Day #11) June 23, 2011. Gate City, Va – Middlesboro, Ky: 76 miles in 5:24 hrs.
More rain last night – that stretched right on into the morning. By the time we had the van loaded, the rain was steady and an ugly grey cloudbank shrouded any of the surrounding mountains in the area. Stringers of rain dangled out of the clouds giving the morning an even more ominous feel. So we drove back into VA from TN, back to the gas station I’d stopped at yesterday. And I was all for sitting in the van and waiting the rain out. Thankfully Judy, who’s definitely not one to want to ride in the rain, she kind of issued me my riding papers and said: “let’s go!” If not for her encouragement I think I’d of sat in there another 40 min stalling just so I wouldn’t have to get out of that van and get another soaking.
Out we went into the grey, with the steady rain really dieing down by the time I shlepped my lazy arse onto the bike. Started of on a road that more resembled an interstate than a state route. But that’s really it in that area, which is just a super long notch across a mountain cut by the Clinch River. I mean you could go backroad up into the mts, but as I’d found on this trip, that kind of riding is just so off the charts difficult that I’ve scuttled the idea until the time and money allow for a much more ambitious and well prepared effort – and that with no gear to haul! In that area alone the mountainsides are so steep it’s scary. And not only that but what with all the rain over the last two months, the hard-pack gravel roads are just completely washed out and contain these massive aprons of loose, unconsolidated gravel areas from all the run-off. The mountains and terrain of WVa and Va are just so rugged and remote that they’re almost impenetrable.
So to make the situation doable I chose to ride on this Rt 58/421. Other than the lofty, washed-out gravel roads up in the high mts that route is the only way to work your way northwest towards Cumberland Gap. Judy and I got going into a misty drizzle in long sleeved jerseys. And not more than about 45 min in we hit a BIG, BIG mt climb, right up along rocked out walls some couple of hundred feet high. This pup went on for a good 40 min. And once the rain had stopped we were still soaked from the super high, 100% humidity. I mean my handlebar grips were just dripping with sweat. Jude did a magnificent job of climbing, mimicking each in and out of the saddle move I was doing. I’ve been trying to teach her to recover when climbing out of the saddle in the mts, that by shifting down to a bigger gear and just really getting on top of the pedals with a much lower cadence and hitting a slow and steady tempo. It really give the quads a break after you’ve been punching away in the saddle for 10 min or so. Sometimes, on the really long mt climbs, I’ll go for like 20 min OTS just to really relax and recover. Anyway, she really got it, and stayed with me the whole time.
Topped out in the middle of clouds and grey and drizzle, did a gonzo descent, and then proceeded to climb about half as much on the second climb as on the first. I mean it was right back to it – bang! Climbing again. Again, Judy did great. Got in another gonzo descent, rode for another 30 min and then did a third mt climb, that one almost as long as the first. That one we both really felt. I mean heck, we’d probably gotten in a solid hour of climbing alone before that third climb. By the time we reached Bill in the van we’d gotten in 2.5 hrs of riding and covered like 33 miles of road! Bill took over with the clouds starting to clear up and the possibility of rain looking a bit more remote. Now Bill and I did not hit any mt climbs, but climbing was still the word for the day, what with a gazillion rollers and power climbs to traverse. With that added to my legs they were turning to gu pretty quickly, so Bill took over with a couple of really nice pulls – like 30 min long - to give me a break. Oh yea, and there was a headwind we’ve been riding into. Like what with all the mts that’s pretty much of an afterthought right now. The headwind is really with us every day. Just really hits you on the “less” mountainous areas. On the steep stuff you never even know there’s a headwind. Then you flatten a bit and that’s when you discover Mr. Headwind.
Now we were looking for this gravel rail trail that was supposed to go for about the last15-20 miles into Cumberland, so we started looking for it around Ewing, Va. Made a failed attempt for find it one time by riding up this north trending road until it just really started climbing, and that’s when I said forget about it! Back to 58. Then on the second attempt we found it, literally right off of the main road. Got on this thing and it was really primitive, being only about a half a lane wide, and just riddled with washouts and loose stretches of gravel and mud. It was not a whole lot of fun and definitely not all that scenic. But we rode it out for about 7 miles until it just totally disintegrated into this total piece of garbage that was right off of the main road. You needed to go little cookie just to get up some of the trenched out, washed-out climbs. That’s when I rode across the grassy devil strip back onto the main road. Bill was right behind me. American Dirt/American Smirt – no way was I going to go through 3 miles of uphill “ditch” riding when the road was like 10 feet away.
Found Cumberland Nat. Historic Park and rode in to meet up with Judy. And there we were, climbing again up a pretty good incline to get to the camping area. Bill threw out several expletives. So did I! Got to the ranger station and found out that Judy was there, but went back down onto the main road to look for us. I rode down to find her and did as she was riding back into the park. That’s when I flagged her down and threw my bike on the rack for a ride back up the climb to the campground. So the situation was this: Bill is the guy with the tent while Judy and I do Camp Dodge 1500 Van, so I had Bill pick out a side at the place. Wanted him to be happy with a site, and let me tell you they were almost all either on a hillside or situated in the woods in mud. As I’ve already mentioned, the rain has been crazy out here for the past two months, so really none of the tent sites were day. So Bill finally came back from his recon mission with a thumbs down – no go on the tenting. We packed er up and decided to move on to Middlesboro for a motel. I decided to ride to the tunnel so we wouldn’t have to go back into Va tomorrow for my start. If you’re on your own on a bike you cannot ride a bike through the tunnel without a VDOT escort or have your bike put in a VDOT truck bed. And that takes a phone call at a call station at the tunnel. So I just rode to the tunnel and put my bike on the van and proceed to the other side into Middleboro.
Got a motel and then went straight to the Mother of all Chinese Buffets – the King Buffet! It was pure gluttony on a grand scale – not for Judy but for Bill and I. Wow, this was a cyclist’s dream! Especially after five and a half hrs of riding through mts. By the time I was done I felt like a piñata that was ripe for bursting. Ditto for Bill and Judy. All that was needed was some beer to finish the evening. And that was the tough part. You seed Bell County is a dry Co in KY. Talked to a couple workers in the local Wall Mart and they told me we’d have to go back to TN or VA go get beer. So in the van and back into TN we went – to this little beer lounge place. It reminded me of a cigar lounge. The place was a restaurant turned beer lounge, complete with the booth seating where a couple of good old boys were cranking on some bud lights. I picked up a local microbrew – Lazy Magnolia Pecan Nut Brown Ale. Ahhhhhh – wonderful.
Chilling right now with one of my beautiful little Nut Browns. Until tomorrow……Pete