I completed my ride on Sunday, July 17th. I posted photos of myself at Yorktown, Virginia on Facebook. My non-Facebook friends may be wondering if I ever made it to the finish line and survived. I need to finish the story of this great adventure.
Virginia was made for cyclists. The Blue Ridge Parkway, which overlooks the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley is not open to commercial traffic, is a dream to ride. The route continues onto the quiet roads of the Piedmont, along the James and the Roanoke Rivers — rolling through lush, green countryside — past Civil War battlefields (I was surprised to learn that 80% of the Civil War was fought in Virginia); old plantations; the immaculately-kept mansions and estates of Presidents Jefferson and Monroe and into a number of quaint college towns like Lexington, Ashland and Williamsburg with their beautiful campuses. I felt like I was in a living history book.
And the weather was fantastic! As we here in Canada head into the cooler days of fall, I will look back and think fondly of the days of waking at 6 a.m. with the temperature already hovering around 74 degrees, and heading out in shorts, a jersey and sandals. It did get hot by
midday, but the breeze created while riding, plus the many big shade trees along the road made for very pleasant riding.
Also, I have to note that people in Virginia keep their dogs tied up!
My dog bite experience has provided me a bit of a window into the US healthcare system. Since my initial rabies shots in Wytheville, I have had follow-up shots in Charlottesville and Virginia Beach — each one taking up a half day. If it weren’t for my insurance, I would have had to pay a minimum of $300 for each shot. And you don’t see a doctor or nurse until the billing people are satisfied you’re covered.
I was getting anxious to finish my ride. On Saturday, July 16th, exactly two months from the start of the ride, we reached Ashland, just outside of Richmond. When the ladies at the campground learned that I was about to complete a cross-country bike ride, they gave us the site for free!
One last, long push!
At 158 km, the final day was a long one. Beginning 40 miles west of Williamsburg, the route went onto the Capital Trail, a gorgeous bike trail alongside the highway. There were dozens of cyclists out for a Sunday spin on the cool, shady trail. And the final push
to Yorktown, over the beautiful Colonial Parkway, actually felt like the end of a marathon– coming in to the stadium for the finish. I ended my 10-week journey where the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1781 is commemorated — at the Yorktown Memorial.
From there it was off to the waterfront to dip my front wheel.
We celebrated with a bottle of champagne and take-out ribs from Scoot’s Barbecue, then spent the next day at Virginia Beach (actually, I wanted to spend the rest of my life in Virginia Beach!) before beginning the long trek home.
We arrived home safely in Calgary on Sunday, July 24th.
Some parting thoughts
Completing this trip was the fulfillment of a long-time goal and the memories will be with me for a lifetime. Small things made each day a memorable one and I can say that not a single day went by that I did not experience joy that brought a wide smile to my face. I had a lot of time alone to think and reflect on my life.
In his book, Stumbling Into Happiness, Daniel Gilbert talks about peoples’ ongoing desire to find happiness in their lives; how (and why) it so often eludes them. I find happiness every time I climb on my bike and begin to pedal. These past 10 weeks have afforded me an up-close view of a most wonderful country– from coast to coast. Even more, they have affirmed for me the kindness, neighborliness and goodness of people everywhere. From the guys who pulled Myrna out of the ditch on the Blue Ridge Parkway (that’s her story to tell!); to the gals who loaded up poor Joe and his bike to take him to a hospital; to every truck driver who waited patiently behind me while I slowly made my way up a blind hill; and to every passing motorcyclist who floated me a”low five.” Maybe there’s something disarming about being on a bike, or taking on a big challenge, but people everywhere have been just wonderful.
People ask how Myrna and I managed to spend 12 weeks cooped up in a tiny van. I can honestly say we loved it — 85% of the time. I am lucky to have had Myrna and Basil as my support crew, and travelling in Priscilla was an awesome way to go. One of Myrna’s jobs was to pick up local microbrews along the way, and keep it on ice in the cooler. There were times she failed in her duty, and the only choice was Budweiser or Coors. In my opinion, Bud Light is about the worst beer on the planet! Moose Drool rules!
Many people have told me I am an inspiration to them. I hope that’s true, in that I believe that anyone can complete this trip if they want to — it’s just a question of how long it takes and what their objectives are.
And now, back to the laundry . . .
I have a few days to catch up on chores here at home before heading out to Minnesota for a Family Bike Trip in Paul Bunyan country. WooHoo!
Some gorgeous country in Virginia. It’s lush and green and thoroughly enjoyable riding. We crossed into Virginia on Saturday at the Breaks Interstate Park, one of only two parks in the country shared by two states. They offered up a little Appalachian bluegrass entertainment too.
But I was not able to make it out of Kentucky unscathed. Last week I mentioned the dogs in Kentucky? Well, I was so close! Riding through Combs, in rural Eastern Kentucky, I was chased on both sides by dogs.
I yelled and pedalled harder, but they were faster than me and “Buster” took a chomp of my left calf. My muscles immediately tensed. Youch, that hurt. Medical clinics were not open all weekend and I didn’t get to a hospital until Tuesday, in Wytheville, Virginia. I spent the morning there, and ended up with five shots — one for tetanus and four for rabies. I’ll also need three more rabies booster shots over the next two weeks.
We arrived at Damascus, Virginia on Sunday. This is where the Virginia Creeper bike trail begins. It is a beautiful trail. The creepers actually “clothe” the trunks of the trees. With the sounds of the Holston River running alongside it and the birds singing, I feel like I’m in a Disney movie.
This is also where the Appalachian Trail crosses through. This trail is almost 2200 miles long. Beginning in Georgia, it goes through 14 states — all the way to Boston. This might be another adventure for the bucket list!
People I’ve Met
There are still TransAmer’s heading west. They all warn be about the “big hills” up ahead. I think to myself, you folks don’t know hills like I do! There’s Dan from Baltimore, Austin from Denver, Giancarlo from San Antonio and Gunnar and Julia, a lovely couple from Oslo, Norway, who are journalists doing this ride as an assignment from their paper in Oslo.
This morning I checked in to the library in Radford to participate in a conference call from work but the audio wouldn’t work for me. Maybe it was a sign I am meant to keep riding.
And so I will! Just one week to the Atlantic Coast! I am looking forward to riding the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia, and then coasting down to Yorktown and the end of my big adventure.
Cheers to all of you. Thank you for all your encouragement and support.
I didn’t think I’d have much interesting to write since my last post in Missouri. More riding, more hills, more rain. But the week served up some doozies!
It started with me going the wrong way — back west. “Hey!” I thought. “I recognize this flea market . . . and this day care . . . and this gas station. I just saw them a day ago!” The Bike Route 76 signs in Missouri are excellent. You know if you’re on the right road, but it’s up to you to determine what direction you’re going!
Illinois, I barely knew ya
Before long we crossed over the Mississippi River into Illinois on the Chester Truss Bridge made famous in the opening scene of the movie, In the Heat of the Night. Chester, Illinois is home to the creator of Popeye, Elzie Segar. It remains the town’s claim to fame to this day.
I learned that Karin, Gerrick and the kids were in Chicago at the same time as we were in southern Illinois — just five hours away. So near, but yet so far. But we just passed through the lower sliver of this tall, thin state, and we were out before you could say, “I’s strong to the finich ’cause I eats me spinach. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man. Toot toot!”
The riding has been gorgeous all week. The tree canopy covering the small, winding roads, past sprawling estates with huge homes. I also saw, for the first time this trip, vineyards, wineries and even a moonshine distillery. (See, Julie, you should have come with me. Well, maybe not. The wine and the biking might not have mixed so well.”)
Alas, the great bike route signage we’d had in Missouri did not continue into Illinois, and I missed one of the “turn right onto the unsigned road at the Grace Baptist Church.” Nearly got run off the road twice — once by a WalMart truck and once by another semi-trailer truck — before I realized this was not my road, and doubled back to find the church.
We camped in Murphysboro State Park, on beautiful Murphysboro Lake. I was dying for a swim. However, the campground host informed me it is illegal to swim in Illinois State parks. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “No, Ma’am. $500 fine for swimming in the lake.” Well, I don’t know what happened. Clumsy me, I just fell off that dock and had to swim to save myself. This is the view of the lake from our bedroom window:
Motivation Waning a Bit
So, my friend Don (who’s crossed the country before) told me that everyone experiences some down days on such a trip. I wouldn’t say it was a meltdown (maybe that’s still to come), but I woke up on July 1st not feeling super motivated. I started out late and after only two hours of riding through the quiet countryside, past Devil’s Kitchen and Grassy Lake, I realized I had missed another one of those unmarked turns and ended up on another busy highway. While I tried to plot my next move, I hear a honk behind me. WTF! It was Myrna. She had gone off route too!
We decided to call it an early day at only 43km, and checked in to Fern Clyffe State Park. I had a nap, ate junk food and went for a hike instead. By the next day, I was refreshed and ready to hit the road again. Passing through Elizabethtown, Ill., I asked if there was anything special planned for the 4th of July. “This is it!” I was told. A few vendors were selling pulled pork, baked goodies and T-shirts. OK! We had a pulled pork sandwich to help celebrate. By late afternoon, we were at Cave Rock Springs to catch a tiny ferry over the Ohio River into Kentucky, and by evening we were in Marion, KY, camped in the huge city park.
Welcome to Kentucky, Bubba
Rural Kentucky really IS quite different from what I have experienced so far. The people here speak with a distinctly southern accent. They seem pretty laid back, and that applies to their attitude towards dogs. I’d read the reports of vicious dogs and was very wary whenever I passed a mobile home with a porch and an unfenced yard.
I believe bicycle chasing is an unofficial sport in Kentucky and I had my first encounter early on — with a pit bull and a boxer. My heart rate climbed into the red zone and I pedalled as fast as I could while yelling, “Go Home! Go Home, eh?” in my most assertive Canadian voice.
That’s when I met Joe, the first time. Joe is from Raleigh, N.C. and he was racing the TransAm. He said he was at the tail end, with maybe six racers behind him, that he’d had nine flat tires. He strongly urged me to find some pepper spray for the dogs. He was havi
ng his sister checking online to find somewhere that he could get some for himself. Joe and I rode together for a while, but I don’t think he’d showered or changed his shirt since Oregon — and he was really smelly. Beside that, he kept riding up beside me and then ducking back in single file when a car approached from behind. I thought it was pretty dangerous. So at the next town, I told him I was going to use the washroom, and encouraged him to carry on. We’ll meet Joe again a little later.
I put in a long day of riding. The sky was overcast and it looked like it would rain. When I reached Fordsville, Mark from Oregon flagged me down. He was headed west so he knew what was up ahead. He had a weather app on his phone and said there was a tornado watch in the next county — where I was headed.
Mark, heading west to Oregon
Even if we did continue, he said the campgrounds were all full for the July 4th weekend. We agreed to hunker down there in the city park. And here comes Joe! I tried to flag him down, but he was head-down into the wind, going for it. The rain had started already, and the storm grew worse by the hour, raging through the night and into the next morning.
After several days of “city park” camping, Myrna, who was desperate for a shower, went out in the middle of the night to shower in the rain!
We didn’t get far the next day. Mark had already left when I started out, but the thunderstorms would not let up, so after 20 miles of riding, soaked to the skin and visibility at near zero, we stopped at Becky’s Cafe for breakfast and a coffee, and when it looked like it was going to continue all day, we surrendered and checked in to Falls of Rough State Park, on a beautiful lake.
And here’s Joe again!
Enough already with the loafing around. I needed to get some miles in. And as Willy Gruber says, “Those miles aren’t going to ride themselves!” I was still looking for pepper spray when I stopped at the next gas station. Who was there? Joe! He’d made the same decision not to ride in the storm, and had stayed at a resort overnight. Except now he was repair
ing flat #10 — and the air compressor was not putting out much for pressure. “If it weren’t for bad luck, Joe, you’d have no luck at all,” I told him.
I agreed to ride with him again, even though he was still wearing the same shirt as two days ago. Maybe he washed it on his layover day, I thought, hopefully.
And even though the gas station had no pepper spray, a nice lady gave us hers — “Y’all are gonna need it more than ah will,” she said.
We had an enjoyable ride together through the quiet, hilly countryside. Talking American politics made the miles just fly by. Joe’s idea was to overhaul the system altogether, by eliminating the House of Representatives, allowing the Senate to make policy decisions, and then gaining input directly from the electorate through social media.
We came to a nice downhill and I told Joe to go on ahead, as the road was very narrow. We swooped down the twisty, narrow road, until we reached a blind corner with an almost 90-degree turn. We each slammed on our brakes. The road was still wet, and I saw Joe’s back wheel shimmy and skitter. “Oh, s%i#!” I thought. “We’re going down.” And Joe did — hard. I just managed to get by him and make it to the bottom of the hill — right at a roadside cross marking a death at that spot in 2015. I ran back up the hill to where Joe was writhing in pain, swearing up a blue streak. He was in rough shape, but conscious, and it didn’t look as though anything was broken, although his collarbone was causing him a lot of discomfort. I flagged down the next motorist, to find out where the nearest hospital was. I thought Joe should get checked out. “In Leitchfield, about 20 miles from here. I can drive you,” said Art, who was a gentle, nice man, although I believe Joe thought he looked a little too much like one of the characters in Deliverance. “Yep,” said Art. “They call this Suicide Hill.”
“I think I’ll be OK,” said Joe weakly. “I’ll just sit here for a few minutes and collect myself.” Not five minutes later, a couple of gals from California, riding support for three other riders, stopped. Now, Joe decided he would like a ride to the hospital and the gals worked hard to make space in their car for Joe and on the bike rack for his Litespeed. They didn’t have a clue where Leitchfield was, but at least I knew Joe was safe and in good hands. I hope he’s OK. It would be a shame for him to come this far and not finish the ride.
Myrna and I met up for lunch in Sonora, another tiny town in the heart of Amish country.
I must make mention of the prominence of religion I have seen evident here in rural America and how it must surely shape the political values and perceptions of the people who live here. Some of these small towns have fewer than 200 people, and yet they have three or even more big churches, e.g. The First Baptist Church of . . . ; The New First Baptist Church; and The Christian Community Church of . . . In just 20 miles, another set of churches. I don’t know how they are all supported.
Along this route, we have passed through extensive Mennonite communities in Missouri, through Amish communities in Illinois and Kentucky. I even read about the Shakers, who came to Kentucky fleeing persecution in England. By 1820, they had more than 500 members. They were superb farmers, believing that working the land provided a life of purity and simplicity. The trouble was, they also took a vow of celibacy. With fewer people joining their ranks and the failure of their attempts to adopt orphans, the group pretty much died out by the early 20th Century.
And then it all went downhill . . .
Right after lunch, it started pouring again. I didn’t mind. It was a hot day and this was a great way to cool off. Again, the wet brakes on the wet and twisty roads caused me to take a turn a little too wide. If I overcorrected, I’d end up in the oncoming lane. As it was, I opted for the ditch, careening into a wire fence (not barbed wire, thank goodness!). Apart from a few bruises, I wasn’t hurt. I just got back on the bike, back on the road, and kept on riding. But this day was not going to end happily just yet!
I mentioned that the Bike Route 76 Signs dropped off in Illinois. Well, they picked up again in Kentucky. But if you missed one, because they are not always placed at every intersection, you have to navigate your own way back. That happened to me, and I thought I’d meet up with my support crew at the next town . . . or the next one . . . or the next one. No luck. Myrna was panicking because she hadn’t seen me all afternoon. She stopped in to a bar to ask how to get to Loretto, where I was. She explained she couldn’t take the most direct route the guys at the bar were recommending, because the bike route didn’t go that way. Eventually, Jeremy a guy in a black Camaro who had been at the bar after work stops me and asks if I’m looking for a lady in a white van. “Ah thought so, ’cause she’s circlin’aroun’ Loretto and she ain’t anywhere’s near here! She’s lookin’ at a different map from yours. Hop in, he said. I think I can track her down.”
It turns out Myrna’s is an older version of the TransAm route. No wonder she couldn’t find me — we were both going the right way — in different directions! Anyway, we were both glad to see the end of that day. We went to McDonald’s for a celebratory dinner, and checked in to the Springfield City Park for the night.
Through the Land of Lincoln
OK, so for not having much to say, this blog is going on way too long! But before I close off, I have to mention the interesting ride yesterday through the area of Abraham Lincoln’s family’s original homestead, and a full day of roller coaster hills through eastern Kentucky. I have escaped injury from my dog encounters (although one did manage to nip my back tire); my bike is still in great shape; and my spirits are high.
Today we are in Berea, KY, a small artsy college town. There’s a pool here and they’re running an AquaZumba class this afternoon that I hope to participate in.
Tomorrow might be my last day in Kentucky. Then it’s on to Virginia, the last state on the trail.