Day 14: The Switchback Day
Date: August 09, 2010
From: Damascus, VA
To: Elk Garden, VA
Distance: 33.16 miles
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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.
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