It only took 81 episodes to finally talk about bikepacking… better late than never, right? On this episode, Rob Knapp joins us and chats about what it was like to pick up bikepacking as a racer and how that informs him in how he bikepacks when not trying to come in first.
Hey it’s the direct download link for The Pedalshift Project 081: Bikepacking adventures for new bikepackers (mp3)
Subscribe to The Pedalshift Project:
RSS – iTunes – Overcast – Android
Reach out to the show via email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to join the newsletter too.
Have some bike touring or overnight stories to share? Send your pics, audio or a quick tweet – all welcome. Email the show at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the lightly-used Pedalshift voicemail line at (202) 930-1109.
Pedalshift Guide to Bicycling the C&O
More entries… more info… check out the Pedalshift Guide to Bicycling the C&O!
Mudslide takes out CA Hwy 1… again.
Thomas a WA state park ranger listener on plugging things in:
Thanks for the tips for securing your electronics. I’ve been an LE park ranger for many years, and sadly it’s those crimes of opportunity that occur most often.
For hiker-bikers leaving items charging in restrooms or outlets, I’m always happy to provide my business card to them. Placing a card with a badge on it on top of an unattended charging device is somewhat a deterrent. I imagine most officers would oblige this request. And, you never know when you’d need to call us!
Connelsville to Ohio for sure
Maybe to Indiana? Maybe just a loop to Ohio and take the leisurely route back to DC?
More to come on next week’s episode (the offweek for June will be during the tour).
The Interview: Bikepacking adventures with Rob Knapp
Robert is from the (self-described) boonies of Virginia and got into bikepacking through the Allegheny Mountains Loop (and its Extreme sister ride). Since then he’s tackled bikepacking racing head on, and is also taking Boy Scouts out on much more sedate versions of his rides.
Day 1: 10/24/2016; 3:30am; Mile 0 through 162
I arrived at the Kent Square Blacksburg Parking Garage in good spirits and excited to begin my journey. The ride over to the Virginia Tech War Memorial was uneventful, taking just a few minutes. The town was empty, arriving at the War Memorial, I turned on my Spot GPS and headed out of town. It was nice riding with very few cars on the roads. I descended to the New River in no time. I thought about how I would feel making this climb on the return trip. Riding along the river was nice. The light from the waning moon was enough to highlight the turbulent sections of water. I made the turn onto Spruce Run, knowing this was the first of many climbs. The stars and moon looked beautiful, I saw some deer and skunks along the way. With the first climb behind me, I passed the little town of Newport. A local church painted white, with lights shining, looked beautiful. I thought about stopping for a photo, but I was making good time and decided not to. After Newport, I made my first navigation error, missing a turn. I realized this in short order and was back on course. The darkness plays tricks on you. This is familiar territory, I couldn’t believe I missed the turn. I passed Tawney’s Cave and reminisced about exploring the cave many years ago. I also thought about the time my young wife saved my life. Twenty five years ago while repelling off the cliff I was about to pass located at the base of the Mountain Lake Climb. The rope slipped and I started falling. I held the rope so tight that friction burned through my gloves. I still have scars from that experience. Thankfully my wife was belaying me. The belay caught shortly before I hit the ground. I slammed into the cliff face, but only hurt my foot. With despair, my thoughts were with the challenge that lie ahead. Knowing this race will be one of the hardest things I have ever attempted. Hopefully I will not have to call my wife for a rescue mission.
The climb up to Mountain Lake was the first real climb of the race. I was at the top of the mountain in what felt like no time, but it actually was an hour. I kept admiring the stars, the moon, and the view. Stopping at the hotel I refilled my water bottles. I spoke with the clerk running the desk and told her about the race, she wished me luck.
Leaving Mountain Lake I encountered the first gravel road of any consequence. My bike rolled along smoothly over this National Forest road. The descent past White Rocks Campground was fast but the bike remained sure footed. Passing the campground reminded me of when my son and I camped there when he was just three years old. Those were good times, he kept carrying a stick around and would not put it down. Now 15 years later, he thinks I am crazy for riding my bike so much. After White Rocks I turned toward Paint Bank.
The ride seemed effortless on this paved section. The sun appeared over the mountains to the east. I began to see airplanes in the sky, their contrails shimmering in the morning sun. Around 8:30am the sun began to warm the ground. Woolly Worms started a great migration in both directions from one side of the road to the other. I thought “why does the Woolly Worn cross the road”? I rode carefully to avoided running over any of these guys. I arrived in Paint Bank around 9am, stopping at the general store I purchased some snacks. What I really wanted was chocolate milk and Route 11 brand potato chips, But the store was out of both.
Leaving the store, I headed to Callaghan. I was on gravel again, climbing to the top of Potts Mountain. When I reached the top I decided to take a short break. The weather was wonderful. I was treated to the sight of an F15 fighter plane performing a banking maneuver at eye level with me. It was an impressive spectacle. Riding to Callaghan went fast, I passed Humpback Covered Bridge and snapped a photo. Reaching Callaghan around noon, I rode to Webb’s Market, just a short distance off the route. I ordered a cheeseburger, a Coke and got my chocolate milk! I asked the nice lady running the counter what their hours were and told her I would try to stop on my way back. She asked where I was going, and said that it was quite an undertaking. While rearranging my gear and packing extra food purchased at Webb’s. Two older gentleman asked me how far I was riding. I told them I was heading to Maryland via the mountains of West Virginia and that I had already ridden almost 100 miles that morning. They told me they had recently driven to Maryland and could not believe I was riding a bike there. I realized that I had lost my pepper spray. I carry this for protection from dogs and bears. It must have shaken out of the bag I had placed it in. Not having this protection concerned me, but not enough for me to stop.
The ride up to Sherwood Lake went fast, the stream next to the road was beautiful. My plan was to top off my water supply at Sherwood Lake Campground. Unfortunately the campground was shut down for the winter. I decided to filter out of the stream on the Singletrack section just outside the campground. Though I missed the stream, once I realized this. I backtracked to the lake and filtered 4 liters from the lake. This water debacle ate up a lot of time. In hindsight I should have stopped at that gorgeous stream on the way up to Sherwood Lake. I made a beeline back to the course and began the long, lonely trek to the next water supply in Bartow, WV. The next 7 miles or so, are very steep and the trail is rough. This section requires a lot of “hike a bike”. While pushing the bike up the steep hills. In order to make my return trip easier, I removed branches and rocks from the trail. I made it to the half was point known as Rimel faster then I thought I would. Rimel is where my friend Gef and I set up a tarp to get out of the rain during the AML race this past May and I thought about how miserable, yet surprisingly fun it was.
After Rimel the section to Rider Gap at the summit of Allegheny Mountain seemed to take forever. The sun set, the wind blew and the temperature dropped. Since it had been hours since seeing a vehicle, I stopped and fixed Turkish Coffee right in the middle of the road. This is not true Turkish Coffee, just my version. It consists of a tablespoon of Cafe Bustelo Coffee with two heaping tablespoons of sugar. The coffee is ground super fine, I drink the grounds and all. I am not much of a coffee drinker, but I truly enjoy this concoction. It offers quite a boost of energy and adds to my alertness. The coffee rejuvenated me and I made it to the summit of Allegheny Mountain (elevation 3,150′).
With smooth pavement, the descent to Mil Gap was fast. Passing some houses, I shot by a few raccoons. Every time I see wildlife, it is surprising how close the animals are to human activity. I turned left at Mill Gap and headed to route 250 and the climb up to Red Oak Knob (elevation 3,750′). I hit something in the road on this gravel section and came close to crashing. Thankfully, I was able to recover, the only effect was burst of adrenaline. I saw some deer on this section and ate one of the PBJ’s I brought from home.
The climb up to Red Oak Knob took some time. I only had two vehicles pass me. One was a car, the other a large truck. He was working his lower gears, fighting the incline to keep his speed up. I could hear him coming from a long way off before he reached me. I got as far over on the shoulder as I could, this driver meant business, and was not about to slow down for some crazy cyclist riding up a mountain well after dark. Once I reached the summit I made the turn toward Camp Allegheny. A dog was not pleased at my presence, barking and growling at me. I told him all was OK and he went back to his business. The hour was quite late, I decided it would be best to stop for the night. I found a flat spot at the base of a large oak tree. I searched the branches with my light to make sure nothing would fall on me during the night. In the treetops the wind was still howling. I was surprised at how much warmer it was at this higher elevation, then down below. I set up my bivy sack and worked on hanging a bear bag with all my food in it. This simple procedure took far longer then it should have. First I threw the bag and forgot to hold the end of the paracord. The cord wrapped around the branch and it took me forever to get it down. After many failed attempts I managed to get the bag into a tree. I returned to my camping spot, brushed my teeth, and realized I did not put all of my food in the bear bag. This time hanging the bag went smoother. When I finally laid my head down it was around 2:30am, I was out like a light.
Day 2: 10/25/2016; 5:00am Mile 162 to 288
It is amazing how a few hours of sleep will rejuvenate a person. I woke in good spirits, I brushed my teeth, packed up and headed to Bartow. I passed the Civil War battlefield, known as Camp Allegheny. Though I could not see much because of the darkness and the waning moon. In my daily life I never noticed how much one day changes the moon phases. The moon was barely a sliver now and not giving off much light. This gravel section went fast because it’s mostly down hill. While moving at a good pace, I noticed a tiny mouse running for his life next to me. I can’t imagine what was going through his mind, other then sheer panic at some huge creature barreling down on him.
The sun began to shine as I reached the outskirts of town. Bartow is a small town with a bit of logging industry. The mills were already running, I considered the prospect that perhaps they run all night. Though, I don’t think this is the case. I reached Trent’s, this small gas station with a grill, is like an oasis on the AMLX. I ordered three breakfast plates, and the nice lady running the grill suggested that it was a lot of food. I assured her it was not. I purchased Coke, candy bars, and more chocolate milk. I tried to buy a beer, but the lady running the counter said it was too early and I could not buy the beer till 7am. The temperature outside was extremely cold, I asked if I could bring my bike in the store while I ate. She did not seem thrilled with the proposition, I assured her I would be very careful with it and she gave me the okay. I ate my three breakfasts like a starving man and ordered a breakfast pizza they had as the daily special. I told the ladies about my ride and how Trent’s is a well known resupply spot for AML racers. They said a cyclist had stopped about a month before. I assume this was Larry, Chris, or Greg on their AMLX attempts. Upon leaving Trent’s I purchased that beer, as the time was now after 7am. Stashing the beer for later, I felt refreshed and ready for the day.
The road from Bartow to Wymer is very remote. I traveled much of this section during the AML in May. I conquered the big climb out of Bartow. Though I was not prepared for the cold and loneliness of this section. Only five months have passed since my last time through. I was amazed at how still and quiet it was this time. This section is on the western slope of the mountains, the sun did not shine directly on me until I reached Wymer. West Virginia is know for harsh winters, it was as if everything had already gone to sleep in preparation for the long clod winter. No animals showed themselves, not even chirping birds. I finally reached Wymer, the next section of the course is all new to me. I have studied satellite images for months and thought I knew what to expect. Boy was I wrong, Google Earth makes everything look flat, this could not have been further from the truth.
The trail out of Wymer, running essentially on the ridge line, has beautiful views. This section was full of deer and birds, as well as cattle. I reached the turn off for the Dry Fork section of the Cheat River cutoff and decided to go for it. The race has an option of crossing the river on foot and shaves off several miles. The descent down to the river was incredibly steep, I was very glad I opted for disk brakes on my bike. I passed an old cabin before reaching the river. The scene reminded me of picturesque Montana. I finally arrived at the river crossing, getting there took longer then I thought. Because after the initial descent, cyclists are treated to a steep climb before reaching the river. I took my shoes off, secured them, and put on the socks I brought with me. These were my secret weapon. I wrapped the old socks with duck tape to protect my feet from the rocks and any broken glass that might be present. I prepared these socks before leaving home. The crossing took much longer then I thought it would. The water runs swift in this river and the slick round rocks make it hard to get good footing. My secret weapon did protect my feet from getting cut, but I had not planned for how roundness of these rocks. As I stepped, my foot would slide between the rocks, and they would crush my ankles. Lifting the bike on my shoulder, I managed to keep the bikes hubs out of the water, but I could not keep the wheels out. When the wheels would immerse in the water, the river would try to push me over. I finally made it across, thankful I had not fallen in the process. As It was so cold, If I had fallen, it would have been game over. I decided, I would not attempt this madness on the return trip.
My seatpost had been slipping all day, it was 2pm, I had a good chance to make it to the bike shop in Davis, WV. My plan; purchase a stronger seatpost clamp. I departed the river after putting on thin dry socks and shoes. I would discarding my secret weapons at the first trash can I saw. The day was warm and bright, while hurrying, I made another navigation error, riding the wrong way uphill for a few hundred yards. Once back on track I decided to replenish my water supply at a piped spring. The water was cold and sweet. I turned onto what my GPS called the Canaan Loop/Table Rock Trail. Wow, was this section steep and narrow. Looking over the edge, nothing is there to stop one from falling all the way to the bottom. I finally reached the top of the climb, passing under a deadfall. I thought I was through the bad section. “I will be at the bike shop in no time”. Wrong again, I need to learn not to discount how hard this ride is. The trail kept going from bad to worse. For some reason, despite being at the top of a mountain. The trail had huge mud puddles, large enough to swallow a car. Then the trail turned rocky with one to two foot inclines on each rock. “Will this section ever end”?
Finally, I made it to pavement and Black Water Falls State Park, I admired the view of the canyon and falls. The road was good, it felt nice to be on a paved road after so much mud and gravel. When I made it to Davis, I went straight to the bike shop. I made it before closing time, but in my research I failed to notice, they are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, today was Tuesday, “bummer”. I thought about what else I could use to hold my seatpost up. I decided a hose clamp like used on a car would work fine. Where to find a hose clamp in little Davis, WV?
I noticed a pizza restaurant next to the bike shop. Ordering a large pizza, Coke and a beer. I told the lady I needed the beer to have as many calories as possible, while not being heavy. My body needed the instant calories that a beer could provide. I asked if they had Budweiser, she said they did, but she brought me a BudLight. Oh well, not as many calories as a regular beer, but I drank it anyway. I also asked if they knew the owners of the bike shop, she said they did, I explained my situation, she tried to call them on the phone, but did not reach the owners. While at the restaurant, I charged my phone. Taking pictures on airplane mode drains the battery surprisingly fast. I also prepared to layer up. The temperature was beginning to drop as the sun dipped behind the distant mountains. Realizing I left my heavy wool socks at the river crossing. I asked the lady at the pizza restaurant where would be the closest place to purchase some wool socks. She told me the supermarket down the street had a hunting section in the front of the store. After eating I headed to the supermarket, sure enough they had some socks in a three pack. Only needing one pair, I asked the cashier if she could use the other two pairs of socks. I told her I only needed one pair. My cashier referred to the other one, who said it would be okay for her to take my extra socks. She asked about a receipt, I said she could have my receipt. She thanked me for the socks. Though I did not find a hose clamp in Davis, at least I would have warm feet.
Easy rolling; that is what I thought as I left Davis heading to Thomas, WV and the half way mark at the Maryland State Line. Reality; the gravel on the trail out of Thomas is quite large, making for a jarring ride. Getting on and off the bike so much was beginning to hurt my back, the shaking did not help any. “It’s flat all the way to Maryland”; well that is how it looked on Google Earth. The AMLX hit me again, with a steep descent down to the turnaround at the half way mark. This descent meant a steep climb back up immediately after the victory of making it half way. I was treated to the sight and sound of large wind mills turning as they generate power. I really enjoyed seeing and listening to them. I made it to the state line at dust, snapped some photos including a selfie; I look like a crazy man in that photo.
The climb back up was not as bad as I thought it would be. I made it back to Thomas in no time. Thomas appeared to have a revitalization underway, with shops and restaurants paralleling the rail trail and river. Darkness had fallen, the street was lit up, it looked magical. I would like to visit again some time in the future. I stopped to look at my GPS, to be sure I was on route. I noticed two men talking standing next to an ATV. I approached with a friendly gesture and asked if they knew where I could purchase a hose clamp. The gentlemen were friendly, they had been deer hunting. They said the hardware store would not be open till morning. I explained about the race and one of the gentlemen said he lived close, he thought he had a clamp that would work. I followed him to his home, just a few blocks away. He brought out the clamp and a large screwdriver, he asked if that would do the trick? I told him it was perfect. He also invited me in for some coffee, while I wanted to continue on; “it’s a race you know”. I decided to take him up on his offer. I am glad I did. His name was Jim C., he is retired, he showed me his retirement plan. Over the years; he salvaged wormy chestnut from old barns in the area. He is now selling this rare wood for $12 a board foot. He also makes clocks from the wood and sells them at craft fairs; “not a bad gig”. We drank coffee and ate some potato chips. Jim gave me some walnuts to eat later on, they were good. I thanked him for his hospitality. On the way out of town in the darkness I saw several deer.
I made it back to the “seven miles of Hell” known as the Cahaahan Loop/Table Rock Trail. It was complete darkness with no extra light from the moon. If I made this ride a week earlier, I would have been treated to the light from a full moon. I had a rare cell phone signal and called home. I talked with my wife and son for a few minutes. Riding through the mud and rocks at night was challenging, but doable. After reaching the steep, narrow descent that leads down to the Cheat River, something mystical happened.
About 100 yards down the trail. Directly in front of my front wheel. Something rose from the tall grass. It was a light blue color and appeared to be glowing. It had wings about three feet wide. The wings did not appear to be flapping but may have been. I had a warm feeling and spoke to it. Saying “sorry to disturb you”. Whatever this was, if it had not risen, I would have ran it over. I am not sure what it was, it may have been a bird or perhaps an angel. I don’t think I was hallucinating I knew this section was very dangerous and prepared myself before beginning the trip down. I made it to the bottom without issue seeing no more mystical creatures.
It was very cold at this lower elevation. Once again, I put on my layers. Stopping at the piped spring with the sweet water, I topped off my water supply. Around midnight, I made it to the river crossing. Sure enough, I found my heavy wool socks sitting on a rock. It is surprising how easy it is to loose things while racing. I will have to be more careful. I decided taking the river crossing on a dark and moonless night would be a recipe for disaster. I opted for the longer route, but knew from my prior research that at least the road was paved. Again, the AMLX treated me to several very steep climbs. I was not making very good time. I came upon some more deer, they lived more like mountain goats on these steep mountain slopes. Around 1:00am I stopped in the middle of the road, broke out the alcohol stove and made Turkish Coffee. No vehicles were out at this time of night. The stop revitalized me enough to make it out of the river bottoms. Deciding It would be good to stop for the night. I began looking for a camping spot. I remembered passing an abandoned church earlier in the day. Thinking this would be a good spot I began looking for the church. When I finally arrived it was after 2am. I was extremely tired from the journey. The church had a men’s and women’s outhouse in the back. They were clean, appearing not to have been used in years. Rather then fooling with a bear bag, I stashed my bike in the men’s. I opened my food bags in case mice were present, in hopes they would not chew threw my bags to get at the food. I even left a partly eaten Kind Bar for them. The night was dry I just rolled out my sleeping bag and slept under the stars.
Day 3: 10/26/2016; 5:00am; Mile 288 to 377
A poor choice this morning would lead to extreme pain later in the day. It was very cold this morning. I decided to put my long cycling pants on under my bib shorts. Up to this point, when the temperature dropped I would put the pants on over my shorts. The pants are made of wool and are quite warm, but kept sliding down while I was peddling. The shoulder straps of my bib shorts would hold them in place.
I packed up my gear in short order and headed out, luckily the outhouse was free of rodents all of my food was intact. I ate a few Kind Bars for breakfast and looked forward to a Philly Cheese Steak when I arrived at the oasis known as Trent’s. On the way to Wymer I saw herds of deer. It is weird how so many deer can be in one area and none are in others.
Again the section from Wymer to Bartow felt cold and dead, as if everything had gone to sleep. Before I arrived at Bartow, my bottom began to hurt. I decided to push on and apply Vaseline at Trent’s Grill. By the time I got to Trent’s, I was in pain. I ordered a chicken sandwich, onion rings, French fries, a cheese burger and a salad. For some reason, despite my earlier cravings, I forgot to order a Philly Steak, I guess it was because of the pain. Across the street from Trent’s Grill is Trent’s General Store and Laundry. I decided it would be best to dry all of my layers, especially my bib shorts and cycling pants. Because I did not have a change of clothes I rotated through the drying cycle switching articles of clothing as they dried. As it turns out putting the wool cycling pants on under my bib shorts was a bad idea. They rubbed my bottom raw. I purchased supplies, cleaned up with baby wipes, packed my gear and headed out of town.
The climb out of Bartow was excruciatingly painful. The Vaseline did not help whatsoever. I tried placing tissues on the hurt spots, but they just wadded up, making things worse. I was almost in tears, every rotation of the peddals hurt. When I got out of the saddle the fabric of my shorts felt as if it was tearing my skin off. I had to do something and almost pressed the button on the SPOT GPS that I preprogrammed with a message to my wife that reads “I can not move from this location, please come to the rescue”. I am not a quitter, but the pain was unbearable. One of the nutrition options I brought was a bottle of honey. I remembered how people in ancient times used honey as an antiseptic. The honey did the trick, for whatever reason, it allowed the fabric to slide away rather then tearing at my skin. I also decided to carefully fold up my cycling pants and zip tie them to the bike seat, this gave some extra padding. In an effort to lighten the load on my rear end, I removed the 3 liters of water from my backpack and attached it to my handlebars. In better spirits, I would refer to myself as “Honey Butt” for the remainder of the journey.
Moving along at a better pace now, I read the historical marker about the battle of Camp Allegheny and realized my problems were nothing compared to what these soldiers had gone through. Accelerating down Red Oak Knob was exlihirating. I made the turn toward Mill Gap. This area has beautiful scenery, reminiscent of the Western States. I stopped to photograph a cabin made from an old school bus, it was a very interesting cabin. Next I passed a cute little girl playing in her driveway, she waved and I waved back. Now at 16, I thought about when my son was little and how fast the years have gone by. I left Mill Gap and the little girl behind me. Hearing something in the woods. I looked over to see a bobcat next to the creek. This was thrilling. I have never seen a bobcat in the wild before. I began the grueling climb up Allegheny Mountain.
Finally reaching the summit of this paved section. The time was nearing nightfall. Turning back onto the gravel I began making the climb up to the ridge line that I would follow for the next 40 miles or so. The road is quite steep, I was pushing my bike. When a couple in a pickup truck stopped and asked if I was lost. I told them I was not. They told me about a better route I could travel. I told them about the race, they asked if I knew what I was getting myself into. I assured them I did and that I was prepared with plenty of water, because this section is completely dry. I think they thought I was nuts they wished me luck, I continued on. These were the last people I wold see, till the next morning.
By the time I reached the ridge line it was completely dark. The road parallels the Virginia, West Virginia boarder. The wind was howling along the ridge, it was cold. I kept seeing two lights in the woods. They looked like they were just a few feet off in the woods. I thought it was a hunting camp that I would soon ride by, but that never happened. The lower light was a golden color while the other was a warm blue. The same warm blue as the creature I saw the night before. Could this e related? As humans, do we know everything that goes on in our world? The blue light was above the gold at a 45 degree angle. They remained in this pattern for miles. At around 8:00pm, it was time for Turkish Coffee. As I was extremely tired, I went for broke and prepared a double shot. I planned on riding nonstop back to Blacksburg. This was not to be.
Rounding a bend in the road the lights disappeared, I passed a flat section. The wind was not blowing and it was at least 15 degrees warmer. The double shot of coffee and sugar did not have the effect I was hoping for. Without much thought I turned around around, set up camp at the flat, warm spot. I found a tree to hang the bear bag. This time, making sure all my food was in the bag. I set up the bivy and instantly fell asleep. It was only 9:30pm, I never go to bed that early.
Day 4: 10/27/2016; 3:30am; Mile 377 to 518.5
This would prove to be an emotional day. I woke fully rested at 3:30am, I packed up quickly and left camp. About a quarter mile out of camp, I was back in the cold and howling wind. When the cold wind started blowing again I searched for my gloves. I could not find them. I returned to my camping spot, still warm and wind free. I did not find my gloves, but I had forgotten to pack the bag for my sleeping pad and some trash. I packed both of these and was glad I had returned, but was concerned about not finding my gloves. They are North Face Wind-Stopper Gloves that I have had for about 20 years. They are amazing gloves and always do a good job insulating me from the cold. About 5 miles later I thought about the possibility that I dropped them on the ground when hanging the bear bag. Being too far to cycle back. I considered the possibility of driving back up at a later date in an attempt to find them. Did I mention, I really like those gloves? As it turned out, I packed them up in the bivy sack, I did not realize this until after I made it home and unpacked. I did not see the lights any longer, but wondered if they could have been some kind of guardian angel, who knows. For some reason I became very emotional this morning. Every time I thought that I might finish and about friends and my family at the finish line. I would get all choked up, I was on the verge of crying.
Cycling past Rimel, I made it to the section known as the Sherwood Lake Cutoff. This section was very challenging during my AML attempt back in May. The trail keeps getting smaller and smaller as it meanders through fields, then woods. At least this time it was not raining. I got whiffs of the paper mill located in Covington, VA. This is a very unpleasant smell. The wind had died down and it was much warmer. This is the section a few days before, I had cleared branches and rocks from. Once again, I made a navigation error. The funny (or not so funny) thing is Gef and I made this same mistake in May. I went about a mile off course on a fairly steep descent. This meant I had to climb and push the bike back up the hill. This mistake ate up a fair amount of time. Back on course I was descending at a rapid pace. Until 4:30am…….
Flying through the air I landed hard, it sounded like the bike landed even harder. Going over the handlebars at a high rate of speed is not fun. Usually if I crash my bike it is as if the crash is in slow motion. This time it was fast and violent. I laid motionless for a few minutes. Checking myself over, I discovered a scraped knee and a small cut on my leg. I noticed a fallen branch with a sharp offshoot sticking out. I had missed landing on that branch by about a foot, this would have impaled me. My thoughts went to my bike. I found the branch, I had not seen, prior to it crashing. This caused my front wheel to stop instantly as I was traveling at around 20 mph. It was only a foot and a half long and roughly 3 inches in diameter. If only I had missed it by an inch or two on either side. I checked the front wheel first as it sustained the initial impact. The wheel was fine. Then I checked the rear wheel and the rest of the bike. The only damage I could find was my brake lever had moved out of its normal alignment. I fixed this and continued on.
I was looking forward to reaching the paved section of road. After wrecking, mentally I was done with the gravel and trails. I found the stream I had missed the other day and filtered it’s clear sweet water. I knew the road was close and was so happy when I reached it. Well I should not have underestimated the AMLX. Almost immediately after reaching pavement. The temperature dropped significantly, I put all 9 layers on and was still cold. Since I did not have my gloves I put the socks purchased in Davis in my hands. There was a low fog that appeared to be only 20 feet above the ground, this was an inversion layer. The cold and fog lasted all the way to Calhagan, I was freezing when I reached Webb’s.
The same lady from the other day was working. She could tell I had been through a lot. She allowed me to sit on some large bags of dog food. While I ate two sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits, drank Coke and chocolate milk and warmed up. A man came into the store and was telling her about an altercation he had the day before at Advance Auto Parts. He runs an auto repair shop in town and said he spends about 60,000 dollars a year at Advance Auto. The employees and manager allow him to use the diagnostic equipment on a regular basis. Evidently a traveling supervisor was visiting the store. He was not happy about this, and got violent with the man. He showed me a video of the altercation, it was unbelievable. The traveling supervisor, a middle aged man, completely over reacted assaulting the customer. I imagine he lost his job, because the police were involved and the customer sent the video to the corporate office. If only people would realize their is so much more to the world. So much mystery as I have encountered the past few days. I stayed at Webb’s longer then I should have. Before leaving, I used the bathroom, they had a large sign on the door about not flushing feminine hygiene products. The situation with my bottom still existed, the sign gave me an idea. I am now a proud user of feminine hygiene products. When paying I told the nice lady that I was in so much pain that the embarrassment of buying pads did not bother me. She smiled and said she could only imagine. I stuck two of the pads to my saddle. They offered a little more cushion.
It was around 9am when I finally got my courage up to head back into the cold. The sun had warmed things quite nicely. A few miles later, I packed up my layers. The constant variations in temperature were challenging at best, it took lots of time adding or removing layers and packing them into my cycling bags. It’s easy going from here, less then 100 miles to go, just a two gravel climbs of any consequence. Did I mention not to discount what the AMLX will throw at you? I had just turned onto road the leads over Potts Mountain. When I heard a clap of thunder. This road is in a narrow valley I could not see much of the sky. I retrieved my rain jacket and put it on. By the time I zipped the jacket, the sky opened up. I thought to myself, it’s almost F#*%+!~ November, we are not supposed to have thunder storms in late October. Thankfully the rain did not last long.
When I reached the top of the mountain a man on a tractor was grading the road. He worked for the Virginia Department of Transportation. I stopped at the summit and asked the driver if he would take my picture, he did. We talked about his job and if he enjoyed being out in the middle of nowhere. I told him about my ride, he kept telling me to be careful, that he had just graded the road and the gravel was loose. It must be a lonely job, because he kept talking. I finally managed to break way, after all, this is a race you know. I sped down the mountain and made it to Paint Bank.
Making a fast stop in Paint Bank. I topped off water, bought beer (for calories), Powerade, and some candy bars. This would be my last resupply stop. I would be back in Blacksburg in no time. This was not to be. The AMLX hit me with some of the strongest head winds I have ever cycled into. Though the paved road is nice and straight, but I did not make good time. Thankfully I had some nice encounters with wildlife. I passed a weasel on the side of the road. He tried hiding behind a small bush, standing up on his hind feet as if he was part of the trunk, I told him I could see him and that he should have jumped into the small pond that must be his home. Next I saw two vultures, who were looking for lunch. I joked with them that I was close to being the lunch they were seeking. Talking to these animals helped keep me out of the emotional roller coaster I was in. I finally made it to the turnoff to Mountain Lake. I was not looking forward to this climb. It was back to gravel. The road was steep, I kept pretending I was Scottie from Star Trek, in my best Scotish accent I kept saying “she has no more gears cap’pan I am giving er all she’s got”.
As I reached the top of the climb. Two of my cycling buddies Gef and Justin arrived. They had ridden out from Blacksburg to escort me the remaining miles back. This really lifted my spirits! I did not have to contend with being a blathering idiot any longer. We pushed on to Mountain Lake Hotel. I stopped to fill my water bottles for the final 30 miles back to Blacksburg. A man pulled up in a Porsche. The car had Maryland License Plates. I told him I had just come from Maryland two days before. He told me he does some cycling, he was astonished at this ride though.
Justin, Gef and I headed out and began the descent from Mountain Lake. Gef was snapping photos of me and nearly crashed. We reached Newport then the New River. Justin kept reminding me to stay away from the edge of the road. Riding so many miles alone, I was not used to having cyclists close to me. Just before reaching the bottom of the climb into Blacksburg. Gef had a flat, they told me to continue on. I did, they caught up to me within a few miles. David another cycling friend met us about half way up he was ringing a cow bell. The four of us slowly made our way to the War Memorial at Virginia Tech. It was great to see my wife and son who were waiting. They made me a sign that read “Go Rob, the AMLX Stud”. We hugged, talked and joked for about 15 minutes. I could barley stand up, my legs were swollen, my back was killing me. I was overwhelmed with a great feeling of accomplishment. Despite only being away from home for three and a half days. I learned a lot about myself on this journey. I am looking forward to my next cycling journey.
Help support the show and join the Pedalshift Society with monthly or one-shot contributions!
Mark Van Raam
And all anonymous and past contributors for helping make this show happen!
You’ve been hearing about Jason Kent and his music for 79 fine episodes. I got news for ya. New. Sunfields. Album. This August.