I left NYC/NJ on Monday morning, after an 8 day break filled with good music and food and catching up with old friends. I even found time to go for a sail on Long Island Sound with my old sailing friends. Thanks to Troy Dunkley for helping me rediscover this city and introducing me to some new people. Hearing some great live music, visiting MOMA and meeting a few artists through friends was the inspiration I needed to get my own project underway.
I made pretty good time on my first day, cutting across NJ, WVA and into Virginia on the 81 and the 11. I think those will be my main two rides into Houston now, as they offer me plenty of chances to get on/off the freeway as needed to get around cities while the 11 is a fun and fairly fast ride through the countryside. This is flag and church country. The place is full of both of them. I’m not sure if they’re praying hard enough though, cause there are also a lot of shuttered petrol stations, restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Serious downtime in some of these towns.
Much of the area is also closed due to last Friday’s storms, with many towns still without electricity. Saw a lot of downed power lines, fallen trees and debris on the roads.
I made it all the way into the Shenandoah National Park to ride the Skyline and camp in the forest on my first night back on the road. Although the highway through the park has some pretty strict speedlimits they do not apply to people named Cameron who hail from Manitoba, thankfully. I’m not sure the deer are aware of this exception though. Twisting, hilly roads through forests that fill your helmet with the smell of pine and other earthy things. I enjoyed the ride, to say the least.
Tuesday started with about 80km more park riding, and then onto the proper highway to make some miles. I stopped at Walmart and just managed to pick up a few tools and a bicycle pump before I ran screaming into the parking lot. How anyone can shop at that place on a regular basis is beyond me. But at least now I have the tools to fix my bike if I need to, and I got them cheaper by the dozen!
I did some serious time in backwoods, small town, Romney-voting, flag-waving America yesterday. I stopped for lunch in Buchanan, VA, at the Knights Spot Pizza and Sub Shop. I was joined by a buck-toothed dude in a T-shirt that read “There’s room for all of God’s Creation … right next to the ‘taters and gravy!” with photos of a variety of wildlife. Nice.
I was back on the 81 in late afternoon, trying to make up for the time spent on the park highway (where the deer had still not been informed that Cameron is allowed to exceed the 25m/h speed limit) and my bargain hunting at Walmart. I’d ridden through a few rain bursts — massive downpours that lasted for maybe 1-2 minutes with dry pavement in between — and promised myself I’d get off the highway if the rain really set in. However, I wanted to get into Tennessee for the night, so was pushing myself a bit. Riding a bike at 120km/h on a freeway in pouring rain is not for the faint of heart, and I have a faint heart. Then the rain hit again, and the next thing I knew everyone was on their brakes. I joined them, and then saw I could cut onto the verge and get onto a nearby exit, which I did. I found yet another abandoned gas station-cum mechanic shop, and hid under their awning. By the time I was off my bike and said my hellos to the couple smoking on their stoop the air was filled not only with rain but with sirens.
I was about 100m behind a horrific crash that was. A north-bound car must have started hydro-planing (it was really bucketing down) and went across the median and hit a loaded semi-tanker at full speed. The car ripped in two. It was very, very ugly, and when I walked over to the scene the emergency crews were desperately trying to find out if there were more people in the car than the dead driver. That was my signal that the day’s ride was over. I asked the mechanic shop people for advice on good towns to stop in, and hit a smaller road towards Abingdon. A lovely town largely left unscathed by the ugly-America syndrome. Handsome, centuries-old red brick buildings, no Walmart, no fast-food and big trees shading the main streets. I stopped in front of the theatre and asked for lodging advice, and the woman there directed me not only to the town’s cheapest hotel but also told me that her theatre had a show on that night.
The Barter Theatre opened in 1933, during the depression, allowing people to swap produce, meat and live animals for tickets. “With vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh.” A pretty good outfit, and they did a good job of “Looking over the President’s Shoulder”.
Back on the road today…still hoping to make Houston by Friday night. The bike is holding up well, the rear tire seems to have gone into remission after losing rubber at an alarming rate through the Midwest. My butt seems to have resigned itself to the fact that it will be on a bike seat for the next 5 months, so the pain is lessening. In fact, my tailbone doesn’t even hurt this morning. My face has a helmet tan and is permanently grey from road soot. I’ve become used to wearing a heavy black riding suit in the baking sun and feel it’s normal to wring sweat out of my socks at night, I just drink a few more liters of water (refilled in petrol station bathrooms) to make up for it. My pores are very clean. I’m a happy rider.
Time for my morning lube job (the chain, that is) a few small maintenance things and then I’ll try to ride an hour before breakfast.