Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Southern Hospitality is Real Good, Y'all

It's currently raining and overcast, but luckily, we are warm and dry inside at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina! Since last writing we've been through Asheville and Chimney Rock, NC. We crossed into SC yesterday and arrived in Spartanburg last evening.

Friday we spent poking around the city of Asheville. We checked out the co-op, read the menus at all of the interesting looking restaurants, and ducked into many a shop downtown. We saw some great art. That night we met up with Ben and Pearl, our Warm Showers hosts, at a vegetarian restaurant that everyone had recommended to us.

On Saturday we went to a discount grocery store - quite a dangerous endeavor given that we have to carry everything we buy - and then took an afternoon kayak trip on the French Broad River with Ben. We'd hoped to both kayak past the Biltmore Estate and then make it in time to see the bike co-op in Asheville, but it wasn't in the cards. For dinner we ate a southern meal of eggs, biscuits with gravy, kale and onions, and sweet potato homefries downtown and then headed to a local bar for some local brew and bluegrass music. Because we were so in the moment in Asheville, we kind of forgot to take photos! Here's our lone one:

Sunday was a gorgeous day. We didn't set out on the road until midday, but once we did, we rode predominantly on route 76 east, towards Lake Lure. We passed through Hickory Nut Gap, where we happened upon a local man named Gary who showed us around the historic Shellies Inn, that served as a stopping point for travelers over the gap from 1834 to 1909. We filled our water bottles from the spring there and got some great views.

We cycled past Chimney Rock and were planning on camping in the Lake Lure/Chimney Rock area. The sites we came upon though were all for RVs! We scoped out a local park thinking we could tuck our tent towards the margin, but realized it was right by a police station - so we went to ask if that would be ok. It wasn't - but the police did suggest asking the nearby Baptist Church if we could pitch our tent in their yard. We did, and and they agreed. Just 15 minutes later or so as we were setting up camp in the area they had indicated, (by a little house that they also owned), the pastor drove up with a set of keys in his hands. He told us that "he just couldn't stand the thought of anyone sleeping in the cold", and so we could stay inside the house that night. He turned on the heat and let us use the shower and stove etc. Yet again, we are blown away by people's generosity and hospitality!

Here's a haiku to describe our feelings:

we are well-cared for
so much generosity
the world is too good

On Monday we made our way from Chimney Rock towards Spartanburg. The day was pretty uneventful until the afternoon, when we took a bit of a spill. None of the roads in South Carolina seem to have shoulders, so we were riding pretty close to the white line. At one point along Route 9 the pavement sort of crumbled away. Emily's tire went off the road, and she ended up flying over the handlebars when she turned left to try and correct and resume road riding. Luckily, only scraps and bruises came of it, and an EMT happened to be right behind us to shower her in hydrogen peroxide and wrap her up with gauze!

Emily all bandaged up

Also, if a fall had to happen, it was great timing. We were only a few miles from Spartanburg where our host Shelley, who works at Upstate Forever and is involved in Partners for Active Living, lives. She contacted us when she read about our trip through the Rail to Trail newsletter. She then connected us with Converse college, which is also taking really good care of us.

Emily, Margaret, and Shelley

That night that we got to listen to an amazing woman, Dr. Katherine Jeter, speak on campus about "designing your lifestyle", (essentially, how does one accomplish goals they aspire to). One of her accomplishments that impressed us in particular, was that she rode 70 miles in a day on her 70th birthday and raised over $70,000 for charity to do it! She emphasized that a large part of getting something done is setting a date and telling people of your plans so that you're held accountable. How true! Our own take on that is that it's not even necessary to know exactly what you're getting yourself into. If you set the date, you have to launch in just like we did for our tour...and we sure are figuring it out along the way!

Katherine and Emily

Speaking at Converse College! What?

We plan to head out tomorrow morning and hope for sunnier weather! The rough plan is the head east, stop at Congaree National Park en route and find our way to Charleston, and then Savannah!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To Layer or Not to Layer?

Since last writing we've entered into North Carolina, and met the coldest weather of our trip so far! Who knew that was possible?

After leaving Roanoke, we headed southwest to Christiansburg, VA on route 11. We stayed with Warm Showers hosts Colin and Becca, and arrived just before it started to rain! Colin is a fellow UVM grad! Thanks guys!

On Colin's recommendation, we decided to hit the New River Trail - a Rail to Trail path - that follows the river for just over 50 miles. Despite the chill in the air, it was extremely scenic, winding past green pastures and through technicolor leaves. It was a great low, and therefore warmer, alternative to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Our first night, we camped right off of the trail in Foster Falls, an old village with cool old buildings. For more shelter, we set our tent up in the stage area of an amphitheater! Presenting...Emily and Margaret!

The next day we finished the trail extremely chilled in Galax, VA. We warmed up for a while in a BBQ Smokehouse, the only business open in the downtown on a Sunday. It was there that we found out frost was predicted that night! We decided to continue on the Blue Ridge, as we had initially planned, since weather would likely be more extreme there. Luckily, some friendly people at the Galax Methodist Church helped us out and put us up for the night.

The next morning there was frost everywhere, so we were lucky to have been inside! What's more, the sun had returned after being absent for three or so days. Wahoo! That made a huge difference. We got back on the Blue Ridge, and had a beautiful clear and warm day. It was so nice to be in just a jersey and shorts again, after so many days of layering up and down! The previous days had been a constant struggle with layers to find a balance between being hot and sweaty from activity and chilled from the wind and cold. When we stopped for lunch at a crest, a woman in her car asked us, "Where y'all from?" When we replied Vermont, she said, "VERMONT?!" and proceeded to take our pictures because, "anyone who does that deserves a photo to be taken."

We spent Monday night on the Blue Ridge in a nice spot off the road. It was cold when we went to bed, but we were still surprised to wake up this morning to frost again! We hung out in our sleeping bags while we waited for the day to heat up. And heat up it did! We even managed to get a little sunburned! We were forced to detour off the ridge towards Boone due to a rock slide. When we stopped at a small gas station and mini mart to fill up water bottles, we were the talk of the town in no time. Some old timers who looked like fixtures on the outside benches were fascinated by our travels, asking us questions and offering up their own stories. One gentleman showed us pictures of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren in the local rodeo.

We spent the night in Boone with some fellows from the warm showers gig. We had a lovely night of annies mac, boggle, and meeting bicycle enthusiast friends, as well as a jem of a dog named Praise Break. Even though we only spent an afternoon and evening in Boone, we were both pleasantly surprised and taken with the town. We could easiy immagine ourselves there.

Thanks Winklers Creek guys!

We struck out from Boone Wednesday morning and got back on the Blue Ridge. It was a super sunny, spectacular and hot day! The views were even more astounding then before. We wanted to make sure we got close to 50 miles in since we were hoping to make it to Asheville, (which is about 100 miles from Boone)the following night, so after 47 miles when we found a flat spot to pitch our tent off the side of the road, we were ready for it and psyched. Right after we had pitched our tent a pickup pulled over and the driver came out to tell us that it is illegal to guerilla camp in that area, and that a ranger would probaly be by to give us the boot. However, he did offer his yard up as a free spot to throw a tent...and we took him up on it! He and his wife also clued us into the fact that Mount Mitchel, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, stood between us and Asheville. Awww man! We lack maps that show elevation- a major flaw in our plans. Wanting to make it to Ashville by Thursday night, we decided to cheat a little and catch a ride with a pickup a ways up the mountain the next day.

The lengths we go to, to stay warm...

Luckily, we met Karen and Charlie, a nice retired couple from Georgia, with a pickup. They helped us up the mountain, so we were free to coast down the other side. Again, the day was sunny and clear, so the views and ride down were truely breathtaking. We were so inspired that we wrote a Haiku:

Feet clipped in real tight
The miles pass like minutes
This must be cloud nine

View from atop Mount Mitchel

Bonus Photo with Mustaches!!!

We're super excited about getting to check out Asheville!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Unattractive but Alive!

Unattractive indeed, but alive, yes.

We took off from Charlottesville on Sunday and made a minor detour to Crozet for an annual craft fair. It was a beautiful sunny day and we took our time munching kettle corn and listening to some local bango music. Then we continued on to find the legendary cookie lady in little Afton VA. Our host Hal in C-ville had clued us in on her. She is an 89 year old woman who has been hosting cyclers en route since 1976! June Curry. We weren't sure quite where she was or what to expect, we had just heard that she offers travelers cookies, and that perhaps we could even camp there. After a long uphill that locals had warned us about, we came across an old brick house with a sign in the front yard, "Cookie Lady". We made it! We followed the signs around back to her stoop and there she was, no taller than 5' , waiting for us at the door with a polaroid camara and key in hand.

Margaret, June, and Emily

She sat us down, took our photo to log in her guest binder, and then invited us in and ended up chatting for 2 hours. She regaled us with stories about Afton in the "olden days", and showed us her homemade model of the town from the '2o's. Finally we went next door to what she called the 'bike house'. It was one floor several room abode, with the walls plastered in postcards and newspaper articles that past biking guests had sent her. The title for this post is borrowed from someone elses tour name - the Unattractive but Alive girls of 2008. It perfectly describes how we feel, when unshowered for several days, but but our hearts pumping and wind in our hair! The whole house was a sight for soar eyes. The kitchen was stocked with goodies and pans for our use, and there were couches and blankets. She surely is a trail angel, as she has been deemed by the cycling community. What a highlight of our trip! (google her- the cookie lady, it's worth checking out!)

Over 11,000 cyclists have stayed at the "bike house" since 1976

Then the next morining was our climb up to the blueridge parkway. It was beautiful, but as cold and dreary as we'd experienced on the trip so far. We tried psyching ourselves up with some candy treats (bull's eyes have become our new fave). Also, we loaded up on layers (hats, gloves, smartwool etc) so that we wouldnt freeze on the 30 mph way down, but it made for some swampy 4 mph uphills! We went about 40 miles that day and camped off the side of the road by Irish gap and quickly crawled in our sleeping bags after dinner to stay toasty. Later that night, we were awokened by a pack of coyotes calling back to each other in the nearby woods. Kind of haunting, and very cool.

Guerilla camping on the Blue Ridge

For as sobering as Monday was, Tuesday was equally lighthearted. As we packed up camp the sun came out and we stripped to shorts and a t-shirt. Then we experienced about 20 miles of downhill amidst clear sunny views of blue ridges and flaming reds and orange leaves. How spectacular! We dropped from about 2,300 ft to about 600 ft, the lowest point on the parkway.

Beautiful view from the ridge

We saw a sign for the Natural Bridge, just 15 miles off the parkway and figured since we were so low, it wouldn't be a big ordeal to get back on it after. So off we went, assuming that it would be a lovely natural feature for us to stumble upon and stroll through. Little did we know that a large, commercial gift shop and visitor center demanded $18.00 of each of us to be allowed to walk to it! What?! So instead we took a cheaper, and much cooler tour of nearby caverns. They were the deepest on the east coast, 34 stories down. Then luckly we were able to pitch our tent in the picnic area nearby. Another free nights stay.

Hooray for caves!

The next day was our most challenging; not physically, but moral-wise. It was cold when we woke up and started raining soon thereafter. We spoke with some locals to get opinions about getting back on the Blue Ridge, but the resounding response was, "No, it's a steep climb and it's gonna rain." We took Route 11 in the valley instead. Good thing we did! We ended up taking refuge at gas stations and sipping warm drinks along the way. After biking for about 4 hours in cold rain, we were soaked through, but at least no one could call us wimps, and we took an odd self rightous pleausre in it all! We got lots of disbelieving stares along the road. At one point in the afternoon, we could both feel our blood sugar crashing and we started to find everything hilarious. We had our heads down, rain dripping from our noses, just chugging along silently, when we were enveloped by the overwhelming smell of donuts at one point on the road, Emily looked up and yelled, "Where the HELL is that DoNUT?"

After a few extra miles in the wrong direction, we arrived at a host we'd found through Warmshowers.com. Our warm showers were truly glorious. After a dinner of delicious cereal, we went to see an excellent French film called Seraphine with our host, River Laker and his friend John. We also both had our first Waffle House experience after! And still later, we went to the Car Less Brit Museum, which is basically documentation of River's 9+ month experiment of life in Roanoke without a car. Check it out at http://carlessbrit.tumblr.com/. It was the perfect end to an evening to pedal around on modified tricycles inside!

Circus Bear Margaret rides a baby bike

Again, because of our host connections, (River works in the Promotions Department at the local library), we were able to get another insider opportunity! This morning we headed to Jes Gearings house, a vegan who is being featured by the Roanoke library for her Vegan Thanksgiving menu. We got to witness and sample some butternut squash with a mustard maple glaze! Yum. She also has a food blog that you can visit at http://cupcakepunk.wordpress.com/. Check it out, it looks divine!

Today is a regrouping day. We're running errands and restocking what we need, doing laundry, etc while waiting out the rain.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lemonade, Lotto, and Larry

Another week gone by...tomorrow is our one month anniversary of this trip! Wahoo!

Since last writing, Emily and Margaret have settled their score for the number of flats. Emily got one en route to Chesapeake Beach, MD. However, unlike Margaret's which was a slow leak, Emily's was a fast kaboom!

After a week of being so inactive, we felt as though we'd lost momentum we'd gained the previous weeks. We were happy to start up again on such flat terrain. Despite our sore legs, we still arrived at Chesapeake Beach with enough time to enjoy the ocean, some sun, and our books. After we asked several men fishing on a nearby dock what they were fishing for ("anything that bytes") and how deep the water was ("I have no idea"), we were reminded to the present and not worry so much about concrete details.

The next day we headed towards the Potomac river. Again, the back roads were flat, and not heavily trafficked. Around lunch time we stopped at a gas station to refill water bottles and grab a snack. Our appetites had returned!

One thing that became especially evident that day was how we tend to notice different elements about the exact same scenario. This often comes out when we try to share observations along the road and ask each other, "Did you see X?" and the other replies, "No...did you see Y?" "No." It's kind of funny. We like to think that together, we create a pretty complete picture.

On a whim, Emily bought a $2 lotto ticket at the gas station and won $20! Yay Maryland lotto! To put it in our terms, that four diner servings of eggs and toast!

Riding along route 301 towards VA, we saw a sign with a phone number that "unusual vehicles" should call to cross the upcoming bridge. Sure enough, we fit into that category...the Maryland Transportation Authority loaded our bikes in a truck and escorted us to the other side. After biking a few miles on route 3 - a busy, noisy, fast moving road - we pulled off into a gas station to ask about local camping options. We were getting discouraged since it was approaching dusk and most people informed us that camping was 15+ miles away and the roads leading there were treacherous. We decided to ask one more person. Enter Larry Brookes, an avuncular gentleman with an extra house he'd recently moved out of that he kindly offered to us for the night...and he happened to be driving his pickup truck in that direction. Hooray! Our problems were solved.

Wednesday the 7th we fought our way against the wind on no-shoulder route 3 to Fredericksburg, VA. We were happy to make it and eager to find alternative roads to reach a site for the night. However, while in a bike shop with 3 other touring cyclists from Germany, we briefly met Jay, who little did we know, would later offer us a place to stay that night. The 3 of us ending up canoeing on the Rappahannock River before meeting up with other friends of his for dinner and tea that night.

Alexander, Karen, and Jay - Thanks for a great night!

Thursday was the epitome of excellent bike touring. Back roads, abundant sun, shoulders, slow courteous traffic, scenic views, good energy. We passed by Lake Anna and arrived early to our campsite in Louisa, VA. We had our first food thievery by a raccoon who left guilty footprints all around the picnic table. We've been finding simple pleasures such as reading, cooking dinner, showering, and retiring early so satisfying after a full day of activity.

Can you believe we fit all this and more on our bikes?

We got an early start on Friday and arrived in Charlottesville, VA well before noon. We spent the day exploring the downtown pedestrian mall, which reminds us a lot of the mall in Burlington. We also took a free trolley to UVA and saw the famous rotunda that Jefferson envisioned. That night we went to an art showing of our host friends art. It's been so nice to have these personal connections along the way - this is an example of just one of many things we've experienced along this trip that we wouldn't have been able to otherwise as anonymous travelers.

A welcoming note from Sam and Hal, our hosts in C'ville. Thanks so much for everything!

Saturday was spent exploring Charlottesville's farmers market, eating a Spudnut (locally famous potato flour donut) and Monticello; Jeffersons estate.

U of Va

One thing we realized after staying in the DC area was that a week off our bicycles is too much! As much as enjoyed visiting folks and seeing sights, we prefer to keep on the move. We plan to head out tomorrow towards the Blue Ridge Highway!


En route to Chesapeake Beach, VA

At the C'ville Farmers Market....no he doesn't know we took this picture.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Tats,Bandans, and Thai food

Well, well, it's been a while since our last update and we've covered some territory!

We left Swarthmore, PA after spending two nights with friends Ben and Dama. We made a jaunt into West Philly for Ethiopian food at night, but otherwise hung around Swathmore. We then made our way over to Newark, DE. It was a pretty low mileage day for us, which is fortunate since we got waylayed for about an hour an a half at a supplement store called Herbalife. As we were slowly biking our way up a hill and scanning for a likely place with a restroom, a woman on the opposite side of the street started jogging along at our pace and hailing us down. She kept asking us if we wanted a nutrition shake. We didn't really, but we did want a bathroom and she offered that up too. Little did we know after she ushered us into her store that we would be fed protein shakes and vitamin water, given a BM scan, nutritional advice and sent off with protein bars and powder. The ladies were bubbling with enthusiasm and encouraged us to open a store in Burlington. It's those type of unexpected, slice-of-life encounters that we love about this trip.

We made it to Newark where some incredibly friendly strangers - Josh and Molly - kindly took us in and included us in their dinner and entertaining plans. Thanks to you guys, that was a great stop!

Then we made our way through the Delmarva Peninsula (called that, we found out, because its Delaware, Maryland and Virginia all squished together). Delaware is amazingly flat! The landscape also seemed very Midwestern, with long horizons, many cornfields, and swift wind. We also had our first flat! Margaret was the victim. As she was fixing it, five different people stopped to ask if we were okay or if there was anything they could do.

We stopped at a gas station in Crumpton, MD (still on the peninsula) where we got our first taste of rural incredulity at the idea of bicycle touring. We learned that word travels fast at such establishments in the middle of nowhere. One man, when we learned of our plan, said, "New Orleans on a bicycle...y'all must be lookin' for somethin' to do!" Another weathered looking man couldn't fathom us having a cook stove with which to cook the eggs we bought. "On them bicycles?" However, everyone came around, wishing us well and suggesting Duck Neck campground nearby.

The following day felt very serendipitous. We cycled down to the coast of the peninsula, rode to Kent Island, and then crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in a truck. As we were at a stoplight right before approaching the bridge, the truck behind us honked. We turned around expecting to be told off for being in the road, but instead a woman popped out and asked if we needed a ride across the bridge. Turns out she owned a bike shop on the island and was heading to Annapolis at exactly the right time for us! She dropped us off at the other side, and we checked out Sandy Point State Park stuck our toes in the bay.

From there we went to stay with some of Emily's family friends in Severna Park, MD outside of Annapolis, (Thanks Roberta and Mike, you rock!) We've been on somewhat of a hiatus from our bikes, using public transportation to get into DC for the past few days. We've checked out the Mall, the Old Post Office bell tower, and the museums of the American Indian, the Holocaust Memorial, Natural History, and American Art. We biked the B & A rail trail from Severna Park to Annapolis for a day, and walked around the Naval Academy.

We're now staying with Emily's high school BFF, Caitlin (shoutout!) and will be seeing Emily's sister Adam tomorrow. Then it's back on the saddle for a while. Next stop, Charlottesville, VA!

Here are a few other photos of silly stuff here and there. Enjoy!