Night 7: DC Hostel and Pub Crawl

Night 7

DC Hostel and Pub Crawl

As noted, I spent the night in a hostel in DC last night. It’s been great, I don’t think I’ll ever stay in a hotel proper again. Sure you have to share a room with people, do your own dishes at breakfast, etc. but I think that kind of adds to the charm. The attitude of the whole place is fun, for instance the sign asking you not to open the windows says that they will send the robots in if you do. And the breakfast attendant won’t let you serve yourself until you tell him “Good morning” in a language other than English.

Last night there was a hostel organized pub crawl in DC’s Morgan Douglas neighborhood. I drank a beer with a New Zealander, a German, a guy from Hong Kong, a Long Islander, a girl form Boston and three guys from the Netherlands that I couldn’t understand for the life of me. Our guide, Andy, got trashed drunk before we left the first bar which made for an interesting experience. We lost the guy from New Zealand eventually, I have no idea if he made it back to the hostel or not.

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I plan to spend the day biking around at leisure before heading a few miles out of town and crashing out early. Today’s a rest day.

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Days 6-7 Into DC

Days 6

Culpeper, VA to Manassas, VA

The ride from Culpeper to Manassas was significantly flatter than the ride into Culpeper, thankfully. I tried to reroute myself along a more secluded route, but I don’t think it worked out in my favor. I ended up biking 10 extra miles out of my way and the roads didn’t really seem any better. Whatever. I’m glad to be out of the country for a while though. You can only see so many scenic wheat fields before they lose their novelty.

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There’s only one bicycle allowed in this town at a time!

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Some sort of… I really don’t know what. But it looked neat and old so I took a picture.

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I spent the night with Lindsey and Brice in Manassas, couchsurfing hosts. Brice’s in a metal band (and most of his bandmates live with him) so it was cool hanging out with everyone, eating, drinking beer, playing music, etc. The band’s name is Deranged Theory. Their bassist was introduced to me as ButtKiss, which he apparently willingly responds to. I slept in the band room.

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Days 7

Manassas, VA to Washington, DC

The ride into DC was easy enough. There are tons of great bike trails that go all through the city. It’s nice to be in the city again where cars are used to sharing the road with bikes. I did, however, lodge a tire in some streetcar tracks and fall, but thankfully neither I nor the bike were damaged. Note: Even city people will stare if you do somersaults in the street. Tonight I’m staying in a hostel. It ended up being a bit more expensive than I wanted, but I figured it would be worth the experience. I just beat an Australian at pool. AM’URIKA! (But only because he scratched the 8ball on our last game.) Time to walk around the city and hunt down some dinner!

A welcome sign.
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Day 5: Hills into Culpeper

Today was hard. I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep (I got five to six hours solid, normally enough), the continued exertion on my body or a combination, but today was hard. The last fifteen miles in particular were difficult, but, as the saying goes, we do what we must. I made it into Culpepper, VA at about 4 o’clock, knees aching and tired. I’ve biked a total of 241 miles in the last five days, but only 220 0f those have been perfectly on my route. Luckily my hosts for the evening, Kim and Erin, both science teachers at the local high school, were completely awesome. Kim cooks a mean pizza!

Kim and Erin’s neighboring landlord as has some strange pets: Guinea Fowl. Imagine a turkey, but with white polka dots, two waddles sticking off it’s head, a horn and a call that sounds like someone’s yodeling into a tin can full of marbles while shaking it. They are also, apparently, incredibly stupid. According to their landlord, who stopped by looking for the birds, when she asked how long the birds lived the reply was “Well, I’m not really sure. They usually don’t make it that long as some or another gets them first.”
Guinea Fowl

The rusting hulk of some ancient piece of farm equipment I found today. I’ve no idea what it does, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture of it.
Rusting Hulk

“Where does it go?”
Where does it lead?

On to Manassas today where I will spend two days. It’s a long and probably hilly ride there, but I have a day of rest when I do. Also, Luke “a1gern0n” has offered to buy me a hot lunch! Awesome!


Days 2-4: 173mi. down, 1,527 to go, Lexington, VA and Charlottesville, VA


DAY 2

Oi! What a time. It seems keeping up with the blog is more trouble than I thought it would be! I’m currently in Charlottesville, VA, sitting in a McDonalds. Where to start? My second day was a hard, but good one. I pedaled from Roanoke and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was incredibly misty so I passed many scenic overlooks, most were just a wall of clouds.

Blue Ridge Parkway Entrance

Misty Jefferson National Forest

I only managed 32mi. That day, but I was completely wiped by 3. I pushed on till 4:30 when I hit the official camp and couldn’t pass it. We don’t have mountains in KY. Seriously, those things are no joke. The rain held off till I made camp which was nice. Some things I’ve learned about camping:

  • My alcohol can stove works great. It may actually boil water faster than my stove.
  • I’m scared of bears. Seriously. No bears. I ended up paying to camp at the official campgrounds so I could use their bear box for my food. Thankfully I never saw one.
  • Your phone will drain itself trying to find a signal. Airplane mode is your friend.
  • I did however get within about 15 feet of a deer. I guess they’ve gotten used to people as there’s no hunting in National Parks.
  • My tent works great, but using your plastic drop cloth as your rain cover is a good idea… until it gets muddy and soaked. Then it’s not really good for wrapping around your sleeping gear.
  • ALWAYS figure out where the bathroom is BEFORE it gets dark. Otherwise the handle on your rechargable flashlight might break. And you might need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night/thuderstorm. And you might read the camp map wrong and wander through the woods, in the pouring rain and dark. Not that any of this happened to me. Of course not. I just figured I should warn you, the reader, of this possibility.

Deer in the Camp

Day 3

I was nervous about the climb the next day. The map showed I’d be heading over the Blue Ridge’s highest point of elevation in Virginia. Funnily enough I didn’t know I was on the mountain until I’d gotten to the top of it. Out in the woods there’s really no point of reference and when you’re always going up… Well, it was a welcome (and somewhat expected) surprise. 3,950 feet above sea level!

Apple Orchard Mountain: 3950 feet

The ride down the other side made it all worth it. Ten uninterrupted miles downhill and a gorgeous scenic view every half mile. The pictures don’t do it justice, but it was awesome. One downside to the descent: I’d not tied one of my sacks tightly enough and it came loose. I lost my two t-shirts (no clue where they are) and only noticed it was open when the Ale-8 (that’s a local soda for you no Kentucky types) I was bringing Robbie leapt to it’s demise. The bottle didn’t break, but the cap came off so I downed the 2oz. left in it and put the empty bottle in the trash pile. Sorry Robbie! I tried!

See For Miles

The view, Pan

The Damn

I pulled 48mi. on day three, though they were sort of round about. I pulled into Lexington, VA and crashed with a couchsurfing contact. Alsten ‘Ali’ was great. A guy from Dubai living in rural VA with the license plate ‘ALI BABA’ = hilarious. We watched a few movies, drank a few beers and then I crashed out.

DAY4

Unfortunately I hadn’t made contact with anyone I sent a message to on couchsurfing when I woke up. I sent a few more messages and headed out. This was the hardest and longest day yet. I’ve not sure how much I did, but I made it though the gap. Funny thing: Just because some place s named SuchAndSuch Gap doesn’t mean there won’t be a freaking mountain to climb. But, again, going down the other side was awesome. At about 6:30 I checked my phone. I was 13mi. outside of Charlottesville city limits and still no one had responded. I was riding to a city, rapidly losing daylight and losing energy faster. As I came to the bottom of a hill I noticed another cyclist pulling off to load his bike onto his car so I stopped to inquire about campsites. Unfortuantely I’d already passed them all and there was no way I was going back up the hill. The cyclist mentioned there were some cheap motels in town and gave me directions so I headed out again.

And that didn’t work out so well. I was starting to crash. My legs were shaking. I’d biked over 60mi. and wasn’t sure how much farther I could go. I stopped at the top of a hill to eat and try to pull myself together, when the cyclist who I’d talked to 15 minutes ago pulled off the road and offered me a ride into town. I knew I couldn’t really afford a motel, but I was exhausted. Cleve (short for Cleveland) ended up taking me to a Hampton Inn. Thanks for the ride man, you were a lifesaver!

Up until this point I’d felt great about my trip. I went inside and inquired about the cost to stay the night. It turns out Cleve and I have different ideas about what constitutes a “cheap motel.” I repacked my stuff and found a bench to sit and think for a bit. I cursed myself for not setting up couchsurfing contacts sooner. This was my fault. Why hadn’t I emailed people sooner? Furthermore, why’d I get in the car with Cleve, knowing I couldn’t afford a motel? Maybe this trip wasn’t such a good idea. I stewed for about an hour. I was losing daylight and without lights on my bike I wasn’t riding anywhere once dusk set it. Desperation breeds ingenuity. After feeling sorry for myself and kicking myself, I scanned my phone’s GPS, found a patch of woods between a subdivision and a shopping center and pitched my tent out of sight of the road and any houses. A few deer watched me cautiously as I pitched my tent and I took this as a good sign. If there were room enough for dear, surely there was room for me to make it a night without being noticed.

I was a little nervous. Okay, I’m lying through my teeth, I was really nervous. Two cop cars went by, sirens blaring and I was sure someone had seen me enter the bush and called about some scruffy looking weirdo poking around the bushes behind their home. But it turns out I was fine. That is until I reached for my phone. The brush where I pitched my tent was 5-6 feet tall and primarily long snaking grasses and kudzu vines. I’d put on my jeans to wade through the 150 feet of brush to get to my secluded campsite. My phone was somewhere between there and the road. I looked for it in the fading light with my broken flashlight for an hour and a half before giving up and laying down. Lesson: I can sleep when nervous but exhausted, but not when nervous, exhausted and furiously frustrated. The phone was within 100 feet of me but I had absolutely no way of figuring out where. I have GPS tracking on my phone, but I needed and phone to use that and I didn’t know a soul in Charlottesville. Asking was also out of the realm of possibility. “Hey buddy, can I borrow your phone to go wander around in the brush with it?” Yeah right. I couldn’t wait till morning to Skype with a friend, have them text it and relay the information to me: the battery would be dead by then because I’d left the Wifi and GPS turned on. Replacing the phone was out of the question and I needed the phone to navigate. After 30 minutes I got back up and started looking again. I’d tear every blade of grass out of that damn clearing if I had to. And… after ten minutes of searching, there it was. Note to self: NEVER clip yourself phone to pants without a belt. Ever.

I managed about 6 hours sleep, woke at 4AM, packed up… and I’ve been sitting in this McDonalds typing this up ever since. Next stop is Washington DC: 122mi. from where my butt currently occupies space. That’s 2 days travel if I keep up my current pace, but possibly three. I don’t know if I can physically keep doing 60mi. days. Liz has graciously set me up with a friend of hers there. There isn’t much between here and there so updates may be sparse till I get there, but I’m going to try to do a better job of keeping this updated.

Oh yeah, and I saw llamas yesterday. LLAMAS! Also this creepy abandoned house.

Freakin' Llamas

Abandoned House


Day One: Lots to see

First day = success. I’m certainly tired, but feeling in high spirits. I did about 55mi. We’ll see how I feel after tomorrow. Here are some quick shots I took while on the ride today:

Radford, VAGratuitous bike shot
Over the BridgeOver the bridge into Radford, VA
2012-06-10_12-36-42_104An abandoned restaurant outside Christiansburg, VA. I stopped to take a few pictures and the owner happened to be driving by. He said the property had belonged to his brother for years and, after his death, passed to him. “It was quite the popular place, once, but all things must pass.”
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Another shot of the restaurant, from the back showing the caved in the roof

Things seen today but not pictured:

  • The biggest freaking hill mountain I’ve ever gone up.
  • The biggest freaking hill I’ve ever gone down. I tucked down low to reduce wind resistance and, holy shit, I was doing like 40mph before I wussed out and hit the brakes. Okay, really I have no idea how fast I was going, but it felt like 100mph from behind the handlebars of a bike.
  • Some lady in Salem screaming across the street. “Why the fuck are you following me?!? Leave me alone! Jesus lord have mercy! I’ll fucking kill you!” There was no one on the other side of the street. I’m not ashamed to admit that I started mashing pedals and booked it outta there.
  • A fellow cycling tourist named Tom. We chatted for a bit. Apparently he’d quit his job, sold all his possessions and decided to bike his way across the country. He’d done 800 miles so far from PA. I was impressed.

Lastly, I just talked to Sammy on the phone.

“When are you coming back?”

“No buddy, I’m biking back to Lexington, I’m not coming back to May-may’s house. You’re going stay with her for a week.”

“And then you’ll come home?”

“No, you’re staying with your mother while I’m out.”

“For a week?”

“No bud, for about four.”

“Oh.”

It about broke my heart.


And I’m off!

It’s finally here! Time to leave! I have all my gear packed, I’ve double checked all the important stuff (and tripled checked that sneaky tent), have two contacts set up to couchsurf with, I’ve got my directions written out, got a hair cut… Nothing left to do but enjoy breakfast and this huge cup of coffee then hit the road!

After spending an entire week sleeping from 2 to 5 hours a night, even after once doing 90mi. over two consecutive days, I managed to sleep 8 entire hours, only waking up once last night. I think my body is as weird as my mind. Whatever! I’m not complaining about sleeping last night!

And lastly, I’m missing Sammy already. I don’t think it’s sunken in how long I’m going to be away from him for me and certainly not for him. I haven’t been away from him for longer than a week in the last year and haven’t been  away from him for more than two weeks in five years. Thankfully we live in the era of cell phones and Skype.

Pirate

“I’m a pirate!” (sorry Robbie)

Sammy

My preeeeecious… Sammy looking like a gollum.

Time to load the bike and hit the road! Yippie kay yay mutha’fucker!


Third Setback’s a Charm, a New Route and Continued Training

Storms Coming 

Alright, first off let me state definitively that this is not a whine. When I decided I was doing this, I knew there’d be setbacks. While none of this is optimal, I’m trying to look at things in terms of lessons to be learned and benefits brought by each.

1) My phone dying two weeks ago. This is relatively minor, but it’s certainly cut into my budget in an unexpected way. I don’t really think there’s a lesson here other than Murphy’s Law which states “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” The boon here is that I was able to leave my camera behind as my phone takes better pictures and now have a GPS capable device for navigation.

2) Losing my glasses on the trail the night before leaving for NC. Murphy again. Lucky I was able to get them replaced and now have contacts, which will make riding in the rain more pleasant. The lesson here is that some of my gear is simultaneously easily lost and not easily replaced. Keep an eye on this stuff. Don’t put it anywhere that’s not completely secure. In short: Guard it. Out on the road there’s no kind cashier to say “Hey, you left your glasses!”

3) Leaving my bedroll and tent in VA at my mother’s house. In the chaos of trying to get everyone/everything out the door to leave for NC and trying to find an optometrist that was open in rural VA on a Sat. my bedroll didn’t get packed. It’s currently 7 hours away. Well shit. The lesson here is to take it slowly, double check and possibly make a check list.

Unlike the phone and the seeing apparatus, my budget can’t withstand replacing these things, especially when my tent and sleeping pad were both purchased brand new for this very trip. So what to do? Well, it appears the first 400 some odd miles of my route is changing. What does this mean exactly?

  • It adds 116 miles to my trip. I’d already added a 100 mile buffer to my mileage per day predictions, so this isn’t a huge deal.
  • It alters the first 450miles of my route. Instead of heading NC>VA>MA>DE>NJ>PA along the coast I will be heading from the western portion of VA to the north-east, through the DC area, through Maryland by the Potomac/Baltimore area to PA and Philadelphia where my route will resume as normal.
  • I will have 1 to 1/2 days fewer to travel. I’ll have to spend the 9th of June travelling back to VA by car with my family. This bumps my mileage up a negligible amount. Again, the buffer comes into play here.
  • My only serious concern is the first 173 miles of my new route heads over some serious elevation. I’m starting in a mountainous area so overall I will be going downward, but modern road systems do not follow the most geographically friendly routes. They go straight to and from places, meaning they go up and down mountains. After that first 173 miles, I should be in the clear. The area past that has a much lower overall elevation.

As well, a strange coincidence seems to have popped up. Another cyclist, also an engineering student, also travelling by bicycle, also leaving on the 10th will be travelling the first half of my new route going the opposite direction: CT to VA. He posted this an hour before I realized I was going to have to alter my route. What are the odds? If our paths cross I think that’s reason enough for a beer. Too weird, huh?

More in the here and now I’ve been biking like crazy. I did 60 miles yesterday (that’s a 100km!) and today I did 31 miles. I managed to get 5th out of 20 on Strava on a 13 mile segment doing an average of 25mph. I had a tailwind to help, but still, I’m on a steel frame cyclocross bike, not some $5,000 dollar carbon fiber TT bike (translation: Strava is a speed tracking program that displays the speeds of local riders on local routes. I have the fifth place record on a 13 mile long run. The wind helped me, but my bike is likely slower and heavier than some others). I feel pretty good about that. Here are a few quick pictures I took on my 60 mile ride while travelling through the the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Pea Island Wildlife Refuge.

Low Tide

Deserted Beach

I’ve also been walking on the beach at night which ha been nice. I’ve always preferred the serenity and tranquility of night to the bright bustle and bustle of the day. Sadly one of my phone’s limitations is night shots. Nothing I can do can capture the way the moon rises in the east the color of mlik and reflects off the water as the waves crash in at full high tide. It makes me feel small, like an ant peering out of an ant farm. In a way this is comforting, knowing that despite the vastness of the world I am still finding my way through it well enough. Final thoughts on the ocean: I could stare at the waves crashing to shore all night. It’s like staring in a camp fire. Every wave and flame is the same as the one before it, but each one is completely different.

Lastly, I do everything wrong. I make chili and grow a beard in the summer. What’s wrong with me? Probably a lot, but that’s okay.

Summer Beard