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Days 10 & 11: The Highs Are High

Let me catch you up on an epic couple of days.

So. A bike venture of this scale (like just about anything on this scale) is not always fun. But more on that later — when you’re flying, you’re really flying. And on Days 10 and 11, we were flying.

Day 10 found us breaking camp pretty early in Love, VA and back on the Blue Ridge Parkway by a little before 8 AM. Even though you’re doing a formidable amount of climbing, the Parkway just rewards you for it again and again. The roads out of Love are long, snaking switchbacks, girded up by old stone walls, with deep blue peaks and dark green hillsides stretching off into forever. The air is practically drinkable, and every so often a hawk wheels by overhead. A group of road bikers travelled alongside us for a little while, encouraging us and extolling the countryside around Lexington (our destination for the day).

the long and winding road

Soon enough, we left the Parkway by way of Route 56 (aka, Tye River Turnpike). We’d had a bit of warning about this road, which drops you right down out of the mountains by way of a wild 3+ mile descent, steep switchbacks the whole way down. We both went into it carefully — and my god, what a ride! Sure, you’re riding the brakes the whole time, but it’s still an incredible rush. When I was a little kid, I used to wish desperately for the power of flight (the result, no doubt, of lots of fairy literature) — we’d sometimes go skiing with friends and going down the slopes with no poles was the closest I ever felt to growing wings. These days, it’s biking, and especially descents like this. You land in the town of Vesuvius feeling like some kind of raptor who just spotted a fish from a mile up and tore down through the winds to grab it.

The roads out of Vesuvius roll gently enough through more stretches of picturesque Virginia farmland, cutting back and forth across some train-tracks and the South River. The only bummer is that you’ve got to do another round of long, steep climbing right outside of Lexington to get into the city, and by that point we were pretty tired and ready to be done. (I’m coming to have a mild dread of 1) approaching cities, 2) cute little babbling creeks crossing your paths. There’s almost always a big ol’ hill involved right before the one or right after the other.)

We schlepped into Lexington and posted up in Jordan’s Point Park, which is on an island in the middle of the Maury River as soon as you cross into the city. Beau held the fort, and I went and picked up sandwiches — which ended up being obscenely massive. Then we passed out on our tarp for a while, while big squads of cadets from the nearby Virginia Military Institute did a bunch of coordinated shouting on the soccer fields across the way.

Beau judges this sandwich.

Lexington was our first Warm Showers experience, and I cannot praise this awesome community enough. For anyone not familiar, Warm Showers is a site that brings together cyclists and other travelers and allows you to offer hosting or look for a place to stay when you’re on the road. Folks give you their spare bedrooms or let you camp in their yards. Sometimes they even feed you and let you do laundry. It’s a really amazing group — people who’ve had hospitality offered to them and who are excited to extend it to others. We weren’t sure what we’d find during COVID, but what we’re finding is continuing thoughtfulness and generosity. In a way, COVID compels you to be up front about your own comfort and safety and that of others — it forces more communication about how to navigate a tricky situation together. Which is never a bad muscle to exercise.

Anyway, in Lexington we were lucky enough to be hosted by the amazing Dirk and Chrissy. They filled us full of excellent food (Grilled veggies! Homemade Belgain frites! Chocolate chip cookies! Scrambled eggs from their own chickens!) and told us stories of their various and super-impressive outdoor pursuits. They’re both big cyclists (road/mountain/etc.), runners, and—most extreme of all—“Adventure Racers.” To put it plainly: They are intense badasses.

And it’s a good thing they are. Because, frankly, I might not have faced Day 11 without their inspiration. When we woke up for Day 11’s ride out of Lexington, it was pouring rain, and clearly going to do so all day long. I had a private moment of despair, but Chrissy was downstairs making everyone scrambled eggs and bacon, and I swear I thought: “I can’t disappoint Dirk and Chrissy!” So, we buckled down, ate the good food, thanked the good people, and got on the damn road.

Livin' that wet bike life

And you know what? It was kind of awesome. Of course, the start of riding in the rain is always at least a little miserable — but once you’re wet enough, you just kind of go on. You act like our cat Henry every time we move him to a new location: “Well, this is Life now.” And you just pedal. We did over fifty miles in the rain, sometimes drizzling and sometimes driving, from Lexington to Troutsville, and for the last 10 or so miles we were pushing hard. Up and down the kind of rolling country hills where the downhills just don’t give you enough momentum to handle all the inclines, even when they look relatively harmless. By the time we arrived at our hotel (hell yeah we sprang for a hotel that night: WE RODE FIFTY MILES IN THE RAIN OKAY), we were dead beat. But also elated. Not gonna lie, I felt pretty fuckin’ victorious.

The day ended with me ordering a pizza which put even our massive sandwiches of the day before to shame.

Beau judges this pizza.

(Beau says I’m not allowed to order the food anymore.) We barely made a dent in it, drank some beers, gave each other massages, and passed out. And we even found a home for the embarrassing amount of leftover pizza the next day! In the morning, I went to ask the woman doing the housekeeping in our hallway if we could have some plastic trash bags (to wrap around our socked feet inside our shoes, which were still soaked through from the day before) and she saw my shirt. This is a t-shirt I’ve had since college, courtesy of the Yale Art Gallery. It’s bright orange and says “WHAT IS ART AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?” She gave me the trash-bags and then paused and laughed: “I like that!” she said, “So, why does it matter?” So we talked about what art is and why it matters for a second, and then I was like, “Also we ordered an insane amount of pizza last night if you want any...?” She cracked up again and grabbed her son, who was working with her, and said, “Hell yeah, let’s go see what we got!” So. The Monster Pizza had a good destiny after all.

That’s it for now, friends. There are plenty of moments of slog — but there are moments of flight, too. May we continue to allow for the one, and celebrate the other. Over and out.

Day 10: Love to Lexington, VA. 31 miles (plus another 10 jaunting around town); 2375 feet of climbing; 4100 of descent!

Day 11: Lexington to Troutsville, VA. 50.5 miles; 2875 feet of climbing; Several Inches of rain; 15 pounds of pizza.

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