Day 14: The Switchback Day

August 10, 2010

Date: August 09, 2010
From: Damascus, VA
To: Elk Garden, VA
Distance: 33.16 miles
Time: 4:00:43
View Garmin Data >

Hot stones. They are the way of the future. Well, that’s what my quads think.

Since I hightailed it to Damascus a day early, I decided to treat my body to the loving hands of a skilled masseuse. Damascus is a hiking town, so I figured there’d be some really good muscle manglers about.

We shall call mine Miss Patty, although she was a Mrs.

Getting the massage from Miss Patty was the smartest thing I’ve done in a long while. My poor body had more knots than Don. You know it’s bad when the masseusse tells you you’re a mess. Everything was tight and muscles were stuck, and Miss Patty was all “I’m soooo sorry, but I just have to release that.” I was in so much pain I couldn’t stop laughing. It was ridiculous.

It was only supposed to last an hour, but I was a basket case and I guess she was determined to fix me. It lasted an hour-and-a-half. She worked on the ‘crackles’ in the palm of my healing-wrist hand, she used hot stones to massage deep into the areas where my quads had pretty much begun co-habituating with my fascia. She kept saying “oh, my” whenever she found something bad, and when I handed over the money, she apologized for making me ask for my mother. Which, in my defense, I did not do until right near the end when she was working on my hip.

Pain. Amazing pain. And it fixed me enough to carry on today.

But I still had half a day left in Damascus. I’d spent the morning in a funky little coffee shop called Mojos—the free WiFi is good but the French Toast is better!—and I’d been instructed by Miss Patty not to ride my bike. Even though I desperately wanted to take Precious on the Virginia Creeper Trail. Instead I went and walked about 3 miles of it, constantly stepping off to let weekend bike warriors with no skill ride by.

All of a sudden, I was exhausted. And oily. I’d been instructed to let the oils stay on for as long as possible, so I was a slippery little sucker in the blazing sun.

Such a great day in Damascus, though. Later that afternoon, I was talking to Suzanne (the Hiker Inn lady), and telling her where I’d been, and she said:

“Well, yep. You’ve seen the highlights of our town now.”

She recommended the mushroom burger at Quincey’s, so after an afternoon writing on her front porch, I meandered down the street to try it and a local ale. Both were exceptional.

I stuffed my gob full of it. Chased it down with the Loose Caboose Lager from Tennessee. No complaints from me and my massaged bod. When I got back, Suzanne was in her living room quilting and watching a movie. I told her I felt like I didn’t want to leave. She said that’s the danger hikers have too when they stay too long in one place.

So, gotta be moving on.

Damascus didn’t want me to go. I was in the driveway this morning and decided I should inflate Precious’s tires before chuffing off. The rear one was looking a little low. As I went to unscrew the little valve top, the entire thing blew off and disappeared into the air somewhere. It might still be flying skywards for all I know.

I had no real intentions of leaving early anyway, as I only had to travel 33 miles, but I wanted to be on the road when the site for Precious launched. Pressed as I was for time, I dawdled about, slowly sipped on some orange juice, looked at the wheel for a bit, sat on the porch, then finally got my hands dirty and fixed it.

Damascus morning, before the flat

Damascus morning, before the flat

What this means, dear reader, is that I didn’t get our arses on the road until 9.30am. But I’ve actually developed a real ‘meh’ attitude the last couple of days. What will be will be. So, I’m a bit late leaving. It’s not like I have anyone waiting for me.

The ride out of Damascus and on to Hayter’s Gap was really pretty in places. Corridors of trees, open sections looking out to mountains. People seem to have really perfectly maintained lawns (and they are huge lawns!), but I don’t really get what the attraction is to the deer lawn ornaments. Usually three in formation. Just standing there. Staring. Plotting.

I meandered through twisty little lanes and by gurgling brooks, cicadas screaming for attention as I rode by. But always in the back of my mind, I could feel the presence of the climb everyone talks about.

The climb just outside of Hayter’s Gap.

I stopped at a little bridge in the shade and had a drink. Took a photo of Precious. And looked at the road as it went up and twisted out of view. The start of the climb, I could just sense it. Taking a deep breath and readying my newly rejuvenated legs, and ‘huphuped’ and off we went.

It wasn’t too bad. There were many points where I was all ‘pft, this climb can’t hold a candle to that damn climb up Catawba’.

But then it did. It really did. It blew out Catawba’s candle and mashed the wax into its carpet.

Switchback after switchback. Some as viscous as an insult. It went on and on. And there were many false summits. I say that because I would see the tree canopy thinning out above me and be all “yay! It’s nearly over!”, then go around the next blind corner and be confronted by another switchback and another chunk of the mountain just now opening its kimono to me.

“Oh, come on! We must nearly be there!”

But we weren’t. I stopped a lot. A routine developed. Listen for traffic, do two switchbacks while maximizing the outer lines and flatten out the incline, then rest in the shade on the leadup straight to the next switchback. Sometimes the switchback would be too steep, and I’d only do the one. Gasping for air, I’d settle my heaving breathing, take a drink, look off to the left and catch glimpses of the valley below, then push off again.

There is no greater feeling than reaching the top of a hard climb. When you crest the climb and all you see is a downward winding slide of rim-heating descent. I had entertained the idea of going on to Breaks that afternoon, but in that moment, even knowing that it was downhill and only a couple of significant climbs to get there, I thought of my new legs. Respected them. Promised not to treat them badly again.

So here I am, sitting in the picnic shelter of the Elk Garden United Methodist Church and typing while Precious purrs beside me. The signal is not good, but it’s there. I have a roof over my head tonight, and the afternoon is rubbing its good vibes all over the valley. Slowly, very slowly, the sun is sinking back into its hole, shadows are enthusiastically falling over each other, and crickets and random buzzing things have joined the cicadas in their nature choir.

I gotta say, apart from the occasional mosquito swat, I’m feeling pretty good.

About bloody time!

Go to the next day > Day 15: The Social Day

  1. Reply

    Nurse Betsy

    August 9, 2010

    I am just loving reading your blog. Tell Precious I love his brain….. Hang in there I know you can do it.

  2. Reply


    August 9, 2010

    The “meh” attitude about when you leave tells me you’re finding your journey. I’m glad and envious.

    Riding with you via the interWebs and Precious’ web-site.


  3. Reply


    August 9, 2010

    Thinking ahead old Ken-tuck is the most beautiful midwest state and it’s just over the next hill around the bend (switchback). Dang it’s still east of the Mississippi R. Maybe Prescious would be so kind as to load up a hunk of it and transport it to Missouri. Noodle, what state has the most neighboring states ? Loves company.

  4. Reply


    August 9, 2010

    Love being able to follow your updates during lunchbreak on the other side of the Pacific.

    Seems fate decided to intervene (via a busted valve) and make sure that after the massage you didn’t overdo it by going further than planned.
    Keep feeling good and enjoy the journey!

  5. Reply


    August 9, 2010

    Girl, you definitely have a gift!

    I am apparently not the only one who feels as if I am riding those hills and drinking Loose Caboose Lager with you. You have the ability to put us (me, anyway) in the saddle, riding along as your traveling companion. Knowing how heavy that rig of yours must be, I actually went anaerobic reading about your (our) climb up Hayter’s Gap!

    Okay, I am being a little over-dramatic; but because of your photos, your charming gift for “gab,” and your going-slow-enough-to-smell-the-roses theme for this adventure, I am also enjoying the hell out of your trip–and without having to turn a pedal in anger! Almost seems sinful in a way…

    So, from those of us who are out there with ya, Janeen,


  6. Reply


    August 10, 2010

    But cancer is not the biggest douche bag of all. Hint: Eisenhower said it best.

  7. Reply

    Jared Cornwall

    August 10, 2010

    I just came across and learned about your adventure. I am totally jealous. I look forward to following your updates. Good luck.

  8. Reply


    August 10, 2010

    This is fantastic!
    Found you via a link on the Rachel Maddow Blog. Your story was being suggested as something Rachel should find newsworthy.
    It is.

    Pedal Power!

  9. Reply


    August 10, 2010

    I love your site! It’s incredible. I’m planning a cross country trip next spring, so I’ll be following you for sure…

  10. Reply


    August 10, 2010

    LOVE the photographs. Glad you are still going strong.

    Our local paper SFGate picked up on Precious today… not the best article but gets the word out!

  11. Reply


    August 11, 2010

    Hi Noodle,
    Just found your Blog/Website from a twitter by LA!
    Epic! I love it, for it reminds me of one of my goals to ride across Canada. Love the writing too! It has a fresh feel to it and I love you wit! Keep on going!
    Love the technical aspect of the website as well.
    And thank you for doing this not only for LAF but for you as well. Great videos and Pics First Rate Website/Blog
    Question though I you going to do a Face book Page?

    Thumbs Up Noodle!

  12. Reply

    chelsea kent

    August 11, 2010

    What an epic journey. The site is amazing, your bike is amazing and you seem to be too! I think I’ll be following your journey jealously from work until I go postal and quit to do something as great! 🙂

  13. Reply


    October 25, 2010

    I too am loving reading you’re blog, and now that I’ve joined dailymile, getting an even better idea what you’re days are like. I still have a long way to go before I can manage such a trip. But I want to. It’s been a dream of mine since I read “Walk Across America” so many years ago. No way I’d walk it. But ride it? Oh heck yeah! One of these days!

    Thank you ever so much for sharing this all with us, you are amazing, inspirational and so much more! Glad Miss Patty was able to help you get the knots out. Smashing idea!

  14. Reply

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