We were just settled in for sleep when the youth pastor let us know two more cyclists were going to join us. It was dark outside and my heart bled for Aspen and Masherra as they rolled their Surlys into the basement of the church. These women are animals on their bicycles! They are both teachers keeping a tight schedule so they can finish before their school year begins again. Big miles and camping…they are heroes in my book! Next thing I knew they were heading out again in the early morning.
As I mentioned before, we have to be strategic now when it comes to lodging. We could work hard in the mountains to go 70 miles, or do a short 20, then 50 the next day…you know what we picked! It was a very hot day and we had two big climbs, but we made it to Hazard early and found wonderful hotel. Yay! Laundry, airconditioning, pizza delivered and books. It feels wonderful! It was a short ride, but a good one.
Hazard is the center of coal mining activity in the area and most of the land in the around Hazard is owned by coal companies. We learned that in the early 20th century land agents took advantage of the mountain people in the area and purchased the rights to the minerals under the ground, taking the money out of the area and leaving little money in the local coffers. It still is a very poor area.
Mike and I both slept great and left early the next morning to beat the heat.
Ok, I am going to get brutally honest here. This is really hard riding through the central appalachian region. The poverty is just difficult to fathom, we take few pictures out of respect for those who can’t find a way out.
Not only is the poverty hard to comprehend, the obvious meth problem is unbelievable. We see needles on the side of the road and every small village has a florist, even if they don’t have a stoplight or gas station, i read so many are lost to addictions.
We ride through “Hollows” that are just shacks on the side of the mountains. Guard dogs loose make bicycling very scary and we are on high alert all the time..
Physically we are still climbing, going over four very hike peaks today on old narrow roads, drivers very unhappy to share the road.
A long day brought us to Hindman, the county seat and home to the dulcimer.
We found a generous church again who opens their doors to cyclists. So tired we were asleep early, but honestly eager to ride out of this area that really doesn’t care to have us here.
Down the mountain first thing this morning, that’s how to start the day! Four miles in and we crossed the state line.
It is hard to express the change in feeling, scenery, food, culture..(everything) we have found when crossing state lines sometimes. We felt that when we rode into Montana from Idaho, and this was one of those times. All of a sudden we were riding between a river and a huge wall of granite.
Instead of towns with more or less boundaries we are finding random gatherings of modest homes, mostly trailers, scattered along the way. Rooster fighting seems to be not uncommon in this area and loose dogs waiting to give chase are a real headache, we carry mace and an airhorn. Baptist churches, angry drivers, dry counties, beer cans littering the ditches. 30 seconds after a pickup showed his displeasure at our presence a man in a parking lot prayed over us for our safety, and i quietly prayed he would’t hit us while driving.
We stopped for breakfast at an older diner with amazing food. We tried biscuits served with home canned apples and an order of cornbread salad, just because it seems so popular here..delicious. Bologna, porkchops, gravy, biscuits, okra we find on all the menus.
After riding this afternoon on a ribbon of narrow unmarked asphalt, through some very poor areas, we came to Lookout Ky and the Freeda Harris Baptist Center where we are spending the night.
This center serves not only as a hostel with clean beds and showers, but more importantly as a resource center for those in need.
Clothing and food is handed out twice a week to those who come, donations come from Baptist churches in the area. Tonight we have clean sheets and hot showers with nothing asked of us. What a ministry!
Great weather as we headed out of Damascus today. More narrow curvy roads going up up up. We had planned on breakfast at the first town we came to. Meadowview, but it was closed on Monday so on we went.
We found the oldest grocery store I have ever seen (open since 1933, same family, same spam and spices on the shelves). The 80 something year old woman told Mike to wash his hands before filling his water bottle and he nodded like a little boy.
We soon started a very steep climb. Hayters Gap. Notoriously difficult, it tooks us well over two hours to climb it, just exhausting. Although it was only 3.5 miles the incline was insane and the cars would back up behind us making it even more nervewracking as I get all wobbly when working on an incline. Oh my goodness, by the time we got to the top I was just shaking.
A way too quick descent brought us to this amazing church open to cyclists.
The door was open with a note to use the kitchen, eat the food, sleep wherever. They keep a bike guest register that dated back to 1976, the first year this route had been traveled. We sat outside and ate our favorite dinner, salami and cheese with crackers before passing out in the church nursery. Thank you kind church!
We are riding in more desolate areas now, fewer convenience stores and restaurants and fewer hotels.
More Appalachia country as we are in Southeast VA and will be in eastern Kentucky tomorrow. The landscape is definitely changing but still hardwood forests and mountains to climb. The houses and towns we do come across seem more depressed economically. This means we have to think ahead a bit more, carry more food and plan our lodging or camping more strategically.
We seemed to climb all day today, the first big pass over Big A mountain. Did the Indians name it that? Thats the name, and it was a big A mountain. Just climbing and hot. Very tough riding on narrow roads.
We planned on staying at Breaks Interstate Park on the border of Kentucky and Virginia, they claim it is the Grand Canyon of the east. After a series of climbs we came around a switchback and wow, the view.
So so beautiful. The park was quite empty so we were able to get a cheap lodge room overlooking the gorge. We spent the night watching the hawks below us riding the thermals. Why hadn’t we heard of this area before?
I also wonder what other things we haven’t seen that are so unbelievable, can’t wait to find them.
-As a side note, when I am working hard on the hills I often listen to podcasts in one ear to distract me from the effort. I have been listening to Embedded by NPR which just finished a six part series called Coal Stories based on this exact county we are riding in. We pass many many signs in yards and stores that say “friends of coal”. Truck pass us all day hauling coal, these people waiting for coal to make the comeback the President has promised. The podcast interviewed a young man who had grown up in a hollow on a mountain in a trailer with a large family, hoping to work in the mines like his dad. So interesting to hear the stories while riding through this area.
Our B & B was full of hikers and cyclists and we had such fun talking on the front porch, sharing experiences and laughing, most of us decided to spend another day visiting. Mike ran a few errands, we visited the coffee shop and took a short bike ride on the virginia creeper trail, a long mountain biking trail that attracts visitors from all over the country.
At night we all met for dinner and laughs at the local restaurant. Shannon and Melissa, owners of the Dancing Bear B & B were hilarious, she the long suffering wife and he the house entertainment. Tom, the financial whiz making money on his phone while hiking the AT picking up the tab. Thanks Tom!
We met the most amazing couple staying the room next to us at the B & B. Bob and Susan were cycling across the US in sections, this was the last of four. 13 years ago Bob had a stroke while on a bike tour ending his engineering career and severely disabling him for life.
On top of that he has fought cancer for years. After years of therapy they purchased and modified a recumbent trike and are now able to tour. Both are just a blessing and inspiration to know.
They tour to support stroke and bladder cancer. wow. Another few days we will never forget.
So so excited to wake up knowing we were heading to the (in)famous trail town of Damascus. The crossroads of the Transamerica Trail, The Appalachian Trail, and the Virginia Creeper Trail. Mike and I have read so many hiking books and we feel we have an inkling of an idea of what this town must mean to hikers of the AT.
We started with a short 25 mile ride in the most beautiful weather. The ride wasn’t taxing, just so fun.
We were deep in bear country, and a driver stopped to tell us of a bear and cub sighted ahead of us, we both wanted to see it and didn’t want to see it (we didn’t) We were almost disappointed the town came so quick, it was such a nice day.
Damascus is a small town that was hopping due to a long distance foot race being held that day 8n town. Fifty miles! So inspiring being around all the athletes, the hikers, the mountain bikers. The small town has three outfitters and three bicycle shops.
We found an inexpensive B and B right in the middle of town, cleaned up and headed out to explore and be amongst the adventurers and athletes.
Dinner brought us to the Damascus Brewery where the racers were meeting after completing the race.
Music, good food and listening to the racers was such fun.
After catching up on wash and errands in Wytheville we rode out on a very windy morning.
We kept checking the map to assure ourselves we would be having the wind to our backs soon but no such luck. We can’t complain about the weather, it is just weather, but the conditions can certainly change our ride.
It was another day of slow steady climbing and for some reason the day was especially difficult for both of us.
We found a great Amish bakery to help fortify ourselves but it still was such a push all day.
Just as the rain opened up on us we enjoyed a great downhill to the very small “town” of Troutville, where a Baptist church had a hostel for hikers and bikers.
It was very, very nice, a clean building set high on a hill with showers and bunks. It was also very scary quiet. There was a middle aged man who seemed to have made the hostel his permanent residence. He claimed to be hiking the AT, but we saw little evidence of it. Just us and him, like a movie.
It just poured rain that night so hard we were glad once again to have shelter. We were also glad to skeedaddle in the morning.
We headed out climbing again after a quick oatmeal in our hotel room. Just ten miles into the day we came to a most unusual old house turned into a coffee shop and restaurant.
What a gift! It wasn’t in a town (that we could tell) but our bikes just swerved automatically into the parking lot. This is why we ride. This little place roasts their own coffee and bakes their own cupcakes…but we were there for the coffee.
We weren’t there ten minutes before a few bike tourists came in, then a few more..15 in all. They were a group of supported riders (vans carrying their supplies and organizing food and sleeping arrangements) It was fun talking to them, many amazed we went unsupported.
Mike and I amazed someone would pay to tell them where to sleep and eat. That’s why we are self employed.😁Actually, there are many ways to tour and we support supported tours!
We climbed again for the rest of the day, passing through no towns, just very rural and beautiful countryside.
My Surly Disc Trucker is proving to be wonderful on the hills and I don’t know how I went across the Rockies without it. Good equipment make it so pleasant.
A big pull into the town of Whytheville, another cheap hotel, as my daughter says if the bed is uncomfortable, it is because you didn’t ride (or hike) hard enough.
I wished we had thought to take a picture of the Ginko trees that lined the downtown streets of Blacksburg, they were so pretty as we made our way out of town on a very well kept and well used bike trail.
The trail took us through the Virginia Tech campus, all the way to the town of Christianburg with coal history exhibits along the way, just a great way to start the day.
We soon were abruptly dumped behind a Walmart where we had to pick our way through traffic to find the backroads again. We passed many small traditional churches, and houses proudly displaying the confederate flags with chained dogs protecting whatever.
We are a complicated people!
It was such a muggy day again, we were glad when a downpour just rinsed us off, both of us getting moldy. Lots of climbing and hard work, we were happy the gross, rundown hotel in Newbern had working air, and the mexican restaurant next door could saute some veggies for us.