Will's Bicycle Adventure
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Posted by willmcmahan at 7:08 PM PDT
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Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Day 87-Wednesday, August 20th, 2008
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: The journey ends.

Eighty seven days after leaving Everett, my journey is about to reach it's conclusion. 

A good night's sleep is what we all wish for, but it was not forthcoming last night.  Awaking at 3AM, I just couldn't get back to sleep.  At 5 AM, I got up.  It was still unclear as to the exact distance to Raleigh, but my guess was somewhere between 45-50 miles, although it could be 60.  An early start would get me to our meeting point in Raleigh regardless of the distance.  Today was not going to be quite as hot--maybe 90 degrees--but I still slathered on the 50 sun block.   The motel had a reasonably nice breakfast.  I was on the road at 6:50 AM. 

The terrain was changing.   The hills were still there but more gradual slopes, so a higher speed was possible going uphill.  It was 2-3 hours before I even needed to go into my low range chain ring.  This means, simply, that I was going a little faster than yesterday, and it was less tiring.  This is always nice but today it was doubly important.  In light of the fact that the exact mileage to the Raleigh fairground is uncertain, if I was to meet my brother, on his bike, on the outskirts of Raleigh by 2 PM, then I had to make sure I could get there on time.

When I reached Pittsboro, I had a decision to make.  The road was terrific with lots of room on the right shoulder.  I could stick on the road, bypass Pittsboro, and arrive safely on the other side of town, nine miles later, safe and sound.  Or I could exit the highway, ride straight through town, and arrive on the other side five miles later.  The difference, besides the mileage, is that the ride through town was much riskier:  narrow, with no shoulder, and, since I was riding east into the rising sun, I could not use my mirrors because of the glare, thus I would be virtually blind as to what was approaching from behind.  This was not an issue on Hwy 64 because the shoulder was so wide.  Going directly through town with no shoulder to ride on would incur more risk.  Yet the distance would be reduced from 9 miles to 5 milesI opted for the shorter but riskier route.  It ended up not mattering because the trees along the road blocked the sun, so I could see as well as hear traffic approaching.  

While I'm in town, let's eat.  I'm hungry.  Ahh, there is a cafe.  The second breakfast of the morning.

The road rolled with the hills but I was making pretty good time.  I had mentioned once before about how courteous car and truck drivers were to me, giving me lots of clearance.  In my opinion, the ones at risk were some of those cars as they tried to pass me and duck in before oncoming traffic.   Today a new problem occured, none of it potentially dangerous to me.  The road I was on, Highway 64, was a four lane highway with a grass meridian between the eastbound and westbound traffic.  Many times, while I am pedalling safely on the road's  shoulder, a car in the right lane moved over into the left lane in order to give me even more clearance.  However, twice, the drivers forgot to check to see if a car was on their left.  Two times a car was run off onto the left shoulder that way.   And people are worried about me?

The next major town is Cary, which is just west of Raleigh, but first I cross over a rather large, pretty lake.  It is calm, and a few fishermen are out in their bass boats.  We exchange waves.  The cool air feels good.

Holy cow!  There is the Cary city limits sign!  One thing for sure is that I won't be late to meet my brother.  Jim and I had discussed a route through Cary, and we would meet at the Raleigh Fairgrounds.  After almost 4,000 miles on the road, I was not fearful of riding in traffic, but I am not stupid either.  The traffic in Cary seemed a bit too speedy and careless for my comfort, so I moved up onto the sidewalk for a while.  It was a little after 11 AM, and I was getting hungry again, so I was hopeful for a restaurant to pop up soon.  Ahh, I turned right and there is a bicycle lane on the right.  I have seen few of those since leaving home.  Now I won't have to be as concerned about the traffic.  Darn, a mile later the bike lane ended.  What is that up ahead on the left?  It looks like a pavillion.  Yes, it is.  I'm at the Fairgrounds!  It is 11:30 AM.  I only have to wait for my brother to get here also.  At least I wasn't late.

Off to the side, and across the railroad tracks, is a convenience store.  I purchased a large Gatorade, sat in the shade under a tree, and tried to reach my brother's cell phone, not wanting to rush him at all, but just to let him know that I was here.  No answer.  So the next calls, in order of importance, was to Karen, then my mother.  I called several others, but the only one I can remember is my church back home, but the pastor was out.  Maybe I had better have a hot dog and some sweet rolls.  Better get some water, too, as I was still parched, and my supply was low.

I decided to re-cross the railroad tracks and find a shady place to rest at the Fairgrounds entrance.  Man, traffic was crazily busy.  So busy, in fact, that I dismounted and walked the bike across the street.   Jim calls.  He'd left his cell phone at home, and just retrieved my message.  Jim bicycles, but I was concerned about him riding in this traffic, so I suggested that we meet a little closer to his house.  Perhaps the traffic would not be so bad there.  He agreed, and we planned to meet at Meredith College, a large private women's college, a couple of miles closer to Jim's house. 

Waiting for traffic to clear, I eased out into left turn lane.  When the light changed, instead of making the turn, I went wide and stopped by the Raleigh City Limits sign.  I'd hoped to have my picture taken there beside it, but now, since I was the photographer, I took one of the bike leaning against it.

Meredith College was not far down the road, but the traffic was much more reasonable there.  I pulled inside the entrance, leaned my bike against a brick pillar that would be visible to Jim, and walked over to a tree that provided cool shade while waiting.   Finally, getting sleepy, I started to nod off, curled up on the grass, when a voice called out "Hey. Will!"  It was my brother, Jim.

The ride to his house was a little tour of Raleigh.  We drove past two more colleges, including North Carolina State University.  We passed the brand new YMCA (at which I would attend a spinning class early Friday morning), rode by the state capital and Governor's mansion.   Soon we were in familiar territory.  The Crispy Creme store was my first clue, since I knew it was near Jim's house.  A block from Jim's house, a contingent of people including his wife, Barbara, son, Cory, and exchange student, Jo Jo, were there to take photos for the record.  A neighbor kindly took the responsibility of being the photographer.

One block later, and 53 miles after I left this morning, we were at his house.  Over 4,000 miles after leaving Everett, Washington, I had finally reached the end of my journey.  I'd had no further falls or spills after having those three in a four day period.  No dogs were able to get ahold of me.  Except for the falls, I sustained no injuries, and few aches or pains.   I'd ridden several snowy days where the temperature hadn't gotten above freezing.  And several weeks where the high temperatures rarely dropped below 95.  The thought of all of the people and places that I had met and visited was too large of a collage for me to even ponder.  We have such a great country, filled with such great people!  I have, humbly, seen such wonders and learned from wonderful people.

There was also, importantly, an inner journey in addition to the outer one.  God has been actively at work in my life during this trip, and I have grown closer to Him.  I hope that I can do a better job of finding the path that He has set out for me.  He still has much work to do.

Tonight is a celebratory dinner with my cousin's family.  Likewise on Friday.  On Saturday, my brother invited a number of his friends over for a party. 

Most importantly, however, is that Karen is flying out on Monday.   It has been almost three months since we have seen each other.  I can't wait!

It is hard to feel that a trip, such as this one, can just end.  Day after day of pedalling.  Can you turn off the switch and go back to life as it was?  But, of course, there is no other choice.  

My deepest thanks to those that have expressed their pleasure from reading about my life on the road.  I think that my cousin, Kendall Hodgson, who is a farmer in Little River, Kansas, had a most insightful comment.  He said "I think of your ride as a metaphor for Life, in that with the proper planning, and some persistence, taken one step at a time, our struggles will eventually get us where we want to go."  Amen to that.

Will McMahan

Posted by willmcmahan at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 27 October 2009 10:16 PM PDT
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Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Day 86-Tuesday, August 19th, 2008
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: Getting close the end. How close to Raleigh can I get?

There were several items for consideration before I left the Pierce's home.  First of all, the area in which they live has only one traffic outlet, so all people commuting to work will be on a narrow road that has no shoulder.  I would need to leave late enough for the road to clear itself of most commuters.  We decided that 8 AM would work.  Secondly, I sure hope that I-85 is not backed up like it was yesterday.  The new road that we discovered last night will bypass the Interstate, but it was a twisty turny road with no shoulder--not a very safe road for a bicycler if there is much traffic.  Thirdly, the later start and the location of the Pierce house made it questionable as to how close I could get to Raleigh tonight.  My brother, Jim, was planning on leaving work early and bicycling out to meet me, then leading me to his house.  Staying with the Pierces took me a little out of the way of Raleigh, but I am glad that I took the opportunity to stay there and get to know them.

We had a magnificent breakfast that set the stage for a good ride. The weather was going to be mostly clear. 
When I pulled out onto the main road, the traffic was sparce compared to when I came in yesterday afternoon.  On a whim, I kept count of the vehicles that needed to pass me over the seven miles to the main road.  There were only 35, including 5 commercial trucks.  A pretty small number considering the distance.  Before reaching the main highway I crossed over I-85, and it seemed to be clear of yesterday's congestion.  Good!  That meant that the small bypass road shouldn't have much traffic.  I turned right onto the main road.  

Several miles down the road I passed a textile mill that was being torn down.  Neil Pierce had been in the textile industry before retiring, and shared how the companies were going offshore in order to keep costs down.  This, of course, created great pain in the local communities whose workers were laid off.  It must be quite a challenge for a worker to re-acquire a job in this area when there are so few around.

My memory was that the bypass road was immediately to the left after crossing the bridge over the Yadkin River.  To go straight was to get onto I-85.  Since there was a bit of traffic, I was going to cross the bridge on the shoulder, stop until traffic cleared, then cut across to the bypass.  As I started across the bridge, 5 cars all passed me in the left hand lane, slowed and turned onto my little bypass road.  Oh no!  This was not going to be the little peaceful ride that I'd hoped for.  Looking ahead, I saw traffic backed up on I-85.  Once on the bypass, I was hopeful that traffic would diminish, but that would not be the case.  The bypass was fairly short, not much more than a mile or two, and after a while it did straighten out which made it safer for me, but the first half mile was fraught with peril as lots of cars and semi trucks tried to get past me without having to slow down.  Nonetheless, soon I was back onto a main road where visibility was good.  In the first hour I had ridden 12 miles.  I was happy with that.  

The second town I passed through had a nice convenience store/cafe, and I went in to have breakfast #2.  When leaving, I asked how far I was from Highway 64, and what followed brought up much contemplation on my part as I pedalled on.  Two employees, both women took it upon themselves to advise me as to how to get to Raleigh, and it certainly wasn't Hwy 64.  "Take 85" they insisted.  When it dawned on me that the 85 they were referring to was the Interstate, I explained that bicycles weren't allowed there, they still insisted that it was better.  And 64 was narrow, had fast traffic and was very hilly.  I thanked them for their help.  It is so difficult to be fully accepting of any advice for directions from a person that doesn't bicycle.  Non-bicyclers have little concept of grade (steepness) because the car has no problem with grades.  People have described big, steep hills as little ones.  They have inaccurately estimated distances, normally thinking that things are much closer than they really are.  They put themselves, in their minds, on a bicycle and advise based upon how they would feel on a given road, not allowing for their inexperience.  I learned to be highly skeptical of advice, but I still had need, on occasion to ask. And sometimes the advice was spot on.

Several miles down the road was the entrance to Hwy 64.  It was a two lane road, but it had a 4-5' shoulder for me to ride on.  This was great!  I wondered how long this would last.  Mile after mile passed by.  Eventually I was approaching Asheboro.  I was getting low on water, as I was consuming alot.  Sue Pierce had made the comment that Bojangles had the best sweet tea, so when I came across one, I pulled in for lunch.  Yes, the tea was good and I drank a number a large glasses of it.  It seemed I had been hydrating more of late than before.  I found out later that the temperature had gotten to 95 degrees, but it was that hot, and hotter, in Kansas and Missouri, plus humidity, but my body was telling me to drink more.

Jim had left a message that he would like to meet on the outskirts of Raleigh at 1 PM tomorrow, so I would need to get reasonably close in order to ensure my timeliness.  There were two towns that seemed to fit the bill:  Siler City and Pittsboro.  Pittsboro was 15 miles closer towards Raleigh, so that was my goal.  

Unfortunately, I was starting to wear down.   There were a number of long hills before Asheboro that were taxing in the heat, and I was not sure that I would be able to make it to Pittsboro.  What if there were no motels in Pittsboro?  I didn't want to go there to find myself homeless again.  I'd have to check.

After Asheboro, Hwy 64 widened to five lanes, and still maintained the wide shoulder.  Uh oh.  There was a Doberman Pinscher on the other side of the road that wanted a piece of me.   It was tracking me along the opposite side of the road.  The problem for the dog was that it couldn't get over to my side of the road without getting hit by a car or truck.  Ha!  The dog was smart enough, at least, to stay over there.  That reminds me that several weeks earlier, there were 3 consecutive days where dogs were chasing me.  Then that stopped except for one other occurance, and then today.

Finally, Siler City.  I was approaching 70 miles for the day, and was beginning to drag a bit.  A motel appeared on the right that looked appealing.  I stopped at a nearby convenience store to guzzle more Gatorade, and asked some of the patrons about the motel.  Two things stand out among their replies:  First of all, there are several more motels up a mile, with lots of restaurants to choose from.  Secondly, Pittsboro had no motels. So I rode a mile further and checked into a motel in Siler City.

Oddly, no one seemed to have a consistent answer as to how many miles it was to Raleigh.   Numbers ranged from 40-60.  The maps were okay until nearing Cary (just west of Raleigh).   In talking to Jim, he decided to meet me at 2 PM instead of 1 PM, so I had an extra hour of riding tomorrow to get there ahead of him..  I think I'll start riding early, before 7 AM.

Tomorrow was going to be the last day of my journey.  Over 4,000 miles.  All types of terrain.  All types of weather.  Day after day of pedalling.  It was going to end tomorrow.

Will McMahan

Posted by willmcmahan at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 29 September 2009 11:19 AM PDT
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Monday, 18 August 2008
Day 85-Monday, August 18th, 2008
Mood:  energetic
Now Playing: The last three days start today.

The final three days to Raleigh begin this morning.  I've had over 5 full days of rest in Wilkesboro, and it is time to finish what I started on May 26th.

Originally, I was going to meet my childhood friend, Ted Pfeifer, at his sister and brother-in-law's home in Salisbury, N.C.  We planned to spend a day together before I moved on.  He, however, was not able to make the trip from his home in Pennsylvania.  Yet in talking to Ted's brother-in-law, Neil Pierce, I could still stay overnight with he and his wife, Sue.  That seemed like an excellent idea.

I needed to figure the route from Wilkesboro to the Pierce house near Salisbury, a distance of around 70 miles.  In talking to several locals, I decided on Highway 115 south to Statesville, then east on Highway 70 to Salisbury.  Highway 70 was a newly paved four lane highway.

North Carolina, someone told me, consists of three areas:  the Mountains, the Coast, and the Piedmont.  The Piedmont, apparently being a rolling, more level portion of the state.  There is actually a fourth, sub-catagory, called the Foothills, and that is where Wilkesboro is located.  Hillier that the Piedmont, but less hilly than the Mountains. 

Finding Highway 115 was easy--it started about a mile from the home of my brother Tom.  At 7:50 AM, I had left the house and soon was on 115.  It is a typical state highway:  narrow with no shoulder, and several times on hills, I pulled off the road to let traffic pass.  But once out of Wilkesboro, the traffic lessened.

It would be interesting to see how five days of rest was going to affect me.  I had eaten a relatively light breakfast, just a couple of bowls of cereal, so after 1 1/2 hours of riding, I stopped for a breather, and ate some Trail Mix.  Not much later, though, I came across a convenience store with a grill, so I stopped and had breakfast #2.   It seemed that since I was heading south on 115, I was bisecting the Foothills, and there were more hills than I had expected, though none of them difficult.  They just slowed me down.

Statesville, 37 miles down the road, was a neat town that looked like it was doing well.  Downtown I found a restaurant that looked like it had potential.  When I entered and saw the tablecloths, I almost turned around, but the prices were fair, and the servor insisted I was dressed fine.  As the day was starting to heat up, I drank a seemingly infinite amount of iced tea along with lunch.  Leaving Statesville, I found the newly paved Highway 70.

Unfortunately, newly paved does not mean that all four lanes are open.  Only two lanes were open and with the shoulder not marked by a white line, the cars tended to give themselves more room to the right.  The highway became divided but still only one lane of use each way.  I finally moved over to the other side of the paving barriers, and rode there, thus freeing up the cars and trucks from having to deal with me.  On occasion, usually when workers were in the lane I was in, I would move back over to the far right.  It seemed to be a good solution, moving back and forth, but mostly secure on the left side of those large traffic cones.

In Salisbury, I knew that I took a wrong turn somewhere, but the need of a Gatorade drank overruled any other concern.  It was starting to warm up but never got into the 90's.  While guzzling a 32 ounce bottle of Gatorade, I chatted with a young man who had ridden his motorcycle up from Charlotte to pick up his girlfriend as she got off work.  When a local stopped to look at the bike, I asked him for directions and he re-directed me. While doing so, the young motorcyclist, who was listening in, would interject his comments.  His girlfriend apparently lived over that way, so he was familiar with the area.  I bought another Gatorade that would fit in my water bottle holder, and then took of for the Pierce house. 

Salisbury and the adjoining town, Spencer, were nice towns to ride through.  Spencer was a town formed around the railroad, and now featured a Railroad Museum along with numerous rail cars.  I found the turn off the main road and knew I was 5-7 miles from the Pierces.  A motorcyclist honked at it passed me.  It was the young man from the convenience store. He had picked up his girlfriend, who was on the back.  Up ahead, some work was being done next to a church.  As I was passing, a lady across the road, who was harvesting apples, held one out for me.  That is all I needed to pull in and chat while munching on a fresh apple.

A bit after 4 PM, I found the Pierce home.  It is situated very nicely on a lake which is one of a chain of lakes.  How nice to sit out in there enclosed porch overlooking the lake, drinking large glasses of iced tea.

After dinner, we had a discussion as to how to get up to Highway 64.  It led almost all the way into Raleigh, was a major highway, and probably had a very nice shoulder.  Unfortunately, the only way over the Yadkin River included a brief stint on the Interstate, which is illegal here for bicycles.  So we piled into their car and drove over to see if there were any alternatives.  Apparently, there had been an accident on the northbound section of the Interstate because traffic was backed up for miles.  We noticed some traffic going to a little side road and we wondered if that road led around the Interstate to a spot where I wanted to be.  It did!  Now I had a route that I could take in the morning without needing to be carried on a trailer over the Interstate Highway.

Sue and Neil were terrific hosts but it was getting near my bedtime.  I had clocked in 75 miles today, and had a plan for tomorrow.  Only two days from the terminus of the trip.  Tropical Storm Faye was heading our way and it would be nice to be in Raleigh before it hit town.  We'll see how my luck holds out.

Will McMahan

Posted by willmcmahan at 2:39 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 August 2008 3:19 AM PDT
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Tuesday, 12 August 2008
Day 79-Tuesday, August 12th, 2008
Mood:  energetic
Now Playing: At last! Today I'll be in Wilkesboro.

Yes, today I will be in Wilkesboro!  I have been looking forward to riding my bicycle into the nursing home parking lot.  Mother called and she wanted me to come to the back door because it is close to her room.  Okay.

It is only 30 miles away, so once I get over the Blue Ridge Mountains, it will be mostly downhill except for a few rolling hills.  The weather will be nice.  I wonder if the road will have a good shoulder.  It is a four lane road with lots of traffic, but a shoulder will make it safe.

Since the motel was serving a nice breakfast, I had one a little after 6 Am, and another around 9:30 AM.  Having done devotions and packed the bike, I departed for  the last leg of this part of my journey.

The highway, called 421, was a nice four lane road, but it had curbs and gutters on the side of the road, all the way out of town.  That meant that there was no shoulder, and I had to ride in the right hand lane.  Fortunately that didn't last long.  As soon as we were out of Boone, the curbs and gutters went away, and were replaced by a nice 8' smooth shoulder.  If this kept up, this would be a very safe ride. 

The area is very picturesque, with lots of hills overlapping hills, and a mixture of trees and fields.  The climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway was not bad at all.  The Parkway is 10 miles out of Boone, and once past it, the road dropped sharply, and I was coasting over 30 mph for several miles.  From that point there were some rolling hills but nothing difficult.  The shoulder narrowed but it was still wide enough for me to stay completely off the right hand lane.  Once inside the Wilkesboro area, the shoulder shrank some more, making pedalling a bit less safe, but several thousands of miles that I had ridden were just like these and the drivers created a safety barrier because of the courtesies they extended by giving me lots of room.

I arrived in Wilkesboro around noon.  Not wanting to get to my mother on an empty stomach, I stopped at Applebees for lunch.  Knowing that I was not going to be bicycling for a few days, I dialed down the amount of food ordered. 

Mother calls.  My brother, Tom, has a short break for lunch and wants to meet me, and carry my bike and gear back to his house.  From there I would use their other car.  It was a very kind thing for him to hook up a utility trailer that would haul everything nicely, but I wanted to ride to the nursing home.  He and I chatted on the phone about it.  Since he was close, he stopped in.  It was great to see him again. I hated that he went to such an effort to help, and then I wouldn't accept it.

The nursing home, called Britthaven, was several more miles down 421, and less than a mile from the exit.  I found it easily, and as I started coasting down the hill to the back of the complex, there, by the backdoor, sat my mother in her electric wheelchair waiting for me.  It was a grand reunion!  We both had waited a long time for this occasion!

Too soon, it seemed, I needed to leave for that day.  My sister-in-law, Margaret, needed to be picked up from work at 3:30 PM.

Since I will not be riding again until Monday, August 18th, this journal will take a rest until then.  It is noteworthy, however, that we did have a birthday party for my mother, her 88th.  It was held at my brother's home.  Happy 88th Birthday, Mother!

Will McMahan


Posted by willmcmahan at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 16 August 2008 3:56 AM PDT
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Monday, 11 August 2008
Day 78-Monday, August 11th, 2008
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: I must get to Boone today if I want to get to Wilkesboro.

One disadvantage to not having the extreme heat during the day (the last couple of days have had highs of 80 degrees) is that the nights are a bit cooler.  This is not a problem if one has a sleeping bag.  I, however, had sent my sleeping bag home when I was in Boulder, and intended to sleep in one or two sleeping bag liners.  I'm sure that would have been sufficient on a normal summer evening.  On a chillier one like last night, it was insufficient.  I awoke and put on my long sleeved shirt;  then my trousers;  then heavy socks.  It was an uncomfortable sleep, but it was sleep, and I would need all I could get for today.

I am getting excited about seeing my mother, hopefully tomorrow, now that the reality is that I am close.  To see her I only had to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I knew from experience that crossing the mountains might present a very difficult challenge.  The route I was taking was supposed to be the best, in terms of least difficulty, according to several people, but I've learned to not to be too trusting of other people's opinions regarding road difficulty.

The convenience store had a section in which I could sit down and eat breakfast.  Several men were having a discussion on world and local affairs, but one of them greeted me when I sat down and asked where I was riding to.  This was a great oportunity to confirm the route I'd been told to take.  All the men agreed that it was an excellent route.  I confirmed which road I was planning on taking out of town, and they agreed that the road was the correct one.  (Last night, the servor at Subway had told me not to take that road, saying it was the wrong one.  I thought she was wrong, and decided to check in the morning with someone else.)

It was a little chilly, and I wore my STP jacket. the sun had risen but all of the rays were blocked by the hills and mountains to the east.  I set off towards Boone.  It was going to be 44 miles, not a long distance, but would feel longer if it was difficult with too much climbing.

I was pleased that the road was following a stream, always a good sign.  As long as it did that the grade of steepness would not be bad.  In re-checking the map, I realized that I would be entering Tennessee from Virginia, and would be there for a while before entering North Carolina.  After several miles, I was in Tennessee.  An hour went by and I was still following the stream.  This was a good route!  It was climbing since leaving Damascus, but at a gradual grade.  It was just enough of a grade to demand a little extra effort if I wanted to remain in the middle chain ring (If I shifted to the lower chain ring, I would sacrifice 2-3 mph, but it would have been an easier cadence.). 

As I wound through the mountains, always gradually climbing, the sun kept rising.  It finally got high enough to be on me directly.  It felt good.  The jacket wasn't needed for the rest of the day. 

My fears about the road into Mountain City being a hilly and steep were unfounded.  The town sat on the same stream that I had been following out of Damascus.  This would be a good time for some food.  A sandwich fit the bill.

Later in the morning I finally saw a big hill.  I had entered an open valley with lots of homes and businesses.  When I reached the bottom of the hill, there was a sign that said "Welcome to North Carolina"!  I had made it!  (There are a number stickers on my bike that say "North Carolina or Bust".)  Before entering the state, which meant climbing the hill, I pulled into a cafe, since I was hungry.  (but not until I took a picture of my bicycle leaning against the North Carolina sign)

From here to Boone it was hilly, and bit more of a challenge, but not a difficult one.  The biggest problem was the narrowness of the roads, combined with an increasing amount of traffic, but no shoulder to the road.   On one steep hill, in particular, I was going slow, about 4 mph, and the traffic behind me started to accumulate.  There was too much oncoming traffic for cars to safely pass, so I pulled into a driveway and waited for the traffic to clear before pulling out again.  I did this 7-9 times up that one hill.  Cars and bicycles need to co-exist, and with all of the courtesies that cars and trucks have extended me, pulling over to let travel flow better was the least I could do in return. 

Boone!  I'm in Boone!  It's still early in the afternoon.  You know, I could probably make it to Wilkesboro.  It's only 30 miles away.  As I weigh this proposition, I decided to stay in Boone for the day.  I had no idea how much more climbing would be involved in getting over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and, since I wanted to go directly to see my mother in her nursing home, I knew that she would want to be looking her best, and a surprise would not allow that. 

Can you believe it?  I'll be in Wilkesboro tomorrow!  Visiting my brother and sister-in-law, and seeing my mother, were both key objectives for this journey.  Once in Wilkesboro, I would only be three riding days to Raleigh.  Of course I would stay in Wilkesboro, and visit for a few days before departing.

Tomorrow I will leave mid-morning.  One of the men at breakfast this morning had said "If you can survive getting into Boone, the road widens, and the rest will be easy."  So far he had been correct.  Let's see if he continues to be.  Probably.

Will McMahan

Posted by willmcmahan at 12:01 AM PDT
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Sunday, 10 August 2008
Day 77-Sunday, August 10th, 2008
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: Okay, I get to Damascus. Then what?

Today, by all indications, was not going to be an excedingly difficult day, unlike the previous two.  The weather was excellent.  The distance was short. To my knowledge (which is always limited), there would only be one major climb.  I can certainly do that.

The book "A Second Cup of Coffee" is ending up being a pretty good devotional book, even though it is intended for women.  It is an old book, published in 1981, and is featherlight from aging.  I'm finding that the proverbs discussed tend to be gender neutral.  Those that aren't still have messages.  The Spirit will let me know what it wants me to learn.

Breakfast next door at the convenience store, was not appealing and was hard to chew and swallow.  Only the fact that I needed the calories helped me finish it.  It would be quite a while before I would be near any place to eat. 

Several days earlier I had made an executive decision, in light of the steepness of the climbs, that I would carry less water, so I had drained my Camelback resorvoir of water, about the equivalent of two large water bottles.  I still had my large water bottle, a spare, and my water filter if I needed to get water out of a stream.  Water carries so much weight that I wanted to carry just what I had to have, with no extra.  On a day like today, with few services available to replenish my supply, I might need the water filter later.

Through the countryside I rode.  It was very pretty, but soon I could see the road take a sharp upswing.  This must be the large hill I had been told about.  It started out at an acceptable grade until it came to its first hairpin curve.  You can't keep the grade the same in that situation, so the hairpin curves are much, much steeper until the road straightens out.  In my lowest gear, it was all I could do to make it around the corner gasping for air.  Once the road straightened out, I shifted up a gear and settled into a nice cadence.  This was a typical climb:  for the most part no outrageous grades.  Steep, yes, but not ridiculously so.  Long, perhaps, but a steady easy cadence, combined with unlimited patience will win out over any hill (except for the really, really steep ones!), and that was the case today.   I set up a time to take a break 30 minutes later, and that took my mind off of the continuous effort.  By mid-morning I was over the top, coasting downhill.

Seeing a bicycler stopped while going uphill, I pulled over and started a conversation.  He was not a touring bicycler.  He was just exercising by riding his bike, and he would climb the big hill three times each week.  (Trust me, it's more difficult with an extra 40 pounds of gear, but still that is a laudable accomplishment.)  Yet he was carrying an extra 40 pounds of weight and decided three weeks ago to shed it through bicycling.  He used to exercise this very way, and he knows how much more difficult the additional weight on his body makes the climb.  I suspect that he will succeed on his goal of losing weight.  When talking, he disclosed that he was raised in Indiana, and worked for a number of years in my hometown of Fort Wayne.  His wife was raised in Fort Wayne, but when she showed up in her car (he had forgotten his water)  we were not able to find any common friends.  This conversation ended up taking most of an hour, so I needed to get moving on.

Several thoughts  were in my mind once I resumed my ride.  One was the ever-present thought of food.  When would I have an opportunity to eat at a cafe or convenience store?  This being a Sunday, I also wondered if there would be a church service in the morning that I could attend. 

A few minutes after 11 AM as I was rounding a bend in the road, I saw a nice white church with a full parking lot.  The service had started at 11 AM.  I turned in.  Before going inside, I pulled out a short-sleeved collared golf shirt, and exchanged my colorful but dirty bicycling shirt for the golf shirt.  Entering from the rear, I found a seat halfway down one side.  Unlike most of the services that I have attended, there was no message that stood out for me to contemplate.  It felt good to have communion.  Afterwards, people were friendly, as always.  Being situated on the Transamerican Trail, they see alot of bicyclers coming through this area either going to, or out of, Damascus, Virginia. 

It was probably 12:15 PM before I started riding again, and I was really getting hungry.  A long time had passed since breakfast.  Within 15 minutes, I came across a convenience store.  Hunger was no longer a problem.

There were several issues needing solving in Damascus.  First of all, I needed advice on how to best get from Damascus to Wilkesboro, North Carolina.  It would be a two day trip, and I needed to secure lodging for Monday night.  Additionally, I needed to secure lodging for tonight.  There was a hostel for hikers and bicyclers that would likely fit the bill.  My bicyling clothes were dirty and salt-encrusted from perspiration, so it would be nice to find a laundromat.

Damascus is a busy town that focuses on hikers (the Appalachian Trail comes through Damascus) and bicyclers (the Transamerican Trail cuts through Damascus, and a number of local bike trails were available for exploring).  Whereas I had severe difficulty, in the past finding a bicycle shop, in Damascus there were five of them.  The town has built a thriving economy based on hikers and bikers, at least through the warm months.

Upon arriving in town, I came upon my first bike shop, so I went inside to gather advice.  Two men were chatting but took time to help me out with their opinions.  They each advised going to Wilkesboro via Boone, N.C.  They said the grade to Boone was reasonable and there was plenty of lodging available because Boone was a college town, the home of Appalachian State University.  They also directed me to a couple of restaurant possibilities, andshowed me where the hostel was located.

On the way to the restaurant, I rode past a laundromat.  I turned around, went inside with my panniers, changed, in the bathroom, into my swim suit and golf shirt, then washed all of my dirty clothing.  While there, I quizzed a couple of locals about the best route to Wilkesboro.  They also chose the route to Boone.  That was nice confirmation.  Now where is the nearest restaurant?

After putting clean clothes back into my panniers, and eating dinner, I found the hostel.  The hostel is a house owned by, and sitting behind, the Methodist Church.  The church maintains it, cleans it and keeps it stocked in toilet paper, soap, etc.  It costs a whopping $4/night. A two story house with bath and showers both upstairs and down, there are three or four bedrooms, each with three bunk beds.  The beds are without mattresses, so the traveler has to provide their own, as well as their own sleeping bag.   Two rooms were great for groups to sit and talk.  The living room had lots of stuffed chairs.  the dining room had a picnic table in it.  The front porch had several chairs for resting.  If one wanted, one could camp in the yard.  It was a wonderful and inexpensive gift to the weary traveler.  Nearing the end of the summer, it was also quite dirty, reminding me of what my apartment might have looked like in college at the end of the year.  Another pair of bicyclers were the only other occupants that night.  They were two men from Holland, and were a week to ten days from finishing their trip east.

I have passed many churches since entering Kentucky and only two that I can remember were not Baptist Churches, one being the Methodist Church who had the hostel.  (The other was a Presbyterian Church)  Since it was Sunday evening, I decided to go to an evening service.   A Baptist Church was next to the Methodist Church so I went to it.  Surprisingly, it was mostly full of people.  My experience was that these services were the ones to save souls, but tonight was going to be an exception to that.  A large contingent of youth and adults had just returned from Belize, and they had a long presentation on what they did.  It was fascinating.  I always thought of Belize as a destination resort area with pristine beaches,  but it is a third world country, and most of it is very poor.  The church youth were shocked at the extreme poverty, and surprised at the positive attitude of the Belize children.  Besides a building project of some kind, the church members ran a summer camp for the Belizean children, a real treat for the kids.  Without going into all of the details of their trip, I was given a strong feeling that this church was a very close knit community, filled with fun and laughter, and the Spirit of the Lord.

Today was a good day.  Even though the big hill was strenuous, it was reasonable, and I now had a plan for tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I would be leaving Virginia, crossing through a sliver of Tennessee, then getting, finally, to North Carolina.  I received a call from my mother wanting to know if everything was okay.  I assurred her that I would be at her nursing home on Tuesday.  We were both excited about the prospect.  I hope no new obstacles get thrown my way to prevent that from happening.

Will McMahan

Posted by willmcmahan at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 14 August 2008 3:57 AM PDT
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Saturday, 9 August 2008
Day 76-Saturday, August 9th, 2008
Mood:  down
Now Playing: Lord, where are you?

As usual, I awoke around 5 AM.  I didn't want to get on the road too early because of darkness, so I took my time getting ready.  My hope was that my legs had recovered from the travesty of yesterday, and would be serviceable today.  I knew that today was going to be difficult.

My route was to take me into Virginia to a small town called Rosedale, about 45 miles away.  The first thing on the agenda was to cross the Breaks, and have breakfast at the lodge at The Breaks Interstate Park.  It was a Park jointly managed by Kentucky and Virginia.  It is called The Breaks because there is a deep canyon along the state line that separates the two states.  Of course, the lodge, thus the breakfast awaiting me, was on the other side of the canyon.  The Lodge was only 6 miles away, but how were the legs today?  How steep was the canyon?  I would find out soon enough. 

I took off around 7 AM.  There was little traffic on the road.  The first thing was a small hill right outside the motel parking lot.  Hmm, the legs didn't feel that great.  Three miles down the road was a convenience store  at which I would have stopped had it been open. Then the road dropped into the canyon.  Down, down down.  Oh boy, this was going to be a terrible climb to get back out, and soon I was creeping up the slope on the east side.  Yesterday was a miserable day but at least I climbed two hills before faltering.  Now I wasn't sure that I could even make it up the first.  Food is a good motivator, of course, but it is not good to bicycle hard on an empty stomach.  Still, the legs kept turning the crank, slowly making progress, yard by yard up the hill.

 I have to share a belief.  The belief is that all things come from God.  Yes, it was my body that was doing the pedalling, but the body was a gift from God, and I believe that it was His strength, in me, that carried me through a lot of difficult parts of this journey.  That is why I couldn't understand why He didn't give me the strength to get over Abner Mountain yesterday, and I sure needed Him to help me today.

Climbing, climbing, I slowly approached what appeared to be a rise in the road.  Oh no, it dropped off on the other side of the dropoff, which meant more climbing!  This was torture.  Wait!  What is that on the right?  It is the entrance to The Breaks Interstate Park.  It had taken 90 minutes to cover 6 miles.

One would think that the creators or this park could have put the Lodge down near the entrance.  But, no, they had to put it up on the highest place they could find, with the finest view, so it was more climbing, much in my lowest gear, just to get to the Lodge.  Once there, I ate.  A fog obscured any potential view, but the setting was nice.  Although it was not cold out, the lodge had it's air conditioning on.  Being soaked to the skin with pespiration, I was uncomfortably cold inside.  It is a common experience I had found when stopping to eat while bicycling.

Leaving The Breaks park, the road did, indeed, drop dramatically into another canyon.  This was steep and I was thankful for the disk brakes as the road twisted an turned going downhill.  Soon it was on the canyon bottom, following a stream for a number of miles.   Of course, I had to climb back out of the canyon.  It was funny because, I didn't feel strong at all.  I felt weak.  Yet I seemed to have enough to keep going uphill even in the lowest of gears.  You know where I believe the strength was coming from.

During breakfast #2, I studied the map to see if any more climbs were discernible.  Sure enough there seemed to be a rise called Big A Mountain that the road crossed over.  Oh boy.

Only too soon, I came to Big A mountain.  Once again, it was climb, climb, climb at a ridiculous grade of slope.  My legs were screaming.  For some reason, instead of focusing on how tired my legs were, I looked at my watch and decided that I would take a break in 25 minutes!  That seemed silly in light of how I was struggling, but it took my focus off my misery, and the minutes starting gliding by.   It really was pretty here.  Before the 25 minutes had gone by, I had crested Big A, and was on my way down.  Three big climbs today, and all of them successful.  Thank you, Lord. 

The views were absolutely spectacular.  I had forgotten how beautiful the Blue Ridge Mountains were.  They have a bluish green hue to them that is so attractive as they overlap one another into the distance.

The grade was downhill, for the most part, into Rosehill, Virginia.  I had stopped to chat with a local, who had said that Rosehill was just over a little hill.  It wasn't so little, but it was the last climb of the day. 

Seeing a touring bicyclist coming my way, I pulled over and chatted a bit.  I was particularly interested on what tomorrow would bring.  He said that there was one big hill between Rosehill and Damascus.  That sounds better.

It seems that restaurants were suffering during these economic times.  Most of them are closed.  Their replacements are the convenience stores, many of which now have tables to sit at, and some have their own kitchens.  Rosehill, another small and seemingly decaying community, had no restaurants but there was a convenience store next to the motel I was staying.  That would work for dinner and breakfast.

I was out of Kentucky!  Of course the terrain typically doesn't change with an arbitrary state line, but Kentucky was a long 9 or 10 days of sometimes difficult riding.  Ironically, I would only be in Virginia one more day, in tomorrow's ride to Damascus, then I would, hopefully, drop down into North Carolina.  My brother and mothers' town of Wilkesboro was potentially three days away.

It seemed that each day was getting shorter, distance-wise.  Hindman to Elkhorn City was 60+ miles.  Elkhorn City to Rosedale was in the mid-40's.  Tomorrow's trip to Damascus would be between 35-40 miles.  I wonder if I will find a church service at which I can worship.  At least there will be an evening service in town.

Will McMahan

Posted by willmcmahan at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 13 August 2008 5:36 AM PDT
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Friday, 8 August 2008
Dearest Grandfather
Mood:  celebratory

Thank you so much for the wonderful e-mail! to be done with school is quite exciting. It has been inspiring to follow your adventure. Troy and I can't wait to get together once you and grandma get home.

Hope your last 27 miles breathes accomplishment and celebration into you! it is definately time to celebrate...

 have a wonderful ending....and don't let your bike beat you up :)


much love

Marissa and Troy 

Posted by mbaldwin04 at 10:47 PM PDT
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Day 74-Friday, August 8th, 2008
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: The day that will live in infamy.

I awoke in my tent at five in the morning.  It took a while to pack and get loaded, but by 6 AM I walked into the house, and breakfast was ready.  Cereal, coffee cake, fresh fruit, juice and coffee.  It was a little misty so I waited a bit before taking off.  Departure time was a little before 7 AM.

There was still some cloud cover so riding conditions were great.  It was not going to get too warm today, with highs projected at 80 degrees, far below the norm.  The ride was supposed to be grueling, but except for some small hills there had been nothing to get excited about. 

At 9 AM, I came to a small cafe, a perfect time for breakfast #2.  While eating I struck up a conversation with one of the local men.  He was retired, but used to run some coal trucks so he was familiar with the roads.  I commented on how easy the day had been so far.  He studied my map and replied that I had yet to get to the hills yet on the route.  He pointed out the window to some hills, smiled, and said that I would have two tough climbs over those hills.  One was short but steep.  The second was longer but not as steep.  He studied my route a bit more, mumbled something about another hill, then wished me luck.  Sometimes knowing what is coming up before you can give you time to prepare, mentally, for the challenge so this foreknowledge was valuable. 

It was obvious when the first hill started.  Yes, it was steep, but it didn't seem short.  However, I was able to do the steep portion without getting into my lowest gear.  I was feeling pretty proud of myself. 

The second hill came soon after.  It did seem long, but it didn't seem less steep than the first hill.  In fact, I rode a good portion of this climb in my lowest gear.  If you can just keep the legs churning, then the bike gearing will pull the bike along.  If it keeps getting steeper, then you have to really push hard on the pedals in order to maintain momentum.  It took an effort, but I finally crested the top of the hill and started coasting down. 

A little after noon, I came across another small cafe.  It seemed a good time to have lunch and celebrate conquering the big hills of the day.  When the waitress took my order, she asked questions about where I was going, etc.  She then exclaimed in an incredulous tone of voice "You're not going to ride over Abner Mountain, are you?"  I explained that I didn't know the names of the places that I rode, but I didn't think that Abner Mountain was on my route.  She gushed a sigh of relief because she said you'd have to be crazy to ride it.  Little did I know.

With a full belly and the tough part behind me, I took off  to enjoy the afternoon ride.  At one point the road started to climb, but gently.  It is amazing what elevations one can gain even on a gentle grade.  Then the grade steepened.  I kept climbing.  The road was freshly paved, but narrow.  It was slightly larger than a single lane.  Curve followed curve, and the road got steeper.  Where did this come from?  I was breathing hard, pedalling hard in my lowest gear, when I heard the familiar roar of a coal truck coming up behind me.  More afraid of losing my momentum than afraid of the coal truck (you can tell I was tired), I stuck to the side of the lane as it barrelled past me uphill.  It, obviously, didn't want to slow down either because it took a blind curve with the full assurance that there was no oncoming traffic.  Luckily, it was right.  Finally, I could go no further, so I pulled over, gasping for air, giving my heart a chance to recover.  Good Lord, this was steep!  After recovery, I took off again, but quickly had to stop for another rest.  I looked back.  I had covered 100 yards.  The road wound upwards for as far as I could see, and my legs were dead.  God, where are you?  You are my strength-why have you deserted me when I need you the most?  I could pedal no further so I dismounted and walked the bike uphill.  A good half mile later, I reached the top, thoroughly dejected, and started coasting downhill.

With twelve miles to go, I came to a small grocery and drank a gatorade, thinking maybe I needed the electrolytes.  In talking to another customer, he asked where I was going.  I replied "Elkhorn City".  He snorted "Geez, you've got one (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted) big hill to get over before you get there.  At least you can coast the remaining 20 miles."  I'm no math wizard, but I knew I was only 12 miles to Elkhorn City.  If there really was a big hill, I wouldn't be coasting twenty miles.  Soon I came to the hill.  It looked humongous.  I started up just as I always do, downshifting until I reach a gear at which I can maintain an easy cadence, then let the gearing pull me up the slope.  Just like before, there was no gear low enough to pull me along.  My legs were gone.  I could generate no power.  Finally, I got off the bike and started walking it just as before.  After 100 yards, the slope seemed to lessen, so I got back on again to give it a shot.  Within another 100 yards I was over the top.  And it was downhill all the way into Elkhorn City.  My legs felt like two wet noodles.

Why was this happening? Weren't my legs supposed to be stronger from the 3,500 miles of pedalling and climbing?  The terrain was only going to get worse tomorrow. How was I going to be able to manage that?  If God wasn't going to be there tomorrow, I was in trouble.

During the day, I rode past many churches, none of which was open.  I wanted to replace the devotional booklet that I had left at the B&B several days earlier.  Several churches had vehicles parked out front but when I stopped to see if anyone was inside, the buildings were empty.  Approaching Elkhorn City, I noticed ahead some sort of church in a dilapidated commercial building.  A man was out front doing some work, so I stopped.  Yes, a church used to meet here.  In fact they even had a tiny school there, but finances caused the school to close.  I asked if they might have any devotional booklets, new or used, that I could buy.  He went inside to look.  I followed.  The building was packed with boxes, most of them filled with clothing that the members had collected to give to those in need.  After much searching he came up with an old paperback titled "Second Cup of Coffee:  Proverbs for Today's Woman".  It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it beat having nothing, so I accepted it.  Later on I thought, why didn't I make a donation to their church?  Why do I seem to think of these things after the fact?  At least, I will, hopefully, do the proper thing next time.  Before I left he and I had chatted.  He had met bicyclers before, and couldn't understand why the route took them over Abner Mountain!  Yes, my demise had been on Abner Mountain.  I understood now why the waitress was aghast at the thought of riding a bicycle up it.

Elkhorn City.  A half-dead town just like so many others I had ridden through.  Shop owners trying to survive.  Empty shells of buildings bearing witness to those that didn't. 

I didn't see the motel at which I had reservations.  It was going to be a dive, and I knew it.  At $30 per night, it had to be.  I just wanted it to be in town.  I stopped at a restaurant for directions.  The motel was 1 1/2 miles further out of town.  No, there was no place there to eat dinner.  Nope, no place for breakfast either.  You can eat here though.  I did eat half a sandwich there, even though I wasn't hungry.   The balance would be consumed later in the evening.  I know I would be hungry again. 

The motel was exactly what I expected.  Well, actually I expected running water, but that did come back on a couple of hours after I checked in.  I inquired about where to eat breakfast.  There were two possibilities:  a convenience store 3 miles down the road, or the lodge at The Breaks State Park which is six miles down the road.  I guess I could make it that far.  I prayed.  Alot.

Will McMahan

Posted by willmcmahan at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 13 August 2008 5:36 AM PDT
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