Five: Just Keep Spinning (Afton to Troutville)
Today started out with a Bodo’s cinnamon raisin bagel and banana so heavily slathered in peanut butter Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward would’ve declared it obscene. I left my jar of reconstitutable Columbian in the kitchen — not worth hauling up and down mountains today. Right out of the Cookie Lady’s door was a steep climb even farther up Afton Mountain, which really woke me up. Past that was a mile or so on US 250, steep, full of traffic and a narrow shoulder. I was glad to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where a 45-mph speed limit and ban on commercial vehicles really lightened the volume.
It took me more than three hours to traverse 27-miles, inching up grades at 6 mph before bombing down them at 30-plus mph. Rinse and repeat. The views, stunning. Joy. Partway through I found Alex, Phil and Elliot, whom I’d met in Mineral. We talked for a few minutes, but separated at different paces. The parkway’s studded with overlooks, a few of which were closed for repair — not a problem on a bicycle where I could pull over and gaze out anywhere, given a wide enough shoulder. I saw Humpback Mountain, Devils Knob, and 20-Minute Cliff, so named because in June and July, the sun drops behind the mountain 20 minutes after sunlight his the cliff — a solar timer!
Exiting the parkway, I faced a steep, brake-burning descent to Vesuvius (marginally more hoppin’ than its Italian twin), where I lost more than 1,000′ in less than four miles. I stopped several times to let my rims cool. Down in the valley, I paralleled the South River toward Lexington, the home of VMI and Washington and Lee University (Robert E. Lee’s buried at W&L). I had lunch at Frank’s Pizza, and figured a plan for the rest of the day. I had scheduled a stop here for the day, but the sun was still high and I had gas in the tank, so I took the second half of my pizza to go and pushed on toward Troutville. Along the way, I went off route in Natural Bridge, to see Foamhenge, a scale replica of Wiltshire’s Stonehenge, but made from beaded Styrofoam. Definitely worth the detour. The next part of the day paralleled I-81 S for a time, which, while noisy, was interesting because I’d traveled to and from Virginia Tech dozens of times, but never explored the secondary roads until now. Past Buchanan, CR 640 ran along creeks, streams and railroad bed — this meant flat, which was good, because I was getting ready to call it a day. Nearly to Troutville, I faced a road closure, but convinced the construction folks to let me through a side yard, over a low barbed-wire fence and back on track. Detours are never welcome, because my maps lack detail of the surrounding area, and you never know how much distance they’ll add. Home tonight’s Troutville’s City Park. Cecil, the park manager, showed me and the seven or eight Appalachian Trail hikers (The AT crosses through town) the pavilions, how to work the lights and water, then sent me across the street to the fire station, where I had my first running-water shower in 215 miles. It felt great.