I am beginning to forget what day of the week it is. Ideally just miss rush hour during what people call the work week. Here’s a wrap up of what turned out to be three nights of camping over Memorial Day Weekend. I had developed a distinctive musk.
Day 17: East Lexington to Troutville (50 miles)
Beautiful day. Get up and eat another Quality Inn breakfast. I use their computer to map some directions to Bristol, VA and deeper within Tennessee. I packed all my gear and roll through Lexington. The hills on the way didn’t seem nearly as bad as when driven the two previous days.
I continue along TAT (Route 76) and when making a turn off Lee Highway, I get pulled over by a local cyclist driving to his trail for the day. Rick proceeds to tell me that the town of Natual Bridge is a tourist trap with hills and cars. He suggests riding Plank Road until in reconnects with the TAT. It’s less hilly, just as scenic, save the actual Natural Bridge, I heed his advice and find a wonderfully quiet ride though the country. Butterflies seem to be guiding me through the woods and over the rivers.
I enter the town of Buchanan, proniunced ‘buck-ain-naan’, and decide it’s time for food, drink and some shade. First place I see is a burger shop with another touring cyclist out front. As I begin to prop up my bike, I introduce myself to Scott and his cohort, Roy appears. We all decide to grab lunch together. The place is half pharmacy and half retro diner. We place our orders, drink loads of liquids and feast. We all decide we’re likely going to end up in the same place, Troutville for free camping at the city park.
Roy and Scott take off first to go find some groceries. I put sunscreen on and continue on. Since my knee is still reminding me it’s there, I decide to skip the prescribed TAT route and follow the Lee Highway (Route 11) to Troutville. While it’s more direct, it’s a fiarly busy highway with Friday rush hour picking up. The heat is also picking up.
I hit a gas station to cool off with a Gatorade and refill water bottles. I watch as locals go about their daily business which seems to be buying loaded of scratchy lotto tickets. Multiple trips to their cars, to the registers, to their cars and so on and so forth. This provides entertainment and a distraction from the odd rancid egg smell that wafts through the parking lot.
Back on the bike, I decide that the picking up the rest of the day’s TAT trail will only add a few extra miles, but get me off the busy main road. I somehow get lost in a neighborhood. All roads lead to Troutville’s city park. I pop into a convenience store, do some shopping, chat up the cashier, sign their travel book and find Scott and eventually Roy, whom trailed just behind me. We talk to a through hiker,”Chops” who will join us for a night of camping at the pavilion. The park has bathrooms, running water and electricity to charge our various devices.
Day 18: Troutville to Claytor Lake State Park (70+ miles)
This is a long, hard and hot day. Roy, Scott, Chops and myself are up by 6 am to pack and eat. Scott and I take off on the TAT trail within an hour. Suddenly realizing it’s hotter than I thought it would be that early, I peel off my fleece and throw on sunscreen and push on to climb Catawba. The ride is gorgeous but the hills are relentless. Every stop there is the appearance of rain on my feet, but I come to realize it’s sweat pouring from my forearms.
Scott and I leap frog each other to the opposite side, through the massive Raritan Valley for the next 20 miles until the next climb into Christiansburg. I find Scott at the top catting up locals with an Italian restaurant that has a daily lunch buffet. It’s just around the bend, perfect! We head into Amelia’s covered in sweat. I plug in various devices and hit the buffet line. All things are decent with a cheese steak being the stand out. Just like I had growing up outside of Philly.
As Scott and I settle up, Roy appears. He doesn’t need to stop so we all push on. Last to start, the town has roads shut down due to sidewalk construction, while unsure why that is the case, I weave between the parking cones and follow the TAT signs.
The sinage in Radford is lacking and I adlib my way across the river. A long downhill follows the river south. The air seems to cool as the woods thicken and sunlight is limited. To my disappointment, the hills reappear and heat picks up, steamier than ever. I constantly stop for water and use an electrolyte mix. I make it to route 608, the turn for Claytor Lake State Park. Three more miles.
I pull into a gas station for snacks, dinner and breakfast supplies. I call Scott and Roy to see if they have established base camp for the evening. Calls go straight to voicemail. I try the park to see if camping options are still available. Three spots remain. I rush my food purchases and push my tired legs to race towards the park. I maintain a speed of 25 mph or more, taking advantage of a descent. All I can think about is having to climb it tomorrow on my way out of town.
The park rangers don’t recognize my attempts to describe Roy and Scott. I pay for a camping spot and set up camp as a thunderstorm looms in the distance. The boys appear as I walk towards the lake for a swim. Each had an epic journey, but we all end up together. I walk towards the lake and dive under the cool water, which felt great as it washed away the day’s sweat and cooled my aching joints.
With the clouds overhead I dry off quickly and head back to the camp site. We eat our respective meals, shower and hit the tents as the rain comes down. Being only 9 pm, I plan to write in my tent for a bit. I am asleep within minutes.
Day 19: Claytor Lake to Wytheville (37 miles)
Scott is up first. We do our now daily routine consisting of packing, freshening up to the best of our abilities and eating our repestive breakfasts. We chat about what our expected mileage will be. Given the many miles of the past two days, I decide the free camping at a city park in Wytheville is my goal. Consensus determines this fits all our needs. Scott takes off early and Roy and I leave together.
My legs are feeling more refreshed than I expected. Perhaps there’s something in the water at Claytor Lake. The feeling is short lived as the head winds pick up as soon as I hit the TAT route. While the miles are comparatively low for the day, the fight to make miles is as hard or harder than the previous day.
I find catching my breath and taking water helps during the many ascents. Shade also helps with rhe midday heat. I find a beautiful cemetery overlooking the Blue Ridge Parkway in the distance.
By the time I roll into Wytheville, the skies have become a bit overcast. I stop to gain my bearings and take a guess at where I need to go. A timely text from Scott comes through saying we’re good to go at the city park. I arrive to see he has completed his set up. This oasis has a large pavilion, bathroom and plenty of electrical outlets to charge our various devices. Winds, from what appears to be our daily thunderstorm, dry our camping gear and wet clothes from last night’s storm.
Roy arrives and unpacks, as he tells us his decision to take a rest day in town. Once we’re all set up we hit a pizza shop for food and libations. We eat slowly and converse about our touring experiences, constantly learning something new about the other or some upcoming terrain. We head back to camp, do some last minute planning then hit the hay. No thunderstorm comes and we sleep to a gentle breeze flowing through the pavilion. Cool, quiet and dry Wytheville was a pleasant surprise.