Day 14 – 35 miles: Charlottesville to Afton
Have breakfast with David and get some final directions to grab food and a spare tired in town before heading to the TransAmerica Trail (TAT). The TAT takes one through a small portion of VMA’s campus. I check out the Rotunda and attempt to see the lawn, which is enclosed by buildings, walls and gardens. It does look very pretty.
The first third of the trip is difficult. I got a later start than I had hoped, slipped on stairs, landing hard on my bum. The weather was cool with on and off rain and humidity. This made clothing choice interesting. I stopped to snack and change into a rain jacket. The food helped with energy. I pushed on and found that the second part had some amazing downhills.
Next stop was the Wyant general store. I grabbed a Gatorade and planned to picnic outside in the mist. The kind shopkeeper let me eat my lunch inside and warm up. We chatted about bears, gentrification of rural Virginia and life in NYC. Powered by a tuna fish sandwich, I signed their cycling log and took off towards Afton.
The route was increasingly beautiful. A peach orchard and farm stand, called Chiles, appeared out of the hills. With strawberry fields to the left, orchard and stand to the right, each side had an unbelievable view of the mountains as a backdrop. I chatted with the ladies about the trip as I perused the jams, pies, fudge, produce, before deciding on apple cider donuts. One woman filled my water bottles.
Continuing on, a young couple, Linda and Chris pointed me in the right direction. Having completed a cross country trek last year, they quickly offered water and food at their home nearby. I declined as I had refueled minutes prior. Thy wished me luck on the upcoming hill and eventual ascent into Afton. The climb was long and difficult, with a few sizable switch backs. This would be nothing compared to getting to Afton.
With rain now coming down I put on my rain boots, readjust a few items, through on Johnny Cash and tackle Afton. I have to stop a few times as my quads burn and I gasp for breath. Only 1 mile into the ascent and I’m running low on water. I eventually make it to the Cookie Lady’s home.
With a massive and steep switchback looming 20 yards away, I check my phone to see how far I am from the next host. Fortunately it’s the next street up! I get in about 15 minutes before Bruce shows up. Bruce, a friend of David’s, gives me the grand tour of his home and my accomodations for the evening. I shower in an outdoor shower that rivals any bathing scenario previously attempted. With the cool air, now heavy rain and utter seclusion while overlooking the mountains edge, it did not matter that there was no curtain.
I dried off and made my way to the main house to meet Bruce’s wife, Anne. We chat before she sees a client. I watch Bruce cook a feast that came straight from his garden. Anne returns and we have a fantastic meal of sauteed Swiss chard, cauliflower, kale and sausages. We chat for a bit longer before heading to bed. The rain, now a downpour, pounds the roof of the cottage as I drift to sleep, hoping the bears don’t trudge through the rain to get honey from Bruce’s beehives a few feet away.
Day 15- 50 miles: Afton to Lexington
I pack then breakfast with Bruce and Anne, showing Anne a few more cell phone shortcuts. We snap a photo before saying goodbye to Bruce. Anne offers to drop me to wear the skyline drive and blue ridge parkway meet, saving me a few grueling minutes of climbing in intense fog. I take the offer.
I quickly get my gear out of her car and she takes off for her next appointment. A cyclist named Criag comes down to the same parking lot making me feel better that people are out riding the parkway today. Afton and the Blue Ridge as none as being one of the foggiest places in the country. The fog providing visibility that locals refer to as ‘pea soup’. As one can imagine, it’s not easy to see through.
The first five miles takes an hour. I get to the only service area in my 27 mile route along the parkway. After this rest stop there are no restrooms or places to get water. Cell phone service is essientially non-existent. Being as alone as I am with 22 more miles to go a sense of nervousness engulfs me. Do I turn back around and ask Bruce and Anne to take me back in? Can I even find their place again in this fog? Do I have the legs and enough water to get me through the end?
I decide to tredge on. Fortunately with such limited views, traffic is slow and at a minimum. For the next hour I do not see a single cyclist. The fog is pretty much a cloud hanging on to the mountain. As I accelerate downhill the moisture hits me as if it is raining. The heat generated while climbing quickly disappears as my fingers, face and throat go numb. Even with rain gear, every inch of me is soaked and cold. Just 12 miles in, the water bottles are nearly empty.
I stop at Raven’s Post to eat a snack. I chat up a young couple from Waynesboro whom passed me a few miles back and ask if they have extra water. The last full water bottle is gifted to me. John asks if I saw the bear on rh road earlier. Clearly I did not!!
Making better time, I stop a few miles later to grab another snack. The first touring cyclists of the day approach the picnic area. John and Sarah, former US military stop by to talk. We’re all on the TAT, headed to Lexington and take off. Sarah claims she needs to warm up, but makes ascents look easy. John, a large man like myself maintains a slow and steady pace in the back. At our next stop, Sarah gives me a tailight as mine had finally died.
Wirh only 5 miles remaining, I take the lead. A half mile stretch of downhill opens up that is relatively straight. Holding the breaks at first, I now have enough visibility to try to reach max speed. I hit 40.8 mph, my fastest of the trip. Maybe not the best idea in such conditions, but I knew I had 15 years of military service behind me to help if something were to go wrong.
Next thing I know the end of the TAT is upon me. I exit and wait under an over pass for the group. No one is in sight by the time my body is so cold I need to keep on moving. I race down 3 miles of switch backs holding the brakes the entire time. I take another break to give the hands a rest and see if the two catch up. The air warms and visibility improves after descending roughly 2000 ft. I exchange a soaked shirt for a dry one and wring out my socks.
I ask a woman at the post office for some directions to my parents motel in Lexington and warm up inside. Still waiting for the two. Eventually the two appear and we head to Gertie’s for warm food and beverages.
I offer to return the light to Sarah but she lets me keep it. We feast, snap a photo and head our separate ways. Eleven miles later I arrive to the motel just as a severe rain storm starts. I shower, dress and hit the town for some food with the parents.
After dinner we head back to the room and get much deserved rest. I survived what appeared to be a precarious day of cycling!
Day 16 – Rest day
We get up and take advantage of the free breakfast. I fill up on waffles, coffee and sausage. We hit Walmart for some random items. I had to replace this awesome umderarmour shirt I left soaked at the bottom of the blue ridge. Burr cause it was from an awesome event a 9/11 5k I did back in 2015.
My parents continued their trek north as I stayed in the hotel. I napped, did laundry, snacked and planned. I then took a cab into Lexington to see Washington and Lee’s campus and grab some food. Once I tired I called another cab and called it a night.