Sunday, June 30, 2013

Day 27 - June 30, 2013 - Cave in Rock, IL to Harrisburg, IL

Mileage - 35.9
Total Miles - 859.2

We planned to alter our route from the TransAm route today due to forecasted thunderstorms rolling in to the area, and really nothing but camping along the actual route.  We headed out north on IL-1 into gloomy looking skies and more of those "unholy rollers" (the term that I've decided is appropriate for the rolling hills in KY and IL!).

We got rained on for a bit, and it was actually pretty chilly this morning - is it really almost July?

We missed what was supposed to be our turn (possibly not a bad thing, since we both recalled later that the road the routing app was going to take us down looked to be gravel!), and were soon connecting up with state road 13, which the church had actually recommended as a shortcut to Carbondale yesterday (side note: maybe we should take the advice of pastors more often!  ;) ).  We got on 13, and it was just as promised...flat with wide shoulders to ride on!

We had a whole lane to ourselves!  The last 14 miles went by pretty quickly, and soon we were pulling in to Harrisburg.  And, unlike other days, the meteorologists had it wrong, and the thunderstorms still haven't rolled in!

We grabbed and early dinner at a Mexican restaurant, loaded up on snacks at Kroger since we are nearly out, and headed back to finish blogging.  It is now 8:15, blogging is all caught up, and our tired selves are about to crash!  We can barely stay awake until the sun goes down lately!  

Day 26 - June 29, 2013 - Sebree, KY to Cave In Rock, IL

Miles - 58.6
Total miles - 823.3

We left the church hostel fairly early in the morning, and headed out towards something we had been looking forward to all trip, a traditional highlight for anyone who has biked the TransAm...a ride on a ferry that takes vehicles and passengers across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Illinois.

We were moving pretty fast early in the morning...the weather was nice, we had very little traffic, and before we knew it, the first 15 miles was under our belt. We stopped into Jeri's Cafe in the town of Clay for an early lunch. 

After a filling lunch, we were back out on the road, ready to make it to our next quick stop in Marion. These miles seemed to drag on and on, with plenty of those rolling Kentucky hills to keep us busy. It was a struggle to keep hydrated with the early afternoon heat beating down on us, but thankfully we had filled our dromedary bag in case we ran out of water in our bottles. 

When we rolled into Marion, we went right to a cafe in an old Free Masons building. This place was really cute and reminded me of any little cafe/restaurant you would see in a movie set in a small town. I enjoyed a grilled chicken salad with homemade ranch dressing, while Erica enjoyed a whole bunch of side items such as cottage cheese with pears, green beans, corn, white beans, and a side salad. I thought it looked like she had hijacked a meals on wheels vehicle. 

As we left the cafe, we knew we only had about 11.5 miles to go to get to the ferry, but the skies were darkening quick. We pedaled as fast as we possibly could and managed to get on the ferry just as the skies were turning black, and we could see lightning just off in the distance. The ferry ride was quick and as we got off and stepped foot into Illinois, the skies opened up and the storm came right at us. We were planning on camping at Cave In Rock State Park, but obviously those plans went away quickly. We ducked under an awning of a building and devised another plan. We ended up waiting until  the rain had let up just enough for us to go a mile down the road to Cave In Rock Motel. It was not a 5 star hotel, but we were thankful to have a warm and safe place to stay. It ended up being quite the adventurous day! 

Day 25 - June 28, 2013 - Owensboro, KY to Sebree, KY

Mileage - 37.4
Total miles - 764.7

We woke up in Owensboro feeling really good, rested, and ready to start the day! After grabbing breakfast at the hotel, and hanging around in the room a bit too long, we took off to start our backtrack to the actual route.

We knew we had come about 13 miles or so off route to get to a hotel in Owensboro, and used a route mapping app to try to do it a little quicker than the day before.  For the first 6 or 7 miles, we stuck to the same route from before, which was pretty darn flat and nice!

Soon after that, however...we turned onto a road we hadn't ridden on the day before, all was fine for a mile or so, then it turned to a gravel farm road between fields.  Thinking it wasn't that far (less than 2 miles maybe), and there were some ruts left by truck tires where we could ride and avoid most of the deep gravel, we just kept going, and hoped for the best.

It didn't take long for the gravel to get deeper, which made it very difficult to keep control of the bikes.  Mel ended up walking her bike at one point.  It's always an adventure!

We had our first dog encounter of the day as we came to a farm with an older lady mowing the lawn.  Her dog ran out braking and chasing us, but when I stopped and put my hand out to her, she lowered her head and walked right over to be loved.  We've found this to be the case with most dogs we have encountered...and it proved true again just a few miles down the road when we ran into this cutie:

Today was full of the rolling hills we have experienced all across Kentucky - and they are exhausting.  They are not the same as the roller coaster hills in Virginia, which had a steep climb up the first one, but also a steep drop allowing you to shoot right up the next one without much effort.  The hills here require effort to climb, then have either a really short drop or just level off at the end.  Not nearly as fun, and they wear you out when they come one after another!  Mel always powers right up them, while I have to stop a time or two to catch my breath!  Here she is, way up ahead of me on one of them:

We rolled into Sebree around 4:30, and found a Subway!  How exciting - fresh veggies!  We grabbed a sandwich and some Gatorade to enjoy at the hostel later on, and headed through town to find the First Baptist Church, which has a cyclist hostel in its basement.

When we arrived at the church, Pastor Bob showed us around, then left us to do our own thing.  The hostel doubles as the church's youth center, so it had tons of couches, a big screen tv, pool table, ping pong, foosballl, and a full kitchen.  They also installed a shower for cyclists, and have a huge map to track where everyone is from who rolls through.  Great place to stay!  We passed our evening playing ping pong, watching tv, and blogging.  It was very relaxing!

Day 24 - June 27, 2013 - Utica, KY to Owensboro, KY

Miles - 18.5
Total miles - 727.3

We woke up in the fire station in Utica just as the other cyclists were getting ready to leave for the day. I was still feeling quite yucky from whatever horrible food I ate the day before. Since we were planning on riding just a short distance to Sebree, I requested a little more time to rest, and tried to eat some food and get more fluids in me. Finally, we got ourselves packed up and headed out from the fire station. 

We had just made it up our first few hills and were on some flat ground when we stopped to take a quick break under the shade of a tree by a house. We were greeted a few minutes later by the man who owned the home, who was just wondering if we were ok. He and Erica started discussing our trip and I was pretty sure that I was getting ready to either get sick or pass out. I was probably close to dehydration after being so sick. The man noticed I had gone pale and ran up to his porch to bring me a place to sit in the shade. A few minutes later, his wife, who happened to be an RN, came out with some water and crackers. These kind strangers were so amazing...they brought us plenty of cold water, some medicine to calm my stomach down a bit, and even brought Erica some food while I was recovering. We wrote down their address so that we could send them a thank you card. Sometimes the kindness of complete strangers is the best medicine in the world. 

Erica also tried to find a car for us to rent, so we could get to a nearby town in case I got worse, but the only cars available to rent were those tiny Fiats...rental car was a no-go. We decided our best bet was to get to Owensboro, which was only about 14 miles from where we were. 

It was a tough 14 miles, with some big hills and long stretches of road between the super hot wheat fields, and I had to take lots of breaks to drink as much water as possible. We made it to a hotel in Owensboro, where I promptly laid down to get rest. After a while, I felt good enough to eat, so we went across the street to Panera, for some soup and a delicious Mediterranean Veggie sandwich. After getting back to the hotel, I fell asleep and stayed asleep until early the next morning. It didn't feel like a super productive day and I felt bad for delaying our arrival in Sebree for another day. However, I can tell you that the next day I woke up feeling ready to go and ready to tackle another day.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 23 - June 26, 2013 - Falls of Rough, KY to Utica, KY

Mileage - 48
Total mileage - 708.8

We knew the first part of today was going to be very hilly, and it really was!  We walked up a few of the first hills we couldn't power up, and neither of us were really feeling up to par this morning.  We struggled through though, and I think we may have asked a few times if we had woken up back in Virginia again!

It's hard to read, but it says "Husband".  Wonder where "Wife" has to live?  :)

Just outside of Fordsville, we passed a cyclist going Eastbound who was from Beijing, China!  And we were stopped in the middle of a hill putting on sunscreen (see mom, we do wear it!), we saw three more cyclists pedaling up the hill!  The first was Sam, who we met on our very first day in Yorktown, and he was with two British cyclists, a man and a woman.  We talked for a bit, discussed our plans to stay in Utica for the evening due to approaching storms, and said our temporary goodbyes as they pedaled on.

We got about halfway into our day, and stopped for a cold drink at a grocery store in Whitesville, KY.  We sat in the shade for a bit, enjoying a drink and a banana, and talked about how we were making decent time.  It's always a mistake to do that...  And today was the first time I had experienced my sweat drying into a fine layer of salt on my skin!

We only had 20 miles left.  But of course, those 20 miles were painful!  We walked a few hills, but quite a few less than we would have had to in the beginning.  We finally arrived at the top of the last hill, and were thrilled to see that the volunteer  fire department that doubles as a hostel for cyclists was at the bottom of that hill!we arrived to find the trio we saw before, and one more cyclist already there and showered.  We quickly followed suit, and chatted about our respective trips.  We had some laughs, and it was good to spend some time with people experiencing the same things we are everyday!

Later that evening, as we were all preparing for bed, the tornado alarm went off, and it wasn't long before about 8 members of the local community were piling in to the fire station, as it is their storm shelter!  It was a bit before 9 when that happened, and some of us tried to sleep, while Andy and Alex from the UK enjoyed a rarely seen lightning storm!

About 20 minutes later, the warning was canceled and everyone left.  But...about 15 minutes after that, the alarm was back on, and even more people piled into the fire station!  Mel was feeling pretty horrible all evening, so she was trying to rest, and this wasn't helping!

Later on, around 1am, I was finally dozing off, when I felt something on my collarbone through my shirt.  I pulled it off, and it was a tick!  Gross!  I had to get up again and find a paper towel so I could smash the little bugger...ugh.  A tick bite is second only to a snake bite on my list of horrible occurrences, so it totally grossed me out that the damn thing had bitten me.  So of course, the rest of the night was spent feeling like I was covered in ticks, dreaming about being covered in ticks, and generally sleeping horribly.  Mel was up sick most of the night (food poisoning), so it was a rough one, to say the least!

Here's Badtz hanging out on a fire truck! Having a fantastic adventure!  (And I haven't lost him yet! :) )

Day 22 - June 25, 2013 - Glendale, KY to Falls of Rough, KY

Mileage - about 48 (I think?)
Total mileage - 659.3

After our tent dried a bit from the humidity overnight, we headed out to get back to the route after our weekend off.  We were about 7 miles off route, but luckily most of it was downhill!

We were quickly breezing through the cute, albeit mostly abandoned, downtown of Sonora, then out into some open, beautifully flat farmland.  It was just like home!  

We breezed through the first part of our day, and quickly arrived at a little store at a fork in the road, and stopped in looking for a cold drink.  We found a really nice family inside - mom, dad, and daughter - and ended up buying drinks, and sitting and talking with them for about an hour and a half before we remembered we needed to move on down the road.  Their place is called the Double L Grocery, and they also let cyclists stay there at the store  (and even teach some German cyclists how to play softball!).  They have plans to turn a shed in the back into a cyclist hostel, and mom even ended up buying an abandoned school building, which they used to let cyclists stay in until someone stole the electrical out of it.  What a bummer - these are really good people!

Of course, not too long after that stop, we ran into a ridiculously steep uphill after a river...

The terrain was pretty up and down after that - the same rolling hills we will undoubtedly find all across Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri.  It wasn't too long before we hit another milestone - crossing from Eastern Standard Time to Central Time!  This happened at a random county line in Kentucky:

It got really, really hot and humid around mid-afternoon, and as we stopped to rest in the shade of a lovely tree (few and far between in farm country), we heard meowing, and this cutie came out of the brush near a farm:
 Seems to be someone's very friendly barn cat - he was trying to climb Mel's leg and join us on the trip!

We got closer to the Rough River and lake created by the dam, and the road got quite a bit hillier.  We powered up the last few of them, and coasted in to the Rough River State Park campground a bit after 6.  We set up camp, found some left behind firewood, and tried unsuccessfully to start a campfire, but everything was utterly too damp from the humidity.  

The park office was closed when we arrived, and when we left in the morning, so we snuck through with a free campsite (with electricity!) and shower for the night!

Day 21 - June 24, 2013 - Louisville, KY to Glendale, KY

So, since we were totally having a blast hanging out with my parents, plus we had a late night after the concert, oh and there was some morning rain...we decided to make it a laundry and travel day. 
We stayed at the Galt House, a beautiful hotel right on the riverfront in Louisville and enjoyed their amazing breakfast buffet. My parents really enjoyed their made to order omelets! We headed just south of downtown to the University of Louisville to do some laundry, which didn't take too long. 
We got back on the road to pick up a few other items we needed, then kept trying to find a bike store or sporting goods store, but all we found was a hunting store in a random town. 
Before too long, my parents were dropping us off in Glendale, Kentucky, at the Glendale Inn. It was here that we learned a valuable lesson about asking to see the hotel room before paying for it. Let us just say that I had my concerns about our safety and overall health if we were to stay at this hotel. Even my dad was not thrilled for us to stay at this place. Eventually, I spoke up while visiting the travel station and we decided to drive down the road to a local campground to stay the night. When you decide to camp instead of staying in a hotel...yeah, imagine the hotel being that bad. 
It seemed like we were delaying the inevitable, saying bye to my parents and a really wonderful weekend. I cried as we said goodbye. My parents are so wonderful and supportive, and I have missed them so much...getting to see them and hang out was a huge highlight of this trip for me. We shared stories from our bike trip, and my mom shared stories about growing up in was just so great. And a relief to be with the people that represent home to was just priceless. 

Day 20 - June 23, 2013 - Lexington, KY to Louisville, KY - Rest Day

Mileage - 0

We slept in a bit this morning, then headed out from Lexington to Louisville with Mel's parents, with a quick stop for breakfast at Cracker Barrel along the way.  It was so great to spend time with them this weekend!

After checking in to our hotel, everyone was worn out again, so we blogged a bit, then napped.  We met up with a bunch of friends for dinner at a Cuban place (yum!) before heading down to the Iriquois Ampitheater for the Brandi Carlile show.  The show was great, as usual, with the new cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" a definite highlight of the evening!

We had such a great night visiting with some great friends we have made!  And, we had first had a chat with Brandi and Catherine about Looking Out Across America at the Louisville BC show last August, so it's crazy to think we are nearly 1/3 of the way through this thing that was a vague plan last year!

This isn't Shep (obviously), but we saw these in Cracker Barrel and they made me think of him!  (And it's borderline inappropriate looking too, so haha :))

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Day 19 - June 22, 2013 - Breaks, VA to Lookout, KY (and Lexington, KY)

Mileage - about 26 (biking)
Total mileage - about 609

Packed up our tent in Breaks Interstate Park a little late this morning, and I wanted to actually see an overlook of "The Grand Canyon of the South" before we took off, so we parked the bikes at the visitor center and headed off on a "short" walk.

The short walk turned out to be another of my famous "death marches".  It was a good 1/3 of a mile down the park road, then probably a half mile each way on a winding path through the woods that changed elevation quite a bit.  In my defense, I had no clue - the ranger guy said it was close.  Again, don't listen to people who drive everywhere...but we saw it, and it was nice, and we finally got on the way around 11 - way, way too late!

We sped down a hill out of the park, only to be consistently trucked by curvy roads that appear to go downhill, but actually go uphill.  Tricky bastards...

We got to the bottom of a hill, and found this:

Never had we been thrilled to cross the border into Kentucky!  Virginia is behind us now, including all of its mountainous terrain!  1 state down, 9 to go!

We were planning to get to Bypro, Ky to meet Mel's parents who were picking us up for the weekend, but we were late getting to Lookout, and thought they would meet up with us before we could get to Bypro, since we needed to stop for yet another lovely gas station lunch before going any further.  We decided to stop and just wait for them in Lookout, and ended up meeting or at least seeing the entire population of Lookout while we waited!

They finally found us, and we headed up to stop for the night in Lexington, KY.  We had enough time to check in to our hotel, grab dinner from an odd little hole in the wall with unusually tasty late night treats, and pass out.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Day 18 - June 21, 2013 - Rosedale, VA to Breaks Interstate Park, VA

Miles - 33.4
Total miles - 583.4

We woke up early at the church and started to get ready for the day. It didn't take us very long to eat and get on the road. Before we left the church, we said a quick goodbye to the folks there, who were having a community yard sale. An older gentleman told us that we had a rough day ahead of us, even saying that today's climb up Big A Mountain would be more difficult than yesterday's adventure through Hayter's Gap. While we appreciated the heads up, it didn't take long for me to hear his words over and over in my head, repeating like some kind of nightmare. I didn't think we could survive another day like what we experienced in Hayter's Gap. 
We make our way out of Rosedale and turn onto a road taking us to Honaker. Again, I'm not sure what Adventure Cycling was thinking when they decided to route cyclists along this road. It was extremely dangerous, with no shoulder and heavy traffic, including semi trucks and large dump trucks that could care less about running you over. We haven't had many negative experiences with motorists in Virginia, but this day was awful. Oh yeah, and as a bonus, there was a ton of construction going on along the road. We reached a gas station down the road in Honaker and took a long break...I (Mel) was pretty stressed out about continuing on. After a while, we knew we had to continue. We started to climb the beginning of Big A Mountain, when my amazing wife had the best idea ever. She had spotted a heating and cooling business on the opposite side of the road, with a couple of empty pickup trucks in the parking lot. She went inside and asked if someone would be willing to drive us up to the top of the mountain, which isn't far by vehicle, but a major undertaking by bicycle. Thankfully, a kind guy helped load our bikes in his work truck and drove us up to the top. I don't think we ever caught his name, but we will be eternally grateful to this stranger that helped us more than he will ever know. We even tried to give him some money for his time and he refused to take it. 

We started the descent down the mountain, stopping every once in a while to cool our rims and brakes, and started to make our way to Breaks. Of course, 3 more giant hills awaited us today on the way to Breaks. We stopped for some snacks at a gas station and spoke to a couple ladies about our trip. They were really nice and funny and joked with us about how we must be crazy or dedicated to take on this adventure. I think they are right...we are probably a little of both. 

Back on the road, we make it to Haysi, the small town right before Breaks. Erica stopped in to a little pizza restaurant to ask for some directions and met our second Trail Angel of the day. Denny was an older guy who lives in Breaks and just comes down to Haysi to talk to folks...everyone knows him. Denny started talking to Erica about our trip and offered to drive us to Breaks Interstate Park and to show us the area. He has lived in the area for a while and is familiar with all the construction projects and sights. He was a bit of a quirky guy, but it was obvious he was just a nice guy who loves the place he calls home. He showed us the dam, a major bridge project for the coal industry, and took us to the park, even driving around to help us find a good place to camp. We are so thankful we met Denny and that he was so kind to us. 
As we pulled into the park, we noticed two guys coming in from the west on bikes hauling trailers. They camped not too far from us and found out that they are wrapping up their TransAm journey, but they have split it up over four years. They have also been riding in an effort to stop the de-finning of sharks. 
Also, when we got to the visitors center at the park, they gave us a form to fill out, stating that we had rode our bikes across the state and gave us a little lapel pin as a small trophy. Virginia is really proud of being a part of the TransAm, and I know we both really did feel a sense of accomplishment for making across Virginia, with all the obstacles and weather the state threw our way. 

We got to our campsite and it didn't take us very long to get setup and get to bed after a very interesting day. It was our last day in Virginia and though we were happy to move on the next day, we also were thankful for all the lessons Virginia taught us and for all the kind people we met there. 

Day 17 - June 20, 2013 - Damascus, VA to Rosedale, VA

Mileage - about 35
Total Mileage - about 550

We had to pack up quietly this morning, as the hikers sharing our hostel bunk room were still sleeping when we got up at 6:30.  We drug everything outside, loaded up the bikes, and went on the hunt for breakfast.  The place we stopped in town, "The Blue Blaze", didn't open until 8, then we waited forever for pancakes and eggs!  It was a pretty late start to our day...

The first part of the day went fine - there were a few climbs out of Damascus, but nothing we couldn't handle.  We even road by a nice stream for a while.  Before we knew it, we were sailing through a little town called Hayters Gap (pronounced "hi-ters"), by the locals.  We knew we had  huge mountain climb today, coming up right after Hayters Gap, and it did start to get hillier, but still nothing we couldn't handle.

Then, we found the real mountain.  This thing was switchback after switchback of steep climb.  We couldn't bike it on our loaded bikes, and walking it took forever. Literally all afternoon.  There is little shoulder to speak of, and people were flying up the mountain, so it wasn't the nicest of places to be.  This road up the mountain was about 4 miles long.  There were several times that we both were ready to quit and just go home!  We would come to a curve and looked like it might be the end, but around every corner, there was more of the same.  Awful way to spend an afternoon!

The downhill was too steep to be fun too!  Cars tailed us dangerously close almost all the way down, we had to keep stopping to cool our brakes, not enjoyable!

We were hoping to make it about 15 more miles than we did today, but our original intended destination was over yet another mountain, so we jumped at the chance to stay a the Elk Grove Methodist Church in Rosedale, which has a cyclist hostel.  We were greeted when we arrived by a woman setting up for a rummage sale they were having in the morning, and she filled us in on where to keep our bikes, that we could use whatever we found in the kitchen, the cold water outdoor shower, and that we were welcome to sleep on the comfy carpet in the sanctuary.  We also met a church member named Bob who sat and chatted with us quite a while, about Indiana, where he was born, and bikes, and old wars, and a bunch of other things.

A storm rolled through as we were eating dinner out under the pavilion while waiting for the local Boy Scout troop to conduct  meeting inside.  It got rather chilly with the rain, so naturally I decided I would give that cold outdoor shower a try. It was breathtaking and exhilarating - would have been much more enjoyable on a 95 degree day!

We set up to sleep right in front of the altar in the sanctuary, and left a light on so as to not be creeped out by sleeping in an old church!  The hospitality of the people of the church was fantastic - this hostel is awesome!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day 16 - June 19, 2013 - Wytheville, VA to Damascus, VA

Mileage - 61
Total mileage - 515.2

We woke up to clear skies, even if it was a bit foggy in the mountains from the previous day's rain.  We are a few miles away from the hotel, and suddenly I remember that I left Shep on the dresser in the hotel room!  I hate backtracking when driving, and I sure as hell am not doing it on a bike, when we have already conquered a few of the days first climbs, so I called the hotel and told them to send him to Mel's parents if they find him.  They inform me that if they do find him, they will send him to that address, via UPS, using the credit card they have on file for incidentals...I have a feeling my $.59 quarter-sized rubber pig is going to cost a small fortune to be reunited with me!

Missing pigs aside...the ride is pretty uneventful for the first 10 miles.  We stop at a fruit stand for a mid-morning Gatorade/chocolate milk/peach snack, and continue on our way.  We made a quick stop in Rural Retreat to send 8 pounds of unnecessary (hopefully!) stuff home, then stopped at the only open place in Sugar Grove, a gas station, for a pizza lunch.  We knew that we had a couple of sustained climbs coming at us this afternoon, so we wanted to be ready!  

We made the turn into Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, get a few nice little turns in on a road with a beautiful creek running alongside, then the climb begins.  Looking at them on the map, we were terrified that they would be similar to the ridiculous road we had to hike up to get to Afton, but they were far from it.  Graded beautifully, never steeper than our little legs could pedal on fully-loaded touring bikes (yes, maybe in the lowest of gears!), and we kicked that mountain's ass!  It even started to rain on us near the end, but after a rest break here and there, we enjoyed a brisk downhill into the town of Troutdale.

The only think left in Troutdale is the cyclist hostel.  We sat on the steps of the defunct general store/diner in town, having snacks of bananas, Paydays, and Stingers, contemplating if we should just stay at the hostel, or keep going to our intended destination of Damascus, another 24 or so miles, containing another giant hill.  We eventually settled on continuing to Damascus, even though we were tired, and a little chilly after the rain.  

Almost immediately after leaving Troutdale, I had a fleeting thought that we were going to regret our decision, then be stuck having to slog through horrendous terrain to get to Damascus late at night, tired, hungry, and grouchy.  All my cares were washed away about 3 miles down the road though - we met the next hill, it was graded just as nicely, the clouds parted and the sun shone through, and we kicked that hill's ass too!

And then there was the best, I mean the best, downhill of the trip.  It was probably 4+ miles of sustained, controlled downhill - no braking, few turns, and just pure fun.  Every ride should have one of those!  We coasted through the town of Konnarock (which no longer has any services either), then got to the not so fun part of getting to Damascus.  It wasnt horrible, but there  was a bunch of curvy, gently uphill sloping road that we had to tackle.  We are already around 50 miles in to our day, and wondering where this lovely downhill to Damascus is that everyone's talking about...

Then we find it!  It is quite a bit steeper than the previous downhill after the first mountain climb, but it is incredibly gorgeous and fun!  The worst part of the downhills on this trip has been traffic behind us following way too close, and getting annoyed or frankly just doing dangerous things (passing too close to us, passing on a hill, or passing on blind turns) because we aren't going fast enough for them.  Luckily there wasn't much traffic out here, and we coasted for miles at well over 30mph down another road with a mountain stream running next to it.  Perfect way to end our longest day yet!

We pull into Damascus, which is a huge hit with the Appalachian Trail crowd too as the trail crosses very close to the town, and set out to find one of the hostels to spend the night in.  We make it to "The Place" hostel, famous with both hikers and cyclists, and notice our friends Mary and Joe from a couple of days ago are also there!  Live-in hostel caretaker, trail name "Atlas", gives us the rundown of rules (the hostel is run by the church out front, so this isn't a free for all!), assigns us a couple of bunks (think wooden bunk beds), and tells us where to get dinner.  He's a great guy, and has some entertaining tales of hiking and hikers.  He came to Damascus as an AT hiker about a month ago for Trail Days, and is still hanging around - I think Damascus has that effect on hikers.

Most of the others we shared the hostel with were hikers.  Good group of people. We grabbed burritos at a place in town called Hey Joe's, one of the guys behind the counter gets up and plays a song that a kid there requested off of his album (which we ended up buying - he was pretty good!), had a well-deserved beer, and headed back to the hostel.  After setting up our bunks and chatting with Joe and Mary a little more, we climbed into bed.  Only to have about 4 hikers show up at 10:15 or so, loudly!  We go to bed early, so we can get up early...quiet hours were from 10:30 to 7:30, but they had to be given bunks, told about the rules, set up their bunks, etc.  The one who ended up in a bunk in our room I think opened each and every zipper on his pack before settling in!

I was out like a light - Mel didn't have the same luck, couldn't get comfortable, got cold, etc.  I'm glad we had the experience though, after hearing about this place for so long!  

Oh, and we rolled over 500 miles today!  Yay!

Day 15 - June 18, 2013 - Wytheville, VA - Weather Day

Of course, the forecast was not only for pouring rain all day long, but a 70% chance of strong thunderstorms, both in Wytheville, where we had stayed, and in Damascus, where we were headed.

Today was the most boring rest day - our hotel was right next to a truck stop, and that was about it.  Most exciting thing I did was walk to the truck stop for laundry detergent so I could wash our stuff at the guest laundry room at the hotel.  Thrilling!  And I've noticed I actually end up getting pretty sore when we aren't on the bikes for a day.  I think my body has found a routine, and isn't happy when forced to give it up!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day 14 - June 17, 2013 - Radford, VA to Wytheville, VA

Mileage - about 43
Total mileage - 452.2
Wildlife spotted - Deer, wild turkeys, cows, goats, barn kittens, road kill snakes and possum

Today began with a lovely (mostly downhill) ride from our hotel in Radford.  We coasted past a couple of fellow cyclists on the route checking out their maps and waved, knowing we'd probably cross paths later in the day.  We crossed the New River, then immediately turned onto a road that ran along the river for many miles.  We spotted the most adorable baby deer crossing the road along the way, it stopped to look at us for a bit, then followed its mom up the hill on the other side.

We passed through the quaint town of Newbern, which had marked most of their original structures along with the year they were built, starting in the early 1800s.  I thought we hit the jackpot when we went right by a post office, since we found about 10lbs of extra crap to send home to lighten our load, but it didn't open for a couple more hours, bummer!

We were about halfway to the next town, Draper, when we had paused to put on sunscreen (see, mom, we remember most of the time!), and we saw the other two cyclists we spotted earlier making their way up the hill!  They stopped to chat, and we talked gear, bikes, training strategy (or lack thereof!), and more for a good while, decided to all grab lunch together in Draper, and all kept pedaling up the hill.  

About 100 feet down the road, we all spot a cyclist approaching from the other direction, and stop to chat with him.  He's headed from San Francisco to the East Coast, and started about 8 weeks ago!  And this is his 3rd time riding across the US (he's British), but first time riding the TransAm, and says its the absolute best route across the US he has tried so far.  

We continue on, only to find as we get to Draper that the one restaurant is closed on Mondays, as is the small store in town.  We all stop at a park to snacking what we have with us, find that the other riders are Mary and Joe, just out of college, from New York and Connecticut respectively.  They take off first, as they have decided to do about 14 more miles than we will for the day, and we discuss meeting up in Damascus, where they are planning a day off.

We head out again, get rained on a bit during a sustained climb, and then meet some bovine friends at the top of the hill.  These cows were super curious about us, pushing each other out of the way to get a better view.  I crossed the road on my bike to get closer to them, and caused a minor stampede, but they came back when they realized I wasn't a threat.  They even followed us a bit down the fence line as we pedaled away.

Then we run into a major headwind.  We cheated a bit on the TransAm route, opting for our old friend Highway 11, which is basically a frontage to I-81.  We rolled into Wytheville around 5 I think, braving a busy highway off-ramp intersection full of truck stops and semi trucks to get to our hotel.

On our way, we also saw the "Wytheville Smallest Church", apparently one of the smallest churches in America.  It was in the middle of nowhere, near a Pepsi bottling plant.