"Let's bike the TransAmerica Trail!"
My biking buddy, Jack Arvidson, made that proposition one day early in the year of 1981.
This log is a record of that trip.
Friday, September 11, 1981
Some bikers, upon completing a trip like this one, sit down and write a book about how the trip has changed their life, or inspired them, or revealed some great truths. It wasn't like that for me. I set out to see the county and to have fun, and that's what happened. My only revelations were of mundane truths that I rather expected, anyway. For example:
- This is a big country. It's also beautiful. There’s a lot to see and do, and there's just not enough time to do it all. We must pick and choose, and it is difficult to do wisely.
- People are basically good and kind and honest. There are exceptions, of course, but for every mean bastard or inconsiderate turkey we met (usually aged 16-30, male, driving a car), there were at least five people who were kind to us, gave us directions, fed us, put us up for the night, opened their stores for us - the list goes on and on.
- It's not easy to maintain complete harmony and compatibility with a riding companion for 4300 miles. Paces differ, conflicts arise in the division of time among activities, people get lost, or dawdle, and someone ends up waiting several hours - this list goes on and on, too.
Jack was an early riser, efficient in his actions; I tended to sleep in, and performed my chores more slowly. Jack was more interested in setting a steady pace, with short rest stops and an afternoon nap. I rode faster, with frequent sightseeing stops. Jack preferred the smooth, direct routes. I took the old roads with their hills and curves. Jack's more talkative - after all, he's in real estate. I'm quiet, sometimes downright uncommunicative, especially when provoked by incidents such as three flats and a broken spoke or two. Part of the problem may be that I subconsciously equated Jack with my father, with whom I have trouble getting along. If I did the trip again, I would either do it alone or travel with a larger group.
It's now September 11, two weeks since the trip ended. I sat down tonight to trace our route on a map of the United States, referring to the notes I had mailed home to Dad for the names of towns we had passed through. Looking at the map, it doesn't seem possible that I really biked all that way - after all, here I am back home, and everything here is the same as it was three months ago. The notes read as if a stranger had written them in the distant past. It would be very easy to convince myself that this summer never really happened. Do I have a subconscious desire to suppress memories of the trip?
When we finally reached Yorktown, I didn't want to admit to myself that it was the end; I wanted to keep on cycling. Now the adventure belongs to the past. It's another sign of my mortality, and that may be an explanation for the seeming strangeness of the notes and my desire to prolong the trip.
When we crossed into Illinois, I asked myself, "Why should I continue to the east coast? What will it prove? Why not turn left and head home to Michigan? After all, it will save the trouble of finding a way home."
I didn't do it, of course. Jack was carrying the food and cooking equipment, and I had the tent. We were depending on each other. If that had not been the case, what would I have decided to do? I don't know.
The journey seemed to fall into five segments, with the dividing points being the towns of Missoula, Denver, Ste. Genevieve, and Berea. During the last leg (and more intensely when we reached Virginia), the underlying thought for both Jack and me was to get the ride over with. After almost two months on the road, and with our self-imposed deadline of the end of August approaching, we were both mentally tired of the daily routine which formed the framework of our days. Only when we arrived in Yorktown did that ennui evaporate. I felt as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders, and that I was free to cast my eye in any direction - not just east. The future was no longer certain: it was of my own choosing, and therein lay excitement.
Tuesday, September 8, 1981
79. Home: Lansing, Michigan
Day 79: Tuesday, September 8, 1981
Home: Marietta to Lansing
Today's notes are being written 32 years after they occurred. And, given my advanced senility, I of course can't remember most of the details. Such as whether this really happened on September 8. So I could make up something really outlandish - a slam-bang ending to my big journey - and nobody would be the wiser.
I do remember that Mary and I did not really have that much in common, and I'm not that much of a conversationalist, so the trip home was pretty quiet. She lives in a suburb of Cleveland, so if we made the 700 miles from Atlanta in one day, it would have been a pretty long trip. Mary drove me to the bus station, I threw my bike on board, and was home some five hours later. It was a low-key ending to a rewarding summer adventure. At least Catastrophe (my cat) was glad to see me.
Monday, September 7, 1981
78. Back to Marietta
Day 78: Monday, September 7, 1981
Duluth to Marietta
|And they're off!|
|After 32 years, don't ask me who's who.|
At the race, I met a bicycle mechanic, his wife, and his son, and we ate lunch together, then rode to Piedmont Park to catch some of the 8-day Atlanta Jazz Festival. The mechanic suggested a scenic route back to Marietta, where I was to rejoin Mary for the trip home, and mentioned the steepest hill in the area: a 20% grade on Cochise Drive. Of course, I had to try it. The hill was only about 300 yards long, but I had to stop twice on the way up to catch my breath. It was definitely the second steepest hill on the trip - after the driveway up to the hostel at Grand Lake in Colorado.
Sunday, September 6, 1981
77. Still Duluth
Day 77: Sunday, September 6, 1981
Today may be the day I cycled the farthest without getting anywhere. I'm right back behind the railway museum again.
A cyclist from Norcross buzzed by the museum just as I pulled up stakes this morning. We rode together for a few miles (that workout really gave me an appetite!), and he steered me in the right direction for breakfast: the Original Pancake House on Peachtree Road, just southwest of Oglethorpe University. This morning, the line at the door was half an hour long, but the wait was worth it. I ordered an apple pancake. It was superb, and would have filled an ordinary person up. I would have ordered again, but the waitress never returned.
I shared the breakfast table with another cyclist - a French pastry chef who now lives in Atlanta. He had just completed a bicycle tour which took him to Texas, then Connecticut, and down the coast to Jacksonville. He has worked just about everywhere, and loves to travel, never staying at the same job very long. He quit his job at the Hilton for his summer trip, and promptly found another when he returned.
After breakfast, I headed for Lenox Square to sign up for tomorrow's Bicycle Morning. The bike ride starts at 8:00, so I'll have to get up early in the morning. And the criterium at 10:00 would be interesting. Top racers from Georgia and national teams, including the Stetina brothers, are competing for $3000 in cash prizes.
|Work crew at the Southeastern Railway Museum|
The men here say that the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum in Chattanooga is excellent. It has a full-time director (who can solicit funds) and three miles of former main-line track that is in excellent (45 mph) condition. They also mention that Southern has merged with Norfolk & Western, and plans to restore the huge J-6 locomotive #611 that is now at the Roanoke museum for excursion passenger service. [Note from the future: In 1981, Norfolk Southern restored #611, and used her in excursion service until 1994. The museum is once again trying to return #611 to service.
Well, railroad interests managed to occupy the entire afternoon. I wheeled into Duluth to buy more film and grab a bite (no more home cooking on this trip!), then came back to the museum to set up camp. As you can see, I didn't accomplish much, but it was an interesting day.
Saturday, September 5, 1981
76. Duluth, Georgia
Day 76: Saturday, September 5, 1981
Stone Mountain to Duluth
Poor planning and the lack of a definite itinerary are really leaving their mark. I had thought that four days in Atlanta would give me plenty of time for a variety of activities, but two days are now gone and I've accomplished very little.
|Tourist trap choo-choo|
|It looks kinda like a big loaf of bread.|
The mountain sat for almost 50 years before the tools were once again picked up - for the final time. The sculpture was completed in 1970, and shows Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, the two generals on horseback, looking out over what remains of their dream of a separate nation.
I climbed the footpath to the top of Stone Mountain - most tourists take the aerial tramway. There was more schlock at the top. On a clear day, the view must be magnificent, but today's haze made it impossible even to spot Atlanta, which is 12-15 miles to the west.
At the bottom, I met a couple of former Michiganders (he had attended MSU) who had moved to Atlanta four years ago. They loved the city, in spite of its extremely high humidity - "You get used to it," they said. "Just think of it as a steam bath."
I frittered away most of the day at Stone Mountain. Around 4:00, I set out for Tucker, where I stopped at a bike shop, and Duluth, where the Southeastern Railway Museum is located. It was closed when I arrived, but I'll camp here tonight, cycle downtown tomorrow morning, and catch the railroad museum in the afternoon, when it'll be open. The bike shop was also closed when I got there, but one of the guys (he was from Flint) opened it up for me, oiled my chain, and gave me a beer, and we talked for a while. He's moving to Key West, where everyone rides bicycles, but nobody goes very far. He says there's a huge bicycle shop there - 300 bikes on the floor, and the business is great. Here in Atlanta, he's helped put together a criterium-plus-easy-bike-ride, which will be held on Labor Day. I might try to catch that, if I can figure out how to get there from here.
Hint for bikers: Don't stay in a big, crowded campground on Labor Day weekend.
Friday, September 4, 1981
75. Stone Mountain, Georgia
Day 75: Friday, September 4, 1981
Marietta to Stone Mountain
I really slept in this morning. Didn't get up until 9:00 or so, and it was 11:00 before I was back in the saddle.
I felt like an interloper last night, sitting around with Mary and her friend and her brother, so I decided to just go my own way for the next four days, see a little of the country around Atlanta, and rejoin Mary Tuesday morning for the ride to Cleveland. Stone Mountain seemed like a good place to start.
Stone Mountain was only about 30 miles from Marietta, but it took me nine hours to get there. Yesterday's light diet, plus the exertion after a day's inactivity, combined to give me a feeling of light-headedness and general weakness. I think my meal stops were about five miles apart all day. And the cold front which has been stationary over the Appalachians for the past four or five days finally produced some thundershowers in the Atlanta area.
Traveling through greater metropolitan Atlanta was no fun, either. And several rush-hour traffic jams made the going even slower. I was lucky to get the tent set up before dark.
Stone Mountain is just what its name implies - a big hunk of stone sticking up out of the rolling, wooded Georgia hills. A state park surrounds the mountain, which, since the Confederate memorial carving was completed, has become a tourist attraction, complete with aerial tramway, steam railway, and Confederate history museum. As I circled the mountain on the way to the campground, the sun forced its way through to bathe the mountain, wreathed in leftover rain clouds, in a soft pink glow.
Hint to bikers: If you're stopping at a large campground such as this one, which has over 400 sites, don't pay a site fee. Just say you're looking for Joe and Annie, who drive a blue Chevy pickup with silver trim and have a camping trailer... Then you can just cruise through the campground, find some friendly people, and share their site. Just like Yellowstone. But don't wait until dark to do it.
Thursday, September 3, 1981
Day 74: Thursday, September 3, 1981
It's time to move on. Mary left for Atlanta this morning, so she stopped by Williamsburg to pick me up. I said good-bye to Mike and hit the road - the easy way, in the right front seat.
We took I-85 all the way to Atlanta - made the 500 or so miles in 8 hours, a little faster than I'm used to. Mary took me to her brother's apartment to spend the night, then drove over to her friend's place. Her brother spent the night with his girlfriend, so I'm alone here. And hungry. I haven't eaten since noon. Guess I'll stay up and watch the late movie and listen to my stomach.
Wednesday, September 2, 1981
71-73. Williamsburg and Jamestown, Virginia
Day 71: Monday, August 31, 1981
Day 72: Tuesday, September 1, 1981
Day 73: Wednesday, September 2, 1981
The past few days have been quite relaxing. I doubt if I've traveled 50 miles since last Saturday. There is so much to see and do here, it would be easy to spend a week, or a month, or a year, on this peninsula.
|A Williamsburg residence.|
I doubt the streets were paved back then.
Yesterday, I cycled out to Jamestown. Compared with Williamsburg, it's rather a letdown. The only remains of the original colony are part of a church tower, and foundations to mark the locations of the houses. The foundations were excavated years ago, then reburied to preserve them. New brickwork now indicates the positions of these foundations.
|A demonstration of|
Carter's Grove is another 18th-century plantation, about six miles south of Williamsburg on the bank of the James River. It was but one link in the chain of the mighty Carter empire, which at its peak held 300,000 acres in Tidewater Virginia. Almost all the outbuildings have disappeared, but the main house has been preserved and is now maintained and exhibited by the C.W.F. The last owner, so the story goes, wanted to buy Westover Plantation, but couldn't so she bought Carter's Grove and remodeled it to look like Westover. I was a little disappointed in the house, but enjoyed talking to the gardener.
Much of my time these past three days has been spent searching for ghosts. One book (Ghosts of Virginia, by Marguerite DuPont Lee) has two pages on a Williamsburg ghost, but the account is romanticized and full of historical errors. The official C.W. position is that there might well be a ghost or two, but it's not worth looking into because C.W. deals with historical fact, and ghosts cannot be substantiated. (Maybe transubstantiated?) But in casual inquiries around the area, I turned up evidence of perhaps half a dozen ghosts. Didn't see any, though.
|Fifes and drums and fifes and drums and...|
For supper last night, Mike and I went to a small restaurant in Williamsburg. Surprisingly, it featured decent food at a low price. For $3.75, we had a huge portion of lasagna with tossed salad and garlic bread. I topped it off with three beers. The lasagna wasn't as good as mine, but it filled us up.
Sunday, August 30, 1981
70. Williamsburg, Virginia
Day 70: Sunday, August 30, 1981
I slept in this morning. I wonder why. I had planned to rise early and beat all the tourists to Williamsburg, but it was close to 10:00 when I got there. As it turned out, that was fine.
The Information Center seemed like a good place to start. It was. It was there that I met a girl of the opposite sex. (She was on a bicycle, of course.) I ended up spending the day with her. She ended up inviting me to Virginia Beach, Atlanta, and Cleveland. (She has a summer job as a student physical therapist in Virginia Beach, has a brother in Atlanta, and goes to school in Cleveland.) That took care of my ride home. Today, we toured Williamsburg together.
Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia
from 1699 until 1779.
In 1699, the Virginia capital was changed from Jamestown to Middle Plantation, which was renamed Williamsburgh. It remained the capital until 1779, when the government moved its offices to Richmond. After that, Williamsburg declined into a sleepy little town, its buildings decaying.
|The Governor's Palace, built in 1722|
Then, in 1926, John D. Rockefeller Jr., having become aware of the historical value of the 88 remaining original buildings, set up a $60 million trust fund for the purpose of preserving Williamsburg's historical and cultural heritage. Today, Colonial Williamsburg is a foundation which owns, maintains, reconstructs, and preserves the original part of the town.
|The spire of Bruton Parish Church|
rises over some formal gardens.
|You can actually buy the stringed instruments made here.|
In others, colonial crafts are demonstrated. In one shop, several craftsmen make stringed instruments, using 18th-century tools. Violins, guitars, lutes, and so on are made to order. A typical violin requires about 250 hours labor, and sells for $2000 or more. Other crafts included printing, bookbinding, wigmaking, pewtermaking, and on and on. The rest of the houses in the historical district, although owned by the foundation, are private residences, usually for C.W. employees.
|The inmates are colorfully attired,...|
Afternoon showers drove away most of the tourists, but I put on my rain gear and stayed around. In front of Chowning's Tavern, I talked with the porter and two chambermaids. One was a student at William and Mary College; another had just graduated. Their costumes are provided and maintained by the organization, and are individually tailored.
|...and are quite cheerful,...|
|...showing no propensity to escape.|
On the way out of town, I grabbed a sub and a beer at a deli. That's why this handwriting is not so good. But since I'm going to type it up anyway, you won't have to decipher this mess. So I ain't neat. Tomorrow, on to Jamestown.
Saturday, August 29, 1981
69. Yorktown, Virginia
Day 69: Saturday, August 29, 1981
Charles City to Yorktown: 30 miles
We made it!
|Somewhere before the Colonial Parkway. Nice!|
|Colonial Parkway - scenic, but the concrete was rough|
I didn't bother stopping at Williamsburg - that would have consumed half a day, and I wanted to get to Yorktown to meet Jack and Lena.
Two hundred years ago, Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown, bringing the Revolutionary War to a victorious close. Preparations are under way for next month's big bicentennial celebration of the event, and the Visitor Center already has some demonstrations of colonial crafts. A pewtersmith from a shop in Richmond was demonstrating the casting of pewter, and some members of the Culpeper Minutemen had set up a small encampment in preparation for coming military engagements. One of them was demonstrating the construction of a Virginia rifle.
|Not quite the Atlantic Ocean, but the end of the road for us|
Jack rode into town shortly after noon, and Lena found us a couple of hours later. Jack had his bike disassembled and packed away before we could pose for our victory photo, and neither of us bothered to dip our wheels. Besides, the Atlantic Ocean proper is still over 50 miles away!
After a celebratory meal at Nick's restaurant, we parted - Jack and Lena home to Florida for the winter, and I to my own devises. My plans were to take in Williamsburg and Jamestown on Sunday, then head to Newport News or Hampton on Monday for a bus, plane, or train trip home. But plans have a way of changing.
|Cannonball embedded in the wall|
of Ted's grandmother's house
Friday, August 28, 1981
68. Charles City, Virginia
Day 68: Friday, August 28, 1981
Ashland to Charles City: 70 miles
Although we have been out of the mountains for two days now, it didn't really become obvious until today. The Piedmont Plateau, through which we have been traveling, doesn't seem like much of a plateau at all. The hills are quite rolling. Yesterday's ride was through roller coaster hills - not too many long grades.
Today, we left the hills behind. The land slopes gently down to the sea, with only a minor rise here and there. We're loafing along, and still shouldn't have any trouble getting in 70 miles to the next campground.
The Bikecentennial Trail passes through the Richmond National Battlefield Park, which encompasses the sites of many battles, including Beaver Dam Creek, Cold Harbor, and Malvern Hill. Still to be seen are the remains of the Union and Confederate trenches. Numerous national cemeteries containing Union war dead dot the area. Many of the Confederate dead were buried in Richmond.
Many houses that were built in the nineteenth century have been restored in the Federal style, and new homes are also Federal copies or imitations. We passed by many historic landmarks today: the home of John Tyler, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee's mother, and on and on. Many of these homes have been restored and are open to the public. One of these is Berkeley Plantation, whose present buildings date from the 1700s. It is on the bank of the James River, and is famous for a number of things, most of which I have forgotten (one: Taps, the bugle call, was composed there). Jack and I rode almost a mile over a rough dirt lane to the house, only to find that tours cost $4.50. We're both skinflints, and thought this exorbitant - they should have paid us, after biking over that road! So we bumped back to the highway and continued eastward.
|The end of the penultimate day (or, more likely, the next morning)|
Thursday, August 27, 1981
67. Ashland, Virginia
Day 67: Thursday, August 27, 1981
Kents Store to Ashland: 50 miles
|A shady little stream|
We eased our pace a bit today. Jack again took the low road (US 250), and took eight hours to go the 50 or so miles to Ashland. I stuck to the bike route, except for one small shortcut.
As I was leaving Mineral, John (the biker I had met at Monticello) pulled up alongside me. He was headed farther north, but we rode together for the next seven miles. It turned out that John and Choo Choo had biked together from Idaho down to the Tetons.
The rest of the trip to Ashland was pleasant, if uneventful. I passed Scotchtown, the home of Patrick Henry from 1771 to 1778, but didn't tour the house. By 2:00, I was dragging - probably due to the pace I had set yesterday from Monticello to Kents Store. The fast ride with John hadn't helped, either, although the path I took with him saved 6½ miles off the regular bike route.
Ashland is a strange little town. The double-track C&O railroad line runs down the middle of the main street, and the small railroad station is of unusual architecture. I watched as an Amtrak passenger train zipped through.
|The railroad tracks bisect Ashland's main street.|
|Unusual architecture for a railroad station|
Jack had not had a shower in four days - I, in six. So we opted for a real campground tonight. It's right next to I-95, south of Ashland, and the chirping of the crickets and cicadas cannot hide the hum of the truck tires on the pavement. Perhaps the noises will re-accustom me to city sounds. Ah, home!
Wednesday, August 26, 1981
66. Kents Store, Virginia
Day 66: Wednesday, August 26, 1981
Waynesboro to Kents Store: 70 miles
Today was a long one, considering the hilly terrain. And to make it longer, we visited Monticello and spent several hours in Charlottesville. Not to mention the Cookie Lady.
Five miles' biking from Waynesboro put us back onto the bike route. Jack then stuck to US 250 into Charlottesville, only a two-hour ride. I followed the route, and, as happened yesterday, arrived at Charlottesville several hours behind Jack. The bike route was beautiful, with superb views of the valley and dozens of beautiful old homes. And the Cookie Lady.
The hill down into Afton was steep. Rounding a corner, I spied beside the road an old bicycle, equipped with saggy panniers, a Bikecentennial triangle, and a sign: BIKERS - STOP FOR WATER HERE. Further instructions told bikers to go inside the house next to the bike and ring the bell for the Cookie Lady. As I stopped, an old man and a dog came from the garage, and the man introduced himself as Harold, the Cookie Lady's father, and the dog as Curley Joe. He rang the bell and gave me a tour of the downstairs of the house, which they had made into a kind of hostel for bikers. Soon the Cookie Lady appeared, and the cookies and lemonade followed.
|The Cookie Lady, dad Harold, and Curley Joe|
June Curry - for that was her name - said it was a shame we had skipped the Blue Ridge Parkway, and told of an easier way to get onto it, down by Lexington. She was quite upset with Waynesboro's failure to provide a hostel - it seems they send all the AT hikers over to her, and she has trouble handling everybody. She said the trailer at the Salvation Army store belongs to an AT hiker from up north who moved in to see if she could do anything about getting a hostel started. So far, apparently a local reporter and the Bikecentennial people have failed miserably.
Before I left, June snapped a Polaroid photo of me. She has albums of photos of just about everyone who has stopped, and postcards and other items of thanks adorn her walls. The visit with the Cookie Lady, dad Harold, and Curley Joe was truly one of the high points of the whole trip.
Jack and I were to meet in Charlottesville for lunch. It was larger than we had expected (about 40,000 population, plus the University of Virginia), and we never found each other. Also, as it turned out, Jack was leaving town as I was arriving. Good timing.
|Thomas Jefferson designed buildings at both U-Va and Monticello.|
I spent two hours looking for Jack, then decided he had gone on. After a quick lunch at Hardee's, I headed for Monticello, where the gatekeeper and two bicyclists informed me that I had missed Jack by half an hour!
Monticello is one house to tour, if only for its historic significance. It is much smaller than I had expected, and the tour was brief, but it was quite interesting. Once is enough, though.
|Monticello - the house is really quite small|
While there, I met a biker from Illinois who was also following the TransAmerica Trail - more or less. John works as a hydrologist for the State of Illinois, and is currently collecting data for a study of the effects of surface mining on water runoff into streams. The results will be used to help set standards for land reclamation.
I didn't leave Monticello until six pm, and Jack and I were to spend the night at Kents Store, 31 miles away. Ash Lawn, the home of James Monroe for several years (also designed by Jefferson), was on the way, but I stopped only long enough to look at the outside. It was nowhere near as impressive as Monticello, being intended to serve as a working farm.
Try as I might, I could average only 12 mph to Kents Store. I arrived at 8:45, after dark. Jack had beaten me by over two hours. Kents Store had a store and a post office, and we made a supper of cold ham and cheese sandwiches. Luckily, the store stayed open until ten. A local German shepherd was the most persistent moocher I ever saw - we had to defend our sandwiches bodily.
|Kents Store - no, that isn't the store|
A pasture beside the store was our campground for the night. We pitched the tent in the dark and crawled in after guzzling a beer each. Amazingly, the ground was smoother than it had been at the Salvation Army store. That and the beer gave us a peaceful night of sound sleep.
Tuesday, August 25, 1981
65. Waynesboro, Virginia
Day 65: Tuesday, August 25, 1981
Natural Bridge to Waynesboro: 61 miles
Now that we're approaching eastern Virginia with all its historical and tourist attractions, things are starting to happen to us again.
After saying goodbye to Lefty the cigar-chomping mechanic, we coasted into the town of Natural Bridge. Unfortunately, the whole thing is a big commercial tourist-trap enterprise. The highway apparently passes right over the natural rock bridge, but big board fences blocked our view. The admission charge was $3, or $7.85 for the bridge-wax museum-caverns package. [2013 prices are $21 and $28.] We decided it wasn't worth it, even though Thomas Jefferson had been the first American owner of the property and George Washington is said to have carved his initials into the rock about 1750.
|Lexington's historic downtown area|
We stopped in Lexington to do our laundry, and looked around the town a little. It is an historic town, and the local historic preservation society has done a lot to enhance and preserve the facades of many structures.
|The Stonewall Jackson house|
General Stonewall Jackson lived here while teaching at VMI. His house has been restored and is open to the public, but we didn't tour that, either. As we left town, we rode through the VMI campus. We didn't see the campus of Washington and Lee University, but it is supposed to be nice.
Jack stayed on US 11 to Steele's Tavern, but I followed the map. It turned out to be a lot curvier and hillier, but with a good view of the valley. Unfortunately, a broken spoke and a flat tire delayed me an hour and a half. On top of that, the zipper on my handlebar bag broke. Well, I can fix that when I get home.
Then a stop at an old mill took another 45 minutes. It was a little off the route, but I just happened to spy it down a side road. Wade's Mill was first built around 1750, then destroyed by fire in the 1870s. The first Wade bought it in the 1880s, and his great grandson is now restoring it to operating condition. He intends to produce a stone-ground bread flour, using a mixture of hard and soft wheats, and market it in the Virginia-Maryland-Delaware area at a price competitive with the big flour mills. It's an ambitious plan, and will take a lot of work to carry off.
In recent years, the mill race had been abandoned, and the mill had been powered by an old Farmall tractor that was still on the ground floor. But the water wheel had just been freed up, and one of the workers invited me to turn it. I climbed inside it and made like a guinea pig. I was soon moving at a trot. It's amazing how easy it was to turn. Of course, there was no load on the wheel yet.
Poor Jack - he was stuck waiting two hours for me at Steele's Tavern. We were going to have lunch there, but the grocery turned out to be a pool hall. So we moved on.
From Steele's Tavern, the bike route climbs up Mt. Vesuvius to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a four-mile 8% grade, and we decided to skip it. So we took the low road (US 11) to Waynesboro.
There are no campgrounds near Waynesboro, and no facilities in town for hikers or bikers. We pitched our tent in the yard of the Salvation Army thrift store. There was a camping trailer there, but nobody was around. For supper, we biked back up the hill (just a short one) to the Pizza Inn, where we had a pitcher of beer and stuffed ourselves on the $2.99 buffet. The Pizza Hut next door is taking away all their business. Too bad - it was a nice place.
Monday, August 24, 1981
64. Natural Bridge,Virginia
Day 64: Monday, August 24, 1981
Salem to Natural Bridge: 53 miles
We're trying to use up all our food by the end of the trip. This morning we ran out of pancake flour after only four or five pancakes apiece. But we had the good fortune to find a doughnut shop right next to the telephone booth I stopped at to call the office.
Norfolk & Western J6 #611|
at the Virginia Museum of Transportation
Jack and I followed US 11 to Troutville to rejoin the Bikecentennial route. I followed the TA trail up to Natural Bridge, but Jack stayed on US 11, which was smoother and less hilly, although more heavily traveled.
|Name this vine!|
We had picked a campground from the route book to spend the night, but there was no campground there. So we set up our tent next to a gas station. The mechanic lives there in a motor home, and he supplied us with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from his garden, and some white corn likker. Two wets of the tongue were plenty for me, but Jack downed a tad more.
The old guy (must have been about 55) was a character. He's from Louisiana, and used to run a body shop in Baltimore. But he had enough of that, gave his 22 employees a month's notice, and closed up shop. Now he does his own mechanicking, gardens, fishes, roams around, and is a lot happier.
After an interesting conversation with Lefty, we stuffed ourselves with macaroni and cheese and vegetables, washed down with beer, orange juice, tomato juice, white lightning, and pop, and then hit the hay.
Sunday, August 23, 1981
63. Salem, Virginia
Day 63: Sunday, August 23, 1981
Wytheville to Salem: 60 miles
|A roadside stream|
Near I-81 about eight miles east of Wytheville, we passed by a stone monument marking the location of the Wilderness Trail. By 1800, over 60,000 pioneers had traveled over the trail to settle in southwestern Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee since Daniel Boone blazed it only a few years earlier.
|Name these flowers!|
|The former N&W station in Salem|
Jack has another cousin in Roanoke, which is about 30 miles east of here. He hasn't seen her for 20 years, and can't remember her married name. He's been trying to call Lena to get the info, but no luck.
|Log house by the side of the road|
We stopped for the night at Dixie Caverns, about 15 miles west of Roanoke. A sign said that these are the only caverns in this part of Virginia (whatever that means), but we just camped here. It was a short day today - only 60 miles or so, but Jack was happy. We biked back up the road to a restaurant, where a customer told us we had picked the wrong restaurant - the other one served real food.
At the campground, we met a Danish family from near Hamilton, Ontario. The grandfather must have been in his 80s, and he was originally from Sweden. Jack told him he'd see him in a couple of years for a Scandinavian tour, and they exchanged addresses.
Saturday, August 22, 1981
62. Wytheville, Virginia
Day 62: Saturday, August 22, 1981
Damascus to Wytheville: 63 miles
After our 80-mile day yesterday, we were worn out. Jack awoke at 8:00, but Choo Choo and I didn't want to. Jack and I tried the Gateway Restaurant for breakfast. It was nothing to rave about. We finally made it out of town about 10:00.
|Choo Choo takes a break|
We've already crossed the Appalachians! It didn't take nearly as long as crossing the Rockies. Most of the terrain today was rolling, with gentle grades - even though the hills were still a lot bigger than you'll ever see in Michigan. We had a seven-mile climb this morning, but it was the easiest climb of that length on the trip.
|Name these flowers!|
The route parallels the eastern side of the Appalachian range up to Roanoke, then heads back southeast. Jack and I are at a KOA tonight. We paid $3.90 each for a campsite - the highest ever on the trip. Choo Choo had said this morning that she would stop at Rural Retreat tonight - she probably didn't leave Damascus until noon.
|Rural Retreat's railroad station, long unused|
Jack fixed a real conglomeration for supper tonight. We stopped at a produce market and picked up three green peppers, six pears, eight nectarines, and three ears of corn for $1.87. So Jack combined the peppers, corn, an onion, some tomato sauce, a pound of sausage (the store was out of hamburger), and some Minute Rice. The sausage was terrible.
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