There hasn’t been any cell service on my phone in several days, so there are many stories that haven’t been shared yet. On Tuesday, we pulled up to Jefferson National Park in Rural Retreat, VA, just as our sunny day decided to turn into a sudden downpour. We quickly set up the tent and tarp on a campsite, and luckily the rain didn’t last too long.
As we prepared to settle in for the night, we met our first fellow bike tourist, Steve, from Minnesota. He was headed eastbound and had faced rain almost every day of his trip. Soon after Steve went off to his campsite, a golf cart puttered over to us and we were greeted by its driver, Jim, the volunteer campground overseer.
He was an older man who spoke like a Vermonter, and he kindly told us that if the rain was too bad, we could stay under the awning of the camper that he shared with his wife. Because we were TransAm bike tourists, we could camp for free, he said, as long as we didn’t mention it to the RV camping folks.
Jim assured us that the water on site was safe to drink despite its light brown color. “It’s just iron. The water’s got a lot of iron in it,” and, while flexing a retired bicep, added, “it’ll make you strong.”
The next morning, we had a nice breakfast and dried out as best as we could before heading off toward Meadowview, Virginia.
It was a great day to ride bikes and we continued to catch some more perfect weather. Our route map indicated there was free camping permitted behind a small town store in Meadowview. Although we hadn’t been able to reach anyone there earlier by phone to confirm our stay and the store was closed when we arrived at dusk, we decided it would be okay to set up visibly on the side of the store as to avoid looking suspicious.
As we began unpacking the tent, a man in a camouflage U.S. Navy ball cap and reflective sunglasses drove across the street toward us on his John Deere lawnmower. He didn’t motion to respond to our friendly wave. Turning off the mower, he said firmly, “if y’all are gonna camp out here, I’d suggest goin behind that there tree or out back so you won’t be seen or bothered by the rednecks out here buyin pop in front of this here store all night. You’ll be safer and their headlights won’t bother you as they’re buyin pop, droppin off babies, doin all sorts of drug deals and whatever else they do. I watch everything going on around here. My name’s Alan, and you’re more than welcome to charge your phones or gadgets over on my front porch over there across the street and help yourself to the hose, have some ice water, or whatever you’d like. Sometimes the bikers come through here and I’ve put ’em up under a big tent in my yard and we play guitars and harmonica and have a good old time. You should look up this one couple who came through called The Variety Show, on the interweb or whatever.”
Alan told us he was a former Navy man and previously a BMX racer, much to Greg’s interest. He returned later and brought us over some freshly picked sweet strawberries for dessert before he turned home as it got dark. “Come on by for anything at all you need,” he offered. “Just remember, you gotta say the password, though- ‘don’t shoot.’ Y’all have a good night, now.”
The next morning we met the owners of the quaint Snavely store. Standing at a grand total of three aisles of antiquated Jello boxes and miscellaneous auto parts, it was the largest retailer in town or possibly for several towns over. Mr. Snavely fixed us two ham and cheese sandwiches at his deli counter for breakfast as he told us that his granddaddy had opened the store 84 years ago. He was soft spoken with a lucky grin, and wished us safe travels as we headed toward “the big hill,” a steep and twisting climb that trucks often got stuck on and had to be towed down almost weekly.
At some point along the way, we stopped for lunch in the cute town of Damascus that was popular among AT hikers and cyclists. Three children eating ice cream asked all about Petunia and our bikes, and their mom told us that she had taken her family on a five-person bicycle from Kentucky to Alaska by bicycle and had written a book about it! We later found out that they were the Pedouins, “ordinary people on an extraordinary journey of giving and receiving,” and their lovely daughters were enchanted by Petunia and her dog pod and accessories.
They very generously donated to our fundraising efforts for Alzheimer’s research, a kindness that really touched me. And that reminds me to put a little request in at this point and you are sill reading– I’m on a personal quest to raise funds to be donated toward a worthy Alzheimer’s research center, a cause near to my heart, and any amount you can give would be so incredibly appreciated. Our donation page is here on Go Fund Me, and if you can find it in your heart to give a little, it would mean a lot to me.
From Damascus we headed on until we reached a church that was also a free hostel for cyclists, which was an oasis in a sea of overpriced campgrounds. No one was there and it was operated on trust and free will donations. A church youth had built an outdoor cold shower for cyclists as part of his scouts project, and food was available as well as indoor and outdoor lodging.
We ate and did some laundry, and soon another bike tourist from the Netherlands showed up …. and another from Lancaster… and another from Pittsburgh… and another who was also an AT hiker. It was quite a crowd and we had a nice opportunity to trade stories of scary dogs (one bit holes into the pannier of our friend from abroad), compare our rigs and gear, and bemoan the hills and food deserts together. It was a great crew of guys.
We rode a lot more, including over a mountain simply and aptly called “the big A mountain,” and through some gorgeous farmland. We made it to Kentucky and stayed in another great hostel last night in an indoor basketball court, and tonight we’re at a state camp ground. More to share, but sleep is calling so I’ll just show and not tell!