(Note: It has come to my attention that folks may not know what “bonking” is. Think of it as “hitting the wall” as they say in marathon running. Essentially, your body runs out of calories during exercise, and you get weak, woozy, dizzy, etc. It’s a great feeling.)
The smell of an alpaca barn is a special kind of aroma. I think I may pull a Kramer and try and sell it to Calvin Klein as a sleeping aid, because I was out like a light all night. Being safe and dry inside may have had something to do with it. I had dreams of clear trails, blue skies, and all downhill to the finish. Then, I woke up. Groaning, I rolled to my side, forcing my stiff, sore body to get up, despite the protest of every muscle in my body. I poked my head out the barn door to check out the weather, and was greeted with quite the view (I didn’t see it because it was dark when we got there the previous night).
To be honest, I was in no rush to get back on the bike. Like, at all. The combination of being in a safe environment (with WiFi and cell service) and talking with friends and family the previous night had made me soft. Plus, I’d been working stupidly hard to get here. Bonking early, often, and hard. My body was feeling beat up, my mind was on edge, and my arms and legs looked like I had gotten into a fight with 50 feral cats, and lost. On top of all that, I was essentially out of food. I’d resupplied for what I assumed would be a day and a half at the gas station the previous evening.
Three cheeseburgers for dinner was apparently not enough food, as I had trouble sleeping because I was starving. Cherry pop-tarts for breakfast it was. Let’s get this sugar rush going! I found ways to continually delaying my departure, until I could delay no further. I finally set out around 10:30 am in the morning, feeling sluggish, lethargic and unmotivated. Let’s do this! The rain the previous day made the trail, trees and brush soaking wet, so within minutes, I was thoroughly drenched. I could tell almost immediately that this was not going to be a great day. I had no energy, no food with any nutritional value, and no “go” in my legs or mind. I soldiered on for a time, feeling on the verge of a bonk after about 20 minutes into the day. Time to bring out the big guns, the Little Debbie Texas Cinnamon Roll (LDTCR).
With 500 calories of pure sugar coursing through my veins, I knew I needed to strike while the iron was hot, so I hopped on my bike and peddled my tweaking ass off. I don’t normally eat anything like this, and it was not nearly as good as it looked when I bought it in my post bonk haze yesterday. No matter, it was doing the job, for the time being. It was a race against time until the sugar rush wore off and the next mini bonk came. So, I set to the task at hand and moved my legs around in circles for quite a while. I reached a suitable stopping point, with a nice stream for water and a log for sitting, so stopped for a lunch break, continuing to pour as many calories down my throat as I could possibly handle.
Refueled, I pushed on, into Douthat State Park. I had heard a lot about Douthat, that it features some amazing riding, so I was pretty pumped. I had a slog up a major false flat, then got to a super fun, technical downhill. I was really enjoying it, riding aggressively, rolling over logs and rocks with abandon, when I flew a little too close to the sun. The GKK smashed against a rock, and the growler cage finally gave up the ghost. It was shattered, and there was no fixing it. I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty smart guy, but here I was routinely getting outsmarted by a damn water bottle cage. Talk about a blow to the ego. I didn’t really have much choice but to put the GKK into my backpack, along with my 3 liter bladder, laptop and camera, making for quite a hefty load on my back. As much as I wanted to abandon the GKK, out of spite and anger, I really needed the extra water carrying capacity. As we have seen, I have a penchant for running out of water. So, on my back it went. I was hoping that Clifton Forge would have a hardware store so that I could really bring the big guns (seriously this time).
I was loving the riding, and my energy was improving because I was having so much fun. Douthat really is an amazing place to ride. The trail narrowed, and wound through thick brush, and I began seeing large, brown piles on the trail.
I was apparently on the Bear Expressway through Douthat State Park (BEtDSP). I had read rumblings that there was a BEtDSP, but no one was ever able to confirm it. Well, here I am confirming. I was a tad nervous, especially given my previous encounter with Yogi, who, while being a friendly bear just looking for a pic-a-nic, still had a penchant for scaring potential friends. I was really not in the mood for a pic-a-nic where the main course would be Big Ron Kav Tartare, so I started doing my best Satchmo impression and scatted my way through the woods. I think I may have a promising career as a jazz vocalist if this sure fire thing of being an internet blogger falls through.
The sun finally came out for the first time that day, and I was utterly soaked to the bones. I took the exit to Gravel Road off the BEtDSP, and stopped at the rest area, a smallish clearing. I unwrapped myself, ostensibly to dry out, but really just to make it easier for Yogi’s cousin, Smokey to consume me. No one likes it when a little bit of wrapper stays on your snack. Luckily nothing came for a visit, so I got dressed and carried on, and hit a nice, long gravel road. I hadn’t seen anyone on the trail for days, I was way out in the wilderness. The gravel was a nice break, I was in the groove climbing, when I started to hear a noise in the distance. At first, I thought it was a bear conclave, convening to figure out the best way to greet their latest “guest”. But the noise was a little too mechanical to be a bear conclave. It sounded more…human. As I continued on, I realized it was a chainsaw. I rounded a corner to see someone cutting firewood. This was legitimately the first person I had seen in the wilderness, I was a little in shock, as was he. He saw me approach and hopped in his truck to move it out of my way. I rode through and stopped to talk to him for a few minutes before carrying on.
“I ain’t seen nobody in three days!” he exclaimed, as he climbed out of his truck.
“Yea, me neither”, I replied.
He asked where I was from, and when I told him DC, he responded by immediately talking about how weed is legal there now. Then, this man, in the middle of the woods, with no one around for miles and miles, began telling me about all the places he had done jail time. Comforting. We continued talking for a time, and he was quite an interesting person. His name was Timmy, and he lived in the woods not far from there. He heats his home with wood, so was out cutting firewood for the winter. We talked about drug policy in the United States, incarceration rates, human environmental impacts, the beauty of nature, especially Douthat, and littering. The conversation really ran the gamut, and his views on a lot of things were not what I would have expected. He described himself as a “good ol’ country boy”, but a lot of his views, particularly on drug law and environmentalism, were surprisingly liberal. I am not sure why, but all of a sudden I got the urge to take a picture of him. Perhaps it was just the fact that our conversation was so intriguing, and the surprise at meeting such a character in the middle of the woods, but he obliged. I pulled out my camera, and he continued talking as I took his picture.
I think this may be my favorite image I captured during my trip. There is something powerful in it, it seems to perfectly encapsulate the scene at the time. We continued talking, probably 30 minutes in total. Eventually I needed to get going, and he had wood to cut. As I left, he said, “I live just a couple miles over that way. Come find me if you run into any trouble, I’d love to help out a friend.” It was a touching gesture, but his directions of “a few miles over there” left a lot to be desired. Luckily, I didn’t need any help, but I would consider Timmy a friend as well.
I had a big push uphill to get to the Middle Mountain Trail in Douthat. This began the best downhill of the entire trip, and one of the most fun downhills I’ve ever done. It was a solid hour of flying downhill. I had to stop and take a break because I was getting tired! This was also a perfect showcase for what the Krampus is capable of when loaded. I had already experienced the tank like qualities of the large tires, but riding down the Middle Mountain Trail gave me an opportunity to let the bike stretch it’s legs. It remained surprisingly nimble, I was carving around switchbacks, hitting small jumps, and just generally ripping. It was absolutely amazing. I highly recommend checking out Douthat, and specifically descending Middle Mountain if you are ever in the area.
Eventually, every downhill has to end, and I had to pedal again. My shifting felt a bit sluggish and strange, so I looked down at my chain and cassette to see what the deal was. Leaf city had taken up residence in my cassette! I cleaned it out, and continued riding out to a paved road, which led me into Clifton Forge. Sweet! I had thought it would take me two days to get into town, so this was a pleasant surprise. I ended up finding a room in a house/hostel for cheap, and no one was there so I had it to myself. I got a full size pizza and salad for two for dinner and ate it all. I was gonna beat this bonk! I ended up spending a rest day in Clifton Forge to clean up my bike, fortify the growler cage, and rest my weary body. It was a nice town. I will cover it in more detail, as well as my encounter with New York in my next post. I ended up riding 31 miles in 5:30 hours, despite my physical weariness. Up next, rest day shenanigans and riding technical descents in the dark! Plus, more bonking! Thanks for reading.