I woke up in the park and let Jeff get a head start again. I'm not a big fan of pace-matching. I don't mind slugging it out alone.
I started the day riding off into a headwind. I can't explain what the appeal of riding a bicycle so much is. I can't say I'd even necessarily recommend it. I guess I like it. I like it sometimes. It sure is a lot of work though. It's a challenge, which is good. It's nice to get somewhere and loaf around, that's cool. I like to be a fly on the wall and observe my surroundings, that's chill. You gotta do something, and this is not office work. I guess I'm down with that. These trips certainly have their moments. Great, great moments! - but sometimes you need to dig deep.
Hills, headwinds and a nice blast of cold hard rain. I made it through all that and into a goofy little store with warm Gatorade, dim lights, and deer heads on the wall. I was starving, so I bought some junk food and put it inside of my body. I laid my riding shirt flat on the concrete to dry in the sun. The sun was out now, and it seemed like a different day. I flipped the shirt a few times, and sat around gawking in a general manner.
Some yellow Ortliebs came into view: Jeff caught up! We talked some more and compared more notes. He's taking an absolute shitload of nice pictures. I'm taking some pictures, but I can't figure out how to work the SD drive on my netbook with the Ubuntu setup. I've got bigger fish to fry, so I might be home before I post up my ugly photos. If I get the ones that Jeff took while I was basically looking at the same stuff, then maybe I can post some. Basically: this shit looks pretty, and some of it could bend your eyes. Look at some Ansel Adams - I'm looking at that stuff with some goofball towns in-betwixt.
We set off together for the final ten miles to Damascus Virginia. It was the best ten mile stretch I've seen on this entire trip so far. A gentle climb with many switchbacks followed by a long agreeable descent into a beautiful town.
Today's destination was "The Place." It's a church-operated hostel for Appalachian Trail hikers and TransAm cyclists ONLY. It's $5 per day. No dogs! NO Alcohol! (You can't tell me what to do. I'm a drinking dog, and I'm sleeping on your lawn.)
Damascus is the best town I've seen in a long time. It's small, green, and surrounded by wooded peaks and lively rivers. It's inhabited by dirty outdoorsy people who are drifting, grinning and limping. The AT and the TransAm bicycle route intersect here. Half of the businesses in town are are outfitters or bicycle stores. The rest sell coffee and pizza.
Jeff and I entered "The Place," and immediately got the feeling that bicyclists are pansies compared to hikers. We get mini-markets, delis, cafes, electricity... every day. These guys carry gear and food on their back and have very limited social interaction. I'd love to go awhile without 'sharing the road' with trucks and cars, but compared with hiking, I have the easier of the two jobs. These people coming off the trail are a little further along in the composting cycle. The thick socks drying on the porch told me a story.
What gives? Everybody seems to have a fake hiker-name. To me it seems very white-bread American. I don't see what wearing North Face gear and walking around in the trees has to do with shedding your identity. Everyone on the AT is named Cave Dog, Honey Toes, or Sassy Larry. The name "Chris" is decidedly pedestrian, but I'll keep wearing it.
A note about anxiety. i has it. A trip like this seems like a good time to quit drinking. Maybe on paper. I get to a place, and a lot of times I feel off-center. If I gave it a week, I might settle (maybe.) But it's easier to take a 24oz anxiety pill. I fixed myself a 'secret soda' from the Chevron, and pushed down the "other" button on the plastic lid of my cup as joke to myself. And I smiled.
To the credit of god, the earth itself, and the trail hikers, I met some cool people. I lent out my laptop to the community. I brewed up some instant coffee for the guy who didn't get to the store in time. I had a good conversation about hiking, bicycling, and MMA fighting. I had a good conversation about life in general before getting in one last pee and retiring to my tent.