We woke up this morning, and our thermometer read 33 degrees! We were both all the way in our sleeping bags, even our heads. We did not want to get up, but was supposed to be a short, easy day - only 50 miles - so the sooner we got it over with, the sooner we'd get it over with.
Nathan got online and found a Subway 3.5 miles away. The thought of going somewhere warm and getting warm food sounded awesome, so we got dressed, packed up our icy tent, and left. That's right, there was ice all over our tent this morning!
It was so cold out that we had to stop after just 1.5 miles of riding because our hands hurt so bad. I think it's the coldest our hands have ever been yet. All of our exposed skin was feeling really cold and numb. Fortunately, we had most of our bodies covered up, so just our hands and faces were exposed. When we got to Subway, our hands started warming up as we ordered. That felt good until they started to get that burning feeling, then they just hurt. Ouch.
Nathan went next door to the gas station and got us cappuccinos to go with our footlongs. We ate our big breakfast and drank our warm, caffeinated yummy-ness, then changed into our bike clothes in the restroom and headed back out. We were happy to find that it had warmed up considerably. It was still cold, but it was a lot better than it was!
While looking over our route for the day, we both agreed we'd had enough of the TransAmerica trail and its excessive hills, so we decided to go off the route and follow S.R. 11 some more. It went almost all the way to Vesuvius, our destination for the day, so it seemed perfect. (Looking back on the day though...I think S.R. 11 might have actually been HILLIER than today's section of the TransAmerica Trail. Arg! But it was still way better hill-wise than our last two days, so I can deal with that.)
Does the word Vesuvius sound familiar to you? Maybe "Mount Vesuvius"? I thought it sounded familiar, but I couldn't figure out why. Well, it turns out Mount Vesuvius is not only the name of the ominous mountain we have to climb tomorrow to get to the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's also the name of one of Europe's deadliest volcanoes! Located in Italy, Mount Vesuvius is the volcano responsible for wiping out two big cities of the Roman Empire (Pompeii and Herculaneum), and is also the only European volcano to have erupted in the last 100 years. (Seriously, this Blue Ridge Parkway bit of the route just keeps sounding worse and worse...)
So I tried not to think about Vesuvius where we would stay tonight or Mount Vesuvius that we would climb up tomorrow, and instead just think about what was happening right now. And I'm glad I did, because today's ride was beautiful and full of surprises. Early on, we crossed a really pretty river.
Then we rode through a town called Natural Bridge, named after a naturally occurring rock bridge (duh). We didn't stop to see the bridge, but we did see all kinds of other interesting things on our way through. We saw a cuddly tiger...
...and Foamhenge. Yes, it was a life size replica of Stonehenge, only this one was made of foam. Nathan was totally enthralled, and he went up the hill to take a look at it. I, on the other hand, did NOT want to climb any more hills than I HAD to, and since this one was off the route, I stayed at the bottom, watched Nathan go up it, and made a video for you :-)
Apparently, there's a guy that lives here who makes anything and everything out of foam. In addition to the tiger, gorilla, and foamhenge, we also saw big, foam dinosaurs and elephants on display around town, and we saw a little "movie studio" full of random stuff, most of it foam (foam King Tut for example). A little ways after Natural Bridge and all the foam, we passed a very special hill. A girl obviously named this one.
After about 30 miles, we made it to Lexington, KY. We need new brakes, and my bike needs to be checked out (again) because the gears are out of whack (again). I've been having trouble shifting up from the easiest gears and trouble shifting down from the hardest gears (in the back). I have to shift multiple times before my bike actually changes gear. My bike also started jumping out of gear altogether. Sometimes, I'll shift and it'll just go into this non-gear and the wheels spin freely. It happened to me a few times going up a hill, and I'd suddenly go from pedaling really hard and slow to my legs spinning totally crazy and fast because all the resistance just gave way and my bike went into that non-gear. Let me tell you, THAT is not only frustrating, but sometimes I thought I was going to fall because I lost my balance when my legs started spinning.
Just today, it shifted into the non-gear THREE TIMES on a SINGLE hill! Ah!! After the third time, I made a lot of angry noises, and probably said some things about destroying all hills everywhere and cutting my bike into itsy-bitsy pieces. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it probably went something like that.
But now we were in Lexington, and now I could get my bike fixed, relax, and enjoy the fact that after Lexginton, we only had 20 miles to go, and 20 miles is a piece of cake!
We found a bike store, but there was a sign on the door that said the owner was out to lunch and would be back at 1pm. It was 12:30, so Nathan and I decided to go out to lunch too. We went to a place called The Palms. A lady we met told us it was a local hangout and had good food. Nathan got a burger and fries, and I got a loaded potato and chili. It was good, and warm, and we got to eat inside. Things were looking up!
After lunch, we went back to the bike store and met with the owner. I told him about my problem shifting, and he said all we needed to do was lube the cable near the derailleur. That's easy! Yay! Then I told him about my non-gear, and he said that was a bit trickier to fix. We needed to lube the "free hub" on the back wheel, but to get to it, we needed to remove our panniers and lay the bike on it's side. That would take some work, but fortunately, we could do that repair too. So we bought some lube from him and also new brakes. While we were checking out, he asked about our trip, and we told him we were going to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway tomorrow. He looked at us and then said, "That's the hardest climb on the whole TransAm Trail! Good luck!".
I took a minute to absorb his comment. That was not, not, NOT what I wanted to hear. We've gotten a lot of small comments about the Blue Ridge Parkway like "it's really tough" and "o yeah it's hard!", we've gotten people who don't say anything and just laugh at us when we say we're going to ride it, the guy yesterday called it "hellacious", and now this guy just said it's the hardest part of the whole trip! I am SO not excited about this.
We paid, went outside, and Nathan started lubing my bike up. I asked him again if we could just ride AROUND the Blue Ridge Parkway instead of over it. He still really wants to do it, and he said he thinks people might just be making it sound worse than it is. He said that since the Blue Ridge Parkway is a local thing, people around here might be proud of it, and so they might be making it sound more extreme than it is. That's a good point. I hope he's right!
We left Lexington and stayed on S.R. 11, and the first 5 miles were pretty nice, but the next 13 miles were almost entirely uphill. 13 miles uphill! I was really glad that Nathan had just lubed my gears, because I was shifting a lot. As we rode uphill, it was obvious we were getting close to Mount Vesuvius, the mountain we would ride up to get to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were saying in the town of Vesuvius tonight, and it was right at the base of the mountain. Somewhere in the middle of the 13 miles of climbing, I made a comment to Nathan about how tough the riding was. He started to say something about the map, but I told him I didn't want to discuss routes or maps or anything like that now. I was frustrated and tired, and I just wanted to get to Vesuvius and get off my bike.
We finally made it to the spot on S.R. 11 that we turned off of to get to Vesuvius. Vesuvius was only 2 miles away, and to my great surprise, all 2 miles was DOWNHILL! When we finally got to Vesuvius and pulled into the place we were going to camp for the night, I said to Nathan, "Can you believe the last 2 miles was ALL downhill?! I think we must've done some extra uphill climbing on S.R. 11!" Nathan said, "Yeah. We definitely did some extra climbing. When I was looking at the map, I noticed that 11 crossed into a higher elevation than the TransAmerica Route did. That's what I was trying to tell you earlier."
Open mouth, insert foot, April! I had insisted on staying on S.R. 11 because I was so frustrated with how hilly the TransAmerica trail was, but it turns out that for this section of the route, the TransAmerica was the LESS hilly option. Nathan knew that and tried to tell me, but I wouldn't listen. Man o man...
We set up our campsite behind Vesuvius' general store/restaurant, Gerties. After the tent was set up, Nathan replaced the brakes on both of our bikes. Good thing too. Check out how worn down our old brakes were compared to our new brakes!
As the sun was setting, it started getting pretty cold, and Nathan was having a hard time working on our bikes because his shivers were so big that it made it hard to hold his tools. By the time we ate dinner, we had a hard time holding our silverware still because we were shaking so much. I couldn't feel my hands very well anymore.
When we finished dinner, it was almost a race to get to Gerties and get inside. We ran, flung open the door, and hopped right into one of the empty booths shivering and rubbing our arms! After warming up inside, we decided we wanted to eat dinner...again. :-) We split a "famous" BBQ sandwich and a cherry cobbler with ice cream. They were both sooo, sooo good.
We met a bunch of Gerties' regulars tonight, and they were all really nice to us. Something interesting I learned was that today was the last day of muzzle-loader hunting season, and tomorrow is the first day of shotgun hunting season. There were lots of hunters in the store buying supplies and talking about hunting. We met some hunters who had just gotten a dear with their muzzle-loaders. We went out to see the deer in the back of their truck. I've never seen a deer that's just been killed before. It was surprisingly clean looking, not all covered in blood with broken bones and stuff like I thought it would look (I've obviously never been around hunters before).
We met some other people too, and all in all, it was a good way to end the day. Small town America is just so great. Most of the people we met seemed to think we were a little crazy for camping out though. They said it's been getting into the 20's at night lately - brr! They also thought we were crazy for riding our bicycles up Mount Vesuvius to the Blue Ridge Parkway. ...of course... Other than that though, they were really impressed at our ride and encouraged us to live our dreams.
After meeting so many people who felt like adopted grandparents and feeling totally full of warm fuzzies, it was time to go back out to the tent and go to bed. About half a second after we left Gerties, my warm fuzzies stopped making me feel very warm, and I was instantly really, really cold! We got to our tent, and discovered that it was only 24 degrees!
It was only 8pm, but it was totally dark and super cold. We changed out of our bike clothes and into sleeping clothes in the tent, because the only bathroom available was a porta-potty with frozen pee inside of it (ew!). We put on lots of layers including wool socks and winter hats, got right into our sleeping bags, pulled them up over our heads, and waited, trying to think warm thoughts, until we stopped shivering and started to warm up.
We talked and made the final decision to ride up Mount Vesuvius tomorrow and do the Blue Ridge Parkway section of the TransAmerica trail. I still wasn't very excited about it, but it was only 30 miles, and it was the LAST mountain of our trip. I can do that. I can do one more. Well, I can try at least..and I'll let myself walk as much as I want. Alrighty, let's do this! Now for a good night's sleep.