April 18, 2001

4/18/01 Mineral VA

52.6 miles

Let me start at the end of the day this time. While talking with the guys at the Mineral Volunteer Fire Station, Lloyd Runnett told me, "You don't stand a snowball's chance in hell at finding a room in Charlottesville tomorrow night!" Seems as if local boy, Dave Matthews, is having a concert this weekend and the town is expecting about 100,000 concert-goers in this town of only 40,000. But then Lloyd said, "Let me make a few calls." And just like that, he got me a place at another fire station just outside of Charlottesville. I had to make a few route changes, but he thought it might actually shorten my mileage. That's a good thing, because I have a lot of elevation gain and it looks like the wind and cold temperatures will not be my friends. These guys are the greatest.

Guard Cat

This morning, I had honestly expected snow. It was that cold. But the Weather Channel said most of the snow was along the West Virginia and Virginia border. I'm sure at the higher elevations, a few thruhikers woke up to a white blanket.

Took an alternate route suggested by the folks at the campground. It had me enter Ashland on a 4-lane road instead of the 2-lane, neither with shoulders. At least the cars had another lane to go around me. Once I got through all the truck traffic and into Ashland, it was a pleasant ride. Believe it or not, the main north-south road straddles the railroad tracks. While I was heading north, an Amtrak passenger train passed me by. I stopped by the Ashland Visitors Center in the converted train station. Talked with the gentleman inside who suggested getting a breakfast snack at "Homemade by Suzanne's" next door. All the staff was busy opening up and cooking, but I was able to get a piece of chocolate chunk pecan pie. Surely a diabetic's nightmare!

Racin' the train

I wish I could have taken the walking tour of the town, but I had a long day ahead and was not sure how much time to would take.

Once I got out of Ashland, the traffic dropped to almost nothing. It was a beautiful sunny day with scattered clouds, but a little chilly and very windy. In fact, I think I had a headwind the whole day coming out of the north.

log home next to the church

In the morning, I rode through mostly elegant neighborhoods with lots of houses. Later I passed a rebuilt split-log home and then the "Fork Church" built in 1736. Between those two, as I had my head down against the wind, I had my first dog encounter. I didn't even see him or his buddy until they were right up on me. But I was fighting the wind too much other than to give them a quick "Go away!" Guess it worked. That or else the dogs didn't like chasing me against a headwind.

I stopped briefly at "Scotchtown," the house of Patrick Henry. He lived in this house when he left to attend the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774. The house is one of the oldest Virginia plantation houses, built in 1719.

After that, I was traveling through working farms with fields full of green. Today also marked the first time I had to get off the bike and push it up a hill; not once, but four times. Some of the roads reminded me of the Ozarks -- you'd be going fine, then turn a corner to see a hill that went straight up. At least it seemed that way to me.

I stopped at quite a few country stores today, mostly so I could take a break from the wind and stretch my legs. At one stop, "Ed's Convenience Store," Ed told me that the next trip he took across country, he was going to use the same bicycle maps I was using. He liked the detail and the fact that it was all country roads.

After that it was a full afternoon of pumping my bone-tired legs. My big dilemma was whether to camp eight-miles off route on the other side of Lake Anna or take a chance on the fire station in Mineral.

I stopped off at Elk Creek Country Store to get some water and ask about camping. Then I took a chance and asked Melissa behind the counter about camping at the fire station. "I live near there. Let me make a few calls and we'll see." It took several phone calls, but she got me permission and a contact person. I could have kissed her. This has been a day filled with people with the biggest hearts. By going on to Mineral, I shave almost 14 miles off my planned mileage tomorrow. And because the wind is forecasted for a couple more days, those disappearing miles are a godsend!

The sight of the fire station was sweet relief after a grueling day. I was just about to call my contact at the gas station next door when I saw Sam pull up. He unlocked the doors and gave me a tour of the station. The big thing on everyone's mind was the unseasonably cold temps expected tonight. "This is crazy," Stuart said. "We've already had a day in the 90's a few weeks ago."

Soon I left my guardian angels in search of a good restaurant. I figured since they saved me the camping fee, I needed to spend some of my money here in Mineral. Sam suggested the Mineral Restaurant just down the street.

A few heads turned as I walked in, but hopefully I blended in with my ball cap and four-day beard. I ended up with the All-You-Can-Eat (AYCE) Pizza and salad bar. Guess I haven't been on the road long enough, because I only ate two big slices of pizza. The menu (titled "Joe's Place") was pretty extensive. I sat there sipping my tea, listening to the news, and watched two grizzled old men at the counter kid with my young waitress.

So while the temperature drops outside, I'm warm and comfortable in the station's TV room. I have been so lucky today. I reached out for help and found it, both with Melissa and the guys at the fire station. Even though I still battle the loneliness, the new friends I'm fortunate to find along the way are making a difference.

Hopefully the route change tomorrow will go well, and maybe the weather gods will look kindly on me, too. Then, Friday, I should have time to visit Monticello, try and stop by the "Studies in Women and Gender" department at the University of Virginia, and then on to Afton and the "Cookie Lady."

My contact, Lewis, arrived along with Delbert and Stuart again. Lewis told me that Lloyd is a captain in another fire department and then volunteers here. Lewis said it's getting harder to get volunteers who work locally (most residents have to find work outside the area) and that have employers who will let them off work to answer an emergency call. They had over 400 calls last year and already 144 calls since January. It's getting busier and they just might have to hire a few people to keep up. "We only had to scratch one call last year and I think that's a pretty good record," Lewis Kellen said.