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  • Liam Condon

Day 4: Lexington, VA -> Blacksburg, VA (86 miles)

One of many photos I'd stop to take along Virginia's scenic Route 11.

7:16 am - I woke up early, refreshed and ready to ride after a shorter day the day before. I left Melissa’s at 8am, and quickly reached Buchanan, where I’d hoped to the night prior and a good 25 miles south, just before 10am. I stopped for a pee break and bounced around a few of the shops looking for some postcards to send back home.

I got back on the bike and rode Route 11 south for I don’t know how long. Three wide and mostly empty lanes, absent of any real traffic, and sandwiched by beautiful views of Shenandoah and Appalachia on one side and rural farms and pastures on the other. It was a warm morning but not scalding, and for what felt like the first time, clear blue skies.

I pedaled until my water stores finally hit empty and my stomach beckoned for some real food. I was in a groove and didn’t want to stop for a sit-down, so when I passed a Subway I quickly darted in and faced a veggie footlong and a bag of chips before setting off again.

Today's route would take me through Natural Bridge, VA, where a natural stone arch gives the town it's name.

The climb into Blacksburg was grueling. I struggled to ascend some of the steepest hills I’d yet seen around mile 75, and as forest thickened, reception dropped. With my music cut out, I was left with just the sounds of the woods and my own panting as my lungs struggled to keep pace with my legs.

I finally hit a slope too steep for my 53-39 setup in the front (a choice I’d known I’d come to regret eventually), and had to stop. In my state of exhaustion I failed to unclip beforeI slowed to a stop, and went over hard on the drive side of the bike. Pissed, tired, thirsty and sore, I got up and inspected myself (skinned knee and shin, nothing major), then my bike. The derailleur hanger was bent out a bit, but worse, my saddle had popped off the bars attaching it to the seatpost. I duct-taped it back on and started pushing my bike up the hill.

I so badly wanted to call an uber right then and there, and honestly would have settled for just a lift to the top of the hill, but had no service (I know, it's CHEATING). I tried flagging down a pickup truck that passed a few minutes later, but they drove on, so I said screw it and kept walking.

This little stretch of flat was a welcome sight after some extended climbs.

About twenty minutes later I reached the peak. The downhill that followed was brief albeit welcome, and to my relief flattened out to a convenience store. I refilled my water and sat down for a few moments while browsing WarmShowers for a place to stay. Kim came to my rescue and was a stone’s throw from Blacksburg, which I’d be passing through in about 10 miles.

I got to Blacksburg around 5pm, and thankfully found a bike shop still open. Ethan, the mechanic, quickly mended my derailleur, but broke the news that my saddle was irreparable. I decided I was done for the day and to figure it out tomorrow. I just wanted to get to Kim’s and shower.

Virginia Tech's campus sat just across the street from the bike shop I visited.

I headed northwest out of town and was soon greeted again by a monstrous hill just before my destination. I texted Kim I was nearly there and began to limp up the street, lugging my bike in tow. Moments later, a black SUV rolled up in front of me and out jumped Kim with a purpose, smiling and eager to get my bike in her trunk and me off my feet. She even insisted on taking me to her favorite bike shop to get my saddle sorted. There had only been about a half-mile to her home, I couldn’t have been happier she arrived when she did.

Forty-five minutes and a sour $110 later, I unloaded my bike, new saddle, and bags into Kim’s garage. She walked me through her beautiful home nestled in thickets of beautiful oak and pine trees and showed me where I’d be sleeping. She told me to shower and get my laundry going so she and her kids could treat me to dinner. Heaven.

Over burgers and beers we swapped stories and anecdotes. Kim’s oldest son had done a cross-country tour himself, at 19, with his pup and a guitar in tow, from Virginia to Oregon down to San Diego. I was in disbelief – and I was struggling to get through Day 4? Yikes. He was out of town, but Kim happily answered my hundred and one questions about his experiences.

The longest distance so far of the trip, I was pretty beat (and a little buzzed) after dinner, and quickly fell asleep without setting an alarm.

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