Day 9: A Blue Ridge Story
A hundred million years before the reign of dinosaurs, on a planet covered in forests, amphibians, and unlikely large arthropods, North America and Europe enter into a chicken match. Neither side balks, so the two continents collide. Tectonic plates ripple out like a dropped pan of jello, and igneous rock near the point of impact leaps at the sky in a drawn out moment of geological violence spanning several ages of man. A mountain range is born.
Three hundred million years pass and then some. Wind and rain and time take their toll — now the Blue Ridge peaks are amongst the oldest extant mountains on the Earth. They’re rounded, shrunk, and treed over, lined with parkways, crossed with highways, riddled with tunnels and farms and the remains of the once-dominant rail system. Still, they loom large over the eastern end of the continent. They divert rivers, turn storms, house what’s left of a wilderness. They thwart and attract humans. Still, they are mountains.
A thunderstorm rises off the west coast of Africa. If it were within 300 miles of the equator, this would be all — it would burn itself out over a few fish and birds and impervious oil tankers. But this storm is far enough north that it begins to gather other storms. They collect around a low-pressure area and start to spin — the Coriolis effect draws them clockwise, a giant drain growing over the Atlantic, pushing westward. By the time the system reaches the Caribbean, it has a name: Laura. Hurricane Laura.
Two 34-year-old kids get married and set out on a bike adventure. One of them hurts his knee and can’t bike uphill really at all for a while. They rest for a few days and then set out again — the boy is prepared to push his bike up inclines when his knee feels tender. The girl is prepared to wait for him.
Almost the first thing they hit is these ancient mountains. They camp inside a barn, halfway up a mountain called Afton, and Hurricane Laura rolls through in the night. They wake to rain on Day 9 with the storm still overhead and 2,500 feet of elevation to climb. The destination is Love, Virginia — the boy’s pretty sure that if he can make it to Love, he can make it the rest of the way too.
It was great. Seriously, — it turned out to be a beautiful day. We were prepared to wait out the storm until the early afternoon (and then probably get wet anyways) but by 10:30 or so we realized it had already stopped raining. So we set out — the first part of the day we were inside of clouds (aka it was foggy), but we weren’t getting rained on, and it felt great.
Did we climb? Oh, yes, we did climb. Sara burned right up the mountainsides, and then I (Beau) followed behind, walking the bike up the side of the road. Most of the incline was too steep for me to bike without feeling it in my knee, so I set my Strava for hike instead of bicycle, and I took a long walk today, and it wasn’t really that rough — I love a good hike, and the area was beautiful, and the kind of embarrassment of walking your damn bike up every single incline isn’t so bad when it’s less something that happened to you than a decision you’ve made — I know this is the only way I can continue the trip at this moment, and I’d rather go on this way than not at all.
Pushing the bike is only a nuisance in that they aren’t built for it — you have to keep readjusting, switching sides, concentrating on the angle of your spine and how you support the lean. I bring this up mostly because it reminds slightly (and much less dramatically) of this wonderful poem by Jack Gilbert.
So we walked/biked in the clouds for a while, and then the clouds blew off — all Laura really hit us with was a bit of strong wind. We stopped at Humpback Rocks, where we first took in some old log settlement homes, then made a steep mile-long hike up to the rocks themselves (it was nice to hike w/o a load!). The views were expansive, and the rocks themselves were pretty badass. Then we hiked back down to the bikes. After lunch (tuna sammy & bananas) Sara set off again, waited whenever there was a pull-off, and I eventually caught up. We got some good views, some good photos, and, slowly but surely, we covered ground. And then we got to Love!
And Love, I realize, is not really the litmus test — there’s a lot more climbing ahead of us, and my knee’s still a bugaboo. We’re looking at short days for the next little bit, hoping to work my endurance back up gradually, but not so gradually that we get caught in the snow. It’s all a balance but, hey, we made it this far. Now we’re camped out beside the Royal Oaks Country Store, and we’re fed and showered (the store proprietor opened up one of his "efficiency cabins" and let us use the bathroom!) and ready enough to do it again tomorrow.
Day 9 — 18 miles. 2,500’ elevation gain (w/ bikes). Views: √ Exhaustion: √
All for now.