Bike Tour 2012: An appreciation for the Appalachians
Bike Tour 2012: An appreciation for the Appalachians
We spent this last week simultaneously riding through the Appalachian Mountains and the outer reaches of Hurricane Sandy. It was a challenging week of biking to say the least, but we feel like we’ve come out the other side stronger and with more appreciation for this beautiful Eastern mountain range. As a native West Coaster, I had grown up with the misperception that the Appalachians were really more like hills. I had never expected to find the long, steep slopes, endless switchbacks, or magnificent views that we came across in Eastern Kentucky and Western Virginia. Fortunately, as tough as this week has been, it all started out with a very fun, relaxing day off in Berea with Don’s family.
Rest days are always nice, but our time in Berea, Kentucky was especially lovely because Don’s mom, dad, and little sister all came down for a visit. We spent the day eating lots of delicious food, resting and driving around to see the sights, and then going to a local haunted house in the evening where there were screams and laughs a-plenty. The next morning came way too soon, and it didn’t help that as we biked away from loved ones and a warm hotel, we were also biking into some of the worst weather the East Coast had ever seen. This was the risk that we took by starting later in the year, but no one could have anticipated a hurricane as wide reaching as Sandy.
We set out with the hopes of riding over 90 miles on our first day to a motel near the town of Hazard, Kentucky. We obviously had no idea what we were in for. When we got to McKee, 28 miles into our day, we were already exhausted by the “foothills of the Appalachians,” and the rain had just begun. We managed to find shelter in a Dairy Queen where they let us eat our own lunch (so nice of them!) while we came up with a Plan B. We realized we would need to cut our first day in half, with 55 miles one day and 45 miles the next, and utilize one of our rest days in order to keep progressing in this weather. We hesitantly set out for the town of Booneville where there was supposed to be a church that put up bikers. Unfortunately, when we got to town wet and cold, we discovered that the accommodations were only outside and it would almost certainly be snowing overnight. After many conversations with the local sheriff’s secretary, we were graciously put up by two Sisters at the local Catholic Church. We could not have been luckier to have found Sister Marge and Sister Angie. They took us in, fed us, and gave us the warm shelter of the church as a place to sleep. After breakfast with these two wonderful ladies in the morning, we felt ready to face 45 miles of pouring rain and steep climbs.
Our ride from Booneville to Hazard was probably one of the most difficult of our entire trip, and it was only 45 miles! We got 20 miles before taking cover inside a friendly gas station/café to warm up and dry off. We ended up spending over an hour inside and still felt chilled when we got back on our bikes. It took a lot of coaxing on Don’s part to get me up and over the next few hills, and I will admit that I may have shed a few tears along the way. The rain never let up, and we even biked through some snow at one point, but we did eventually make it to a Super 8 where we were able to dry everything out, enjoy hot showers, and track Hurricane Sandy on the Weather Channel.
We were grateful that our next day of riding, while still very cold and overcast, was mostly dry. We got an early start and pulled off 40 miles by noon…almost the same distance that it had taken us all of the day before to ride. We were feeling pretty good when we stopped into the Fat Daddy Café in Bevinsville for lunch. Again, they were nice enough to provide us with shelter and friendly conversation while we ate our own food and sipped on their hot coffee. We had two big climbs to face before reaching the Baptist Center in Lookout where we would spend our last night in Kentucky. The climbs were no joke and while Don eased his way up at a slow and steady clip, I was forced to stop every 500 meters or so to catch my breath and rest my legs. The cold, wet weather had begun to catch up to me and I wasn’t feeling 100%. We did finally make it to the Baptist Center, which was a gymnasium where we were offered hot food, showers, and another warm and dry place to sleep. Hospitality is truly exceptional East of the Mississippi. We were even reminded that it was in fact Halloween and were given our very own candy treat bags!
We left Lookout, Kentucky eager to pass into Virginia, our final state, only 16 miles away. The scenery changed almost immediately as we crossed state lines and we saw our first hint of blue sky in over 6 days. There was a lot of snow as we began to climb into the heart of the Appalachians, but fortunately none of it had stuck on the roads. We only needed to ride 63 miles, but that included at least 5 serious climbs, and my condition was deteriorating. Despite the receding clouds and beautiful green valleys, I felt too sick to enjoy myself and Don had to slow down significantly to wait for my sick and grumpy self. We found yet another gas station to eat our lunch inside and then I used all I had left to get to the wonderful hostel-like accommodations at Elk Garden United Methodist Church in Rosedale.
When we woke up the next morning it was pretty clear to both of us that I wouldn’t be any good on a bike until I got better. We made the difficult choice to take another rest day, which was really more of a “sick day”, and stay at the Methodist Church another night. Despite our eagerness to be on the road, it turned out to be a really wonderful day off and exactly what I needed to get better and finish strong. Don took the time to make us pancakes in the morning, deep clean our bikes (something they badly needed), bike to Walmart for some supplies, and even enjoy some personal time over a beer at Applebee's. I took the time to sleep, take medicine, eat some healthy food, and sleep some more. We even had the chance to finally get in touch with a couple from England whom we have been following all the way across the country. We’re hoping it works out to meet up with them in Yorktown to share stories about our crazy adventures.
This morning I woke feeling much better and very excited to be back on my bike. We left the church early in the morning while it was still cold and frosty outside. Overall it was a really nice day of biking filled with gradual climbs, long downhills, blue skies, and friendly people (like the sweet librarian in Hayters Gap who gave us coffee as we warmed up in the early morning). We enjoyed lunch in the “trail town” of Damascus and then crossed the Appalachian Trail 3 times as we continued riding. Today was one of our last difficult days of the trip so we kept it short and biked only 58 miles to another church/hostel in the small town of Troutdale. This particular hostel is used mostly by thru-hikers, but it is working out perfect for us. We only have 6 days left and it feels surreal to be nearing the end. While our bodies are a bit tired and we are excited for all that is to come as we head home, it will be hard to leave this wonderful routine of constant exercise and adventure. We keeping asking ourselves just how much biking we will actually get in this winter in Portland, as it is hard to imagine going more than a couple days without a nice long ride. However, the trip is not over yet, and for now we must try to stay in the moment and enjoy all that Virginia has yet to offer.