Day 19: Virginia.

Appalachia is hard to write about. It is both very beautiful and very saddening, and I don’t entirely understand it. Actually, I don’t understand it even a little, so saying “entirely understand it” is a HUGE misstatement.

The land is very beautiful. The mountains and streams are crisp and clear and tall and the valleys are deep and steep and trees are everywhere. So is litter- there is hardly a yard (even on the way up a mountain) without a beer can or soda cup or chip bag, and the closer to Kentucky I go, the more creative the litter gets: chairs, coolers, tires, even an ENTIRE HOUSE, apparently disposed of by pitching it into a ravine.

Coal is big here, and the “Friends of Coal” signage makes me seethe (quietly, so as not to be crushed by a passing pickup truck) and I don’t know what to do. I’m very aware that many people’s livelihoods depend on coal. I am also aware that coal mining is destructive, dangerous, and (often) debilitating. (Deadly, dastardly, despicable, disappointing, dumb- we’re still at the beginning of the alphabet!)

I suppose I’ll have a lot of time to think about this over the next few days.

On a more positive note, I got much more riding done today than I had expected to- AND I don’t have to worry that someone is lost in the Cherokee National Forest. On Wednesday, a young woman was separated from her hiking group, and somehow Crazy Larry’s Hostel became the hub of the volunteer-led search parties to find her. Partly because traveling across the country by bike is a pretty deadline-free activity, but mostly because I felt responsible to help other adventurers when so many people have been so kind to me over the past week, I volunteered to stay in Damascus the extra day and get involved with the search expedition. Ready to go by 8:30, around 9:30 we heard from various Sheriffs that we should sit tight and wait for them, by 10:00 we had heard that the girl had been-at least tentatively- located and confirmed to be safe, and by 11:00 it became apparent that volunteers were not very welcome to aid in the search efforts. So, after a very exciting morning that almost involved some Appalachian Trail hiking and an unplanned visit to Tennessee, I decided that I would be most useful if I vacated my spot I the hostel in case someone else needed it that night. I headed off around noon, and was able to make more than 50 miles before dark, leaving me about 30 miles south of the Virginia-Kentucky border. Some pretty big hills along the way- I think I’ve passed the highest points on the eastern segment of the ride- and then a lot of smooth downhills for the remainder of the afternoon.

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