Before we begin, don’t forget to check out previous installments on the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail! The whole series can be found here. Day 8 contains vital scene setting info, as well as the saga of a river fording, and Day 7 dropped to rave reviews. Now, on with the story.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
The harsh buzzing of the alarm clock woke me from my reverie. My hand slid across the sheets towards the alarm clock, and directly through a puddle of ketchup. Ugh, gross. I hit the alarm clock, grabbed a loose french fry from the bedside table and dipped it in the sheet. Fast broken.
I scratched an itch on my chest, and my fingers found a pretzel M&M lodged in my chest sweater. Dessert.
I rolled over, groggy and confused, and a Skittle fell out of my ear. This had to stop! I jumped up and went straight into the shower. Clean of any food debris, I surveyed the scene. Food wrappers were littered around the room, the evidence of my caloric deficit I had run the day before. Despite the massive sub, large french fries, and multiple candies, I was absolutely starving. Thoughts of a classic, greasy spoon breakfast started dancing in my head, so I quickly packed and got out the door.
I had never been to Pulaski, Virginia, but have been in numerous small towns just like it, all over the country. They all have some sort of Mom and Pop diner that has a pancake breakfast on the menu. Without fail. I was already trying to decide between and omelet or pancakes, while riding down Main Street, looking for breakfast. All of a sudden, an idea hit me. Why not get both?
“Excellent idea, BR!”, I thought to myself. It was at this point that I realized I had ridden through the entire town without seeing any breakfast places, other than fast food options. A cold sweat broke out on my forehead, no diner? What circle of hell was this? (I’ve read The Inferno, so I’m qualified to ask that question. Fun aside, The Inferno is it’s own circle of hell: boredom). I stopped in at a gas station to ask where to get breakfast, and was told that Tha’ Dawg House (woof woof) had good breakfast. I set out, a man on a mission. I got to Tha’ Dawg House, and it looked a little bit closed. I peered through the window, expecting to see some activity, some young whippersnapper getting prepped for the massive amount of pancakes I was planning on eating. There was a problem, though. All was quiet on the pancake front. This was getting to be some code red level stuff. I checked the hours posted on the door: Closed Monday. I checked my watch: Monday. When I saw this sign, I sat down and wept.
I was crushed. I walked away from Tha’ Dawg House, absolutely downtrodden. My day, nay, my trip was ruined. I was ready to pull a Mick and throw in the towel.
My options seemed to be either forego breakfast (not an option), or fast food breakfast (my only option). I never eat fast food, much less fast food breakfast, so I was totally lost. Which would be the least likely to give me explosive diarrhea? I had no clue, and I didn’t really want to conduct an experiment to find out. What was I to do? I sat down, forlorn, trying to come up with a plan.
But wait! I have a friend that is a cop! He doesn’t have a mustache (seriously, grow a mustache, Dennis), but he is still a cop, so he knows his way around a fast food breakfast. I sprang into action, texting him with my predicament, a simple query, “What fast food breakfast is best?” Less than a minute later, I had a veritable tome on the best fast food breakfast available. It was truly Dennis’s dissertation, his finest work yet. I fully expect this story, and the evidence I will submit (Exhibit A in cop terms) to be what catapults him to the very top of the force. Someday soon, a young rookie is going to be calling him “Sarge”, and Dennis will be asking for a loose cannon’s gun and badge. It all stems from this unassuming day in early August.
Damn fine police work, Dennis. Damn fine. There was no way I could ignore this advice from a true master. Hardee’s it was. I got the biscuits and gravy based on the recommendation from the Overseer of the Omelet, the Punisher of the Pancake, the Master of the McMuffin, the Baron of the Breakfast Burrito, the Lord of the Lard: Dennis. Clearly, I got the biscuit and gravy as it came so highly recommended, and I threw in a french toast sandwich thing with a hash brown and large coffee for kicks.
Feeling completely disgusting, like I was going to simultaneously spew from both ends, I settled onto my bike for another long day of riding. This was a day to which I had been looking forward, as I was going to be on the New River Trail for quite some time. The New River Trail is the country’s narrowest State Park, at times only 75 feet wide. It is an old rail trail, which promised easy, relaxing riding with scenic views for your weary author. I was ready to just soft pedal for a while, take lots of pictures, and stop early at a campground on the trail before heading back into the woods for the final 2-3 days of riding. So, with this goal in mind, I set off. And I did get lots of photos, did plenty of easy riding, and enjoyed myself immensely.
I was enjoying the riding, but was feeling exhausted. The fact that I was on easy terrain, with nothing to worry about was playing with my mind. I was starting to let my guard down too much. All the unconscious stress of the past week was catching up to me, and really wearing me down. This was legitimately the most tired I had felt the entire trip, and it was on by far the easiest terrain I had faced to date! I decided to just ride nice and easy until I got to a campground, and then just hang out and read and relax for the afternoon. I didn’t really know exactly where I was getting off the New River Trail (as I had no maps for this portion of the ride, recall), but figured I would pass a campground before too long. With this plan in my head, I continued on my way, slowly. A park ranger told me that there was a campground about a 45 minute ride ahead, so I was feeling good.
About 5 minutes later, I looked down at my GPS as I passed a side trail, only to be horrified that it went off the New River Trail and up into the woods. Ugh, my plan was ruined! I stood there for a minute, then slowly made my way up the steep, rocky incline onto the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, which is mainly a horse trail (duh, it’s in the name).
The trail climbed up away from the New River Trail, but luckily it was in decent shape and rideable. It actually turned out to be quite a nice trail, and before long, I popped out onto a long paved descent. Took that back onto some gravel, which wound back past some houses, into the deep, dark woods, to a remote dirt road.
After about an hour of riding smaller and smaller dirt roads, I came across a road block, claiming that the “road” was closed?! Going around was absolutely not an option, because where else was I gonna go? Plus, I didn’t have a map to guide me! So I pushed on, feeling like a a total rebel without a cause. Big Ron don’t care.
I saw nothing that would warrant a road closure. It was a little confusing, but I was glad to be through the danger zone. I eventually got back on the VA Highland Horse Trail. The riding was so engaging, and so enjoyable that my previous exhaustion was completely gone. I was loving it again! It is really strange the way your mind affects your energy levels. When I was not particularly feeling like riding on the New River Trail, my mind shut down, and my body followed. Now that I was back on engaging terrain and enjoying myself, I was feeling good, despite riding significantly harder terrain. It just shows the power of your mental state, and the importance of controlling negative thoughts. This is something that I have become acutely aware of, and try my absolute best to control. Most of the time, when I start to feel negative during riding, it is because I am low on calories, so a quick snack brings me right back. The important thing is to recognize, acknowledge the negative thoughts, then work to address them. I think this holds true in life as well as during a bicycle ride.
Now, back to the tale. The hazards of riding on a horse trail is, well, horses. In my experience, they generally don’t like bicycles, and I don’t like getting kicked by a horse (I’m assuming here, no first hand experience). I passed a few people and made sure to give them a wide berth, which was appreciated. The other main issue is that horses are capable of absolutely destroying trail. Luckily, for the most part, this portion was still fairly decent, but there were some spots that were a bit torn up.
There was a campsite marked on my map, so I figured that I would head for that and stop for the evening. I had one last big climb on gravel, before getting to the campsite, which ended up being a horse camp, with restrooms and water spigots. There was a woman and her young boy already set up in camp, so I went over to introduce myself, and at first she seemed a little frightened. After all, we were in the middle of nowhere, and I am pretty freakin’ huge. Once she realized I was just some dork on a bike, she relaxed. She gave me some cold water, which was much appreciated. We chatted for a little bit, when she said, “Well, we’re having dinner in about 30 minutes. Go clean up and then come join us.” It wasn’t so much an invitation to join them for a meal, as more of a, “Hey, button up your shirt and wash your hands and face, we’re gonna eat. Ya slob.”
When I went to “set up” my camp (read: put my sleeping bag on the ground), I realized that I had somehow lost a Croc during the day. This is now the second bike tour that I’ve taken where I’ve lost a Croc, which sucks. Taking the riding shoes off after a long day in the saddle is amazing, and now I only had one camp shoe. I looked even more like a hobo than I already did, and was forced to limp around camp, hopping on my one protected foot. I was quite the sight.
About ten minutes later, a huge truck pulled into the campground, and idled up next to me. A man leaned out the window, and said hello. We talked for a minute, then he said, “I’m assuming my wife already told ya’ to join us for dinner, so come on over when you’re ready.” Well, there was no way I was gonna miss this dinner! I hobbled over in my one shoe, to the great amusement of Taby. She made sure to get a picture of me, wearing my one Croc, laughing the entire time. Matt happened to have a pair of Croc’s, and he let me wear his right one for the evening, and even tried to give them to me, but you can’t take a man’s shoes. That’s just not allowed. Particularly his Croc.
They were incredibly kind and friendly, and fed me more food than I could possibly eat, which I thought was unpossible. It was great to sit by the fire and talk. They were very interested in what I was doing, asking all manner of questions about my bike, my route, how I fed myself, etc. In turn, they told me about their recent adventures, riding their mules on the trails in the area. They had been camping for about a week, riding every day, and were heading home the next day. Those are the kinds of trips, camping with friends and family, that I look back on so fondly, and set me on the current path that I am on today. We had cobbler for dessert, and they tried to make popcorn over the fire, which didn’t work out so well. When I went to bed, they told me to come on over for breakfast before heading off for the day. Sure!
I ended the day at about 52 miles of riding in almost 6.5 hours. Once again, the kindness of strangers helped catapult the day from an average one to an amazing one. Looking back now, I am still amazed at how kind they were, and I hope that they enjoyed my company half as much as I enjoyed theirs. It is incredible what a chance meeting in the middle of the woods can yield. Until next time, which includes snakes and bears! Thanks for reading.