I’m on the final push! Ive reached South Boston, VA and have 3 more days of cycling to go. If I’m really honest, I can’t wait to get off the bike. This week has been hard both physically and mentally. The hills have been relentless and the heat is oppressive. 90+ every day. I know, it’s Virginia in August. Did I not expect it? Maybe I thought it couldn’t be that hard, but it is. But part of the reason I came here was to do some work on my inner voice. To see if what I preach I can practice, and although chimp has thrown his toys out of the pram a few times, on the whole I’m pleased with how I’ve managed to keep emotionally well and bounce back from the low points.
Yesterday was a perfect example of what cycle touring can be like for me and I suppose what life is like in general. Full of ups and downs. And it’s not the ups and downs that count but it’s the way you experience and react to them which will have the biggest impact.
The day didn’t start too well. I had pizza for dinner the night before and it didn’t sit well in my stomach so consequently, spent considerable time in middle of night praying to the porcelain god. I think I’ve got an aversion to wheat but so hard to avoid it in this country!
The previous day I had stopped in Outdoor Adventure Sports in Farmville to use their track pump. Mechanic Jordan very kindly gave me some top tips and planned a route for me on google maps which started off on the High Bridge Trail State Park, an off road, 49 mile trail through the trees. Beautiful!
I’m pedalling away happily when I start to feel a little shaky. My diabetes has been excellent this trip however, it had come to bite me on the arse this time. So I stopped and did my usual routine of gel and granola! Once the shakiness had stopped I got back on my bike and continued on the trail. One thing I’ve learnt to do is that when you pass a bench and you are in need of rest, stop and sit on it! I had plenty of time to reach my destination. I hadn’t gone far but it was a beautiful morning to sit and chill. As I sat there, pondering life, a group of cyclists came past and stopped for a chat.
Dave, Bruce and Linda Pannebacker, and Shaun Flickinger, are on vacation from Pennsylvania, cycling 5 trails in Virginia. The rest of their families think they are nuts but they love nothing more than getting out on their bikes. We chatted for about 30 mins and this connection really lifted my mood!
Trail cycling is lovely as there are no cars but it’s much harder than riding on tarmac. I will be forever grateful for freshly laid asphalt! Much easier and you tend to go quicker, not that it’s a race of course. I was finding lovely quiet roads, full of lush green trees and beautiful wild flowers. It’s fascinating to ride through different communities and see how people live. In the richest country in the world, there are people living in mansions and others living in wooden shacks and trailers. “Thank you Jesus” signs on the side of the road indicate I’m in the religious south and the church car parks are full as I ride past on Sunday morning.
I was making great progress as I turned left down another gravel road. Large gravel stones this time and some unseen traffic calming in the asphalt which nearly threw me off. The 3 very hilly miles were tough. I stopped at the top of one hill, exhausted and waved at a truck passing by as I admired the view. I pedalled on towards the bridge that would take me over the river….
I couldn’t believe it. Looked like bridge had been closed for sometime. Why didn’t the guy in the truck stop and tell me?! I had that sinking feeling, the thought of having to climb those bloody hills again. Thought about crossing the river but too wide and too fast so, turned round and got on with it. Yes, I had the voice in my head repeating the mantra ‘I’m done with this shit!’ I wasn’t grateful for the opportunity to re ride the hills I can tell you. But, I got on with it and made it to the top, back onto tarmac and ready to start the detour.
Another hypo added to the challenging day and the detour had set me back 2 hours! This was the toughest day of the tour by far. Late afternoon I had a couple of psycho dogs chase and try to bite me but somehow, I managed to sum up the energy to escape! The final straw came when I realised that the route Jordan had planned was in two steps and when I thought I was nearly finished, I had another 1 hour 40 to go. It was late, so changed plans and booked into a hotel much closer.
I was so glad to reach the hotel, after cycling through some pretty sketchy parts of town. Another day full of ups and downs and one in which I had shown grit and determination to keep going which I am really proud of. I was so tired, I began to think about an escape route!
I woke up and found that my battery pack had not charged and I had no money to get a new one. No phone, no maps = fooked. I know, I should have paper maps with me! So I put it out there to Debby that she might need to come and rescue me! I would be crossing into North Carolina and she could pick me up from Burlington, NC. Debby’s a real star and agreed to drive 2 hours to pick me up. I would ride 60 miles to Burlington, cross state line and finish. As I said, ‘I was done with this shit’. Diabetes had started to play up, I was tired and everything hurt. It was a relief to make the decision and to know this was last day. I would relax and enjoy my final day in the bike.
My legs are so sore at the moment. Any one know a good sports masseuse?! I was loving the beautiful quiet roads through southern Virginia, gently getting warmed up. WOOF, WOOF, WOOF… ah shit. Massive bull dog and his two mates come out of no where and start chasing me, trying to bite my legs. They were so fast, I couldn’t seem to escape. Amazing what you can go when you are absolutely shitting yourself! I finally managed to drop them but it seriously gave me a fright. This happened 4 more times! ‘I’m done with this shit!’
So glad to cross the border in to North Carolina. Much flatter here and I made sure I took busier roads to avoid the dogs! Final stop in this years epic journey was Smitty’s homemade ice cream parlour in Burlington, NC for my 4th ice cream of the day! I spent a fab 3 hours talking to Pat Monaghan about a wide range of subject including his love for Billy Bragg, one of my faves too! He’s on disability after falling 20ft from a ladder. He was painting houses in Portland Oregon to pay his way through University and one mistake ended his promising career. Loved his outlook on life and great company.
Debby and I have been friends since ‘89 when we met at summer camp in Pennsylvania. She’s an amazing personand although we rarely see each other, it’s like old times every time we do. I love her to bits! Looking forward to sharing quality time with here and her family this week. Off to Atlanta to get emergency passport on Sunday and staying with high school friend, Tim Cook, who I haven’t seen since early 90’s. every cloud…
Thanks for all the support and messages while I’ve been away. It’s certainly been an epic journey with lots of highs and low’s. think I might have a beach holiday next year!
Words and pictures – Kevin House