In Search of the Meaning of Life – An Autobiography (Chapter Seven, Part Five – The U.S. Bike Trip Continues)

Saturday, October 16, 1976     Day 25     45 Miles, Total: 825 Miles     $7.20, Total: $202.41

We woke up early, and were on the road by 9:00 a.m.  Our first stop was a restaurant for pancakes and bacon – $5.00.  Then we rode on past Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state.  We turned east on Highway 33, after having been traveling south, and right away we met a mountain in front of us.  The locals called it Northfork.  After we had walked the bikes two miles up the mountain, a couple of old men in a truck stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride to the top.  They said it was four more miles to go.  As we were limping a bit anyway and quickly calculated that another four miles would probably ruin our ankles, we accepted the ride and put the bikes into their truck.  When they opened the door for us to climb in, a whiskey bottle rolled out onto the ground.  The two of them weren’t feeling any pain – that we were sure of.  We couldn’t believe just how high the road went up the side of that mountain, and it seemed like it went on forever, even by truck.  At the top of the mountain they said that they were going on to Franklin anyway, so they took us the next ten miles into town.  We figured that it was a good way to make up for the lost time that we had spent climbing Seneca Rocks yesterday.  After they dropped us off, we rode on a way longer and later rested by a river to eat four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  After our lunch, we rode on to Brandywine, where we bought some breakfast rolls, chocolate milk, and ice cream for $2.20.  Just outside of Brandywine, we stopped at the George Washington National Forest to camp for the night.  All the camping spots had been filled, so we camped in a field with all of the extra hunters that were in the area at the time.  There were a bunch of hunting dogs in the field with them, and the dogs were putting on quite a howling concert.  We were given some fuel this morning for our camp stove by one of the climbers, and we used the stove to heat up a can of lasagna and beefaroni.  The meal tasted very good warm, for a change, and the stove worked fine.  There is a shower here at the official campground, but it turned out to have only cold water, and we decided not to use it.

(1994 Editorial Comment:  We had gone through one fifth of our money in less than a month, and still felt like we would be lucky to last until Christmas on the money that we had left.  Florida was looking better all the time, especially surrounded with the cold October weather we had at the time.  This wasn’t Ohio anymore and the further we went into the mountains the farther away from home we were beginning to feel.  We had come 825 miles at this point, and we had acclimated ourselves to the weather and to life on the road.  Even with the nagging ankle problems, which started out from not enough pre-trip preparation because we were working too many hours through the summer and I was recovering from dental surgery, we were starting to feel “road hardened” from the trip.  The process of even pushing one of our heavy bikes miles and miles up the side of a steep mountain wasn’t an easy one, and we knew that we were getting stronger with each passing day.)

(2009 Editorial Comment:  Before the trip we hadn’t purchased any fuel for our brand new camp stove, and as the weather wasn’t really bad at the time we didn’t give it much thought.  Tonight we were glad to have the fuel that was given to us – and a hot meal on the road for once.  I later made a pen and ink correction here, to account for our later financial reconciliation, to indicate that we had really gone through one fourth of our money in less than a month.  Everything that lay in our future was unknown to us, but we were enjoying the present – even with all of our difficulties.  This was for us a real adventure – into the unknown.)

Sunday, October 17, 1976     Day 26     40 Miles, Total: 865 Miles     $7.00, Total: $209.41

It rained all night long last night, and the sleeping bags and some of our equipment had gotten wet.  When we woke up it was still raining, and very cold.  After a short while it started to snow along with the rain, and then it all turned to snow.  It snowed for an hour or so, collecting on top of the hunter’s cars, but not sticking to the ground.  When it finally stopped, we got dressed, and as the showers had only cold water, we made a plan for the morning.  We hitchhiked into Brandywine together and bought $7.00 worth of stew and soup to heat up on the stove, as we were out of food this morning.  The stove is worth its weight in gold.  We started the trip without fuel, and up until yesterday we hadn’t been too concerned, but now it was just too cold and we needed warm food.  Once we got back to the tent, we heated up some chunky soup, packed up our wet tent and equipment, and started on down the road to Harrisonburg.  We walked the bikes five miles up the Shenandoah Mountains, and there was snow all over the mountain tops, and about two inches of snow covered the trees along the road.  It was pretty cold, and we were wearing our warmest clothes with wind pants and windbreakers over everything else.  We cruised down the other side of the mountains into the Shenandoah Valley, and finally arrived in Harrisonburg at nightfall.  We had left the campground area at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon.  We went into town and walked the bikes from one end of town to the next, looking for a place to sleep.  I got a flat tire somehow along the way, probably from all of the curbs in town.  Sidewalks are bad luck it seems.  We came to Madison College, and met a guy named Chris by the library who said that there was an empty room in the house he was renting, so we went along with him.  After a warm shower, we settled down to a good night’s sleep.

(1994 Editorial Comment:  That morning in the George Washington National Forest I couldn’t help but compare our situation with that of George’s “rag tag” army during the Revolutionary War, as they waited to cross the Potomac River.  It was so very cold, and we were wet, and out of food.  The situation was looking pretty bleak as we looked out of the tent into a blizzard of freezing rain and giant snowflakes from the confines of our tent.  At times we were faced during the trip with a decision to make, and even if it wasn’t a life or death decision, it often seemed like it was at the time.  Our choice was to go back into town for food that day.  Other times it was to pack up the tent in the rain and make a run for a barn, or to leave a train tunnel for no promise of anything better in the next town.  It is only after being challenged, and successfully overcoming that challenge that you are faced with at the moment, that your life is enriched and grows in new dimensions.  It is a poor life that has never been challenged, that never knows what potential was there all along, and that doesn’t have in reserve the knowledge and confidence of past conquered challenges to provide a foundation for overcoming future challenges.  We were survivors, and no matter what was placed in front of us, we were going to make it through each and every day.)

(2009 Editorial Comment:  We left the bikes with the hunters to hitch a ride back into town, figuring who’s going to steal anything from a field full of guys with guns and dogs?  The clothes we normally wore every day on the trip were Levi’s jeans, a T shirt or long sleeve shirt, a blue jean jacket once it got cold and a down vest over that.  On this occasion we had on our gloves, watch caps, and rain gear over everything.  We layered everything, and as we went through the day we changed layers as necessary.  In this case it was really, really cold; and we had on everything that we could put on.  The only problem with layering was sweating inside all of the layers, but we did our best to let the air flow in without freezing.  We were so used to getting wet by now that it didn’t really matter much – wet was wet – from rain or sweat.)

Monday, October 18, 1976     Day 27     40 Miles, Total: 905 Miles     $12.10, Total: $221.51

We got up at about 9:00 a.m., showered, said goodbye to Chris, and rode on Highway 33 over to the Skyline Drive.  In Harrisonburg we ate breakfast at Burger King for $5.10, and then purchased $7.00 worth of groceries at the local grocery store, buying soups and canned stews.  Once on the Skyline Drive we went south, and the road turned into a roller coaster, going up and down all the time.  We decided to try and make it to a mountain campground that was up ahead, but it was dark before we got there.  The campground was on the top of a mountain, and we had to push the bikes up the mountain a long time before we got to the top.  We finally made it to the top, almost dead from exhaustion, and from the bitter cold.  We got out the camp stove and heated up a couple of cans of food.  After eating, we still had to go higher up another road to find the campground.  No one was there when we finally arrived, and we found that one of our flashlights was dead since it must have been left on in the backpack.  So we set up the tent in the dark with only one flashlight.  The temperature dropped to 10 degrees that night, but we managed to stay warm enough, which was probably because we were so tired that we didn’t notice.

(1994 Editorial Comment:  I remember being so exhausted trying to make it up that mountain, only to find that the campground was never just around the next bend.  There are times when you are so tired that you start to give up caring anymore, and you just want to lie down where you are.  I can also remember being that tired when climbing a mountain in Utah, and again while climbing in the Grand Canyon.  It was so cold that night in the dark that setting up the tent was an almost impossible task.  Had it not been for that hot meal and a short rest, I’m convinced that I would never have made it to the campground, and would have collapsed on the side of the road.)

Tuesday, October 19, 1976     Day 28     40 Miles, Total: 945 Miles     $12.00, Total: $233.51

We woke up in the morning, amazed that we hadn’t frozen to death.  We finished off a box of natural cereal that we had with us, and got up and packed.  I washed my hair in the sink of the campground’s bathroom, which woke me up in a hurry.  We continued on our way, riding south on the Skyline Drive, and it continued the same roller coaster trip from the day before, as the elevation varied from 1900-3500 feet, not quite the level ride that people had told us it would be.  We finally made it to the Waynesboro exit, and ate lunch at a Howard Johnsons for $8.00.  Earlier in the morning we ate two cans of stew for breakfast, and two cans later while resting at a scenic overlook area.  Our route then took us down out of the mountains on Highway 250 towards Charlottesville.  We saw a campground about ten miles east of the Skyline Drive, and stopped in.  After paying our $4.00 fee, we set up the tent and were invited to have dinner in a camper by an older couple.  We had ham and all the trimmings, which filled us right up.  Bruce kept right on eating while I started writing this log book entry, and he cleared the whole table off, even finishing the jello bowl.  Now we’ll go and take a hot shower in the campground’s facilities, and then crash for the night.  That’s all.  P.S. – When we were on the Skyline Drive, some guy went nuts with his camera and took our pictures for about ten minutes.  We also saw someone riding a horse along that scenic, but hilly, route.

(1994 Editorial Comment:  Bruce and I made an interesting observation many times during this trip, and that is that the majority of people can’t give directions to save their lives, much less describe the terrain and condition of a route.  Usually when given directions, we would have to discount most of what we were told because of wrong information.  Every now and then, someone would describe for us perfectly what lie ahead, although that was very rare.  For you see, we studied our maps all day long during the course of the day, and again at night in preparation for the next day’s route.  Then armed with a good understanding of where we needed to go next, we often asked for directions in order to reconfirm what we already though we knew, or for extra detail as to what to expect along the way.  Most of the time we would have been better off asking people to predict the weather.)

(2009 Editorial Comment:  We were in a “grind it out” phase of the trip now.  Chris had been nice to let us stay in his extra room two nights ago, but otherwise it was camping out in tough conditions.  The guy with the camera on the Skyline Drive must have seen something in us that really caught his photographer’s eye, probably the “road hardened” travelers that we had become by then.  The Dobson’s were extremely nice and kind to us in the campground as they must have seen a need to take care of us in what probably looked to them as two “road weary” charity cases, as we ate everything that was set on the table before us that night.  Regardless of what people saw or didn’t see in us, we were as immersed in this adventure as if we had fallen into the deep end of a swimming pool – treading water for all we were worth to keep our heads above water.)

Wednesday, October 20, 1976     Day 29     0 Miles, Total: 945 Miles     $1.50, Total: $235.01

Well, it rained all night long, having started out just when we went to bed.  The dirt that we had pitched the tent on the night before became a sea of mud by morning.  My new air mattress must have a slow leak in it, because it collapsed about half way through the night.  We woke up, and I made a run for the showers, and then Bruce worked up enough courage after a while to do the same.  We sat the rain out all morning, while staying dry under the overhang from the roof of the shower house.  At lunchtime we were invited back into the camper for coffee, and our elderly friends actually forced us to stay for lunch, and we almost ate them out of house and home, after they first twisted our arms of course you see (Arthur W. Dobson, Cambridge, MD).  We stayed in the trailer with them (a silver Airstream trailer if I remember correctly), for a couple of hours talking and watching it rain.  Mr. Dobson then suggested that we ought to go down to the campground’s office, and ask them to use the pavilion that we hadn’t seen yesterday.  The Dobson’s insisted on paying for our camping fee of $4.00, and we packed up and walked the bikes about 3/4 of a mile through the rain to the pavilion.  We washed the mud off of the tent and gear, and hung everything up to dry under the roof of the pavilion.  We spent $1.50 on ice cream and amusement games, as there was little else to do while it rained.  The rain is starting to let up now, and we’ll probably go to sleep pretty early tonight.  The weather tonight should turn out to be clear and cold.

(1994 Editorial Comment:  Between the guy taking our pictures yesterday, and Mr. Dobson and his wife taking care of us here in the campground, we must have looked like charity cases.  We had more gear on our bicycles than anyone had ever probably seen before, and our standard blue jeans and blue jean jackets were probably looking pretty worn by now.  The Appalachian Mountain chapter of our trip was now behind us, and we had survived.  The land was beautiful, but the temperatures and the amount of gear that we were carrying had taken a toll on us, and all that we could think of now was making it to the coast, and then on to sunny Florida.)

(2009 Editorial Comment:  I think that Mr. and Mrs Dobson saw in us that familiar parental fear of somehow seeing “their” children or grandchildren out on the road and in a bind as they looked at us; and for all parents everywhere took pity on us and decided to do what they could to help us out.  We were more than appreciative – we were extremely grateful for their assistance in completing this last portion of our Appalachian Mountain adventure successfully.)

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