After leaving rainy Charlottesville, Nick and I meandered some beautiful backroads on a gloriously cool day. We happened upon Wyant's Store and were in for some good Virginia hospitality...we walked in and I said "hey, what's shakin'?" to a skinny white guy manning the counter, who turned out to be named Larry. Larry didn't miss a beat and shot back wih "my ass!!" and he started shakin' it. This elicited a big belly laugh from someone behind us we hadn't seen and we turned to witness a big black guy, who turned out to be named Junior Steppe, nearly rolling on the floor from laughing so hard. We all shared some sarcasm as well as some good, genuine conversation for a while. In fact, after leaving, I had enjoyed talking to them so much for that ten minutes that I went back inside and asked if I could have a photo with them. This time Junior Steppe was the one who didn't miss a beat when he rolled his eyes, laughed hard, and looked over at Larry and yelled "oh sure, they just wanna get a picture of a white guy and a black guy together in Virginia!" Then as we all gathered 'round for a photo he said "hey, you guys go on the outside and put me in the middle and we'll have ourselves an Oreo, but opposite!"
You never know whether to laugh at racial jokes...but 'ol Junior Steppe, a great big black man with happy eyes and a jovial laugh, just was so genuine and smiley that we all rolled with laughter at his joke. :) Then, about five minutes later as we were riding away, Junior Steppe came toward us from across the parking lot, with a little girl in tow. He just wanted his beautiful little 4-year old granddaughter Kendra to get to meet these boys on bikes from far away before they disappeared. She was absolutely precious and he was obviously such a doting grandfather, as he beamed with pride as she talked to us. I felt honored that he valued us enough that he made it a point to make sure we met the family he loves.
Finally we made it to Afton later in the day so now...'The Cookie Lady'. June Curry, now age 89, has been providing water, food, and shelter in her roadside home to passing cyclists for 34 years...ever since 1976's inaugural TransAmerica ride. This woman is a TransAm institution and nearly every rider stops and/or stays there, both because of tradition and her location at the very beginning (or end, depending on which way one is traveling) of what is said to be possibly the most difficult hill riding day of the entire route.
Well, she is still there, still generous to a fault, and quite cantakerous. She talked our ears off for hours about the good ol' days in Afton, VA and was quite a character, even at one point tirelessly forcing us to listen to and watch a 4-foot tall dancing Santa in the corner of the room sing five different original-length Christmas carols (yes, it was May 13th), while she just howled and cackled with laughter as if it was the first time she'd ever seen it!!
Her house was literally littered with layer upon layer of knick-knacks, as well as bicyclists' gear and paraphernalia left there or mailed to her over the years..it was a bit frightening. Some say it is haunted but sadly we didn't have any ghost encounters that night.
The next morning, after pictures, hugs, sage advice, and more lectures about the perils of alcohol (yeah, she was a bit preachy) we were on our way, climbing, climbing , and climbing some more, up some impossibly long and steep hills.
It was an epic day of climbing up to, and then up and down on, the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some who've ridden this route say it is the hardest climbing of the entire route, even worse than the Rockies...I find that hard to believe, but it really was a hard day. Besides beating a 20 yr old kid, I am super proud of the fact that I never once used my 'granny gear' throughout the entire 30 mile climb! I never switched to the smallest front chainring. :)
Dinner was a late afternoon bacon cheeseburger club sandwich and two cokes at Gertie's store in tiny Vesuvius VA. Dessert was a 24 oz Budweiser (don't get your hopes up for a microbrew out here). Tammy, Gertie's daughter, was cooking homemade deliciousness in the restaurant part of the store, while Boyd, her husband, was hanging out, smoking, and talking to us. They own the store and live next door. There was a sign saying that everybody is a neighbor or a friend, and Tammy said that if a person couldn't feel at home in their place, they couldn't feel at home anywhere. I totally agree. They were special folks and invited us to camp out either in the grass behind the store or in their roofed garage in case of rain. We chose outside and then briefly used the garage for shelter when a quick thunderstorm passed through. In the morning we all ate a homemade biscuits and gravy breakfast, and after hanging out and talking with a few other patrons for a while, we rolled west. Tammy gave us Gertie's Store postcards and made us promise to send them back to her from our hometowns once we arrive.
Oh, and June the Cookie Lady made us promise to each send her a picture since film no longer exists for her Polaroid camera.
We have met some special folks and received such hospitality throughout Virginia in week one of this tour...it's wonderful to see the wonderful side of humanity.