Day 8 – Charlottesville to Afton, 30 miles, 2400 feet of climbing
We’re back! In the saddle, that is. After three days in Charlottesville lightening our load a bit and giving Beau’s knee some R&R, we’ve returned to the road, and boy are we happy to be riding again. We’re taking things gently to start — no “big gear mashing” or “climbing in monster gears” allowed at the moment. We’ve got a mountain range to get over, and the goal is to stay healthy doing it. So, an intentionally short day today, but ultimately a pretty joyful one!
We started out with a quick tour of “The Corner” (what locals call UVA’s campus), just zipping through and peaking at the Rotunda before continuing out into the countryside via Garth Road. A groundskeeper at the university shouted to us, “It’s great to see Ortliebs!” and gave us a hearty round of cheerleading when he found out what we’re up to. Hooray for undercover cyclists!
I grew up in Greenwood, Virginia, which is a tiny town with a post office, a peach orchard, an antique store, and a community center that used to house a skating rink (the coolest place to have your elementary school birthday party). It’s about 20 miles outside of C’Ville, and the TransAm takes you right through it, so today’s ride was all through my old stomping grounds. We passed the family homes of several of my childhood friends (as far as I know, their parents are still in all of them), and stopped at that peach orchard I mentioned for some decadent roadside treats. Seriously, the whole shebang: peach-and-vanilla-twist soft serve, a peach donut, a peach milkshake, and a flight of ciders. The place is called Chiles and it’s been around as long as I can remember, though it’s definitely more upscale now. I remember it as a glorified roadside stand, and now it’s a full-on "Agritourism Destination." But the peach ice-cream’s the same. And awesome.
We made a pact while we were resting up that we’d be more open to stopping, to taking all the pictures we want to take and exploring all the little side quests that open up to us. Especially if we’re already planning on shorter mileage on a given day. So today we let ourselves play. Along with the peach-pitstop, we paused to admire cows and even to have a glass of wine at a vineyard that’s pretty much a stone’s throw from the house where I did most of my growing up. Not that it was all tasty tourism though — we also did 2,400 feet of climbing. Which is only about half of Afton Mountain. We’ve got the rest of the climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive to go tomorrow (and we’ll probably be getting started pretty late in the day, what with the tail-end of Laura coming through). By the time we reached the Cookie Lady House, we were soaked through. Climbing mountains on bikes in August in Virginia — yeehaaaa!
We’re actually posted up in a charming barn on the Cookie Lady House property instead of in the house itself. Some bad recent flooding has taken a toll on the house’s floors, but the current owners kindly let us stay in the “event barn” instead. With a solid roof, a working fridge, electricity, and a sink where we could do some laundry, it’s practically a hotel! We’ll take it!
We spent the afternoon marveling at the rooms full of cycling paraphernalia and fan postcards, ancient signed jerseys and cycling caps, cut-out newspaper articles and dusty dioramas that make up the Cookie Lady House. Apparently, not only did June Curry live her whole life in the same house — she also couldn’t ride a bike or drive. The farthest she ever travelled was Waynesboro (“for lunch with her friends,” the current owner told us). That’s about 4 miles away. But she also hosted over 50,000 cyclists during her lifetime. I can’t believe I grew up less than five miles away from this wild, semi-secret national treasure. I wish the current owners could get more help keeping it up. It’s incredibly special. (Also, it's hard to see in the first photo below, but someone chalked "Cookie House" with an arrow on the road outside Crozet. Yes! We were on the right track!)
Okay, the storm is rolling in across the moon, and the tent is calling. We’re reading Watership Down out loud to each other, and, by coincidence, we were sitting in chairs out in the grass reading the climactic chapters, in which a great storm is approaching, while watching the clouds thicken and the lightning pulse behind the mountains. Two tiny fawns were out to silflay. When the cloud cover moves, you can see Jupiter and Saturn tonight, close to the moon. It’s time to try to sleep. Here comes the rain...