Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Sycamore Hills"

How is it possible for Virginia to have so many hills? They are relentless, endless. The good thing is that most of them are short, but they're also very steep. I have never had to stand up on the pedals to get up so many hills in my Oregon cycling life. I am thankful that I rode a lot on Haleakala Volcano on Maui last summer because training on those hills is proving to be invaluable here in VA. In all actuality, in Virginia I have come to dislike going DOWNhill because I know it will be short-lived and that there's a nasty UPhill waiting immediately on the other side. There isn't a flat road around. In the West, we have really, really long and moderately steep hills, with a very rewarding, joyous descent on the other side. In Virginia, I just pray for a flat road that never seems to materialize...

It rains every day in Virginia. And this isn't some Portland-Oregon-misty-shower rain; this is full force, cats-and-dogs, drench-you-to-the-core rain. It's sneaky too...the days start out quite nice, but at some point, just when you think you're blessed with the perfectly cool riding weather, the skies literally open up. Thankfully it hasn't been cold at all, so the rain has really been, to some extent, refreshing. In fact, I have yet to don the rain jacket and pants I packed, and have been just riding through the rain in my normal cycling shorts and a windbreaker that has nearly zero water resistance to it. So, suffice to say, I just keep getting soaked and it hasn't been much of a problem. Fortunately, on each rainy day thus far, I've ended up not camping for the night. Camping while wet just sucks. It's one thing to get in, set up the tent, and have it rain during the night; it's a completely different thing to get INTO camp soaking wet and then have to get into the tent with a bunch of wet gear. The only real issue has been the lightning and thunder associated with the Virginia rain. It's a little scary riding in a thunderstorm down a desolate country road, with no shelter in sight, with 80 pounds of metal between your legs, in a rainstorm so intense you can barely see. Today I nearly chose to take shelter in a ditch after I only counted 1.5 seconds from the time I saw the lightning to the time I heard the crack of the thunder, but I persevered and was too fast for the lightning to catch me.

I'm meeting so many great folks, random folks, folks who are just amazed by what I'm doing. Generosity and friendliness abound. In Lexington, VA's Sweet Treats Ice Cream shop, after I ate my chocolate-dipped waffle cone with cinnamon graham homemade ice cream, when the gal working the counter learned that I'm riding cross-country, she insisted on giving me a "Sweet Treats....Lick It Up" T-shirt. And, remember Larry and Junior Steppe from the last blog entry? Here they are:

Virginia accents are quite varied. Some people here have no detectable accent at all; others have such a strong Southern drawl that I literally cannot understand what they are saying and I have to ask them to repeat it. I got my first singular "y'all" the other day...when the gal asked me "what y'all gonna have?", I had to turn around to see if someone was standing near me. I was alone. She repeated it. Somehow I didn't laugh, and somehow I managed to NOT say "well, we'll have the....".

I was riding alone on a deserted country lane when I passed a woman who was standing in her yard. She waved. I stopped and turned around because she looked friendly. We had a great conversation about Portland. Her name was Nancy, like my mom. She kept turning around and yelling "BUBBA!!! BUBBA!!" It was clear she was calling for her dog. After a few times of this, I said "your dog is named Bubba?" She said "no, I'm saying 'Bama". Upon further inquiry, I learned that her dog's actual name is made up from those of Al Gore and Barack Obama. I never got to meet 'Bama, unfortunately. This is Nancy:

At the Cookie Lady's house, I showered under a garden hose in an outdoor shower. At night when it was 50 degrees out. It was frigid, ridiculous, and perfect.

And the Cookie Lady's cluttered home, with 34 years of bicylists' gear, memorabilia, postcards, etc:

Nick and I stopped at a fruit stand. We shared a massive box of strawberries and a box of 6 strawberry cider donuts. Can you say 'food coma'?

A few days ago I got a flat tire. The tire just immediately went flat, over about a 2 minute span. We stopped and I took off the wheel, pulled the tire and tube from the rim, ran my hands along the inner side of the tire looking for an embedded sharp object, and pumped up the tube a bit to look/listen/feel for an air leak. Nothing. I searched that tube and tire for 5 minutes looking for a leak, but the newly pumped up tube was holding air. Unable to find a leak, I put the tire and tube back on the rim and pumped it up. I've been riding now on that same tire for 5 days without a flat. Weird!! How does a tire go instantly flat but not have a leak? Perhaps it was a valve stem thing. Perhaps the bike gods just were making me practice flat tire repair. Perhaps I pissed them off.

Today was a long day...a sluggish and moderately inclined 15 miles in the warm and sunny late morning, a cooler but hillier 15 miles in the early afternoon, and a really damned hilly 30 miles in the late afternoon, in a crazy thunderstorm. We safely arrived at Beckie and Ronnie's house and they greeted us with beer, water, and plastic chairs in the garage where we could sit our soaking wet asses.

My stepdad Lloyd's family lives in Blacksburg, VA and Nick and I are here visiting them tonight. I met brothers, wives, cousins, and kids and what a fun, crazy group of characters they are...generous to a fault on one hand, but then they'll turn around and throw insults back and forth right afterward. Sarcasm rules, and conversations are really light-hearted. We went out to a local brewpub (YES!!! An actual microbrew!!) and had a delicious meal that no one would let us pay for. I've had a great time, though it's only been one evening, and I am really glad I got to meet the clan. I wish I could stay longer. Of course I food and beer...who wouldn't want to stay?! (Just kidding, Beckie...)

I'm shocked by how much I can eat right now. Last night I had a big bowl of chili, a huge turkey/bacon/guacamole sandwich, and a big piece of blackberry/raspberry/apple/strawberry pie. This morning I had two eggs, a huge chicken fried steak, fried apples, and two biscuits.  All day long I'm eating nuts, bananas, ice cream, sour gummy worms, Bit o' Honeys, etc., and drinking Gatorade. Tonight I had a huge plate of fettucine with shrimp and sausage, along with a bunch of bread, and topped off with three pork ribs. Actually, I'm wondering if it's possible to ride a bike across America and get FATTER. If so, I'm well on my way.

Well, I gotta go. It's time for some dessert. I'm hungry and I think there may be some chocolate in my food bag...


Anonymous said...

Wow, fantastic updates, glad you are surrounded by great people. Be safe and keep updating the blog, woo hoo, Karen

Sharon said...

I'll say it again ... LOVE your blogs, Dennis! Are you taking the pix with your Droid? They're great too! Hugs~ AS

Dennis Howe said...

The pics in the last post are from my little Canon camera, but all the previous ones from this trip are taken by the Droid...thanks Karen and Aunt Sharon for enjoying the updates.