Throughout Virginia and Kentucky, I’ve been puzzled by the strange panels adorning many barns. Dan told me that they identify an Amish barn. That got me thinking: Is Amish a religion or a way of life? I think the answer is probably both, but according to the World Wide Web, it’s a common misunderstanding that these symbols identify an Amish barn. While some of the designs are inspired by the Amish, they’re properly called barn quilts. They’ve been around for hundreds of years, but it was only in the early 2000s that they started showing up again.
There’s no escaping religion in America. So far on this trip, there seems to be at least one church in every community – usually Baptist, sometimes Methodist, and occasionally Presbyterian. No idea how they differ, but I’ve frequently been grateful to them, as they often have a gazebo where I can sit out a storm or take a break in the shade. Some churches even let cross-country cyclists stay overnight or camp in the grounds. I’ve been touched by their hospitality and warm welcome.
Out front, the churches often have a billboard with a message, like the one I saw today: “Be Ye Fishers Of Men. You Catch ‘Em. And He’ll Clean ‘Em.” (I added the apostrophes to save the pastor’s blushes. Probably just as well I don’t have a red marker pen with me.) Here’s another great one in view of the forthcoming elections in the US: “Donkey And Elephant Not Working For You? Try The Lamb!”
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.