Day: 75; Daily Mileage: 51.8; Total Mileage: 3,821; Stopping Point: Rosedale, VA
Our tenth and last state. We entered Virginia in the first few miles of today. I feel like we've passed the last milestone, but I must keeping reminding myself that the Blue Ridge Parkway is the last milestone. Everyone says it's downhill from there.
We started the day off on the wrong foot. Mom had run over a tack yesterday, but it took all night to deflate. We were doing pretty good with no flats since Missouri.
Right before we entered Virginia, we passed a grave of an unknown soldier. There was a marker which told the story of a confederate soldier who was returning home after the war but was killed by an unknown assailant. Four local men made a coffin from an oak tree and buried him by the side of the rode. About 1900, a rose bush was planted to mark the spot. The sign there now says "Known but to God."
One other thing that happened in our first few miles. Mom was leading and I was close behind. From right underneath us came a high pitched yelp. I turned and looked. I caught a glimpse of a chubby puppy struggling up the bank. It sounded as if Mom had run over his tail or something, but in reality I think she just startled him.
The day started with many long, steep hills. They wouldn't have been so bad if there hadn't been the coal trucks. If the trucks were going ten miles an hour up those hills, I would have been surprised. They grind up the hills, making so much noise that we could hear them coming for ever. In these cases, we decided it would be better to stop than be dead. So we generously moved off the road. It's very hard to get started again in the middle of a hill.
On the top of one such hill we decided we were just to whipped to conquer another hill before lunch. We pulled over to in someone's front yard to discuss lunch. Before we knew, they had invited to use their porch. We talked to them for quite a while making lunch a little longer than it should have been, but we had great fun meeting them and that's what this trip is about. They had a lovely house, but from a passing car you would never guess it. They explained that they didn't have to show off what God had given them. Also hidden to the road is a beautiful flower garden. It turns out they were strong Christians, as is our family. Before our family left they said a prayer for us.
We are staying at a church hostel. The people are all very friendly and its wonderful to have these places that welcome us. The one problem we had was that it was not labeled right on the map, but two miles further wasn't that bad. The pastor's family was very friendly offering us the things every bicyclist crave, fresh juice, news, and a phone line.
Day: 76; Daily Mileage: 59; Total Mileage: 3,880; Stopping Point: Rural Retreat, VA
When we left the church, the temperature was 54 degrees and the fog had not yet risen. It was a cold ride those first few miles, especially when you went flying down the hills at 30 mph. But our early start paid off when we got to Clinch Mountain. We climbed forever at three mph, but were rewarded with a downhill (still cold!) for 3 miles.
We had more farm animal experience. A cream colored cow had gotten on the wrong side of the fence and was standing with his rear in the road. The road was empty, so we stopped to take a picture. Suddenly a semi-truck came around the corner and startled the cow, who ran toward the truck. Our first thought was hamburger. The cow moved out of the way just in time, but was greatly upset and ran circles around himself. When we started towards him he dived into the ditch. We rode by and hoped he didn't decide to come back into the road.
Back in the beginning of August we received an email from Larry and Margaret Bollinger. Arnold and Merieke from New Zealand (we camped with them in Riggins, ID) had told them about us. They found our address and invited us to stay with them. We took a short cut making two short days one long day, but it wasn't awful. It cut out some major mountains, but we did miss staying at a hostel on the Appalachian Trail. We were welcomed at the Bollinger’s by real beds, hot showers, and a home cooked dinner. The meal was quite long after we swapped stories on every subject imaginable. The Bollingers have hosted bikers for many years. I can't say it enough times, but bicyclists love hospitality.
Day: 77; Daily Mileage: 48.1; Total Mileage: 3,928.1; Stopping Point: Claytor Lake, VA
We enjoyed a breakfast of corn flakes and homemade cinnamon rolls. Yesterday we were welcomed by the smell of fresh rolls. We didn't leave much behind. We spent more time talking with Larry and Margaret and admiring their house. Margaret informed us that the vines that we have been seeing are kudzu. She joking warned us, "Ride fast or it will get you!" We've seen it covering half the road at times.
The house, a brick Victorian, was built in 1912 by a doctor. Other buildings on the property are the doctors office and the barn. The upstairs had three bedrooms and the fourth contained a pool table. The fourth room had originally been the maids room with a hidden staircase to the kitchen. The halls and downstairs were covered in a plush red carpet. The rooms were decorated with antiques. The sunroom had a sunken goldfish pond in the corner.
Rural Retreat is also the home of Dr. Pepper. He owned a drug store downtown. Whether or not he invented the pop is debatable. Dr. Pepper is buried in the local cemetery, and often you will find a Dr. Pepper can sitting upon the stone.
We reached camp and a state trooper pulled up almost right behind us. His words were, "I hope you're the people we're looking for." It set us off guard at first, but he went on to explain. About ten miles previously, a truck had thrown a McDonald's bag full of trash out the window at us. It had bounced off my back pannier and Dad ran over it. I thought it had actually hit Dad and not me, but I do recall a very slight jarring. Well, the woman in the car behind the truck got a license plate and a good description of the driver and went to the state trooper's office. At the time, the department was looking for the man. If they find him, we will be called back down for a trial. I figure if I can help punish one person for being a jerk to bicyclist, it will be a benefit to all bicyclists. Note however, that 99.9 % of all the drivers we've seen have been very courteous in sharing the road.
We are camping next to a family with two young children. The parents have done a great deal of cycling in Europe. We shared some interesting stories.
Day: 78; Daily Mileage: 70.3; Total Mileage: 3,998.4; Stopping Point: Troutsville, VA
I believe we are getting into Fall. The nights are much cooler, though the days are still hot. We have seen a few leaves that have fallen early.
On our way out of Christensburg we came down Danger Hill. We came up one side and saw the downhill truck with a "DANGER" sign above it. I pulled up to where the hill dropped off and could only see the guard rail at the bottom. We rode down on the brakes because of the sudden stop before the guard rail. No one that has ridden that hill would route bicyclist up that way.
We rode the back roads following Interstate 81 through the Catawba Valley. We climbed rolling hills. Tree covered hills surrounded us from all sides. They say that Virginia is the hardest and most beautiful of the whole trail. Many day riders were out enjoying the route.
We have reached the last map of twelve. Once we're out of the mountains we will be on the home stretch.
Day: 79; Daily Mileage: 49.9; Total Mileage: 4,048.3; Stopping Point: Lexington, VA
Our ride today continued to ride through the hills. We crossed the James River and joked about floating all the way to Jamestown.
We stopped on top of a hill. Todd put his bike on the kick stand and walked away. The next thing we knew it had toppled over into the ditch, but it didn't stop there. The bike rolled so that it was up side down. It paused for a moment and we wondered if it was going to fall back over or balance perfectly upside down, but the bike continued rolling until it had done a complete flip.
Going through a small town, we heard chimes playing beautiful hymns. We could not see any church or buildings, just hills. It was like the music was coming from the hills and we thought of "The hills are alive with the Sound of Music..."
Lexington is a town that dates way back before the Civil War. We first saw a sign for Stonewall Jackson's grave. He was a Confederate General. There was a big statue of Jackson erected in the center of the cemetery. Graves of him and his family circle the statue. Jackson died in 1863 at the age of 39. He was shot by one of his own men in the hand. His arm was amputated and he died of pneumonia. We visited the home where Jackson lived for two years with his second wife before he went to war. He never returned.
Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Confederate States, became president of the of the Washington and Lee College after the Civil War. When he died, he was buried under the church. Later they built a statue of him resting at battle and a crypt on the lower level. Lee's parents, wife, and children are buried there, along with other relatives. Lee's favorite horse, Traveler, is buried outside the church.
George Washington gave $50,000 to the Washington and Lee College. Because of investments people are still getting endowments from that money after all those years.
Lexington is built on a steep hill. In 1851, the fathers of the city decided to cut off the top of the hill to make the streets less steep. Buildings in this area gained nearly a whole floor from this modification.
Day: 80; Daily Mileage: 52.8; Total Mileage: 4,101.1; Stopping Point: Afton, VA
As we were leaving the motel a man stopped us. He had a familiar look, but we've seen so many people, both riding and locals, that it's hard to put a name with a face. On the our day out of Berea (8/15/98) we rode with him for a few miles. He had finished up in the last few days and his parents picked him up. By chance they had stayed in the same motel as us.
We met two men starting out for the west coast. It's an awful last start, but if they push it they will make it before the snow sticks. The interesting things is that one man was pulling a bike trailer with a dog in it. We had talked about bringing our dog, an eight pound poodle, but are glad we didn't. Our dog would of had some trouble keeping warm on some of these cold rainy days, but at least his dog was bigger and could walk up hills.
We climbed up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. The first two miles were the steepest hill we have done yet, with quite a few trucks. After that, the traffic thinned and the grade lessened. Once we reached the Parkway, we were greeted by some terrific views. The Parkway is supposed to be one of the prettiest drives in the country. I would have enjoyed the views much more if the hills hadn't worn me out so much.
In Afton, we stopped at the Cookie Lady's house. June Curry is known up and down the trail for providing cyclists with just about anything. Back in 1976, she and her father, Dad Haven, started giving out water and then food, because a store on the cyclist's maps had been closed. When June's neighboring uncle passed away she opened his house as the bike house, for bikers to stay. Though there are no bunks, there is plenty of couch and floor space. However, there is no wall space. Every cyclist that has come through sends June postcards, notes, and newspaper articles. June also has had many publications about herself over the years. An outdoor, hose shower and kitchen are provided. When Dad Haven died, June feared she would have to close the bike house, but donations and t-shirt sales, which we all got and had June autograph, have kept it open. Since 1976 has welcomed over 11,000 bikers. June has been feeling a little under the weather, but we spent a good amount of time talking to Greg, a visiting friend that rode the trail in 1990.
Day: 81; Daily Mileage: 38.7; Total Mileage: 4,139.8; Stopping Point: Charlottesville, VA
Packing up was slow this morning because of talking with June and Greg. We had an easy few miles downhill off the Parkway still.
Yesterday my right shifter started giving some trouble. It started just being an occasional shifting or skipping. All today it gradually got worst. Within ten miles of Charlottesville the shifter got so bad that it wouldn't stay in any gear but eight (the hardest gear).. It got frustrating when I had to hold it in the gear I wanted it in. It took so much effort that my hand cramped. There was a few times when going uphill my hand slipped off and the gears went flying into eighth. At that point, I just got off and walked. We got into a bike shop just in time. The detent spring, which puts pressure on the shifter to keep it in a certain gear, had cracked almost completely off because of so much use.
We visited Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. This is the same home pictured on the back of the nickel. Jefferson designed the building himself, first with eight rooms and then adding 13 more. We toured the ground level and basement. The front entryway had a clock inset above the door. As the hours when by, steel balls on either side rise and fall. On the one side is labeled the days of the week. You look at the day directly above the top ball. The clock was put in after the house was built and so Friday and Saturday are in the basement. Since Jefferson thought grand staircases are a waste of space, there are small staircases, but fire codes do not allow you to tour the upstairs. The basement contains the kitchen and cellars. There are "all weather" tunnels leading to them. Most of the house's design ideas Jefferson got from the years he spent in France as a Ambassador.
Well, Hurricane Bonnie has hit the coast and notes of warning have been coming in. We have taken as much precautions as we can. Motels are either scheduled in the future or an option. We will take a day off if we need to. This isn't the first time a hurricane has chased us. In 1995, we rode from Rhode Island to Maine with Hurricane Felix on our tail. Our friends from the East wrote us and said "As usual when you plan a bike trip to the East, we provide a hurricane for your entertainment."
Day: 82; Daily Mileage: 64.7; Total Mileage: 4,194.5; Stopping Point: Lake Anna, VA
Hurricane Bonnie is our biggest concern. We got up and watched the weather. We decided we could go for it. We are right on the fringes of Bonnie. The sky remained cloudy, but rained only for short periods. The wind swirled all day at ten to15 miles an hour. We were glad to find out tonight that Bonnie has moved back into the Atlantic Ocean. It looks like we're done with her, but right behind Bonnie is Hurricane Danielle. It is schedule to arrive sometime on Monday or Tuesday, our scheduled days of arrival at Yorktown. If need be, we can be in Yorktown in two days. Tomorrow's weather report will make our decision.
As we were leaving the motel, we heard fire engines off in the distance. Three engines passed blaring the sirens and laying on the horns. One of them was a funny one that had two drivers. The second one sat in the back and steered. We pulled to the side of the road and waited for them to pass.
I think God decided I would be the crash dummy of today. Before we left the motel, the bikes fell on me, and I went stumbling. I escaped with only a scraped knee. Later as we pulled off for a rest stop, I went flying down a dirt road. There appeared to be a dip in to road, so I stood up to let my knees be shock absorbers. Well, when my front tire stopped dead, I realized the dip was actually a ditch. Everything after that was slow motion. I remember Dad yelling as I fell forward. The rear end of the bike came flying up after me. At some point, my feet got unclipped from the pedals. When the bike became vertical, luckily I fell to the left and the bike to the right. I landed on my elbows and right hip. From the stories told by Todd and the soreness in my neck I must have landed on my head. I which case, I'm very lucky to be alive and no broken bones. My helmet provided most protection. The bike isn't damaged at all. You can't imagine how much it takes to flip a loaded bike.
Day: 83; Daily Mileage: 82.2; Total Mileage: 4,176.6; Stopping Point: Glendale, Va
Hurricane Bonnie was upgraded to a hurricane again, but is heading up north, so I don't think we have to worry about it anymore. We are still keeping an eye on Hurricane Danielle. By nine o'clock the clouds had cleared and sun was shining. It got hot enough that we actually appreciated the clouds yesterday.
We rode near the home of Patrick Henry, famous for saying, "Give me Liberty or give me death." We have also started seeing signs noting battle fields from the Civil War. In places there would be signs every 50 yards. There were several battles in the area. We rode a loop through one of the battlefields, the Battle of Cold Harbor. In this, the Confederate forces under Stonewall Jackson were greatly outnumbered by the Union forces. However, the Confederates used a new fighting technique whereby they dug trenches and hid in them to shoot. The Union forces marched right out in plain sight. The fighting lasted on and off for a couple weeks, until the Union retreated. In all, the Union lost 12,000 men and the Confederates lost only 4000. Today, we saw the trenches that the Union soldiers fought from.
We were told by the bicyclist with the dog a few days ago that the church hostel in Glendale was closed, but the people next door let you camp in their backyard. We missed the house and had stopped for a moment. An eight-year-old boy riding a bike pulled up beside us. The boy, Seth, talked to us awhile and then we followed him to his house next door to the church.
Day: 84; Daily Mileage: 53; Total Mileage: 4,229.6; Stopping Point: Williamsburg, VA
We visited Shirley Plantation, the oldest plantation in Virginia. Right after the settlement of Jamestown the crown of England granted an Englishman acreage that would become Shirley Plantation. He hired indentured servants to run the plantation with him managing it from England. On his second voyage over to America, he died. His wife sold the plantation and it changed hands many times until the Hill family purchased it. A few generations later things happened that there was no male heir. The daughter left to inherit the property married a Carter man, who, at the time, was the richest man in the colonies.
Now the tenth and eleventh generations of the Hill/Carter families are living in the second and third floors. The lower level is open for tours and the basement has been modernized into a kitchen. The entire house, minus the TVs on the upper floors, is furnished in antiques, most of which have been owned by the family for all these years. Since bedrooms are not found on the lower level of houses the library is furnished like a bedroom for display purposes. Because of the massive amount of people staying at the Shirley Plantation in the 1700 and 1800's, nine meals were served daily, three servings of each meal. Indoor plumbing was put in near the fireplace in the dining room to wash dishes. The hot water pipe winds around the chimney to heat it. In the dining room, the woman scratched their names in the glass panes with their diamond engagement rings. The tradition began when one of the women suspected the diamond would be fake. When the diamond scratched the glass, she knew it was real and she married him. There is a staircase which is a three story hanging staircase with no visible means of support. They rest one on the other with steel rods in the ends and the stairs give in the middle. This is the only one of its kind in the country.
We passed about five plantations, but the people we stayed with last night recommend this one. We arrived early and were the only people in the first tour. Almost every piece was talked about and pictures hang on the wall of earlier generations. I really enjoyed the tour and strongly recommend visiting any of the plantations.
The ride was mostly flat with more signs on Civil War battles. Signs are placed wherever there was a significant movement in the battle. It's a great depiction of the battles, but I think I would appreciate them better if I had a greater understanding of the battles themselves.
We reached Jamestown and toured the visitors center and outdoor exhibits, which include a recreated fort, Indian village, and ships. Jamestown was the first settlement in the New World, funded by the Virginia Company of England. Three boats, carrying the settlers in the 'Tween Decks, set out for Virginia in December 1606 and arrived about 140 days later. Except for times in port, the settlers were not allowed out of the 'Tween Deck. They slept on top of the supplies needed to supply the colony. In the whole voyage only one man died.
The first few years in the new world were full of hardships. There were Indian attacks, starvation and freezing weather. More than half of the men did not make it. In addition, there were arguments about who was in charge and what should be done. In the end, though, they stuck with it and founded the first permanent English colony in America.
Today was a trip back in time. Colonial Williamsburg has been completely restored. Men, women, and children dress in colonial clothing and play colonial roles. There are four days in rotation. February 26, 1774 is the high point of British rule when colonists were still pleased with England. We visited on April 29, 1775, in the times leading to the war. The sword is drawn on November 17, 1775. Finally, on May 15, 1776, Virginia declares it's independence.
On any day the Colonial Williamsburg people talk of current events and reenact different settings. On April 29, 1775, the talk was of Governor Dunsmore "stealing" the gun powder out of the magazine last week. The gun powder was kept there for the safety of the colonist. In the middle of the night, Dunsmore's men took the powder "for the safety of the colonists." The people of Williamsburg felt that the removal of the powder was a direct violation of their rights.
At five o'clock, everyone gathered on the village green to send Peyton Randolph off to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to be the head of the Second Continental Congress. A militia was formed on spot to guard him on his journey. A drum and fife corps sent him off.
Colonial Williamsburg was all that I expected and much more. In different buildings you could attend tours that were 30 minutes tops. We say a great deal of the town in one day. It was a fast version, but we really got the experience of being in 1770s.
Day: 86; Daily Mileage: 15.1; Total Mileage: 4,244.7; Stopping Point: Yorktown, VA
Our last day on the road. It started out with a flat tire, and then five miles of silence. I thought of the years I had waited for this trip, the days training and the days riding. After riding all these miles it still feels like a dream. The first few weeks were vacation, then it became routine, and finally it seems like vacation again. All the training in the world doesn't prepare you because there are things you can't train for. We did this as a family, and we are now stronger.
The last miles we talked and joked like usual. We talked of anything that came to mind and the whole while butterflies in our stomachs grew. We actually missed a turn and got ourselves lost. By the time we stopped to ask directions, the Victory Monument was right around the corner.
Yorktown was the sight of the last battle in the Revolutionary War. The British took the town and the Americans blocked the peninsula. The French Navy blocked the coast making the British Navy unable to supply the British. After days of siege, the British surrendered the battle and later a treaty was signed. In 1871, the Victory Monument was erected in commemoration of the battle; it is not placed there for the bicyclists, but we simply use it as an end to the trail. In a way, it was like a victory monument for us, however. Victory in overcoming obstacles, in continuing on when we didn't feel like we could continue a moment more, in triumphing over weather, wind, hills and our own emotions.
We did the picture thing at the monument, taking almost a whole roll. At the waters edge, we took group photos. And like that it was over; no party; no screaming and jumping up and down; no water bottle fights. Dad broke a spoke getting onto the curb. It was kind of saying, "One last spoke to end the trip by." We let it go and went out to lunch.
*Note: Though our total mileage was 4,244.7, the true mileage was 4,369. In days that were taken off we used the bikes as transportation and the mileage didn't get counted, or we'd do extra running around, or miles simply were forgotten. Back in Kentucky, we guessed what the ending mileage would be. Todd was the closest with 4,370.
Our day of relaxing. We visited the Yorktown Victory Center. The set up was similar to that of Jamestown with outdoor exhibits and a museum. The outdoor exhibits included a soldier encampment and a Virginian farm at the time.
In the encampment, we talked with a surgeon, a cook, and a private. The surgeon talked about medicine during the Revolutionary War. With no anesthetic, the theory was that the patient would provide the anesthetic by passing out. An amputation could be done in three to four minutes, so the patient lost as little blood as possible. When the face was flushed with fever, they would cut a vain in the neck. When the face becomes pale again, they stitch him up. They didn't realize that they became pale after loss of blood. Cook fires were also pretty advanced. Holes were dug in the side of a mound with a vent in the top. A grille was placed on top of the vent and cooking was done up there. The cook area was dug so the fires would still burn in the rain. The private demonstrated the loading and firing of a musket.
The farm was basically the home area. There was also a couple hundred acres of fields. The kitchen was built separately from the home. It was poorly ventilated so the smoke would come back to smoke meats. The cook house burned every two to three years, a good reason to keep it separate from the house. While watching a demonstration on making clothing, the question came up on how of often people change their clothes now days. When the question came to Todd and I, we replied we only have one set of clothing worn daily. Mom said, "It's been a long trip, three months." He made a remark that we must have come from Neptune.
We spent some time walking on the beach, collecting shells and enjoying the surf.
Our victory dinner was tonight, courtesy of our Grandma. We went to Nick's Seafood Pavilion. The meal was a great end to a great trip. Now we have to get back to eating like normal.
We're on our way home. Friends we met through e-mail from Michigan picked us up at the Visitor's Center in Yorktown and we headed home. They had started on the trail a week after us and soon heard of another family (us) ahead of them. Before they caught up, they had to quit because of medical reasons. They looked us up when they got home and we've kept in touch. The deal is we are going to pick their family up next year.
To finish up my summer of journaling, everyone in the family put their thoughts about the trip on paper. I have enjoyed sharing my summer with you and hope you have enjoyed seeing America through my eyes. There may be one or two more journals sent based on more thoughts coming across. We would welcome questions, thoughts and comments from all of you. Please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond directly or through the website and listserve.
It's a strange feeling to be heading home. I remembered on the way out thinking about leaving for three months and how different it would be. It was so unreal that I couldn't imagine it. Change was inevitable. I knew in a three month period I couldn't expect to come home the same especially in these peculiar months. Now I feel the change. Whether people around me see it or not, I don't know. During this trip I've learned so much about myself, my family, and America. I have a craving to learn more.
And there are little changes that I can't describe. A part of me doesn't want this trip to end. The other part wants to get home and learn other things I've ignored all my life.
When I think back on the trip I can't believe I've done it. I took three months and kind of put my life on hold. My summer was gone, but yet it was the greatest summer of my life. I don't know if I will ever do it again. This was a family dream and we accomplished it together. There were stresses and problems I don't know if I want to deal with again. The experience would be totally different if I did it by myself or with another group. Though it would be interesting to try it again just to see different things.
I guess I can't find the right words to describe it. If you have accomplished your biggest dream and shared it with the most important people of your life, then you understand the feeling I get when thinking of the trip. If not, then I encourage you to go for that big dream. The feeling is great to know that you have done it, even if you try and fail a dozen times before you succeed; I actually think failing a few times makes the success all the more beautiful.