Dugspur, VA

Staying with hosts is a very valuable experience, independent of if they are friends or strangers. We are not in any of our way stations for much time. Not in any one long enough to do much in the way of exploring. Hosts provide context, a window into the place, ideas on what makes it interesting, why they moved there, why they continue to stay. What we should see if we were staying longer, and what we should prioritize in the limited time we have.

The day begins well. Bagel sandwiches and coffee at Mill Mountain downtown. Our hosts in Roanoke, Justin and Mattie, were going to sleep in, so we left to get breakfast rather than risk making a bunch of noise in the kitchen, even though they said it wouldn’t be a problem the night before. This trip is really making me value solid sleep, no way I am going to mess with theirs.

South on highway 221. Highway is such a big world for such a narrow road. Two lanes and a usable shoulder. Reasonable grades and smooth asphalt. Left turn onto Poage Valley Road. Also known as State Route 690. Now known as the vertical death march. From steep, to steeper, to ridiculous. 10-15% grades kicking above 20. At least that is how it feels as I hit points where I am having trouble turning the cranks over standing on the pedals out of the saddle. Stupid steep. With all boilers lit and all engines on full, Matti von Kessing, the European Dreamliner, slams into an iceberg and is cracked. Hull integrity is lost. Listing, he full stops, adrift at sea, waiting for rescue. A white F-150 tug boat drags him to safety while he patches his hull and recovers the flooded cabins. I tail the bumper of the truck until the grade swaps over to gravel and I slowly slide off the back. Enough torque to make it up the slope, but not so much that you spin your back wheel for lack of traction. A damp muddy uneven road. One that keeps going up. Each turn looks to be the last until you finish it and find another. Ad infinitum.

The tug boat drops the dreamliner off at the first top. I finally arrive and we continue on our cruise. If only it were a pleasure cruise. This is the last time we take a back country road. Matt is built for transatlantic steamlining, not billy goat scrambles.


Back on the 221, the grades are less severe, but the hills are endless. Scraggly apple trees, seemingly on their last legs, with few leaves and haggard branches. Loads of red fruit litter the ground around their trunks. Ignored by the cows, unpicked by the people, but much more productive than their sorry state would imply.

We have burnt our legs on the first sortie and the arrival of the 15-20mph head winds, gusting north of 30, set the stage for a day that just wouldn’t die. We arrive at the host house drained. A day of wreckage. I am thrashed, Matt is destroyed. If we had to end in Galax, like the original plan, we never would have made it. Fortunately, I had found a host in Dugspur, 26 miles closer.

David, our host for the night, is off the grid. Spring fed water, solar fed car batteries. Our place is a small single room guest house accessible by a plank bridge. Two DC powered lights, a wood burning stove, a toilet in a bucket (filled with sawdust), and most importantly, a bed.

A dinner of couscous with raisins and almonds paired with a huge salad, some of which was sourced from their lean-to green house. A dessert of cooked pears in a thick syrup of sugar and spices. Rain pounds against the roof. Hopefully the clouds will run themselves dry by the morning.

Roanoke, VA

Smoked Gruyère omelets, cantaloupe, and coffee. Prepared by our host, consumed by us. Ray McDavitt, who once was a train engineer until a head injury causing derailment required he go to speech therapy. Which grew from basic theater based therapy into a new career as an actor. This December he will be going on his own adventure, to New Zealand. To complete 5 famous hikes.

A nearly straight shot out to the parkway. 12-15 miles. As we turn off of the 501, I can hear rain hitting the leaves on the ground. But it does not seem to be raining. At least not yet. Heavy fog is collecting in the trees and is then being blown off by the wind. It isn’t until we we pass 3000′ elevation that the real rain starts. It begins to drizzle. Rain jacket and rain cover weather. The temperature is 55 degrees and dropping. At 3500′ it starts pouring, and then at 3800′ it gets nasty. Sleet. Stinging sleet. It is too dim to wear my Oakleys so I am blinded by the ice specs pelting my face and eyes. Descending to lunch, frozen to the core. Half way done, half way to go.

Two plates of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, rolls, cabbage, dessert, and all of the hot tea I can drink.The Peaks of Otter Lodge. Dressed up fancy, but dishing out slop. Mashed potatoes from a dehydrated sack, mac&cheese out of a box, dessert from a mix. Low end cafeteria food in a place styling itself as a resort. Bad food is better than no food; take what you find and push on. And what we find is what we will get. I have finished off my last two KIND bars (Apircot Macadamia and Almond Cashew) and won’t be able to replenish for a couple of days. My next stash is waiting for me in Boone.

We prepare for weather like we had just escaped from. All of my Craft layers, base layers, leg and arm warmers, toe covers, hat, gloves, shoe covers. Embrocation on my legs and arms. My Rapha jacket over everything. I am prepared for a battle that no longer exists. The storm has broken and the sun is exposed. I am roasting, and am forced to stop and do a strip tease before I stew in my own juices.

The final 34 miles feel like a cake walk compared to the morning. Plenty of sustained climbs, but at a slighter grade and not for an hour at a time. The sun is out and we can, for the first time, see the terrain we are surrounded by. The visibility is still restricted at times, but at least there is some visibility. Red, green, and yellow flow from the valleys all the way to the ridge lines. A continuous carpet of fall. I can smell the sickly sweet scent of those that have dropped decomposing in the ditches on either side. Nutrients are returned, the soil is built. 4:30pm into Roanoke. A new early finish record.

Lynchburg, VA

Late start, 11am. A 77 mile route shortened to 70 with a drop off at the edge of town by our first Couch Surfing hosts, Jamie and Christian.

Old Lynchburg road is nice. Two lanes, rolling, low traffic. Our first turn of the day leads us to our first gravel road of the tour. Not very technical and pretty well packed. Then Highway 29 is reached and the route falls apart. Medium shoulder become narrow. Narrow becomes no shoulder. The drivers give us space, but it really isn’t a good idea to be on this road. Especially for the 24 miles Google instructs. I let Garmin take over and we head out of the danger zone for the country roads. And I mean country.

5-6 miles in, pavement becomes a scarce commodity. And then a distant memory. Thin rocky windy roads cut through the terrain. Maintained by pickup trucks rather than the county. These are the roads for which lift kits were conceived. Some of these were meant for all terrain vehicles. Slippy ascents with the loose rock and dust, followed by sloppy descents. Zig zagging up and down the hillsides. Trees and creeks. Startled birds and squires scatter in dismay, humans an unfamiliar sight. Forget about signage. City folk beware.

Light at the end of the tunnel, asphalt. Leading to a gas station to refill water bottles and stomachs. Cheese sandwiches from the pack, and chocolate milk and a coke from the store. Kudzu envelopes pristine temperate with its tropical embrace. Slowly smothering the forest where it can gain a foothold.

As expected, the asphalt can’t last, and it does not fail to deliver. Back on gravel. Fast and vibrating, picking up enough speed that you end up aiming rather than steering your rig. Letting the bike find its own path within some loose boundaries.

The unseen turn is missed. U-turn. Missed again. Is Garmin trying to make this adventure more epic than it already is? A grass path listed as some random creek road. You must be kidding. We didn’t see it the first two times because it isn’t really even maintained. Finding it is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo and everyone is wearing green. This is insane. But, it might lead somewhere amazing no one has seen, or at least, no one I know has seen. Off off road it is, under the tree and down the non-road. Ankle high grass becomes knee high becomes waist high. We have to stop. The route map shows 8 miles of this forest hike. A quarter of a mile in, we reverse course to find a proper road.

It seems it is the grass way or the highway. Back to 29 hoping that the shoulder has reappeared this far south. It has, only for it to disappear again a few miles later. We are 36 direct miles out from Lynchburg. Going back into the wilds would push that close to 60 and could easily die out in some over grown logging roads again.

We pull into a gas station to contemplate our next move. We are starting to run out of time, time to make it to our host before it get dark and cold. Matt heads inside to grab a Gatorade, and I begin approaching drivers refueling their pick up trucks and mini-vans to see if they are heading our way and have any free space. Maybe they could drive us towards Lynchburg if we promise to put on some actual pants. Everyone seems to live locally, we soldier on.

The shoulder becomes the white line. We can’t ride the fringe, even if drivers treating us with respect and passing with plenty of room, with the sun setting ahead of us. Off onto the grassy rocky shoulder, it is time to try some old school thumb in the air hitchhiking. 50-60 vehicles fly by without success. Standing here isn’t making much progress and maybe the shoulder will reappear over the hill, so we walk. Left arm out, thumb up, just in case. A red pickup pulls by with its right turn signal on and comes to a stop, off the road, 400 feet ahead of us. Our ride.

We throw the bikes in the back of John Wright’s truck. I jump in beside them and Matt rides up front in the cab with John and his dog. He is only going 15 miles or so, but those are miles we don’t have to deal with. Somehow he “accidentally” misses his exit resulting in a 10 mile bonus. We are past the Highway 29 section and now only have 11.5 miles between us and our host, a shower, and dinner. John has turned a really tough situation into one of the highlights of the day. It shows that one person can drastically change another person’s situation on their own. We only needed one person with room in their vehicle and a willingness to share it, to change a really rough ending to the day into an amazing one.

Fantastic rural riding, at least 30 miles of which was unpaved. And we did not end up stuck on the side of the highway or lost in the back woods. This wasn’t supposed to be a planes, trains, and automobiles tour, but that is how it goes sometimes. A bike tour becomes multimodal.

Charlottesville, VA

Another early morning, but not quite as early as yesterday. The plan is to Amtrak it to Fredricksburg and then ride to Charlottesville. The trick will be getting the bikes on the trian.

The low last night was 34. It must have warmed up since then. There isn’t much of a bite as we ride the dedicated paved bike path parallel to the tracks we will shortly be on.

A $22 ticket and we stroll to gate J where I will have to sweet talk our way onto our coach. Amtrak has a grey bike policy. TO take a bike into the passenger car, rather than checking it in a bike box on the luggage car, which some routes don’t even have, requires it be folding and usually be in a case. We don’t have cases and the Break-Aways are not really folding bikes. They are outside the regulations. They cause uncertainty rather than a clear cut decision in those that make the thumbs up/thumbs down decision.

The key to success is to be friendly without a sense o entitlement, act like taking this bike on the train is a normal (and expected) thing, wait to be told that you can’t take the bike on the train since it isn’t in a box (meaning they have pre-categorized it as a standard road bike in their heads), and then state it is folding and you will break it down so it fits in the luggage space. This scrip has worked both in the states and in Europe. And it worked here today. We were told by three or four different people at various stages, on the way to our car, that they don’t really let bikes on the train, BUT since they are broken down, we can stash them in one of the exit doors as long as they are out of the walkway. Success!

As we sway our way out of the Union Station, the moon is fat and low on the horizon. Languidly taking its time as sets over, first the Washington Monument and the National Mall, and then the Jefferson Memorial.

Fantastic weather and gorgeous riding. Pre-ride coffee and bagel in Fredricksburg. Today is the first day of long riding since the knee dropped a slip in the complaint box. Why are we on a 6 lane highway with no shoulder? The posted speed limit is 45, which means cars are doing 55. No one is honking and everyone is giving us space, but this is not where we want to be. I stop the Google generated map route and have the Garmin decide. It turns out to be the winner. Up until this point Google Maps with the bike priority option has worked like a dream. Today Garmin gets a gold star. A empty two lane road along the river. A couple of steep climbs, but short and manageable. Onto the Constitution Highway. Through killing fields of slender trunked trees and little underbrush. An open and airy wood with few hiding places. Daytime crickets call to each other.

An old tractor and some new directions. We ignore the GPS and follow a side route provided by a pair of locals. Filling up an ancient tractor, unfazed by our funny pants. Off of the 20 through farms and along the railway line. A little shorter than staying the verified course and much more interesting.

I found my legs today. We arrive at our host house at 5pm on the dot. Plenty of light left. No stress. The sunny 70 degrees balanced out the 10mph SSW wind. A couple of KIND bars and thick sharp cheddar cheese sandwiches during the day. Chocolate milk for recovery 10 miles out from the end.

The night begins with home made pizza, from scratch, and ends with gelato and sitting on a edge of a park watching bluegrass being played by a trio in The Garage. A lamp lit performance in an art backed space by Lac La Belle.