We were welcomed into Virginia during our rest day on day 56 by rain and lots of it. It poured all day, forcing us to forgo our plans to explore the state park and instead spend the day inside. It was really quite a shame because the park looked very beautiful.
Day 57 (70 miles) Duffield to Damascus, VA
When we awoke the next morning, the rain was still coming down. When we began to ride, it poured for a bit longer, but then slowed to a slight drizzle for the rest of the day. As we rode deeper into the Appalachians we traveled through many quaint mountain towns that were fun to check out. We ate lunch in the town called Abingdon at the start of the Virginia Creeper Trail. The Creeper Trail is a 33 mile stretch of retired railroad that had been turned into a bike trail. Us being the roadies that we are, we decided not to pedal our skinny tires along the dirt trail and took the road instead.
It turned out that most of my fellow riders had been to Damascus before and knew of some fun things to do there. Our cabins for the night sat alongside a river which had a cliff ending in deep water. Some of ESCAA members were familiar with this jumping spot and so we couldn't resist jumping off of it. We then ended the day with a campfire that we shared with a Venturing Crew that was camping next to us.
The next day was a big climbing day. Right out of Damascus we climbed up Whitetop Mountain, the second highest mountain in Virginia. At the top of the mountain it began to rain, which made the descent more difficult. Compared to the mountains of the west, the roads in the Appalachians are VERY steep and involve a lot of switchbacks. In addition, wet weather causes bike's brakes to lose some effectiveness so we couldn't stop as fast as we normally could. These two things made a recipe for disaster. Luckily, we all took these factors into account and descended slowly down Whitetop so everybody got to the bottom safely.
That night we stayed in great little cabins along a river the town of Galax, a town famous for its bluegrass music. We got to experience some of this musical heritage at dinner. Troop 424, that was hosting our dinner for us that night, invited a bluegrass band to play some songs for us. It was a very nice evening.
Another cool thing that happened in Galax was that my family arrived once again to join me during the final stretch of this great adventure.
Day 59 (77 miles) Galax to Matinsville, VA
The next day we awoke to the sound of rain, and it was not just a sprinkle, it was a downpour. We began riding, and we soon became soaked to the bone. After 20 miles we were all already exhausted and took a break in a tiny diner in the middle of nowhere. The owners quickly began making the best breakfast sandwiches I have ever had! Now we were warm, but still wet, and we had 60 miles and an entire mountain range to go.
We pressed on, and the rain didn't lighten up at all. As a spoiled California boy, I am definitely not accustomed to riding in the rain, and it made for tough going. I have backpacked through rainstorms before, but it is nothing like biking through them. It is impossible to stay dry no matter what you wear. At 20 mph you seem to intersect with every possible raindrop. The worst part is wet feet. All of the water from your body runs down your legs and pools in your shoes, keeping you socks and feet in an endless puddle. Also, once over 25+ mph, downpours start to sting all over your body, making for very unpleasant downhills.
By the end of the ride so much water had filled the streets of town that if we rode on the shoulder we were essentially riding up a small stream. We finally arrived in Martinsville around 5:30 pm and were sopping wet. Due to some lack of communication, the YMCA at which we were planning on staying, wasn't expecting us. There is nothing more frustrating than riding in the rain all day and not having our lodging work out. We had to scramble and decided to use the little leftover money from our budget to get a few hotel rooms for the night. We packed up all of our bikes in the trailer and drove to a buffet for some dinner, and then we finally arrived at our hotel around 8:30, completely and utterly exhausted.
Day 60 (64 miles) Martinsville to South Boston, VA
The next morning we woke up dreading the prospect of riding through another never ending onslaught of water. By the time we got on our bikes, it had lightened up a bit, and soon after the rain stopped completely. Feeling freed from the rain, we made good time and made it to our destination around 1pm. We set up our gear in the church we were staying in and then hopped in the bus and drove to the YMCA to take a shower. After that we had some time to relax, and then were treated to pizza courtesy of the church's pastor.
It had been a tough few days. The Appalachians definitely didn't let us off easy. It was crazy to think that the trip was almost over.....it had been such a wild adventure. Only 243 miles to go!