Day 14 (June 11th 2016) Council – Breaks Interstate Park; 28 miles

a

Today was a short and relatively easy day. It started out with a chilly 20 miles of rolling hills that soon turned into 8 miles of mostly uphill. It was tough, but nothing we haven’t encountered before. We got through it and to our destination of Breaks Interstate Park all before 10:30 am. We set up camp and then set out exploring the park, whose nickname is the “Grand Canyon of the South”. A bit of a stretch, I say, but beautiful none the less. We hiked a little bit and experienced hills off the bike. Definitely a different feel! After the hike I got in an excellent nap and plan on getting to bed early. We have a longer ride tomorrow to make up for distance we didn’t make today. Wish us luck!

Miles: 28.22
Time on bike: 2:28
Avg MPH: 11.4
Max MPH: 38.4

Sheena’s corner:
Since I drew a blank yesterday, here’s my corner for both days. Hayter’s gap was not nearly as bad as I was expecting. I feel a lot stronger on climbs and haven’t needed to walk up anything in quite some time. After that, however, it was an anxiety filled day. Everyone on the team seemed to be having an off day with falls or crashes. We made it through though!

Today was a nice and short day. I hit 41mph! I forgot to go into 3rd gear, so I didn’t get the chance to go faster. Tomorrow is another day with more climbs and faster descents.

Oh and Emilie tried to poison the team with food that she shared with mice…

Day 13 (June 10th 2016) Damascus – Council VA; 54 miles

Today started not so well. I woke up to Sheena rustling about and thought, “why is she up so early?” I checked my phone and realized that my alarm never went off. I got up in a panic and broke down camp quickly. My adrenaline was pumping so hard I didn’t need coffee! But after a delicious breakfast made by Woodchuck (the owner of the hostel we were staying at) we were off. We were nervous about today because of the elevation map and the dreaded Hayter’s gap, aptly named because we all hated it. It was 4 miles uphill at a grade of 8-10%. It was brutal on the legs! But although no one enjoyed it, we all agreed it wasn’t nearly as bad as we had envisioned. We all got up it in one piece.

Getting down, however, was another story. I was hoping that all the hard work I put into that uphill would reap the benefits of a nice downhill. Although it was a nice downhill, I did learn a valuable lesson: 30 MPH and gravel DO NOT mix. When taking a turn during the downhill, I noticed a patch of gravel I was headed right towards. I preemptively braked but could not avoid the patch. I swerved and got caught right in it. I wiped out completely, with my left knee taking the brunt of it. Luckily there was a guy sitting in his car on the exact curve and came out with a first aid kit ready to go. I bandaged my bleeding knee and limped off. Though I was embarrassed and hurt, I was more concerned about my bike. Seems to be running alright! And, ironically, not even a mile down the road I hit another patch of gravel and went right into a guardrail. Luckily for me, both times Meg was there to calm me down and make sure I was okay. Another lesson I learned was that a total wipeout (or two) may dampen your day, but it won’t destroy it. Also, I wasn’t the only victim of gravel. Ten wiped out three times. And, on another side note, Mary was a part of a bad accident. A car rear ended another car that was following her at a safe distance on a road without a shoulder. She was able to outpedal the almost devastating accident, but both cars did not fare well. One ended up in a ditch several feet off the road. All drivers are presumed to be okay. This caused a panic for me and Sheena, as a lady passed by Sheena in her car and told her that one of our girls was involved in a bad accident. We waited about half an hour for the unscathed Mary to make her miraculous appearance. Disaster averted!

We hit another bad hill getting into Council. It was shorter and less steep than Hayter’s, but it was all in the sun and we hit it during the hottest part of the day. It was a struggle, and apparently it was very obvious. A guy in a pick up truck offered me a ride into town, stating that the climb is steep and tough. I declined his offer, saying that I liked the challenge. He said he could relate, as he was ex-military. We got into camp shortly after and have been trying to stay out of the sun ever since. Tomorrow is a short, but hilly, ride. And our last day in Virginia!! Finally!
Total miles: 54.72

Time on bike: 4:56

Avg speed: 11.0 mph

Max speed: 36.2 mph

Day 11 + 12 (June 8th/9th 2016) Wytheville – Damascus VA; 62 miles

Today (well technically yesterday) was by far the most fun day of riding yet, and the whole group agrees. Mom and dad, sorry, but you probably won’t like the reason why. The day started out fine, nice and chilly with some wind. Towards the middle of the day we hit some gradual inclines, which I have grown to love. I have accepted that this is my life and uphills are an inevitable part of it. I better learn to just grin and bear it! We were in the trees which provided shelter from the wind. After the 5 or so miles of uphill we were blessed with 15 miles of pure downhill bliss. We were cruising down the mountains at 25+ MPH down windy roads. We didn’t have to worry about cars behind us because we were going faster than the speed limit. It was a lot of fun and definitely an adrenaline rush

a

We started out leaving the church early and when riding on the main road a man came running out of his house and cheering us on. “Woo hoo! Go on to Oregon!” he shouted. It’s nice to know we have adoring fans throughout our ride. We also had an older gentleman stop on the side of the road and tell us, “you are the first smart riders I saw who are wearing bright colors. The lot of you are gonna get yourselves killed.” It’s nice to know he was concerned about our well being.

We had lunch in a pretty spot by a river on a bridge in a driveway. The owners came out and talked with us and were very hospitable. They invited us to wade in the river, but it was too chilly to partake. Jake and Catherine joined us for lunch and we had a very entertaining conversation. Some more bike racers passed us during lunch and gave us a thumbs up.

a

We are camping in Damasus tonight in a hostel. There is a dog here named Buster that looks slightly like Addie and I have been able to get in my dog fix. Because Damascus is a cross through town for the Appalachain Trail, we are camping with a lot of thru hikers. They are very entertaining with funny stories. We have a layover day in Damascus, there isn’t too much to do here, but it’s nice being off the bike and relaxing.

abc

aa

Sheena’s corner: Yesterday restored my desire for this trip. The climb went great and the long descents were, by far, the best time I’ve had yet. I finally hit over 40mph! Next goal is 45mph.

Total miles: 62.2
Hours on bike: 5:12
Max MPH: 38.1
Avg MPH: 11.9

Day 10 (June 7th 2016) Christiansburg -Wythville VA; 34 miles

Not a very good day. Hilly, hot, and windy. This was our first main encounter with wind this trip. It started in the afternoon and was relentless. It was blowing so badly that it was even challenging going down hill. We had to pedal just as hard as we were going up! It was also scary in that it pushed us all over the road, into oncoming traffic. Which, during certain hills, would have been a much welcome gift (joking!). But we persevered and made it to another church camp in Wythville. After tomorrow we have an off day, which everyone is in of dire need!

tumblr_o8fiajquFy1vve3qgo1_500h

Sheena’s corner: today was a tough day, but I made it. So that’s nice.

Total miles: 57.5
Time on bike: 5:13
Avg MPH: 10.8
Max MPH: 33.8 MPH

Day 9 (June 6th 2016) Troutville – Christiansburg VA; 52 miles

Today was not as good of a day as yesterday, not in the least. Hills on top of hills. Some were rollers (Sheena was a beast on them) and some were unforgiving tear jerkers. But the scenery is at least still a stunning distraction. The weather was hot and sunny which didn’t help. What also didn’t help was taking a wrong turn, unknown, and going up more hills. Luckily it only added a mile or two to the total mileage. We missed the turn because we were concentrating so hard on tackling a hill, no time for map reading! During our detour we came across a sign, “I believe in God and guns. Trespass and you’ll meet both”, a true sign you’re in the south!

aa

Last night we shared camp with a cycling group, Bike Across the US for MS. We rode with them throughout the day, mostly they passed us throughout the day. The are a van supported group so their bikes are not loaded. When one passed us, Sheena offered him her pannier. He refused her kind offer.

abc

When arriving into Christianburg, we noticed a bicycle at a pizza shop that stood out. I instantly recognized it as a bike used in the TransAm bike race, in which a bunch of crazies ride their bikes across the country as quickly as they can. I convinced Sheena and Catherine to go into the shop with me to talk to the racer. When we went in, he was paying and we were able to ask a few questions. He answered but politely excused himself, like he was in a rush or something (ha!). His name is Jason and he is currently in 2nd place going westward. He started Saturday and in those few short days he completed the same distance that took us 8 days. Makes us feel like complete slackers!

abcd.jpg

I was on dinner duty tonight with Catherine and Jake. We made rice and beans. Luckily the church we’re staying at has lots of room and we won’t be in close proximity with each other once the beans kick in.

Today we finished map one!! Only 11 left until we hit our destination!! Woooo!

Sheena’s corner: After a nice 40miles and an atrocious 10 miles, it’s awesome to catch up on game of thrones.

Shocker: Kentucky has a ton of steep hills.

Total miles: 52.45
Time on bike: 4:49
Avg MPH: 10.8
Max MPH: 36.0

Day 8 (June 5th 2016) Lexington – Troutville VA; 46 miles

One week in!! Today was surprisingly an easy day! It came as a much welcome surprise. When looking at the elevation map, today looked like it was going to be super tough with lots of climbs with steep grades. Lucky for us it was gradual climbs and rolling hills. The rolling hills were great because we were able to gather enough momentum to go up the uphill without putting too much work into it. As cliche as it may sound, it was just like a roller coaster. Except, if you raise your arms over your head, you’ll probably have a very bad day.

abc.gif

We started out early after breakfast into the rain. A few minutes into the ride we saw a bald eagle fly off, that was really spectacular. We did hit some bad hills, but we rode through them relatively strongly. Not sure if our legs are rejoicing in the fact that there are finallo done with the Blue Ridge mountains or if we’re actually getting stronger. I’m really hoping it’s the latter! We did encounter a couple “road closed” signs due to flooding, and they weren’t lying. We rode through a legitimate river and had to walk our bikes through to avoid getting washed away. It was actually a lot of fun and refreshing during the heat of the day.

We arrived into camp really early. We’re in Troutville in a town park which Appalachian trail thru hikers frequent. We met a few interesting hikers with crazy stories. After dinner a storm rolled through and left a beautiful double rainbow, it was the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen.

abc

Sheena’s corner:
Today was my favorite day. I loved the rolling hills and only hated the last hill before Troutville.
Fun fact: Brown cows make chocolate milk and pink cows make strawberry milk. But they’re rare, they’re only found in like the Netherlands, I’ve never seen them in person. The tan cows though are rejects and they make milk duds.

Total miles: 45.72 miles
Avg MPH: 11.3 MPH
Max MPH: 37.7 MPH
Time on bike: 4 hours

Day 7 (June 4th 2016) Love – Lexington VA; 40 miles

bal

We have successfully crossed over the most challenging part of Virginia! We are still in the foothills of the Appalachians, but we have completed the most daunting part of the trip, for me at least. Today was another early day in attempt to beat the upcoming heat. We saw more of the same beautiful scenery as yesterday. After a few miles, we came across Vesuvius. It was just as steep and scary as I had anticipated, however, we took it easy and took multiple rest breaks. Not because we were physically tired, but because our brakes needed a break from constant use. I was warned that Vesuvius was notorious for causing brake issues/exploding tires from overheating from overuse on descent. We stopped for a brake break only a half mile in. I went to touch my brakes just to see if the rumors were true, and burned my finger it was so hot! Not my smartest idea. We had to stop any time it was safe to let the brakes/tire rims cool. But we made it down without crashing or any issues! Sheena had the bright idea of trying to get a top speed when descending Vesuvius, however, because I was ahead of her, I kept her in check. And probably saved her life.

We had lunch in a beautiful spot by a river and relaxed. When we set back out we hit a few more steep and long climbs, coupled by long and steep descends. Sheena was so worn out she thought that horses said, “baa”. We arrived to Lexington, our overnight destination, around 1:30, right when the sun was the most intense. But we were done and had the whole afternoon to explore the city. We did laundry and went to a couple coffee shops. We got stuck in the laundromat due to an intense thunderstorm rolling though causing flash flooding. A river formed in the street taking a picnic table with it. But after a few minutes the clouds gave way to sunshine. We’re staying at a church. Even though it was a short ride today, we are all still extremely exhausted from yesterday’s ride.

Sheena’s corner: I thought we were done with hills 😩

Total miles: 39.86

miles Avg MPH: 11.1

MPH Max MPH: 36.5

MPH Time on bike: 3 hours 34 min

Day 6 (June 3rd 2016) Charlottesville – Love; 48 miles

Leading into today, I had a horrible gut feeling, much like I do before a big track race like the Penn Relays. But instead of it lasting only a minute or two, it’ll last over 5 hours. I always heard that cycling over the Appalachians is the hardest part of the trail. In fact, before starting the trip, I was already dreading the day I would see them. Steep climbs on top of relentless hills was always the number one comment about them. However, as we rolled into camp today, I thought, “wow, that actually wasn’t bad”. The feeling of accomplishment and pride between me and my fellow group members was palpable.

Sheena and I started out early, in attempt to beat the heat of the day. We also realized that we would need frequent rest breaks, so we left a little before 7am to prevent getting into camp too late. Rolling hills were abundant, as per usual, but we encountered breathtaking views of the upcoming mountains peeking through the fog. As we approached the climb to the town of Afton, we realized that the Appalachians were no joke. We encountered multiple mile plus hills with a steep climb that even the granny gear couldn’t handle. I wish I had my clipless pedals, however, sweet little Addie chewed them up and I saw it as a sign to keep them home because I would frequently fall with them. As we climbed them I could only imagine what the actual mountain would have in store for us. However, when we ended those climbs and came to the Blue Ridge Parkway, our leader, Whitney, informed us that the previous mentioned climbs were actually the steepest and most difficult we would encounter the whole trip. A feeling of relief overwhelmed me knowing that we conquered what I was fearing since before the start, and I didn’t even know it!

The Blue Ridge Parkway was incredible. Words cannot describe the overlooks onto the surrounding mountains. During the 14 mile ride through them, we encountered all kinds of weather. From sunny to downpour to foggy, watching the mountains change with the weather was magical. At one point we could see rain patches move through different towns. We even watched one cell move right to us. I thought about taking pictures to try to capture the moment, but between the rain and little to no shoulder to pull over safely over on, I figured I’ll just try to remember it. Views like that are hard to forget.

The day off yesterday was much needed, woke up refreshed, although my muscles didn’t feel so well. It was nice to walk around Charlottesville and see the culture of the town, dominated mainly by UVA. In preparation for today’s ride, a lot of us shipped non essential items back home to lessen the load.

I had my first fall today. I’m pretty proud I held out so long. During the rain my shoelace got caught in my pedal. My only option was falling so I did just that. No harm minus a few minor scrapes to the knee, but it was pretty scary because I fell in the middle of the road in a downpour with low visibility. But crisis averted!

We talked to a few interesting people today. Of note was an Englishman, Chris. He also was making his way cross country. He started on Wednesday so I have a feeling he’ll beat us to the destination by a week or two… or more. We also ran into Greg, a local who does a lot of cycling. He said he was jealous of our trip. Sheena offered him her bike, but he graciously declined her generous offer.

Tonight we’re staying just west of Love, VA. We rented a house and it is comparable to the Taj Mahal, complete with a hot tub. It was a nice surprise after a very hard day. The only downfall is no cell service, which is probably why I’m going to post this a day late.

Tomorrow we’re continuing on the Blue Ridge Parkway and descending Mt. Vesuvius (no not the Italian one). It is a 4 mile stretch of steep downhill, which I am extremely nervous for. A wipe out on that would be not be pretty. But after tomorrow we will have successfully crossed over a mountain! A good night’s rest is most definitely needed. Sheena and her cooking crew made a delicious dinner of pasta, complete with wine. Fancy!

Sheena’s corner:
I am extremely proud of myself and everyone else on today’s ride. It was not easy but we did it!
What would my mother think seeing me sitting on the side of a highway eating a sandwich and sleeping on the gravel?

I fixed my bike computer! The engineer engrained in my blood made an appearance yesterday!
Miles: 48.6 miles
Hours on bike: 5 hours 13 min
Avg MPH: 9.3 (hills were killers)
Max MPH: 35.3 MPH

Day 4 + 5 (June 1st/2nd 2016 – a day late) Mineral – Charlottesville VA; 50 miles

After yesterday’s ride, I opted to forgo writing an entry and instead chose to go to a bar with the group. The traumatization of the day was still too fresh and I did not want to relive the ride by writing about it. But now that it’s a new morning, I finally feel comfortable talking about it. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but boy was it a doozy. It started out with a breakfast made by yours truly and the other Keane of the trip, Katherine (pancakes, eggs, oatmeal), then we set out for the road.

The first 15 miles were rolling and tough, but doable because it was still morning and relatively cool. Once the sun and heat let us know they were there, the intensity level went up. We’re still considered “in the foothills” of the Appalachians, however, it feels like we forged through the entire mountain. We went up so many hills where I was in my lowest gear and I still felt like I was working insanely hard. I’m terrified to see what the actual mountains are going to have in store for us. Sheena and I stuck together, taking frequent breaks, particularly after long uphills in the sun. We stopped at a high school to dry our tents out and to enjoy the AC. The principal of the school warned us about an upcoming road that was treacherous and that we were crazy for trying to ride on. She said she wouldn’t even drive on it in her car. She explained to us an alternate route, however, it would add 3 miles into the trip. At that point, 3 miles was an marathon so we opted to take our chances. It was really reassuring how much this woman warned us.

We were chased by a few more dogs today, however, pepper spray was not needed. Cousin Keane told us a handy trick – slow down and stop, the fun of the chase will end and the dog will go away. It worked. Brains obviously run in the Keane clan’s genes. We also whipped out the GPS more frequently if we were 100% positive about the route. We did not want what happened to Sheena yesterday to happen again 😳.

Leading into Charlottesville, we were riding on a road named Rolling Rd. It was very appropriately named due to the amount of rolling hills. Up and down for miles. Sheena thought a different name would be more appropriate, however, due to the PG content of this blog, her creative name has to be omitted. After surviving Rolling Rd, we reached the one the principal warned us about – Rt 53. At first it was fine with a relatively small shoulder. After a short while that shoulder disappeared into a 5 ft ditch and traffic started piling up behind us. Because it was so windy and hilly, here were many blind curves that made it dangerous to pass. That, along with the very likely possibility that one jerk of the handlebars will leave you very unhappy in a ditch, was extremely unnerving. We stopped at the side when we could to let cars pass, but that required getting back on the bike on a hill. Not fun. Sheena chose to walk her bike up, but I kept trudging on. One hill, right by Monticello, I will never forget. It was so steep and long that I had my first break down. Though I kept it together and didn’t cry, I just wanted to get off my stupid bike and throw it in traffic. I came across a bridge and stayed under it until Sheena came. We sat under it for a good 30 min, contemplating why we were putting ourselves through this torture. But those feelings of defeat gave way to laughs, because what else are you going to do in a situation like that but grin and bear it. 53 gave way to a bonafide highway, at which point I thought screw it I’m taking the first right to get off this death trap. Turns out it was the correct turn! My impeccable sense of direction triumphs again. After getting off that road, we knew we only had 2.5 miles to go, so Sheena and I went to the first bar we came across to decompress.

ab

When we finally rolled into camp, it was reassuring to know that other riders had the same experiences as us. We were not the only ones dying on the hills and traumatized by the windy death roads. We all survived unscathed, though some more bruised.

We have an off day today in Charlottesville. It is much needed not only to rest weary legs, but also to mentally prepare for what’s coming ahead. Looking at the elevation changes on the map, it makes what we did the last couple days look like a cake walk. I’m planning on going to the post office to ship back non essential items to make the trek a little lighter. We are also going to do laundry, hit up a bike shop, and trip to find a spot with wifi to finally watch Game of Thrones (though Facebook already spoiled it for me). Looking forward to the relaxation!

Sheena’s Corner: I hate Virginia. It is not for lovers.
Which would hurt less? Getting hit by a truck going slow, or a car going fast? My phone is not charging, so I am using it for emergency only until I get it fixed. If I die, Emilie will mention it in Sheena’s corner on that day’s entry

Total miles (unclear, different people got different numbers): 49-53 miles
Max MPH: 38.3 (it was awesome)

abc

Day 3 (May 31 2016) Ashland – Mineral VA; 62 miles

a

Well today was brutal. One of those days where you definitely question yourself “why did I think this was a good idea again?”. But rolling into camp after a hard ride is definitely gratifying and accomplishing. Truly like no other feeling. Today we ran into major hills, as we are entering the foothills of the Appalachians. They were rolling and definitely steep. And going downhill, though easy and extremely fast, was discouraging because I knew I had to make up that distance plus some with an uphill. But I had music playing to distract me. The hills today make me extremely wary of what’s to come. But that’s another day and something to worry about later! All that matters is another day down.

So far my kickstand and bike computer broke completely. Kickstand was heavy and basically useless so no loss there, but the computer was my lifeline. Now I won’t know exact mileage or MPH which is annoying but I’ll fix it later.

We saw a couple near accidents where cars were avoiding us but almost ran into oncoming traffic. Definitely terrifying for all parties involved. Also, yesterday I forgot to mention that we experienced our first dog chase. A dog came running from a yard, and I thought he had an electric fence that would stop him. He didn’t. He ran top speed right at us. Realized he wasn’t going to stop, I let out a scream and reached for my pepper spray. Likely terrified by my high pitched squeal, he stopped and returned back home.

We ran into a few locals who were extremely nice and receptive towards us and our trip. Of note was Jodi, who flagged us down right before a turn. She said she passed us on the road and decided to greet us with gifts of water, apples, oranges, and soda. It was right after a few treacherous climbs and was definitely a spirit and morale boost. Her son is currently hiking the Appalachian Trail so she can relate to our struggles in a motherly way. Thanks Jodi! We also had a stranger at a gas station buy us a few bottles of ice water. Talk about southern hospitality!

I was on cooking duty tonight with my “long lost cousin”, Katherine. We decided to do Memorial Day a day late with burgers, fries, and salad/chips. We are staying at a farm just outside of Mineral, VA whose owner was kind enough to let us stay for the night with use of his house. He hosts TransAm cyclists frequently and is extremely generous. He has two dogs so I got my dog fix for the day. And the stars are incredible. I have never seen so many so so bright and clear before!.

Today was extremely hot and sunny, so sunscreen was used abundantly, though the sweat made it run right off. The rain from the past few days was greatly missed. We passed by the beautiful Lake Anna and jumped in, in full bike gear, to cool off. It definitely did the trick, though I left my sunglasses there. But they were all scratched so the lake can claim them. Tomorrow is a lighter day (mileage) however, longer steeper hills are to be expected. How delightful!

Sheena’s corner: Made a wrong turn. Ended up with an 80.5 mile day. (She rocked it)

Total mileage: 62.3/80.5
Max speed: 31.3 MPH