The old man trickster I met in Troutville was a cyclist. His local knowledge and vehement recommendation carried a lot of weight with me, and I was persuaded to change the route I proposed to take on Day 40. The route suggested by my maps involved biking along relatively flat ground through Lexington, VA, before making a very steep ascent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a winding road following the top of the old Appalachian mountains.
The Troutville Loki urged me to take an alternate route with such passion that I resolved, mouth stuffed with chili dog, to follow his advice. I was to take highway 43 south, then follow the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway up the stretch of the Appalachians that I was to follow. I was told that the grades would be less significant, and that the scenery would be much more impressive.
The morning of Day 40 began, as many before, with PopTarts and a banana. Hardly fuel. I hadn't considered that by altering my route, I would be leaving the planned service stations that I had been counting on for more/better food. A rookie error, especially so far into my journey.
As I began the gradual climb up the Blue Ridge Parkway, a fog began to settle in. On go the blinking lights, and onwards I pressed. So much for the scenic overlooks I was promised.
The fog thickened, and rain began to fall. The temperature began to drop, and the climbs continued. I pressed on, taking solace in the elevation markers by the side of the road, telling me that I had almost reached 3000ft, what I had expected to be the peak of my climbing (according to my original route). This comfort was dashed as I began to descend, far earlier than I anticipated. Then another 2000ft ascent. Rain, more fog, down a mountain, and up a mountain.
I began to curse the old man from Troutville. I wasn't even able to enjoy the views he had promised. Skipping ahead to the early afternoon, I finally reached the point where my original route met the Blue Ridge Parkway. Conveniently, there was a park ranger station with a place to refill my waterbottles.
I spoke with a park ranger there, who, after hearing about the detour I took, informed me that I had taken a much harder route (I had surmised as much myself) and that the Troutville man may have been trying to see if I had the cohones to make the arduous ascent. He proposed another route, which he claimed would make up for the difficulties I faced earlier in the day. As tired as I was, and as eager I was to make my camping destination, I followed his advice as well. Fool me twice.
The ranger and the old trout from Troutville must have been in it together. I descended from the ranger station on hwy 56, then took hwy 151 towards my intended destination. All good so far, until the miles began to pile up.
Still soaked, I reach the small town of Afton. I had put in over 200 kms. The wheels on my bike had been spinning for over 10 hours. Conservatively, I climbed over 8,000 feet, though I suspect that it was much more. The morning's rain had soaked through my shoes, and had damaged my Canadian phone, making that the second phone that had been subject to water damage on this trip (it still hasn't recovered, several days later).
However, a silver lining. I reached the Cookie Lady's house in Afton, VA. The Cookie Lady had been hosting cyclists since the 1970s, until she passed away in 2012. The same basement that an army of spandex clad individuals such as myself had passed through was still made available, though no warm cookies awaited me.
Instead, the 3 other cyclists who happened to have been spending the night there on their travel westbound left spaghetti. I threw in the rest of my food (some Ramen and freeze-dried chicken flavored linguini) and made a meal out of it.
The Cookie Lady's basement was plastered with cycling artefacts and postcards. However, time was beginning to show underneath the decorations. The walls were beginning to crack, and there was obvious water damage on many of the floors. It seems to me as though this bicycle haven will not have very many years left before it becomes inhospitable. It would take some benefactor and a good amount of elbow grease in order to rehabilitate it. Still, the floor I slept on was level, and I was glad to change into dry clothes. Another day down.