Today had it all, rain, wind, hail, a sudden dog attack and finally camping down in a town packed with Appalachian hikers. After being holed up yesterday peering out the window at the rain from our motel room at Fort Chiswell, Terry was keen to get going as early as possible this morning. I’m not quite sure why he wanted to leave so quickly as the truck stop had seemed an ideal place to spend his 60th birthday. It had everything your average vegetarian dreams of: Denny’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Burger King.
But we’d made the best of it with the delights of stacked pecan and banana pancakes as a second breakfast, plus Mexican for dinner. But best of all we had free and fast wi-fi so both managed to Skype/Facebook Liz, Kate and Ellie as well as reply to emails, catch up with friends and update the blog. Cycling for miles and miles each day your mind often wanders to those back at home, so great to keep in touch – and for Terry to receive more birthday wishes.
The good news is the Virginian heat wave appears to be over, for now. But in its place the temperature has dropped dramatically (we both wore jackets all day) and the hot still air has been replaced by a lively westerly – just what we don’t need.
Inevitably the day started with a long uphill climb. We are so used to it now we expect nothing else, the granny ring has become the default position. Jonathan and Jerry from Oregon had also been held up at Ft Chiswell so we saw them several times during the morning. At a Sugar Grove, a pretty little village in the shadow of Mount Rogers, a great gathering of TransAm cyclists happened as we joined Jonathan and Jerry and and husband and wife team Phillip and Linda Cardinal (The Surly Bike Team) who are also cycling East to West. A quick photo session followed and soon we were all on our way.
It turned out to be a day for meetings as earlier we’d come across sisters Lisa and Melinda from Washington State, also on route to Oregon. Lisa was pulling a trailer and they were also carrying chairs and bottles of gin – brilliant. (I’ve tried to get Terry to take on the gin-carrying role, but he is currently refusing).
A long hard climb up to Troutdale and down to Konnarock eventually saw us dashing into the trees as rain and the hail began falling heavily, but within around 10 minutes the sun was out and we rode through clouds of steam vapourising from the warming tarmac.
The countryside is still spectacular – we are deep in the Appalachian mountains surrounded by trees, mountain streams and rivers and the constant sound of birdsong. So it came as a real shock about ten miles out from Damascus, when a pair of dogs shot out from a house on our right as we rounded a bend. There was something about their speed and demeanour and we instantly knew this wasn’t our usual encounter.
We kicked down on the pedals but they were too fast and suddenly I felt the Surly slow as if it was being dragged backwards. One of the dogs had hold of my bike. “It’s got the xxxxing bike!” I yelled to Terry in blind panic. Everything had happened so fast, there had been no time to grab the Halt! spray or take evasive action. Terry, riding round on my outside, fired a blast from the dog dazer and instantly my bike shot forward. I’d been saved my my wingman, Iceman Wooller.
We rode a few more corners as fast as possible to make up some safe distance between us and the dogs and stopped. I was shaking. We examined the bike and realised the dog had sunk its teeth into my rear right pannier, which was now punctured. It had been a frightening experience and I couldn’t help thinking what would have happened if that had been my leg, or if Terry hadn’t been there.
Fortunately things got a lot better as we arrived in Damascus. It was a Trail-Day weekend meaning hikers from all over the country were converging on the town for special events including seminars, trade-stands and concerts.
There was a great atmosphere – we’ve been through so many American small towns that seem deserted, but Damascus was buzzing. We headed for ‘The Place’ a hostel run by the Damascus United Methodist Church and were met by Atlas (imagine a shorter version of Seasick Steve complete with white beard) who showed us around. All the bunks inside were taken, but he gave us a camping spot right next to the hostel where we joined a small tent city, mostly occupied by bearded hikers (only the men obviously) a good-natured gathering with a shared love of the outdoors and travelling. So although we weren’t wearing hiking boots we fitted right in.
As we were pitching our tents we met our first TransAmerican Brit. Harry from West London had left the Pacific Coast in March and was making his way East. He’d gone off route for a hundred miles or so at one point and came to a dead end, so advised sticking to the maps. Although he’d had a few stand offs with dogs he’d experienced nothing as serious as our encounter a few hours before.
We ate at our restaurant of choice ‘Subway’ which may sound bizarre, but finding food that contains anything green is proving tricky on the trail. Because the TransAmerica runs as much as possible on small local roads you bypass all the big stores and restaurant chains, meaning much of our daily intake is coming from garages where fresh fruit and veg are rarely seen.
A diet of Snickers bars, pastries and cans of Dr Pepper are no way to fuel a long distance bike ride and it’s beginning to tell. In fact it’s becoming one of the three most important things on our mind – finding decent food, somewhere to stay and keeping clear of dogs. We don’t worry about hills anymore – they are a given.
By the time we left Subway heavy rain had set in so we dashed back, got dry chatting to Atlas and some young hikers, hit the showers and collapsed into out tents. Many of the hikers had opted to sleep in hammocks under tarps, including a chap I met from Northern Ireland who had attempted to walk the Appalachian Trail the year before, but had not finished in time and was now walking it again from the start in Georgia. He swore by sleeping in a hammock and I left him trying to find suitable trees.
As we settled down in our tents, across town a band was entertaining thousands of hikers who’d turned up for the weekend. But the life of a TransAmerica cyclist is to sleep and move on – although it was somewhere we’d loved to have stayed longer.
Today’s Mileage: 68.66
Mileage since First Landing: 567.11
Here is the full Garmin report: