Thursday, June 14, 2012

From cows to coal

Since y'all last heard from me (oh yeah, I started using "y'all" in most of my speech now) I cycled through the Shenandoah Valley west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and over into Kentucky.  My last full day in Virginia started in the Appalachian Trail town of Damascus.  At long last, I found some of the climbs that everyone complains about!  They weren't as tall as the Blue Ridge, but they were far steeper.  Once you get done with one, you zip down the backside only to start another one.  My first day so far in Kentucky was much similar, with several steep climbs that found me dripping with sweat and teetering upwards at less than 4 mph pace for thirty or forty minutes at a time.

The other change that is apparent is that once you leave Damascus, you leave the farm country of Virginia.  Then you enter coal country.  Many steep narrow roads twisting through hollows and valleys.  Big (think normal dump truck plus 30%) coal trucks come whizzing by all of the time.  Scruffy dogs waiting around the corner to chase you.  Errant chunks of coal litter the shoulders of roads.  Communities are decidedly poorer.  But after all of that, it is still beautiful.  Folks are still incredibly polite.  In gas stations and restaurants, folks ask you where you're headed, give you warnings about specific mountains and weather, and wish you a safe journey.  A similar establishment in central Pennsylvania would probably garner you a dirty look at best and a "get the f*_k off the road" at worst.  So far I have been able to shout at dogs and keep them at bay.  See Brendan Leonard's technique at on how to deal with them.  Thus far, the 25+ coal trucks that passed me today were relatively courteous.  And in another day or two, the wicked climbing will ease off a little bit.  So that's good.

I stopped at a produce store in Wytheville, VA and went nuts.  The group of bags on the left yielded  a five pound bag of delicious trail mix.  Apparently weight wasn't my first concern.
Free luxury accommodations in Wytheville.  They even unlocked the bathrooms!
I don't know why, but I like older rusted trucks.
Climbing in the forest around Mount Rogers 
I was able to get off of the road for ten miles into Damascus on the Virginia Creeper Trail.  Looks like I was the only creeper on the trail that day.
All roads, paths and trails lead to Damascus, VA.
Rules for "The Place"- a hiker/biker hostel in Damascus
Spartan but adequate and affordable accommodations at "The Place"
Foggy departure from Damascus.  Yeah, it's a rough life.
I call this piece "Bovine Mist"
For every long climb there is a resulting beautiful descent.
A box for trash.  Obviously.  
Somehow I succeeded in mixing couscous, dried veggies, textured vegetable protein, Tabasco, and garlic salt into something edible.
Breaks Interstate Park.  The "Grand Canyon of the East"
Where's the top to that mountain?  Oh yeah, they went ahead and removed it.  Kentucky coal country.
Pushing bikes up the driveway to the biker hostel in Hindman, KY.  It looks flat.  My cleated shoes  were sliding backwards because of how ridiculously steep it was.
My reward for pushing my bike up the driveway.
Henk and Marja from the Netherlands relaxing at the hostel.  We've ridden together a couple of times so far on the trip.


  1. Not a sheep to be had, but "Bovine Mist" will do in a pinch.

  2. It's like John Prine wrote:
    Then the coal company came, with the world's largest shovel,
    And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land.
    Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken.
    Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.
    And Daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg county,
    Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay.
    "Well I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in askin'."
    "Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."

    Even so, there is a lot of beauty to be seen in Kentucky. Tell John and Ginny Hi for me. If I remember correctly, as you head west from Berea, you will be getting into thoroughbred country, where the hills are more gentle. Keep on freewheeling. - Mike