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Ride time: 5 hrs 35 mins
Well, I survived. I went up the mountain(s) and flew back down. But we’ll get to that.
The night outside of Charlottesville was spent on the floor of the King’s finished basement. It was great to sleep inside in the air conditioning. We made Dale sleep in the laundry room next to the washer and dryer because he snores. We woke up at 6am as usual. Mr. and Mrs. King had made us a huge breakfast to follow our huge dinner complete with some awesome casseroles made out of eggs and sausage and lots of cheese. It was so good to have something besides cardboard oatmeal for breakfast. I wrapped a bagel up in a napkin and threw it in my handlebar bag and we were off. You could feel the trepidation in the air as we all rode towards the mountains we knew we’d soon have to climb.
Our first stop was at a country store surrounded by fields full of peach trees. The cashier said that we just missed strawberry picking season but that the peaches were just about ready. We all left with bags filled with peaches and local apples. There’s nothing better than fresh fruit. I’ve been eating some every time I stop.
This is Dale, Dan, and Stephen going over their maps. The men are always very serious about studying the elevation profiles of our rides and memorizing every turn we’ll take that day. The ladies and I pay attention but prefer to follow the ‘76 Bike Trail’ signs instead of discussing directions for hours on end. Plus the elevation profile that day scared us too much to contemplate for long.
So we chugged along. Climbing up the first, steep part of Afton wasn’t the most fun thing in the world; it reminded me of climbing my nemesis hill back home. Steep but you sort of get into the groove of it.
Alright, so y’all are going to love this. Picture this: you’re climbing up this hill with about a 7% grade. You’ve been doing this for maybe a half hour. You’re going 4mph and sweat is dripping down your face, your shirt is stuck to your back and your thighs are burning. And then, you round a corner and crest the top of the hill and see this: Water for bikers! Excellent! But that’s not all, the best part is what comes next:
“The Cookie Lady” is a nickname for June Curry, a vivacious 82 year old woman who has been serving cross country bikers water and cookies since 1976. Her house just happens to be at the top of this mountain and she felt bad for the bikers so she started offering them not only food but a place to rest or sleep for the night. She’s such a sweet old lady. This might be her last year serving us Transam-ers as she had a stroke this past year. She doesn’t really make cookies anymore, instead, bikers like ourselves bring store bought cookies or cookie ingredients up the mountain for her to leave behind for other cyclists. She’s a staple of the Transam; everyone that has biked across the country has at least heard of the Cookie Lady and most have met her and been inside her house. Which brings me to HER HOUSE. Oh my goodness. So since the first cross country bike ride to celebrate the nations bicentennial in 1976, this lady has been helping out cyclists. When they got to the west coast, the bikers would send June a postcard or letter thanking her and letting her know they made it to their destination. Some would send her postcards from their other travels; Australia, England, Japan, etc. She kept all the postcards and mementoes people sent or left behind in her house as a sort of “biker museum”. Oh my goodness. I had no idea what to expect walking in this lady’s house and I was blow away by it. Pictures probably don’t do this craziness any justice, but please mull over these for awhile.
Here’s a close up of the pictures. Some people bike across the country and meet their significant other doing so. They then send the Cookie Lady wedding announcements followed by birth announcements and yearly Christmas cards. You can see the progression of some children’s lives on her walls.
I took a million pictures in here. You get the idea. I feel like I can’t express the scale and amount of postcards and pictures and stuff that is taking over this woman’s house. It’s amazing. And when we talked to her, she asked us to please send her MORE POSTCARDS. She still wants stuff! One of her old cyclist buddies has MS so she was really interested in our cause. This picture to the left blew me away. On top of all of the stuff on the walls, there are still FULL binders EVERYWHERE filled with MORE stuff. Wow. She’s a neat lady though and full of awesome stories. A friend of mine said that she was tight on money so her younger neighbors did a reverse mortgage on her house; they’ll own it when she passes. They bought it on the condition that they’ll keep the “museum” up and continue to offer bikers water and cookies. Trail magic.
I made it on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Finally. I posed for a lot of pictures with my bike that day because every climb felt like a great accomplishment. I had a great day. I can’t emphasize that enough. Despite all the climbing and sweating and effort, it was the best day I’ve had so far. The views were incredible and it was a great feeling to challenge myself physically and come out the other side stronger. If you’ve ever driven on the Blue Ridge Parkway you know how gorgeous it is. It’s even prettier at 5mph, I promise. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We took our time and stopped at every overlook and high fived each other every time we hit a new elevation high. Elevation high five?
Tara, why are you showing us the same picture twice? It’s not, its just more uphill climbing. I’d think, “ok, this is obviously the top of the mountain, there can’t be any more.” And of course the road would snake around to ANOTHER higher mountain and go up that. Climb climb repeat. Looking at the same picture twice is easier than seemingly riding your bike up the same mountain twice.
No one was with me but I got to take a picture of my bike at 3,252 feet. We climbed higher but I didn’t feel like pulling over to take a picture. We did 5,500 feet of climbing in total today. That’s a lot!
So after hours of climbing up several peaks and enjoying some great views, we finally made it to the top. Now was the time for the descent. This downhill worried me more than the uphill did. The grade got up to 11% in some places. The road is windy and full of switchbacks and you’re white knuckleing the brakes and still topping out at over 30mph. So even if you wanted to stop, you couldn’t. You’re totally out of control on this bike and you pray there isn’t a stick or rock or car somewhere in the road. It’s the most insane rush of adrenaline and concentration. The mountain takes about 6 minutes to descend and by the time you get to the bottom your heart is racing, your hands are cramped up and you can smell your brakes. It’s nuts. Way scarier than any rollercoaster. Needless to say I didn’t manage to take any pictures on the way down, but last year Bret did film it. It’s not the most fun video to watch but it gives you an idea of how long 6 minutes of downhill really is.
should be renamed “Gerties”. Like the Cookie Lady, Gertie’s Country Store is renowned by Transam cyclists. It’s pretty much a gas station in the middle of nowhere that makes AWESOME burgers and fries and lets cyclist pitch their tents in their back lot. I took a picture of my meal but I had to eat some bites first because I was starving. They also only had Coke in glass bottles. How cool.
We all ate and set up our tents and bought big 22oz beers. The store owner (Gertie) wouldn’t let us drink on her store’s property, but guy who lived right next door (and also works at the store) let us use his picnic table and drink in his backyard. He even let us use his garden hose to shower off. I’m amazed at how nice people are everywhere. We worked our asses off and we felt like we deserved some beers. It was worth it. We conquered those mountains today. Now if we can get up Hayter’s Gap in a few days we can accomplish anything.
PS I can see the railroad tracks from my tent again Nothing better than being woken up several times a night by TRAAAAIIINSSSSS.