23. Christianburg: Splurge


Sunday evening, October 23rd


I covered little ground today and bought myself a night in a motel room. I paid a bit more than I’d intended to, but I really want to watch the World Series game in comfort this evening. I also wanted to catch up with my Internet postings and regroup psychologically.


In all my years of bicycle touring, I think this is only the third time I’ve done this. In the summer of 2001, I paid for a room in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, because I couldn’t find a secluded place to set up camp in that “Venice of North America.” A year later, I paid for a bed and breakfast in Portland, Maine, so I could hang out stylishly in town before my 11-hour ferry ride to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the next evening.


This morning, I spent a long time in a Burger King, mostly tracing out my route on google maps, from this part of Virginia all the way to Lewistown, Pennsylvania, from which point I have decent maps, torn from DeLorme atlases of PA and NJ. I made handwritten notes, and think this should suffice to expedite my journey. The food was crummy, and a man behind me had a long, loud phone conversation that got me cursing at him under my breath. But I concentrated and finished this important planning.


Yesterday I ran into trouble on 460, not realizing that the lower section of that road is closed to bicycle traffic. I had to get off onto a business route, figure out where I was, and how I’d proceed the next day.


It was getting late, so I walked into a Comfort Inn, thinking I’d do my splurge on a motel room yesterday. When the lady at the desk told me a single would cost $250, I burst out laughing. She immediately said she could come down to $150. I said I’d be willing to pay forty. We were miles apart, but she did give me a good map of the county, which was helpful. Virginia Tech had a big football game yesterday, so all the lodging in the area was at a premium.


There was a Mexican restaurant right next door, and I was hungry. I also noticed a possible hobo campsite immediately behind these two buildings. I noted from items of trash, and a gently worn footpath, that people had taken refuge in there before. But it was secluded enough, and I figured it would be OK for one night. I did take the precaution, however, of locking my bike to a tree limb before going inside for dinner.


The dinner was good. In fact, one of the things I’ve realized on this trip is how ubiquitous Mexican food has become in the United States. People of all social classes love it, and every little burg has at least one Mexican restaurant. After an hour in my tent, I returned and sat at the bar till quitting time, watching the World Series. When I had to leave, the Cardinals were ahead 12-6, and I was certain they’d win. So I didn’t mind missing the last few innings. I did feel that the staff at the restaurant was unfriendly. I had just showered and shaved that morning, but my style of dress might not have been up to the standards of their usual clientele.


I enjoyed talking with two couples that sat next to me at the bar. I had not visited a bar in ages, and I’d forgotten how congenial it can be to mingle with strangers in such an environment.


The first couple, almost 20 years younger than me, had their own business installing medical equipment in the Philadelphia area. They were down in Blacksburg for the game and parents’ weekend. They have twin boys, one here at Virginia Tech and the other at Temple in Philly, and two girls about ten years younger. Very wholesome people. When they left, a fellow about my age took their place, along with his wife, who had little to say. They were from Virginia Beach, also in town for the game. We talked about baseball, political science, cultural changes in the US during our lifetime. Like me, he’d imbibed deeply of the hippie movement in the sixties and beyond. He expressed interest in the book I had open on the counter, and we talked a little as well about its subject: man’s changing view of the cosmos.


When the place shut down, I snuck out to my campsite in the shadows nearby, hoping nobody would notice me slipping back in among the trees and brush. I knew this was unlikely, and I have a pretty good sense of what’s going on around me in this regard. But I felt distinctly how much I dislike being furtive, and how eager I was becoming to live a normal life again back at home.


It also struck me how all the calculated risks I’m taking – risks of embarrassment, hassle, or worse – seem to work out in my favor; often, in fact, remarkably well. Like my night of free lodging in the shadow of the Comfort Inn, plus a good dinner and big screen television for about $17. That’s not a trifling sum for me to part with in a day, but it’s not off the charts, and arguably it’s well spent in the line of a low-budget trekking adventure.


One shouldn’t take too much for granted. Prudence and caution ought to be exercised. But if you set out to do something with determination and reasonable preparedness, though there will be challenges along the way, I think it’s generally true that you’ll find a way and achieve your goal. In the cases where you don’t, it’s often the case that what you do wind up with is something beneficial that you couldn’t have imagined in advance.


Here is an assortment of images from the past two days.


  • #8760 – My pleasant campsite at Gentry’s Landing yesterday morning. It was cold and misty. I didn’t rush – I made instant coffee with my electric immersion heater, munched on figs and trail mix. 
  • #8762 – Noisy rapids of the New River, just below where I slept. 
  • #8765 – By the time every item had been meticulously repacked, the sun had burnt off all of the heavy morning mist. 
  • #8769 – Main drag along the business route, through the old section of Pearisburg. During the night I developed a sore throat, so a little ways down the road from here, I stopped at a market and bought a bag of tangerines. I ate four or five of them, with a banana, some yogurt and crackers. This was better than medicine from a drugstore. 
  • #8768 – County seat in Pearisburg. 
  • #8772 – This flag symbolizes different things to different people. To me, in large part at least, it suggests a healthy aversion to that obscenely overgrown, multifaceted monstrosity in the District of Criminals. It’s not about one region – or one race – against another; it’s an affirmation of local sovereignty and the unalienable rights of the individual.
  • #8775 – More roadside trailer dwellings, here a bit tidier and more affluent than what I saw farther west. I couldn’t imagine living beside a major road like this – I much prefer quiet and privacy. 
  • #8780 – The western Virginia landscape remains hilly, with long climbs and descents. The precipitous ravines are behind me, though. The road is busy but two laned and manageable. 
  • #8778 – The gravel shoulder of this highway is a daunting option when heavy traffic approaches from behind. When the traffic is all stacked up in one lane, I’m OK. I always slow down, unless it’s clear I can get right back onto the asphalt as soon as something has passed me by. Sometimes I stop completely. The gravel is never consistent. Where it’s thick and loose, I struggle to stay upright. It’s impossible to ride on loose gravel with my heavy bike where the grade is very steep. If I bank on a surface like this, the bike could easily slide out from under me. Finally, these little stones wear my tires down pretty fast. 
  • #8784 – Easily accessible seclusion among the trees and brush. 
  • #8785 – Facing opposite, the Comfort Inn, to the left, and somewhat upscale Mexican cuisine on the right. 
  • #8783 – Last night’s skuzzy-tacky campsite. 
  • #8786 – View to the east, a few feet from where I slept, on the edge of a rather steep hill. 
  • #8782 – Bicycle camouflaged and chained to a tree. 
  • #8788 – An important junction, in downtown Christianburg. I expect to follow 11 North all the way up the Shenandoah Valley. When I switch to another highway, I’ll cross thin strips of West Virginia and Maryland before entering south-central Pennsylvania. 
  • #8793 – Rodeway Inn in Christianburg. Traveling light, for once. Off on a grocery run. 
  • #8796 – My bicycle looks, and feels, so different, stripped down like this. 
  • #8797 – Business Route 460, back from the Food Lion to my motel room. I must be in “the Valley” now. This is the first stretch of seriously level road I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s also a scene of prefabricated plastic ugliness that’s become typical across the land. 
  • #8798 – Same scene, with my telephoto. 
  • #8799 – Feast. Food Lion had a much better selection than I’ve seen in the little towns along my way. The alfalfa sprouts, mix of peppers and whole wheat bread supply a quality that’s been lacking from my heavily restaurant diet. I feel a need for more fresh vegetables and fruits, and I miss my own home-baked bread. 
  • #8801 – Different kind of campsite. Expensive … but worth it, just this once. 



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