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Biking Across the USA - June Diary

June 17th 2004

After a long flight in which we could see various bits of offshore Canada, we landed amidst thunderclouds, at Washington Dulles Airport. Then the wonderful Metrobus took our bikes (on the front of the bus) to the centre of town. The International Hostelling Youth Hostel was easy to find, but not bike friendly, they didn't want to have our bikes inside the hostel (clearly this isn't France where they are happy to display your bike in the hotel lobby!). Anyhow, having now been awake for about 36 hours, I (Steve) haggled them inside. They are locked in a remote part of the basement, against the stern will of the management! Washington's best bits look like Paris (e.g. the Old Administration Building), I think! But the capitol has a Sacre Coeur wedding cakey feel that's quite nice I suppose. And the White House is impressive, again white for purity of political intention no doubt (hype over reality I guess). The picture is of a Washington DC bike policeman, interrupted in the performance of his duty in order for us to take a photo. Nice to see bike police - not a common site back home in Bradford sadly!

At the Smithsonian Air and Space museum we saw the story of flight. It's nice to see that there, at the very beginning of the story of modern flight, is the bicycle. The Wright's were cycle manufacturers who decided to try branching out a bit. The rest is history. The picture is, according to the notice, a bike that the Wright's made and used themselves. Washington's wide streets lend themselves to cycling though we didn't see on-road cycle routes marked. The Smithsonian museums are free, and compared with most major museums, they seemed empty of visitors. We were able to get a good look at various world famous Monets and Renoirs without any jostling and the curators didn't need to resort to riot control techniques. Such a contrast to the rugby scrum atmosphere in the Louvre or the Van Gogh in Amsterdam.

June 18th 2004

First day of cycling! Lovely escape route from Washington on the Vernon Trail - winding alongside the Potomac. I dipped my wheels in the Potomac (it's salty and tidal here so it's as good as the sea), wobbling on the edge of an unexpected did in the river, and then headed for the Pacific. We passed Mount Vernon, George Washington's country estate, which was heaving with tourists. We had a long way still to go so we zoomed passed, stopping only for food - and discovering the multi-shop fast food centre right next to the Mount Vernon site. The weather was very hot - in the 90s Fahrenheit. We then headed along route 1 towards Fredericksburg. This was a poor road for cycling, with very heavy traffic, often stationary, very humid, very hot and not much space for cyclists. What have we done?! Well, actually, it was bad, but it was what you should expect getting out of a capital city in the country dominated by cars! There's no easy direct route south out of Washington DC it seems. The traffic was moving very slowly and it was the classic situation where the motorist stuck in the jam gets a bit irate because a cyclist can go faster than the over-engineered but evolutionarily redundant piece of metal s/he's sitting in. After about 80 miles (which I'd estimated at about 50 when looking at the map! whoops!) we got to Fredericksburg and a (Best Western - c. 80 dollars) motel. The motel was surprisingly expensive - though the cheapest we could find - on an Interstate junction too. We can't afford this as a spend-rate! Today, we hoped, was not to be typical. Today demonstrated the regular experience throughout the transAm trip of going from sweaty and dirty, an oil stained dischevelled traveller, to clean, bathed and civilised within minutes. The Americans seem, generally, unperturbed by a mud and sweat streaked cyclist turning up asking for a room and stressing cheapness.

June 19th 2004

A shortish ride to Anna Lake. It was only 36 miles, and at the end we camped by a pool. It has to be said that the countryside, gently hilly with lots of woods, was lovely, delightfully untrafficked, and the Lake looked great - so we spent the afternoon swimming in it. It was a good lake for exploring swimmingly - warm and not very murky. Lots of powerboats, and JetSkis, no rowing, nothing that would involve a citizen of the United States in taking any exercise! It's a powerboat kind of place. We spotted a heron lurking in a backwater, trying to avoid the speed boats - well, Guy spotted it while swimming near some reedy bits. Excellent. Do we have to do any cycling? Well, I suppose so.

June 20th 2004

A big day, going from Christopher Run campsite at Lake Anna to Misty Mountain campsite, near Charlottesville. Charlottesville had that funny look that alot of American historic towns have - like a once beautiful person recovering from a violent attack - full of lifeless preserved or rebuilt historic bits, but assaulted by a sea of shopping malls and development. In the centre, Steve insisted on hanging around drinking a cup of Earl Grey in one of the very pleasant pavement cafes. A car pulled over and the young-ish owner chatted to us about doing the transAm - he'd once transAm-ed to Seattle. Guy was amused by his T-shirt which suggested, in Guy's favourite language Irish, a part of his anatomy to kiss - "Pog mo thoin". How handy a knowledge of Irish can be! The whole day was excellent cycling for the most part, over a quiet, undulating, agricultural landscape. We are now, well and truly on the Trans-American trail. Didn't see any other TransAm cyclists though. Large hills on the horizon to the west appeared as we cycled beyond Charlottesville.

June 21st 2004

Over the Blue Ride Mountains and down to Mallard Duck campsite near Vesuvius. Lovely hills, certainly blue, and hot and sweaty to cycle over. Saw the famous TransAmerican trail 'cookie lady' - but only very briefly - just 'hello'. She was gardening at the time. We'd just been chased by three dogs so I was not entirely cool and collected. The 'dog dazer' works - ultrasound device that deters dogs. It's great - they chase, then just give up, looking puzzled. The Blue Ridge Parkway was hilly - you are either going up or down, but just about never flat. 27 miles were rather slowly done. While walking near one of the 'overlooks' I (Steve) saw a large badger like creature with a very long bushy tail hiding in a cleft in the rock. Some kind of rock badger perhaps? It squeezed itself away into the darkness of the cleft. We sped down from the Parkway and rushed down a valley to the Mallard Duck campground. We actually slept in a sort of hostel at the campground. Not clean, plenty of mosquitos, and with the sound of bulldozers rearranging nature down near the river. But it was cheap and we had no problems sleeping. Guy went to buy provisions a few miles down the road and came back with the local interpretation of 'wine' - Jewish liturgical wine which tasted like ribena mixed with cheap plonk. I think it probably killed mosquitos, though,when they bit into you.

June 22nd 2004

From Mallard Duck campsite to Troutville. Big Problems, but overcome. My dearly beloved bike, which has been over the Galibier, the Tourmalet and countless other passes, broke while on a backroad near Troutville. The weather was lovely, the scenery very pleasant and we were on time. There was a crunch from the back of the bike and suddenly peddling became difficult. It could be walked up the hills and freewheeled down, so that's what I did, with Guy giving me helpful pushes to keep me going on the flat bits. The local cyclists that passed us were wonderful. Greg, a retired law officer from Roanoke, was particularly helpful. Greg met us in Troutville with his van, took me to a bike shop, where my frame was exchanged for a new Aluminium one. The mechanics managed to overcome various problems along the way (different clearances for brakes, etc, etc). Looks great and the whole thing was very cheap. A big thank you to the Cardinal Cycles Staff - especially Billy, John and Bob. My bike is now excellent. I even got a lift back to Troutville where Guy was setting up camp in the local park. The cycling had been so easy after the big hills, so why did it break there on a quiet lane, doing about 3 mph?

The park was not that easy a place to sleep - we slept under a roof, but during the night huge freight trains went past on the railway next to the park. The trains had a very musical, but very loud, hooting, and went passed at about 2.30 and 3.30am. Reminded me of the trains in Fried Green Tomatoes in the Whistlestop Cafe - a place I could do with finding. I think I slept for about 5 hours, if you add all the bits together.

June 23rd 2004

This was the first day on the new bike and all seemed great. A hilly-ish and rainy ride round Catawba, then through Christianburg (which seems to be all out of town malls and no center) then to Radford. I went to the public library to ask about a motel and update my diary. The librarian understood, with a single glance, the kind of cheapie customer she was dealing with and said that although she wouldn't stay there herself, there was a motel that might suit just over the bridge from the library. But how cheap is cheap? Well, it was cheap enough at the Executive Motel. The bigger the name, the cheap the price, seems to be the rule. The motel clerk (owner?) asked how the price compared with other motels we'd stayed in. I said it was "about right". He recognised our home town of Bradford as familiar - as a Pakistani he knew the large Pakistani community there. America, so far, seemed very curious. The towns have little sense of center, sprawl, and are very full of large vehicles. Americans, however, have been remarkably hospitable and helpful, often pulling up to advise on the bike route! We're having an attack of culture shock. Will we reach any conclusions? Well, it would be nice... Later... I returned to the public library to do more internet/email, until finally prised free from the computer by closing time and an imminent meal. I wasn't finding it easy to upload photos to this site - it seems to be covered under the local library internet policy of 'unauthorized tampering with hardware/software'. The New River at Radford is wonderful - why didn't they build the town so you could stroll along a boulevard by the river rather than ignoring it? Radford is a pleasant and cycle friendly place though. The photograph shows the river from the bridge out to our cheapie motel (35 dollars for the two of us) - taken by a solitary soul walking along a dusty bridge in the evening sunshine, as the early evening flood of SUVs, RVs and assorted metal boxes, hurtles by.

June 24th 2004

From Radford to Sugar Grove (Racoon Branch Campground) - which is about 70 miles. I've noticed that my bike 'pedometer' (thing that measures the mileage we're doing) has lost its receiver unit, so it isn't measuring. Radford had a remarkably disorganised but very well stocked bike shop. I found the box that the piece I needed should have been in, but wasn't - further scurrying around, searching under, over and amongst. No sign of the contents. The woman in charge of the shop, whose grasp of English was weak and didn't have much of a clue about cycling, kindly invited me to get behind the counter and have a rummage, which was a pleasure since bike shops are such intriguing heaps of goodies, but still no sign of a receiver unit. So no precise mileages, just the ones from the map (these don't include our detours due to being lost, trying to find somewhere to sleep, getting caught in a gyro-auto-circulatory system that whisks us off to the Interstate). The roads were undulating and pleasant- gentle climbing. Mostly farmland and small woods. Sugar Grove is minute, the motel seems to be miles away in the wrong direction, the little place that does usually rent seemed to be in a state of festive chaos and redecoration, and has no space, so the National Forestry Service Campground, on our route out to the southwest, is very welcome.

June 25th 2004 (Friday)

Matt running across the USARacoon Branch Campground to Elk Garden United Methodist Church. It started raining heavily in the night and continued raining heavily throughout the day, with little pauses to drizzle. Packing up the tent- well everything was wet. The biking was through lovely wooded hills, right next to the highest peak in Virginia (Mt Rogers, a bit over 5000 feet). Didn't see Mt Rogers because, well, it was wet. Still, I was water cooled for the whole day which made things easier. A big wooded climb just before Elk Garden went over 3000 feet contour. Then down into a tiny settlement, which included this wonderful church which lets you sleep in the church and use the kitchen and toilets. Excellent. Met Matt and Laura who are doing a run (Matt) and cycle (Laura) across the USA for the sake of Measles Medical Care (heading for Rwanda later in the year). See their website at Across the USA. Also met Ben Ewig who looks incredibly well considering he'd fallen off his bike - seems to be composed entirely off muscle and wants to be an exercise scientist. Ben is heading for San Francisco, so he's doing the 'express route' transAm (as opposed to our wandering and deviatory route). Matt and Laura asks us what seems strange - we said, as one voice, - 'towns with no centres' (we'd had a bit of trouble with Christiansburg - which seems all out of town shopping mall and no centre AT ALL - we got very lost and kept ending up in the same bit of picket fence and rosebush suburbia). Matt said that English people still made Americans feel inferior (educationally). I suspect this is media portrayal of the English as a heap of Eton and Cambridge educated gentry. We are hoping for sun to dry out, tomorrow. The photo is of Matt running - taken the next day when we cycled past him and Laura.

June 26th 2004 (Sat)

Elk Garden United Methodist Church through to Breaks Interstate Park. Quite a hilly day, lots of going up, coming down, repeat, etc. Wooded Appalachian countryside. Stopped after 43 miles because Breaks looked lovely. Pitched tent amidst the trees, put tent up to dry it out and then went for a swim in the unheated swimming pool. Deliciously cool, and with diving boards, hooray! On the way to Breaks we passed Matt, who is going to run c. 43 miles today! Photo taken - but I couldn't easily upload it at the time since the average library computer was carefully defended against USB cables. Look at that baby stroller above! Apparently people tell Matt off because he shouldn't be taking his baby for a run on a main road! Well, the baby stroller contains nothing but provisions and clothes, so they ease off. Tried to get the piece that's missing from the cycle computer when we were in Damascus. Failed - they had one, but it was a dummy, for display only from the manufacturers. Fate seems to be teasing me! First an empty box in Radford, now a dummy version in Damascus. Expected to see visions on the way to Damascus, just saw road, trees and warm sunshine; oh, and a great deal of lawn mowing - on sit upon mowers. Should the mowing industry decline, mass unemployment would surely hit Virginia. As you can see from the picture, Breaks Interstate Park, right on the border between Virginia and Kentucky, is very very scenic. The river winds around in a sort of gorge - thickly wooded hills add to the delights of walking and camping.

June 27th 2004 (Sun)

Breaks Interstate Park to Pippa Passes American Youth Hostel Association. Entered Kentucky. My brakes need new brake blocks but finding a bike shop round here is not easy. Just as we were into Kentucky, the bit of metal holding the pannier carrier to the frame broke and with a faint smell of burning I came to a stop (the back light that's fixed onto the back of the carrier melted a little as it came into contact with the back wheel and most of the tread disappeared off my kevlar back tyre!). All seems OK, so bungee-ed the carrier to the seat post and carried on, seems fine. Kentucky does seem full of dogs - they generally just park and jump up and down a bit, but there are more than in Virginia, almost as if we were in a different country. The dogs don't seem to be out to bite, just to warn their owners that you are there. Dog dazer at the ready none-the-less. How do people put up with the continual yelping that issues from the hillsides? One little boy, in Lookout (appropriately named - they should add an exclamation mark to get it just right), woke his little dog up and said "Chase them, Jobey". Jobey chased but rather ineffectually. Jobey did get his teeth into Guy's panniers and held on for a few yards before being dazed. The hostel at Pippa Passes had us, Mark and Wanda (doing transAm but needing to go faster than us since he's got to go to work in early Sept),and Jason, all making tea, cooking things, washing, etc. Pleasant discussions of the trans Am - the usual questions arose "What do you do if you cross a bear in Yellowstone?", "do moose charge?" (yes, but only VISA), etc. The owners of Pippa Passes, the Maddens, have been running the hostel since 1976 - and have a certificate from the original BikeCentennial,for their services to the transAm. A suggested zen style motto for the state of Kentucky - "the sound of one dog barking". 62 miles today.

June 28th 2004 (Mon)

Pippa Passes to Booneville Presbyterian Church. Nice and hot, not too humid. A hilly-ish ride- either you're going over1500 foot hills or you are going down or gently up a river valley. Deciduous woods mostly, with little communities and a few barky dogs. Nothing too difficult. Various locals asked me if I new of their families back in England. One man asked me about the Caudell family - surely I knew them, they were English. There's a good deal of curiosity about England, and it is a bit of a rosy image (little thatched villages, dramatic moorlands, old Victorian buildings).Generally I was unable to help - "no I don't have them as next door neighbours, but...". The likeable Caudell character told me that although lots of coal is mined in Kentucky, the local economy sees little of the resulting wealth, which heads towards the shareholders of a UK based firm, apparently. I think it was Lonrho. The coal truck drivers, who weave a wobbly and coal spilling way around Kentucky, are contractors, not part of the firm, and so they are pushed hard to do as many trips as possible. Hence their speedy and scary driving. They leave a trail of spilt coal - why would people buy it when they could just take a short walk along a road? Today was 74 miles.

June 29th (Tuesday) 2004

At Pippa Passes Hostel I edited our web log thus: "Our 11th day of cycling and at the end of the second map (out of twelve) that we've got to cover. We are off to Berea today, not too far - about 58 miles I think. Hope there's a bike shop in Berea. Will post again soon! ". The bike shop in Berea had ceased to be, sadly.

Well, today ended up being a hot and humid ride. Started off amidst the wooded hills of Kentucky and ended in Berea, which is really the end of the hilly bit of Western Kentucky. The first half of the day was amidst the ups and downs of the hills, while the second half took it easy by sailing along river valley's into Berea. Had a wonderful time in the second half - apart from being chased by dogs on the official shortcut of Murphy's Ford - a bit of a quiet road and with a couple of dogs who really like to chase cyclists and are a bit big. Well, we dazed them with the dazer and they ceased to chase, but it's not what you need. Another cyclists who met them later said that they were still on form, but this time they got 'maced' - i.e. a form of pepper spray. Whoever owns those dogs should make an effort to keep them under control (the owner appeared to be strimming [a very popular american occupation] while his dogs were going for us - I shouted 'Happy Strimming!'). We finally hauled up at the Knight's Inn in Berea - tho' it turned out the Holiday Motel (not a chain, apparently) does more (swimming pool plus microwaves in rooms, apparently) for less just a hundred yards down the road. Still, a hot shower was very welcome at the end of the day, even if I couldn't make a decent cup of Earl Grey. We did 58 miles, even with the shortcut, so moving on well. The picture shows the beautiful wooded valley that leads you down towards, after many a mile, Berea.

June 30th (Wednesday) 2004

From Berea to Lincoln Homestead Park - 79 miles. The landscape changes after Berea, the hills become much smaller and there's a sense that it's a primarily agricultural landscape rather than a wilder wooded landscape. The riding seemed easier, and the humidity seemed initially a bit lower. Kept bumping in Mark and Wanda, and Jason - all of whom were heading more or less in the same direction. Harrodsburg was nice - a town where the historic core still feels real, and not tourist schmalz with no real shops. Harrodsburg claims to be the first settlement in Kentucky - settlement as a permanent thing, I suppose. Ended up shopping in Springfield, but they had no wine only heavy six packs of beer, too heavy we decided for the bike. Went to the Lincoln Homestead State Park - no obvious campsite but we met someone who said camp at the bottom of the hill, which we did. No showers. Mark and Wanda rolled up, and so did Jason. Mark had bought beer - hooray. Bass Export, so English beer as well. A beautiful ending to a hot and long day.

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