Olympic Delays

Day 149 • July 28, 2012 •  Rockville to Reisterstown, MD •  45 miles

We found one more way to avoid riding:  watching the Olympics.  We happened upon the opening ceremonies in our motel room last night and got sucked in.  Zoe was pretty impressed by the Queen.  Everywhere we stopped today had the Olympics going, turning an otherwise short stop into a marathon as we waited to see the outcome of whatever contest we stumbled upon.  But it was hot outside and cool inside so it worked out to our advantage. 

Since DC we’re on a strict schedule to make NYC the same day Lisa and my mom arrive.  No more rest days.  We could slip a couple days and still make the train home, but we’d blow some prime sightseeing in NYC and waste everyone’s time.  Lisa would not be happy.  We were highly motivated to meet our schedule.   One advantage of this uncharacteristically strict schedule is that we actually knew where we would be six nights in a row which allowed us to take advantage of Warm Showers.  Even though we’ve been generally successful at meeting our mileage goals, on any given day we rarely had high confidence of making our destination.  This was partially by choice—why constrain ourselves to an arbitrary stopping point?  But this philosophy made it difficult to coordinate with potential Warm Showers hosts, so for the most part I didn’t.  Now, with the end game mapped out, I was able to line up hosts for all but one of the remaining days. 

Our host tonight was not a Warm Showers host but someone who had reached out to us early in the ride.  Charlie was following some of the ‘bent blogs, thinking about giving a recumbent trike a try, and came across our blog.  He noticed that our route included his town of Reisterstown and offered us a place to stay when we got here.  Against all odds, I kept track of his contact info and our actual route matched the plan.  To everyone who offered us a place to stay that I either misplaced or was off our final route:  Thank you, and sorry it didn’t work out.  Our stay with Charlie worked out great—we got our own bedroom in his beautiful home, he cooked us dinner, and we geeked out on trike stuff.   He also had some good advice on routing through Maryland and Pennsylvania.  I recently got an email from Charlie—he’s the proud owner of a new (to him) HP Velotechnik Scorpion trike.  Charlie, bring that sucker out to Idaho and let’s ride!

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Subway

Day 148 • July 27, 2012 • Vienna, VA to Rockville, MD •  49 miles

Seth escorted us on our way today, taking his usual morning commute to DC.  It’s a pretty sweet ride but we were thankful we had Seth leading the way or we might still be trying to negotiate all the twists and turns.  Between the Metro, the cycling, and the walking we found DC to be a pretty friendly place;  the cleanest and mellowest big city we’d encountered.  We said goodbye to Seth at the Capitol Mall and decided to do a little more sightseeing on our way out of town.  We hadn’t yet visited the capitol building.   Of course we were fully loaded at this point and when we tried to park at the visitor center so we could get Zoe’s passport stamped we were turned away by security.  The trikes were no problem but we couldn’t leave any bags on them for fear that they might be hiding bombs or something.  The security guards were very nice though and agreed to watch the trikes and Zoe while I quickly ran in for the stamp. 

Sightseeing complete, we stopped for lunch #1 at Subway.  As much as I hate spending money on national chain restaurants, this one has really saved our diets throughout the trip.  They’re as common as McDonalds these days and much more likely to be in the really small towns.  The food is reasonably healthy, fresh, consistent, fast, and cheap.   I may never eat there again after this trip but when the alternatives are greasy fast food, greasy diners, greasy convenience stores, and our own greasy slop that we’d been carrying around for weeks because we can’t stand the sight of it, Subway looks pretty good.

After the National Mall we were on the Rock Creek multi-use path much of the day.  It meandered along Rock Creek, past the back side of the National Zoo and through the vast Rock Creek Park.  As usual for a trail like this the signage was inconsistent and frustrating (I had choicer words at the time) and we spent a lot of time trying to stay on the trail.  The GPS provided limited help because the trails we were on either weren’t shown or weren’t labeled so it was difficult to make the right choice at intersections with other trails.  The Windows Phone uses the same Navteq/Nokia map data so wasn’t much better, but did have the advantage of showing satellite imagery which would sometimes reveal where trails were heading.  It usually worked to pick the trail closest to Rock Creek. 

At one point near Rockville we got to a particularly perplexing five-way intersection.  Making the wrong choice meant a lot of wasted time and perhaps some night riding so I was slowly figuring it out with the tools at hand.  A local biker rode up and offered help.  Even he wasn’t exactly sure which trail we were on or which way we should go, so he popped out his iPhone and brought up the Google map, zooming in to all of the trails in question, nicely labeled.  Instantly we had our answer.  In the era of iPhone/Android, this is only the second time I’ve felt the iPhone had a superior experience to my Windows phone.  The first was when my niece Courtney whipped out hers and immediately began streaming the content on which my phone was stuttering, probably reflecting my underpowered Samsung Focus hardware.  For years, Navteq’s lack of map detail for trails has been a problem for me and one over which I’ve considered dumping both Windows and Garmin.

We couldn’t figure out any camping so wound up staying at the Best Western in Rockville.

Seth's morning commute

Senator Slash

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Junior Ranger

Day 143-147 • July 22-26, 2012 • Fredericksburg to Vienna, VA •  51 miles

For our stay in DC we took advantage of our well-placed friends Seth and Anne.  Unfortunately Catherine, a couple years older than Zoe, was away at summer camp this week.  And let’s not forget their dog Charlie, but please don’t tell him he’s a dog. They live in Vienna which is maybe 15 miles from the Capitol Mall, a short ride on the Metro or the bike.  Zoe and I got pretty good at negotiating the Metro.

Sunday proved to be a good day for the ride to Vienna as traffic was considerably lighter than yesterday.  We stuck to the direct route, taking highways 1 and 123 and then some progressively smaller county and residential roads.  We were pleasantly surprised by a decent bike path along most of Highway 123.  A few miles out we had our third and final flat of the trip.  I’d let the rear tire, the third of the trip and new in Denver, get a little too worn and it self-destructed on us.  Not to worry, we slapped on the spare tire and kept going.  We’d now used every piece of equipment we’d been lugging across the country.  I took a mild gamble and rode the rest of the trip without a spare tire.

Zoe and I donned our tackiest outfits (pretty much what we’d been riding in) and attached cameras to wrists for four days of power tourism.  At the National Mall, Zoe hit the mother lode for her national park passport, getting as many stamps in one day as the entire trip up to that point.  They made it a little too easy—just visit the gift shop at the Washington Monument and you’ll find stamps for all of the memorials and sites in DC, regardless whether you actually visited them.  In the spirit of the Junior Ranger Code, we only stamped what we visited.  Still, a lot of stamps.  The Junior Ranger program came in particularly handy for the National Mall.  Completing the workbook took us through the major monuments in an orderly, efficient manner and taught both of us a lot.  Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Constitution Gardens, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial.  That was one full day, whew!  At the end of it of course Zoe was awarded another Junior Ranger jurisdiction.  I don’t think many kids avail themselves of the program in DC, as the ranger was a little taken aback when Zoe walked up with her workbook ready for grading.  He quickly recovered, fabricating a swearing-in ceremony on the fly complete with right hand raised and eloquent, patriotic words.  The workbook was pretty tough and required a lot of collaboration;  I felt I was just as entitled to a Junior Ranger appointment as Zoe.  That idea yielded a stern and suspicious look from the ranger so I stepped back and let Zoe’s swearing-in commence.

We spent another day at the National Zoo.  Highlights include seeing the giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tai Shan (we were too polite to figure out which was which), the Think Tank, an offshoot of the Orangutan exhibit which asks the question “do animals think?”, and the O-Line.  The O-Line is an overhead cable connecting two separate orangutan exhibits together.  At certain times of day, the orangutans are allowed to travel between the exhibits, swinging over the heads of the zoo patrons.  Unfortunately no orangutans were swinging the day we visited, or maybe we just missed them.  Or maybe the concept was a colossal failure and they don’t do it anymore, I don’t know.  But it’s a cool idea.

Up until now the price of admission for all of our sightseeing was free, which I still find amazing.  The quality and quantity of museums, memorials, parks, etc. is impressive.  At the risk of belaboring the point, the national park Junior Ranger and passport programs are extremely well done and for me represent a great return on my tax investment.  On Anne’s advice we actually paid to see the International Spy Museum and really got a kick out of it.  They do a great job mixing historical and cultural, whimsical and serious aspects of the “spy trade” into a diverse, hands-on set of exhibits.  I think Zoe’s favorite was the Aston Martin spy car from the Bond movies, complete with protracting machine guns.  Or maybe crawling through the ductwork and spying on the museum patrons.

Flags were at half mast because of the recent shooting in Aurora, CO.

Orange LineNatural History Museum

Washington MonumentNew MLK memorialNo Fear

Giant Panda

The O Line

Seth - Aspiring Junior Ranger

Atlantic Coast Route

Day 141-142 • July 20-21, 2012 • Mineral to Fredericksburg, VA •  48 miles

We left the Adventure Cycling TransAmerica trail and began heading north Atlantic Coaston Highway 522, Route 208, and Highway 1, eventually picking up a small piece of the Atlantic Coast route south of Fredericksburg.  We continued our practice of paralleling the AC routes because we preferred straighter, more direct roads.  These proved to be good roads with light traffic until we reached the outskirts of Fredericksburg.   Once on Highway 1 traffic got steadily heavier the further north we traveled.

We had a gray ride with rain threatening most of the first day, but much cooler.  We spent the night at a KOA south of Fredericksburg as conditions deteriorated into heavy rain overnight and periodically throughout the next day.  Between the rain, increasing traffic on Highway 1, and increasing soreness in my left foot we only made it another 10 miles or so the next day before opting for the Quality Inn in Fredericksburg.  We were doing OK on our schedule for New York and made a bet on better weather and lighter traffic tomorrow, a Sunday.  I was beginning to worry that my foot problem might become a show-stopper—what a drag it would be to get stopped this close to the end.  The pain had been getting steadily worse since climbing up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, we’d just have to see whether some rest days in DC will be enough to reverse the trend.

This entry represents two days of riding because with a little less rain and traffic and a little more motivation we would have done this mileage in a single day.  And for the first time I can barely distinguish between two consecutive days on the road.

Monticello

Day 140 • July 19, 2012 • Charlottesville to Mineral, VA •  46 miles

The plan was to visit Monticello today so last night we stayed in the Charlottesville Budget Inn so that we could get an early start.  I had reserved the first tour of the day and we arrived in time to scout the entire premises of the visitors center for bike parking, to no avail.  We ended up wedging ourselves between some trees and the edge of the parking lot, locking to a hand rail for some steps.  When it was time to leave mid-morning, we were completely blocked in by cars.  Thankfully Brad and Virginia were about to leave and we were able to squeeze out through their empty slot.  They were on holiday from Melbourne, Australia, enjoying a picnic lunch in the parking lot when we walked up. They said they were loving everything about the US but the food.  They found much of the food on the road to be over-processed and unhealthy but were happy to have found some fresh produce at roadside stand today.  We could relate.

Zoe and I both enjoyed Monticello.  Our tour guide was excellent and the entire staff at the site seem to be life-long or aspiring Jeffersonians, so you could experience lively and informed discussion of Thomas Jefferson’s life and contributions from almost anyone you met.  The home is kept in immaculate and historically accurate condition.  There are lots of hands-on activities for kids which nearly blew our schedule today because Zoe was so interested.  Of course the alternative was another hot, mid-day ride so we were both highly incented to enjoy Monticello.

When we finally got back on the road, we ditched the meandering TransAmerica routing for all the usual reasons and rode instead on Highway 250 and Route 208 to Louisa.  This was a good route, the only negative was a lot of traffic on Route 208.  It was getting late when we arrived in Louisa and we had hoped to spend the night there but couldn’t find camping.  After dinner we rode the short distance to Mineral and camped at the fire department where we enjoyed hot showers and the distant music of a local bluegrass festival.  Mineral was our last stop on the TransAmerica trail.  Tomorrow we would begin heading north, eventually picking up the Atlantic Coast trail, our last Adventure Cycling trail of the trip.

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Cookie Lady

Day 139 • July 18, 2012 • Love to Charlottesville, VA •  37 miles

As we travelled further east and spent more nights in towns, we’d become less concerned with critters.  Up on the parkway, however, we should have been taking precautions.  Keith, the owner of Royal Oaks where we spent last night, brought us back to reality when he casually mentioned that bears had been regularly entering the area and getting into the trash.  He’d had to build a cage around the trash cans, which was now bent and battered from one of the visits.  The lawn we were camping on was right next to the trash.  I really didn’t want to experience bears up close, particularly if they are accustomed to (unafraid of) humans.  We scooted the tent as far from the trash cans as possible, hung our food for the night, and kept one eye open.

We got some help with our bear watch.  Shortly before bed a woman drove up and shouted a greeting our way as if we were old friends.  I wandered over and met Sonshine Rivers.  She’d just had a pretty rough day, getting lost and stranded in the backwoods of Virginia, but was in a remarkably good mood.  She was staying in a nearby cabin and said she was a light sleeper—if we encountered bear trouble just yell and she’d be there.  This was reassuring but I was still glad we had the food hanging in the trees.

Sonshine was doing some marketing work for Royal Oaks and grabbed some snacks and water for us.   Her positive energy was infectious and pretty soon we were talking about breaking out the guitars—she is an accomplished R&B singer-songwriter with a bona-fide CD out, recorded in Nashville.  Zoe and I thought that was pretty cool, and in the morning we did break out the guitar and Zoe played a couple songs for Sonshine.  As I write this I’m listening to her CD for the first time, it’s quite good.

Since Mammoth Cave, Zoe has developed a sixth sense for Junior Ranger programs.  We scored again today at Humpback Rocks Visitors Center.  She’s now a thrice-decorated Junior Ranger.

Our time on top of the world was brief.  On the way down the east side of the Appalachians and off the Parkway, we stopped in Afton to see the Cookie Lady, June Curry.  June is another icon on the TransAmerica trail, having witnessed the original 1976 Bikecentennial ride which inspired her to serve the cyclists travelling the trail ever since with lodging, decades of TransAm cycling memorabilia, and fresh cookies.  We knew it was unlikely we would see June, her health was failing, but the word from westbound cyclists we’d recently met on the road was that her hostel was still operating and well worth the stop to see the memorabilia alone.  When we arrived, however, the building was locked up.  When we inquired in town we learned that June Curry had died two days prior.  Here’s a eulogy from Adventure Cycling.

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Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 138 • July 17, 2012 • Lexington to Love, VA •  39 miles

The original plan was to spend last night near Vesuvius so we could start the day with the big climb onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Yesterday’s fun added about 20 miles of gradual climbing before we hit the big hill.  Instead of camping at Vesuvius we just ate there, fuelling up and psyching up at Gertie’s Country Store. Gertie is an icon on the TransAm trail and she still cranks out some good food.  The walls of the diner are covered in signatures from customers, a high percentage touring cyclists.  The walls were pretty full and we couldn’t reach the ceiling so Zoe added ours to the window blind on the door.  Gertie has been avoiding some remodeling because she doesn’t want to lose all the signatures.

The meat of the hill was 1500 feet in about three miles.  This didn’t seem so bad but it was the last point in the trip that had the potential to be steeper than we could crank; after that it was down the other side into a relatively flat tidal plain.  I needn’t have worried.  It was definitely a grind and a couple of the switchbacks were graded more like steps than ramps, but it was nothing we hadn’t seen before.  There were two strikes against us though—the temperatures were creeping back up into the mid-90’s and that foot soreness I developed a few days ago was back.  Once on top of the ridge we enjoyed the view and eventually worked our way to a campsite at Royal Oaks Cabins in Love.

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Ghost Tour

Day 137 • July 16, 2012 • Natural Bridge to Lexington, VA •  10 miles

We were a whopping ten miles into the ride today and I could feel Lexington drawing us in.  It was a beautiful day in an old southern town with a ton of history and a horse-drawn carriage clomping around.  Zoe didn’t need much convincing to stop for a while.  We soon discovered there was a ghost tour tonight so we decided to stay.  Goofing off today is what Steve’s quick drivetrain repair bought us back in Catawba.

But first we had to figure out lodging.  For that we simply loitered in front of Washington Street Purveyors long enough for Chuck, the purveyor, to notice.  We chatted for a while and when he learned we needed a place to camp, he contacted his buddy James who runs the Outing Club at Washington and Lee University (WLU).  Just like that we had several camping options, the best being about a block up the road in the back yard of a big old house.   At one point in our loitering we met Chuck’s family, including his daughter Jenner, named after one of her parents’ favorite towns during a west coast vacation– Jenner, CA.  It wasn’t our favorite town when Zoe and I passed through back in March, but under better circumstances I’m sure it’s quite charming.  Chuck and James’ hospitality in Lexington more than made up for the cold shoulder we got in Jenner. 

With camping secured we could now goof off in earnest.   We took a historic tour of Lexington by horse-drawn carriage, riding up front with the driver.  We wandered around town on our own.  And once it was dark, we got another historic tour of Lexington, this time focused on their legendary ghosts and other nefarious happenings.  Our guide was equal parts creepy and funny, making for an entertaining evening.   Between our walking and the tours, we visited the Lee Chapel and Stonewall Jackson’s house at the WLU campus as well as Jackson’s grave at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery—a pretty spooky place in the glow of a gas lantern.

Lexington is perched atop a sizeable hill but we learned it used to be higher and steeper.  Carriages would regularly get stuck or careen out of control on the steep grade of the main downtown streets so in the 1850’s they lowered street level by ten feet.  What were once doors and windows at street level are now on the second floor.  The work of moving the earth was done by hand and every resident was expected to help.

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Just in Time

Day 136 • July 15, 2012 • Daleville to Natural Bridge, VA •  34 miles

We followed Highway 11 today instead of the myriad smaller roads called IMG_1164out on the TransAmerica route, except where Highway 11 and Interstate 81 coincided.  This worked out great, with lighter than expected traffic possibly due to it being Sunday morning in the Bible Belt.  There were certainly a lot of churches with overflowing parking lots this morning.  Since Catawba we’d been paralleling the Appalachian Trail.  This continued today until we crossed the James River near Buchanan. 

Mid-afternoon thunderstorms had been the norm since Wytheville and today was no exception.  Near Natural Bridge we ducked into a service station to avoid a heavy shower, where we met Rob and Big Q.  They had recently begun their journey west on the TransAmerica route.  It looks like Q left the trip in Harrisburg, IL but as of this posting Rob is still going, currently in Wyoming.

Conditions were dry the remainder of the day but increasingly threatening.   By the time we reached the actual natural bridge I was concerned that a stop there would put us in the middle of an early evening thunderstorm so I convinced Zoe to press on.  We reached a KOA Kampground east of Natural Bridge in time to enjoy one of the most intense thunderstorms of the trip while cooking dinner under a big canopy.  Intense lightning and thunder, an incredible volume of falling rain, but absolutely no wind.

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Virginia Ate my Drivetrain

Day 135 • July 14, 2012 • Christiansburg to Daleville, VA •  48 miles

I would have never guessed that a drivetrain could go from completely functional to almost useless in a single day, but that’s what happened today.  At the bottom of a big hill we were fine and 15 miles later at the top we were skipping every five pedal strokes or so and it was getting rapidly worse.  I wasn’t sure we were going to make it to our destination today, much less climb up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway a few days later.  On the plus side we’d done most of our big climbing for the day but even downhill runs around here are peppered with short, steep climbs.  We’d made it to Catawba which had minimal services and it was mid-day Saturday so if we didn’t take care of this today we’d probably lose a day waiting for a shop near Roanoke to open on Monday.  I didn’t want to venture much further like this—the problem was getting worse and there were about two days worth of riding before we could be confident of finding another bike shop.

We didn’t even have cell coverage in Catawba but the kind folks at the general store let us use their phone to call around to the area bike shops.  We struck out with several until striking gold with Just the Right Gear.  They had what we needed and were only about 6 miles away.  The only problem is that in about an hour they’d be closed for the weekend and I wasn’t sure we could make it in time.   And when I took a look at the road we’d have to take, Route 311, I decided not to even try.  We’d have to climb a big hill we would otherwise have traversed, with a failing drivetrain on a narrow, curvy, and extremely busy road.  When I called back to say we wouldn’t make it in I must have sounded crestfallen because after a moment Steve said he’d just come get us!  Zoe and I ditched as much of our gear as we could behind the general store and waited.  Shortly thereafter Steve showed up in a pickup with a friend in a car just in case we needed the extra storage (we didn’t) and soon we were at the shop.  I knew this trip would trash my drivetrain but thought that with matched wear on the chain and rear cluster I could make it the whole way.  Wrong.  The chain was so worn that we couldn’t get the measuring tool to work.  We replaced the chain and rear cluster, did a quick test ride, and Steve shuttled us back to Catawba where we continued on nary a skip.  Steve really saved the day.  More like two days, really.

We reached Daleville just before dusk and just as a big thunderstorm hit.  Not wanting to set up camp in heavy rain and lighting, we got a room at the Howard Johnson.

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