What a ride it’s been since I last wrote!  From Jim Thorpe, in central Pennsylvania, we proceeded south-west, with stops in Pine Grove, Mount Joy and Hanover, PA, then crossed into Maryland where we stayed in lovely, historic Frederick.  The very next day we went into Virginia, then West Virginia, crossing the Potomac River, the “Blue Ridge,” and the Shenandoah River as well — all in very close proximity!  We stayed that night at a campsite near Harpers Ferry, WV.

Campsite, you ask?  Yes, we have camping gear again :-).  Dear friends from DC came out and visited us in Frederick and stocked us up with yummy, organic food and basic camping gear.  The hills have moderated after the Poconos, and it is just so nice to be able to get off the road and into the woods for the night.  This shot is one of my very favourites —  in the Poconos, a quiet reflective morning — it was breathtaking!

Then we cycled the “green, rolling hills of West Virginia…”  Do you know that song?  It was up for Mike, and “Country Roads” certainly came to mind as well.   I also kept singing Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” because we were certainly “following the river down the highway through the cradle of the civil war” as he sings, and we still are.  We crossed back over into Virginia, and stayed a night in Winchester.

That day my bike had acted up, and we just managed to limp in close enough to a bike shop that they came and picked us up. Whew.  I’ll go though the list of our angels shortly, but Jacob and John of Element Sports are high up.  From Winchester we are proceeding up the Shenandoah Valley on Route 11, and this will be our route home for some time.  We stayed last night in Woodstock. This evening we are just south of Harrisonburg, and plan to camp tomorrow below Staunton (pronounced Stanton by the locals).  That will be Day 26 of our trip, and if things keep going well, we have a good chance of making it to Asheville by about Thursday, Oct. 11 — our goal.  But that’s still over two weeks, so we’ll see.

The Shenandoah Valley is broad and beautiful.  We’re on the Old Valley Pike, and it’s rolling and rich (riddled?) with battlefields and historical markers from the Civil War, and the days of early settlement.  Washington stayed here, and Jefferson was there; Abraham LIncoln’s father was born nearby; Francis Scott Key’s homestead up the hill; the route is called the Lee-Jackson Highway; we passed close by Gettyburg, and Appomatox is not far; Antietam was back a bit, and the Battles of Cedar Creek, and New Market, and countless other places, overflow with signs and markers of agony, strategy, fate, fame, fortune, death, victory and defeat.  It’s quite overwhelming at times when I feel into the living past.

Mostly I ride in the present, though… Dealing with headwinds takes energy for sure.  The prevailing wind in the Valley is from the west or south…not ideal for us.  But it’s not always the 20 mph gusting to 30 that it was yesterday!  Or we are looking for places to pee (I don’t remember having to pee this often on previous trips!  Must be our aging bladders!) or picnic, or take a break for snacks and sustenance.  I love that part.  We get to snack right through the day.  Fresh fruit, trail mix, Larabars, occasional treats like Bit O’ Honey (a fave of Mike’s and now mine :-)), or pumpkin muffins, beef jerkey, or an occasional Blizzard!

It was funny rolling through Harrisonburg yesterday afternoon.  It is home to several universities.  We found ourselves cycling along a fraternity row, seeing co-eds on their cell phones, and their guys “jacked in” (meaning wearing ear buds and connected to an electronic device of some kind.  A fellow in Vancouver used this term, and it seems apt, eh?)  On our backroads we haven’t seen either of these very often, few people are glued to their cell phones or jacked in.  A lot of people have never seen a recumbent either.   We were cycling down Market St. in Frederick and someone called out of his window, “I haven’t seen a recumbent since I left Oregon.”  We called out that we were from Vancouver, and he responded, “I’m from Portland!” and then the light turned, and we went our opposite directions.

This reminds me of the many chance encounters we’ve had, and that each of us has every day, where we get a brief glimpse into other another person’s life, if only partially, and sometimes poignantly.  As I mentioned earlier, basically all our roads, large and small, have houses alongside.  (This kind of surprised me, no emptly stretches, even in very rural areas… houses line the roads.)  So we see people sitting on their porches, smoking, chatting, or out gardening, mowing the lawn (not infrequently very large people sitting on very large rider mowers).  Sometimes they and we wave, call out hi, but sometimes they are engrossed, as was the fellow who had just gotten his mail from the mailbox on the roadside.  (There is beautiful planting around many mailboxes, and also many clever and beautiful mailboxes).  Well, this fellow was reading a letter as he walked slowly back up to his home.  I wondered if it were good news or bad, a personal note, or from the  tax department, or about insurance…  It touched me then, and does now, how each of our lives is so full, how we each have our rich stories, our journeys, our ups and our downs.  And I don’t mean just hills.

For example, there was Sissy, the waitress in the Country Kitchen in Taneytown, (pronounced  Tawnytown… that’s how you tell the locals from the tourists!) MD.  We had been told that the roads in Maryland were cycle-friendly, that as you cross the PA border into MD the shoulders open up wide, and there is lots of room, and there are signs that say “Bikes Share the Road.”  (It’s always reassuring to see those signs!)  So we had waited until MD to have our omlette that morning.  (We like to start the day with a fruit salad, cycle a while, then stop for something substantial.) Mike was particularly taken with Sissy, a young, single ma, and grandma, working to make the way smooth for her kids.  Sissy told us how she planned to return to VA to the family farm when her daughter graduated…to her parents who’d soon need help, to the horses, the rolling fields… the story went on.  She didn’t blather at us, it just sort of unfolded as she served us our food, then brought the pumpkin cheesecake, and the pumpkin muffin we ordered for the road :-).  But it was as though we had a window into her life, and to some degree she into ours, for she, unlike many, actually listened.  Amazing how many folks are so full of their own stories, and their own selves, that they really pay no attention to anyone else.  One of our B&B ladies was like that.  No matter what the topic, she turned it into being about her.  I felt sorry as Jane told us her grandkids don’t really have much time for her anymore… I didn’t say anything, but wasn’t surprised.  We just wished her well on her cateract surgery that was scheduled for that afternoon.  But it sunk into my awareness.

And the inconsipcuous but telling memorials along the road — to a Kelly, a Jim, a Kate and Bill… One can only imagine and feel with/for the families who suffered the tragic events leading to these crosses and flowers and names on roadside.  For me they offer a chance to be present, attentive, grateful, careful, kind, alert… alive.

Hills:  You might have wondered, “How could those folks not have expected serious hills.  After all they were going through the Adirondacks, the Catskills, the Poconos… ?? !!”   Well yes, we knew there would be hills.  But we had cycled across the Coast Range, and the Rockies, and the Icefield Parkway, and somehow didn’t really realize the enervating effect of not just going up and over a range, as we’d done before, but of the constant up, then down, then a big up, a down, another, bigger up… and so forth.  That’s when and why we lightened our load in Richmondville.  That was definitely a good move.  But now we seem to be through the worst of it.  (I hope I don’t have to eat my words as we cross the Blue Ridge to get to NC!)

And we weren’t sure what it would be like going up the Valley of the Shenandoah, because we’d had some wonderful downs, down along the Delaware, the Lackawanna Rivers…down from towns called Summit, or Apex!  But happily the Shenandoah is a broad, flat, lazy river, it seems, and the incline is hardly perceptible here in mid-valley.  It’s quite wonderfully and gently rolling, offering views of the houses (some of them real estates), the fields (crop and battle!), horses, cattle.   Mike held a vision of the Shenandoah as a mighty river, vast and wide, as seems to be evoked in the song by that name.  And it certainly broadens as it moves toward joining the Potomac.  But he was startled to find just a lazy, soft brown, mild-mannered body of water, when, after our late-morning omlette at the ‘Hi Neighbor Cafe’ in Strasburg, VA, we followed directions down to the River Walk.  There she was, the Shenandoah, just keeping on rolling along.  I had to burst into a verse of Old Man River…that’s exactly what came up for me, as I dipped my hand in, and we stood and watched from the quiet woods of the park, before continuing on toward Woodstock.

Just a word about the crops.  The vast majority of what we’ve seen growing is either corn or soybeans.  And many of the cornfields are flat brown, completely dried up.  I was really puzzled about that.  I finally was able to ask someone.  Nevin, (who was another of those who could really listen and engage.  He was an apple farmer, harvesting the fall fruit of the Nunda Fruit Farm that had been in the family for a handful of generations.  He and his sons gave us really helpful directions into Hanover, and to our lodging for our last evening in PA.)  Nevin told me that the corn has to be completely dry for use as grain for livestock, and also for ethanol fuel.  Only a small amount of corn is used for sweet corn. The vast fields of dried corn we’ve seen are for livestock or fuel.  (Over 85% of US corn, and well over 90% of soybeans, are GMO 🙁  But that’s another story.  I have a link to a video about that I’ll send along when I get home.)

Angels:  Harold Maurer comes to mind, head of the Jim Thorpe campground, just outside of the town.  As we were plugging our way up and out of JT, (you may remember thedown to get there, and there was really no where to go but up to get out), a big burly man, in a big burly SUV pulled up on the wrong side of the road, and spoke to us.  (I think we’d stopped for a pee.)  He asked where we were headed, and after we said over toward Pine Grove, he asked, bruskly, “How’d they route you?”  We told him, up to the town of Summit  then to 209 and so on… Harold got out, took out a piece of paper, and drew us a map of a small side road, Owl Creek, that avoided Summit (we like avoiding unnecessary summits!), and Owl Creek Road turned out to be one of the sweetest, quiet, woodsy, neighborly, low-traffic, 10-mile stretches we’ve had on the whole trip.  Thank you, Harold!

And then Patrick, at the Econolodge in Pine Grove,  As we did our spiel about being on bikes, and being seniors, and having triple A, so what was the best rate he could give us, Patrick said, “You’ve come all this way on bicycles.  What would you like to pay?”  We were taken aback, and took a breath, then Mike named a price he’d seen in the coupon book somewhere, $49.  Patrick figured out how that price could be made to include taxes, and the night cost $49.01 🙂  Turns out Patrick was reading Eckhard Tolle’s The Power of Now, and knew one of Mike’s mentors, Ramana Maharshi!  Kindred, kind, spirit!

Then there were the angels Lisa and Anup, who came out with their son Kirin, and their computers, to bring us food and camping gear.  Lisa and Anup, and Lisl and Jeff, have been angels in helping us plan routes, check out lodging, campsites.

I mentioned Jacob, the mechanic, and John Todd, the owner of Element Sports, who helped us in a technical pickle then gave us directions to an off-the-beaten-path motel, which was half the usual price and twice as roomy.  And the restaurant across the street, Cooking Season, served the best Thai-Chinese-Sushi food at the lowest prices you could imagine.

As we were feeling intimidated about making our way through Frederick, MD, we walked into a filling station, maps in hand.  (Mike is the map man, and does the checking of coupons for motels, etc.  Great job, he does, and he’s not shy about asking questions.  Thank goodness.  Many a good tip has resulted from stopping to ask.)  In this case, the attendant said, “Oh no, here comes a man with maps!”  But he was grinning widely, and proceeded to give us great directions, taking us through quiet parts of the historic sections of the city, and taking us just where we wanted to go.

Animals:  road kill is plentiful, as you could guess.  Relatives of Bobby Coon, Happy Jack the Squirrel, and Prickly Porky the Porcupine have been plentiful, a few of Jimmy Skunk, Whitetail the Deer, some garter snakes and such, but Unc Billy Possum has lost the most of his kin of any one of all.  Mike surmises that possums are really slow, and meandering across a road, no matter how small, is not smart.

And then there was the fox morning.  We had gotten an early start from Pine Grove toward Mount Joy, and rounded a bend to startle a red fox, quietly coming out of the woods.  We each took a look, and then it slipped back into the trees, but left us joyous at our glimpse.  Hawks on posts, many vultures circling high.  And oh, when we were at the camp at Harpers Ferry, we saw Blue Birds, and a Nuthatch, and a Tufted Titmouse perched right above us.  At a campsite there’s time to take out the binocs, and really look.  We’ve also seen several Johnny Chucks, we think.  Fat, waddly, slipping away into the underbrush.

Routes:  From Jim Thorpe we took Broadway to Owl Creek (thanks Harold!), to 385 to 443.  443 was excellent, (a tip from Lisl), and we stayed on it until turning south on 72, then 772 into Mount Joy.  (We feared another mountain, but it’s Mount like Count, and has to do with the Irish heritage of the area. The Amish as well were there. And we enjoyed some brewed-in-house beer at Bube’s Brewery there, in an establishment largely unchanged since its founding in the mid 19th century.  It’s got house ghosts too!)  After Mount Joy we made our way on 772 to 441, up then down to the Susquehanna, crossing at Columbia.  Now there’s a mighty river!The Old Bridge, route 462, was very exciting — no shoulders, quite rough,but drivers were considerate, as they mostly have been, we’ve found.  462 turned out to be one of the PA bike routes, and we wound up following it through York, then turned south on 234, passing near Gettysburg and Lancaster, PA, to East Berlin.  We’d picnicked in Manheim, and took 194 into Hanover.  Pretty heavily German influenced area!  Following 94 and 194 we rolled into MD, and in Taneytown, we took 26 to, then 355 through, Frederick.  We made our way out of town the next morning, with Anup’s directions, via Butterfly Lane to the Jefferson Pike, route 180, (very lovely and rolling), and hooked up with the larger 340 across the Potomac and Shenandoah into Harpers Ferry.  We followed 340 to another great omeletter breakfast at Grandma’s Diner in Charles Town, VA, the opted for a real country ramble, Summit Point Road in to Winchester.  It was on this country road that my bike acted up.  But we made it in to yhe next town with a bike shop, and have been on route 11 since then.  From now on, for some time, it’s pretty straightforward.  Route 11 up the Shenandoah Valley, for many miles.  Happily it’s a great road.  Thanks to Jeff Geise for this tip!

The lack of logging trucks and RVs is pronounced.  We’ve only seen a couple of each.  And NO blackberries.  I keep looking but there seem to be none.  Virginia Creeper abounds, but no blackberries.  The Honeysuckle beside the road today was sweet.  Fall is a lovely time of year.

So there you have it.  There’s much more of course.  The many river “Runs”;  the fascinating porches and people on them; Jubel Early — the Confederate General, and his many battles and losses;  my bee sting; tips and trials of packing panniers; our version of the perfect motel :-);  the stars that adorn a large number of houses; the Dollar General ‘food’ chain and the stuff that people call food!;  language and accents and the impact they have; the Appalachian Trail and C&O canal; the alarming number of evangelical churches, and the flashing LED signs in front of them, (I did like the one reading “Our God is King of the Jungle” though!!)…. But you’ve had enough, and so have I  🙂

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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