“This situation is causing me to be someone that I’m not.”
I am thankful for my degree in journalism as it has served me with the distinct ability to remember what people say verbatim. This troubled proclamation rattled around my head for much of the trip. It came from the former partner of mine who was referenced in part one.
In life, we have many things, but truly, we are remembered by our reputation. A situation cannot cause you to be someone you’re not, rather it yields an opportunity to shed a light on who you truly are. Take responsibility and exercise self-control.
I was now in the woods and comforted that no one could egregiously dig through my phone any longer, searching for some deviation from the truth. As I pedaled up steep mountains in the dark, these wounds elicited several mental wrestling bouts.
The city lights of Pulaski, however, offered healing as I gazed through the barren tree line at 2,700 feet of elevation.
In our descent into town, I regained cell coverage and phoned a local motel. We’ll sleep in a bed tonight! We arrived just shy of 9 p.m.. We gathered our clothes and sourced a laundromat next door to the hotel. It was closing soon, and as we piled things into the hotel room, it was evident there was some mildew settling into textile belongings.
I had a hunch and pursued it. I returned to the check-in desk and asked if there’s any way we may do laundry on-site. The owner of this independent motel knew we’d ridden 100 miles and without skipping a beat, she invited us into her industrial laundry room and told us the machines are ours to use.
One of the primary reasons I like touring so much is the people you meet. We live in such a fast-paced society that many don’t take the time to pry their eyes from their pocketbox (my term for cellphone) to observe the beauty of the world around us. We’re so ingrained in these echo chambers of information; that many lose any reverence for the present. She didn’t have to invite us in for laundry, but she exercised this rare muscle of empathy. It’s a muscle many don’t tend to. We were grateful.
With laundry going, Jeff and I hit the local Sonic for appetizers. A 1,300-calorie milkshake and chicken tenders sparked a sense of luxury. We still had two large pizzas at Dominos waiting for us to collect.. As we laid out on our beds devouring the pies, I proclaimed, “Now, this is the life.”
The sun greeted us Friday morning on the sidewalk outside of McDonald’s. Egg McMuffins, sugary-orange juice and coffee lined the concrete beneath our bikes. Our itinerary for the day led us to the North River Trail and a well-deserved 40-miles of flat gravel. Praise! We were aiming for Sugar Grove by day’s end and a stay at a hostel called The Lucille. Jeff had made loose reservations with the owner, Christy a few days back.
She’d have a room for us, but it was under some type of remodeling and we were uncertain of its amenities, if any. It didn’t matter to us, a wooden floor with a little heat would be more than adequate. A big cold front on the coattails of the tropical storm was headed our way. We had been camping in lower 40-degree temperatures, maybe one night in the upper 30s, but on this night the low would sneak into the 20s. My sleeping gear was a little underrated for this drop.
Friday was predictable, in a good way. We arrived at The Lucille sometime after 8 p.m., reuniting with Jason (from part one). He had spent the last few days on the Valley route 20-30 miles east of us.
Christy had prepared us multiple trays of beef stew and pork roast for dinner. The three of us went upstairs to escape the cold and dig in. The hospitality here was incredible. We shared stories of the week and ate until we couldn’t move. Then we ate some more. The home stretch was upon us. Only 50-miles to go.
We head downstairs for breakfast in the morning and are greeted with burritos and coffee. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the last day. The sun’s out and the morning’s frost was dissipating. I drank coffee until the tunnel vision set in, a normal routine for me.
We crested Mount Rogers by early afternoon and checked out the Grayson Highlands, a historic section of the Appalachian Trail. The sun is out and you couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque Saturday in October. For me, it was hard to take in the scenery on this day as the aura of success grew stronger by the mile.
At speeds of 40 mph, we descended through Whitetop, Va., which dumped us onto the Creeper Trail. We didn’t make many allies as we hauled down the trail, passing leisurely cyclists as if they were lap-down cars at Daytona. We grabbed one last coffee and beer at the Creeper Trail Cafe before reaching the train car that denoted the route’s end just shy of 5 p.m..
We’ve done it! Five hundred and forty one miles, 44,000 feet of elevation, food poisoning and multiple days of rain later, we reached Damascus and completed the Trans VA. I was overwhelmed with a large sense of accomplishment. I’d never wanted my picture taken more in my life. By the way, did I mention that we had absolutely zero mechanicals on this trip? Not even a flat tire.
We said goodbye to Jason after a celebratory beer at the local brewery. He was off to continue touring through the southeast. Jeff and I collected the car and headed north. I grabbed a large coffee at Sheetz around 8 p.m. in preparation for the five-hour drive ahead of me. I dropped him off in Roanoke and as we hugged in his driveway, the car’s headlights illuminated our embrace as a symbol to the new level of friendship we created through this journey.
I pointed the car toward home and turned the stereo up. My brain full of positive thoughts. I arrive home around 2 a.m., and as predicted, the caffeine surfing through my blood would prevent sleep anytime soon. Plus, I have an odd, but productive tic that leads me to unpack, clean and organize my gear as soon as I get home. With my roommate, and neighbors to either side gone for the weekend, I turned the speakers up loud and commenced my late night cleaning party. I finally crashed around 5 a.m. as I laid my weary body down for some overdue rest.
The week on the bike helped me detach. I feel a new sense of purpose. I am excited to be back at home and begin to write, something I haven’t done in too long. I successfully shed so much negative energy that surrounded my mental space prior to this endeavor. I came to peace with many of the things that I cannot control.
People are always capable of hurting you with their actions, but a bicycle and an adventure will always heal. I’m thankful for all of my people who were there to pick me up when a relationship blew up in my face by someone’s actions.
As I filed away my gear late that Saturday night, a remastered Dead show from the early 70s resonated through the walls of my house. The lyrics of “Sugaree” sounded oh-so apropos as I sang along,
“Just one thing I ask of you...
Just one thing for me
Please forget you knew my name…”