My world had shrunk while traveling by bike. My priorities were animalistic and incredibly simple:
1). Get enough food. It sounds so easy, especially with the the proliferation of processed, calorie dense foods available at every convenience store, but I was torching calories, and had to carry my food with me on the bike. I ate the last of my breakfast food, my snack supply was dwindling rapidly, and I didn’t have much dinner left, so this was becoming a legitimate concern.
2). Don’t die. Again, generally pretty easy, and something I’ve been very successful at in my life to date. It was still pretty easy here, I’m just being melodramatic.
My bike was feeling svelte since I didn’t have much food. I was feeling good because I bathed in the stream the night before. The menu for the day looked to be a long road climb, followed by more of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail, and some pavement into the town of McClung, VA. I didn’t know what to expect, but was praying that the Shenandoah Mountain Trail (SMT) wouldn’t be a repeat of yesterday, because I had about 15 straight miles of it. At any rate, I packed up, made doubly sure that I had a full load of water, pounded more water before leaving, and set off.
The road riding was a nice break. I knew that I would be able to ride the whole thing, it wasn’t overgrown, and I didn’t have to be on high alert constantly, I could just zone out and pedal. Which I did for a while, before turning off on the Shenandoah Mountain Trail, fingers crossed, praying that it would be better than yesterday. It started off fine, a very steep, gravelly uphill. At this point in the ride, that qualified as “fine” or “good trail”. I got into a nice groove, due to the lack of weight on the bike, but the route gradually became more overgrown over the next hour or so. It tapered from a wide gravel road, to clear double track, to very overgrown double track, to a barely discernible path through the forest. Then it just disappeared.
I stopped, deciding this was as good a time as any to take a break. The trail had to be somewhere around me, right? Right? I sat down, a tiny bit of panic rising in my chest. I took stock of my surroundings, there was a tiny pond, a perfect source of water. There was an abundance of wild mushrooms, a plentiful and definitely safe food source. If this was the end of the line, I could do worse.
“This is it, Ron. We’re almost out of food, and fresh out of trail. This is our home now.”, I said to myself.
Before completely giving up and living the rest of my life out in the woods, I decided to look around at least a little bit for the trail. It was a good thing I did, because I found it! I wouldn’t have to become a crazy hermit! Huzzah!
And it was a good thing I found it, because the trail was incredible for most of the day. The next section was an amazing downhill, smooth and fast. I really let the Krampus stretch it’s legs on this part, when I slammed down hard on a rock and heard the unmistakable hiss of air. Shit, another flat. No bother, I quickly changed it, and was ready to set off when I noticed something amiss. The GKK was missing! My attempted fix of the growler cage only lasted a day before failing completely. Given my penchant for running out of water, I desperately needed the GKK, so I set off to search for it.
The trail I had just come through was pretty overgrown (I feel like I have tourettes, can we all just assume that everything is overgrown unless explicitly stated? Yes? Thanks) so it was really like looking for a needle in a haystack. I backtracked, running up hill in my cycling shoes for about 20 minutes to look for it, with no luck. Eventually, I turned around, searching the woods constantly, to no avail. I had given up any hope of finding the damned GKK, when suddenly, I spotted it! It was right next to the trail! About 10 feet from my bike! I pulled a major Mr. Magoo, but I was glad to have it back.
I did my best to secure the GKK, but knew I was going to have to really bring out the big guns when I got to the next town to secure this beast. The trail continued to be great for the remainder of the day. It was mostly smooth, pretty much all rideable, and not terribly overgrown. The majority of the riding was on the edge of a ridge, often on a narrow slice of singletrack, with a large, steep drop to the side, which was a tad nerve wracking. There were segments of rock gardens and of course some stinging nettles. It wouldn’t be the VMBT without it! I made the side hike up to Sister Knob, which is well worth it.
The descent down from Sister Knob was awesome, and before I knew it, I was on a gravel road with 2 miles of singletrack before getting to the pavement to carry me into McClung, which I assumed would at least have a gas station. I followed what appeared to be the trail, until it simply vanished. I searched and searched, for at least an hour, with no luck. The trail simply did not exist. I retreated back to the gravel road, consulted my map and settled on an alternate route on pavement to get to McClung. I hadn’t seen a water source all day, and was a little bit low on water, but figured it would be a quick ride into town, so wasn’t concerned. I figured it would be a 30 minute ride to McClung, tops.
Two hours later, I finally rolled into the only gas station/deli in the area, after taking multiple wrong turns, running out of water and not eating the entire time. I was full on bonking and totally beat. I just made the cut off for the kitchen and ordered three cheeseburgers and a large order of fries and bought 3 drinks. Restored, I started talking to the shopkeeper, who said, “You look a lot better now. You looked pretty bad when you walked in.” As we were talking, I noticed that the sky was getting quite dark, and heard the distant rumble of thunder. I had no idea where I was going to camp that evening, and as the torrential downpour began, I put a plan into action. I figured if I looked and sounded really pathetic enough, SOMEONE would offer me a place to stay for the evening. I really, really, REALLY did not want to set off into a monsoon rainstorm and set up a tarp that may or may not have holes in it as my shelter for the night. I started working on the shopkeeper, asking her if there was anywhere to camp nearby, making jokes about sleeping under the awning, etc. She was stone cold and didn’t offer any advice or useful information. Shit, time to turn it up.
A woman walked into the store, talking about how much rain we were getting, and talking about flash flooding. I went into “friendly chat mode”.
“Oh shit, there’s flooding? Do you know what the forecast is supposed to be? I was going to camp out tonight, but am a little worried about it.”, I said. This woman was putty in my hands, she just didn’t realize it yet.
“Where are you heading?” she asked. I told her the name of the road, and showed her on the map where I was heading. I was almost in. A quick call to the sheriff to ask about flooding conditions and that sealed the deal.
“I live up the road, and have a barn you can sleep in if you like. It was WiFi and everything.” Boom. Roof found. Vanessa took me back to her alpaca farm and set me up in the alpaca barn. There was indeed very good WiFi and cell service, so I was able to catch up with friends and family for the first time in four days. It was awesome, and saved me from a seriously miserable night.
I got a solid night’s sleep, safe and sound inside the barn. The kindness of strangers is really quite amazing. If you only watch the news, you would think the world is a terrible place, full of horrible people, and that talking to strangers will only lead to murder. However, most people are actually incredibly kind and helpful, and experiencing it first hand reaffirms this notion. The journey itself is awesome, but the kindness of strangers is what makes it truly memorable.
I ended the day at 47 miles, in nearly 7 hours of riding. Next time, more bonking, sugar bombs, and amazing downhills! Thanks for reading.