Today’s Mileage: 42.7
Total Mileage: 553.7
If today wasn’t an adventure, then I’m not sure what “adventure” means.
When we woke up, we were ready to get on the road; today we would be crossing the state line into KY.
We started our day with a pretty steep climb. We named the climb Big Bertha Junior. It wasn’t as bad as yesterday’s climb, but was still pretty hard.
Once we made it to the top, we had another super fun descent. It winded down the mountainside.
On our way down, we passed two bike tourists headed east. They were also loaded down with panniers just like we were. We came up on each other pretty fast. When we passed each other, they told us to have a safe trip, as their journey is coming to an end, and ours is just beginning.
The further we went today, the road got busier and busier. There wasn’t much of a shoulder, and coal truck after coal truck kept passing us. It was a bit scary, but thankfully most of the big trucks attempted to give us a little room. We tried to get off to the side as best as we could, but sometimes there was just no room. A lot of coal mining and logging goes on in this area, so there are tons of large trucks.
The road was very curvy and it was hard to find places to stop and rest due to poor visibility. We had to be very careful where we stopped. Sometimes we desperately needed a break, but couldn’t stop because it was around a curve.
Several cars passed us, angrily honking. We even had a car pass us with the windows rolled down, the passenger yelling, “get off the road!”
It was disheartening. We were already stressed out due to the curvy road and heavy traffic, not to mention the huge vehicles that were constantly passing us. The last thing we needed was to be yelled at. I wish they knew how hard we have worked and pedaled to get this far, but they didn’t.
I was nervous and on edge today. I was nervous about the big trucks. I was nervous about being deep in Appalachia. I was nervous at the gas stations watching people eye our bikes and equipment.
It must have been written all over my face. A man in coveralls and a dirty white shirt nicely told me (in a thick Appalachian dialect) our bikes would be fine outside at the gas station and that nobody would bother them.
I felt bad. I knew that he knew I was being judgmental.
The gas station clerk, also in coveralls, came outside to talk to us about our trip. He was also extremely nice and wished us safe travels.
As we pressed on, a man passed us in a car yelling something out the window. He turned around and passed us again. He parked and got out of his car and started talking to us from across the road.
Then, he made his way over to us and our bikes. I was nervous and kept one foot on pedal in case we needed to leave quickly.
Although I was speaking to a grown man, I felt like I was speaking to a child. He was trying to tell us the road was closed ahead. He was also extremely nice and only trying to be helpful.
A few miles up the road…
This is what I thought of when I saw the road blocked off:
They wouldn’t let us through. We tried everything. There was no way we were getting through. The young VDOT worker told us the road had a 20 ft deep trench being dug for a pipe, and there was literally no way around it. I was frustrated and upset. The detour was 70 miles long. The section we needed to cross was 10 miles long.
In his thick, slow, Appalachian dialect, he said, “I’m so sorry….I wish I could let y’all through….But if somethin’ happened to one of y’all, well, I just don’t think I could live with myself.”
That’s when the adventure started.
We headed back to Haysi, the nearest town. Mash decided to go into a florist shop, which I thought would be a waste of time, but it was the best thing we could have done.
We asked the lady who owned the shop for help. There was no way we could ride 70 miles with only a few hours left of daylight. The road was going to be closed for 2 days.
This lady called everyone she knew. For an hour, she was calling this person, that person. She was messaging people on Facebook. She was doing everything she could to help us get around the closed road. One failed attempt after another, she never gave up and was genuinely trying to help us.
She told us that sometimes she thinks that her florist shop is there for a reason. She has had several cyclists stop at her shop asking for help, and all kinds of people stopping in there for directions. Out of all the little stores and shops in the town, for some reason they always stop and ask her for help.
She finally got ahold of a police officer. 5 minutes later, a big white pickup was in the parking lot. He had a plan. We loaded up our bikes and gear and he was going to shuttle us up the mountain on a backroad, where we would then transfer our bikes and gear to a van driven by a couple of state park officials. We thanked the woman for going way out of her way to help us. Guys, she wasn’t just calling a few people- she was literally desperately calling anyone she could think of.
The officer drove us over the mountain….about a 35 minute drive! He also spoke slowly and in a very southern accent. We talked about everything- his family, how the coal industry is dying and how their small town is rapidly shrinking. He even told me the correct way to pronounce “Appalachian”. It’s not App-a-lay-shun. It’s App-uh-latch-in. They take that very seriously around here.
When we got to the top of the mountain, two Breaks State Park workers loaded our stuff up in their van and drove us to the other side of the mountain. They were also extremely nice, funny, and charming. The 20-something guy riding in the passenger seat told us how he had been in the Appalachian Mountains all his life other than the time he went to Lexington, KY and the time he went to Virginia Beach.
They drove us to the Breaks State Park visitor center so we could get our pins for riding across the state of Virginia!
They dropped us off and we shook their hands and thanked them.
We were able to continue our ride and cross into KY!
I also got a picture by the Virginia sign.
When we arrived to Elkhorn City, we decided to play it safe and find a place to stay rather than climb over another mountain and risk getting stuck in the dark..
Once again, a local church, Elkhorn Baptist, allowed us to use their facilities. Pastor Aaron (who was super nice and personable) told us we could use the shower, he showed us where the kitchen and snacks were, and he told us we could sleep in the bedroom they had upstairs!! They were about to start their Wednesday night service, yet he took his time to get us all fixed up and settled in. We talked to some of the church members who were asking us about our trip. They were so nice and welcoming. They really made us feel at home and did a great job welcoming us back to KY. 💚
After today, I am in awe of the people who helped us out. Today forced me to re-examine the way I look at people whom I know nothing about.
My idea of a “bad” area is someone’s home that they love and are grateful for.
My idea of stubborn VDOT worker is a caring guy only looking out for our safety.
The spit fire of a woman who owns the hole-in-the-wall florist shop out in the middle of nowhere saved the day.
Those guys wearing boots, jeans, dirty t-shirts, and trucker hats- those guys shuttled us miles up a mountain, saving us literally a whole entire day of biking…not to mention making us laugh and carrying on a great conversation.
I felt bad. I completely judged a book by its cover today. I was put in my place after experiencing what I experienced today: literally half a dozen people I have never met and will likely never see again, all working their tails off to help us out….for no good reason other than they were just nice people watching out for us and trying to do the right thing.
With all the bad that we see and hear about in this world, I want you to know that there is good out there. I’ve seen so much of it the past 11 days.
Sometimes it’s just in the most unexpected places.