05.14.11 – Leather Saddles & Lucky Nails Pt. 2

And now, the highly anticipated update of the month….Leather Saddles and Lucky Nails PART TWO! Okay maybe one person is as excited about this update as I’m make it sound but if we all pretend to be super interested then my plans for overnight stardom may in fact work out. I’m sitting here in Cincinnati for my third straight rest day. It was supposed to thunderstorm today…it didn’t. But that’s okay. I’ve had a wonderful time here in the company of Hannah and her family and they’ve been so hospitable to me that it pains me to leave on the off chance they’re willing to keep making me dinner forever.

Since Charlottesville, Hannah and I have had so many great experiences as well as some not-so-great ones. After parting ways with Hadley just outside of Charlottesville, we began our trek into the Appalachian mountain range. First stop: Shenandoah National Park. Getting there went pretty well until we came upon what looked to be a shortcut to Skyline Drive (the road that runs along the peaks of the mountains in the park). It wasn’t so bad in the beginning and we got to ride by a gigantic peach orchard with a beautiful view! After a half a mile of that, things got a little less peachy (point for the pun!). The road got super steep and windy and it was the first time I considered walking. I threw on some tunes and pounded up a couple insanely steep gravel slopes. I was constantly shifting my weight forward for traction on my front wheel to stay balanced and then immediately back so that my rear wheel would stop slipping on the loose gravel. I ended up pushing myself way too hard and nearly collapsed from exhaustion at the top of the hill. Then I did it again! I guess I thought that if I did it once, I could do it again! After about mile of this with another 1.5 miles to go, I gave in and got off. By the way, Hannah was walking all of what I tried to ride…and was way ahead of me.

Just pushing our bicycles was slow and tiring and it took us about 2 hours to cover three miles…so much for the shortcut. When we finally reached the top, we had a small section of real mountain biking. I’m talking about sticks, stones, roots, grooves, water, bumps, you name it. I can’t believe our bikes held up to the beating (I might’ve gone faster than I should have but it was so much fun!).

Finally we made it to Skyline Drive and found ourselves at about 2100 feet! To give you an idea, Charlottesville is at about 550 feet. Now do you have an idea of what we climbed!? Anyway, the day continued with rolling mountains where ascents where several miles long and anywhere from 300 to 800 vertical feet. When we reached our expected campground…it was closed. Fail. We went across the street to the gift shop/cafeteria where we debated stealth camping or riding another 15 miles out of Shenandoah to a nearby motel. John, the cafeteria cook, heard our discussion unfolding and offered us a place by the employee housing near the closed campground. John was about 70 years old though he looked ten years younger and enjoyed a good cigar while telling stories of his travels for the past 30 years. He’s worked for the same company that hires employees to run stores in most all of the national parks and forests around the country. He’s spent more time in these places than I imagine I ever will. Along with John there was Brenda, Betty, Steve, Wayne and Leah. Most all of them were about John’s age and had their own interesting stories from years of working for this company and seeing the country through their employment. Wayne and Leah, however, were more our age. It was interesting to hear their stories of how they ended up at Shenandoah and enjoy the freedom that their jobs give them to travel and explore the parks around the country. We ended up staying in an extra employee room that had a bed, shower, toilet, water and electricity! Not many people get to say they were provided free lodging at the top of one of the mountains in Shenandoah National Park. The kindness and compassion of everyone we met that night has been one of the most inspiring things I’ve come across so far. I cannot wait to run into them someday and exchange stories once again.

The following day we rode into Harrisonburg, VA where we got our first hotel. Big big thanks to Donald, Hannah’s father, for providing us a room. We unloaded our bags, took a shower, and rode our beautifully unloaded bicycles downtown to the Shenandoah Bicycle Company bike shop. This place is serious. I picked up a new pair of shorts since I had found that 2 of the 3 that I had brought were terribly insufficient. Hannah found out that she in fact fed one of the employees during a race last year. Overall, these guys were cool…really cool. They helped us plan the next leg of our route to Lewisburg (skipping some crazy mountains in George Washington Nation Forest) and advised us on awesome grub and beer in town. We already had plans to meet Wayne and Leah at a local brew house so we met them at Cally’s for Tip the Keg Tuesday and then passed out on beautifully comfortable beds back at the hotel. Oh yeah, the pulled pork with North Carolina vinegar is amazing…amazing.

The next several days could easily stand to have their own post but I’m going to keep things short and sweet, well as sweet as they can be. We began traveling on back country roads. This was a great way to avoid cars since Virginia and West Virginia seem not to believe in roadside shoulders! Also, these roads are sometimes the most direct way to get where we want to go. Unfortunately, there are more stressful things than the concern that comes with nearby passing cars – dogs. The unleashed, untrained, unappreciated dog is far more stressful to deal with than the drivers around us. For two days we were subjected to about 20 different dogs that chased us down the street and we were forced either to pedal harder or completely dismount to pose less of a threat and attraction. While none of the situations resulted on contact with the dogs, it was stressful enough to distract us from enjoying the day’s ride. To add to our stress one night, we could find no better camping than on a deeply inset shoulder along a back road. While it was clear no cars would even travel this road, we were in bear country and had to put all of our food in a distant tree, which was tough to do given the selection of trees and our tired states of mind. After a stressful night of sleeping, the second day again included more bouts with what were essentially wild dogs…and then rain, heavy rain.

So bad was the rain that we couldn’t ride. Here is where I’ll keep things short. We met a gentleman who offered local advice about traveling to Lewisburg. He led us for a short while in his truck to help us get there but when we came to his street and the rain wasn’t letting up, he offered us a place to stay. We were hesitant at first for several reasons. His overall appearance and personality did not give us a good gut feeling. His actions up to this point, however, were very nice and anything but concerning. To add to our small feeling of comfort, his son was from Pennsylvania and we found it easy to relate to him. Semi-reluctantly we accepted the place to stay and were given shelter, food, a shower and our own room and bed. As we spent more time with this gentleman however, he seemed to become more comfortable with us and began telling stories of his past. Suffice it to say he had drastically different social, legal and moral views. It was surreal to experience someone’s generous hospitality while hearing them say such mean things about other people. While we considered leaving, it was pretty clear that we weren’t in any danger and simply met someone with a lot of hate. The next morning we accepted one final ride over the last big hill in Virginia, said our goodbyes, and made our way to Lewisburg on what would be our only rainless day in West Virginia. Greenbrier trail is quite nice and I suggest looking out for Bald Eagles…we saw one!

Arriving in Lewisburg was just as surreal as being at the gentleman’s house the night before. In a matter of hours, we went from a place of extreme intolerance to extreme acceptance. Lewisburg was recently voted the coolest small town in the country (beating out Hannah’s pride and joy, Kennett Square). To make it even cooler, Hannah ran into an old friend, Natan, who happened to live in the area. This really helped to absolve all of the stress that came from our experience the night before.

We had a phenomenal time exploring the “coolest little town in America” by going to the river (everyone did the nakie or semi-nakie swim but me…I blogged…sue me). We checked out the super cool coffee shop, The Wild Bean, where I would spend much of the following day blogging, and then finally had pizza! It had some pretty exciting toppings and I had a pretty exciting appetite so I ate it like a champ. Later at night, since we didn’t have to get up to ride, we had a couple brews and met our couchsurfing hosts for the next evening, Jessica and Mark Messmer.

The following day was filled with postcard making and website updating (though as you know, I didn’t post the update until much later. It looked as if our rest day in Lewisburg was going to be rain free but it did end up raining for about a half hour. It was a pretty quick downpour, which would have been great had it not been the half hour that we were on our bikes! It literally started raining as we loaded up to get to their house. And what happened as we pulled into their driveway? I am not exaggerating when I say the only rain we saw all day was for the complete duration of our small commute all day. Though to be honest, it was the only fun rain experience we’ve had. Knowing that we didn’t have far to go, and being that it was still warm; the rain was more interesting than irritating. Upon arriving at their house, Mark and their dog, Earl, warmly welcomed us and insisted that we treat their house like our own. When Jess arrived home, we ate tacos and exchanged stories ranging from falling into caves and off of bikes to the nearby Cliffbrier Presidential bunker and couchsurfing experiences. It turns out that we were their first couchsurfers and they were just as happy to have us as we were to have them. After an amazing sleep on what I am pretty sure has been the most comfortable bed so far, we began what would be 6 straight days of riding until Cincinnati.

Again I’ve managed to write more than most are probably eager to read. But you know what? I don’t care! I can’t wait to read my crazy blogs years from now to see what it is I chose to tell yall (hey I’m in the South, gimme a break). I’ll fill yall in on Lewisburg to Cincinnati soon enough. Until then…see you out there somewhere. Oh yeah, my saddle has finally broken in after about 800 miles. I compared it to a new one and the difference is huge! I can’t believe what I rode on for so long.

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