Today we woke up at our usual time and got moving pretty quickly. Dawson already had his tent packed up and was pumping his tires when I exited my tent, so he started getting breakfast together while I pumped my tires.  We saved half of the noodles from last night so that we wouldn’t have to cook in the morning, so breakfast was quick.

After packing up we headed out on the road, which continued with the rather hilly terrain of yesterday. We were climbing for a lot of the morning, but the weather was beautiful (even a bit hot, in the high 80s  already by 11).

We stopped for a quick break after about an hour of riding, but kept up a pretty steady pace.

By mid afternoon we knew we were closing in on Berea, so we took a longer break at a gas station – enjoying some cold drinks and sugary treats.

We arrived in town by 3:30 or 4, and after locating the information/welcome center we headed to a motel to check in.

We both showered, after sweating in the mid 90 degree sun all day, and then headed out into town on foot. First we stopped at Mario’s, a local pizza place, where we split a large cheese pizza. Then we went on to check out the Berea International Festival, which just so happened to begin tonight. We walked around for a little bit but it seemed to be winding down – so we walked to the other side of town.

There we went to the Main Street Cafe for dinner #2. Dawson had a Greek Chicken Wrap and I had the veggie burger, as well as some delicious cheesecake. With quite full stomachs, we walked all the way across town as the sun set, and arrived back in our motel room for a night of restful sleep.

Today we woke up and ate oatmeal and bananas for breakfast in our motel room before heading out on the road. We headed out of Jackson on Rt. 52 towards Irvine, KY so  we could follow Rt. 25 to Berea. 52 followed the train tracks for much of the morning, but the terrain was hillier than yesterday (the train stayed level as we went up and down next to it.

Though we were climbing more than yesterday (not hard because we barely did at all) our sprits remained high and we cruised along swiftly. The weather was nice and warm, in the mid 80s by noon, with just a bit of headwind and quite sunny all day. After the days of rain we did this week, a day like this is quite welcome.

We stopped for lunch about 12 miles into our ride, and then for lunch #2 by around 25 miles in. It was at this point that we apparently rode past our turn and continued a bit too far south on Rt. 11. However, we realized our mistake pretty quickly and asked some locals for the best way to head to Berea. They directed us towards Rt. 587, a hilly but pleasant ride – but after not even 10 miles we realized how close we were to being back on the TransAmerica Trail. Once we came to this realization we decided that it would make a lot more sense to just follow the maps, rather than ride a route to which we have no maps, that runs parallel to it. We rode about 5 miles South and met up with the TransAm route in Vincent, KY.

We stopped for lunch about 12 miles into our ride, and then for lunch #2 by around 25 miles in. It was at this point that we apparently rode past our turn and continued a bit too far south on Rt. 11. However, we realized our mistake pretty quickly and asked some locals for the best way to head to Berea. They directed us towards Rt. 587, a hilly but pleasant ride – but after not even 10 miles we realized how close we were to being back on the TransAmerica Trail. Once we came to this realization we decided that it would make a lot more sense to just follow the maps, rather than ride a route to which we have no maps, that runs parallel to it. We rode about 5 miles South and met up with the TransAm route in Vincent, KY.

As we were closing in on the 40 mile mark and our legs were hurting a bit (we both had become accustomed to riding the much flatter terrain over the past 3 days) we decided to look for an appropriate camping spot.

Not too far outside of Vincent we came across a bridge that had a nice clearing of grass next to it, which appeared to be town or state land. We decided that we’d just camp out in the open, without hiding and worrying about being “caught” – and that we’d just relax out in the open and wave to anyone who comes by. We hung out for a few hours in the sun, just relaxing and talking.

After that, we cooked our dinner – a whole huge package of Instant Egg Noodles, which we mixed with a can of Sweet Peas. There was more than enough to save a bunch in a plastic bag for breakfast in the morning – which also keeps us from having to cook again when we wake up.

Once we ate our dinner and cleaned up, we both spent the next 45 minutes cleaning and performing regular maintainence on our bikes to keep them pretty and performing in the ideal way.

Not too long after, we retired to our tents for sleep. Tomorrow we will be in Berea, KY – the Arts Capital of Kentucky, the state’s fastest growing city, and one of the fastest growing in the nation. We intend to find something interesting to do there for Friday night.

After checking out our current location and trying to decide where we would meet back up with the Transamerica Trail, we decided that we would just continue our current route westward to Berea, KY – and from there we could continue with the maps.

The rain was gone, and although the morning was chilly – it warmed up pretty quickly to the mid 60s – which made for a fantastic riding day. Not only was the weather near perfect – this terrain was quite easy to ride through as well – mostly flats with only slight climbs and downhills sparsely throughout. The plan was to take Rt. 114 West out of Prestonsburg and then pick up the Mountain Parkway, which would take us to Berea. However, our plans changed when we arrived at the parkway to find that biycles are prohibited from traveling on that road.

Using Dawson’s trusty Iphone (has come in quite handy in countless situations already) we calculated a new route, riding smaller state roads Southwest to Jackson, West to Irvine, and then Northwest to Berea. We headed into Saylersville, KY on our way to find the route we needed, and stopped at a gas station for snacks. We were pleased to talk to a number of very nice people here, including a man who gave us directions (a fellow cyclist) and warned us of a potentially dangerous traffic situation on the way.

We hopped onto Rt. 30 West just outside of Saylersville, and headed towards Jackson – although we didn’t have a clue how far it was and if we’d actually reach the town today. The riding was fantastic through this area – quite scenic, and the terrain was easy to ride. Although the area was quite hilly, the road tended to curve around most of the hills rather than going up and down over all of them.

We rode for hours – and although the area was beautiful and the riding enjoyable – we began to get curious about how many more hills we’d through, as the terrain just seemed to repeat itself and seemed endless.

As the hours went by, the miles did as well – and we seemed to be covering a good amount of ground. Around 5 PM or so we stopped to ask a woman who we saw working outside of her house, and she informed us that we were within 5 miles of Jackson. She was even so kind as to offer us some water. We graciously declined as we both had enough to finish up the day, but we’re always glad to see that there are people out there who are willing to help us out.

Not too long after we rode into Jackson, KY where we stopped for dinner and had some interesting conversations/interactions with locals who stumbled upon us while we were in town. As the sun began to set behind the hills, we rolled up on the Jackson Inn. We were thinking that we would camp tonight – but after not locating any appropriate areas on the way into or through town – we just decided to go with a safe bet.

We rode 59 miles today, which I believe is our best day so far. I expect our daily distance to develop considerably as we move from the mountains into the flats, and today made me feel confident about our ability to cover more ground.

We awoke to see that it was raining considerably harder than it had the day before. However, the motel stay had done what we hoped, as our spirits were quite good. We ate some good food, showered, and had slept in warm, comfortable beds. Now it was time to go out into the 45 degree pouring rain for a day of fun.

We decided that since the rain was supposed to continue on into the night and then break by morning, that we would continue to follow the bigger roads instead of immedietly going back to the mapped route, so we could actual have a motel to stay in once we were done with our rain ride.

We checked out of the motel and headed out onto the road – and it was really quite an experience. It was pretty cold, and absolutely as wet as you could possibly imagine. We were riding on a highly traversed road with lots of traffic – so we used out lights to make sure we were seen – but that didn’t prevent cars and trucks from speeding past us at intense speeds – sometimes sending waves of water in our direction. This instance repeated itself over and over so much that it almost created a continuous mist around us at all times.

Despite the conditions, we had a blast riding today. We stopped for breakfast, and outside of the restaurant we spoke with a very kind older gentlemen who was quite helpful in directing us to an area that would be the perfect distance to ride to and would have the appropriate accomodations.

There were a few short breaks in the rain, but for the most part it poured all morning and early afternoon. Around 2:30 we had ridden about 33 miles for the day and were rolling into Prestonsburg, KY – where we would spend the night.

We checked into a Super 8, had some dinner at Reno’s Roadhouse, wandered Walmart, and did some light grocery shopping before heading back to the room to go to sleep. Needless to say, our wet riding clothes were hung all over the room to dry.

Again, my camera hung out in the pannier all day to stay dry – sorry.

We woke up early as we were hoping to get packed up and out of the cemetary before anyone could come down to find us. It rained hard for much of the night, but we got a nice break in the downpour for enough time to make and eat our breakfast. However it started again while we packed up our tent and gear, and continued to rain for most of the day. We rode through a section of roads that the maps specifically listed as especially hilly and curvy, as well as ridiculously narrow and with a rough road surface. While clearly not ideal, we made our way through this section – getting quite wet as we went – and finally came back out onto State Route 80.

As we rode down this much bigger road, the rain continued to come down we eventually spotted a billboard listing a motel in Pikesville, KY 20 miles up that route. We knew that our maps told us to take a turn off before that, but we figured going out of the way was worth it since the crossing into Kentucky had been such a disappointment, coupled with the rain.

We rode that additional twenty miles down the state route until reaching Pikesville, where we checked into a motel around 3:30 PM. We ordered some pizza and just sort of vegged out for several hours before getting some sleep.

No pictures for today – I kept my camera in its case all day due to the rain.

We woke up early, made breakfast, and optimistically rode towards Breaks Interstate Park and the Kentucky state line.

We knew that we had three medium climbs to do in order to get to the Breaks, but we had the motivation of a night in a motel, hot showers, and real food behind us.

The ride in the early morning was through Dickenson County, Virginia – which is known as the “Grand Canyon of the South” – and while a lot of it was downhill, we weren’t really too impressed by it. I think the real Grand Canyon is probably a lot more enjoyable.

However, the closer we got to the Breaks, the prettier everything got.  It wasn’t long before we were making our third and “final” climb for the day, and we were both in the greatest of spirits.

Everything was going as planned, and we stopped to take pictures at some viewing points within the park.

We rode beyond Breaks Park and into the valley where we finally crossed over into Kentucky, and words cannot describe how enthusiastic and optimistic we were at this point.

We rode up the the other side of the valley into Elkhorn City, KY, which was supposedly going to be a tourist area where we could get a motel and some real food.  However, to our dismay, we found a seemingly dying town.

The first thing that we saw as we rode into town was the motel that we intended to stay at was out of business.  As we road into town we saw more local businesses that had gone under: the grocery store, the gas stations, several restaurants. Not only this, we rode past several buildings that had burned down, had caution tape around them, but were left as they were.  We were truly bummed out, not only because we wanted a motel to stay in, but also to be in such a depressed place.

I found this image of the Elkhorn City School to be quite expressive of the situation — it looks as if the school went under construction many years ago and was never completed. The school has been fenced in with barbed wire, and vines have grown over the building.

We checked our maps and saw that there were no “big” towns or cities for a while, and that we might be out of luck on our desire for a night of comfort. To add to our discomfort, the clouds in the sky were getting darker and closing in – so we could tell that rain would come soon.

We rode on to Ashcamp, KY which was pretty similar to Elkhorn City – most gas stations and local businesses were closed down with windows boarded up. We knew there weren’t going to be any campgrounds in the area either, so we began to seek a place where we could camp.

We came across a small dirt road that lead to a cemetery so we headed down and picked a somewhat hidden spot in the woods off the road to camp. Our space was limited, so we decided to just set up one tent. We cooked some pasta for dinner, and just finished eating as the rain started coming down.

We headed into the tent for the night, somewhat demoralized by the days events. We had gotten our hopes up, and had been let down. I think that the depression of the towns we road through somewhat rubbed off on us.

However, we are not yet beaten – we both know that like anything this trip will have ups and downs. We’ll get up and ride tomorrow: wet or dry, hot or cold, hurting or feeling fine, tired or ready to go – because this is the adventure that we’ve both accepted.

04/24/2010 — Reunited

April 26, 2010

I woke up early, ate a light breakfast, and headed down towards Hayters Gap. The ride downhill was pretty intense and long, which I enjoyed quite a bit as there was almost no traffic. Although it was about 10 miles from Meadowview, it was all downhill and I was at the base of Clinch Mountain. Dawson warned me the night before of how serious the climb would be the night before – so I already knew I was in for quite a workout. I stripped down to bike shorts and a jersey (I had been wearing my rain gear in the morning) and headed up the mountain.

It wasn’t incredibly steep, but definitely steep enough to make your legs feel it quite a bit – and it just seemed to go on and on. My legs were feeling pretty strong, and I was excited to know where Dawson was and that I’d find him soon – so my motivation and morale was high throughout the whole climb. The ride down the other side was really quite enjoyable as well – and I took some really pretty shots of the landscape from the backside of it.

After crossing the mountain it wasn’t long before I pulled up to the Elk Garden United Methodist Church which has the Biker Hostel that Dawson stayed overnight at. This turned out to be a really nice place, with a full kitchen stocked with food for traveling cyclists. I gave Daws a hug, filled up my water bottles, and headed down the street to the Rosedale Elementary School where I was told I could pick up WIFI. Dawson loaded his bike in the meantime and met me over there, and I loaded up a couple days worth of blogs / pictures for your viewing pleasure.

After Dawson’s extremely long ride yesterday, and me being about 21 miles and a mountain ahead of him we both knew that we’d be somewhat limited by our legs today.
We headed out on State Route 80 towards Kentucky and rode for a while, watching the rain clouds grow and shrink around us. We knew that there was another set of climbs to do ahead of us, and neither were quite sure if we had enough in us to cross those today.

We were clearing climbing in elevation, and went through some small spurts of light rain, but were generally still making pretty good headway. However, when 4 PM rolled around and we saw Big A Mountain in front us, we both thought that we’d need to find a place to camp. We knew there were no campgrounds until the other side, and that there were no motels either – so we figured we were just looking for a discreet place to set up camp out of site. This place never presented itself. We just kept climbing into the mountains, all the while still thinking we would stop for the night – but still nothing but clearly marked farmland or people’s lawns.

We arrived in Council, Virginia close to 6 PM, which had a recreational park maked on the map as a camping area. We headed inside but couldn’t find a camp office or anything – but after asking a man who we saw in the park, we were informed that we could stay in the pavilion. The man told us that cyclists stay under there regularly, and that he would know because his brother does maintainence at the park. This was about all of the convincing that we needed, so we rode on in to set up “camp”.

We decided that we weren’t going to set up tents since we were already sheltered from the rain – so we both blew up our sleeping pads and laid our sleeping bags on the top of picnic tables – our bunks for the night.

It’s dark now, and the rain is coming down hard. Dawson is asleep already, and I will be going over to sleep as well in a few moments.

Tomorrow we have an easy thirty mile ride to Breaks Interstate Park – right on the Virginia & Kentucky state line. We’re planning on getting a motel in town when we arrive, possibly enjoying a pizza, and definitely a hot shower – and then heading into Kentucky the next morning with full stomachs, feeling clean and fresh, and ready for the next chapter of our adventure together.

We woke up to the sight of two fully packed hikers walking the hill towards the hostel. They were hiking the Appalachian Trail together, and we got a chance to talk with both of them a bit before heading out for the day.
We both had mentally prepared for the idea of doing a lot of climbing today, because our Route Elevation Profile on the map showed that we had quite an intense mountain to get over. However, the first surpise came when we did a slight climb and flats for 6 miles, followed by around 4 miles of downhill where we didn’t need to pedal at all. This was quite unexpected, as we really thought we needed to climb considerably to get to Konnarock. Once we rolled past there, it was another 8 mile steep downhill down the mountains into Damascus in the valley.
We rode into town, stopped at Subway for lunch, and hit up a gas station and a dollar store to pick up some food we were lacking. After that, we decided that we would head for Meadowview to finish up the day, as the town was right by Interstate 81 – so we figured there would be a place to stay.
Surpise number two came not long after leaving Damascus. Dawson was riding ahead of me as per usual, but I had the maps. He rode far enough ahead that I couldn’t see him, and when the turn came up in the route I wasn’t sure if he had taken it or missed it and headed straight. I left him a voicemail, but I knew that he had no cell service at all. From that point on I travelled alone, so I’m going to tell my part of the story (Dawson’s will come later).
Matt’s day:
I was never quite sure if Dawson was just ahead of me or not. Therefore, I was never sure if I should stop and wait to see if he’d made a mistake and figured it out, or if I should keep riding ahead and hope to run into him. I left him a number of voicemails and sent text messages along the way, and just settled on heading up to Meadowview  as we discussed.
The route that I was traveling was really quite beautiful – also the rain had cleared up and the sun was shining. I took a whole bunch of photographs during my ride by myself, as I just kept seeing things that caught my eye.
This section of the ride was one of my favorites – as you might be able to tell by the number of pictures.
Around 5 PM I made it up into Meadowview, and I headed to the Post Office as Dawson had agreed on that as our meeting place if we ever got separated. I sat in the lawn for a while, and eventually I got a voicemail from Dawson where he told me that he was back at Damascus where we ate lunch, and that he was going to stay there for the night. As soon as that happened, I knew I had to figure out somewhere I could stay. I asked a man walking into the Post Office if he knew of anywhere that I could stay the night. He was a very kind man, and offered to let me pitch my tent in the grass next to his business – so this is exactly what I did – but not before getting some dinner at the local diner.
I set up my tent, and passed the time by going across the street to a garage where a man was working and asking him if I could charge my phone until he left for the night. He told me it was no issue at all, and we talked while he washed off a tractor, and then for a while after as he closed up shop. It was actually quite pleasant to converse with him, because if I hadn’t I would have generally been by myself all night.
Eventually Dawson finally got a hold of me and told me that he had indeed ridden back to Damascus, but then rode all the way up through Meadowview (without seeing me) and headed through Hayters Gap, over Clinch Mountain, and was staying at the Elk Garden United Methodist Church Biker Hostel. Once I knew where he was, we agreed that he would just wait there for me to cross the mountain in the morning and we’d ride on together from there.
And so I went to sleep in my tent in Meadowview.
Dawson’s day:
When riding ahead of me on Route 91 North, Dawson missed the sign for the turn and rode approximately 6 miles out of the way before sitting and waiting. He said he sat for around an hour, somewhat worrying about where I had gone, before deciding to go back and look for me. When he didn’t see me anywhere, he just continued back to see if I perhaps had a problem and headed back to Damascus.
When he didn’t find me there, he called from a pay phone and said that he was going to stay the night. However, being the “impatient” person that he describes himself as, he decided that since there was still several hours of sunlight he would ride to try to find me. When he reached Meadowview and realized that there were no campgrounds or motels, he figured that I continued ahead to the next legitmate place to stay: the hostel over the mountain.
Not far outside of Meadowview he came across another cyclist. He was instrumental in directing Dawson towards where he thought he needed to be (without a map) and the two of them rode over Clinch Mountain as the sun set, and down the other side to the hostel in the dark.
Once he arrived at the hostel, Dawson’s helper continued on into the night, and Dawson socialized and ate with fellow cross country cyclists Ken and Jen. They are riding recumbant trikes from Virginia to California to raise awareness about organ donations. We definitely support their cause and their tour, so please check out their blog at kenandjennc.blogspot.com
After pleasant conversation and several touring tips from the couple, Dawson headed to sleep for the night.

We awoke at our usual time and began our usual routine (although we opted to go for more cold rice instead of taking the time to cook – we figured the longer we hung around the more chance we had of getting caught). Though the morning was chilly, the sky was much more clear and less overcast – so it looked like the beginning of what would be a beautiful day. While we were packing up our tents we heard vehicles coming close by. We both crouched down and stopped talking – two park ranger trucks drove past the sites ajacent to our clearing and headed off into the back of the park. It was a fairly close call – so we very quickly packed up everything and got out of there before the rangers came back through.

Once we were back on the road and in the clear things went pretty smoothly – for a while. The riding in the morning was good and we were about on schedule with our usual progress for the day. However, a very long series of climbs through the Appalachians ( and right past the trail) slowed us down considerably. My legs were already a bit sore in the morning but around 1 PM they just began to feel quite weak. We were still climbing all of this time, and so I dropped down to some really easy gears and was just struggling to continue riding. I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t sleep well last night due to worry of being caught, or if it was the fact that today is seven days of riding straight without a break – but I can definitely say that by the time 3 PM rolled around I was feeling pretty much shot for the day.

We were going to stop for our second lunch as per usual and then continue ahead another 6 – 10 miles to a campground that was on our map, but the man at the general store we stopped at in Troutdale informed us of a hikers hostel that the local Baptist church runs that was right up the street from us. He told us that people can stay for whatever they felt they should donate – and since my legs were already shot and we hadn’t stayed at a hostel yet we headed up the road in that direction.

The hostel is just a small two room building in back of the church – with wooden bunk beds and a bunch of things that would/did prove to be quite useful. We set up our bed area and then headed out to the grass to make some dinner. After eating Dawson went back to his bunk and I headed to the other room to check out the rest of the hostel. There were journals and pens out on a table filled with tales from the many people who have stayed over the past 2 years (the earliest date I found was 2008), many of whom are hikers on the Appalachian Trail. I wrote a small entry for Dawson and myself, just expressing our gratitude to the church for providing a cool place to stay for the night – and also describing the cause behind our trip and leaving the blog URL.

I’m hoping that this extra few hours of rest and a good nights sleep will get me back to feeling good tomorrow. We’re continuing into some pretty serious mountains over the next several days – but the biggest climb will be tomorrow. Right now we’re very close to the Tennesse border, and tomorrow we’ll be cutting up Northwest towards Elkhorn City, Kentucky.

I’m hoping that this extra few hours of rest and a good nights sleep will get me back to feeling good tomorrow. We’re continuing into some pretty serious mountains over the next several days – but the biggest climb will be tomorrow. Right now we’re very close to the Tennesse border, and tomorrow we’ll be cutting up Northwest towards Elkhorn City, Kentucky.

The adventure continues…

Today we woke up and rode out to a diner that was about a mile and a half down the road we were traveling on. We got our food to go and ate outside by our bikes, even though it wasn’t a gorgeous morning. It was actually a bit chilly, around 60 degrees and the sun was blocked by clouds almost all day.

We enjoyed our breakfast meals quickly and then were off riding. Today was our sixth day of riding in a row – which is the longest that we’ve gone without taking a day off – and it seemed to be taking a toll on our legs. I sort of felt like my muscles didn’t want to warm up – like it was early morning all day. It didn’t help that we were headed into a quite mountainous region. We were generally climbing in elevation all day long.

These things weren’t so much of a hinderance as much as a cause for general discomfort. Our legs were sore for most of the day, and as we were riding uphill for a majority of that time – it wasn’t the most fun.

Eventually the road we were riding on crossed an Interstate so there was a truck stop with a convenience store – so we decided to stop for lunch and snacks. We both ended up getting ice cream, in addition to the nuts and energy bars we’ve become accustomed to eating nearly all of the time. We sat out on the sidewalk and enjoyed our food while giving our legs a short rest, and were approached by a couple of truckers here and there who seemed very supportive of our trek.

In Wytheville we rode past a Post Office and I knew that Dawson wanted to mail some clothes he hadn’t worn yet back home to save weight – so we stopped in and he went inside to mail that stuff while I sat outside and said hello to probably close to 30 locals heading inside as well.

The Post Office detour didn’t really take long and we were back on the road and into our hills again. We knew that the forcast called for rain in the late afternoon, and that time was quickly approaching so we decided it’d be a good idea to figure out where we would stay. We checked out the maps and saw a campground that was about 2 miles off of our path. We headed out in that direction as the clouds collected even more.

We were disappointed to ride up to a deserted camp office to see signs reading “Closed For Season”. At this point we were already several miles off of the road, and were both ready to eat dinner and get to sleep. We decided to proceed up into the camping area anyway. We figured since it was offseason, that if we camped in a discreet area then we should be able to avoid any patrolling park rangers.

We passed several fisherman who were set up next to the lake on our way into the camping area, so we got a bit worried that they might notify the local sherrif of our presence. We rode a ways into the empty campground and found a clearing in a wooded section behind a campsite that seemed like it would most likely provide enough tree/brush cover to keep us hidden.

Even though we were mostly out of site, we figured that cooking might just draw more attention and take more time, so we ended up sharing a package of precooked rice cold. We then headed into our tents for sleep, awaiting the cover of dark to keep us hidden.