With my new plan in place, I took off around 10pm in a light drizzle. And just like that, everything was better. No more shakiness, no more nausea, no more lightheadedness. My ride to Staunton was about 93 miles with 4000' of elevation, and it didn't matter because I was riding in the cool of the night the whole way. Well, most of the way, as I did not make it all the way to Staunton before the sun came up, and once the sun was fully risen, holy moly was it hot again. Riding at night turned out to be exactly what I needed. The cool air, while still wet, was refreshing instead of oppressive and the stars above provided just as much scenery at night as the rolling, green mountains did during the day. Except I could enjoy the stars because I didn't feel like my internal organs were shutting down.
My only real concern with riding through the night was cars. Specifically, big ol' pickup trucks being be steered by moonshine-drunk drivers. As I rode, though, I found that the night traffic was more sparse than expected, and what did pass me gave me plenty of heads up with their high beams. Mostly it was just pitch black riding through rural Virginia.
Riding at night did come with some drawbacks, the biggest of which was trying to find open convenience stores at 2am. I had plenty of food in my pannier, but I really like to live dangerously and grab something that might give me food poisoning. Another thing I lost was my view. This part of the ride took me into a beautiful part of the country right along Shenandoah National Park. Beautiful mountains with thick green coats of leaves. Or I'm pretty sure it did, as I couldn't see in the dark and really had no idea what I was really riding through until the sun would come up. I really need to redo this ride, either in the summer by car, or in the autumn by bicycle.
But what I lost in questionable food choices and lush scenery, I made up in animal sightings. I saw a baby skunk which I said hello to and then pedaled away from very quickly as it turned its butt to face me, a deer, lots of roadkill, and bugs that are the things of nightmares. What kind of nightmarish bugs? This kind:
|A female dobsonfly. They reach a maximum length of 8 feet and their jaws can crush diamond.|
That is a dobsonfly, and when I stopped to take a break in a hotel parking lot, that thing was waiting for me. I gave it my wallet and cell phone, and she let me live, but told me I wasn't welcome in these parts. "Don't let the barn door hit ya' where the Lord done split ya'."
Having finally outsmarted the humidity and heat (not being eaten by the dobsonfly), I felt relieved. Relieved to not feel like I was going to collapse. Relieved to know I could still ride big days. Relieved to know that I was definitely making it to Asheville, and hopefully as quickly as possible. Not just relieved, but also invincible. INVINCIBLE! My body, realizing I was getting a bit too big for my britches, quickly knocked me down a peg. Not long before sunrise, my right knee went out. Not non-functionally "out", but "intense pain radiating from the right inside corner" out. When I left home, I knew that this was a possibility, but three days in without an issue had me thinking otherwise. Ever since a summer spent hiking and riding in Alaska, my knees have never quite been the same. This was the first time, though, since 2014 that one had developed intense pain while cycling. The last time this had happened, I took a few days off until I felt better, but that just wasn't an option this time. So I popped some ibuprofen and started pedaling a little more dominantly with my left leg (clipless pedals help with that).
I stopped at the first all-night gas station I found in the hopes that they had a knee brace or some sort of wrap I could use for support. That was a lost cause, so I grabbed a coffee instead and sat down with my phone to consider my options. It looked like I was still a hike from Staunton, but there was a Walmart less than ten miles away in Harrisonburg. I could make it another ten miles. Mind over matter. I could do this.
Well, mind over matter did not work, and my knee still hurt like someone was driving a nail into it. But luckily, Mother Nature had a lovely distraction for me to keep my mind off the pain. Like a doll waved in front of a child just before they receive a vaccination, the sun came up and painted the sky with a pastel pallet.
|I don't care if it's grainy. It's a sunrise. You get it.|
(Unrelated, I just had a revelation, and do I ever feel dumb. My phone automatically named that photo 0725160536.jpg. I always thought those were random numbers that always increased, but I just realized it's an exact timestamp. July 25, 2016 @ 5:36AM. So now you know when sunrise was that day.)
Anyway, the sunrise provided a two-part distraction. The first part was the ever changing color of the sky. That was nice. The second part was the ever increasing heat of the day. That was not nice. Worrying about the incoming onslaught of heat and UV rays, I picked up the pace, disregarding the pain-induced weakness in my knee. I ended up making very good time to the Walmart, where I promptly purchased an ACE™ Brand Knee Brace with Dual Side Stabilizers for around $15.
Once my patella was stabilized, life was good again. It was hot as hell already, even in the early morning, but I was less than thirty miles from my Howard Johnson. Having spent some of my night time ride on questionable side roads, I took a slightly longer road that avoided country roads. Shaving miles off wasn't going to be worth it if I was on gravel that required more effort. I was able to knock out that last stretch to Staunton without much knee pain and without melting in the sun.
I pulled up to the Howard Johnson, the first of many footlong Veggie Delights in tow (Subway exists in every small town in America), and rolled my bike through the automatic doors and into the air conditioning. I had made it. I avoided the abominable heat index, fixed my knee, and was never run over by a car. Success! And then the front desk person let me know there was an early check-in fee. Slightly less success! That was one thing I hadn't thought about with my new schedule. Not only would I have to sleep in motels every day to avoid the unbearable heat, I was going to be paying early check-in fees everywhere. Oof. That was actually my wallet making an audible groan.
As soon as I got through the door of my room, I flopped onto my bed. I was ecstatic to be done, not because it was a particularly difficult day, but because that first night ride completely proved that I wasn't the problem, that the heat index was the problem. Clearly, I could still knock out 90+ miles with a loaded bike over hills and questionable roads, I just couldn't do it while the the heat and humidity were trying to kill me. The new approach paid off and Asheville didn't seem quite so far away anymore. Having that load off my mind, it was going to be much easier to sleep.
Before I hit the hay, I had to make a big decision. I would be calling the ride once I reached Asheville. The ride from Asheville to Jackson, MS would take at least eight days. With camping completely ruled out as an option due to nighttime riding, I stood to lose a lot of money paying for overpriced motels with early check-in fees. If a motel room plus fees and taxes came out to $60 a night (if I was lucky), that would be over $400 in housing. My alternative was to rent a car once I reached Asheville, and once I found out that would only cost $100 plus gas, my decision was made.
Sure, I was going to miss out on some experiences if I drove, but eventually I was going to be riding from Jackson back to Philly. I'd just see the sights then. When it wasn't ungodly hot out and I could actually enjoy riding in the daytime. That seemed reasonable to me.