Friday, December 30, 2016

Night 2: Close Encounters

Night 5 - July 25, 2016 - Staunton (pronounced "Stan-ton") > Roanoke, VA
Having completed my first night ride, I was ecstatic to wake up feeling absolutely great (with the exception of my knee, but the only thing that was going to fix that was rest).  I woke up around 8pm, having slept through the majority of the day, and decided that as a reward for knocking out 93 miles the night previous, I should get some General Tso's Tofu for night breakfast.  Small town Chinese isn't always the best idea directly before getting on a bicycle, but I really felt that the winds of change were blowing at my back and ahead of me was only good fortune.  Actually, my fortune cookie said that.

I hit the road around 10pm, and quickly headed into rural Virginia.  I'd been riding through rural Virginia for a little while now, but with the cool shade of night drawn down above me, I was finally able to enjoy it.  The humidity was still so high that my touchscreen required wipe downs with a rag before it could be used, but at least the temperature was down in the 70s.  Actually, anything below 90 was welcomed.  Now typically, when riding through the middle of nowhere late at night, I like to stay somewhat close to a proper byway, but I was playing it fast and loose with a pre-ride General Tso mentality, and I let myself turn off into some proper farmland.  What made it proper farmland?  While I couldn't see the surrounding land too well, every time there was a pause in the podcasts I was listening to, I could hear, "Moooooooo!"  Cows.  I was surrounded by them.  But the road was smooth and I could still see the highway on my map, so I wasn't worried about ending up stuck in a crumbly mix of loose gravel and poorly packed soil, as farm roads are wont to be.

Those roads were empty.  Aside from hearing the cows on both sides of me and being passed up ahead by the occasional deer, the only other soul I stumbled upon was a lazy cat that was just napping in the middle of the road.  If that cat felt safe splayed across the dividing line, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to see many cars.  So I zoned out and fell into the terrifying true crime podcast, Sword and Scale.  Do you know what's a terrible idea?  Listening to grisly murder stories while riding through the middle of desolate Virginian farmland in the dead of night.  I was pretty sure I was going to be murdered at some point that night, but I was also pretty sure that a watched pot never boils, so the only way to not be murdered was to keep listening to stories of other people being murdered, a lot of which took place in the South.

Somewhere around 2:30am, in the middle of Murderfest, I finally came across my biggest fear.  There... in the middle of the nowhere... waiting for me... ready to bring me pain a suffering... a dirt road.  Ugh.  County Roads are the wooooooorst.  I just hate them so much.  Especially when they start with a sign that says the route isn't safe for tractor trailers and quickly turn into a half-mile climb.  Boo this road!  Anytime Google Maps winds through countryside, there's a good chance it's mislabeled a somewhat level pile of rocks as a road.  I'd made it pretty far without issue, though, so I was due.  Luckily, from what my map was telling me, it was only going to be a few miles of loose gravel and then I'd be home free.

After battling the garbage roads winding through spooky countryside, I passed the sign marking the end of the unsafe corridor, and I popped out into unexpected civilization.  I had been fairly close to the highway the whole time (only a few miles off), but was blocked off from the sight and sound by the rolling hills between.  But as soon as I reached the confluence with a major byway, I was greeted by cheap hotels and a truck stop gas station.  This was decidedly a turn for the better, though, if I were going to be murdered in the middle of the night, it seemed more likely at a truck stop than in the middle of quiet farmland and rolling hills.

Truck stops, if they can be found, are possibly the best spots to stop late at night on the road.  They have multiple varieties of hot coffee, food sans cellophane, showers if need be, and most wonderfully, rest areas with comfortable chairs.  I walked into that gas station, grabbed some coffee, and slumped into a lazy boy while a late night movie played on the flat screen.  It was time for a break, and thankfully not due to overwhelming heat, but just due to knocking out a large chunk of mileage while climbing through the countryside.

I headed back out to my bike around 3am, a good portion of my ride already behind me, and started getting ready to take off.  Truck stops never sleep, and while adjusting my gear, two older bikers (vroom vroom, not pedal pedal) took an interest in my rig and started asking me about my route and gear. After the standard reassurance that I was crazy, they wished me well on my way.  As they sped off, a car pulled up to the gas pumps across from me, and the window rolled down.  Inside were three college-aged women road-tripping their way from the University of Maryland to Nashville, TN.  Why do I know this?  Because after a few questions through the window, two of them came out of the car to get an Instagram photo with guy standing at a Virginia truck stop in lycra shorts around three in the morning.  I was a road trip novelty that possibly ended up in a digital scrapbook that they'll comb through years from now when they have their annual meet ups to talk about families and careers that become more and more sporadic until finally one year, one of the women is too busy to meet up and the tradition begins to unravel, but in this unraveling they all realize it was never about meeting up, it was always about clinging to a past that was never quite as wonderful as they all remembered it to be, and that during that road trip, Carla was such a pain in the ass, talking to every guy at every gas station and it's no wonder she's on her fourth husband because we all knew she would never be happy with other people as long as she wasn't happy with herself because anyone that could love her flawed self had to be flawed themselves, but then years later realize that forgiveness is part of friendship, and that no one's perfect, and it's a shame they went so many years without seeing each other because they really did love each other in a way that can only be described as familial, having transcended friendship unknowingly years ago, but now that Carla had passed, mourned by all six of her exes, it was time to remember the good times and lay her remains to rest along with that photo of me in lycra shorts at 3am in a Virginia truck stop, because she always loved that photo, not for the subject matter, but for the story it told about the summer spent with her best friends.  Or something like that.

Before hitting the road, I gave them some Philly Bike Tours stickers and told them to take the Classic City Tour if they're ever in Philly.  There's no better way to see Philadelphia than from a bicycle.  *wink*

The rest of my ride turned into a real animal scare-off.  First up: me being scared by animals.  After another hour or two on the road, I found a small, "rustic" 24-hour gas station to take a quick break outside of.  As I pulled up to the dingy building bathed in ultra bright florescence (a great way to draw attention to confusing stains on yellowed walls), I realized that I had accidentally found the ancestral mating ground of the dobsonfly.  The walls were covered with females (and two males, I counted), and some post-ride research showed let me know that dobsonflies are "strongly attracted to lights," meaning it would be best if I stayed in the dark as much as possible or else run the risk of being devoured.  Aside from the large deathbugs, I also saw a really pretty moth that night, which I will now post a photo of to distract myself from dobsonflies:


Up next was me scaring back.  Riding a bicycle is a great way to see the world, not just because the slow pace allows a cyclist to absorb the surrounding landscape in greater detail, but also because it is a less invasive approach to inserting oneself into a natural environment than more modern, "safer" forms of travel.  A bicycle permits one to better blend in, especially auditorily.  It was the silence of my bicycle that allowed me to approach undetected an unsuspecting groundhog that stood along the side of the road.  A groundhog that, were it wearing undershorts, would have soiled them as I passed by and offered a pre-dawn greeting of, "Hello, Groundhog."  It took off running, but only after a time that would have proven too late were I a predator.  Stealth mode Troy would be an effective predator were it not for his innate disposition toward animal appreciation (Outside of dobsonflies and spider.  I really don't like spiders, but I get it, we need them, they kill other bugs that need killing.  Someone has to be the bad guy.).

And then, another sunrise.  I had always thought I wasn't a morning person, but was learning more and more that I just wasn't a "waking up" person.  I finally understood why people enjoyed sunrises so much (normally far too early in the morning for me), even if they were just the horseman of an approaching heat index apocalypse.

The calm before the heat storm.

Only 79 miles and 10 bigot rankings away from Staunton, I found myself in the Lost Colony of Roanoke, which I also knew as the home of the Cara Marie Holley murder.  I booked a room at a Red Roof Inn, and called it a ride.  I had done over 4,700' of climbing and listened to too many hours of terrifying true crime that night and it was time for bed.

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