Thursday, May 24, 1984
Grindstone USFS Campground to Elk Garden, Va.
I’m reprinting day-to-day journal excerpts from a cross-country trip my friend Bruce and I took in 1984. Read the intro and index at TransAmerica Bike Tour 1984
“Bikers. Take a Break. Good Cool Water. Welcome.”
After climbing in and out Appalachian hollers all day and seeing a sign like that, we didn’t need to be told twice to stop for a while. That’s where we met the Rev, another unforgettable person on our TransAmerica Bicycle Tour.
In the morning at the Grindstone campground I discovered that the showers did have hot water. Wish I knew that last night. Also met and talked with a group of three cyclists from Connecticut who were riding the same cross-country route as Bruce and me. We hung around together for awhile, but they were getting a late start and said they’d meet us later down the road.
We pedaled down to Damascus where we did laundry and talked to a couple who were hiking the Appalachian Trail. They had come to town to shake a “trail leech” who kept bugging them along the trail. (We thought that was funny, until another bicyclist latched onto us near the end of the trip.)
Although we’d had hills before today, ever since Rockfish Gap we’d been more or less traveling southwest in a valley between the Blue Ridge and the Appalachians. At Damascus, we turned perpendicular to the ridge line, heading northwest across the ridges. This means steep climbs, switchbacks, narrow roads all the way to Berea, Ky.
We had struggled up a 5-mile climb, followed by a 4-mile descent when we saw the “Take a Break” sign next to a cast-iron figure on a bicyclist stuck on a pole. A guy walked over who looked like Jonathan Winters and said we should stay. We said we had to push on. He said that was too bad, because we’d miss the hamburgers, potato salad and homemade ice cream.
The Rev’s house
We stayed. The three cyclists from Connecticut were already there (they passed us in Damascus); also a drifter-hiker who wanted to witness, a woman who was “just staying here” for a time with her two daughters, and a foster child and grandchild of Rev. Chuck Martin, and his wife Myrna.
Rev. Chuck takes in everybody. The elders at the Elk Garden United Methodist Church want the parson to take in everyone, especially the touring bicyclists, and he does. Anyway, he says he likes the cyclists and likes to hear their stories. A country boy at heart, he also likes to teach the bikers — many are urbanites — that they shouldn’t be so independent and too proud to accept help.
We all helped with the chores that evening and played horseshoes. Then the bikers and hikers retired to a cabin in back of the parsonage for the night, a little stuffy but comfortable.
(Note: As far as I can tell, the church still offered food and lodging/camping to touring bicyclists through at least 2015 (and probably continues to this day). Here are pictures and a description a visitor took that year: Roger Rides West on the TransAmerican Trail. )
Headline: May 24, 1984 — US Surgeon General links smoking to lung disease in nonsmokers … (a ground-breaking revelation at the time, the dangers of second-hand smoke are commonly known today)
We’re here at the Rev. Martin’s house in Elk Garden, Va. This man and his family are famous in these parts for rolling out the red carpet for bikers. In fact, there is a bicycle frame with a black cut-out in the front yard fashioned from scrap iron. They go so far as to chase you in the car if you pass the house, which is what happened to us.
Two people had told us about the Martins and we were going to just stop to say hi–it was only 4 p.m. and we wanted to make some more miles–but “Chuck” said, “If you leave you’ll miss hamburgers, potato salad and homemade ice cream. And breakfast in the morning.” We stayed.
There are three other cyclists here and a hitch-hiker and some other extended family members. With the Martins’ kids, there are 13 people here tonight.
The bikers will stay in the log cabin behind the house. The church (Methodist) is next to the house. We all feel slightly awkward. Nobody knows each other and we are all trying to figure out why total strangers are being so friendly and hospitable. The fact is, they seem to be genuine. It’s hard to imagine, but true: we have the run of the house, at their urging: shower, laundry, etc.
Mrs. Martin tells me that a sign I saw in the road today was the result of a shooting last night. In the last part of our 50 miles we saw opposite a few mobile homes a small metal sign on the road that said: “Slow, funeral.”
There were no cars, though, and nothing happening anywhere. About 100 or so feet later there was another sign that said, “Thank you.”
Come to find out from Mrs. Martin some guy “blew a man’s head off” near the country store. Mrs. Martin’s daughter said it was supposedly drug-related.
“Man upstairs” looks after Dan
Dan, the hitch-hiking hiker, who was likely in his 20s, was telling me about himself and how he has been on the road for eight years. He works for three or four days (any kind of construction or whatever else he can find) and then hits the trout streams. He was heading out from his parents’ home in Bluefield for Salt Lake. Chuck picked him up hitch-hiking and brought him to the house. He’s been there two days, I think. He was telling me about how his father drinks two fifths of liquor a day and has worked 33 years in the coal mines. Dan was saying how he has been shot and stabbed and in jail and how “the man upstairs” took care of him — sure didn’t sound like it to me — and guides him even now. I said that was nice.
The three other cyclists are from near Hartford, Conn. They are on the ’76 trail, too, but will go the Pacific Northwest route from Colorado, where we dip south. We were all comparing notes this afternoon, and I think they have had many more problems than Bis and I: broken spokes, a bent frame, several accidents which saw their fourth rider drop out near Washington D.C. It gave us a whole new perspective.
Today’s ride was great. We came 50 miles in no time, even with a five-mile uphill as steep as any we have seen; nothing but switchback after switchback.
From the campsite last night (right along the Appalachian Trail) to Damascus this morning (just about 20 miles) we had one of the nicest rides I’ve ever had; all in national forest, mostly downhill, following a stream part of the way, and with the morning sun slicing through the tall trees. It was really terrific.
Day 13 — That’s the Breaks