July 24, Day 53: Blue Ridge Parkway! Mallard Duck to Free Union, VA (68 miles)

Morning housekeeping at Mallard Duck.

Conversation upon leaving:

Camp host: Where’d you get all that water from?!
Me: (a chuckle — I wasn’t sure what he meant. I got the water from the water spigot right next to him.)
Camp host: D’ya speak English?
Matt: Uh, she was born here.
Camp host: Lots of people born here can’t speak English still, but they know what $5 means!

We didn’t have a chance to buy groceries last night so our plan was to restock in Vesuvius, about 9 miles away and before the climb up to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Once we got into town and heard church bells ringing we realized we had a problem: it was Sunday and stores were closed.

Gertie’s looked so promising. If you’re going to say there’s BBQ everyday, why not be open everyday?!

We asked people living next door if Gertie’s would open in the afternoon. After they said no we sort of begged for food. We seriously had nothing but some grain mix on us. They gave us two cucumbers, some hamburger buns, and mysterious ham. Beggars can’t be choosers.

At least there was a soda machine so we could get some sugar. Not our favorites so we mixed em. “Dr. Dew, or Mountain Pepper?”

Soon after we finished a roadie stopped and gave us two Powerbars and pickles. Score!
After a steep 4 mile climb up the 56 from Vesuvius we reached the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here we tried to figure out where we were going to camp in Charlottesville. We called a sports/bike store thinking they would know and got on the phone with a woman named Phoebe, and she ended up inviting us to stay at her house! She sounded extraordinarily sweet and we decided to go for it.
Refueling with pickles on a bun. Pretty damn good.

The parkway is a beautiful and for the most part smooth road to ride. Cars and motorcycles are rather accomodating to cyclists as well. The only downside was riding on it for about 30 miles without much food.

The visitor center at Humpback Rocks didn’t have anything to snack on except for a $5 chocolate bar.

Another round of cucumber sandwiches.

Right when we left the visitor center to start the descent to Afton it started raining like never before. Nevermind the previous post about rain–THIS was the most intense rain of the trip. There was so much water in my face I thought my contacts were going to fall out. The road was totally flooded and neither of our brakes worked very well, making the downhill not so fun.


Cars and motocyclists pulled over at the bottom of the parkway near the 250. Our maps said there was food here but everything had been abandoned some time ago.


Took shelter by the abandoned motel with other cyclists who had pulled over.

After the rain let up we bombed down the 250 and 6 (we blew past the Cookie Lady in Afton too — whoops. We heard she was sick anyway), entering sunny farmland.


Matt is starting to look like Yogi with that beard.

The best part of the day was saved for last. By some great alignment of the stars, Phoebe turned out to be the nicest person we’ve met on the trip that the both of us could really jive with. She even once wanted to do graduate work with my undergrad thesis advisor! Small world. We had a lovely pasta dinner with fresh mozzarella, bread with butter!, and her home-baked brownies and milk for dessert. Yes, in addition to her JD from Georgetown, Phoebe has her baking license. They were amazing. She and her daugher Lily really treated us like family and we are so happy to have met them on this trip.


July 23, Day 52: Catawba to Mallard Duck Campground, VA (73 miles)

This morning we said screw the alarm and “slept in” until about 7:30am.

Got fresh biscuits from the store and put the apple butter Perry had given us on it. So delicious.



The terrain wasn’t bad but we were so, so tired. At least we had very nice scenery.

After 20 miles we hit the small town of Troutville. We visited their farmers’ market of a couple stalls and got peaches. The park director was a nay sayer and told us we wouldn’t make it to Mallard Duck. Hey, we made it this far…


bikes on ground, describes how we felt pretty well.20110727-063730.jpg

A lot of people in Troutville recommended us to The Fountain in Buchanan. The malts were good but the food was so bland.




We got off our bikes to walk across the swaying bridge at the James River.

At a gas station near Natural Bridge. What is this?!
10/30 EDIT: Dobsonfly. Mystery finally solved.

Right when we were getting overheated it started raining. Lightning and thunder storming pouring frogs rain (I know what this means now. There were so many tiny frogs on the ground it looked like it was raining frogs). As the Harley gang at the gas station moaned about the rain, we put our gear on and headed out. It was the most rain of the trip so far. We were on mostly flat country roads so it wasn’t so scary.


Lexington. Stonewall Jackson’s grave.

Taken downtown while fixing my flat. Really cute town, too bad there was nowhere to camp.

We ended the day somewhere in the middle of the woods at Mallard Duck Campground. Those crazy bugs were swarming a light near our tent.

July 22, Day 51: Draper to Catawba, VA (57 miles)

Today we were woken up at 6:00am by a bunch of chickens clucking around our tent. Terry Jo came running out of the store and chased them away for us.

Perry gave us a jar of homemade apple butter for the road.

Packing up the tent. Lots of bugs in the grass.

Out front.

Terry Jo didn’t let me take a picture of him — “I’m too old and too red!” — but I snapped a shot of him making breakfast. A bunch of people were lined up for his biscuit sandwiches.

We had just enough money to buy two of these. Oh they were good.

Leaving Draper we felt super tired.


Here Matt realized he left his jacket back at the store. Luckily we chose the driveway with someone pulling out of it and he got a 5 minute ride back to retrieve it. Cars are so fast, woah.


Coming around Claytor Lake, where we were going to camp last night.

In Radford. This was the first major fast food chain we stopped at all trip. Man the chocolate and fresh banana malt hit the spot.

We couldn’t get ourselves to leave town but when we did we found wild blackberries.



Cucumber and gas station ranch, the perfect snack.


Stopped at a country store in Catawba and found the Gatorade we’ve been dreaming of. Why can’t these be everywhere?

Cyclist are allowed to camp behind the store so that’s what we decided to do instead of going 20 more miles to Troutville. There was another cyclist, Lucas, here from Switzerland who was traveling west.

The owner of the store gave Lucas all of the leftover sandwiches, which he then gave to us. We had one and decided to stick with making rice and beans.

July 21, Day 50: Abingdon to Draper, VA (86.5 miles)

After cooking oatmeal we had a not so good breakfast biscuit from a gas station off the 11. We are so tired of gas station fare. Our appetites were also soured by an older man we talked to outside of the store. When we told him we were heading toward Richmond he stood up, walked over to Matt, and whispered, “There’s just some places there you don’t go if you’re white — them niggers took it over.” Then a black man walked by and said hello to him like an old chum. Disgusting, racist pig. But anyway, he then proceeded to talk about Virginia’s wealth compared to California’s… Hello? Why are you blabbing like this to tourists? We remembered the words of David: you just can’t reason with the irrational.

Klean Kut. Next door we bought two tomatoes, some corn, a cucumber, and peaches all for $1.

Lunch stop in Marion. We found an Amish bakery (that wasn’t really Amish) and got the most disgusting pie ever. It was strawberry-rhubarb but we called it bandaid-possum pie. It had the texture of wet plastic bandaids and the appearance of a flattened possum.

More mediocre food at a place called Handsome Molly. Everyone here was drinking tea from plastic bottles and acting posh.

The owner of Dean’s Bikes is really into BMW motorcycles. Super cool guy to talk to.

Ft. Chiswell, riding along the freeway a lot today.

Finally a nice road.





After riding through rolling hills we came to the small town of Draper. We went into a tiny country store and talked to the owner, Terry Jo and his friend Perry for a bit. Terry said we could camp behind his store and Perry treated us to ice cream cones. They were both such sweethearts. Later, as we were setting up, Perry pulled up and invited us to shower at his house down the street! He had gone back to check with his wife first. We were so happy to have a hot shower, and we loved how Perry just kept laughing at the absurdity of our trip. “Glad it’s you and not me!”

Lastly, three views from one corner in Virginia 

July 20, Day 49: Breaks to a Stranger’s Condo in Abingdon (72 miles)

Breaks Interstate Park. Matt imitating a hillbilly that tried to give us directions, or whatever he was trying to give us. I can only imagine how much we must get made fun of.

We met a another couple touring here as well, but they were going west. This is their first tour and they have no idea what they’re doing — really bad gearing, no rain gear, and irrationally afraid of catching rabies. Matt gave them his pepper spray and a heads up on the dogs in Kentucky.

Foggy like nobody’s business. What we saw of the “Grand Canyon of the South” from the viewpoint in the morning. Not sure what we were thinking waiting until the morning, but we really didn’t feel like biking any more last night.

View from Mill Rock Point was kind of better.

Vines taking over everything on the 80.


The picture isn’t great but this was the most beautiful garden.


Stopped at a country market in Council to buy a cantaloupe.

The owner of the store had just been cheated out of $800 by one of this sellers. He warned us of the nasty hill out of Council.

No shoulder on this portion of the 80. Later there was one, but it was full of loose gravel. This was one of the most stressful parts of the TransAm, I have no idea why it’s part of the route. There were speeding coal trucks and cars once again.

After turning off by Rosedale we had a quiet road at last. We saw this sign outside of a church and went in to enjoy the A/C and play their piano. A Dutch couple was there as well.

On the road again… One hour later.




But let’s not talk about where we slaughtered all the Native Americans.


All of a sudden we started climbing Clinch Mountain. Ow. As we got higher and higher I wondered, where are the guardrails? It being a one-lane road was a bit sketchy but traffic was rather light.

At the top we met three roadies taking a breather from booking it up the other side. When we asked if there was a place to camp in Meadowview (16 miles away), one of them invited us to pitch our tent in his backyard.

After a really fast and curvy 3 mile descent we went through Hayters Gap and then turned off to a residential street to get to David’s house (we’ve been meeting so many nice people with that name) in Abingdon.

We’re here!


David was at dinner with his wife by the time we showed up, but we were greeted by a cat, a couple of French bulldogs, and a cooler of beer and water.

The view. Right before we were going to pitch out tent, David called and told us he was going to have us stay in one of his vacant company condos down below the house so we could shower and sleep in real bed. Amazing! We ate all of our emergency food (Top Ramen, bits of tortilla, fruit, and peanut butter) while we waited for their return.

Where are we? It felt so good to stay indoors in a clean house. We zoned out watching TV until midnight. Thanks David for helping us out!

Kentucky Barn Quilts

Throughout our ride in Kentucky we came across a barn every now and then with a large colorful painting on the front. I had no idea what they were at first, and wish I had started taking pictures of them earlier. Matt guessed they were quilt patterns, and that they were. These pieces of art comprise what is called the Kentucky Quilt Line Trail. Finding barn quilts was definitely one of the highlights of riding through the farmland of Kentucky.





I saw this one today in Virginia while on Highway 11:


July 19, Day 48: Hindman, KY to Breaks Interstate Park, VIRGINIA! (71.5 miles)


For breakfast David served up fruit, coffee cake, tea and coffee, strawberry shortcake, and cereal.

We left in morning traffic, sharing the road with numerous coal trucks as well.

Pippa Passes. Shout out to Robert Browning.

Kritter Kuts?! This tops Kampus Kuts in Murphysboro, IL.


Coal centers.



The roads in Appalachia are steep and winding. There are also tons of warning and no trespassing signs. I like the “someone is watching you” sign. David informed us it usually means they’re growing pot.


Matt decided to change his squeaking rear brake pads in Melvin. He ended up breaking something instead and so he went on with no real rear brake power.

As we were riding along a dirt bike with two dudes on it sped passed us and stopped just a bit up the road. It was an interesting scene when we caught up — one guy holding a chrome revolver walking toward a house with a purpose and the other a flask. We heard some gunshots later and that was that.

Okay, the Appalachians are no joke. Thought it wasn’t too long, the road to Lookout was the steepest, leg-busting, head-bursting climb of the trip. It was followed by a nearly vertical, winding descent down to Ashcamp before going up again.

Somewhere along the way there was a huge pit bull at the bottom of a cliff barking at us. “No way” we thought, and next thing we knew the damn thing was running up the cliff and on the road right behind us.



Ready to get out of Kentucky and getting closer to Virginia.

I can’t believe we biked here. We’re in a state that touches the ocean!

Goodbye Kentucky, but we hear the heatwave is going to follow us through Virginia.

last railroad tracks we’d see in Kentucky

Tonight we’re at Breaks Interstate Park, the “Grand Canyon of the East Coast.” Tons of mosquitoes and spiders. We made burritos with brown rice, refried beans, cheese, bell peppers and onions for dinner.

July 18, Day 47: Buckhorn to Hindman (46.5 miles)

The primitive campsites had a lot of shade and were next to a stream you could only hear. We slept through the alarm and didn’t get out until 9:30. We decided to have a short day and go to Hindman instead of Breaks in Virginia.

We stopped in a little area called Chavies for a snack (I am now all about Southern Belle chocolate whole milk)

Highway 15 and later 80 — THE worse roads of the the trip. Coal trucks, debris in the shoulder, and later crazy rumble strips… in the shoulder.

At the top of a hill near Daniel Boone Parkway we stopped to call the cyclist-only place we were going to stay at in Hindman. As we were standing there this guy does a U-turn to talk to us. It turns out he has been seeing cyclists for years and always wanted to talk to some, wondering what the hell they were doing. “I see some guys on bikes looking kinda rough and I wonder what their story is.” So funny. We had a lovely cultural exchange and Matt even recommended him an opera piece he might enjoy. Nice meeting you, Ray! (While I was on the phone, David asked if we were talking to a mountain person, haha).

Anyway, continuing on the shitty 80. Dodge Neons and whatnot whizzing by. We then realized we only had 23 miles to Hindman, not 43. Oops, well, that made today shorter than we had thought.

Finally turned onto the 550, a small curvy road. Ahhhhh

After being chased by some little dogs that ran down a cliff, Matt got a flat.

Coming into Hindman.

Once in town we stopped in at the Appalachian Artisan Center to ask for directions. We’re glad we did.

Debbie makes beautiful walking sticks.

Mike weaving a new seat on an old chair. He also makes spoons out of reclaimed old wood.

Richard’s bowls.

Richard gave us a demo and made this wine stopper for us. Well, he made it for us then awkwardly decided to keep it for himself.

And then he started working on this bench.

Our destination of the day was right around the corner (and up a long ~40% grade driveway). Knott County Historical Society, founded by David Smith. He has been putting up cyclists in the home his great-grandfather built since 1996.

Cyclists are greeted with a glass of Earl Grey iced tea with lemon and mint. Yessss.

And a bunch of cats. He swears only one of them is his.


AND kittens?!

David made us baked potatoes.


We were hungry so we also ordered a large pizza.

One free beer also included in the $25/night.

And a banana split. And you get your laundry done while you’re eating it.


The cats get the leftovers. “The black one is Weenie, short for Halloween cat.” Later, the regulars showed up: a raccoon and a gray fox. We missed the albino possum.

David also provides you with a nightcap of brandy. We also got to taste some real good moonshine that he bought from an Alzheimer patient.

Later we retired to his gigantic pre-set up outdoor tent. Musty, but we were content. Any cyclist doing the TransAm or going through Kentucky should make it a point to stay with David. He is truly a knowledgeable and quirky character worth meeting.

Our favorite quotes:
“Those people at Sebree, they haven’t been putting up cyclist as long as they tell you. They are just trying to get some souls.”
“I just about saturated the cat market here.”
“Mountain people are just so damn unreasonable. You just can’t reason with the irrational!”

July 17, Day 46: Into the Appalachians! — Chimney Rock to Buckhorn, KY (105.6 miles)



This morning we woke up at 4:30 (but really 3:30 our body clock time) and were out by 5:30.



Throughout the day we rode in and out of farm country and what felt like the jungle.

It was interesting to see the drastic difference in living conditions — you can see the most broken down shack on one side of the street and the nicest house and barn on the other.

Coming into the first big town of the day, Berea. Why would you build your elementary school to look like a spaceship?

In Berea we stopped at a cafe to get sandwiches and sweets and some breakfast biscuits for the road. While we were eating there was a guy outside checking out our bikes for long time. When he came inside we were expecting him to ask us something about our tour or bikes, but no, all he eagerly wanted to know was where I got my $1.00 bandana from Ace Hardware. Haha.


First “real” climb into the Appalachian Mountains! Wasn’t bad at all.


Right after I took this picture we came around the bend into the dog gauntlet. Finally, we had found the 200lb Boxer and his other doggie friends. They were all barking in the street but as soon as we held out our spray they ran away. Thanks to all the other cyclists that came before us! Several other dogs barked and chased us throughout the day but they were all diminutive and cute.








Milkshake and one of our biscuits. Break in Booneville. Here we told two elderly motorcyclist about bicycle touring and one of them, Charlie, explained to us how his dorky scooter was cooler and more functional than a Harley. Charlie was a cute character and didn’t start biking until he was 74.



Bike is getting diiiirty



You can’t really see them, but many houses have these tall bird houses in their yards. These are shaped like chickens.

My Old Kentucky Shack

After going up and down and up and down we made it to the Buckhorn Lake Dam campground. We made pasta again with leftover veggies and then called it a night. Tomorrow’s plan is either another century or we might break up the day in two and skip our last rest day.