When you have a respectable beard, and are riding a loaded bike up a steep, 6-mile ascent in the middle of Jefferson National Forest, people start to think you are legit. And I was starting to buy into it myself yesterday. Late in the afternoon, I was at the toughest stretch, at the end of a 72-mile day with a few thousand feet of climbing. I was spinning through it, feeling strong, keeping a rhythm, working my way up the side of Mt. Rogers. People were leaving the various campgrounds after a long weekend. Noticing my efforts, some slowed down, cheered me on, others even stopping to offer to take a picture.
After the summit of the pitch and down a short decline, I would be in Troutdale. My map showed that the mountain town had a restaurant, a store and even a B&B if I was interested. I couldn’t wait for a Gatorade and Snickers ice cream bar. I summited and enjoyed the cool breeze on the descent, feeling better than I had felt the entire trip. My confidence quickly turned to panic when I turned the corner. Troutdale didn’t have a store or a restaurant or a B&B. It had nothing. I was exhausted and I had gone through my food reserves when I started to zonk on the climb.
Luckily, I had researched a hostel run by Troutdale Baptist a couple of days ago. I had even called on it. The answering machine said that the bunkhouse was first come, first serve, just head up the gravel drive. There I met two AT hikers, Mike and Jon. They informed me of a hot shower behind the church. Perfect. And food? I could buy instant mashed potatoes, peanut butter and a packet of oatmeal for a donation to the church. I was more than willing, and it was just enough to get me through the night.
So there we were, three adventurers. A hiker headed South, another headed North, and one sicko trying to bike across this great country of ours. We sat out on the deck of the bunkhouse at 3200 feet, shared stories and watched a lightning storm slowly roll across the Appalachians.
I know that for Jon and Mike, it was probably a normal night on the trail. For me, it was a night that I will not soon forget. This morning, the oatmeal gave me just enough calories to hump it 25 miles out to Damascus and then on to Meadowview. You stay tuned for videos of the descent down from Mt. Rogers. As for me, I’ve still got a fight on my hands with Appalachia.