White Sulfur Springs to The Wilds of West Virginia
Kate and I passed the time with idle conversation as we rode north into the Monongahela National Forest. The frequency of passing through towns trickled down to once an hour at best. Plodding along, still in awe and thankfulness at the hospitality of the people we were lucky enough to meet thus far, we were about to see that our luck had to expire. Standing on the side of the road in front of his house was a man holding his 8 month old daughter in his arms. He greeted us as we approached asking if we needed anything. My reflex no-thanks came out halfhearted and a bit quieter than it should have when he mentioned food.
Kate and I sat in his dining room smiling at his daughter while he made us grilled cheese sandwiches. I felt guilty, and I think Kate might have as well, accepting food from this man as it was somewhat apparent that he did not have much to spare. It felt as though it may have been rude not to accept his hospitality. He showed us pictures of bears and other wildlife he had taken in his backyard. The photos served as an invaluable reminder that we were in the mountains now and the necessary precautions of bear country would need to be practiced.
While feeding us and refilling our water bottles was more than we could have hoped for he even offered to give us a ride to the bike trail. Being behind schedule to make DC by the 27th we reluctantly accepted his offer.
The ride in his truck placed us back on schedule and left us in bewilderment at our luck and the kindness of West Virginians.
The bike trail was beautiful. It was comprised of two wheel ruts the width of a truck graded with crushed gravel and made for a scenic and peace ride. We were now well in the heart of the national forest and what we would later discover to be the National Radio Quiet Zone.
The campsite we found was along a wide shallow river who’s warm waters flowed in a gentle southbound current. The river was heavily lined with trees of all different varieties and mirrored their silhouettes along it’s banks with sharp clarity and contrast. There was a peaceful stillness here that gave one the impression that they were the only human for miles and miles. It was as though you could just sit on a rock and feel the earth turning beneath you. Rolling along it’s ancient path through the emptiness of space taking no notice of you or it’s other billions of inhabitants. Just rolling on because there is no better pleasure in all the universe than to travel on to the next day and the next and exist with an un-waivering love of every moment of everyday regardless of it’s events.
Our campsite had well water from an old-fashioned pump, an outhouse, and a wooden shelter big enough to sleep four comfortably. Along the river I found several species of salamanders, snakes, the largest spider I have seen in the wild, and crawdads hiding beneath rocks.
I expressed my desire to Kate to stay here for a few days, but she was determined to lobby in DC with the rest of the Trek. This was the first night I began to seriously consider skipping DC and leaving Kate to find her own way. I weighed the outcomes of all scenarios I could imagine, but the choices were many and each carried their own set of complications. I decided to wait till the next day, call Tim and Kevin, and make a decision thereafter. The issue was that New York is only a six day ride at the most from DC. There were two groups making this trek the latest would arrive in NY around the 4th of August. My plane ticket doesn’t leave NY until the 17th giving me two weeks in NY with minimal contacts and no home.
Though I knew Tim was too dedicated to the Trek to join me in the woods, we had discussed traveling to New York together and I needed to connect with him to work out the details. Kevin, who seemed a bit more adventurous than the rest, I thought would be willing to live in the mountains with me for awhile.
Kate and I were woken from a half sleep by the sounds of breaking sticks on the fringes of our campsite. What’s big, relatively unafraid of humans, and goes lumbering noisily around campsites in the middle of the night? Bears! Kate and I were both rather displeased about our late night visitor who stuck around far longer than we would have care it to. We stayed up for several hours shouting and throwing rocks in the direction of the noises we heard it making and finally drove it away somewhere around 3am.
The Wilds of West Virginia to Seneca Rocks
We were only fifteen miles out of Cass which we consequently hit in about an hour and a half of riding. Cass marked the end of the bicycle trail and the beginning of a dispirited next couple of days for myself. On a pay phone at a souvenir shop I got Tim’s answering machine, and a no from Kevin who had made plans to meet a hiker in DC to hike the Appalachian Trail with. Without word from Tim I had no other logical option but to leave behind the beautiful wilderness campsite and continue on to DC with Kate.
Kate and I chose to head north to Seneca Rocks at the suggestion of a local we had encountered some time ago. Along the way we stopped at the National Radio Observatory and got to go on a tour of the site. Being especially interested in Astronomy I was exceptionally thrilled to visit the NRO. This observatory is home to the the largest moving structure on land. Their largest satellite has an area of 2.3 acres, weighs 8500 tons, and has recorded some of the most important and well known pictures of distant galaxies. The NRO controls all radio frequency within a 1300 sq. mile area around it. Which explained why Kate’s cell phone hadn’t been working for the past 3 days.
At the end of our day’s ride we reached a town which lay just a few miles south of the rocks. After asking around town we ended up staying at a church that was said to be well over 100 years old. We were very thankful to have a roof over our heads and a small kitchen to cook our dinner in.
Seneca Rocks to Petersburg
Looking up from the bottom of the mountain we certainly didn’t think that we would be climbing out onto the highest of it’s peaks later on in the day. Seneca Rocks are a picturesque geological formation caused by the variation in erosion rates of different minerals. The hard quartz rock that comprises the formation eroded at a much slower rate than the rest of the mountain surrounding it. While the mountain shrank away the quartz rocks remain towering above it.
After about an hours hike up the mountain we reached the summit and a warning sign that recommended not going beyond it. If it weren’t for the sign telling me not to, I’m not sure if I would have. Past the sign we found a precarious pathway that lead out onto the quartz rocks at the top of the mountain. The view was absolutely breathtaking. I could see out for ten miles or more in some directions. There were no rails or safety devices on top of these craggy peaks, and a false step could have meant a very long free-fall with an abrupt ending.
After hiking back down we set out north again and reached Petersburg just before dusk. Petersburg lay just outside of the Quiet Zone enabling me to contact Tim. It turned out that he would not be riding to NY due to matters he had to attend to back at home. Though I was interested in lobbying in DC with the Trek I no longer had any real reason to go on with Kate. I decided to sleep on it and see what the next day brought.
Petersburg to Warrensville
After breakfast I lead the way to the library to use the internet to check on our route for the day and see about camping at Harper’s Ferry, our intended stop for the day. Kate felt it was in her best interest to leave immediately and let me catch up with her later.
Relations between Kate and I had become strained first developing on the night I expressed my desire to stay at the campsite along the river. She had undoubtedly sensed my reluctance to continue on with her thus setting the tone for a chain of events that would make a premature separation easier on both parties.
During my research at the library I discovered a 187 mile bike trail running north and south about 120 miles east of my current location. By description it seemed quite similar to the one Kate and I had left two days ago. I decided then that I would live along this trail for the two weeks I had to burn up before I need to be in New York.
Quite confident Kate could traverse the remaining 180 miles to DC easily without me, I happily set out on a new course. My place of rest for the night came to be in a city park in a small town just inside the state line of West Virginia and Virginia. While searching for a private location in the park an older woman walking her dog warned me of a persistant bear problem in town before I could even say hello to her.
Remembering from my experiences in Yellowstone I had learned that bears that had eaten human food were especially aggressive and dangerous in comparison to ones that had not. Noticing that the garbage cans at this park were not bear-proof I decided to sleep in the damp stinky cinderblock bathroom rather than take my chances with some crazy bear cracked out on twinkys and dorritos.
Warrensville, WV to Leesburg, VA
Today I had my closest encounter with death I’ve had on this entire trip. Riding east along the Harry Byrde Highway (Highway 7) was where the incident occurred. This was a particularly bad road for cycling. High traffic traveling at speeds around 60-70 MPH with little to no shoulder. As I knew of no other roads to get to where I was going and no map I thought that riding this road for a limited time would be safe enough. If still alive is safe enough then I guessed well.
I had been on the highway for almost an hour. Cars were merging over allowing me to pass with more or less enough room to be comfortable with. In my mirror I spotted an older white toyota pick-up with it’s left front wheel barreling down the white line I was doing my best to stay on. Striking me as odd that a driver should be holding a collision course with me with as much steadiness and in as close proximity I kept my eye glued to my mirror.
Watching the the front bumper of the truck rapidly approaching with death in it’s speed, my stomach formed a into a knot. At first I had assumed it was just another asshole trying to communicate his displeasure with my being the slightest hinderance in his daily routine by jeopardizing my life and flying past me closer than necessary, as so many have in the past. The truck at 100 yards back this thought lost any significance. I had to my right a sharp drop of six inches into small brush and wild grasses.
With the truck still riding with it’s wheel on the same white line mine rolled was closing in at a life extinguishing speed, now less than 50 yards behind me there was almost no time left for either of us to escape our collision course. 50 yards became 10 in less than a blink of an eye. Adrenaline surged from my brain and coursed thick in my head and body, time screeched to an almost complete halt.
Detached from the ordinary confines of time and space I assessed my position in relation to my surroundings. My mind uncontrollably played out a probable out come of a collision ending with my body dismembered and strewn about the roadside in the fashion of so many unfortunate critters I had passed on my journey across America. Im third person I watched maggots consuming my lifeless corpse alongside the strip of concrete I currently traversed. Pushing aside those images I watched the bumper of the truck inch it’s way toward my back now less than 20 ft away and hasn’t deviated from it’s course the least bit.
I had no other option but to risk a crash and jump the gap from the road to the ditch. I leaned hard off the side of my bike veering it sharply to the right just as the truck’s bumper rushed past the back bag on my bike. The bulk of my 100+lb bike landed with such force that it nearly jarred the handlebars from my grip. At the instant my wheels hit the dirt the driver of the truck swerved hard to the left and then corrected to the right. Desperately squeezing at my brakes while flying over rocks and bushes the screaming of tires of the out of control truck diverted my attention to the left.
The truck was now sideways on the highway I thought for sure it was going to flip and end in a terrible mess. Somehow the driver managed to pull out of it and drive off down the road. Bring my bike to a halt on an embankment of grass and wildflowers I watched the truck pull into the next turn off. Shakily I got back on my bike rode down to the truck. As soon I pulled onto the gravel road it was parked upon a ways down it turned around and started heading towards me. A woman appearing in her late 20’s casually smiled and waved at me as she drove right on past me and got back on the highway and drove away. Just a smile and a wave. As if the whole almost killing me, herself, and a half dozen other drivers hadn’t been more than a passing thought.
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