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

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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.

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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)

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

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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

Day 2 (May 30 2016) Jamestown – Ashland VA; 68 miles

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Happy Memorial Day! Though it would’ve been awesome to celebrate down the jersey shore, riding through the battlefields of VA was definitely a humbling way to appreciate the holiday. One of the highlights of the day was riding past a man running with a stroller full of American flags as well as the uniform of a fallen soldier. Unfortunately, because we passed him after we realized what he was doing, we were unable to ask him about his story.

Today was a rainy Monday with intermittent downpours. Of course the rain started the minute I woke up and had the thought “well, time to break down camp”. Luckily, it cleared up before dinner (pizza!). We started in Jamestown and ended in Ashland, a little less than 70 miles. We continued on the Virginia Capitol Trail until right before Richmond and it was a beautiful traffic free ride. We had lunch at Mama Lonnie’s, a little mom and pop convenience store whose owners were extremely accommodating. We encountered many rolling hills that took a toll on us by the end of the ride. Thank god for rest breaks and pop tarts. Luckily the trial was well marked with TransAm 76 signs that came in handy, so much so that we only had to resort to GPS a handful of times. Plus my map skills are definitely starting to improve (woo!).

My aunt Carol and uncle Fred came to visit after dinner and it was great seeing them. They offered for us to stay at their house tomorrow night at Lake Anna, unfortunately, we are riding further west 😦 They saved us and took us to CVS for some essentials and warned us about the upcoming doom of Blue Ridge. We were going to visit a brewery conveniently located right next to the campsite, but we were too beat from today’s ride.
Also, fun fact of the day, we are sharing camp with a couple from New Zealand who are doing the TransAm bike race. Essentially, it is a group of crazies who race across the country on the same trail as us. They are departing from Yorktown June 2nd. Because they are planning on finishing the whole trail in 35 days, they will definitely pass us later on. A group is also departing from Oregon that same day. Can’t wait to see them speed past us. If you have an hour and a half to kill, there is a documentary on Netflix about the race called Inspired to Ride. It is absolutely insane.

Sheena’s Corner: Today Sheena had the brilliant idea of plugging her phone into an outlet that housed a hornets nest. And somehow she convinced me to get it. I achieved the target unstung!
Spending Memorial Day riding through battlefields was incredibly special
So happy I bought fenders
“Em, possum… possum… You’re going to run over that possum….POSSUM” *screams (Emilie, not Sheena)*
Stupid knees (Sheena has been having issues with her TFL, luckily she has a licensed physical therapist as a good friend)
Sheena had a very enlightening explanation of the 7 Days Battle. “Oh, I actually know this one! I know this part of history! It was a short battle in the civil war. No revolutionary war, well one of those. And it only lasted 7 days”. Of note, Sheena is an engineer, not a historian.
Distance: 68.57 miles

Time on bike: 5 hours 35min

Avg speed: 12.2 MPH

max speed: 27.9 MPH

Total odometer: 100 miles