Days 47 & 48: What a beautiful country I live in…
I want to thank all my readers. I have heard offline and online from people who seem to like my posts. That said, many of you (including Chris for a while) have not been able to figure out how to post comments to the blog. I guess to protect the comments from spam, this platform makes that tricky. I do not know how to do it myself, but feel free to shoot me an email or text if you have a question or comment.
The forests in the east are so much different from those I am used to out west. All the deciduous trees. The mountains, valleys, and greenery are so beautiful. On Day 48, I entered the Great Valley—which includes the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Parkway (more on that after I ride it). Virginia’s mountains valleys are so beautiful. And the TransAmerica Trail gets you onto quiet, generally well-paved, roads with light traffic. These past few days, I am riding mostly on roads with less than 10 cars an hour. Out west, our less traveled roads tend to be gravel, which can be more challenging to ride on.
For the last couple of months, one of the members of my riding group back home, the Poudre Sunrise Cyclists, is doing his own self-supported bike tour of Europe. What an adventure! Scott is camping and riding in Norway, France, Italy and more. Following his efforts have me thinking about my next “Dream Ride.” On our riding group email list, Scott mentioned that the key to doing a tour like his (and mine) is managing the body, mind, and bike. That really resonates with me and I wanted to share how I am doing on that front. Today I will talk about the bike, with my next blog post(s) on mind and body.
A quick entertainment. Until Day 48, when I caught up on some podcasts, I have not been listening while riding. I decided to focus my attention on listening for dogs.
Day 47: 104 miles, 6522 elevation (several wheeeeees)
The wheees are back. The quiet rural roads I was on today, even though winding, had some very pleasant and safe feeling descents. They were not as steep as previous downhills and the pavement was better.
Day 47 started with a long, steady, not too steep (average of 5%), climb along Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. We didn’t climb to the top, but were next to the peak. Unlike recent shorter, steeper climbs, this climb was 15 miles long—more like a Colorado climb. It was also nice to have the climb start the day, instead of end it. In the two hours of that climb, I bet I saw all of four cars going either way. It was right through a dense forest, too. After that I descended that same mountain and wound my way through valleys. It was spectacular. By the end of the ride, it was also hot and humid and that took a lot out of me. The Relive video gives you some idea of the terrain.
Day 48: 99 miles, 5453 elevation (several wheeees)
Back home I would go ride around the block a few times to get a 99 mile ride to tip over to 100. I don’t need that now. Haha. A few wheees again today. Like yesterday, the descents were longer and more fun and I happily yelled “wheeeee!” several times.
Check out the Relive Video and note the Great Valley, which I ride through in the beginning of the day.
The bike, my trusty steed
My bike has been awesome on this trip (I hope I didn‘t just jinx myself). I ride a Specialized Roubaix Comp. When I started cycling about 8 years ago, I bought a Roubaix because, as compared to a racing bike, it offered a bit more of a relaxed and upright ride. It still has drop handlebars and a lightweight carbon frame. A few months ago I replaced my older Roubaix with a newer model. The newer one allows for a bit wider tires which are more comfortable and can be used for light gravel riding. The new bike also has an electronic derailleur—which has worked pretty well, but has needed a few adjustments along the ride. I have noted a couple of bike shop stops to fix that. See a photo of the bike below.
Besides the bike, you need to figure out how to carry you stuff. I previously posted on my stuff. As my ride is self-supported, I need to carry all my own stuff. I use Revelate Designs bags, which you can see in the picture. Note that I have a bag behind the seat, two on the handlebars and another two on the top tube. Plus I carry two water bottles on the bike (and often another 1-2 Gatorades in my back pocket). My setup is relatively lightweight compared to many out here (see below). All my stuff weighs about 20 pounds while riders fully loaded with camping gear might carry 40-50 pounds. My bike could not handle that much weight on a long ride.
My setup can be lightweight because I am a “credit card” bike tourist. I stay in hotels every night. Because I have no camping gear, I need to find an indoor place to sleep each night. One of the great things about the TransAmerica Trail is all the options. Besides hotels, there are many hostels and churches that let cyclists stay overnight. In a a hostel or church, you probably need a sleeping bag but my small, lightweight S.O.L. Emergency Bivvy (weighs a few ounces and is the size of a 12 oz can of beer). I used it one night, in the hostel in Sebree where they had couches but not blankets. It worked great! It seems like the majority of people I met didn’t even find a place to stay until they get to a town. Most of the time it works out for them and if not they camped.
For those who are camping, they need a sturdier. Touring bikes are designed to carry more weight and to ride on potentially rougher terrain. They are usually made of steel (instead of carbon fiber) and include places to attach more bags and water bottles. They have a much more upright riding position. Here are a few examples of different bikes and their bags.
Look at Dan’s front and rear panniers (the bags on his front and back wheels).
Felix has rear panniers and rides an e-bike.
Michael’s bike is loaded. You may recall I met Michael and Gary on Day 88 (or close that) of their adventure. They were in Missouri with plans to go to Maine and on to Chicago.
All that said, all that weight makes a difficult trip that much more challenging. I talked to more than a few people who admired my lightweight setup. The Belgians I met a few days ago admitted that they carried camping gear in panniers for more than two months only to camp six day. They said it was too hot and humid at night to camp and generally avoided it now.
Stories and pictures
Today I want to wrap up the story of Julio. If you have been following along, you know that 6 days ago I met Julio, one of the TransAm racers. Most of these racers are trying to ride 125-150 miles (or more) per day. The race is eastbound, but because they ride so far each day I usually see them one or two days at most. But when I met Julio, he was struggling and not able to put in the mileage he wanted each day. So we kept meeting—at convenience stores where we shared meals, and also at the Gateway Hotel. Riding at our own paces, we didn’t ride together much, but we ate together and talked. I bet we met 15 times over those 6 days.
Over time, I learned more about him and this race. He was struggling with his health and not making the progress he wanted. He competed in the race twice before but did not finish. I was worried he might not make it this time either. On Day 47 I saw him on the road several times. He told me he was feeling strong. The last time I saw him was in Christiansburg when he called out to me while he was eating a quart of ice cream in the heat of the day at about 3:00. I was across the street looking at my map and trying to figure out how to get to my hotel. We had each left Damascus and already rode 100 miles; the heat index was close to 100. He called out and I rode over. I asked where he was going to stay that night and he said he was feeling good and would keep riding, hopefully a few more hours. Julio was back feeling good and I knew I would not catch up to him again. He plans to finish the ride on Saturday. I was so happy to hear that my new friend felt strong again and would finish the race this year. We swapped phone number and hope to ride together again someday.
While I didn’t meet any other cyclists on these two days of the ride, I am seeing more westbound cyclists on the route. I am not sure if they are going all the way to Oregon or California but most are fully packed. Usually riders that are climbing/descending don’t stop to talk.
I have one fun restaurant story to share. Hitting a bigger town opened up the opportunity for new cuisines (beyond burgers, pizza, or Mexican). I saw good reviews on Google and Yelp for Thai Express in Radford and it was close to my hotel. But when I got there, I saw that it was actually part of a gas station. I almost turned didn’t go in. But it had almost 500 Google reviews and averaged 4.9 stars. So…
I went inside where Simone, behind the counter, one of the friendliest people told me their menu changed daily and I could taste anything we wanted. The food was great! Don’t judge a book by its cover.
While I am having a great time, I am anxious for the trip to be over. I miss my family, my friends, and my town. I hope the weather holds off and lets me ride the next three days. Rain is forecast for Saturday. If it is light rain, that may cool things off and be a blessing. I hope to reach the Atlantic Ocean Sunday or Monday.