A lot of people that I talk to make a big deal of me doing this tour by myself. They may even have a point. It can be pretty tough out here on your own. On my toughest days, on the steepest of climbs, amidst the biggest stretches of loneliness, I watch the front wheel of my bike. As long as it is still rolling, I know that I’m doing my job.
The truth is that the interesting people and places that lay ahead are what motivate me to keep that tire rolling. And when you are alone, and you make as many mistakes as I do, strangers become friends who are willing to give a helping hand. I’m about to tell you some stories. And they may make me look like a bit of an idiot, and that’s alright. This blog isn’t about me. It is about the fine Americans (and a Russian) that have made the past two weeks of my life so special.
- Shortly after Paps and Jordan left me, I kept getting caught in lightning storms that really screwed with my mojo. On one particular day, I was hiding out under some big trees next to a winery in Virginia, waiting for a storm to pass. A nice man named Dave Plunkett pulled up. He gave me advice on the road ahead, kept me company for a while. Before he left, he gave me a donation for MS.
- I have had issues with dogs. Big dogs. A few riders that I have met told me to get my hands on some mace. Leaving Wythesville, VA one day I decided to stop into Sand Mountain Outfitters to inquire about some protection. The proprietors fed me pizza and gave me bottled water. One of the customers in the shop recommended that I stop at her mother’s peach orchard down the road on my way out. As I was leaving, the owner came out and gave me $15. “The mace is on the house,” he said. A few miles and hills up the road I had a fresh peach waiting for me at Williams Orchard. On the house.
A few miles outside of Meadowfield, VA I ran into local riders Tommy and Randy. They were headed the same way that I was and invited me to ride with them for a few miles. The pacing and company, even for a few miles, meant the world to me.
I left Breaks National Park and crossed into Kentucky, headed for a hostel in Hindman. To make a long story short, housing fell through, there was a big festival going on in town and it was getting too dark to find a secure place to camp wild. My gut told me that I was going to have to get to Hazzard to rest for the night. I rode into the darkness, making it a 92 mile day. When I got to Hazzard, I couldn’t find my hotel and there was a highway blocking my way from its direction. I was exhausted, it was 9:30 and I was having trouble just standing up. Without even thinking, I put my thumb up. Almost immediately, locals Jeremy and Trish pulled up in their pickup, threw my bike in the back and dropped me at the hotel.
Two days ago, I pulled into Booneville for the night, ready for a quiet, lonely night camping behind a church. Moments after Dave, Eric (from LA) and Misha (from Russia) pulled up. I liked them immediately, most likely because the first thing Dave did was toss me a bottle of Kentucky bourbon. Shortly after, Heather, a solo rider from Washington pulled in. We had heard that there was a fair in town, so we went. I think we were a little too much for Booneville, but it was the best night of the trip so far.
And finally, the big mistake. I lost my wallet yesterday. I left the zipper open in my Camelback and it slipped out while I was riding (ironically, I always kept my ID and an extra card duck taped to the bottom of a pannier, but it had come loose that morning, so I put them back in my wallet). We’ve all been there, just not in the middle of the back woods in Kentucky. Thanks to home base (my mom), I had some cash and a hotel room waiting for me in Berea. The problem was that I was running out of energy, only had $1.17 in change and had to get 35 miles to safety.
I pulled into Deer View Mart in McKee looking to buy a candy bar or anything with a few calories. Owners Patricia and Roger Ward insisted on making me a huge turkey sandwich. I was outside eating it like it was the last thing I’d ever eat when a local walked by and gave me an ice cold soda. I had to fight back the tears. I rode the rest of the way to Berea, into a headwind with tired legs and a smile from ear to ear.
These stories are just the tip of the iceberg of kindness that has paved the beginning of my way across America. There have been many more conversations, smiles, waves, thumbs up, and even a few southernly “God Bless You’s” that have brought a smile to my face, strength back to my legs and warmth to my heart. I thank all of you.