Still behind. Forever and always behind. Oye.
Part B of A and B
Waking up under a church pavilion in Rock Camp and listening to the rain falling heavily around us was not conducive to an early start. We managed to get out of our sleeping bags around 7:30 and whip up a mean oatmeal. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t need sugar in my oats in the morning and I’m kind of proud of that. We took off, up a slope toward Peterstown, WV, making a quick pit stop at a gas station that happened to have pumpkiny flavor JJ’s pies. We perhaps got one for breakfast. From there we meandered over hills and under hills, not really wanting to put too much effort into it and making sure to stop at every food opportunity. I got a sack of peaches and a sack of green bell peppers for 50 cents a pop. Since we were following the border, we went in and out of Virginia and West Virginia what seemed like a million times. Eventually we sat on the sidewalk out front of a restaurant eating semi-ok mushy peaches and talking to my mom on the phone when we realized what we were doing and decided to pretend to be a little bit more professional and make some miles.
We went over a couple large mountain/hills and spotted a Walmart gleaming in the distance. Walmart means air conditioning, non-judgemental loitering zones, bathrooms, snacks, and entertainment. Sometimes you can even get away with charging a cell phone. Since we were both dripping sweat, we wheeled in.
After procuring copias snacks, I locked in the coordinates for Blue Wells, WV, on my GPS and off we went. We wound through some tight and steep roads when out of no where the sky opened up and dumped rain upon us! It was a massive amount of rain. We sprinted for cover and found the remains of an old gas station, but that proved to be inadequate for us. The rain began to fall so hard that it was bouncing off the pavement and hitting us from below. Since we had plenty of snacks (I found a couple unopened Hershey’s bars on the road) and it was warm, we both were laughing about it.
The thunder grew louder and the lightening more intense making quite a lovely storm, although we had no where to stay for the night. I was going to check my phone to see if there was a church along our path when a man pulled over to check on us. It was hard to hear his voice through the rain, but we were able to understand that he was offering us a home for the night, and dinner. He mentioned something about his wife cooking up veggies and something else about how they had hosted some gals who biked around selling textbooks. We couldn’t refuse. Tim said that he would have to return home to get the van and have his son take the seats out so that the bikes could fit, but he would be back in a half hour or so.
We exchanged thanks and phone numbers and he drove away. While he was gone, a woman and her son pulled over wondering what we were doing and what was living in the mailbox. They had seen us at the WalMart earlier. We explained, gave them a business card, and they drove away, then came back and insisted we take some snack money. We thanked them for it.
Tim came back and we loaded our bikes into the van. It took some doing, but after a huff and a puff both bikes were in the back, and both us gals were crammed in the front seat excited to go on a real live car ride! Tim drove us home and we were met by Michele, his wife, and Aaron, his younger son. Michelle showed us where the showers were and let us do our laundry. Mind you, this is the same nasty laundry that had been steam cooking in plastic bags in our panniers since DC. Poor, poor woman.
We sat down to dinner and were blown away by Michele’s spread, complete with quinoa (!) and fried summer squash (!!). Michelle and Tim moved to West Virginia a few years back and now work with Heaven Sent Ministries in Bluefield. Tim offers life coaching to people who are dealing with substance abuse, and he and Michele dabble in family and marriage counseling. We had a great time chatting through dinner. Tim looked at us worriedly as we explained our planned route to Kentucky that put us through McDowell County on highway 52, and offered to help us find a different way.
Tim explained that McDowell County used to be one of the wealthiest counties in the country due to the booming coal industry, but it has slowly become more and more isolated and impoverished as area coal mines closed. It is certainly not a place two cyclists want to find themselves at night. Most homes are unapproachable due to ferocious dogs and during the day the steep, hairpin-curve roads mixed with coal trucks and little to no hope that drivers expect or care if there are cyclists out make for a dangerous ride to say the least. Tim suggested that we go to work with him and Aaron at HSM in the morning so that we could use the Internet and and see what all is going on in lower West Virginia. We couldn’t say no, and were excited to take a day off and get to look around.
Sometimes when you’ve been on the road a while the most relaxing thing any host can do for you is to let you tag long with them on normal type things, like driving through town doing menial errands, or letting you help cook a meal, or do yard work, or take the dog for a walk. That night the Swingles took us for a drive out to an old coal town in McDowell so we could see some old architecture (they also bought me a fantastic ice cream, and since Michele doesn’t eat dairy, she even had some veggi-cream that Lizzy could eat too!) and in the morning, we ate breakfast and loaded into the car to go to HSM. Tim asked us if we would be willing to make a run out to WalMart to pick up school supplies for some kids that would be starting school the next morning. We told him we would be more than happy to do it.
We drove out to HSM and got a grand tour of the place. HSM works as an umbrella organization for missionaries around the world, organizes the packaging and shipping of nutritional food packages to children who are starving, and hosts teams of people who do local house work or maintenance missions. They have a great facility complete with kitchen and laundry station (we used both). Tim let us bring our sleeping bags with us so that we could wash them!!
A little later in the afternoon we got a ride out to the Walmart so that we could go school supply shopping for the kiddos. It was so much fun and I kind of wished I was going back to fifth grade. Tim picked us up and we headed to home. Michele was a bit tired since she had been working all day butchering chickens for a local, free range chicken farmer so We helped chop up fruits and veggies for dinner and then we all sat down to eat. Before is got too dark, we loaded into the car and drove out to Gobblers Knob to deliver the school supplies.
In the morning we said goodbyes, gave hugs and email address, took pictures, and then tossed all our gear in the back of the van and drove out to the 460. Tim dropped us off and headed out to work. Though the 460 is a four lane and highly traveled, it was deemed safer for bicyclists than the tipsy back roads we’d planned on taking. We rode all the way out to Vansant and stayed at a church pavilion there. The pastor gave us permission to go into the building as well. I was so tired that I threw up my hammock and immediately fell asleep. I didn’t realize that I had placed my hammock directly under a streetlight since I fell asleep while it was still light out. Around 9 or so, a man drove the church bus back to the parking lot and dropped off a bunch of people. He didn’t realize that we were staying at the church, so upon seeing my hammock he decided to investigate. I think we startled the day lights out of each other and of course, I couldn’t sleep after that. The next morning we groggily stumbled into the church to make oatmeal and sample some old cookies we found in the microwave, and then took off to what we both knew would be a strenuous day.
We had to cross two major ridges into and out of Kentucky. It was steep. It was hot. It was soggy. But it was incredibly beautiful. It’s like a jungle out here. There are crazy rock formations, vines are growing on everything and twisting their way around gnarled old tree stumps. Waterfalls and little creeks splatter onto the road’s shoulder. There are innumerable bird songs and a constant buzz of cicadas. I like it.
We made it out to Jenkins, KY, and realized that we’d have to climb back out of there into Virginia (again). So after a quick snack break at the Family Dollar, we hopped on the scoots and peddled up our last mountain of the day. The view from the top was wonderful, and we were told that a lot of college geology classes go up to that particular point to look at rocks and so forth. I could see why. We coasted down the other side, trying to avoid the rumble strip, and rolled to a stop in front of a little church in The Pound, VA.
We couldn’t find a cell phone number so we called the church office, but no one was there. Since it as getting dark and we were exhausted and making poorer and slower decisions, we thought it a good idea to sit at the church steps and eat dinner before looking for place to stay. The church we were at had no parking lot and backed up against a creek, so there wasn’t really a good place for us.
Just as we finished eating dinner a man pulled over and told us that we would probably not be welcome to sleep on the church’s porch for the night. We couldn’t tell if he was affiliated with the church or not, but decided to listen to him. He told us that we should go down to the First Baptist Church which was about a half a mile away. We peddled off, found the church, and we’re just rolling into the back parking lot when we ran into two of the ministers. We explained our situation and asked for permission to sleep in the parking lot for the evening. Pastor Tom said that we could, but asked us if beds and a shower wouldn’t be better. We said of course it would, and Andrew led us out back to the old circuit preacher apartment. It was a complete time warp to 1972 and we liked it! We expressed our gratitude and then cleaned up and went to bed. It was so fantastic to have a dry, not foggy place to sleep, and–get this– there was an air conditioner!
In the morning, we slowly made oatmeal and packed up. Andrew had told us that there was a monster climb getting out of the Pound and offered to give us a ride to the top in the morning if we wanted, but we just couldn’t cheat like that even if the offer was tempting. So, we were less than motivated. We peddled off to the IGA/Dollar General down the street to stock up on food and to procrastinate going up the mountain. We got some new batteries for my radio and Lizzy’s tail light (see daddy, we’ve been using our lights) I also got some much needed chocolate.
We we huddled around our bikes mixing up our respective munchie mix (a raisin bran based trail mix of sorts) when we were approached by the IGA store owner Skipp. I thought for sure he was going to ask us to move along since we’d been there a while and I was parked close enough to the automatic door sensor that my bike kept slamming the door shut on customers. He didn’t kick out out though, quite the opposite. He had done some missions work in Southern Africa and was excited to hear about Wasti and our trip. So we told him all about it, the whole time he was listening to us and greeting almost every customer by first name as they entered his store. He introduced us to one of his customers named Bernie who left, and then came back wanting to donate toward a patient on Watsi. Skipp headed into the store insisting we take some food compliments of IGA and came back loaded with bananas, granola bars, and Gatorade. We gladly accepted, thanked him profusely, and then hit the road.
The climb was not as bad as Andrew had made it seem, and we were at the top before we knew it. I pulled into a McDonald’s as I needed to use the internet again, and we were approached by a woman and her adorable granddaughter. “You stayed at my church last night!” she said. She just so happened to be Andrew’s mother-in-law. She insisted that we take some lunch money.
We sat at the McDonald’s for a while, doing bloggy things and all that jazz. It takes forever to do blog entries. We left around four, looking at the map and seeing that we had, of course, another major climb ahead of us. We had three options that had elevation profiles. I decide to let Lizzy choose. Either we go the steeper but shorter route, or we go one of the longer and less steep routes. She chose shorter, I didn’t complain. When we got to the turn off for that climb however, my heart melted. It was at least 11% grade in the shallower parts, complete with switchbacks, mosquitoes, and dense forest so that we couldn’t see if we were making any progress. Lizzy rode on ahead without me. I stopped and started pushing my bike up the hill. I have only been given two knees, and I’d like to keep them.
About a quarter of the way up, a man pulled his truck over to check on me. I told him our plans and he told me that we really shouldn’t go that way. We were only a quarter of the way up, at the top the road turns to gravel and it’s another 30 miles. In other words, we weren’t going to make it where we wanted to go by nightfall (it was already close to 8). Gordon offered to take me and my bike up to where Lizz was so that we could talk to each other, and he offered us dinner and space in his back patio. We couldn’t say no.
We followed Gordon back to his house and he let us do our laundry and shower. Unfortunately, his wife was out of town that day. Lizzy and I were both bummed because–based on how he talked about her, the great titles on her bookshelves, and her fantastic garden–we really wanted to meet her. Gordon said she was working on putting together a charity that provides new school shoes for kiddos in need in the area, and there are a lot of kiddos in need out here. We had a long chat about the coal industry and the effects fraking is having on the water table in Western Virginia. Gordon puts water lines into homes. A lot of places that used to run on well water out here now have water piped in now due to the leakage of natural gas. In some places, he said, you can hold a match up to the water faucet and it will ignite. Gordon also showed us some fantastic pictures of his bicycle tour across Virginia when he was a senior in high school.
In the morning, he sent us off with apples, bananas,and granola bars and bellies full of breakfast. We thanked him, and headed toward the hills. This time, however, we were going down!!! It was so beautiful, the misty clouds were all caught up in the valleys below, which were acting like pudding bowls. We descended into the fog and made it out to a gas station/McDonald’s for coffee. After a descent loiter, we headed back to the scoots where we had earned the attention of a gang of motorcyclists. One looked at Lizzy, “you’ve got a flat there honey baby.” We have officially entered the South.
Unfortunately, we were out of patches, which is a long story. And we were out of replacement tubes. Somehow, Lizzy got a hold of someone who has a bike shop who has a customer who does bike touring who had a friend driving through the area who would have a tube or two on him. The friend, Kendall, drove all the way up from Tennessee to bring us tubes, but we failed to mention that we would need fatter tubes 700×36 instead of skinny road tubes 700×28. So, Kendall left us in the parking lot and drove out to a couple different places, eventually coming back with two tubs and patch kits. He refused to take any money from us, and after making sure every thing was installed to spec, and letting us use his high end floor pump, he wished us well and drove away.
We were flabbergasted by his kindness, and ecstatic to be back on the asphalt, especially since Kendall had told us that it wouldn’t be too bad of a climb the rest of the way into Tennessee. It was a gorgeous ride into Kingsport, and it wasn’t too steep either. We got pictures at the TN sign and peddled through town marveling at the flatness. It was the first place we’d been in days that had streets running left and right with no cliffs. That flatness quickly disappeared though. We made it as far as Fall Branch before the combination of ominous looking sky and fatigue caught up with us.
I spotted a church with a pavilion and made way to it. We could tell there was someone inside so I knocked and waited. The pastor came out and said we could sleep in the pavilion and also said that he grew up in Willimina and has close friends of family that go to Adventure Christian Church in McMinnville (you know, the one behind the old Rite-Aid and across from Brookdale) It was crazy to be talking to someone who knows Mac! Of all places, in Fall Branch, TN too!
We slept well under the cover. The storm, although loud, never really materialized into rain. We took off early that morning in hopes of making it to North Carolina.