1984 Bike Tour: Day 11 – Fellow travelers, different paths

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Wednesday, May 23, 1984
Wytheville to Grindstone Forest Service Campground, Va.
38 miles

I’m posting day-to-day journal entries from a 1984 ride at TransAmerica Tour 1984. It looks at life in the saddle before smart phones, wifi, and coronavirus.

Gene’s Journal

We hit it all today — headwinds, rain, steep hills, illness and an opposite direction bicycle tourist (he had a nice tailwind) who told us how great things were. That last was the hardest to take.

We broke camp at the Elizabeth Brown Memorial Park, packed our damp gear, and headed to the laundromat in downtown Wytheville (the office supply store is marked with a pencil, left). While my shoes were drying, I tried to fix my front derailleur, which still wasn’t adjusted properly to shift to the full range of all three chain rings. I broke the nut, cursed and threw things, then walked around until I found an auto parts store where a guy replaced it for free.

Back on rolling Route 11 again, we came across a guy who was wrapping up his cross-country trip from San Francisco.

Traveling light and with the wind and drizzly rain to his back, he was having a great time, clicking 80 miles or more a day. That didn’t help my mood any. He told us about a “reverend” down the road in the direction we were heading who had chased him down in his car and convinced him to spend the night at his house. He suggested we stop there.

Further down the road, I started feeling woozy. My stomach gurgled and my muscles ached. Could it be the loaf of banana bread I consumed at breakfast? At the State Route 90 turnoff, I walked back in the woods and took a half-hour nap. I felt better afterward, and felt better still after we stopped for soup at a diner in Rural Retreat (above).

Then the drizzle turned into a downpour. We donned all our rain gear — Gortex jackets and plastic rain pants over sweats — and kept pedaling. At a warm diner stop in Cedar Springs, I thought I could see steam rising from Bruce’s sweatshirt when we first stepped in.

Homemade panniers

The climbing began after Sugar Grove, but it had stopped raining. We began a 3.5 mile climb. Bruce would push ahead, wait for me at a switchback, then off we’d go again. At one stop, Bruce had met another cyclist headed south. Hailing from Michigan, this guy was the opposite of our earlier fellow traveler. He rode an old heavy bicycle. His front and rear panniers were made from wire baskets, and each held a white plastic bucket filled with clothes and books. A duffel bag draped across the rear carried the rest of his gear. We felt like wimps next to this guy.

When we finally crested the hill, we flew into Trout Dale. The southbound cyclist just blew past, his ponytail flapping in the wind. A forest ranger there suggested we stay at the Grindstone forest service campground, up the road in the Jefferson National Forest. I was dismayed to hear it didn’t have hot showers.

We finally reached the campground, and I suffered through my cold shower. Bruce took a shower later and said there was hot water. I was so sure that it would only be cold that I didn’t even turn on the hot water, although it was marked on the faucet.

Later, the campground host came by to suggest we pay the fee (oops, caught) and showed us how to make a campfire with wet twigs.

Headline: May 23, 1984“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (the first sequel and starring Harrison Ford) opens in movie theaters across the US

Bruce’s Journal

This morning broke gray and ominous. Although we were up early, we got our latest start yet, and almost had a disaster. We decided to throw all of our wet clothes from the day before in the dryer at the nearby laundromat.

While waiting for the socks, shoes and towels to dry, I began adjusting my front brakes and Bis started to tighten his front derailleur. Then I hear this sort of forlorn “son of a bitch,” almost pleading-like. Bis had snapped a bolt when he tightened it and now half of the thing was in the threads and the derailleur was in his hands. And no bike shop in Wytheville.

Melted socks

About this time I found one of the socks had melted in the dryer and the insole of my cycle shoes had curled and shrunk. This was all before 8 in the morning.

A nearby auto parts store saved the derailleur and the day. The auto parts men drilled a small hole in the severed screw and used an “easy out” tool to remove it. Bis got a new screw, made the switch, and after breakfast at Durhams (“Derms”) we hit the road. It was 11 a.m.

Right away it started to rain. And it rained hard for the next three hours. Worse was the wind, right in our faces. And the mountains kept coming.

At Rural Retreat (I had been there during my Harvestore silo-building days) I knew a great country restaurant to stop in. Well, it was about the only country restaurant to stop in. It was the place where, years earlier, I watched as a big-mouth walked in and barked to the old guy behind the counter, “Gimme some water.” The old fellow returned with the glass, which turned out to be hot water. When the guy complained, the old guy said, “You asked for water, you didn’t say how you wanted it.”

Head-to-toe rain gear

After lunch, Bis had to lay down because he was feeling nauseous, but that passed. We were both a sight, dripping in our head-to-toe yellow rain gear. We could have walked off the set of a Grade B sci-fi movie about toxic waste accidents.

We had hoped to make Damascus but ended up near Konorck instead, camped in the Rogers National Forest. A volunteer ranger stopped by while I was cooking spaghetti and built us a fire. Everything was wet from the rain and Bis’ and my fire attempts had been half-hearted and non-igniting. This man had a fire started and going great guns in minutes, and he acted like it was an afterthought. The man was amazing; probably 65, born and raised in West Virginia, and was as nonchalant a wet-weather fire-starter as you’d ever want to see.

We didn’t even need a fire, but it sure was nice after a long, cold and wet day in the saddle. The ranger’s trick was to break dead branches from trees, which weren’t as wet as those on the ground.

We should see better weather tomorrow. The sky is clear tonight. Two more days to Kentucky. Today was really rough, but lying here now, full-bellied and resting, it doesn’t seem nearly so bad. In fact, it might be safe to say that we faced the worst a day could have thrown at us and survived. So, as usual, there is cause for optimism. The only thing we could use is a hot shower. The ranger told us the government couldn’t afford hot water.


Day 12 — We meet the Rev

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