Day 54: We Made It!

100.3 miles: Ashland, VA to Yorktown, VA

We had a great day of riding and wonderful celebration in Yorktown. We’ll post a more detailed description later, but pictures from the day are below.

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Day 53: One More Day

68.7 miles: Charlottesville, VA to Ashland, VA

The original plan for today was a 95 mile ride that would take us through Monticello and Ash Lawn on our way to Ashland. We had to change these plans after we read the day’s forecast over breakfast. It was the nastiest forecast we’ve seen — severe thunderstorms, flash floods, and an air quality warning. After some time with Google Maps, our meandering 95 mile ride turned into a straight-shot 67 mile ride. We knew we’d miss out on some cool sights, but being less exposed to the elements (and closer to more gas stations) made us more comfortable. Plus, the shorter day would be good for our legs which are still tired from our climb through the Blue Ridge.

We took a quick detour in Charlottesville to check out the UVA campus and then set out with the goal of avoiding any severe weather. The riding was a bit bland — we passed through a lot of woods, some farmland, and a few random neighborhoods. Thankfully, it was all pretty flat. We also had luck with the weather. It seemed like dark clouds were behind us all day, but we never got rained on (or flooded).

About 20 miles from Ashland, another spoke snapped on Seth’s rear wheel. He had another wobbly ride for a bit, but we were able to get it fixed at a bike shop in town (lucky for a Sunday afternoon).

Ever since getting into Ashland, we’ve been excited about tomorrow. It is hard to comprehend that, this time tomorrow, our ride will be over. We’re thrilled about so many things (like not getting up at 5:30, wearing spandex all day, and eating whatever we’re lucky enough to find). At the same time, it will be a bit sad to finish. Of course, we’ll have plenty of time to think about this tomorrow during our 97 mile ride to Yorktown. Even though it will be a high-mileage day, we should move quickly. Papa Boyd (who is still enroute to meet us) will carry our panniers for us, the terrain should be some of the flattest we’ve come across, and our adrenaline will be pumping harder and harder as we get closer to the Atlantic.

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Day 52: The Last Of The Hills

79.2 miles: Lexington, VA to Charlottesville, VA

Today’s ride was a challenge. About 15 miles after we left Lexington we started climbing. The stretch up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, in particular, wore us down. For about 3 miles, it seemed like we were going straight up. We made our way through this part at a snail-like 4 miles per hour. We’d like to think that some of the slowness was due to accumulated fatigue, but we’re not sure.

Usually, with a lot of climbing, we’re able to make up time on the descents. That didn’t happen today. Most of the time we faced a drop in elevation, the grade was so steep and the turns so tight that we were forced to ride the brakes. We were using the brakes so much that our hands started hurting and we had to stop twice to let our rims cool.

After we dropped down from the Parkway, we followed a sequence of back roads into the city of Charlottesville. This stretch was impressive. At first, we rode through vineyards, orchards, and farmland — we stopped at a peach farm’s stand for ice cream and cider. As we got closer to the city, we started seeing a lot of enormous homes — including many that looked quite old. Finally, we arrived in the city. We didn’t have a chance to check out the UVA campus, but we hope to make a quick stop on our way out tomorrow.

We’re now down to two days of riding. The days will be long (both in the mid-90s) but should be relatively flat. Everyone says the climbing ends once you get to Charlottesville. We are very thankful for that.

We’re also thankful for Papa Boyd, who will be meeting us tomorrow night and driving a support car for us on our last day. it will be great to see family again.

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Day 51: Fellow Travelers

94.6 miles: Christiansburg, VA to Lexington, VA

We made quick work of today’s 90+ mile ride. We got into Lexington around 5:30 after a total of eight and a half hours of riding. The riding conditions were spectacular. The temperature hovered around the mid-80s all day and the terrain was more rolling hills — though they flattened out a bit during the latter half of our day.

We were lucky to ride with a few other tourers as it really helped to pass the time. In the morning, we leap-frogged Matt and Kevin of Team Jesse. They left Santa Rosa on June 9th and plan to finish their ride in NYC on 9/11. Along the way, they’re raising money for children of fallen soldiers. It was nice to share some stories with them and members of their support team.

After the Team Jesse guys pushed past us, Tom — a fellow UNHer — caught up with us. Tom was riding from St. Louis to Yorktown after finishing a summer reporting job. We commiserated over our Kentucky experiences (he agreed that the dogs and coal trucks were overblown) and keeping a blog (it is hard to come up with new ways to say “it was hilly” everyday).

It looks like we’ll be on the same riding schedule with both groups for the next two days so it’s likely that we’ll see them again.

And speaking of the next few days, we only have three more days of riding (and a total of 275 miles) until we hit the Atlantic. Tomorrow, we have our last bout with hills as the elevation remains relatively constant (and low!) after Charlottesville. Our day will begin with a steep, four mile climb onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, which we’ll ride for about 25 miles. This is a legendary stretch of road for cyclists so it should make for some awesome riding.

As for tonight, we’re in Lexington, home of VMI and Washington & Lee University. We were hoping to check out the burial site of Robert E. Lee, which is in a chapel on the University’s campus, but that closed at 5:00. Instead, we happened upon Stonewall Jackson’s grave, so we checked that out.

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Day 50: A Break Before The Final Push

62.5 miles: Wytheville, VA to Christiansburg, VA

The most notable part of today was that, for the first time in a long time, we didn’t eat any fried food. Our diets have changed a lot during the trip. Now that we’re so close to the end, we’ve started talking about how great it will be to not eat grilled cheese sandwiches and fries, and how we won’t miss Gatorade (we consume a frightening amount of Gatorade each day).

Aside from the fresh vegetables we had for lunch and dinner, not much happened. We did about 62 miles and rode alongside I-81 for a while. The terrain was short, steep hills the whole day. The riding was easy and we finished early. We’re off to bed now and will get out at first light tomorrow. We have four more days of riding, and we’ll average about 90 miles per day during the stretch. That means no more relaxing, late-morning starts.

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Day 49: A Supposedly Easy Day That We Wouldn’t Want To Do Again

63.6 miles: Damascus,VA to Wytheville, VA

Our goal for today was a mere 59 miles. With only about 5 hours of riding ahead of us, we had an easy going morning. We slept in a bit and had our first non-convenience store breakfast in about a week. We brought our bikes to the local shop when they opened at 10:00 and asked the owner to fix Seth’s broken spoke and check both bikes for any potential problem areas. The bikes got a lot of needed attention, and we left the shop with much improved bikes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get out of there until 1:00.

The Virginia Creeper Trail runs right through Damascus, so we opted to ride that for the first 11 miles and then meet up with the TransAm route. The Creeper, though, was mostly uphill and gravel, so our progress was slow. We also got a bit confused as we tried to get back on the TransAm. So, those 11 miles — though very pretty and fun to ride — took about two and a half hours. We still had 48 miles to ride and it was almost 4:00.

We were a bit stressed about the possibility of riding in the dark (again) so we were on edge. It got worse when, while pulled over to consult the map, two dogs bolted after us. These were the meanest dogs we’ve seen. We yelled at them and started to move away, but one got ahold of Mel’s pannier and bit it. With some more stern yelling we got away, but Mel now has a hole in her left pannier. We were thankful she didn’t have a hole in her ankle.

With the slow start, getting a bit lost, and the run-in with the dogs, we were thinking it couldn’t get worse. Then it started raining. A lot. We were ten miles from any sort of shelter other than a tree, and there was no lightning, so we just pushed on and got really wet.

After some slow riding in the rain, our luck changed a bit. We made up some time with some long descents and the sun came out. We even got to see a bear — it lumbered across the road about fifty feet in front if us.

With some nice flat terrain, we were able to ride the last 35 miles in just over two hours. For us, that is very good time. We made it into Wytheville, Virginia (“The Hub of Southwest Virginia”) with thirty minutes to spare. We found a very cheap Motel 6 with a Chinese restaurant and a Waffle House across the street. We filled ourselves on tofu and rice, and tomorrow will start the day off with some waffles.

We’ll have another shorter day tomorrow — about 60 miles to Christiansburg. After that, it looks like we’ll have four more challenging days that will get us to Yorktown. If all goes well, we’ll finish the trip on Monday the 15th.

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Day 48: The Road to Damascus

77.84 miles: Breaks, VA to Damascus, VA

It would have been a great day to be in New Hampshire. It was Mom Boyd’s birthday and Ali and David were at the lake to help her celebrate. Not only is Mom Boyd a great and supportive mom (especially when it comes to bike touring), she’s also an awesome cat sitter — as evidenced by the pictures below. Happy birthday, Mom, and thanks for everything. We’ll celebrate when we get to New Hampshire!

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As for today’s ride, things went well. We faced three steep climbs that really made us work (and sweat). On the descent of the last hill, we finally had a mechanical issue — one of the spokes on Seth’s rear wheel snapped. The wheel was wobbly after that, but the bike still rode well enough. Luckily, there’s a bike shop in Damascus and we’re only planning to ride 58 miles tomorrow. We should be able to get it fixed. Otherwise, Seth will try fixing it himself (and this will pretty much guarantee an untrue wheel).

It is nice to know that the broken spoke was not due to any extra weight on our part. We’re at a great hostel in Damascus called The Hiker’s Inn (more on hiking in a moment) and they had the first scale we’ve seen since we left San Francisco. We figured we’d lost some weight, but the results surprised us. Seth was down 17 pounds, while Mel was down 10. Of course, a week or so living with the dessert bar at The Hill School can put us right back where we started.

We were excited to get into Damascus because it marks the intersection of the Trans Am bike trail and the Appalachian Trail. The town is filled with shops and restaurants for hikers. Tomorrow, we’ll ride alongside the Appalachian for about 11 miles.

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