ecstatic gratitude/the big, beautiful day

I left the Elk Garden Methodist hostel around 9am, having taken my time to enjoy three cups of coffee, cook myself some canned potatoes, and try to leave the kitchen even cleaner than I found it. Pretty quickly, I was wrapped up in a huge climb and then an even bigger descent (maybe my biggest of the trip) into Hayter’s Gap. The descent was so big that I had to stop partway through it to give my hands a rest from the tense grip on the brakes. The severity of the slope let up eventually and I was overcome with waves of awe and joy. It brought a tear to my eye.

This was followed by some of the most beautiful cycling I’ve had so far on this trip, and as I rode on, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the course my life had taken and to everyone who had contributed to that course. I owe many thanks to many people I have not kept in touch with, and I plan to take some time attempting to contact them in order to express my gratitude.

I reached Damascus around 1pm. Damascus is a fixture on the Appalachian Trail, and is very much geared toward the trail lifestyle. In that respect, it reminded me of some towns in Colorado I’ve visited. But it’s definitely an Appalachian town–less glossy than Colorado. I had thought I might just stop in Damascus, because there are a couple of hostels there and it was the last stop before the climb to max altitude for the trip. But my morning had been so refreshing that my muscles felt up to the task. I stopped for lunch, and then I went for it.

I was glad I did. If the climb up to and past Konnarock was the only reason that Adventure Cycling brought me down to the Tennessee border, that’s reason enough for me. On a similar note, this climb taught me that Adventure Cycling’s elevation profiles are not very helpful in determining the severity of an ascent. It was a smooth, beautiful, 15-someodd mile climb to 3800 ft, mostly alongside and crisscrossing a gurgling stream. The most relaxing climb of the trip, so far.

At the top, I found a stranded cyclist. His rear axle had busted and he’d been trying to hitch a ride for the past three hours. I told him I’d do what I could for him after I reached the hostel at the Baptist Church in Troutdale, just another five miles down the mountain.

I found the hostel and they sent a truck to pick him up. He spent the night at the hostel with me, two other cyclists (Mark and Dan, who I had been chasing since Berea and caught and passed in Damascus), two Appalachian Trail hikers, and the hostel caretaker, Dan, and his 10 month old Lab mix, Bear.

And here is the almost sad part of the story. When I pulled up to the hostel, Dan was sitting on the porch, stoically cradeling bear in his arms. Bear had gotten into some antifreeze a couple of days ago and the vet had given him a terminal prognosis. Today is probably Bear’s last day on earth, Dan told me. He hadn’t eaten or drank anything in two days and he could not lift himself to move. Fortunately, the vet had said that he probably wasn’t in any pain. So Dan decided that he would rather have one more day with Bear and put him down himself. And besides, doctors can be wrong, and miracles do happen. So we all swapped stories and spent a little time with Bear until we were exhausted and turned in for the night.

I was first one up and out this morning, which evidently stirred Dan. He opened the door and Bear came haltingly, but still with a puppyish bounce behind him. Before long, Bear drank a little water, ate a little food, and relieved himself a couple of times. Doctors can be wrong, and miracles do happen.

By now, I’m guessing that my stranded fellow cyclist has been taken to Damascus and had his bike repaired, and I am resting after lunch in Wytheville. I found the card of another fellow cyclist who lives in Radford, 40 or so miles from here, when I was at the Methodist Church before the big, beautiful day yesterday. I think I’ll give him a call and see if he’d mind putting me up for the night.

Wishing everyone good luck and good travels (pictures to come when I get a better signal),
D Rex

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