I'm exhausted. The past 5 days I've cycled 301 miles, climbed/ascended over 18,000 feet. It has rained 4 out of 5 days. Honestly, I'm still loving all of it, I'm just tired. It's challenging. Heavy rains mean chain maintenance and cleaning of the bike every day. The gears jump or won't shift properly with all the grime that gets into the drive train. And, the rain washes off the chain lubricant quickly. I have a little hole in my seat and the water has seeped into the foam. For three days I was riding on a wet seat before I could wait for it to dry and place electrical tape on the hole. A wet seat means that within seconds, your bike shorts are wet, which could mean irritation and rashes. I got a little irritated but my seat is dry now. I need a new seat, but I'm not going to break one in the last 2.5 weeks of my trip! Wet weather means feet sloshing around as you pedal, and blisters on the feet where rubbing occurs. It means wet gloves and a wet shirt all day. It means the clothes I washed the night prior while showering (when I don't have laundry access) isn't going to dry during the day secured on top of my trailer. My flip flops smell like mildew and are sitting in a hotel sink soaking in water with some Tide. But, rain also means cooler weather, which is welcome. And, it helps put into perspective the dry days! You appreciate them more.
The last few days of cycling have been a blur due to my exhaustion, but one thing I do remember from two days ago that I'll never forget. I was cycling on a beautiful road just after Hayters Gap and I pedaled next to a house with a big porch and a group of people sitting on it. I heard a little voice yell, "What's your name?" I noticed a little child near the porch. I yelled back, "Jessica! What's your name?" She said something I couldn't hear, so I decided to stop and say hello. It was 6pm and I told Dean, a fellow cyclist that was with the Wounded Warrior group and broke off on his own and Larry, at Crazy Larry's Hostel that I would be in Damascus by 7ish. I had no cell service in that area and I knew I had to push on the last 25 miles or so. But, this trip is about going with the flow at times, so I stopped. I learned that the little girl's name is Sydney, her dad is Benji, her mom is Britt and Benji's mom and grandparents were: Benny, Rose, Fred and Bessie. They are the Holbrook/Moore family and they offered me water and food, which I declined, knowing I had to get going (I had water and snacks with me). I wish I could have stayed and eaten some food and chatted with these really kind people for longer. They asked me a bunch of questions and I enjoyed Sydney's incredible extroversion, like mine! She's 3 years old, by the way. We took some photos and I was on my way. A few miles down the road, while riding passed the Interstate ramp, a truck ran a stop sign and came inches away from flattening me. After the initial feeling of fear, I continued on and thought about how fortunate I am that I stopped and Sydney stalled me enough so that I'm here today. Timing is everything. Sydney is an angel. There is always risk. I know many of you tell me you are worrying about me every day. But you know what? That could have happened back in Portland. I could have been walking across the street and someone runs a stop sign. I could be diagnosed with cancer and have 2 months to live tomorrow. Do we need near-death experiences like that to remind us not to take our precious lives for granted? To live and love everyday. For the remainder of the 20 miles of that ride, I felt fortunate it wasn't my time. I thanked sweet Sydney for calling out to me.
I safely arrived in Damascus, a town full of mountain bikers and Appalachian Trail hikers and had an opportunity to catch up with Dean over dinner. We both stayed at Crazy Larry's Hostel in Damascus. The next day, Dean stayed behind for a layover day, and I rode on to Max Meadows. I stayed with Tony and his Great Dane Argos, Warm Showers hosts and Tony met me on his bike about 8 miles out since he was able to leave work early. I treated him to a burger dinner and we bought ice cream for dessert!
Yesterday morning, Tony rode with me for about 13 miles (thank you Tony!) and I met Donald and Marian for lunch. I have never met Don and Marian, but I met their son Jay a few weeks ago in Caneyville KY at Beth and Garry Feltus' home, warm showers hosts I stayed with. Jay was visiting them from the Bay Area and his folks live in Rhode Island in the winter and are campground hosts right off the ACA Trans-Am near Dublin. They treated me to lunch (THANK YOU!) and I fully enjoyed their company. I would have stayed at their campground, but Dublin was a mid-day break for me. I continued on to Christiansburg and got a hotel room near the mall area. In fact, who's excited to see me in different clothes? I am! I walked to New River Mall from my hotel and there was a Dick's Sporting Goods. They had two great bike shirts. So, I'm throwing out two old bike tank shirts that are stained with grease and dirt and sweat and I get to wear two new ones. That's very exciting for me! You may not recognize me in new clothes!
I talked with my brother Dave last night. I'm sure he could hear how defeated and exhausted I am. He told me about his experience backpacking in Africa and trying to make deadlines. Trying to get to places by a certain date. "It's not worth it," he said. "Take your time, enjoy." Tony happened to call and I thought maybe he was just checking in to see if I arrived safely from his home in the morning to Christiansburg. But, he actually offered to drive me to Roanoke VA since he had to be here for the day today. I took him up on it, knowing that I would be skipping about 30 miles of my route. I don't like skipping miles (I did it in Montana due to snow), but I have a Warm Showers host tonight expecting me in Buchanan and I now only have about 20 miles to ride today. I'm currently at the public library here catching up. I'll have lunch with Tony on his work break and then ride to Buchanan. Tomorrow was supposed to be an intense 85 mile day over the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I decided to do 30 miles tomorrow to Lexington VA, stay at what sounds like an awesome farm- with a swimming pool(!) and then ride over the mountains the next day. I don't need to push myself to the point of unhappiness. I want to enjoy these last 2.5 weeks.
Yesterday, I opened a small envelope my friend Rachel gave me at the start of the trip. It says, "For you to open on a day of challenges..." I opened it yesterday. Yesterday's mileage or terrain was not particularly hard, but it was the first day of my over 2-month trip that every pedal pushed seemed like forever. So, I opened her note read it and sobbed tears of joy and feelings of support, remembering all the people cheering me on everyday.
I don't know how far into your adventure you will read this. However, if it is on a tough day, I want to remind you it will pass. If you are wet and/or cold, I wish for you a day break of warm sunshine. If your bones or muscles ache, I hope you know it is your body slowly getting stronger. If you are lonely, I hope you can focus on all the folks who have you in their minds and in their hearts. May the wind be always at your back! You can do it and we are proud of you! Love Rachel
My body is saying, "Nourish me. Let me sleep. Take care of me so that we can end strong and steady. Why rush something you don't want to end? Why speed through something and not enjoy each and every mile on this epic journey?"