Only 31 miles today, but for two reasons, mainly that we don't have far to go now til the coast and we don't want to rush it but also because after Vesuvius is a great big hill to climb called Montebello which we knew would take a bit of time.
Before setting off we stopped in at Gertie's Store, where we camped behind last night, and supped some coffee. When it comes to big climbs, there's no other wonder drug like caffeine!
We spent about an hour chatting with Gertie and her co-worker Tammy, they told us stories about cyclists they'd met over the years. We could have sat there all day chatting to them but in truth we were really just delaying our actual ascent. They entertained us with tales including one about four young British guys who recently stopped by and decided to take a short cut to avoid it because they feared it so much. What? It's only a hill, not a man eating troll with two heads and a bicycle crunching fist.
By 10.30 am we set off and as expected, it was steep. In fact it is the longest, steepest hill on the whole 4, 200 mile trip. We weren't going to rush it though and stopped at least every half mile to regain breath, and wipe away sweat and flies. There wasn't much traffic, but it wasn't completely deserted either so occasionally we also had to stop to let motorists pass – again like most roads we've travelled recently, there were lots of sharp bends and corners and a driver sitting on your tail whilst you are panting uphill at 1.5 mph is not relaxing!
We'd done nearly two miles on the actual hill when it levelled out. This is by no means a reason to celebrate as we have learnt. There is nothing worse that thinking you've got to the summit, then to turn a corner and see another incline ahead of you. But we saw a road sign indicating the turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we needed to go. It can't be over already we thought, we were expecting it to be at least four miles. It turns out that the mile indicator on the map was positioned a lot further down in town so the four miles included some of the flat we had already done to get to the foot of the hill.
So we were at the top, (3200 feet) and because we were expecting a lot worse, we felt shortchanged out of hill-longness! But nevermind we turned on to the Parkway – considered as one of Virginia's most beautiful scenic drives, and weren't disappointed. For the rest of the 31 miles, we cycled along a stunning ridge with mountains either side (and yep they were blue) and along rolling hills. There were plenty of overlooks to stop at and gaze at the scenery. It was really stunning.
We also attracted attention ourselves from holidaymakers who'd driven up. We don't think we are that interesting but two groups of people took our photo and couldn't believe that we had ridden from Oregon. One lady was staggered that we had everything we needed for three months in our panniers. She literally made us give her an inventory of everything we had! We also met some cyclists who were doing a local short tour of a few days in the area. Their map wasn't that great though so we helped them find their way using ours. We also met a couple who gave us some cold apples they'd just picked. They were delicious.
After that we continued along the parkway as it descended down to the valley below. Afton is the home of June Curry – known to Transamerica cyclists as 'the Cookie Lady'. June is legendary on this route, everyone has heard of her or stayed with her. Since 1976, when the route first started, she has been putting up cyclists in a house next to her own. She is now 88 and hasn't been in great health recently but has still let hundreds of bikers stay this year. We called ahead to make sure it was alright for us to come along and sure enough it was.
June welcomed us in and we sat with her on her porch and listened to her stories about other bikers she's met over the years. Despite having known all about June and the bikehouse right from the start of our journey, when we actually arrived here we were completely blown away by the place. June has met tens of thousands of long distance cycle tourers. And not only is her bikehouse a place to stay for bikers but it's also a museum of memorabilia of the Transam, most of which has been left by other cyclists. It is truly incredible. The whole house is covered with photos, postcards, cycling jerseys, flags, letters and just, well, stuff , all with messages and good wishes, left by cyclists who have appreciated her kindness. She doesn't charge any money but leaves out a jar for donations, as she also supplies food in the kitchen. There are folders going right back to the 70s of polaroids of all the bikers who have come through and stopped by, saying where they are from and what route they travelled. We felt honoured to add ours and being here really feels really inspirational, to see the faces of all the other people who have travelled this great adventure too. We felt the same when we stopped at the Adventure Cycling Association's hq in Montana but this is even more moving. June Curry is an exceptional lady who just loves meeting cyclists from all around the world, swapping stories and helping them. The world is a better place because of people like her.