05.08.11 – Leather Saddles and Lucky Nails Pt. 1

It’s been thirteen days since I left Philadelphia and I’m finally getting around to an update. I apologize for the long wait but riding, eating, sleeping and living in the moment can be quite time consuming. So much has happened in the last two weeks that I’ll do my best to recount it in a lively, coherent and concise(ish) manner.

Right now, I’m sitting in The Wild Bean in Lewisburg, WV. First, let me spit out the stats of my ride so far. Hannah and I have ridden about 500 miles and ascended about 19,000ft. When I saw these numbers I was pretty stunned (data from Bike Route Toaster). What’s crazier than the numbers themselves is that 2/3rds of the miles were completed before Charlottesville, VA but only a couple thousand feet ascended. We’ve travelled anywhere from 45 to 75 miles each day depending on our goals, the weather, and our energy levels. But enough about the stats though, a chronological story is probably easier to write and read.

I left my house in the Philadelphia area quite early on the morning of May 1st. While my family may have felt nervous, I was not. Maybe it’s because I felt prepared or maybe I was just blissfully ignorant to the real risks associated with my journey. Wait, what am I saying? I was super excited to get out on the road! I prepared for almost a year and left with a confident feeling that everything else I would need to know, I could learn on the road. So far this feeling has been accurate. Camping, cooking and staying not stinky have been a challenge but I’ve done mostly couchsurfing with old and new friends so laundry, showers and good company have been plentiful.

I rode about 30 miles before I met up with Hannah in Avondale, PA. Getting there was more intense than I expected! The countryside southwest of Philadelphia has more hills than I expected and by the time I met up with Hannah, I was already quite tired…with 30 more miles to go! Hannah’s ability to speak Spanish fluently helped immediately when we stopped to eat some tacos near her house. Probably the most exciting part of the first day was crossing the Mason Dixon line. While our plan was to stay in Elk Neck State Forest, a small alcove at the edge of a high school lacrosse field caught our eye and suited us well for the night. We cooked some canned salmon, tuna and rice and slept reasonably well.

The next morning we made oatmeal but it wasn’t very good (and hasn’t gotten any better tasting). First piece of advice for all of you out there: bring raisins! Quickly I realized that Hannah is much faster at breaking camp than I am. There’s a million different ways to pack one’s panniers and between trying to balance it well and remember where things are, I didn’t find it so easy (though now it’s better). After breaking camp, we cruised through the nearby town of Northeast. It had one small stretch of stores that looked nice and probably would have been fun to check out before camping had we not been so tired. From there, we headed to Baltimore. At this point, I had not yet figured out how to use my GPS (Garmin Edge 800) to follow a predetermined route created on Google Maps so we had to stop about every 3 to 4 miles to check our bearings. While stopping so often was somewhat annoying and definitely slowed our pace, we met Jason and Lisa during one of these breaks. We were a couple miles outside of Havre de Grace when they pulled over in their Subaru Outback! Upon introducing themselves, we learned they were coordinators of a local cycling group and were happy to see touring cyclists enjoying the area. They also gave us some great advice to head into Havre de Grace where we got a bite to eat and then took Route 40 (Pulaski Hwy) all the way to Baltimore. Getting into Baltimore felt so good. The day had been long and boring and the only real interesting thing that happened was a near flat tire. Hearing a ticking noise on my tire, I noticed a nail sticking out. I thought my tire would deflate as soon as I removed it but amazingly the 2 inch long nail went in at an angle and my tire is so thick that it never punctured the tube! I have yet to get a flat and I enjoy pretending it’s because I’ve held onto that “lucky nail.” We rolled up to Dangerously Delicious Pie Shop where Hannah’s sister, Molly, works. They make the most amazing sweet and savory pies I’ve EVER had. Molly is about to marry my good friend, Dan. All four of us (Hannah, Molly, Dan and I) went to the same high school and I haven’t seen them in a while so as tired as we were, an evening of drinks and food were necessary. It’s weird and exciting to think that the next time I see them will probably be at their wedding! Love you guys, so good to see you. I also got to see two other old friends, Ali Metzger and Dan Schabb. Ali is getting her Masters and Dan is renovating his house and it looks amazing! He also hosted us at his house for some blue crabs and beer. If you’ve never had Blue crabs, they’re small and not that easy to break apart and eat but quite tasty and fun to eat outside on a big slab of construction paper! Great to see you both, wish we had more time to hang out.

We left Baltimore in the cold and windy rain and boy did that stink! We were so unhappy since the Gwynn Falls Trail out of town was really confusing to follow and didn’t exactly take us through the peachiest of areas. We ended up stopping at a Dunkin’ Donuts to write out the directions when the sun broke through. Pretty much the only thing that got us through that morning was Molly’s pies that she made especially for us. If you’re in Baltimore or Washington DC, you need to eat at this pie shop. You will not regret it! The remainder of the ride was pretty good and Google Maps put us onto this amazing backwoods paved trail. Check out the video section for more on this section of the ride.

After a short ride of about 45 miles to DC, we reach Brian and Heather’s place. They’re friends from college and are both engineers for the DoD. Their apartment is absolutely beautiful and their hospitality was amazing. While Hannah visited a friend in the area, the rest of us went to a small burger joint where I got about a pound of different meats all thrown on a sandwich (gotta love eating whatever you want!). The following day was another day of rest where Hannah and I explored downtown DC and saw Sara M-T, another friend from high school. She took Hannah and I to the Capital City Brewery for lunch. If you’re a fan of porters, you’ll like their Prohibition Porter. Hannah got their IPA and was equally satisfied. Both were incredibly good and I highly recommend them. After about 2 plus hours, I asked Sara how she could take off for such a long lunch. She told us that since she knew we were coming, she came to work early and planned to stay late! She’s such a sweet girl and it was great to see her. Good luck with everything, Sara! Thanks for lunch too!

Hannah and I then walked around the DC area, stopped at BikeSPACE, relaxed in the grass by the White House and then headed to the first LEED certified restaurant in the DC area, Founding Farmers. I got the chicken with mac and cheese. Their building and all of their food is LEED certified, which is really cool. Their beer selection wasn’t bad either! The rest of the night was spent doing laundry and getting to bed a little later than desired.

After leaving Brian and Heather the next morning, we attempted an 80 mile day. The trail system around the DC area seems pretty good. They’re pretty plentiful and it’s interesting to see business people commuting by bicycle. The area of Manassas, however, is not good for bikes. Actually, neither Virginia nor West Virginia believes in bike lanes or even shoulders! There was a pretty hairy section on Route 28 down toward Culpeper where the road surface was ripped up for construction and cars were forced to pass us closely. Again, we just dropped our heads and pedaled our butts off! About 10 miles out of our destination of Culpeper, the skies turned dark and just before the rain came, Hannah’s Spanish came in handy again. We were super tired too and I don’t know about Hannah, but my butt really hurt! I guess bringing a brand new leather saddle may not have been the best idea. A farm worker named Alfredo graciously let us camp out in his front yard just outside Remington. As soon as the tent was set up, the rain stopped…go figure. Anyway, we stayed put and got some much needed rest. In the morning, we headed into Culpeper, VA and guess what? It was Culpeper Day! They had music, rides, vendors and a great coffee shop called The Raven’s Nest where we brushed our teeth, filled our waters, got breakfast and planned our route to Charlottesville. The ride to Charlottesville was about 65 miles but locals suggested a good route to avoid the busy road we had been on the day before. Local knowledge is a powerful thing and may in fact be one of the best resources if you come across the right people.

After a long but pleasant day of riding through the countryside, we pulled into Charlottesville where we stayed with our first true Couchsurfing host, Hadley. She was already at work when we arrived but her mom was there and was super helpful with showing us Hadley’s apartment and telling us about the town. After showering, we walked into town and ate at the Horse and Hound. I ate a full rack of baby back ribs that fell off the bone like butter on a hot knife. I was so hungry that a full rack was nothing and wanted even more! We wandered over to Hadley’s restaurant, Maya, which was a bit upscale for our street clothes but we sat at the bar and my goofy cycling cap gave us away. Hadley immediately noticed us and introduced herself. Over the course of the two nights in Charlottesville, we had coffee at the Mudhouse, frozen yogurt, an amazing breakfast at the Bluegrass Grill & Bakery and a delicious homemade dinner at Hadley’s.

Hadley biked with us a little ways out of town as we left Charlottesville and headed for a night in Shenandoah National Park. I look forward to staying in touch with my new friend somewhere down the road. I know I’m in Lewisburg and much has happened between Charlottesville and here but this post is already incredibly long and I’m tired of writing. Check back soon for another update. Oh and one more thing. My new Brooks saddle? It’s literally kicking my butt. Thankfully I’ve learned about good posture, seat angle and quality cycling shorts.

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