Sunday, May 10, 2009

Vesuvius, VA to Birchleaf, VA: Conflicting Emotions and Coming Home

Miles Per Day: Day 7=23.39; Day 8= REST; Day 9= 81.75; Day 10= 52.75; Day 11= 51:54; Day 12=52.69.

Total So Far: 540.23

Inspiration: This American Life (NPR); The Howard Stern Show; The Beatles; The Wire; Wilco; Eminem; Billy Holiday.

Spirits: Exasperated; tired; calculated; exhausted; comfortable.

Things Seen On the Road: A huge mountain waterfall; two majestic valleys on the Appalachians; half a dozen dogs ready to eat me.

Favorite Quotes: (1) written on the inside of a bathroom door somewhere on Route 11: “Kill all rednecks;” response right below: “fuck you nigger.” Charming; (2) owner of a diner in southeastern Virginia as I came in from the rain: “you look like a wet rat! Do you need a place to stay?”

This week has been a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. There have been times when the thought of getting on that bike has made me dizzy. More than once, I muttered a couple of “fucks” under my breath as yet another hill emerged from right around the bend. I have stunk. I have gone to bed without showering. I have been caught in massive downpours, thunderstorms, and threats of tornadoes. I have been chased by ravenous dogs hoping to tear me to shreds. I have found myself in the pitch black of the night trying to figure out where to sleep for the night.

And yet...I have never been more alive in my life! There have been moments when the clouds have parted and the sun has illuminated some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. There have been nights when the sounds of crickets right outside my tent has lulled me to sleep. More often than not, the kindness of strangers has been on display throughout. And the stars...let's just say that you had to be there.

The terrain is changing and so are the people I am meeting. During those early days back in Eastern Virginia, both sides of the road were filled with spacious farms with meticulously manicured lawns as far as the eye could see. For the most part, the people I encountered were clearly middle to upper-middle class folk. I am now seeing a lot more trailers, more abandoned farm equipment and a whole lot more “Bankruptcy,” “Auction Sale,” and “Abandoned” signs right off the road. It is clear that this international recession/depression is hitting these areas hard. Or maybe what I am seeing is long-standing economic dislocation. That is, indeed, a depressing thought.

And yet...I feel more at home here than back East. It's not just that people are friendlier. There is a lack of pretension that is absolutely contagious. Many people here live simplicity every day. Some because they have no choice. Others because that is all they know. What binds them all together is that, come what may, they will always strive to work hard, raise strong families, go to church and love their country. And they are not ashamed about any of it.

Is it wrong to wish you had been born in Southwest Virginia?


This Pitt Bull chased me across oncoming traffic on Route 11 just to try to eat me:

Huddling under a tarp in the middle of a thunderstorm at about 2,400 feet:

Just a little taste of what I've been seeing as I bike every day:

Dancing at a diner somewhere on Route 80. This bluegrass band was fantastic. I will spare you photos of me dancing some Texas two-step with some wonderful dames.


Colin and Becca with one of their kids. These guys opened up their home to me in Christianburg and were wonderful. Thanks guys.

With Kayla and Christy. They arranged for me to stay in a trailer behind a diner to ride out some pretty intense thunderstorms and a couple of unconfirmed tornadoes. I just feel bad because I repaid them by trying to dance to bluegrass music. Excuse the developing farmer tan.


Speaking of thunderstorms, flash floods and tornadoes:


microwave said...

I used to hate where I was from (small midwest town) and would daydream that I was born in NYC or somewhere "cosmopolitan." Now, after living in big cities for the last eight years, I really don't mind being flyover-raised. Although I still find a thrill in a pulse of some cities...perhaps not the one I'm currently in...but that's neither here nor there. I guess I like having the best of both worlds. Or something.

More importantly, I hope you met the old gentleman clogger in the red shirt. And got his phone number. I would love to set him up with my mom.

Meg said...

Glad to see you're still doing well!

Virginia is so beautiful. Growing up in Florida, I'm always in such awe when I see mountains -- though I'm also sort of glad that I don't have to deal with them on a daily basis.

I know what you mean about "pretensions". I love living here in Gainesville because it's just the right mix of southern/country simplicity but also open-mindedness. It's a rare mix and it feels so good to feel like you can just be yourself and no one cares what car you drive (though plus points if you bike, lol!). You couldn't pay me enough to move to a gated community with a HOA telling me what I can and can't have in my yard.

I've visited family up north and in south Florida and it's still a bit of a culture shock sometimes because some things I value as part of simple living they look down on -- or are even horrified by. No cable? Eating wild plants? Chickens? How awful! LOL! I think there are a lot more people around here that understand. It's such a slower pace here -- too slow for some despite all the great free events, but just right for my husband and me.

Best of luck on your journeys!

PurestGreen said...

I have been so enjoying the gentle gratitude in your recent posts, like something in you letting go and catching on all at the same time.

Happy journey! Sophia

Diana said...

Thank you so much for sharing! When I'm done on the East Coast, I definitely think I need to (at the very least) do a cross-country road trip..on the the back roads.

Anonymous said...

Darn! You weathered some crazy storms. Glad you are doing well. Following your trip has been much fun. And the simple life and good people sound like a wonderful thing!

Jack said...


Maybe the balance is to take those fly-over values with you, everywhere you go. Even to the hussle and excitement of the big cities. No reason why you can't have it all.

And Boyd was probably too busy dancing with all sorts of ladies that night to think of anyone else. Sorry.


And maybe, as I mention above, it is that balance that I am seeking as well. I know me. I would be stifled in many of the small community I am passing through. On the other hand, the negative aspects of 'cosmopolitan life' are clear to me. Balance is where I think I want to be.


Thank you for all the kind words. Definitely appreciate them.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is incredible.

I stumbled across it two weeks a go and check it daily. I have even gone back and read your archives.

Thank you for taking the time to post your travels both geographical and emotional.


Me said...

I'm still pissy your not coming up thru illinois and into Iowa! We're right on the Mississippi river.... I promise... you would LOVe the scenery here!

And yes... I used to want to be in a big city.... however, living here in the midwest... I can honestly say, there is not much better for simple :)

Fonk said...

Regarding the exhaustion/exasperation: As I understand, you really don't have any specific schedule, correct? No deadlines you have to meet? As such, if you feel yourself become exceedingly exahused, why not rest somewhere for a day or two? There's nothing saying you have to pound out miles of pavement each and every day. Perhaps ride every day for a week, then take two rest days. Another week, then another two days, etc. Don't push yourself past the point of enjoyment!

My two cents... Loving the posts so far. I'm fairly jealous... :)

OR said...

Wow. What a ride. For some reason this made me laugh out loud, and I mean out of empathy: "I have been chased by ravenous dogs hoping to tear me to shreds." Oh dear. And imagine that those ravenous dogs are (most probably) someone's beloved pets :)! Rain or no rain, looks gorgeous.

dtb said...

This brings such a smile to my face.

Anonymous said...

Continued success Jack. I'm living vicariously through you right now.

BTW -- that dog looked more like a puppy *ha ha*

Re: the above comment about rest days – as an experienced backpacker, I completely agree with taking rest days. There are times where even supposed 'carefree' travelling can wear you down and it takes some R&R to replenish your system. I highly recommended it.

Good luck on your travels! Hopefully the weather clears.

- Buck16

Family on Bikes said...

You're getting it, Jack, my boy. You're getting it indeed. Happy to read of your insights - you always say it so much better than I ever could!


Debbi said...

Wow--great photos and video. You are truly lucky to be able to make this trip. No matter how frustrating or tiring it might get, just remember--things could be worse. You're living the dream, and I feel lucky to be sharing it. Even if only online. :)

Jack said...


Well, just give me a call and maybe I can tag along. :)


No kidding. Not sure whether it was really smart to not be all that aware of how bad the weather was going to get. On the other hand, it's hard to get that info when you have no reception.


Good to hear from you. And thanks.

Jack said...


Yeah, sorry about that. Couldn't be helped. BTW, how is the wedding planning coming?


At this point, the trip is sort of unfolding the way you are suggesting. Not having too much time to train before leaving (ankle/leg issue) meant that I had to go all out certain days just to get to my next destination. Now that is it week three, feeling much stronger. Bottom line is that VA is probably the toughest state; probably a blessing in disguise that I had to start there.


I will probably laught when I am way past Kansas, where not too many dogs are off leash! :)

Jack said...




See my response to Fonk above. Rest days are absolutely essential. And yeah, that was probably a puppy, but it was the only one (of about 20 at this point) I could get on film from a safe distance.:)


Thanks! Hope your own journeys are going well.

Jennoit said...

Great stuff, Jack. I am loving catching up on your travels and I love reading your "spirits."

Jill M said...

your experience is so beautiful and inspiring!

Jack said...


You said it! This is truly special.


Thanks. BTW, when are you heading out on the road?


Thanks for the kudos!