CWU's fourth tour, Appalachia & Bluegrass Country, wrapped-up in Asheville, North Carolina on May 20, 2016. After a short visit with my family in NC, some needed rest and time spent catching up with friends back home in Houston, and a few days in the garage cleaning and fixing equipment, I finally chained myself to the computer. The result is an updated website with the audio clips, videos, and photos that I spent nearly six weeks collecting while pushing my rig mostly uphill, mostly in the rain.
Last night while I was comfortably nestled in my own soft, dry bed with my own clean sheets, a light went off in my head. Actually, it may have just been the pale blue glow cast against the wall from my printer's power button, but I did realize that one of the reasons I was late to update CWU's website is that I've been using a very cumbersome and time-consuming process to edit and load audio clips. So, from here forward, I will use a much simpler, and I think cooler, map-based system like the one shown below. I will endeavor to add markers on-the-go during my next and subsequent tours.
When conditions permit I setup my phone to record the formal conversations I have with folks. Often, the informal chats with people I meet by chance are as illuminating and interesting but don't make it on tape, and so you won't see them represented on the map above. I try to make notes about those conversations in my route journal as soon as I get the chance, though, so that I can eventually share those stories in print.
My last update came about 2 weeks into the tour, way back in late April, taking us through Louisville, KY. As I pedaled from there into Eastern Kentucky and through West Virginia, the roads narrowed while the hills and the tales grew taller. The Appalachians began to flex their muscles, putting mine through the ringer, and the rains arrived with my ascent through Kentucky's Red River Gorge. I found myself lingering at diners and service stations to rest, enjoy a chat, and dry out a little bit.
A brief respite with curious cows during a tough day in West Virginia. I was pelted by hail and almost struck by lightning an hour after taking this photo.
I was in West Virginia for a long stretch, spending my last night there in lovely Harpers Ferry. Most of the roads I had pedaled had been decent to good, if not for the quality of the asphalt then for the low volume of traffic. Crossing into Virginia I assumed that the roads would be even better. They weren't. The slow-paced curvy country highway in WV is a much more dangerous 55 mph curvy country highway in VA. The scenery was very often spectacular, at least. I got to see some of it-- when my wide eyes weren't darting between my rear-view mirror and the road ahead.
Swift Run Gap. Not a bicycle-friendly way to get to Charlottesville from the west.
But I pedaled on, meeting thoughtful and surprising people every day. When I finally crossed into North Carolina, the last state of the tour, I decided to alter my plan a bit so that I could spend three days cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway. They say it's a really pretty drive. I wouldn't be able to confirm that, unless an indomitable white wall of fog is something you consider pretty. WIth its lack of places to stop and rest (and buy food) and the big 3,000 foot climb on my last day, the Parkway was a culmination of the challenges I had been facing for over 1,000 miles through the mountains.
The tour ended here, at a car rental place in a strip mall. Hardly a celebratory tour finale--the bike was promptly disassembled and
stuffed into the black hatchback you see nosing into the photo.
I arrived in Asheville, NC with little (read: no) fanfare- tired, wet, and hungry (if you'll excuse the cliche). I drove my rental car to a brewery in Beer City hoping to strike up a conversation with a local but my energy was fading and I no longer had my friendly conversation-starter leaning against the window outside. After a craft brew and a big plate of pasta I hit the road, knowing that the fond memories of my passage through Appalachia were already organizing themselves, biding their time and pushing upward from beneath a thin crust of curmudgeonry and tour-fatigue that would soon wear away.
Now I'm back on flat ground and bathed in sunshine, so I don't expect that to take too long.
To see all of CWU's other photos from Appalachia & Bluegrass Country, check out the project's Facebook and Instagram pages.