We left Steve and Wendy’s the next morning with Steve riding along to see us off. We took a gravel road over a mountain and then got lost with the help of Virginia’s road-sign department. We made a beautiful, and steep, eight mile loop of a remote valley before getting to our real turnoff. Then we started down an almost flat and lovely valley where we saw prickly pear cactus growing out of the shale road cuts.
After 35 miles or so we had to get one of Steve’s bear-hugs and let him turn back. We hope he will be able to get away and meet us somewhere in the West to ride home with us. Wendy had to go to work and say her good-byes earlier. We will miss them both for a long time. And also the Loop Loops (Lupine) and Bonehead (Bonnie) and Muff Muff (Muffin) (Two dogs and a cat).
After Steve turned back the road turned increasingly steep and by 4:30 we were ready to look for a place to hide in the woods and put up the tent. We found a nice place on Jefferson National Forest land and out of sight of the road. We knew there were no towns or campsites on the road, so we had prepared ourselves with water and food at the last store.
We pushed 100 yards back in some woods and set up our tent, out of sight of the road. Claire read to me from Blue Highways, and we ate our tuna on hot dog buns and pork-and-beans and grapes and candy bars. Then it was dark (so early) and we settled in for the night.
The dark woods are close and cool. The steady cacophony of jar flies fills in the spaces between trees. Two hounds join in with their running song; a high pitched, frantic, and irregular beagle and the second, a low moaning blues-note of a red-bone hound. They course in and out of hollows, pitch and timbre shaped by the land and the trees; now close, now far away, now echoing off the hills, now fading. They flow across the land, and own it.
The wet leaves beside the tent smell both sharp and mellow.
A sliver of moon rises through still leafed-out trees and sinks behind a cloud soon thereafter. The dark becomes complete and strangely familiar.
The cool and humid air gathers against my skin, lays a chill there. I turn to snuggle Claire; her sleeping warmth on one side, chill on the other. Next morning, we found the truck of a squirrel hunter nearby. He had been kind enough not to awaken us. I wish him squirrel gravy.
We soon passed over the Great Eastern Divide, where water flows north to the James River and to the Atlantic, and south to the New River which flows into the Kanawha and Ohio and Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
For miles the land was open pasture carving high on the mountain sides and stippled with white limestone outcroppings, cows and eastern red cedar. Some of the sugar-maple trees are already spectacular at this elevation.
We stopped at a general store at Sinking Creek and got to talking with the owner and a customer. We also found some old fashioned chocolate drops; the kind my grandfather shared with me when I was very young and he was very old; the real kind have chewy centers, not soft, and are almost impossible to find. The storekeeper said they were stale from a hot summer and gave them to us. They weren’t bad at all and brought back wonderful memories.
At the store, we learned that we were on the route of the Tour Dupont professional bicycle race. What a great place for a bike race. After breakfast in Newport, we followed the Tour Dupont route up a serious five mile climb on Route 42.
Working hard and sweating, we imagine Lance Armstrong (two time winner) and the peleton, tongues flapping, trying desperately to catch the loaded tandem that is humiliating them. Oxygen depravation leads to interesting fantasies.
We topped out and found an apple tree spilling apples onto the shoulder. They were an old fashioned apple that was snappy crisp and sweet. I imagine the white blossoms fluttering in the peleton-created wind as the race sped past this spring.