Michael and Kathy's 2003 bicycle tour, page 4


Page 1, Introduction
Page 2, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas
Page 3, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky
Page 4, Virginia

Saturday, June 14

Distance: 103.7 miles
Riding time: 8 hours, 25 minutes
Average speed: 12.3 mph
Maximum speed: 41.9 mph

We talked with Wayne and Nancy for a while before riding away this morning, telling them how our trip had been and where we planned to ride in Virginia. In addition to their home near "The Breaks" they own another home in the Smokey Mountains, so they've seen plenty of the Appalachians. Our own view of the Appalachians improved today as the mountains seemed to get taller and steeper as we went east.

We began our ride on highway 460 and decided to stay on it all day because it is such a good road - moderate grades, shoulders, good surface. It will take us right through Christiansburg. It also goes through West Virginia for about 30 miles, so we got to pedal through one more state. In the morning we had a tailwind and were traveling at a good rate. It was so good that we decided to try to reach Christiansburg today even though it would be more than a 120-mile ride. We didn't make it, but I think that we would have if the weather had cooperated.

After about 50 miles a heavy rainstorm started. It rained until evening, sometimes heavy and other times light. At times we had to walk our bicycle down steep hills because our brakes were unreliable in the pouring rain. We rode until dark, getting within 20 miles of Christiansburg before giving up and asking a homeowner where we might camp. We're camped in his yard now. We should reach Craig and Paula's house tomorrow morning.

As we were riding in West Virginia an old woman parked her van at the side of the road and motioned for us to stop. She gave us a couple cans of (warm) soda and some coupons to Long John Silver that she though we might use (even though most of them had expired.) Apparently she's a professional aluminum can collector, and had passed us a few times while collecting cans along the road. She told us to call our parents every day. She told us a story of how her son went on a hitchhiking trip a while ago, and she lost contact with him for 9 months, eventually finding him someplace in Florida. It was difficult to understand her story because of the loud, high-speed traffic right behind us. After a few minutes we got back on our bike and moved on. The whole incident was a little strange.


Entering West Virginia.

Sunday and Monday, June 15-16

Distance: 16.8 miles
Riding time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Average speed: 11.9 mph
Maximum speed: 44.2 mph

This is a 2-day journal entry. We've spent the past 2 days in Christiansburg with our friends Craig and Paula. We've also spent time with our friends Joanna and John, who came over from nearby Blacksburg, and life-long friend Steve, who drove 4 hours from northern Virginia to see us. Steve, Paula, Joanna and I went to college together at Virginia Tech, 8 miles from here.

On Sunday Kathy and I packed up quickly, excited for the chance to visit friends and relax. The ride was short and fun since I spent much of it pointing out to Kathy important landmarks from my college days: Pandapas Pond, the New River, Lane Statium, etc. We reached Craig and Paula's house right as the rain began. It has rained a lot over the past two days so we're glad to have been resting rather than biking. We spent most of Sunday on the Virginia Tech campus with our friends while reminising our time in college. Paula cooked a huge dinner for all of us, knowing that Kathy and I would be especially hungry.

Today we hiked to the Cascades, a 66 foot waterfall on Little Stoney Creek. I hiked this 2-mile trail several times back in college, but today was much different. Due to unusually high rainfall this spring the Little Stoney Creek looks more like a roaring river, turbulent and muddy. The trail had water flowing across it in many places and was almost impassable. The waterfall itself was much more powerful than normal and got us all wet with spray.

We've tried to rest some and prepare the bicycle for the remainder of our trip. Our spare tires arrived by UPS today, and I put a new tire on the rear wheel. It turns out that a bike shop in Blacksburg had the tires that we wanted, so we could have bought tires there rather than having them shipped. We degreased and relubed our chains and laundered all of our dirty bike clothes. We're about to start one of the most scenic routes in the United States - the Blue Ridge Parkway. All we need now is good weather. The forecast is for rain, but we're praying for good weather.


Kathy, Michael, Craig, Paula, Joanna and John in front of the Virginia Tech drillfield.


The Torgeson Hall walkway at Virginia Tech.


Steve and Paula evaluate the flooded trail that leads to the Cascades; the Cascades.

Tuesday, June 17

Distance: 72.9 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 57 minutes
Average speed: 10.4 mph
Maximum speed: 35.0 mph

After showers, a nice breakfast with Craig and Paula, and some bike maintainence we began riding at 10:45 a.m. A misty drizzle fell all day long, but we pushed along anyway. We took 460 to the suburbs of Roanoke then took 421 around the south edge of Roanoke, so we spent a lot of time in busy stop-and-go traffic in the rain. It wasn't much fun, but it seemed like the best way to get us onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Shortly before reaching the Parkway our front tire blew out and needed to be replaced. I'm glad that we had 2 spare tires. It looks like we got them just in time.

Once we entered the Blue Ridge Parkway the traffic disappeared. We nearly had the road to ourselves. No commercial traffic is allowed on the Parkway, and very few other vehicles drive on it on Tuesdays. The Parkway normally has spectacular views of the valleys on either side, but we couldn't see them. Low clouds covered the road today, cutting visibility through the fog to about 50 feet. All we could see was gray until the end of the day when moving clouds gave us a short glimpse of a valley.

We've camped tonight at the "Peaks of Otter" campground maintained by the National Park Service. We gained a lot of altitude on the Parkway today and we're very tired now.


The Blue Ridge Parkway. This road was started during the Great Depression as a way to put people to work. All bridges and walls along the road were built from excavated rock so that money was spent on labor rather than on materials.


Poor visibility on the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Clouds block our views of the valleys and other mountain ridges.


A break in the clouds. A long mountain ridge on the right rises into the clouds.

Wednesday, June 18

Distance: 58.0 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 27 minutes
Average speed: 8.9 mph
Maximum speed: 40.9 mph

We rode fewer miles than normal today due to a late start and a hilly road. The rain held off until evening and we had dry roads most of the day, but clouds and haze once again obscured our view of the landscape at overlooks along the road.

We ate breakfast at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, which has a nice restaurant. We wanted to save the food already packed in our panniers because there are only a few places to get food along the Parkway. Outside the restaurant we met a couple bike tourists - 2 guys, probably college students or new high school graduates. They started in Waynesboro, Virginia (86 miles north of here) 3 days ago and are going to Atlanta, Georgia. At the pace they're traveling they must be taking time to hike trails off the road.

Our ride began with a 10-mile uphill to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia at 3950 feet. At this height we could look down on dense clouds covering the valleys below us. The uphill was followed by a 13-mile downhill to the lowest point on the Parkway, the James River at 649 feet. The descent was steep and twisting, making us very glad that we have a drum brake on our bicycle. Even with the drum brake I still used our rim brakes a lot, and our rims got hotter than I like. The rest of the day we rode up and down but it felt like one long uphill. We walked a lot and that slowed us down.

Towards evening it began to rain so we chose to camp at Whetstone Ridge. This is not a designated campground, but I don't think that the park rangers will mind us being here. There are good bathrooms here plus an awning to shield our bicycle from the rain tonight.


1 of the 2 "Peaks of Otter." The origin of this title is unclear, but it could have come from the indian word ottari which means "high places."


These flowers are everywhere on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The bush on the right is called a tulip tree.


Looking down on the clouds from a high point on the road.


The James River, the lowest point on the parkway.

Thursday, June 19

Distance: 82.1 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 17 minutes
Average speed: 12.9 mph
Maximum speed: 42.3 mph

A park ranger greeted me as I stepped out of our tent this morning. He didn't mind the presence of our tent, so we felt better about our choice of campsite. It didn't rain this morning, but the air was still misty and hazy. We looked out from several overlooks but could only faintly see mountain ridges and valley floors. We've begun to wonder if part of the haze is due to air pollution and not just moisture. I've read that Shenandoah National Park, just north of the Parkway, has serious air pollution that reduces visibility.

After 28 miles we came to the north end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway gave us 3 days of peaceful riding since it had extremely little traffic. It also gave us some good views despite the haze, and it gave our bodies a workout with long, steep climbs and rapid descents. At this point we had planned to continue north on Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, but we chose to go east through Charlottesville instead. We had a few reasons for doing this: We were tired and Skyline Drive is even more difficult and dangerous than the Parkway, clouds and haze would have made it hard to appreciate the view, it had started to rain, and by going east we made our distance to Fredericksburg much shorter.

We lost a lot of altitude as we left the Parkway, traveling at 40 mph for several minutes and leaving the rain behind us. As we went east we came close to the homes of 2 early U.S. Presidents, but couldn't quite see either one. Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, is in Charlottesville, and James Madison's home, Montpelier, is in Orange. We didn't have time to visit the homes anyway. We ate lunch in Charlottesville and bought groceries in Orange. Food was scarce and expensive along the Parkway and we had nearly eaten all of our food.

As we left Orange it was getting dark, so once again we knocked on the door of a homeowner looking for a place to camp. Craig and Sally would have let us set up our tent in their yard, but they suggested that we sleep on their screened-in porch instead since a thunderstorm was threatening. As soon as we had moved all our gear onto their porch it began to rain. Perfect timing! Our bicycle is dry in Craig and Sally's garage tonight. We are only about 40 miles from Fredericksburg, so we should arrive at my parents' house tomorrow afternoon. Once we are there we can relax for a day or two before riding one more day out to the Chesapeake Bay. We should also have plenty of time to visit friends and family.


Several mountain ridges.


Eating dinner on the porch at Craig and Sally's house.

Friday - Sunday, June 20 - 22

Distance: 42.3 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 26 minutes
Average speed: 12.2 mph
Maximum speed: 33.2 mph

On Friday we reached my parents' home in Fredericksburg, and we've spent Friday evening, Saturday and today resting, sight-seeing and preparing for the final stage of our trip - a long day ride out to Chesapeake Bay.

Friday morning we ate breakfast on Craig and Sally's screened-in porch while heavy rain fell outside. Sally offered to take us to Fredericksburg with her truck because the weather forecast included flash flood warnings. We thanked her for the offer but declined, and we began riding our bike at about 11 a.m. after the rain had become somewhat lighter. The rain stopped after about 25 miles, but then a headwind picked up and so did the traffic. While riding in an especially busy area near the entrance to interstate 95, our rear tire blew out again. It seemed like every force of nature tried to slow us down on Friday. We've destroyed 4 tires on this trip, with at least 3 (probably all 4) destroyed by a sidewall rip along the rim. We will need better tires or a lighter load for future bike tours. I replaced the tire with our spare and we finished the day without another incident, arriving at my parents' house around 3 p.m.

Our weekend here has been relaxing and interesting. We've had a bed to sleep in, plenty of home-cooked food to eat, and we haven't ridden our bicycle. Yet we feel so tired all day long. Before leaving the house this morning I tried to run upstairs to grab my sunglasses, but my legs refused to move quickly. We don't understand why we could exert our strength all day long during the week, and yet we can barely get out of a chair now. Despite being tired we have done some sight-seeing. We toured the former home of artist Gari Melcher, now a museum dedicated to his work. We also toured part of the Fredericksburg battlefield. This town was in the middle of one of the fiercest battles of the Civil War.

Tomorrow should be the final stage of our trip. We will leave most of our biking and camping gear at the house and ride our unloaded bike out to the Chesapeake Bay.


Performing the 4th and last tire replacement of our trip.


Belmont, the former home of artist Gari Melcher. Melcher was known internationally during the early 1900's. His paintings of peasant life were featured in gallerys throughout the world, but it was painting portraits of rich and famous people (like Theodore Roosevelt) that made him wealthy.


Kathy displays her stylish biker tan, caused by wearing bike gloves and a watch. We put on SPF 45 sunscreen every day, but we still get tan lines.

Monday - Tuesday, June 23 - 24

Distance: 93.1 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 39 minutes
Average speed: 16.4 mph
Maximum speed: 39.7 mph

We've had 2 great days. Yesterday we rode from Fredericksburg out to the Chesapeake Bay, completing our bicycle trip. Today my parents met us by the bay and we took a boat tour out to Tangier Island in the middle of the bay.

We began riding yesterday under a clear blue sky, a big change from the clouds, fog, and rain that we've faced earlier in Virginia. The weather stayed clear all day. Since we had a definite destination today we chose to leave most of our biking and camping gear at my parents' house and to sleep in a motel yesterday night. We moved a lot faster without all that extra weight. The bike felt jittery at first since we'd grown accustomed to the inertia of a fully loaded bike.

Outside the development of Fredericksburg the land was sparsely populated and was a mix of forest, corn fields and wheat fields. We expected the land to get very flat as we reached the tidewater region, but rolling hills continued to the very end. In the morning we had an unusual distraction - a photographer for the Free Lance Star, a Fredericksburg newspaper, followed us for about 10 miles. He stopped many times along the road to photograph us, snapping at least 100 pictures (we could hear his camera shutter clicking as we rode by.) The Free Lance Star plans to print a story about us.

Due to excitement and our light load we reached our hotel at only 4:30 p.m. We checked-in quickly then continued another 2 miles to Reedville so that we could eat dinner at a restaurant while looking out at Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately all the restaurants were closed and the view of the bay was not very good - Reedville is on a protected inlet and we wanted to see wide open water. But we did get to see some grand Victorian homes. At one time Reedville had the highest per-capita income in America due to its strong fishing industry. That early wealth shows in some of the older homes. After checking our maps we found a spot where we could see the wide open bay with water reaching past the horizon. Seeing that, we finally felt we had finished. We sat on the beach to enjoy the view for a while. That night we ate a huge carry-out dinner from a local restaurant and slept very well.


Cornfields in Virginia's tidewater region, not far from the bay.



Nice old homes in Reedville. These were built by fishing ship captains in the early 1900's. The original owner of the brick house was wealthy enough to loan $30,000 to the local bank during the Great Depression.


The Chesapeake Bay.

This morning we explored the bay a little more by joining my parents for a short boat cruise out to Tangier Island in the middle of the bay. The island was named by Captain John Smith, who landed here in 1608. The island's economy revolves around the oyster and blue crab industries. We got tastes of both oyster and blue crab when we ate lunch on the island. Tangier Island is so small and so flat that the most common mode of transportation for its 600 residents is... the bicycle! Most lawns have a few old, single-speed bicycles lying out front, and we saw many in use. Actually, I'd guess that walking is more common that biking. Electric golf carts and gasoline-powered motor scooters are also popular. Cars and trucks are impractical because the widest streets (including Main Street) are only as wide as a 1-lane road, and the highest speed limit is 15 mph.

We returned to Fredericksburg tonight (by car) and we'll stay in Virginia for another week visiting friends, visiting my sisters, and sight-seeing. Then we'll move on to Missouri (by rental car) for Kathy's family reunion, and from there back to our home in Colorado. After two unusual summer vacations, we've bicycled "from sea to shining sea" - from San Francisco to Colorado last summer, and from Colorado to the Chesapeake Bay this summer. We've seen much and we've learned much.


Mom and Dad riding to Tangier Island on the Chesapeake Breeze


Pelicans flying past our boat.


Tangier Island. Housing is dense for the 600 residents because the island is less than 3x2 miles, and half of the island is marsh.


A major road on Tangier Island.


The beater bikes that everyone here owns.


The dock at Tangier Island.

Reflection

Tuesday, July 1

Kathy and I are home in Colorado again, relaxing and still recovering from our long bike trip. We decided to come straight home from Virginia because it made travel arrangements simpler. We'll drive out to Kathy's family reunion tomorrow evening. I went to work Monday with 4 dozen doughnuts to celebrate our successful trip. My co-workers had already marked the occasion by replacing my chair with a tricycle and moving the wall of my cubicle so that it had no entrance - I had to enter my cubicle "Dukes of Hazard style" by hopping over the wall.

Our trip went remarkably well despite several complicating factors: wind, rain, tire trouble, lack of campgrounds and even a punctured air mattress. We worked through all these issues and still finished ahead of schedule. The complete trip took 31 days. Of these, 26 were riding days and 5 were rest days with little or no riding (at Mammoth Cave, Christiansburg, and Fredericksburg.) We rode 2128 miles (some of these miles were for side trips that are not recorded in our daily mileage.) Our average progress on riding days was 78.5 miles - 6.5 miles more than the 72 mile goal that we set for ourselves.

Though it rained quite a bit on our trip, we had only 5 truly rainy riding days. On other days it rained at night, or during lunch, or just rained in the morning. That's remarkable given the heavy rains the east has seen this spring. Virginia, for instance, has received 3 times its average annual rainfall so far this year. The rain made the land unusually green. In Prarie View, Kansas, our host Warren told us, "You'll never see a prettier spring in Kansas." Both Colorado and Kansas, normally dry and brown, were green.

The green fields and forests are part of what made this bike tour so much different than our western tour last year. It was easy to see that if land had not been cleared for farming and development then the eastern U.S. would be a solid forest from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean. The rivers were also different, so much more frequent and much larger than in Colorado. On our last day we rode over Nomini Creek, a creek about twice as large as the Big Thompson River that provides water for much of the Colorado front range. The hills of Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia had great views and were fun to ride.

We met many people on this trip, most out of necessity - we needed to find a place to camp. Having conversations with them gave us a much better feel for small-town life in the midwest and east, and taught us more about local history. Best of all, some of the people we met were our own family and friends.

Now that we've ridden across the U.S., people have begun to ask us, "What's next?" They suggest that we ride from Alaska to Mexico, or across Asia. In the near term that won't happen due to lack of vacation time, but we will fit smaller bike tours into our schedule. Biking helps us appreciate nature, weather, open spaces, small towns, and the kindness of strangers. It reminds us that our jobs should not define us. It encourages us to protect our environment and open spaces. We hope to make biking and bike touring part of our lives for decades.

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Page 1, Introduction
Page 2, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas
Page 3, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky
Page 4, Virginia

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