Tuesday, September 3, 2013

September 4- Dale City to Alexandria, Va.

We did it. We rode across the U.S.in 91 days, traveling 4,287 miles and climbing 162,483 feet in the process. We are glad to reach our goal, but have enjoyed the whole trip tremendously.

Riding out of Dale City this morning was a nightmare of heavy traffic on roads not designed with the thought that anyone would ride a bike on them. We spent a good bit of time on sidewalks and crossing intersections by using pedestrian lights. The turning point came as we were trying to make our way along busy U.S. 1 with no shoulder. A young man pulled his car over and gave us an alternative route which would be easier and safer. It led back to the intended route at the gate of the huge Ft. Belvoir army base. From then on the riding was easy and enjoyable. A few miles past the army base the road ended at Mt. Vernon. As we'd planned, we stopped there and spent the afternoon touring Washington's mansion overlooking the Potomac River and the gardens and grounds around it. One picture below is Sandy relaxing on George Washington's back porch. When we got back on the bike, it was only ten more miles to Alexandria on the Mt. Vernon Bike Trail. When we approached my brother Shaun's house it was very near our ETA of 6 o'clock, and Shaun was actually standing on the corner waiting to take a picture of our arrival. Not only that, but Chris Wolz, a fellow transam rider we'd met back in Kansas, rode up on his bike at the same moment to join the welcoming party. Shaun's wife Sarah and their son Kyle unfurled a welcoming banner (see pic) and we dipped our wheel in the Potomac to give the ride its traditional end.

Some bike tours are "unsupported", meaning without a guide or vehicle to carry  luggage. We have carried our own gear, but in every other respect, we have been "supported" all the way. We have stayed in motels and eaten in restaurants except where there were none. We have camped a few times, but more often we were generously provided a place to stay by churches and fire stations. Some of the odd places we have slept will be among our fondest memories, like the gym, the jail, the dance hall, and the exercise room by the minimart. We have been overwhelmed by people's generosity all through the trip. When the bike failed, we were put back on the road by four bike shops, in each case at embarassingly little cost or no cost at all. The people at Bike Friday sent new parts so often we were on a first-name basis with Tim and Phil. Lloyd at ABC Bicycles in St. Pete was there to help us locate a part we despaired of finding. The route maps from Adventure Cycling were indispensible guides. Equally important, we have been buoyed by encouragement from other riders, the many other people we've met, and those who have commented on our blog. Countless motorists considerately slowed to a crawl behind us until we gave them the all-clear to pass. We have made many new friends who were interested in our story and shared theirs, though we will probably see few of them ever again. It would be ungrateful to say we were "unsupported": without the help of all those people we would not have gotten far in distance or enjoyment. Thanks to all for supporting the trip of a lifetime.

September 3- Fredericksburg to Dale City, Va.

Well, we're getting down to it. We've only 35 miles to go tomorrow to finish our summer's ride.

We took our time getting going this morning, walking several blocks to a cafe/bakery in what was a church building. I was looking for the holy water as we entered. At 9:30 we were finally on the road. Fredericksburg is a medium sized but very busy city; an error on our map got us lost on the way out of town. Sandy commented she was glad to be clear of the metropolitan area. Hah! Just getting started in it.

Until the early afternoon we travelled an endless series of small county roads, most but not all with light traffic. Two motorists did slow to warn us we should be on safer roads. OK, but where? We were following Adventure Cycling's Atlantic Coast route, which is also Virginia's bicycle highway No. 1.

We met a young couple just starting today on a bike tour to the Gulf coast. We wished them well, with the hope they have as much fun as we have had. I forgot to mention we met a lone young man yesterday who rode this summer from Tucson to the Pacific coast, across the U.S., and now is heading for Austin, TX. Wow.

As we approached Dale City, population about same as Wyoming, we remembered an experience riding in Spain a few years ago: Riding with our friend David we started from the hill town of Ronda to Malaga on the Med coast. A man who claimed to be an experienced cyclist advised us to forget our planned route because the main road to Malaga was just fine for riding. The little two-lane road gradually got bigger and busier until finally we were on a limited access superhighway with a 120 kph limit and no shoulder. At one point our lane ran along a wall so we were forced into the traffic lane. We were praying for the police to stop us and haul us anywhere in a safe paddy wagon.
This afternoon's ride wasn't quite that bad, but close enough. Getting through Dale City we spent a fair amount of time on sidewalks and negotiating intersections as if we were pedestrians. And like the ride to Malaga, it ended safely at a comfortable hotel.

  

Monday, September 2, 2013

September 2- Ashland to Fredericksburg, Va.

An excellent hotel breakfast kept us from an early start.

Once on the road, we retraced about 10 miles from yesterday's route, and finally left the Transamerica Bike Route and headed north on the Atlantic Coast Route. Kentucky and Virginia have marked the bike routes (Transam is 76, Atlantic Coast is 1) with signs at almost every turn, and the signs are very helpful. We hope all states follow suit.

We rode about 40 miles through rolling country. Not many farms in this area. No tobacco, a few cornfields, and a few more soybean fields. Many country homes.

After a lunch stop at a KOA, we hit the steepest hill of the whole summer: 19%! We almost ground to a halt but we did top the short hill, feeling a little shattered. Other than that and a few lesser sharp hills, the terrain is settling down to gentle rolling countryside.

Approaching Fredericksburg, we rode through the Civil War battlefield of the same name. Early in the war the Union army tried to cross the Rappahannock River here and storm the heights behind the city where Lee's forces were entrenched. The Union forces were slaughtered. Something like 20,000 men were killed that one day.

At Fredericksburg, after about 60 miles for the day, the lodging choices were limited, and we ended up at a luxurious Marriott in the historic district. Our room is comfortable and large, but not as large as the dance hall upstairs from the fire station where we slept night before last.

Our plan is to end our ride at Alexandria on Wednesday.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

September 1- Mineral to Ashland, Va.

We were up and away early from the fire house in Mineral, to ride ten miles to the next town, Bumpass (pronounced bumpus) in time to attend church there. Then a minimart breakfast and back on the road.

It was only a 45-mile day, so we stopped at Scotchtown, home of Patrick Henry. We got a long personal tour, and learned a lot about him. An interesting guy. One reason he is not as famous as other founding fathers is that he kept very few of his papers. He was also a composer and poet, but he burned it all. He was a successful lawyer and planter, and at the end of his life in 1799 he was one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. The house is maintained by a private historical foundation, and has many pieces of original furniture.

About 10 miles north of Ashland, Va.our route to our goal of Alexandria diverges from the Trans Am route we've been following all summer. But if we'd made the turn there today, we would have been left with nowhere to stay for 40 more miles. So we continued into the sizeable city of Ashland, and will retrace our steps tomorrow.

The terrain has been noticeably flatter over the last two days, though the last five miles into Ashland today were quite hilly.

The picture is Patrick Henry's home, framed by Sandy and our guide.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 31- Charlottesville to Mineral, VA

Today's 55-mile ride itself was uneventful. A hot, humid day, riding through rolling countryside. We drank a lot of water and were happy to reach our destination.

The town of Palmyra was our halfway point today. Even though the population is only a few hundred, they have a good grocery there with a deli. It was too early for lunch, so we had them make us sandwiches to take along. While there we met a cyclist riding from Richmond to Charlottesville who had hosted our Dutch friend Miriam on her way to Yorktown. She had described us and told him to look out for us. We had told Miriam we planned to ride in Holland when we got old (and couldn't climb hills any more). Evidently she thought that was very funny, since we already looked old to her, so she had repeated the story to the man we met today. At yesterday's lunch stop the couple we met had also met Miriam, and plan to take her to New York after they finish their ride. Miriam herself finished eight days ago.

At Mineral, a very small town, there is a barbecue restaurant, but no motels. We sought out the fire station, which our map shows as allowing camping on their grounds. They welcomed us and let us use the showers in the fire house. As we were relaxing outside before dinner, one of the firemen came out, warned us that there was a severe thunderstorm approaching, and invited us to sleep in the dance hall upstairs in the firehouse instead of out in our tent. We were glad to accept the offer.

Before we moved inside we had a long talk with a man who stopped his pickup nearby just to say hello. We learned that Mineral was at the epicenter of the earthquake that shook the mid-atlantic states two years ago. His own house suffered a collapsed chimney, and the local elementary and high schools were damaged beyond repair. Most buildings in the area were damaged. He mentioned one home which cost over a million dollars to repair, of which insurance paid nothing because of fine print: it wasn't the owner's primary residence.

At Charlottesville last night, the motel was amost underneath a railroad trestle. When a train came through in the wee hours the whole building shook. When the air conditioner cycles on here at Mineral, it creates a similar rumble. Train tracks also run beside the building. If it shakes during the night, we won't know if it is the A/C, a train, or an earthquake.

Friday, August 30, 2013

August 30- Love to Charlottesville, VA

We had 16 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway to start the cool, sunny day. A magnificent ride. At the junction of the Blue Ridge and Skyline Drive parkways, we descended from our last mountain of the trip and started eastward to Charlottesville. The countryside is similar but on this side of the mountains there is no sign of the poverty we occasionally saw in the Shenandoah Valley.

We stopped for lunch at a store which has been owned and operated by the same family for 127 years. There we met a couple from Manassas who are also finishing a cross country ride. Many shared experiences. They started in Oregon a couple of weeks after we did.

At Charlottesville we were lucky to find a room on a football weekend, thanks to a computer glitch which had left some rooms unsold at the first motel we tried. After a shower and rest we walked through the historic center of the UVa campus, where my father and younger brother both started their college educations.

On the walk back to our motel we enjoyed watching the band practice their halftime show.

We have a good web connection, so I'll include pictures from yesterday and today:

Sandy on Blue Ridge Pky Thursday, telling our story.
Our cabin just off the Blue Ridge Pky.
Blue Ridge Pky Friday.
Wyant's Store, White Hall, Va.
Univ. of Va. Rotunda

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29- Lexington to Love, VA

Today's route took us across the Shenandoah Valley and up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The first ten miles out of Lexington were uneventful and relatively easy riding, but then we found there were discrepancies between what the map and cue sheet were telling us we should be seeing, and what we were seeing. Which is to say, we were lost. A helpful woman stopped at a crossroads where we were scratching our heads and directed us in the right direction to rejoin the intended route.

The elevation profile led us to expect that from the town of Vesuvius the road up to the Blue Ridge would climb 1500' in four miles. It was to be the last major climb of the whole trip. We have faced many difficult climbs with foreboding, only to find that they really weren't so bad. The most recent example was crossing the first of the Appalachian Range into Virginia's Great Valley. That one we gave the name of Pussycat Pass. Well, today's should be called The Boy Who Cried Wolf, because it was even harder than we expected. The whole climb was at a grade of 11-15%. We stopped to catch our breath more and more frequently, even though it is hard to restart on such a steep grade. It finally got to the point where we could only go a few hundred feet; we gave up and walked, pushing the loaded tandem up the mountain. In summary, we rode the first mile, took breaks during  the next mile, and walked the last two. It wasn't pretty, but we did get our bike, gear and carcasses up to the top. An alternative name for the climb would be come-along since we could have used one to hoist the bike up the mountain. One man we spoke with in Lexington yesterday rolled his eyes at the idea of riding a bike up from Vesuvius and said that during the Revolutionary War the Americans hauled cannons up that route and no one knows how they did it. We know how they must have felt. By the way, we have climbed the real Mt. Vesuvius, on foot, and it isn't that steep.

Once on the Blue Ridge Parkway we enjoyed that beautiful road for 11 miles. When they built that road in the 30's, they routed it around the peaks and kept the grade to about 10% or less. There are very few places for lodging or camping along the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Skyline Drive further north. The place we stopped for the night is just out of sight of the Parkway, and we would not have known about it except for a listing on our map. We have a comfortable and well equipped cabin, and there is a little country store here where we got lunch and supplies to fix our own dinner. All the other cabins are vacant tonight, probably because no one knows they are here. Would make a good marketing case study at a business school.

We have a weak wifi connection, and I don't dare try to upload any pictures.

We will sleep well tonight.