After two nights of lovely weather, I was finally looking forward to riding again. I wasn't sure if the night into Staunton had been a fluke, but after the long ride into Roanoke went so smoothly, any misgivings I had about night riding had all evaporated. Now that I seemed to have figured out the trick to riding through miserably hot weather, Mississippi was feeling like a physical possibility, if not a financial one. If I had buckets of money, I could ride all night and sleep in hotels the whole way down there. I could probably even get some fancy riding outfit with cooling units built into it so I could ride during the day. The military must have invented them by now, right? Have we talked about how anything is possible with money? It's true! The only limit for a fabulously wealthy person is their imagination and their need for attention.
It was going to be a long dark night and Google Maps had lined up a route full of questionable side roads. I had lucked out the night prior by only having a short stretch of rough riding, and I wasn't going to roll the dice. I quickly re-routed to major roads, thus taking all of the potential excitement out of my ride. Next stop Wytheville (which I incorrectly pronounced as 'Wyeth-Ville').
When I'd ridden cross country a few years back, I never really looked at my route ahead of time. I especially didn't look at elevation changes. Remembering back, I don't think Google Maps was quite as evolved as it is today, because now maps have elevation charts right along side them. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, as those charts can save me from terrible routes, but can also make unavoidable routes seem ominous. Tonight was an ominous night. I knew that up ahead of me was Christiansburg, and that there was a ten mile, 1000' climb to get into town, with a 600' wall the last mile or two. While this distracted me from all the potential podcast serial killers in the woods, it narrowed my focus and dread onto that midpoint of the night.
Well, all that worry was pointless. Yeah, sure, it was a big climb through unlit woods on a desolate highway, but at the top were convenience stores. Convenience stores with pimento cheese sandwiches. If pimento cheese is the "caviar of the South", does that make egg salad the "caviar of the North?" I do believe.
Refueled, I hit the road with about 50 miles left in the day. I still had a fairly large chunk of that mileage left when the sun started to rise behind me. That beautiful harbinger of doom. Aside from bringing pastel streaks, now that I was really in the mountains, the sunrise also brought a rising, smoky mist.
|Have you ever seen Stephen King's The Mist? That movie is messed up.|
Along with the mist came the reappearance of animals. Animals that had likely been out all night long, but that I couldn't see because of my human eyes. Up first was a deer that I came close enough to touch. It was standing right along the side of the road, hind legs on the ground, front legs up on a small hill so it could eat some vegetation, and so greatly enjoying it's morning nosh that it didn't even realize I was coming. So as I sped by, close enough to pet it's back, but not doing so for fear of a startled kick to the face, I said, "Hi, Deer." That deer did a double-take that would've made Bugs Bunny proud. Ugh. I wish it would've been drinking water instead of eating leaves. A spit-take would've been even better.
After that, I saw two kittens playing in a front yard. As I got closer, it looked like a mostly white mama cat with a little black kitten. As I got even closer, I realized that they were not kittens at all, but skunks, which I probably shouldn't be getting cat-close to, and are probably more appealing to a dog person than a cat ever would be. On a side note, I've heard that skunks (de-scented, obviously) make pretty great pets, with the playful nature of dogs and soft cuddliness of kitties. If anyone has a pet skunk that I could meet, please let me know.
As the sun rose higher, so did the heat index. And as that heat index rose, my animal sightings slowed down, with a few more skunks, some ground hogs, and a cartoonishly adorable bambi. Animals know how to survive in nature way better than we do; always listen to them. They were currently telling me to get the hell out of the summer sun. A caribou once showed me how to get off of a ridgeline. True story. Ask me about it over a beer.
Holy moly was it getting hot. It wasn't even 8am, and I was cooking. That was a great reminder that switching back to days was not an option. Not that I had much desire to switch back. The heat index was out of control for the last 20 miles of byway that led up to Wytheville. I was riding on a motorcycle alt route that ran parallel to 81, with no protection from the now risen sun. If a silver lining needed to be found, it was that my hippie deodorant was proving its worth.
Obviously, Wytheville was situated at the top of a final climb (this 84-mile day featured over 5,100'). As I crawled into town, I scanned for cheap motels. The Budget Inn looked like my best bet, but after their quick attempt at a price gouge, I ended up at a Motel 6 that had no early check-in fees and a swimming pool. Settling into my home for the day, I found out that it's actually pronounced 'With-Ville' and that it only exists for the sake of truckers. There is nothing in Wytheville except for gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and motels. Oh, and that swimming pool, which was my first stop after a quick rinse in my room. There was already a lady with a big sun hat sleeping by the pool. It was around 10am. She knew what was up.