I woke early in Wytheville and had great aspirations of a huge final push of 420 miles, straight through to Yorktown. I dressed in my still wet clothes (again) and was out the door at 4:00AM. Jimmy was rolling out at the same time. It was dark and cool as I headed off into the farmland north of town.
Almost immediately I was dealing with sleepy eyes. It was still very dark out and a couple hours before sunrise. Riding through the countryside, there wasn’t any streetlights or other sources of light to keep my eyes tuned into. With the small tunnel of light out in front of me on the pavement from my headlamp, it was like I was being hypnotized and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I struggled along, trying to keep moving the best I could. When I got to Fort Chiswell, although I was only 9 miles into my day, I stopped at a gas station for caffeine and a snack to hopefully jog my brain awake. Piero was there grabbing some breakfast as well. We chatted a bit as we stood by our bikes eating and drinking coffee. After a few minutes I decided to get going and took off.
I crossed over the interstate and started to turn left on the outer road when I heard Piero calling out to me. He thought I was going the wrong way. A quick check of the GPS showed he was right and we both headed back across the highway to the outer road on the north side, which was the correct road. If it hadn’t been for him it is hard to tell how far I would have went before I realized I was off course. What fantastic sportsmanship to come chase me down to let me know! He didn’t have to do that, but I am grateful he did!
Once on the route again, Piero and I leapfrogged back and forth a few times for the next 14 miles or so. As the sun was coming up and I neared Draper, I saw a rail-trail trailhead adjacent to the route that had sufficient facilities so I went over for a personal pitstop. It is nice when everything works out and you have a place to go when you need to go, if you know what I mean. That isn’t always the case and frankly, it is rarely the norm.
Back on the road a bit lighter and faster (hehe!), I was moving along nicely and in short order caught up to Piero again right as we both caught up to Michela and Stefano. The three of them were chatting in their native tongue and I went on ahead.
About 7:30AM I made it to Radford. I was only 41 miles into the day, but I was starving. I found a convenience store that had a paltry supply of food. Nothing sounded good. I was getting pretty tired of junk food, but when that is all you have, you eat or starve. I scavenged up a few things and got a little creative. They had little portable Cheerios cups, so I had one of those and some milk as well as a few other snacks for a makeshift breakfast. Shortly I was back on the road riding again.
On my way to Christiansburg, I passed Piero, Michela and Stefano, as they had all gotten by me again while I ate in Radford. I didn’t stop in Christiansburg and just rolled on through, planning to make a stop further up the road in Catawba. I got down on the aero bars and cranked along at a good clip, feeling good and confident that I had pulled a fast one on the others by planning where not to stop and thus moving ahead on them.
About 27 miles up the road when I reached Catawba, I was bumming. When I came through touring in 2011, there had been only one store in the little spot-in-the-road that is Catawba. Much to my dismay the Catawba General Store was no longer open. Flustered that I couldn’t get supplies and feeling the super high humidity, I rolled up the road a quarter mile or so and found a pretty little spot of well kept grass under a shade tree next to the road in front of a school. I laid my bike down and plopped down next to it in the grass for a nap. My ‘nap’ lasted less than 5 minutes as I quickly realized I wasn’t having a hard time staying awake. I was just pouting. So I got back on the bike and took off before any of the others came along.
Just 2 miles up the road I was presented with a conundrum. There were barriers blocking the road, big arrows pointing me to turn left on a gravel road and a sign that read: Road Closed Ahead- bridge out 6 miles ahead- no thru traffic- use detour. Now, I have seen these sort of signs before while riding. Not once have I went off route and not once have I not been able to get through. I could take my chances and likely make it, or I could get there, have to turn back around and do the detour anyway wasting 12 miles. I quickly made my decision based on experience (which hadn’t done me much good just 2 miles back) and stayed on the route.
As I rode along, I kept hoping to see someone. Maybe someone who lived on the road or a car that had went to the dead end and couldn’t get through, but I saw not a soul. That is, until about a quarter mile from where the road was supposed to be closed. There was a man walking on the road. He said he lived at the house just back a ways. He said that they weren’t allowing anyone at all through at the construction site. He thought I would be smart to turn around and go all the way back around. I told him that I had come this far, I would ride down there and see what the guys working had to say. He eyeballed me like I was a trouble maker and I went on.
When I got to the bridge, there were 3 men working. They smiled and waved as I rode up. I was super nice hoping they would return the favor and let me pass. The said, “Sure! We let all the bikes that come through go on past. There was just a few that came through earlier today.” I thanked them and walked my bike thought the rough bits. I also asked them how far it was to town, as I needed water. They said 9 more miles to a gas station. I thanked them again and took off, victorious and proud that I had made the right call about the bridge. Yeah, it was luck, but hey, I’ll take credit for it. 🙂
I road on into Daleville and made a much needed stop at a gas station. Once I was supplied back up, I hit the road again. It was just a couple miles to Troutdale and then before I knew it, I was back out of town again. I say ‘out of town’, but the fact is in most parts of Virginia, you may be ‘out of town’, but you are always in sight of at least one or two houses. Someone trying to stealth camp or get off the road to do some natural business has a hard time finding a spot. As I rolled out of Troutdale, I was in need of just such a spot once again and there were none to be had. I almost turned around and went back to town, but decided that surely I would find something. I thought I had found just what I needed when I saw a sign for a park of some sort. I turned off the paved road onto a gravel drive that went up a steep hill, only to find that it was actually private property and basically a big flower garden. I didn’t want to get caught with my pants down, so I got back on the road and went in search of something more private.
Just 4 miles down the road I came across a convenience store. I was very happy to to find it and make use of the facilities. I didn’t want to just use them for what I needed and not buy anything, so I bought an ice cream. I really didn’t need anything at that point, but it served the purpose.
By the way, I say these things about potty stops, not to share with the world all the dirty details, but to give those folks who tour or race these sorts of things a small idea of what it is like out on the road. Our bodies have natural processes that you have to attend to despite the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere OR maybe right smack dab in the middle of EVERYWHERE and you wish you were in the middle of nowhere!
Back on the road, it was only 14 miles or so to Buchanan. I hated to stop again, but it would be another 30 miles to Lexington and I didn’t want to get hung without supplies again. I ran in a gas station for a few things, ate a little something and got back on the road.
The next 10 miles after Buchanan were just horrid riding in my opinion. The route goes along the outer road of I-81. The surface is fine, but you are just a few yards away from he constant buzzing of high-speed interstate traffic. The din is atrocious. Once the route turned away from the highway, it was back to serene country roads.
Over the last 20 miles into Lexington, I ran into a few rain showers. Most of the rain that I got was light, but it served to turn the already hot and humid conditions into a sauna. Steam rose off the road as the sun came back out and the effect was oppressive. I found myself hoping it would just set in and rain, hopefully cooling things off. Soon enough the sky was looking dark on the horizon and the sounds of far off thunder could be heard. Storms were coming.
I rolled into Lexington right about 4:30PM. I found a little burger joint just down the street from the Virginia Military Academy and went in to eat. As I sat waiting for my food I checked the weather. It didn’t look good at all. Heavy rain, high winds, hail and flooding were forecasted. Particularly on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Afton, which is where I was headed. Things weren’t going to let up until the wee early hours of the morning. If I was going to ride on and make that huge push to finish in one go, I would have to ride through some really nasty storms.
My food showed up, I ate, called my wife, and tried to decide what to do. In the end, it just didn’t make sense to me to risk going out in it just to gain a few hours on my overall time. I had set some really big goals for myself prior to the start of the race, all of which I had not met. The only goal left that I could make at that point was to finish and riding through the night in a big storm wasn’t going to improve my chances of doing that. I decided to grab a room and sleep. I finished my meal and road up to the Best Western to get a room. Next door was a gas station where I grabbed some snack and drinks. I took them to my room where I ate more and filled up on fluids, then slept as it rained. I ended the day with 146 miles and 6910′ of gain.