Imagine mother nature has cooked up a giant pot of rice to make, I dunno, sushi or something. She’s taking a class. Trying to broaden her horizons. Anyway, she’s cooked up this giant pot of rice (she really needs a rice cooker), and is looking for a colander to strain it through.
“Ah, there’s one,” she says, reaching for my face.
I’m serious. That’s what it felt like as I slogged it out today. Hot as hell, and leaking like a sieve.
Pores that have never leaked before opened themselves up like attention seekers in a free therapy session. They flowed freely, down my pulsing hot coal of a face and onto Precious.
And it was only 8.30am.
The previous night had been a bit, let’s say spooky. It’s all well and good and great and all that some churches are open to cyclists, but when you’re the only one there and you can’t actually lock the door, every noise you hear is like the opening notes in your own ‘worst thing that can happen’ symphony.
At around 3am, I was awoken by a scratching. Which I thinking was coming from inside the piano my sleeping bag was set up next to. That got the old heart thumping. Not much sleep occurred between the piano occupant’s violent scratch, sometimes chew, and me getting out of the sack. I got up before the sun did, cleaned up and packed up. Was on the road by 7.30 or so.
Like most mornings in this area, a heavy mist hung around. It’s a hot mist, brought on by the humidity I guess, and doesn’t really seem to hang low but tree top level. Aura like. It burns off pretty quickly. About as quickly as my enthusiasm burns off for hills every morning.
I spent a bit of the morning going through quite open rollers, all leading up to what I knew was going to be a pain for the day – the Big A climb. It got quite pretty all of a sudden as I turned down a lane and into a nice corridor of trees, then back out I come.
The mountain was to my left, looming as I trundled along the base and around it. Skirting, but always feeling its presence there. It was like the road was attempting to find a weak point where it could turn and dash straight up. And I knew that was going to happen. Just when was the question. To my right, the blue haze of mountains racked up, row after row, watching to see how I’d do.
As climbs go, it was a bit different to the climb out of Hayter’s Gap in terms of the switchback quality. More curvy in a way. And much, much shorter. I think I only stopped twice for a breather and was then suddenly at the top. It was hard, but no harder than anything I’d done up until that point.
Cresting the top, I wound down the first little downhill and spied an overlook area. I think this is why it takes me so long to get anywhere. I’m always checking out overlooks. This one was pretty decent, as far as overlooks go, but I didn’t dilly dally and wheeled off for the downhill. It was sharp and angry. A little too steep for my still frayed confidence with the wrist and braking with the trailer, but it wasn’t long before I was back in more manageable terrain and the beautiful run through Council, on the valley floor.
Sometimes things are so green, it’s just too much. Unnatural even. This slow moving wind on through Council was a bit like that. It’s wedged in there between the mountains either side, green and lush and a little too easy on the eye. The sheen of it was taken off a little by the sheer oppressiveness of the day. That and the number of trucks that were flying by. Suddenly, I saw an easy excuse to pull off into the shade.
A fully-loaded touring cyclist was coming towards me.
Her name was Monica and she was from Denmark, coming from West to East. We exchanged some notes, she told me which places to avoid and which ones to definitely check out, and I shared my Damascus masseuse details with her.
“You’re only the second solo female I’ve seen on my whole trip,” she said.
She then gave me some good news – that I was only one day behind another cyclist she’d met. Opportunity to catch someone! Woohoo!
After exchanging blog shenanigans, we went our separate ways. She’ll be finished soon. I’m kinda jealous.
About half-an-hour after that, I met ANOTHER cyclist. Terry. He was dealing with the same colander issue I was, and we had a very brief chat.
So nice to see two in one day.
I stopped at Birchleaf and entered the only eatery I could see. It was super quiet in there. No music, no conversation, nothing. There were only four other people at two tables. You’d think they’d be saying something. Even just talking about the weather.
This is my mistake of the day.
I ordered a bacon cheeseburger – from their NEW menu – and a coke. The coke was fine. Actually, so was the burger and also very cheap. But, you’ll see what happens.
As I walked back out to Precious in the parking lot, a young cyclist flew by, spotted me wrastlin’ with ZImmerman, and pulled off.
I said hi, trying to be just as enthusiastic. He looked young and fit. Alarm bells were going off in my quads.
Sebastian, from Germany. Going my way! Throwing caution to the wind, I asked him if he wanted to ride together for a while. The wind blew caution right back into my eye. Or more specifically, my belly, for Sebastian and I spent the afternoon climbing some absolute arsehole hills. Actually, he was the only one doing any climbing. I mostly did some complaining, cranked slowly on, and found him waiting patiently at the top of each one looking fresh as a damn daisy. I felt guilty for making him wait, but what could I do? I have issues!
There were three climbs. I walked up parts of the last one, it was just too much. Hot. Long. Steep. Too many trucks. And on each one, that burger would pop up and say ‘oh, hey, remember me? How’dja like me now?’
I should write a letter to that restaurant. Give them a little writer tip for their NEW menu. That burger should be called the Ghost burger. It really settles in for a good old-fashioned haunting. Kinda like Enja, but with meat.
The last climb was a killer. I was so slow I half expected Sebastian to have given up and just left me for dead, since he’d set himself a personal goal of riding 120km a day, minimum. When I reached the top, there was a fantastic overlook for The Breaks, and I figured it wouldn’t make any difference if I took a bit longer still and went over for a look.
As I approached the entrance to the park, there he was, sitting under a tree in the shade.
He looked at my maps for a few minutes while I quietly died. Well, not quietly at all, really. He was using a Garmin only, so didn’t have the benefit of looking at elevation charts to see what was ahead. The only real option for him was Elkhorn City, a mere 7 miles away.
“I’m staying here,” I said. That had always been the plan. In fact, I was originally supposed to do my rest day here, but I’d blown that by having such a good time in Damascus.
“Perhaps I will stay here too?”
We pooled our money and got ourselves a pretty rad campsite for $15 in a quiet part of the campground. Trees, sticks, stones. Views. Well, if the trees weren’t there. Still, pretty damn gorgeous.
Tents went up, gear was compared, and I realized I am incredibly disorganized. Actually, I’ve known that all along, but it just seems to come into much sharper view when you’re standing next to someone who has a one-man get-er-done system.
My one goal was a shower. I’d had a gutful by that stage and figured the only thing that could possibly bring me back was standing under a shower for about 20 minutes. Sebastian went to find the pool, wobbling off on his bike like someone who’s just taken their front panniers off for the first time in two weeks. I know that feeling. It’s like you’ve never even been on a bike before, and you’re fighting against some non-existent weight.
The shower was fantastic, but I was really exhausted. As I set up my cook pot, I just didn’t feel interested in it at all. Here was Sebastian talking about how all he wanted to do was eat, and here was I showing no enthusiasm for food at all.
I just have had no appetite. It took all my summoning of resources just to force down my noodles with tuna. It made me even more sleepy, and for the first time on this trip, I was in bed by 9. Well, I was in the sauna of my tent by 9.
I woke during the night and it had cooled down. Laid there listening to frogs croaking and other nigthtime sounds, including a locomotive crying out somewhere off in the distance. There was a cool breeze blowing. Ah… the smell of sweaty clothes in my tent.
As light broke, I flipped open my laptop and typed some notes for the day. An hour later, when I was wandering back from the shower block, I saw Sebastian was up and already packing.
“You don’t have to wait. I’ll be dicking around for a while yet.”
He looked at my bag explosion on the picnic table, and me with my tent half packed, then wished me luck on the 5 climbs today. And just like that, in a flash of green and the crackle of gravel, he was gone.
Date: August 10, 2010
From: Elk Garden, VA
To: The Breaks, VA
Distance: 42.08 miles
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