed) house.  While I was looking at that on my left, a small boy of maybe 7 tried catching up to me on his bike on my right hollering, "Hey mister! Where ya from?"  I slowed down to talk to him, but his mother called him back to his yard after a few seconds.  As I continued on, I heard him shout: "Bye, bike brother! Bike brothers for life!"  You better believe I'm telling people I'm in a Kentucy biker gang for now on.

I've noticed that there have been less pickup trucks than we've seen since we left Yorktown; they are still the most common type of vehicle we share the road with, but there are just less.  We have seen a different type of vehicle emerging on the streets of Kentucky, though: ATVs.  We were pretty surprised to see people just rolling through town in ATVs; I saw one get into a fender bender yesterday and I couldn't help but laugh.  It was just an absurd scene to witness. 

We're currently posted up in a pavilion behind a Protestant church in Booneville, Kentucky (not sure it can get more Kentucky than that).  The fog has set in all around and there are scattered fireworks going off around the fields.  The combination of those things mixed with being in the south kind of makes it feel like I'm in a civil war reenactment, except the whole part where I'm sitting on a picnic table writing this on my phone. 

We met 3 men today that are doing the reverse of our trip.  One guy said, "You're gonna love it.  You're gonna hate it, too, but you're gonna love it." They all were grinning very widely; you could tell that they knew they were in the home stretch.  I am very excited to feel that myself.  Sidenote: Just about every person we've met on this trail is retired.  I mean I'm unemployed, so I guess that's kind of the same thing, right?

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Day 12

Due to superstitions, I was reluctant to think it until I put my key into the motel door, but I can now say that today was easily our best day biking wise.  We did about 70-75 miles with 5 big climbs and held a great pace all day.  Part of the reason for the speed may have been the change in surroundings.  We are under 100 miles from the Virginia border, but it feels like far more.

The road that we started out on this morning resembled the narrowness and windiness of a Candy Land board.  Instead of Peppermint Forest, there was Skoal and Coke Curbside Garden.  Although it was technically a 2 way street, only one pickup truck could fit at a time.  We navigated our way through the obstacles and won our first dog chases of the morning; we were feeling it today. 

I wish I had some great anecdotes about things we saw and people we met, but the sights were bleak and the people were rare.  I had trouble discerning which houses were abandoned and which were inhabited.  The houses became more unconventional and makeshift the longer the day went.  There were signs for cage fights and backyard wrestling; I'm not sure what I was expecting in Kentucky, but I don't think this was it.  I have been enjoying the increase in signs, though.  The politically charged ones are good, but the religious ones are great.  I've noticed the further I get from the coast, the more fire and brimstone style messages pop up.  My personal favorite today was: "Pray now or pay later."  Simple and to the point.  

Well, here's to hoping tomorrow brings both great biking and better views.

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Day 11

Staying up late last night talking with Yum warranted a later sleep in today, so we said our goodbyes and hit the road around 9.  Today was our last day in Virginia, so it was fitting that we had to go over another mountain to get out.  So long Virginia; I probably won't see you again until the next time I'm a passenger in a car that gets a speeding ticket while passing through your state.

The day was routine- high highs and low lows.  Nothing particularly interesting happened until 50 miles in when we crossed the Virginia/Kentucky border.  We took the touristy shots in front of the "Welcome to Kentucky" sign and continued pedaling.  The roads got thinner, people had their names written on vanity plates instead of a front license plate (share the road, Frank in the pickup), accents got harder to understand (I had just started getting used to the Virginian dialect of English, too), there were people just sitting around on curbs and even a billboard like they were either welcoming us or asking us to leave, and then there were the dogs.  

When talking to people on this trail, the only piece of advice that they have regarding Kentucky is to be careful of the dogs in the streets.  They were right.  Biking over the border was like in the Pixar movie Up when Mr. Fredrickson and Russel walked into Charles Muntz' lair and there were thousands of dogs looking down at them from the cave.   Back on our second day on the trip, the bike shop owner in Ashland advised us to get dog mace (the bottle proudly declares that it's the "Official Dog Mace of the U.S. Postal Service for over 30 years") specifically for Kentucky.  I didn't think I'd need it, but we each got a bottle just in case.  As I was biking through Lookout, KY today, a few dogs in a yard started barking at me.  I thought that they were gated in and paid little attention to them.  I noticed a sign across the street that read "No Spraying."  I assumed they meant pesticides, but then began wondering if they also meant dog mace.  I began day dreaming about if some person just went around spraying the dogs and was the reason for the sign and before I knew it those dogs had gotten out of the yard and were in stride with me nabbing at my bike.  I picked up the pace and looked up and saw Chris pedaling towards me with the mace in hand shouting "I'm coming, Kevin!"  I was able to get away without him using it, but man what an absurd scene that was.  Word of advice to those doing the Trans America trail: don't take the wild dog warnings lightly.

When we arrived at the church that we are staying at, we were greeted by about 50 people from Georgia that had traveled here for an annual community outreach.  They all introduced themselves, shook our hands, and shuffled us to the dinner table.  Although they had eaten hours before, they knew we were coming and kept the food out for us.  They filled us with spaghetti, pb and j's, peach cobbler, and a stereotypical amount of sweet tea.  It's tough to put into words how overwhelming it has been to meet such genuinely good and kind people.  They give everything and all they ask is for us to sign their Biker Log for those that have passed through (Yum made an appearance here a few days ago according to the log).  If all I get out of this trip are no longer having chicken legs and having full faith in the goodness of humanity, I'm more than ok with that; I do think I'll be showing up in San Fran with more than just that, though.

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Day 10

Sorry for the lack of a Day 9 post, but Troutdale, VA is not one of the places that appears on Verizon's red map of coverage that they tout.  It's probably for the best; the only positive I can say about yesterday is that it is in the past.

I'm sitting on the back porch of a Methodist Church in Rosedale, VA that has taken in cyclists on the Trans America trail since the trail's inception in 1976.  As I look around, I'm not too sure how much of this property has changed since then.  It's very well taken care of, but it still has that old school American charm.  My clothes are drying on a clothesline, there's a boarded up log cabin in the background, and every car that passes by is made in America.  

We had a long day to get to this quaint back porch, though.  We left Troutdale around 6:30 and continued yesterday's journey of climbing through Jefferson National Park.  After a few miles, we got our reward: going down the mountain.  Ordinarily I don't think the downhills are as rewarding as the uphills are challenging.  The downhills are also frustrating because you know there's just going to be a bigger uphill on the other side, but I'm hoping that's just a Virginia thing.  Today was different.  With the aid of going down, we were able to do 25 miles by 8:30am.  We rolled past a pack of dogs (why do they hate bikers so much? Do we have some kind of feud that I'm unaware of?) and into the town of Damascus.  

I was going to continue this post about the best breakfast I've had and how it was $6 in Damascus, the Canadian motorcycle couple we met that rode with their daschund on the back of the wife's bike, and the bike shop owner we met that continuously kept saying what a long day we had ahead of us (thanks for the heads up, pal), but a South Korean named Yum just walked in to the hostel that we are staying in and he is far more interesting.

Because of the influence that America has on South Korean media, Yum decided he wanted to see America first hand.  He flew out to LAX and has been biking across the country since May.  He has a flight booked in August at JFK, so Chris and I have been giving him tips for the city while he gives us advice on the western end of our trip.   

We've been talking for a while and there are too many great things to share, so I'm going to list them out: 

- He was once cleaning his bike because it was covered in mud and removed his brakes to make sure they were clean enough to work.  He finished up and began to bike downhill before he realized he had forgotten to attach them (don't worry- he's ok).

- A westbound cyclist had warned Yum about dogs in the streets of Kentucky and equipped him with what sounds like a police baton.  

- He said the trip has only been getting harder as he goes East, so that bodes well for Chris and me as we go to San Francisco. 

- When we asked if it has been hard doing this trip on his own, he said the hardest part was in Kansas because "it's just so boring." 

- We're talking about American pop culture and he asked: "Is Kim Kardashian a symbol of beauty? What is she famous for?"  Neither of us had a solid response. 

- Although he was expecting everyone to be carrying one, Yum has seen 2 guns in his time here.  The first gun he saw was on a cop in LAX and the second was when he was staying with a 70 year old man who wanted to show Yum a gun up close; in is words: "it was awesome."  

- We asked what the best thing he's eaten so far has been and he quickly announced "pie."  Apparently American media features pies often and American pie ingredients are not easily found in South Korea.  His first pie experience was from Walmart and he was left disappointed.  With this trip as a testament to Yum's perseverance, though, he went on to a cafe in the next town and ordered one slice of each pie that they had on the menu.  He happily recalled that being the best meal he's had.  White Castle also came up, but I don't think he saw what Harold and Kumar were fussing about. 

- We asked what kind of music he listens to and "Tyler the Creator" was one of the first artists he mentioned.  I was not expecting that. 

- The Simpsons are the main reason he wanted to visit America and primarily how he learned (fluent) English.

We were planning on going to bed early to get a good start tomorrow, but talking to Yum has been better time spent. 

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Day 8

We slept in a bit today so as to not get in the way of the lively band of hikers as they marched back out onto the Appalachian Trail.  When I got up and walked around, I noticed a map of the full trail that they were all seeking to complete.  The hikers began at the start of the trail in May down in Georgia and need to make it north to Maine before October 15th when the season ends.  Several of the hikers thought that we were nuts for doing our trip, but I couldn't imagine committing to a 5 month hike.  No thanks.  I wish luck to all my new hiker friends and hope that they find whatever it is that they're looking for.

We had our best 10-15 miles so far this morning.  We started off with a great mix of flats and low rolling hills to get us warmed up.  We let our excitement fool us into thinking that we might be getting away from the steep hills of Virginia, but the next 45-50 miles scoffed at that.

We met several cyclists from the area today.  In addition to giving us some shortcuts for the day's route, they talked about how doing the Trans America Trail is "the dream."  One of the men even told us he was proud of us, which oddly made me feel really good.  Ordinarily I don't care (sometimes to a fault) what strangers would say to me, but his sincerity really made me proud of us, too.

We rolled into our destination of Draper around 4:30.  I think there is something in the town's water supply, because people aren't usually this nice.  Draper doesn't seem to be set up like a regular town.  I believe all of the businesses are operated under the same group.  They may be owned by the town, but I don't know.  As Chris put it, "If they're not owned by the town, then they have more power than the town.  They're too big to fail."

There is one market/restaurant, one clothing store, a bike shop, and an inn all housed in the same complex.  When we pulled in to town, only the clothing store was open.  Knowing about our trip, the employee brought us upstairs to the closed market and had the employees unlock the fridges so that we could get some dinner supplies.  He then instructed us to camp out under the Methodist church in town.

As we were setting up camp behind the church, the pastor drove in behind us.  I was expecting her to ask us who we were or what we were doing, but instead she unlocked the rectory and said that we were free to use the bathroom and kitchen while we stayed. 

I'm currently waiting for the bible study class to get out so that I can hose down; I don't want to offend and shock any of these kind people that took us in.  Chris says we don't want to put the fear of God into them.  Back to the 5:30 wake up tomorrow so that we can try to get to our next spot before the rain gets too bad.  

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Day 7

And on the seventh day, we rested.  The weather was on and off since the cliche rooster woke us up this morning, so we hung around and did a lot of nothing.  Chris and I played chess about 3 times every hour and we ate everything we could.  I just turned around and saw him eating the remains of a party sized bag of Doritos with a spoon.  Today was a good day. 

The most interesting part of the day was getting to know the hikers on the Appalachian trail.  The hostel we are staying at is open to cyclists, but its primary guests are hikers.  A reason for that is that the founder/owner of this place was a hiker on the trail himself.  He's a tree sized guy with a gray beard and hair that would rival Zeus'.  

The hikers come and go, but they all seem to know each other from the trail.  They're all friendly enough and primarily keep to themselves.  It's obvious that they're all looking for something in the mountains, but I guess that's not too far off from my trip.  I know that after I get to San Francisco, I will be getting back to New York for good; the hikers seem like nomads for the most part.  

I'm sure living traveling the mountains changes you a tremendous amount, but I didn't expect that it would also change your name.  I don't know any of their birth names, but I've met Earthling, Hardcore, Scavenger, City Slicker, and my favorite- Sir Duke Smellington.  I was half expecting someone to introduce themselves as Pony Boy or Sodapop.  It comes with the trail I suppose. 

Tommorow we move on to the town of Draper, Virginia as we start our second week.

 

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Day 6

A lot of people have been asking me what my favorite part of the trip has been.  The honest answer is that it's whenever I'm not biking.  That may sound absurd for someone who's biking across the country to say, but it's true.  When I'm biking, it's just to get to the next point.  The vast majority of what I've seen the past 350+ miles has been farm land.  Horses, rolling hills, hay stacks, and cows are all cool to see, but they all look the same.  The best moments so far are when we are able to talk to different people, eat whatever we want, and find a place to rest up.

My mother sometimes comments on my generation (I think we are called millenials, but that's a dumb term) saying that we need instant gratification and that we tend to have a slight sense of entitlement.  I think most of her reasoning is that we have pretty much anything at our fingertips.  I mean I'm currently writing this from a phone that can access just about any information I would ever need.  Though I don't always agree with my mom saying that, I think that there is some truth to it.   

Today was probably the second hardest day so far (nothing will top the first).  We did 70 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains going between towns that are so small that they wouldn't appear on most maps.  I dealt with pickup trucks that didn't seem to see me (probably because they had too many confederate flags waving in their line of vision), a downpour of rain, and several navigational hiccups, but it was all worth it when I got to the hostel that we are staying at.  The feeling of success that I've been experiencing isn't one of those triumphant hands in the air kind of deals; it's a very relaxed sense of accomplishment.  It's as though I earned the shower and the cot.  The struggle of today was instantly washed away when I cleaned up and sat down.  You always tell me you want it in writing when I admit you're right, mom, so here it is: you were right.

Some random notes:

- Although the motel 6 last night was a very good 4th of July, I had been imaging spending the 4th in a small town with 1950s Chevy pickups,  sparklers, grilling on the front lawns, ladies in sundresses- pretty sure I was just picturing something I saw in an outdated history book.  Today we passed through the town of Buchanan and it was exactly what I was picturing; it even had a few old school Chevy pickups in front of a movie theatre that seemed to have not been renovated since the transition to color movies.  It was surreal and felt like I biked through a time warp or movie set.

- I've noticed a bunch of mailboxes in the middle of no where.  They aren't even attached to a farm or anything- they'll be next to a creek or next to a rock; maybe it's a Virginia thing?

- I went to Catholic school from pre-k-college, but I still find it a tad bit strange how some restaurants and establishments will only play Christian rock music down here.

- We are staying at this very special hostel in Catawba tonight.  It's free to stay in and survives on donations.  It is a popular spot for hikers on the Appalachian trail.  It's very humbling coming across places like this that exist just to help people out. 

Sorry for the long winded post, but I think the storm tomorrow is forcing us to have our first off day, so I have a bit more energy tonight. 

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Day 5

Yesterday's successful ride warranted a late alarm clock today of 8:00am.  After doing one last sweep through the Cookie Lady's house, we got back on our bikes and pedaled up the mountain.

The misty morning made for a surreal beginning. We were high enough that there should have been a view from the road, but the mist blocked out anything more than 10 feet away in each direction. The sides surrounding the road looked as though an artist painted the trees and bushes but left the rest of the canvas completely blank.

After a few hours, we found ourselves descending into the town of Vesuvius.  There was one small food spot in town, but when we walked in they announced that they were closed.  Noticing our helmets in hand, they asked if we were biking across the country.  When we said yes, they offered us either a ham and cheese or barbecue.  I was curious what ordering generic "barbecue" would entail, so I went with that.  It turns out that it was incredible pulled pork and that that may not have been the best decision while still biking. 

We continued on into Lexington, VA and decided to treat ourselves to a motel room on this Fourth of July.  I'm not sure if this is actually the nicest motel 6 in existence or if I'm just blindly ecstatic about the shower, bed, pillow, TV, AC, sink... You get the point. 

Tomorrow we continue to roll on and get another day closer to leaving Virginia.  It's been real, VA, but I'm ready to get onto the next state. 

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Day 4

Today was an uphill battle, but it was extremely rewarding. We left the "census designated place" of Palmrya (I guess you can't be considered a town if you have only 104 residents) around 6:15 today. The hills blend together, but I do recall seeing Thomas Jefferson's home of Monticello.  

When we arrived to Charlottesville, we had our best meal of the trip so far- breakfast at Fox's Cafe. We biked around in the city for a little and did a quick pass through of UVA's campus. I do wish we had more time to explore the city, but the 1-2 hours spent there were enough to entice me to go back.

We biked for a while longer heading to Afton, a small town a little above the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The plan was no stops until we got to Afton, but a peach orchard changed that. After a quick "dondae" (peach ice cream over an apple cinnamon doughnut with fresh peaches and whipped cream), we got back on the road.   

When we finally got up a bit on the mountain and arrived in Afton, we stopped in to the post office to see if there were any places to grab food.  The post office employee told us that the closest option would be an antique store at the bottom of the mountain (no shot we were biking down there again) that sold soda and candy.  To our amazement, she offered us the use of her car to pick up dinner from a brewery that was a few miles away. This woman didn't even know our names, but she was kind enough to let us borrow her car to get food.  I can't really picture something like that happening in New York.

After we picked up dinner, we arrived at our lodging for the night: the Cookie Lady's house.  The Cookie Lady was a woman that took in bikers from the Trans American trail for decades.  She was so well known that her house is listed on our trail's map as a destination for housing.  Although she passed away several years ago, her family decided to keep the house open for cyclists on the trail.  

Walking into the house was very overwhelming.  The first things you see are old bike jerseys with notes on them, newspaper clippings, old tires, and a journal signed by everyone that has stayed there.  The entire downstairs of the house is covered wall to wall with thousands of different things left behind by bikers that have passed through.  My first thought was "if only these walls could talk," but then I realized that they could.  There are Polaroids of guests, newspaper clippings about people that have stayed here, post cards from every end of the world, and even a guitar.  The main decoration is a thank you note to the Cookie Lady; there are an incredible amount of poems, cartoon drawings, and other well deserved thank you notes addressed to the Cookie Lady.  Although she was not here to let us in, we are thankful that her door remained open for us.

Tomorrow we bike to the top of the montain.  I did notice a telephone number on the fridge for someone that will tow your bike and give you a ride to the other side of the mountain, but that wouldn't be as good of a story to tell. 

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Day 3

You would think that a full day of biking would allow you to think more and gather your thoughts for writing a post like this.  As I think back on the day, though, I've realized that the days are already blending together.  I am fairly positive everything I write after this happened today.  

The day began at 5:30 on the dot. We cut down on the time that it took to break down our campsite by 15 minutes, but I still don't know how it took us 45 today.  The misty morning we set out into lasted the whole ride, which made the heat much more bearable.  We experienced the hills of Virginia today, which brought the best views so far but also the toughest riding. We should be crossing the mountains in two days, so I guess I shouldn't complain. I'm still waiting for that biker's high that I've heard about, but I'll settle for the sense of accomplishment for now. 

Our campgrounds for tonight are behind a supermarket in a town that is so small that its DMV is literally situated inside of said supermarket. 

It's 7 right now, so I guess it's my bedtime. Tomorrow we will be passing through Charlottesville, which will be the biggest city we've passed through so far. We've ridden about 160 miles so far, but still have a few thousand to go. 

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Day 2

We had planned to start the trip today, July 1st, all along. Anticipation and some upcoming fearful weather guided us to start yesterday, though. Now, 100 miles in, it's like we did a century on the first day; that's not a bad start at all. We are waking up at 5:30 am, so I'll just leave some scattered thoughts from the road:  

- You may not be able to find food, water, or gas for a long time, but there will always be a church every few minutes. 

- Virginia has more museums and memorials on random streets dedicated to the Civil War than days fought in the war.

- We slept through the wildest storm last night. I don't think I've ever been closer to lightening; my entire tent would become illuminated like someone kept flicking a switch on every few minutes 

- It seems like everyone that has done the Trans American trail has stories about witnessing human kindness and being taken in. Two days in and we already have our first story. We stopped into a bike shop just a few minutes off the trail to pick up a few things. While talking to the owner, he invited us to camp out back of his store. That was nice, but him letting us take showers at the shop was even better. 

- We are passing a town named Bumpass tomorrow.  There are only two ways I can think to pronounce it and I'm not sure which would be worse. 

Day 2 is in the books.

 

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