Day 9, The Bastard Day

August 5, 2010

Date: August 04, 2010
From: Camp Bethel, VA
To: Christiansburg, VA
Distance: 66.11 miles
Time: 7:57:13
View Garmin Data >

Give me a giant wad of knowledge and I’ll sit on it and let it simmer, then pull it out at a time sure to show me as superior in every way. Give me a tiny little bit of knowledge and I’m a lethal frickin’ FAIL missile!

Today was awful.

Part of it was my fault. Precious had some gear changing issues, and me, thinking I know enough about boats to fix ‘em, got to fiddling. Oh, wait, it’s a bike. That explains it. Last night I hooked the nose of the saddle to a high bench as a makeshift stand, got the gears spinning, and tried to adjust the cable tension to fix the problem with the rear cassette that had progressively gotten worse during the day. To the point where I no longer had the granny. To the point where the chain wouldn’t even move to the three little chainrings.

Nothing worked. I seems I get a fail degree in the simple task of adjusting gears. And here was I thinking I had absorbed that little lesson. Little bit of knowledge does the damage. Kapow! This problem needed a more skilled hand

So, I made plans. Shared them with the boy.

“On our way to our destination tomorrow,” I whispered in his shell-like ear (that looks alot like a stem), “We shall stop at a bike shop in Radford and you shall be made whole again. I’m not admitting that this is in any way my fault, by the way. Or that I made things worse. This is, you know, just what’s going to happen.”

1_campbethel copy

This bike shop was 70 miles away, but as soon as I got on the road at 6.30am, things went from pretty bad to very, very, annoyingly bad. Turning off the highway and onto the road that would take me to Catawba, I hit some nasty up and down hills. Skippy, skippy gears, both high and low. What to do, what to do.

Roanoke was kinda close, and there was a symbol on the map for a bike shop there, so I googled one and made a run for it. 14 miles. For a while, I considered getting Precious tweaked, then still having time to make it back to pick up the trail where I left it. Unfortunately, the google bike shop suggestion turned out to be a motorcycle shop with two bicycles in the window. Time was gurgling. Scrap that plan then.

Salem. There was a well-reviewed bike shop in Salem, and it was on the 311 which went straight to Catawba. Bit glum about the ‘not doing a little bit of the trail’ part of the equation, but I’d rather have a happy Precious ready for the Appalachians than stick to some arbitrary line on a map.

By the time I got to the shop, I’d already done 25 miles. Wasted time. So much for leaving early.

“I made things worse,” I explained to the bike shop dude. He was awesomely locally accented. Precious went up in the stand. Tweaky, tweaky. He encountered the same problem I had with the barrel adjuster (very tight and wouldn’t turn clockwise, which I thought was just me being weak with my right hand). He gave it some magic lube, then adjusted away.

“I think there’s something wrong with your derailleur hanger. Did the bike fall over recently?”

At this point, I would like to give my confession. I fell off the bike. On the Blue Ridge Parkway. Don’t panic! I didn’t say I CRASHED the bike, I just did something I have never done before. While standing taking a drink and looking at the fog, I turned and lost my balance while clipped on my right side. The weight of Zimmerman (the trailer) dragged me to my doom. It was very dainty.

Please note for your records: I DID NOT PUT OUT MY RIGHT HAND TO BREAK MY FALL!

It was embarrassing, but no one saw, and I didn’t have to tell you and I did so there. I hurt my Presh. He fell on the derailleur side. It’s all my fault.

“Yup, it’s bent pretty bad,” he said as he looked at the evidence. As he bent it back expertly with his trusty bike tool, I was filled with renewed hope. Little did I know what lay ahead of me after leaving the store.

Of all the ups I don’t like, straight up is top of the list. Once I got back on the road, I took off in the direction of Catawba via the 311. Should be there in no time. Pft.

Up. Straight up. No breaks, no reprieve. Just grind. I supposed it was actually kinda lucky I had all my gears back. And by that, I mean my granny gear. Holy crap. It never ended. The temperature did me no favors either. I don’t think I’ve ever had to stop and drink so much water before.

Drink it all, I thought. You can get more in Catawba.

Climb climb. Die die. Just keep going. Keep going. I have to say, even the supremely fun downhill after reaching the top did not erase the horror of that climb. I said it made a woman out of me, but really it stole a piece of my soul. I just hope it’s not an important piece.

Up up up

Up up up

After stopping at the Catawba store for lunch and a pointless conversation with a local about why I was doing what I was doing, I trundled off, back on track. Now we were traveling through rollers in beautiful Virginia farmland, but since I had my top gear range back, I was doing the ol’ fly down one hill and see if you can get to the top of the next hill trick. It’s nice that I’m getting confidence back with the trailer at speed.

But Zimmerman has found a new way to show how it hates me. After 20 miles of dealing with the heat and rolling countryside, I found myself in Ellett buying more water, more Gatorade, and more water. Even though I was behind schedule, I figured I would still have plenty of time to make it to at least Radford. Off I went, back to the baking road surface and people zooming by in their giant pickups with ridiculous wheels.

Maybe two miles in, I saw a hill up ahead. I couldn’t see the top as it disappeared into trees, but I could tell it was steep. Tired. So tired. Catawba killed my legs and I had started to adopt a new tactic of losing hope and stopping halfway up hills to rest before beginning again. Got a little way up this one and stopped. Took a drink. Then pushed off to keep going.

I don’t know if you’ve ever pushed off on a super steep hill in your granny. It’s a ‘jump up and get your other foot in the clip as quick as you can and go!’ situation. I’d perfected it during the day. But it was steamier now. Bathhouse steamy. Damn. My cleat slipped immediately off the pedal. I wasn’t even moving and bam, Zimmerman said, ‘tippy toppy kids’ and I fell sideways, clipped in. A rookie fall, AGAIN. Except this time, I landed in a ditch, scratched my leg up and hurt my hip a bit.

Oh, and bent Precious’s right shifter in.

I realize now that it’s a Day 4 thing. A ‘remember the ditch’ day. I got up. Shook myself off. And got angry.

Tired. Hot. Very sunburnt despite reapplication of sunscreen. Pissed off that I’d dropped Precious and probably bent the derailleur hangar again (though it doesn’t look like it). I struggled to pull both bike and trailer out of the ditch and upright again. Did I mention how steep it was?

Right, I thought. That settles it. Hotel in Christiansburg. Screw the plans. Screw the camping. Screw this day!

All the hotels are miles out of town, which I didn’t realize until I’d gone right to the end of the day’s route notes. A milestone, by the way. I finished the first of 12 TransAmerica Trail maps. Woohoo! The first place I went to – no room at the Inn. The second, a cheaper and less upscale establishment, score!

I looked a wreck booking that room. Then I had to struggle along for another half-hour getting all the junk in the room. Finally, settled. The shower was so amazing and simple and glorious that I felt restored. Revived. Resuscitated. Not to the point where I could ride another 70 miles tomorrow—in fact, I’m thinking of calling a much needed and unplanned semi-rest day. That will give me time to rest my poor, abused legs, and get Precious fixed again. I can’t for the life of me even make the shifter budge to get it back into place. Stupid weak wrist. Useless.

And you know what? It all happened for a reason. The dropping of the bike and fall into the ditch told me I was tired and overdoing it for my 3rd week back on the bike after an 8-week break. And if it hadn’t told me that, I wouldn’t be sitting in this hotel room while the thunder and lightning and wind and reported hail is hammering down on the area.

I was supposed to be in a tent tonight.

This bad day got good all of a sudden.

Go to the next day > Day 9, The Reset Day


  1. Reply


    August 5, 2010

    Are you doing a map/mashup? I’m trying to follow the places you mention and I’m all turned around – I’m pretty sure Catawba is something you made up. I’m having a blast following you – your usual fascinating writing and some beautiful photos!

  2. Reply


    August 5, 2010

    I wish I’d made Catawba mountain up, Jordan. My legs have not forgiven me today. Hopefully a day not riding will fix ’em.

  3. Reply


    August 5, 2010

    Just think how easy Coleman Valley Road will feel by the time you get here.

  4. Reply

    Sydney Brown

    August 5, 2010

    Really enjoying your posts and have sent the link to your blog to a few of my friends who are considering some touring.

    Wishing you good weather and strong legs from the middle of the USA (Nebraska). Do email if your route brings you near.

  5. Reply


    August 5, 2010

    WOW, what a day! Makes my “bad training day” look piddly. I’ll remember this post next time I complain about a bit of wind and a flat tire.

    Glad you got inside before the storm. May I say once again that I’m in awe of your journey.

    Looking forward to your next post!

  6. Reply


    August 6, 2010


  7. Reply


    August 7, 2010

    Seems like Zimmerman might be more trouble than he’s worth.

  8. Reply


    August 11, 2010

    Enjoying your blog! You really know how to tell a story. Good luck, and I look forward to following your journey.


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