While Mike does some research on the computer next to me at the Abingdon Public Library, a fine old building in the historical section of town, I will fill in some of the gaps about our ride from Harrisonburg, in the heart of the Shenandoah, to here, the westernmost section of Virginia, close to the Tennessee border.

There are many sweet and simple pleasures, memorable moments, on such a trip: the leaves, the pumpkins, the flowers; the deep breath and sense of satisfaction and relief that comes at point of inflection where an uphill climb, especially medium or large, finally reaches its apex and makes the turn down (level is good too, of course, but when it actually becomes downhill it’s so very fine :-)); stopping to pee in the woods — the quiet, the bird song (there are so many more birds in the woods of Virginia than in our rain forests, sometimes it’s a veritable cacaphony — oh, we saw our first cardinal, and mockingbird!), peeing in the woods is a pleasant break from the bike and the road, a mini vacation, so to speak (but gotta watch for cat-briars, poison ivy, stinging nettles, and burrs!); it’s so nice when the windows in our motel actually open and there’s fresh air!; the pleasure of cooking our own coffee at the campsite and making salads with many fresh veggies from farm stands along the road; the intriguing names and inviting prospects down the side roads off our main route (sometimes they are very steep and I’m pleased we’re going straight, but sometimes they wind gently off into, who knows where — tree lined and peaceful, quiet and beckoning. I’ve loved the variety); meeting friendly people, not just the angels in time of trouble, but many curious, friendly, helpful folks, like the Methodist pastor who invited us to use the picnic tables in their BBQ area for our picnic (there aren’t that many roadside rest areas, or parks, we’ve found); sitting together in the swing on our cabin porch as dusk fell; long, scenic, flat stretches.

One day it was so pleasant for so long that Mike said “We must be dead. This is heaven!”; and he loved being called “Honey, Sugar, Darlin’ and having the sense that the person is not putting you on!; seeing the changes in vegetation and the fall colors — OMG what beauty!  Overall the vegetation seems to be getting more tropical — walls of Virginia Creeper, hanging vines… There’s actually a hiking footpath called the Virginia Creeper Trail, which is a rail-to-trail route, a lot about the history of railroads that feature so prominently in this area, but the prolific vine is all over; stopping along the way for a drink and a snack, another sort of mini-vacation — our self-assembled trail mix is really yummy! and bakery treats and fresh fruit keep us nourished and fueled between meals…And this to name a few.  The list of pleasures could go on and on.

We are still in country deeply affected by the civil war.  While the number of signs commemorating battles, burnings, and raids, has lessened since the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, and there are more marking settlements, town halls, and prominent people, we still find evidence of the former as well. (If you’re interested, here’s a link to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, which is between Winchester and Staunton.)  Today we passed the marker of the westernmost white settlement in 1750! A lot of the towns we’ve traveled through date back to about that time.

A bit more about the days and stopovers.  From Harrisonburg we thought we were heading for a campsite in Staunton (pronounced Stanton).  We were struck by how civilized Virginia overall, and the town of Staunton felt.  The colonial architecture, porticos, porches, manicured lawns.  Virginia brick is a big industry.  We passed by a manufacturing plant that displayed the many varied forms of the material, and it’s used very attractively in houses and official buildings. We had a fine luncheon at The Beverley in town, and were served, with Honey, and Darlin’, by the granddaughter of the original owners!  Well, it turns out that the Walnut Hills KOA campsite was many miles south of Staunton, and we were tired and relieved to finally turn in at our sweet cabin, The Hidden Hollow, down in a valley, well away from the road.  Delicious dusk, porch swing, moonrise. The next morning I was moved to tears, having our breakfast at the picnic table, the woods, the birds, the quiet.  I started singing, “For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies…” and Mike and I pieced together the words.  Here they are for you, and much of it really felt right that morning.

Mike’s gear cable had broken the night before, and guess what, as we were heading out, back to Staunton, much closer than the next town, MY gear cable broke too. Making a long story short, we knocked on the door of someone nearby who was supposed to be into such things, and since he was not in, his wife Gail, actually drove us in to the Black Dog Bike Shop, where James got us fixed up again. Angels both!  Since it was raining we had lunch, one of our most amazing meals, at the Byer Street Bistro, (imagine pecan-flour breaded chicken strips on fresh greens, with cranberries, red onion, portabello slices, candied pecans and a honey-thyme viniagrette) Now late it was in the day and still wet, so we enjoyed another evening at The Hidden Hollow 🙂 It rained heavily overnight. Yeah for cabins!

Next day we headed toward Natural Bridge, having no idea what awaited us.  We stayed at a very inexpensive, but adequate Budget Inn, next to The Pink Cadillac Diner, (and it really has a 50ies pink cadillac in the yard), and also a giant King Kong out in front! Not our cup of tea, but stunning to see Kong silhouetted by the sunset under jet black rain clouds, overlooking pastoral fields!  Lots of horses in these parts.

Next day we had a short hop to The Natural Bridge.  Wow. It didn’t take us long to decide to spend the day.  We’re not so big on birthplaces, battlefields, reconstructed family homes (although “Stonewall”Jackson is quite the fellow), but there was no doubt we both wanted to hang out in this incredible place. It was moving, restorative, inspiring.  We wound up getting a good package from the Hotel there, and attended the evening light show, called the Drama of Creation and which has been presented nightly since 1927.  We were a bit leery, but the quality of sound, the music selections, from Debussy to Wagner, to Ravel, and being at the Bridge at dusk, then in the dark, added to our daytime memories.  We learned that soldiers in the civil war asked to be allowed to detour to see it!  Wow. It was fun to talk to the biologist and learn that five species of birds, including ravens, phoebees, swallows, nest under the bridge. And the reconstruction of the Monican people‘s life style who lived in the area in the 18th century and 10,000 years before was a nice balancing piece as well.

Next day we landed in Trouteville, or Daleville.  The HoJo there, right at the I-81 interchange was startling in its quiet. We’ve experienced that a couple of places. Busy area, but the motels are set back, are quiet, and have lovely prospects.  The rain had started again, or we could have supped at a picnic table on the field across from our room.  The receptionist, when MIke asked if we could have a first floor room, because we were on bikes, quipped, “Oh, I’d put you on the 7th floor.” It made her day that while Mike was completing the paperwork, I went out to look for the tower she must have been referring to.  She had been pulling my leg 🙂  And we ran into several groups of hikers, serious backpackers.  The Appalachian Trail crosses the road at this juncture.  Some had been on the trail for four months!  Makes our four plus weeks looks like kids’ play!  And they hardly ever stay in motels.   This was a rare treat. There was a stash of stuff that hikers had left behind, shirts, half-full fuel canisters, tarps… in case others might want them. Cool that the staff at Howard Johnson’s left the pile on the stairs!

Rain the next day delayed our start, and created a few false ones. As we pulled in to a factory with overhang, the closest cover available, to put on more serious rain protection, a fellow came out and said rather sternly, “Can I help you?”  When he learned the story, he transformed, inviting us in for coffee, a rest, a restroom.. It was fun. We debated stopping, but then it let up, and we decided to carry on. As the afternoon wore on, the views as the clouds cleared, the blue returned hesitatingly, in soft patches, were glorious.  We both remember a particular prospect: there was a downhill ahead, so we could look far over to a field on the other side of the valley, dotted with large, single trees, in beautiful color, and horses speckled throughout the green, green fields, and white clouds with blue patches emerging.  Wow!

Soon after Trouteville we left the Shenandoah, taking routes 117 and then 460 to skirt Roanoke and Salem. We had lunch in Salem at Macado’s, which has an amazing menu. We feasted on left-overs for a couple of days!  It is actually Buchanen, a few miles further south, is the “Gateway to the Shenandoah Valley,” coming from the other side.and thus our exit.  It was with some sadness we left this amazing place, and a great deal of gratitude for the many memorable moments, people, places.

Then the valley became the Roanoke, and the river the James.  The area bills itself as Virginia’s Rail Heritage Region, and we have been tracking trains and railways ever since.  There is also the New River, and we’ve crossed many other tributaries, but nothing so memorable as the Shenandoah!  En route we had had our most delicious omelette to date in Radford, a university town, at the River City Grill. Their wifi password is “igiveupnow” 🙂  I liked the banners the RU displayed around town:  Create! Contribute! Connect!  And they talked about Scholar-Citizens. Heartening.  Our student waitress was down-to-earth and informative. We climbed a giant hill, late in the day (this is me, right after the climb, Mike didn’t look nearly so thrashed!), up to the Draper Valley Overlook, and then down into Christiansburg.

Almost caught up now.  After Christiansburg, we had our biggest day to date, into Wytheville. I already told you some about that.  The service road we took, while our route 11 home was merged with I-81, was quite lovely, ups and down, quiet at times, getting to be dusk, but we were glad to arrive at the Red Roof Inn and again, enjoy a green backyard, quiet and peaceful, even though close to the interchange.  A stunning sunset and the first presidential debate. Yuck and yikes. The lies and distortions, the posturing, led me to turn it off pretty quickly.  There’s a Sept. 24 New Yorker article, called “The Lie Factory: How Politics became a business.”  Sad and disheartening.

Last night we passed through Marion, and camped, actually in our borrowed tent, it’s great! at the Interstate Campground.  Mixed bag in terms of a camping experience but it worked well for us!  Lovely day today, and we’re headed for Bristol, TN, then points south 🙂

Library is closing soon.  A couple of last notes:

It’s been interesting to follow the nomenclature of our route 11. It’s been North Lee Highway, the Valley Pike, Old Valley Pike, Lee-Jackson Highway, South Lee Hwy.Then we left the Shenandoah Valley, and it became Roanoke Road, and a few other things, but guess, what? It’s West Lee Hwy now!

It has startled us that we never saw individual gardens, we started noticing this in Virginia. Just fields of crops, large areas scruffy with signs of grazing, lush fields with horses, and of course, lawns. Not until yesterday, way south and west, did we see a single small garden.  Odd.

Vast numbers of Flea Markets, Antique Stores, and Consignments shops. Doing well on reusing, I’d say!  Not so well on recycling. Hardly anywhere is there any recycling, although a few motels have made some green options available.  But as a society it’s amazing the stuff we have. I’ve also been struck by the number of Mini-Storage containers that dot the landscape.  So much stuff it won’t fit in our houses!  Gives pause to ponder.

A big thank you to all the families, small businesses, service clubs, work teams that “Adopt A Highway,” and keep the roadsides clean.  Big job.  For when they have not done their work, it’s quite horrific what litter you see. People must actually really throw away large styrofoam containers, plastic bags, cups,bottles, paper, etc.  I keep thinking the crows or coons must have scattered it all from a near-by trash can.  But there’s no trashcan near by.  Mike says that people really do that.

Cycling is being alone together.  That’s really nice.  We have our different worlds as we bike along, but can enjoy and share the differences.  We both noticed that green field with horses and trees, but often pick up on very different dimensions of the journey and the people.

We’ve both enjoyed the friendliness of the Virginians, and they are proud of it! The accents are something else.  One lady at the Visitor’s Center told us to take Pahn Street, and to get at Pah at the Mennonite Pantry at Rural Retreat.  We did both, but it took a while to get that she meant Pine Street, and a Pie!

OK. That’s it for now. Thanks for listening.  It’s fun to recall and share the journey with you!

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Your feedback is most welcome.

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