My stomach hurts from taking ibuprofen, so I'm cycling drug-free today. My knees ache—stabby pains here and there—and I resolve to concentrate on form. Maybe this nagging issue will go away if I keep my back straight and my knees perfectly in line with my pedals. Maybe. . . .
I leave Merchants Millpond State Park, where I camped last night, head north on Middle Swamp Road. The morning is overcast, deep enough gray to obscure the sun, and thirty minutes later I stop and almost dig out my compass.
Or at least I think I'm lost. I'm no longer on Middle Swamp, that much I know.
I'm cycling through rural landscape, dotted with the occasional house set way back off the road, and I'm not about to knock on someone's door to find out how far I'm off route. (I have no desire to peer into the wrong end of a shotgun.) I continue down the road and luckily wind up on Highway 32, which takes me alongside Great Dismal Swamp toward Suffolk, Virginia. Highway 32 has high-speed traffic, trucks roaring past, blasting me with sheets of wind that wobble me back and forth, and I rely on my rear-view mirror to keep me safe. My stress level is way up—heart pounding—and I pedal harder in an effort to leave another terror ride behind.
I cross the state line, ride into Virginia and soon reach the town of Suffolk, where I spend time in the library, then head north again. The roads have less traffic and the stress level is down. Toward the end of the day, I notice my form is less solid and my knees are angled outward. I straighten my legs and
|Nice to see this sign.|
The next morning, I ferry across the James River and watch an osprey dive toward the water. The bird levels off at the last minute, clutches a fish in his talons, struggles to regain elevation. His wing-flaps are ponderous—he's bogged down with the extra weight—and it takes him awhile to put some air between him and the water. I'm rooting for him and grin when he has it all under control.
|Bird colony on a piling|
|On the ferry|
"Enjoy your breakfast," I say.
But then another osprey, a lazy prick of a bird, glides down and clutches the fish in his own talons. A battle ensues in mid-air—both birds tumbling toward the water—and both determined to hold onto the prize. At the last second, as though they were of one mind, they release the fish and soar upward. The fish falls into the river, splash, and I wonder what's going through its brain. One moment it was doing fishy things in its watery environment, like breathing for instance, and the next it was caught between four sets of talons engaged in a battle royale. I hope it swims a little deeper next time.
On the other side of the river, I stop on a sidewalk and spread a map over my handlebars. I'm looking at the first of my Adventure Cycling maps, whisper a silent "thank you" to this organization for donating to Ride between the Stars. Map 12 is part of the TransAmerica set, a bike trail that runs coast to coast, and I plan on following it westward.
I turn onto VA Capital Trail and cycle stress-free for a few hours. Old-time plantations line this bike trail, and there is a dearth of restaurants and convenience stores. I pass up a small store outside Charles City, get off the TransAm and ride toward Richmond in search of a grocery. I've decided to take tomorrow off and buy several boxes of mac-n-cheese at Food Lion. I pitch next to a swamp an hour's ride southeast of Richmond, sleep through a rainy night. The next morning I wake up and find water under my sleeping pad, reach outside and pat under the tent. I mentally kick myself in the butt. Between my cycling and hiking adventures I've pitched a tent well over a thousand times and this is the first I've pitched in a location that puddles.
|VA Capital Trail trestle|
I know better!
Since I'm staying put there's only one thing to do, and that's pull up stakes and head for a better location. I put on my rain gear and move my campsite to a small mound, settle in for the day. The rain drizzles off and on, a patter on my tent fly, and I listen to the radio for hours and hours. I'm bored, bored, bored, don't like taking time off and almost break camp and cycle through the bad weather. Almost. My knees need the rest, I tell myself, plus I have these delicious mac-n-cheese meals to tide me over. Ha! I cook one and force the blandness down, remind myself to buy butter the next time I hit a store. And milk. Butter and milk, that's what is missing in this meal.
I've finally hit them, and they come one right after another.
Very, very tiring.
I cycle into Mineral and pitch behind the fire station, sleep through another night of rain. The next day the sun comes out and I head to the library. I work until 2:00 PM and get caught in another rainstorm as I'm cycling to Palmyra. The hills slow me down, down, down, and I arrive at Palmyra United Methodist Church late afternoon. This church started taking in TransAmers last year, and they know how to treat a long distance cyclist. I eat an apple and chicken salad sandwich, drink a glass of wine, all compliments of a lady across the street. The pastor stops in, and I discreetly hide the wine behind a cardboard box. He invites me to his house for a shower, and I relax under the hot spray for what seems like hours.
Good food and a shower.
It doesn't take much to make this cyclist happy.
|Appalachian Mountains on the horizon|
"We rode bicycles down from Indiana," the older man tells me. "Arrived a couple of days ago."
Yeah, right. Where are your tans, buddy?
He's got hard black eyes, a fleshy-face, is chain-smoking and talking about the AT as though he's hiked it end to end. None of his trail descriptions are correct—for instance Asheville is not a resupply point for hikers—and I know I'm hearing one lie after another. I keep my opinion to myself, and the two guys go off and leave the girl behind. It starts raining and she looks at me and smiles. She's blue-eyed and brown-haired, I'd guess maybe eighteen, and before long she's offering advice—"confidentially, of course"—how to make money along the trail.
"You've got to go to the Walmart parking lots," she says, "and hold up a sign that says 'AT thru-hiker, out of funds.'"
I smile back at her and nod like I appreciate the tip, but I'm seething inside. These three jerks are living along the AT and holding up signs claiming to be thru-hikers out of money, a scam that takes advantage of the good nature of folks who live along the trail.
"I can make sixty, seventy bucks in two hours in the rain," she says.
She nods. "People get real sympathetic when I'm out in the rain."
I abruptly get up from the table and go to my tent. Some people suck, and that's all there is to it. I suspect this triplet was in the county jail and got released the same day, hooked up for this little venture. Screw them. Karma will win out in the end.
I ride to a friend's house, my purpose for taking this detour off the TransAm, settle in for a multi-day rest. Not long into my stay I receive the welcome news that CST has come aboard. I've ridden their tires for years, over 20,000 miles, and I love them. They are appreciative of the concept behind Ride between the Stars—raising awareness for the Muscular Dystrophy Association—and I'm pleased for the sponsorship of such a fine company. Many thanks, CST.