93. It’s a number that’s been very much on our minds today. It’s not our planned mileage. Nope, it’s the temperature. The heat wave in Virginia is continuing to sweat it out and it’s doing its best to knock us for six we continue climbing the Appalachians. The apparent wind of cycling does cool you as you ride, but when you stop, or slow down on a hill, the heat takes its grip, so we are constantly reaching for our water-bottles.
Running out of water may be a worry, but we are regularly passing farms and houses so should be fine. A more immediate fear is dogs that like to give chase to anything on two wheels. Most are just defending their properties and after a bit of bravado give up pretty quickly. But we know there will be some that won’t back down so easily. Kentucky is supposed to be particularly bad, so with the border getting ever closer our initial task today was to arm up.
Our first line of defence we already have – dog dazers – an electronic device which releases a high pitched frequency undetectable to us but painful to pooches. But we needed more, so after leaving our motel in Lexington we headed up to Walmart in search of suitable weaponry. Unfortunately the shop that has everything (imagine Tescos but much bigger) doesn’t sell pepper spray anymore. But we could have bought a selection of guns. Just imagine a world where you could buy a Sainsbury’s own brand rifle: “Sainsbury’s, where good guns cost less”. Tescos: “Every bullet helps….”. Crazy.
Fortunately at 130 South Main Street, Lexington, there still exists an independent bike shop. Run by Andy Hunter for the past 38 years it’s one of those places which does everything from selling the smallest spare part to servicing and new bikes. We looked longingly at the lightweight machines on offer, lean gazelles compared to our sturdy pack horses parked up outside, but opted for two cans of HALT! and a new set if gloves for me (I’d lost mine on the first day).
Then we were finally off, into beautiful countryside with tight narrow lanes and rolling hills which could have been rural France or Britain, were it not for the exotic fauna. Huge swallowtail butterflies fluttered alongside us with brightly decorated yellow wings, turtles dawdled across the road and at one point a large black snake slid its way across the tarmac.
We saw very few cars today, following a windy path alongside mountain brooks and streams. Birds dashed about the hedgerows while birds of prey, with barn door wings, sent shadows gliding over the roads and forced our eyes skywards. At one point Terry counted 14 soaring together in the thermals above the woods. It was glorious, despite the heat and the climbing, yet as often been the case, the small towns in between offered little for the passing cyclist.
The town of Buchanan may have been historic, but all the restaurants and delis were closed, apart from one which was open but had no power. Once again we relied on petrol stations to keep us going, offering free water, topped up with energy drinks and Starbucks bottles of ice cold Frappacino. Yes I know it’s Starbucks, but I’ve little interest in their tax affairs in the UK when I’m parched in the US. Needs must.
In Daleville we were forced to take over for a few minutes as thunder rumbled overhead and rain began, but soon we were on our way again. As we approached Catawaba, our intended night stop, the hills seemed never ending. In the end we gave up predicting which one was the last, penultimate, or even pre-penultimate! I’ve always found hills difficult, but Terry has a useful technique which is proving very effective – weaving. It’s got nothing to do with basket-making, but helps prevent you becoming a basket case. I’ll let him explain more in another post.
Our constant companion for the final 10 miles or so was the Appalachian ridge to our left, which is part of a trail and featured in Bill Bryson’s book “A Walk in the Woods”. Views of the spectacular Catawaba valley are well worth the climbing but we were looking forward to arriving in the town, which promised a general store with restaurant and camping. I was particularly looking forward to it after developing a bout of Montazuma’s Revenge (perhaps cheese salsa sarnies aren’t the best start to the day). So imagine our disappointment after 70 hard fought miles, to find the store closed down (yes another one) and the restaurant only open from Thursday to Sunday.
There followed, perhaps our lowest point so far. Suffice it to say it involved something bears do in the woods and Terry and I losing each other. Eventually reunited, after being offered the chance to camp on someone’s front lawn, we discovered a local garage a little further down the road with hot coffee, food , Imodium, a toilet (hurrah!) and they even allowed us to pitch our tents on the grass by the side. Not exactly the Ritz but to us, a life saver. So thanks to the folks of the Catawba Grocery who even cooked a pizza for us specially.
Miles today: 70.02
Miles from First Landing: 426.26
Here’s the Garmin report of today’s ride: