Biologist on a Bike

Day 66: Afton, VA to Mineral, VA


Distance: 81.61 mi
Average Speed: 11.6 mph; Max Speed: 33.8 mph
Elevation Gain: 4,138 ft
Average Temp: 87.0 F; Temp Range 66.2-102.2 F

I went to sleep last night on the floor of the furthest room from the entryway to the Cookie Lady’s House. This room was the one that smelled least fusty, possibly because it had an open window. Sleep did not come easily, but it did come.

Only to be interrupted around 11:30 PM by a flashlight and banging on the door to the unused (unusable?) porch off the room I was in. “Could you unlock the door?” I was asked.

Another cyclist had arrived. Very, very late at night. Victoria, who lives upstairs, and a friend escorted the cyclist into the house and told me that he’s in the race. You know, the race that started on June 2nd and was won on June 18th. That race. I wasn’t aware there were any people still participating, but apparently there are a few. For his part, he was surprised he hadn’t run into me before now. I suspect that’s because yesterday was such a short day that until then I had been ahead of him.

There was a bustle of activity as he got oriented and settled. During this time I learned that there have been some problems with flooding of the house recently. It’s a shame, because I think a fair bit of the paper-based memorabilia cannot last. I’m happy to have visited, but it would be a lie of omission for me not to say that the place desperately needs a thorough cleaning and some repairs. As it is, it’s not sustainable, I don’t think. Not without becoming a health hazard.

Eventually I returned to my sleeping pad and worked my way back to sleep.

My alarm went off too early in the morning, so I shut it up. The second and third alarms (yes, I have a backup on my backup because I hate mornings that much) went off as well and I got myself moving. This was motivated more than a little by not wanting to wake up my current housemate, despite the fact that he was two rooms over. Before I had finished making breakfast, though, he woke on his own.

Where I woke up, Day 66

We talked for a while. He’s from India, acknowledges that he’s going very slowly (for a racer), and wants to be done by Saturday, the same day I plan on finishing so he can get up to NYC and catch a flight home. His wife is apparently tired of solo parenting. He also wanted to do a Ph.D. to do with bicycle touring, specifically gear, but his proposal wasn’t accepted. As we chatted, he asked if I knew of any free places to stay tonight, and I showed him my maps and mentioned Mineral. He then scared me by saying that Mineral was 100 miles away. I’ve made mathematical errors before, but this time it wasn’t me, much to my relief, and the distance was actually around 80.

Victoria had invited us both to stop by the café where she works as a chef, The Mud House, in Crozet, a little off the route. As tempting as that was, when he asked me if I intended to go I replied that I likely would not. She came by as I was getting ready to leave and we spoke for a bit, finally exchanging names since we didn’t do so in the middle of the night when we met. She warned me about the slope on the way out of town (the maps mentioned that) with an added warning that the road was gravelly from the rain washing the gravel out of peoples’ driveways.

That warning was very helpful. I rode the first 1.5-2 miles leaning heavily on my brakes to control speed and not wipe out on gravel.

Switchback. Yikes.

I did not stop at Crozet. In fact, I rode right past the turnoff for it without even realizing I had done so. I did stop at the next town with a convenience store, though. White Hall’s convenience store also has a little kitchen, and I got two egg-on-a-biscuit sandwiches and a cup of coffee. The cashier asked which way I was headed. Actually, I think what he asked is if I was just starting or almost done. They get a lot of cyclists. While I waited for the sandwiches, the cashier spoke with another customer on a number of things, although I wasn’t much paying attention to what. She eventually turned and asked if she could speak with me about my ride for a bit.

Nicole likes to ride herself, but doesn’t think she’d ever do the TransAm on her own. I told her some of my tales from the trail, a bit about the various places I’ve spent the night, the few times I’ve been unsettled by a person and the more frequent times that I’ve felt threatened by a person driving a vehicle. She was surprised to hear me refer to myself as an amateur, but I most definitely am. If she had been witness to my slow crawl up any number of slopes over the course of the ride, she might not have been so surprised.

A lovely view over a field. But I’m out of the mountains now.

After that, which was less than 20 miles into my ride I didn’t interact much with people at all until much later in the day. I rode over rollers and a few small climbs, passed by several vineyards and a number of orchards. I almost stopped at one that was selling fresh peaches and products made with their peaches. The only reason I didn’t was the suspicion that the peaches would not have survived for long in my panniers before becoming a mushy, sloppy mess.

The route took me through Charlottesville, then past Monticello. I wish it would have been possible to see the house from the road. That’s the kind of tour that deserves more time than I could devote to it today, though, so I didn’t detour to it.

Unlike the last few days where it’s been cool, humid, grey, and rainy, today was hot, humid, bright, and sunny. It was a nice change to be dry, and to have the clothes hung on my panniers actually dry out over the course of the day, but I could have done with a few degrees less heat in midday. Overall, it was pleasant riding, though.

As I was getting on towards the end of the day, I nearly saw a car accident. An impatient driver went to pass me, not slowing down but giving me several feet of space. The space is great, all drivers should do that for cyclists. The problem wasn’t the space or the speed, but the fact that they were trying to pass me while approaching a bend in the road. Two cars came around the bend and the one moving to pass me had to hit the brakes and move over. Quickly. I bet you won’t be surprised to learn that they waited patiently behind me for a better line of sight before trying again.

It was enough to make me extra conscious of cars passing me, though. I noticed a small red car coming up behind me at one point where there was something in the road near the right side. If there hadn’t been a car there, I likely would have passed it on the left, but it was far enough from the edge of the road that I went to the right, allowing the car to go left. Then we both stopped. It was a turtle crossing the road. I picked it up and carried it in the direction it had been walking, placing it in the grass on the other side of the road. The woman who had been driving had stopped to do the same. She told me that this was the first turtle she had seen all season. Then she asked about the ride. She lives on the trail and she and her family have been seeing cyclists for decades. Her son even is considering riding the trail. I hope he gets to do it. It’s such a great experience.

I didn’t go in, but it was nice to see

At last, I arrived in Mineral and found the volunteer fire department where I was going to camp. The maps say to call before using the facilities, but no one answered the phone. The recorded message was something along the lines of “your call cannot be answered at this time and you cannot leave a message. Please call again later.” I walked around the building a bit but didn’t see anyone. I knew people were there, though, since there were cars parked in the lot and two of the bay doors were open. After waiting a few minutes, someone came out of a back room and I was able to get a quick tour. There are showers (at least until they close the building up for the night around 9), bathroom access, and filtered water. I was warned not to drink straight tap water. Mineral is an apt name for the town, and they’re not the kind of minerals you wish to ingest a significant quantity of.

I took a trip to the grocery store, probably my last for the trip, and got dinner for tonight and tomorrow, snacks for the road, and a bottle of wine. Then I returned to the fire house and took a shower, made some phone calls, and ate dinner. Around 8 I filled up my water bottles. When I went to put my smallest bottle in its place in the lowest bottle cage, one side of the cage snapped. This happened to me last summer with a Planet Bike cage that I had stretched to fit around a larger bottle, but I didn’t expect to have a problem with this one. I strapped the cage pieces to the down-tube of the bike with a zip tie. That should be enough to keep it stable for the next two days.

Then I went to set up my tent. Two days ago the piece that holds the two poles of the tent together popped. I can get it to snap back together by pressing hard on the two pieces (translation, stepping on them), but it’s not permanent and they snapped back apart tonight. Okay, fine, I can just snap them back together again. That wasn’t bad. What was bad was when one of the poles themselves broke. It was already getting dark and I had a problem that duct tape could not fix. There was a spare bit of tubing in my tent kit, but I had never really considered how to use it before. Thankfully, logic was enough to work this one out.

The tubing wouldn’t fit over the bent ends of the poles. That must mean there’s a way to take the poles apart. Ah, yes, the foot unscrews reveling the elastic cord holding the segments together. But you’ve got to be careful when releasing elastic cord or it’ll snap so far into the poles that you’ll have to take them all apart. I used the top pole to anchor the elastic two segments down, wrapping it a few times around so the elastic couldn’t pull through and so I would have enough slack to rethread it. I removed the bent end, slid the larger metal tube over the main pole tubes, and rethreaded the elastic.

I’m most proud of myself for doing this all calmly. No panic, no irritable frustration. Problem solved. The worst part about it, though, is that it’s now about 2 hours past my bedtime thanks to various delays in getting things sorted for the night. Ah, but I’m almost done, and then I can sleep as much as I want to make up the lack.

Also, it’s nearly 10 PM and my racer companion, who was aiming to end here for the night, has yet to show up. His brakes are bad, and he’s been having to resort to using his feet as supplemental brakes, so I hope he’s okay.

Roadkill Count: 1 bird (woodpecker), 1 groundhog, 1 rabbit, 2 squirrels, 1 unknown mammal

Map Day 66

7 thoughts on “Day 66: Afton, VA to Mineral, VA

  1. Connie Joki

    ” You’ve become a true MacGyver/ Ms Fix-Up after this trip ” I was thinking the same thing. It’s great how you figure things out and make do, a real survivalist. Maybe you should try out for CBS’s “Survivor”.

    Almost there!

  2. Victoria Dunham

    Hi Cindy– It was so nice meeting you at the Bike House, and sorry about the chaos Wednesday night. Love the blog you’ve been keeping of your journey, and thanks for providing the turtle a safe escort across the road! Meeting Trans America cyclists is great, but I especially appreciate the gutsiness of the solo women travelers and racers.

    Thanks, also, for your frank comments re Bike House sustainability, and I sadly agree with all of them. It’s a mildewy place at times, and the torrential rains this summer have made it an uphill battle. I rent the top floor, and am usually downstairs daily to clean and empty the dehumidifier, but had been away petsitting for 8 days and only returned that evening. Without the dehumidifier lent to me by a friend two years ago, I fear this amazing place would have become completely uninhabitable by now, and much of the memorabilia lost.

    Apologies about the moldy food etc. I’m just an unpaid volunteer who started taking care of the Bike House, baking cookies, stocking it with food and other supplies (soap, towels, etc), taking out the trash etc simply because I love the place and all it stands for, and cycling too. As it degrades, donations decrease, and then it degrades more. I wish I had the carpentry skills to fix things like the gutters and downspouts that cause some of the issues. I think the obvious answer is to start a non-profit so it can accept tax-exempt donations, build a maintenance budget, and be eligible for grants. I’ve started two preservation non-profits and know this is doable. Also know that the local, US, and international cycling communities would rally behind it. Fingers crossed this can happen before it’s too late.

    A festive time was had at the Mudhouse and wish you could have joined us. Congrats on what must be your finish by now! –Victoria

    1. Spin Doctor Post author

      It was great to meet you as well. And don’t think for a minute that you have to apologize to me for anything. You are allowed to have a life of your own, and a single volunteer shouldn’t be expected to maintain the place. You were welcoming and there was more than enough food available.

      I love your idea of starting a non-profit. I know several people who have started them for various reasons, and I’m a member on a website that is funded that way. I’ve never set one up myself, but I would be happy to support it if it did get set up. And maybe some of the aging and water-damaged memorabilia could be scanned and digitally preserved. If something does get started on that front, please let me know. I’d be pleased to contribute.

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