Monday, 14 May 2012

Lexington, VA

The climb to Rockfish Gap
Unexpectedly, I am in Lexington on Monday. Here's how it happened. I set off in a steady rain under low cloud. Most of the traffic was coming the opposite way, into Charlottesville. My confidence in Virginian drivers continued unshaken. Once only, a school bus came closer to me than I found comfortable. As I approached the Blue Ridge, I saw an illuminated roadside sign warning of 'Fog on Mountain – Use Caution'. I turned off the main road to take the detour through Afton. It was too early to think of stopping for the day, even if it were possible to stay there overnight, but I was interested in taking a quick look at the TransAm memorabilia accumulated by the Cookie Lady over 36 years of offering hospitality to passing cyclists (to get an idea, see photos here). It is a peaceful, pleasant place but Afton Mountain is much steeper than the main road. I came to what I recognised from many web journals as the Cookie Lady's house. No-one was around – unsurprising given the weather – and with my glasses misted up I couldn't even see the often-photographed signboard marking the house. I rejoined the main road for the climb to Rockfish Gap (579 m above sea level). Visibility deteriorated markedly. I was dressed from head to foot in bright yellow waterproofs with my safety triangle on my lower back and the bike's rear light on. I spotted the turn-off to the Blue Ridge Parkway only because my GPS unit beeped. A moment later I would have crested the ridge and started to descend. At that point I could see only a couple of meters in front of me. I pulled over in a safe spot and reflected. Trucks are banned from the Parkway and few recreational vehicles were likely to go that way today. Nevertheless the fog would probably be even thicker higher up. Safety would be a real issue and there would be no compensating panoramic views to enjoy. There was no point staying the night in the Inn at Afton as tomorrow's weather was forecast to be the same as today's.

Turn-off to Blue Ridge Parkway
The clinching factor in my eventual decision to stay on the main road and continue down the other side of the mountain to Waynesboro was the thought of descending the far end of the Blue Ridge to Vesuvius in these conditions. This descent is thought by many riders to be the scariest on the TransAm Trail – and that's when it's dry. Andrew, who I met in Williamsburg, is a member of the William & Mary College cycling team and lives near Vesuvius. He told me he loves that hill. He described it as not very steep, which it isn't for him: 8 percent with hairpin bends. Riding a loaded touring bike, you have to descend on the brakes and stop several times on the way down to let the wheel rims cool. Otherwise the overheated air in the tyre inner tubes may expand to the point of bursting them. The descent begins at 905 m above sea level and ends at 433 m. The road loses 472 m of height over a distance of 6 km.

As I dropped down the mountain to Waynesboro, I came out of the fog and was much relieved. I had lunch while I worked out my next move. The $4.99 Pizza and Powerade special cost me $5.53 or some such ridiculous total. In Australia I would have handed over $5 and that would have been that. Here I had to fish out a $1 note as well, wait while a handful of change was put together (including the ubiquitous 1 cent coins), and indicate wearily that it could go in the tip jar – which was maybe the point. In every country I can think of except America, retailers are required by law to include applicable taxes in displayed prices. Customers who want to know how much tax they paid can look at their printed receipt. This difference in practice probably has a lot to do with why Americans are so hostile to taxes. Every transaction reminds them they are paying extra to the government. It makes it hard to know the final price of anything too. Someone who was down to his last $5.50, say, could go into that diner and not know whether the $4.99 lunch special was affordable.

After consulting my map and notes and conferring with the proprietor, I decided to ride on to Lexington. When the main objectives of your day have been frustrated and it's still raining outside, there's not much constructive you can do except pedal on and get some distance under your belt. I headed south on US 340 and US 11 through the Shenandoah Valley. It was a gentle roller-coaster of a ride, easier than the Blue Ridge Parkway would have been. I occasionally saw the Ridge off to my left, wreathed in cloud. The rain, which had turned into a drizzle, grew much heavier. It was probably the heaviest rain I've cycled in since my Danube trip two years ago. At Fairfield, I stopped at a gas station for a hot chocolate (priced at 99 cents; I had to pay $1.01) and had a good conversation with the woman there. When I came out, the rain had eased again and I continued to Lexington without incident. Distance for the day, 103 km.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry you missed the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's pretty special, but I you made the correct decision in the circumstances