The flatlands of Virginia gave way to lush rolling countryside, with lots of upsies and downsies, as Bilbo Baggins might have said. I couldn’t decide whether I’d stepped into the Shire or a painting by John Constable, the 19th century English landscape painter. He would have had a field day here (sorry for the pun).
A few days ago, I fell in with some retired military guys, also cycling the TransAm. They were going to stay the night at another church that offers hospitality to cyclists passing through, and invited me to join them. The congregation even cooked us dinner – complete with vegan dishes. I felt humbled by their generosity and faith.
In anticipation of a climb of over 3000 ft over the Appalachian mountains, I had jettisoned my shoehorn a couple of days ago, but regretted it when I noticed that one of the guys was carrying two folding camp stools strapped to his panniers. Aware that my red blood cell count is lower due to the leukemia, I wasn’t sure whether I would have the oomph to climb to 3000+ ft on a heavily loaded bike, but I needn’t have worried. The day was cool and misty, and the climb seemed endless, but the scenery was spectacular. We were cycling a 27-mile stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which threads its way along the backbone of the Appalachians through Virginia and North Carolina. The Virginia Dept. of Public Works must have read my previous post because the verges were pristine – not a can, bottle, or Trump sign in sight.
“Storm alert! You’ve got to find cover.” Shaken out of the reverie induced by the beautiful Virginia creeks, lush forests, and melodic birdsong, not to mention the humid heat, the pastor of the local church insisted that I take cover NOW. The storm would last all night, he said. He showed me into the church hall, where 7 other TransAm cyclists had already taken refuge. I was welcome to use the kitchen, shower, and lay out my sleeping bag wherever I wished. Right on cue, the storm broke, preceded by an abrupt drop in temperature and a rushing wind.
It had been a perfect first few days’ cycling. Flat for the most part with a warm breeze that often carried the heady fragrance of flowering foxglove trees and lupin trees. No idea of their real names, so I named them myself. And then a sudden flash of iridescent blue – a Virginia whoopee bird perhaps? No, the first of many discarded cans of Bud Light. Bud seems to be the beverage of choice in these parts. The verges are littered with cans, bottles, and bags of trash. At the thought of being taken out by a bottle of Miller Lite, I instinctively tightened my helmet.
History is everywhere in Virginia, with signs commemorating settlements and battles (civil war I think), signs to historic homes and plantations, and modern-day signs in front yards with the single word “Trump”. Guess they’ve not yet felt the “Bern” down here. I thought of gathering a beer bottle or three from the verge and taking a few pot shots at a Trump sign, but hastily changed my mind on sighting a local sitting on his verandah in his Y-fronts with his shotgun handy. I mustered a cheery wave and a “Go Trump” instead and cycled on.
Well, what did you expect?
Given the go-ahead by the HemaOnc on Monday, I squeezed my four bike pannier bags into a single old suitcase this morning to save the American Airlines $25 charge per bag. I also successfully squeezed myself into a pair of 32″ waist trousers (I bought a size down in anticipation that cycling will do wonders for my waistline). I’m now cramped into my American Airlines economy seat en route to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I catch a connecting flight to Newport Beach, Virginia – close to Yorktown where I start cycling across the United States.
This morning’s doubts about cycling across the country were quickly dissipated by the lengthy queues to go through security at San Francisco airport, and the absence of any inflight entertainment onboard – except for the gentleman in seat 15B plagued by involuntary flatulence. Adding to the joy are the folks in front of and behind me with thumping music escaping from their headphones. I’d sooner cycle back across the United States anyday.
I’m a little concerned about the weight of all my stuff. Put into a single suitcase, it’s much heavier than I expected. For a split second, I toyed with the idea of leaving my shoehorn behind, but quickly decided that it was essential. On the bright side, American Airlines didn’t charge me extra for an overweight bag. Also reassuring are the pictures in my Adventure Cycling magazine of folks on their bikes carrying way more stuff than me. Everything neatly stored on the Mackay bike. Not a bungee strap in sight.
Almost at the starting line in Yorktown now. Ladies, start your engines.
I have a theory that pitching tents has been the demise of many a happy marriage. With this in mind, I have been happy to let my partner show off his tent pitching prowess on previous camping trips, while I put my feet up with a cup of tea. That changed the day we were given a French tent that you simply threw up in the air. The tent assembles itself in mid-flight and lands ready for you to knock in the pegs. Quelle merveille! Alas, this French wonder is too bulky to transport on a bike (it also proved to be highly flammable), so regretfully I purchased a new tent. For the gear junkies, it’s a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2. Gotta wonder who dreams up these names. I tried throwing it up in the air, but it landed with a resounding thud, still firmly ensconced in its stuff sack.
For the first week of my ride across America, my good friend Christine will be joining me. Christine is an avid hiker – veteran of some of the most challenging trails in North America. I expect she can put up a tent blindfolded, with one arm tied behind her back, and whip up a 3-course dinner – all within the space of 5 minutes. Fearing my lack of tent prowess would be woefully exposed on the battleground – oops, campground – I decided to practice in our living room.
An hour later and here it is. This tent even has recessed LED lighting in the seam along the ridge pole. And check out the turndown service. A far cry from my recent trip to the Beverley Hills Hotel (BHH to insiders) – a popular port of call for Hollywood stars and “it” girls like myself. Nevertheless, I expect it to be the talk of the TransAm. Standards must be maintained.
Friday was my appointment with the HemaOnc (hematologist/oncologist). That day was big in my calendar, as I would then know whether my blood is within the acceptable bounds of wonkiness to cycle across America. The HemaOnc wanted to see me two weeks before I set off so that he could “adjust” me if needed. He didn’t elaborate on what he meant by “adjust”, but I assume it would involve some form of chemo to knock back the leukemia. Some folks in the leukemia family like to know everything, but so far I’ve been more comfortable knowing only what he tells me.
Beard groomed, hair trimmed, and looking good, I take myself off to the HemaOnc. I have a theory that I’m less likely to be “adjusted” if I look good. Nonsense I know, but I do it all the same. I check in for the bloodwork. The receptionist can’t find my appointment. No cause for alarm; I often experience this. America over, receptionists always look under Mc instead of Mac. But he genuinely can’t find my appointment. Hah, I have the printout. Nothing like being able to prove you’re right. A Scorpio thing, some would say. More likely a Man thing, I think.
Bloodwork done, I glance at the numbers. Half of the figures are in the Abnormal column. I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s sobering to see. I don’t know how to interpret the numbers, and I tell myself not to worry; the HemaOnc will reassure me. But the receptionist announces that the HemaOnc is out of the office and won’t be back for another week – and by the way they’ll need to do the bloodwork again. Kindly intended, he tells me that they won’t charge me for today’s visit. “Thanks”, I say nicely.
Always look on the bright side! I packed up the bike today and shipped it out to Yorktown, Virginia, where the ride starts on the east coast. Whether I start on May 1 as planned is unknown. I’m set to see the HemaOnc on April 25. Fingers crossed!
Well, a very black shade of pink!
A lot of equipment to get together for this ride. I used to have a lot of stuff from the extended cycle tours I’ve done in the past around Europe and north Africa, but I sold most of it shortly after I moved to the US. So the upcoming ride across the US gave me a great excuse to equip myself anew. First and foremost a new bike!
There are some incredible touring bikes out there. The bike needs to readily carry all my camping gear, clothes, tools, spares, and the scores of bits and pieces that make for a great trip. So a top-notch steel frame was a must. Can’t remember how many bikes I looked at, but I kept returning to the Thorn Raven with its Rohloff hub, which eliminates front and rear derailleurs and their finicky adjustment. I’d never tried a Rohloff hub before, so this was a bit of a gamble, but what a beauty it is, as is the complete bike. The most comfortable bike I’ve ever ridden. A Cadillac of a bike. Later this week, I’ll pack it up and ship it to Yorktown, Virginia, where the ride starts.
Keep your fingers crossed for me on Friday. That’s when I see the HemaOnc (hematologist/oncologist). He’ll check my blood to make sure the white blood cell count is within the bounds of acceptable wonkiness for me to set off.
I wanted to cycle around the world about 21 years ago. Instead, I was unexpectedly offered a job and told myself that I’d do that job for a couple of years and then cycle around the world in greater comfort. Fast-forward 21 years in that job in Germany and then the United States, and here I am, almost ready to set off on the trans America leg. Whether I’ll ever cycle around the world is unknown, but who cares? It’s the journey that counts.
I’ve lived in America for 16 years. Much longer than I ever expected. But then I planned to live in Germany for only 2 or 3 years, and ended up spending much longer there too. It’s been a funny old time in the US – not really a natural fit for me. So besides fulfilling a dream, my trip across America is to experience the country, to see what folks on the west and east coasts rather disparagingly refer to as the flyover states. I’ve always suspected that there would be something in the middle that I’d rather like – a bit like a custard cream biscuit.
Turning 53 last November, I realized I’d better put my skates on if I want to do this ride. I’m a little skeptical whether I can do it at all, to be honest. For one, I’m no spring chicken anymore, and then I got a diagnosis of leukemia last November. But I’m going to give it a shot – and I’m hoping you’ll support me with your comments and encouragement along the way …