Day 5: I love Roanoke

by James

We woke up in our weird camping spot near an entrance to the Appalachian trail and groggily began morning activities. Disassembly and changing clothes were a little tricky, since the terrain we picked to camp on was uniformly peppered with strange, shin-high plants which may or may not have been poison ivy. I did a lot of high stepping.

After the usual fifty minutes of changing, hygiene, and tear-down, we wheeled our bikes to the side of the parkway and began to make omelettes. We were still a little salty, likely from the underwhelming amount of rest the night’s sleep had provided us.

Eating the eggs, I asked myself how we were possibly going to do the rest of the Parkway. With the two of us as exhausted as we were and the relatively scant amount of mileage we’d covered in the past few days, how could we expect to tackle 6000ft peaks in North Carolina and have any hope of maintaining a 60mi/day average? I told myself to buck up and inhaled an omelette.

We set out for a very short climb to the peak, then we ran into Tom.

Tom is a cyclist-prince and could be anywhere from 35 to 70 years old.

When we first saw Tom, we weren’t actually seeing Tom. We were seeing panniers1. A guy with serious panniers is almost necessarily a bicycle tourist, so we went nuts and started yelling generic greetings to him; Tom’s the first tourist we’ve seen on the trip. He wheeled over to talk to us.

Tom had spent a week on the Blue Ridge Parkway; he’d braved freezing rain at 6000ft and pulled ninety mile days. One of his last dinners had been two bags of oatmeal and a pop-tart. We were duly put in our place as newbies. But Tom wasn’t gloating; he was just sharing his story.

Tom expressed some serious surprise when he learned that we were starting off the cross-country ride with a not-so-leisurely go down the Parkway. He said that the Parkway was the hardest terrain he’d encountered in the country, next to the Ozark Mountains, and three years earlier, he’d done a cross-country ride himself. We expressed some serious surprise (and relief) when he dropped this on us.

We shared a package of fig newtons while enjoying some tutelage under Tom concerning a few good places to eat in Roanoke. Tom whipped out a few maps, we studied, then he gave us some parting advice and split.

After Tom left, we were still enjoying his earnest, excited glow. Energy and happiness seemed to radiate from the guy, possibly because he had just torn through icey, North-Carolinian hell and was still doing what he loved: riding his bicycle. Tom alludes to the idea that the lows in life give the highs substance and body; how can you appreciate a sunny day if you’ve never seen the rain?

After speaking with Tom, we finally came to the realization that attempting to complete the Blue Ridge Parkway in our current condition and for the purposes of a trip to SF was not reasonable. A reroute was in order. We decided to hit Roanoke, find a motel, and sort our trip out.

We were immediately relieved. We flew down the parkway, hit a few climbs, and eventually exited onto 460W into Roanoke. About eight miles in, we encountered an Applebee’s. Mike said, “I never imagined I’d be so happy to see an Applebee’s.” We snagged a table and gorged on chicken, shrimp, and pasta.

Delivery back into civilization was one of the best feelings of my life. When you’re out alone, against nature, without businesses around, i.e. without other people who are willing to serve your needs in exchange for currency, it’s exhausting, repetitive, and terrifying.

We were routinely worried that we wouldn’t have enough water or food to go on. If we collapsed, how would we get help? Cell phones? Nope — spotty signal. Park services? Infrequent and inaccessible — we’re on bikes. A serious round with nature makes you love humanity and the marketplace.

Sitting in the Applebee’s, stuffing my face, I called around to a few of the local motels. The first place I called, “A. Knights motel” (the lowest rated place on Google Maps and therefore our first call) offered a room for $40; the only catch was it was a little out of the way. So, I called a few motels on 460W.

The first was some ritzy Holiday Inn. When told that we were on a strict budget of $40 for a one-bed room, the woman I spoke to said with a Southern sheen, “Oh my, heavens no. Our lowest room is $109 a night. I just don’t know of any place in Roanoke you could get a room that inexpensive.” Yeah? Well I do. Next try went a little better. The place was called Rodeside (?) Inn, and I guess they compensate for their lack of spelling procedure with a willingness to haggle with idiots like us. The lady I spoke to presented me with a price of $49.99 per night and I argued her down a whopping five dollars using the shady A. Knights offer as ammo.

We left Applebee’s for the Rodeside Inn.

We basked in our motel room like starved gluttons entering a Sizzler. Running water? Showers!? A Wendy’s down the street? Wifi? Modern civilization is a beautiful thing and anyone who claims otherwise can go live in a national forest for a week. I purchased two double-hamburgers and 5 pieces of chicken for three dollars and I inhaled them.

After rolling around on the bed like degenerate epileptics for a while (a bed!?) we got to planning. We rerouted through Blacksburg and directly into Tennessee, cutting out the rest of the BRP and North Carolina entirely. Let me show you what this resulted in:

Our current location in VA to Memphis, TN.

Now, that looks pretty nasty, right? Let’s just compare it to the ele profile from yesterday.

Day 4's ride.

Look at the numbers on the vertical axis. Yeah. Reroute accepted.

After the big reroute, we went to a Mexican place in downtown Roanoke called Alejandro’s. Getting there on unloaded bikes was a bizarre experience. The burritos were delicious and downtown Roanoke is an incredibly aesthetic place; there was a gothic church off in the distance, punctuated by a few modern high-rises and some lower, art-deco buildings. I really enjoyed this atmosphere juxtaposed over the more typical Southern grit that surrounded our hotel.

Downtown Roanoke
Outside of Alejandro's.

We enjoyed the light breeze, warm weather, and easy flux of conversation around us on the porch at Alejandro’s for a while, then paid up and pedaled the two miles back to our wonderful, shabby motel room.

The Little Chef
The Little Chef's, a diner behind our motel. In the front of it, a sign was posted that said "2 eggs bacon pancake homefries coffee 4.95."

I spent much of the rest of the night marveling slackjawed at the comforts of indoor plumbing, spring mattresses, and chairs2. I enjoyed a dreamless sleep.

  1. bags that hang off the side of the bike

  2. I’m serious.

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