Friday, July 20, 2007

Final Day -- Riding into Washington

Sunday morning came early, and we were up and packed before the other campers in the Fairfax County campground. Dave grabbed our gear and headed for DC, and we headed back to the W & OD Trail, where we would meet Craig Clayton, Peddie class of 1978, who would lead us into town. Craig's energy and spirit was exciting, and he and the kids enjoyed meeting each other and chatting along the trail. "Only at a school like Peddie," gushed Will O'Connor, "would some alumnus come out and meet us like this." We rode a quick twenty miles from Reston to the final run to the Key Bridge and then Washington. We took a Starbuck's break, where Craig treated us all to coffes and snacks and a longer conversation. The more they all talked, the more charged up Craig became about Peddie now, and the more excited the kids became about what Peddie represents.

We jumped back on the bikes and headed for the conclusion, we crossed the Potomac and aimed right at Georgetown, the university looming above us, the monuments to our right. We zipped through town, jumping from sidewalks onto the road, skirting slow buses, the city apparently in slow motion, movie theme music in the air all around. We turned back down to the river, zoomed past the rowers and the walkers, aiming at the Lincoln. Caitlyn's shouts of excitement were now steady state, she being jazzed and our collective mouthpiece. We turned the last bend and hit the plaza in front of the Lincoln, and all stopped. "Ya-Yeah!!" We parked our bikes, snapped off our fron wheels and headed up the steps to Lincoln, and then to Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 speaking spot, and turned for the photo that would end our run.

As we looked out over the reflecting pool and tried to imagine the crowd there that August day, I thought of Ranger / Reverend William's introductory sermon back at Ebenzer Church. "You know why you're here? His-tory! Do you know why you're here in the front pews of the Ebenzer Baptist Church? His-tory! ... Now, can you see little Martin here, right here in this pew, in this very pew right here? Can you see him lis-tening to his father preach in this church? Can you see him? Little Martin was a young boy, just like you are young boys and girls, but he was a young boy who Lis-tened, and because he lis-tened, he helped make changes that are part of all our his-tory."

We took the picture, four kids standing where King had stood to spoke, the kids' wheel's aloft, their pride and accomplishment earned and real, the "content of their character" perhaps a little more substantial because of what they accomplished on this journey.

We packed the bikes, and zoomed home.

-- PJClements

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Almost Done! Penultimate Report

Thursday (Yancey Mills -> Charlottesville, 22 miles)
Friday (Charlottesville -> Culpeper 35)
Saturday (Purcellville -> Reston, 32)

A quick summary, since it is Sunday morning and we're ready to hit Washington.

THURSDAY ... Misty Mountain Campground to Charlottesville was an easy twenty-somethng ride, though US 250 became busier by town. We stoppped on University Blvd, hit a coffee shop, discovered some used books stores and deli (Take it Away!, PK) and then heaed to the Rotondo. We did the tour, and loved it, a tour led by UVa third-year Melissa Buck, of Breckendridge, Colorado and Lawrenceville School! She was great. The kids took an afternoon off, reading and napping on the lawn, PJC on an exodus to the Blue Wheel Bike shop for end of tour repairs (nice new rear wheel, Mike Stewart: Will wore out the original). We pedalled out of town on US 29 to a motel, our campground north of town no longer accepting tenters. We feasted at the Golden Corral, an all-you-can eat place that didn't make money on us that

FRIDAY ... We ferried ourselves up to Barbourville, north of Charlottesville a but and away from the US 29 madness that we feared might overwhelm us. This part of Virginia, though lovely, does not combine safe cycling routes with our destinations, so we excised this part, and a later section, that would expedite the trip. From Barbourville we headed north on Route 20 toward Orange, a terrific ride in the morning, full of farmers and Presidents, including Madison's Montpelier. We stopped for coffee and second breakfast in Orange, then headed up US 15. In land full of larger properties and estate, we saw a small sign that read "Woodbury Forest School - 3" and I knew an interesting detour lay ahead, though not how interesting. We turned into the Woodbury road, and the prep school opened up before us, woods, then fields, then playing fields, then this version of "Old Main". We thought we might sneak a look in the main building, like
heading up to the bell in Annenberg. We ended up meeting Joseph Coleman, Director of Admission, who chatted with us, took us on a tour of the whole school, and led us to lunch in the dining hall. The school is lovely, Mr. Coleman was delightful, the entire experience was a treat, and the kids knew it. From Woodbury Forest we headed north, napped a bit on the swayback porch of a derelict crossroads store / post office, aand then headed off the main road to some backroads that took us up to the Cedar Mountain Campground outside Culpeper, a cash only operation whose best days are long past.

SATURDAY... On Saturday morning we packed all ourselves into Dave's truck and headed north to Purcellville, skipping some miles that would include too much highway choked traffic. The ride, however, slid through some astonishing land, including The Plains, home of the Quinns!, and Middleburg, north of which were a relentless stream of stunning horse farms, one after another, stone fences perfect, some even being built new! Lonely outbuildings covered with new raised seam roofs and plenty of money. "Mr. Mellon and Mr. Hunt, you know, some rich folks," said Grace later in the laundromat. We arrived in Purcellville, the trailhead for the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, a railroad to multi-user trail which would take us all the way into DC. We did some laundry, and then hit the W&OD trail. We cruised along the old rail bed amongst serious Saturday bike riders, hunkered down over aero bars, beside parents and little ones on training wheels, among the lean and the "I'd best get some exercise", and we eased east
to Reston, where we left the Trail and headed to the Fairfax County Campground, ready to rest and prepare for our last day. Phone calls home suggested "We'll be in Washington in the morning, and home in the afternoon."

To put the trip into context, I laid out my worn, marked state maps, and fit Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia together into one map, a journey that covered the entire picnic table. We then traced our way across the weeks, naming each day's journey, the roads, the town, the events, the campgrounds, the weather. A half hour later, full of stories made fresh again by the talek of the narrative, we headed out to dinner, a team dinner in a diner, a special ending to the entire effort. We laughed and told each story yet again, adding details, clarifying the truth, feeling strong and proud and almost done. The kids' fresh energy had Davie and me laughing the entire evening. Hitting the tents was easy, for in the morning we'd finish our ride, stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and then head home.

-- PJClements

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday (Just south of Lexington, to just north. 16 miles tops)

Tuesday-- We slept in until 6.30 a.m. (yippee!!!), packed camp, plopped the yellow BOB trailer bags into Dave Babcock's pickup, and, after breakfast, headed north to Lexiongton. A postcard of a town opened up to us after ten miles, and began to enjoyt Lexington. A stop at the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery led to a leisurely walk among the sleeping dead, and s slow downhill into town. There we took an hour and half to do laundry, Dave and I chatting while the kids took off to explore town. After laundry, Dave headed down the road, and the kids and I headed to Washington and Lee, where we joined an Admissions Office tour. Each of us was struck by the beauty and the resources of the college. We then cycled through VMI and saw a very different institution, the stark, parapet order of khaki in sharp contrast to the leafy neo-classical Virginia gentility of W&L. Plenty of talk ensued about colleges, dreams, and matching one's goals and style to a place and a mission. After lunch on a Main Street picnic table, we scattered for a break, and to see what our travels will bring next. For me, the warm humid air stirred by ceiling fans at the Lexington Coffee shop, and a hair-raising jolt of coffee, has been just fine. More later, down the road, as we head north up 11 and cross over the Blue Ridge toward Charlottesville. With any luck we'll find "Cookie Lady's" house in Afton (June Curry, who has been giving water,
cookies, shelter, and love to Trans-America cyclists since 1976, all in a modest outbuilding at her home along the Adventure Cycling Transamerica route). We'll spend some of the next day exploring Thos. Jefferson's university, road willing.
-- PJClements

Monday (Dixie Caverns -> Lexington KOA (53 miles)

Today was our last day until a break in Lexington, and the arrivial of Dave Babcock, who will join us at the KOA , between Natural Bridge and Lexongton, to be our support guy, helping the effort by snagging our trailers and load, enabling the kids to ride easier duriong the last section, and providing emergency and logistical support otherwise impossible. Terrific!!

We hustled out of Dixie Caverns campgrounds and headed toward Roanoke. A few miles down the road, after the trucks left 11 for the alternate route around town, we arrived at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. We rode through the campus and marvelled at its beauty and its astonishingly fine upkeep. Though the grass was allowed to grow out another half-inch in the summer heat, every piece of the grounds was perfect, as though Alumni Day were in the offing. A lovely spot.

Getting around Roanoke was some morning work, riding a northwest circumference to head back out onto the old road. At Hollins, in the lee of Tinker Mountain and Carvins Cove beyond, we stopped for a group photograph at the "Tinker Creek" sign on the highway. Yo, yo yo, Annie
Dillard! After the last truck stop at Route 220, where we had a sandwich sharing the seating with a group of "carnies" awaiting the arrival of the last vehicle in their caravan. They hadn't slept for a couple of days, and from the looks of their vehicles, probably don't get much sleep even when their life is kinder. From then on the road opened up nicely, and we rode well. The heat was growing in the Roanoke bowl, and we saw bank time & temperature signs in Troutville
that read 96 and then 101 degrees! Yikes. With frequent shade and water stops, and with a gentler road and a friendlt breeze, our was the nicest mid-90s ride imaginable (and bank thermnometers always run hot, right?). We stopped in Buchanan (the James River watershed now, the river flowing east across the mountains, not west through the mountains as with the New River). Soon, however, the day wore on, and bore down. Then on a sweat-busting roller some five miles below Natural Bridge, a pickup-truck stopped right in front of us. I was
immediately concerned, and befuddled by the "Peddie School" sticker on some knucklehead pick-up driver until it dawned on me that this was Dave Babcock, not some off driver stopping us on a hill top. After appropriate greetings, and some ice-dripping drinks from a cooler in the truckbed, the kids chucked their BOB trailers into Dave's truck and we flew down the road. Natural Bridge appeared in a moment, and after a water/shade stop there at the Visitor Center, we rolled on to the KOA at Fancy Hill. With Dave's help we shopped up the road, then ate dinner and fell into our tents. 53 miles, a day off in the morning, and some hometown family in the kids' world. Plus, there's a chilled watermelon in the cooler for toomorrow night!

-- PJClements

Sunday (Wytheville -> Dixie Caverns, 63 Miles)

Sunday morning started off smoothly, people feeling OK and focused on finishing the middle part of the trip: two days of longish riding and then a day (sorta) off in Lexington. We boogied out of the Interstate doubling and headed up 11. As we approached the Draper Valley, 11 headed up and over Draper mountain, a climb that surprised and angered me once before, so we sought out some local knowledge. At all almost defunct truck stop a local lady helped us out. "Down this frontage road until the first bridge, then cross over 81, then reverse course and come out on....and then you'll find old 100, which is what you want, but I'm not sure the sign is still there. But you'll know it when you're there. Then what you want to do is..." So off we went, and the route worked. We ended up rejoining a section of the Adventure Cycling Route at Draper, and some lovely rolling riding ensued, the avoided mountain on our left, reminding us of the power of gravity. We turned off old 100 onto "The Wilderness Road" (welcome route to PJC), where we met our next cycling, Kent from the UK, on his second day across the country, still clad in snappy riding kit, including a TdF 'maiilot jaune' and new panniers that hadn't yet lost their crisp gloss. He looked fast and handsome and fresh. We trundled uphill then to the Wilderness Road Museum and poked around the log houses still standing in old Newbern. We then headed off on the Wilderness road toward Radford, where we ate a very late and welcome lunch. Radford University looked down on us as we left our favorite establishment (Subway!), advertisements of all the activities in the New River Valley suggesting that this too might be a hidden jewel. From Radford to Christiansburg was just plain wor, plenty of miles in the dead
afternoon heat. Outside C-burg we stopped for ice cream and a few more miles of work. Late in the day I talked with the group and expressed my concern about the time, distance, heat, aand safety, and that the Dixie Caverns might be beyond out reach, and I'd thus pull over at the next motel and we adjust. Good, wise leadership. There immediately followed a screaming downhill, one mile long and safe, and then after that rush there followed three miles of gentle steady downhill. A moderately seedy motel appeared, and I stopped to check it out. The group then examined the map, the elevation contours on the way toward Dixie Caverns near Salem, their spirits, and the sun, and in one voice announced that Dixie Caverns was within reach. Off we went, the gentle slope still to our favor, annd we arrived at the campground before any of us expected it. Who knew? Then, life got even better!

As we signed into the campground, I asked how far it was to the nearest market. Connie Browning, the white-haired grandma lady whose house was at the edge of the forest, looked up from the cash register and said, "About two miles up 11, but it's terrible. You don't want to shop for food there. No, No. What you really want is the Food Lion five miles up in Salem. But since you've already biked so far, you can't ride there and back. So here, take, my car. No really. Take my car. (Conspiratorially,) My husband of course thinks I'm crazy, but I do things like this all the time. What's a life for? Come, let me get it for you. It's a mess inside, but..." Agog, we split up, two to set camp, three to shop and fill up Connie's gas tank, all of us talking about what a great day it had been, a long ride but such a sweet ending ride, beautiful and downhill, all of it leading to such a jewel at the end of the day. Sometimes, you reap what you sow. Who knew?


Saturday, July 7, 2007

Saturday on the road (Marion -> Wytheville)

A short day today (30+), for Charlotte awoke with a cough, tight chest, and a bit of listlessness. Since we didn't want to squash the Queen Bee, we traveled slowly, with a long coffee, newspaper, and front porch chat break at a crossroads store in Rural Retreat, VA, and a long lunch in old town Marion, Wythe County's seat, and a great town (A fresh vote getter in the "Let's retire here" sweepstakes), especially since we had a great time eating "Skeeter Dogs" in a Main Street eatery, where they've been selling this same hot dog model since 1921. The is real thing that franchised old timey places copy: the wood floors are older than Woodrow Wilson's wife (born next door), and the swivel stools and counter seem to date from his Presidency. We chatted up some local patrons, and then took an hour to walk through town.

Eight miles further took us to the KOA that sits midway down the I-77 & I-81 doubleheader here in southwest Virginia. State Parks are jammed this weekend, and as I type only two tentsites remain in all the KOA. Must run, since the 8.00pm concert by the Sunset Valley Boys is about to begin over at the Family Fun Center. Charlotte feels much better,
btw, and tomorrow dawns fresh.


Friday, July 6, 2007

Friday on the road (Holston -> Marion VA)

We chose to continue on River Road Friday morning, and climb back to US 11 later, rather than backtrack and climb right away up US 19. Our ride on the river road was sweet, though punctuated by tire problems, and our climb up Hayter's Gap was old fashioned work. A beautiful road that took us up from the Holston River over into a lovely valley full of cattle and homes, but a climb that took the tuck out of us. Past Meadowview we rejoined US 11 and headed toward Chilhowie for lunch and laundry. There we met Steve Fulks, an Oklahoman cross country cyclist riding from Oregon to Yorktown, VA along the Adventure Cycling Transamerica Route. Seated on a fully faired recumbent and pulling a two wheeled Burley trailer, his white beard sharpened by his browned road patina and sparkling attitude, he was eager to hear, and praise, our kids' work. Later in the day we met again, at the Subway up in Marion, where we shared more stories and he asked more questions. Please go read his journal at " " He became our road hero fast. Hungry Mother State Park was chock full tonight (a Friday night on a Fourth of July week), so we are forced into an EconoLodge, and the special "two footlongs for 9.99 deal" at Subway, which, by the way, should be an official sponsor. We love it! Today was 41 miles and it felt sluggish. Tomorrow we're hoping to put the flat gods behind us and rip off some miles in the morning. We'll slide by Wytheville and the intersection of I-64 and I-81 late morning, fly into Pulaski and the "Wilderness Road Museum" early afternoon, slip past Radford to Claytor Lake State Park. The weekend crush on campgrounds may hurt us again, so we'll be creative (and not call ahead!). The kids are great, the land is lovely (and they know it), and the peoople we meet nicer (they know that too).