It’s Terry’s better half, Liz’s birthday today and he was determined to yell it from the mountain. So it was a good job our task today was to climb the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and search for the lonesome pine in the pale moonshine etc. It wasn’t quite night-time when we left the Cookie Lady’s House, but it was our earliest start yet. By 7.35am we were out finishing the murderous climb through Afton which took us up to The Blue Ridge Parkway.
Everyone worries about crossing the Rockies, but those who’ve completed the TransAmerica always cite the Appalachians, of which the Blue Ridge are part, as one of the main hurdles. Fortunately we timed our arrival perfectly, the day was still cool and the Parkway was virtually deserted, albeit for the occasional cyclist and biker.
It was hard, more than 2,000 feet up from Afton and numerous peaks to cross, but it was made so much easier by a silky smooth tarmac surface and breath-taking views over the Sherandoah Valley and the surrounding peaks with extraordinary names such as Humpback Mountain and Devil’s Knob. There are very few facilities up on the ridge, so you have to go prepared, in particular ensuring you have enough water. Terry’s Top Tip: fill up your water bottles at every opportunity.
After 18 miles of climbing, which took all morning, we stopped for lunch at a campsite at Love, just west of Reeds Gap, where hummingbirds buzz and flit above your head and where we filled our bottles with mountain water from an old iron pump. The people up here are very different from those we’d met in places such as Charlottesville, much more reserved, quieter, almost living in another age the frantic pace of modern life has failed to reach. Long may it last.
As well as providing camping facilities, you can also get married at the Royal Oaks, Love, but watch out for the black bears who trawl through the dumpsters and who recently damaged some of the wedding equipment. As we continued climbing, I began to worry about bears coming at us from both sides. Remembering that you need to make noise so as not to startle them, I sang random tunes before resorting to a blast of Count Basie from my I-phone. Terry was not impressed, but let’s be honest if a hungry bear spots us two cycling past who is he going for – the scrawny fast one or the flat slow one? I’m top bear-fodder on two wheels, so Basie plays on.
Yet it seems both of us are tasty enough for dogs. Coming down from the Parkway to Vesuvius involves a fast four mile descent with tricky switchbacks and has to be ridden extremely carefully to avoid over-cooking the bends and slamming into the rock face . You can’t take your hands off the brakes for a second. Just as the gradient eased and the worst seemed over a selection of dogs chased us out of town and there was much relief when we finally reached the railway crossing and they’d given up the pursuit.
A beautiful and relaxed ride alongside the South River followed with colourful butterflies scooting about and the occasional waterfall, before a food stop at a local shop five miles from Lexington. These old-fashioned stores (in the nicest sense) sell everything from home made stews to hot-dogs, salads, newspapers etc. Wyants Store which we visited yesterday even sold three sizes of live minnows from tanks on the front porch to be used as bait.
Finally arrived in Lexington (a small interesting town and burial place of General Robert Lee and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson) around tea-time and began searching for somewhere to stay, eventually opting for Motel 6 on the outskirts (discounts for Adventure Cycling Association members). A top meal of sweaty cheese (essence of pannier) with dry bread flavoured with salsa. Yum.
Oh – and by the way “Happy Birthday Liz” and sorry to Terry for the almost continuous Laurel and Hardy impressions today. Though I’m sure I heard him say this cycling across America lark was another fine mess I’d got him into. If you’d like to check out our singing, take a look at the videos page – but you’ve been warned!
Miles today: 54.80
Miles since First Landing: 356.24
Here’s today’s Garmin report: