[Sorry, no time to proof, so I am sending this draft version. I have not posted for days because I am so busy meeting people and riding long days.]
I am going to bastardize the phrase in the title of this post. Normally it refers to a person who seems more unpleasant than they really are. In my adaptation, it means dogs and rides. I am going to use it to assess whether something’s reputation is merited. Maybe it is more of overrated vs. underrated.
If you have been following my recent blog posts, you know I have been worried about the loose dogs that have been known to chase and/or bite bike riders on the TransAmerica Trail in Eastern Kentucky and Western Virginia. I was worried about that, and while I was chased many times, it turned out to be less of a problem than I thought. Those dogs barks were worse than their bites. I have had about twenty dogs chase me. A few things helped me. First, most of the dogs that tried to chase me did so while I was on a downhill. So I quickly sped by them before they could even get very close. About 6-7 times I used my air horn which froze them in their tracks and allowed me to quickly get away. Only one ever got close to getting me. He came out of nowhere, so I was not ready with my air horn. He was within a couple feet of my left ankle, but I accelerated my riding, yelled at him, and eventually pulled away. I think some preparation is merited, “Fortune favors the prepared mind” (Louis Pasteur), but I probably dedicated too much headspace to those dogs. My assessment, concerns about the dogs are overrated.
On the other hand, the Appalachian’s “bark” (reputation) is well-deserved. That “bark” is the reputation the Appalachian hills have for being really tough climbs. That bark is absolutely true. The last three days of riding has included many of the toughest hills of the whole ride—of my whole riding career. My assessment, those hills are underrated. The Appalachians in Eastern Kentucky and Western Virginia have been a whole new level of challenge—many climbs of 10-16% for 1/4 to 3/4 of a mile—in the middle of climbs of 2-5 miles. These were the toughest climbs of my coast-to-coast ride.
One other observation. Several westbound riders told me they were bothered by the poverty in the Appalachians. Maybe they raised (or probably lowered) my expectations. Or maybe I have seen enough poverty in city slums. But while there was definitely some poverty, and some people have rundown homes and junk piled in their front yards, it was not as bad as I expected.
These were three tough riding days. The Appalachians reputation for long, steep climbs is well-deserved. All three days had some long, steep climbs—especially day 44, which I would rate as one of the toughest three rides of the whole trip. Plus, there we few wheeees; the downhills were so steep and curvy that I could not let loose. There were a lot of pot holes on the downhills, so I had to concentrate on the pavement. I couldn’t get back all the work I put into the uphills.
Day 44: 100 miles, 7785 elevation (no wheeees)
If you read my previous blog post, you know that I went to bed unsure if I would do this ride or take a rest day. There were thunderstorms the night before and possible rain on Day 44. When I woke up at 4:00 a.m., I checked the weather and thought I could go at least 50 if not 100 miles. So I got out early and beat the heat and rain. The first 60 miles went well, though the last 40 were tough. I was tired and the hardest climbs came at the end, when of course I was tired and it was hot. So this ride was long, steep, lots of elevation gained, hot and humid—lots of reasons for the challenge. Then, the hotel I reserved was such a dive I moved hotels.
Day 45: 84 miles, 6073 elevation
This was a fun day of riding. As I left my hotel I saw two guys riding packed bikes. Steve and Colin are from the UK and we rode together for about 15-20 miles to start the ride. We later stayed at the same hotel. This was one of the harder rides of the whole trip.
Day 46: 79 miles, 6785 elevation
Today was tough, too, but it seemed easier. I have a theory on this. There is academic research about recency effects. So for example you later judge a vacation as better if the last day is particularly pleasant. Today, the hard climbs were all early in the ride. The end had more downhills. And it felt better than Day 45. Hmmm… Is there an academic research study here? Virginia is beautiful. Lots of green, lots of kudzu, mountains, valleys, and town. One thing I noticed is there are towns every 15-20 miles, making it easy to find a convenience store and get refueled.
Stories and pictures
I made some new friends and saw some recent friends again as I continued on my eastbound trek.
First, I have to continue with the story of Julio. I mentioned Julio in my previous blog post. While Julio is racing in the TransAm race, he has struggled with his health. These TransAm racers should not see a rider like me more than once or twice because they are trying to ride 120-150 miles a day. But Julio keeps having problems sleeping and keeping his energy up. I have now bumped into him several more times. First, I saw him on Day 44 and he said he bought the glasses attached rear view mirror I suggested but was having problems with it. So I helped him adjust it. He said that he thought his previous problem was related to electrolytes and he felt better on Day 44. See below, Julio looking good. I forget if I mentioned on a previous post that this is Julio’s third TransAm race but he has never finished. We are all rooting for him.
Then, on Day 45, he struggled into the Gateway Hotel where I was staying and said he was sweating so much and had to walk his bike up some of the big hills (recall that Day 44 was a really hard ride for me, too). Two other guys I will introduce shortly, Colin and Steve, were at the hotel already and told me they was Julio and that he was having problems.
What happened next is so “TransAm Trail,” Julio gets to the hotel, barely. He has no food. I had stocked up five miles earlier in Elkhorn, because I knew there were no restaurants by this hotel. But Julio (and Colin and Steve) did not do that. But the hotel manager, Colin and Steve, and some guests all ponied up food for Julio. Otherwise he would have had to another 10 miles (five there and five back) just to eat. And Julio was struggling. I had already eaten my (not very good) meal or I would have offered something.
The story of Julio’s meal is just the kind of story that Colin and Steve have experienced in their ride across America. Colin and Steve are from Newcastle UK. Matt (also from UK, fellow rider mentioned in previous blog post) had told me about these “Geordies” (a nickname for Newcastle’s). I finally met Colin and Steve, who are riding to raise money for Cardiac Risk for the Young as I rode out of Hazard. We were riding out at the same time and started chatting. We rode together for the first 20 miles or so on Day 45. See photo right after we met.
These two guys are very interesting characters. They have some great stories about their ride and their lives in the UK. Steve (on left) owned a health club until he recently sold it after Covid made him just want to semi-retire (he is now a part-time personal trainer). Colin is a nutritionist. They are both very strong riders. They have both had some incredible experiences riding across America. It was really neat to hear their stories. So many of them involve everyday Americans who stepped up to help them in a time of need. I really enjoyed spending several hours chatting with them in the lobby of the Gateway Hotel—there are advantages to a hotel with lousy internet connections as the only place it worked was in the lobby. I saw them again on Day 45 after Steve‘s pannier was attacked by a dog (hmmmm…. Maybe not overrated?) Here we are hanging out, see Julio also.
I met Suman, another TransAm racer a few times. The first time we met (Day 44), he told me he was slowing down so that he could finish next weekend. That way a couple of friends of his from Connecticut could come down and ride the last 100 miles with him. Then I saw him on Day 46 and he had changed his mind. He just decided to tell them not to come down and he booked a train back to Connecticut on Friday. This meant he would need to ride about 500 miles in three days. Go Suman Go!
I met Ron (from Lancaster, PA) on Day 44. He was the first westbounder I had seen in a week. Ron just seems like a great guy. Saved money and quit his job so he could do this trip. He is taking his time (40-60 miles a day) and trying to experience a lot along the way. That morning he sat and watched a Baptist choir singing for their Sunday service (a Covid-induced practice). They welcomed him to their service and talked with him. I think he is going to have a great adventure. I am following Ron on Strava (a social app for cyclists and runners) where he is posting his experiences. Ron stopped me to tell me there was a loose pit bull up the road—he saw the dog escape as he went by. So I made sure we talked long enough—probably 30 minutes—so that the owner would capture the dog. It worked.
Tomorrow, weather willing, will be a long day. But I expect to see Chris at my next stop. She plans to hang with me (at night anyway, as she loves to check out local tourist sites). Down to my last ~500 miles. It will be great to have Chris with me for this last push.