Saturday May 19, 1984
Charlottesville to Sugar Tree Hollow Campground, Va.
This is by far the most difficult day of the bike tour. We rode through rolling farmland, struggled up switchbacks to the Cookie Lady’s Bike House, then discovered the Blue Ridge Parkway is not level, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to us.
This is the part of the trip we should have been training for all spring, but I don’t think even that would have prepared us for this. Although the weather was blustery as we left Charlottesville, the route was easy enough until Greenwood. From there we climbed, and we pushed the pedals hard most of the rest of the day.
First a long hill out of the valley, then a long steep climb up the side of the Blue Ridge to Afton, the home of June Curry, the Cookie Lady.
We saw a sign, “Water for Bicycle Riders,” and it was easy to stop as we weren’t moving that fast anyway.
A happy woman came charging out of the house, gave us cookies and juice, and invited us in to talk and visit a spell. We saw that she had literally papered the walls of the house with postcards from bicyclists she’d met. We learned she’s been offering cookies, juice, and a play to stay for cyclists, ever since the first bicycle tourists came through in 1976.
After we had talked for about an hour and filled our water bottles, she took our picture with a Polaroid camera outside by the water spigot labeled with the Bicecentennial triangle. She told us not to forget to check in on “Lazy Louie” when we got to western Missouri. He had a bicycle camp and entertained bicycle tourists also, but she had heard from eastbound bicyclists in the fall that he was doing poorly ever since he suffered a stroke.
[Update: Because of medical issues, June stopped opening The Bike House to overnight guests in 2010. She still visited with traveling bicyclists passing through town, however, until her death in 2012 at age 91 [see “Rest in peace, Cookie Lady”]. Her helpfulness spawned the June Curry Trail Angel Award which is given annually by the Adventure Cycling Association.
(Read older news about the Cookie Lady.)]
We said goodbye, and continued our slow but sure progress up the hill. She waved and went back inside the house, where she no doubt placed the Polaroid in one of the many albums already filled with pictures. As I worked uphill, I felt that to have my picture included in one of those albums put me in a very exclusive club, the brotherhood of touring bicyclists.
Riding the Ridge
We eventually reached the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 1,200 foot climb from the valley. Riding south to Rockfish Gap, we stopped at an overlook and could see the way we’d come and the journey we had to make. While we rested, a tour bus showed up, a bunch of people piled out and lined up against the bus for a group picture (wouldn’t want any scenery in that picture, would you?), a few took pictures of us, and everyone climbed back on board and the bus pulled away.
First disappointment: Although we’d made the pass, we were surprised to learn we still had plenty of climbing to do. My map shows we rode to about 3,300 foot elevation that day, so we did more than 1,000 feet from the 1,900 foot elevation Rockfish Gap. Dogwood and crabapple bloomed along the way, and the air was fresh. My body ached all over, though, and I was dog tired.
Then disillusionment: The campground was at mile marker 21; which we thought was 21 miles from where we hit the parkway. No. It was 21 miles from the Information Center, which was a hard 5 miles down the road.
We arrived at the campground about 6 and set up camp. Bruce climbed into the tent and I haven’t seen him since. I made a ton of pasta for dinner. Man, what a day. I hope we don’t have too many more like this!
Headline, May 19, 1984 — Jockey Angel Cordero Jr. rides Gate Dancer to victory in the 110th Preakness at Pimlico back in Baltimore
No Bruce Journal today
Day 8 — Natural Bridge seems so unnatural
About the pictures — Top, the Cookie Lady; bottom, Bruce at Rockfish Gap
View 1984 Bicycle Tour in a larger map