My plan to be on the road by 6.30 fails spectacularly. I'm still in bed by 6.30 and as I move the curtain with my foot to scrutinize the outside world my desire to get a jump on the miles ebbs quickly away. The cars in the parking lot are wet and the buildings are shrouded in a fog that would more rightly belong to a damp November day. What the hell is going with the weather? The unanswerable question bangs at my mind's door for a while until I find the strength to get up. You know what? Yes, I am in the mood for a long day. So what's it gonna be? Bitching about the rain or make the rain bitch about how strong I am? I gorge two bowls of oatmeal and two bananas and my day begins at 7.30. The thick mist hovers around the earth but it doesn't deter me. I am aware that today might yet provide a most challenging day with several tough climbs. The Appalachians are the real crucible: tougher than the Rockies, shorter yes but steeper and hotter. I can’t wait to polish the hills off so I can think about hitting the plains of Ohio.
The rain has thrown a slight monkey wrench into my schedule and today it is making up time. I don't just leave town, I bolt out of the starting blocks like a sprinter on a mission to clock an Olympic time. It is not raining and that's good enough for me. The urgency that stirs through my marrow and my feet take me out of the Monongahela Valley and propels me on the Mason-Dixon highway, a very misleading name as the road is more a country road than a highway and I share it with almost nobody. The road sets me climbing into the hills and the clouds. The air feels thick with humidity. I sweat like crazy even though I can't see the sun. It is the best bit of the trip so far. I feel I am riding in wonderland, lush valleys, forested hillsides, farms, cows and the ubiquitous mist. I am loving every second of it. The bike feels smooth, my legs feel incredibly good, I climb, I descend, I sip water and start the procedure all over again. I clock 60 miles by noon, 15.9 mph on a hilly terrain. This is unprecedented. It is my hanker for vendetta on the weather that gets me flying. I want to get out of WV and enter Ohio a wounded but winning soldier.
pedal up long hills and then I coast down on the other side and then I repeat the process, all afternoon long. Flat terrain does not belong in this part of the country. Forget about speed today, I say to myself, just follow the rhythm, follow the lines. I ride past churches and several villages, convenience stores provide a brief relief and liters of cold Gatorade and water that I swallow in a long seamless gulp. The natural beauty of Virginia continues to grow and accompanies my ride all the way to which looks like a good place to spend the night.
It's outstanding riding. I have the road to myself, the rain is a thing of the past and it's completely quiet except for the noises from the birds and insects. The air sits still, occasional streaks of blue line paint the sky above the nearby hills, and the mountains to the south fade into the distance, swallowed up by a greenish haze that fizzles as the day advances.
At every little town with a convenience store, not many today as most of the places I ride through are tiny, I stop to refill my water bottles and eat some sugary stuff that away from my bike I would not look at. But out here no amount of calories lasts more than 20 miles.
The road winds in and out of little valleys and foothills, but always working up until finally I leave highway 50 and take road 250. After a few miles the road stays in the valley and then almost unbeknownst to me it surges steeply. By now 250 is a rural back road with a very questionable surface which makes me bounce every time the wheels hit the cracks on the road surface. The climb is even steeper than the ones in the Allegheny region and it does take the sting out of my excitement. At least the fog goes and a cloudy blue sky joins the proceedings. For the next few miles the road pitches up steeply and really makes me work. The ride up the hills are a very private affair. I listen closely to the hum of the tire rolling on the road surface and the rattle of the chain whooshing rhythmically at every pedal stroke. I feel the sweat coming loose from the cheeks and streaming down to the middle of my jaw until it drops off my face.
I ride through some almost abandoned towns -or ghost towns. These place project an eerie and alienating vibe. I stop to look at the buildings and I feel like I am watching a muted old TV set. And the actors are faceless. These were thriving towns once, which burst with energy and optimism. Now, only bare-chested old folks sit on the front steps of derelict houses. The railroad has gone, the oil business has gone, the coal industry has left a huge vacuum. What to do? Who to go to? Where do you find a future? This is the worst type of poverty, the kind which epitomizes the senseless run for gold without factoring in welfare. Existence with no future and with a painful past. What's the point? Poverty is not an empty wallet; THIS poverty is a broken promise, it is a reward taken from under your eyes, it is the paint of your life slowly and inexorably peeling off from under a band aid. The towns are not even a shadow of their former selves. They are just a dark and dilapidated tomb of a graveyard with unmarked communities buried deep under the weight of the years.
I keep riding the whole morning and into the afternoon. My face is covered with dead bugs and my white jersey is a faint yellow by now; I look helpless when I approach the top of the bluffs overlooking the Ohio river. I cross it on a steel bridge with some apprehension as the road does not have a shoulder and the vehicles behind are in a hurry. I ride fast for 7 miles on busy highway 7 before I reach Bellaire. It's 2:00 PM, with 85 miles in. What to do? The next hotel west of here is located in Cambridge, 65 miles west through hills and hills. The weather raged for three days, now it is my turn to rage. Onto the breach once more. I throw myself up and down country road 149, another lovely intimate rural setting. I do feel tired but it is the kind of tiredness that a good night's sleep will take care of. Transient fatigue. I keep climbing and descending short but steep hills. I don't ride on level terrain at all today. Every uphill mile is a grind and every downhill ends too soon. If it wasn't for my resolve to knock down miles, I'd be frustrated by this rollercoaster ride. Not today, however, the enjoyment of today's strong ride wanes by the time I read 120 miles on my computer. Now I just want to get to a hotel and take a long shower. I still average 14 mph and by 5.30 pm after 10 hours on the bike and hundreds, literally hundreds of hills, I enter the outskirts of Cambridge. I spot a Days Inn just outside the city and it will be my home tonight. Six garlic breads, a NY strip steak, one baked potato and two ice-creams later I lie on my bed where I update the journal recounting the day's events.
Tomorrow I want another long day, the hills are almost over, maybe 40 more miles and then it is flat land for a long, long while.
7.30 AM on route 7 as I leave Morgantown
Route 7 takes me deep into rural WV
The weather is still menacing
A pristine football pitch in the middle of a valley and nothing else around.
A huge coal mine
Blue sky?! First time I see that since Day 1
A covered bridge. If you are thinking "The Bridges of Madison Country" you are wrong, not here!!
A ghost town along route 250
This is from the top of one of the many hills I climb today
Cameron, a soon-to-be ghost town
West Virginia scenery
About to cross the Ohio river
Ohio! 4 states down, 10 to go
An old, rusting bridge over the Ohio river in Bellaire
Elisa, this one is for you. In Bellaire, Oh
The scenery begins to flatten out. Not yet though..
The bike trail into Cambridge
It is still very hilly around Cambridge
Route 265, by this time I have 130 miles in and I cannot wait to get this day over with
The highway motel I stay at tonight