Birdley the Birdman of Charleston and I were supposed to go to Cross Country Nationals this weekend. On Tuesday, Birdley was riding real fast down a rocky hill in the forest outside of his nest. Then he woke up on the ground and his leg didn’t work anymore. Surprisingly, his hollow avian bones didn’t snap, but they did sprain. So no nationals for Birdley. And since Birdley was my sugar-birdy (he was my ride and hotel-beneficiary), no nationals for me either.
But I still had the weekend off. So I loaded up some stuff onto my fat bike, printed Google Maps bicycling directions, and left Ohiopyle to ride to Davis, West Virginia. The weekend went like this:
“You know it’s supposed to thunderstorm all day,” says Colleen.
“I think I’ll be alright. It might miss me,” I say.
“Ok, I just don’t want you to be miserable and come home complaining about it,” Colleen says.
I futz around, pack the rest of my stuff onto my bike. Got the camera, got my sleeping stuff, have a dry pair of underwear. No room for a rain jacket. Maybe I won’t need it. I roll out the door. No better grab it. Back in the door. I strap the jacket to the top of my bars roll away from the house again.
Up the first climb out of town. I’m a little nervous. Davis is 75 miles away, I don’t know my route, and black clouds are puffing and sliding across the sky. I pull out the cue sheet, sweat drips off my forehead and splotches some of the ink. Nuts. I wipe my eyebrows. Can’t be doing that.
Alright, I need to go right on Glades Road, left on McCracken School. I put the sheet away. Left on Glades, right on McCracken. Left on Glades, right on McCracken. No that’s not right, right? I check the sheet again. Left on Glades, not right.
I turn left on McCracken, and ride down the road a few hundred feet. Wait, this isn’t right, I should have gone right. I spin around, and roll onto the first dirt of the day. A few miles later, I scan for my next turn. There’s an unmarked trail off to the left, but it sure doesn’t look like Mason Dixon Road. I check the map on my phone. It is. These cues are going to be impossible to follow without road signs. I tuck away the paper directions.
I cross the border into West Virginia, ride a bridge across I-68, and bounce down some rutted, rocky, single-lane tracks into Cuzzart.
I ride past one farm house, where the road turns from dirt to trail, and a short brown dog rushes out of a garage.
“Sit! Sit down!” I yell.
“Bark bark bark!” he yells.
“Sit the hell down!” I yell.
“Bark bark bark!” he yells.
This conversation clearly isn’t getting either of us anywhere. I pedal faster and the dog finally gives up the chase. I drop into the woods.
A few miles later, I ride past a group of eight people on five ATVs. All the people are staring at the road. I wave and say hello. They all wave back in unison and look at me blankly. Weird.
Around the next bend, there’s a black plastic hose sticking out of the dirt, pumping water onto a little pallet platform. Perfect. I was almost out of water. I fill both bottles. The sky rumbles. That doesn’t sound great. The road turns from trail to dirt to gravel to pavement. The wind picks up, grey clouds roll like waves. The hills thump and echo. I better find some shelter before this storm hits.
I run into a little pavilion next to a white church. The rain pings sharply against the metal roof. Louder, louder until I can’t hear myself talk to myself. Lighting strikes the steeple. The thunder blasts. Jesus Christ that was goddamned close.
The storm starts to let off. I put my rain jacket on, which I’m very glad I went back for, and get back on my bike. The lightning is gone, but it’s still raining. I ride a flat gravel road over Snaggy Mountain which is more of a Snaggy Bump and hide from the rain in an old log cabin. At this point I kind of want to go home. I’m all wet and uncomfortable. Then the sun starts to come out. Oh boy. I fold up my coat and ride into the nice weather.
20 more miles of dirt and pavement until I get to the bottom of the climb into Tucker County, where I drink my last drop of water. 15 miles to go. My only food today has been a bag of peanuts, so I’m feeling a little out of gas, but I should be able to make it to the Purple Fiddle in Thomas. I start grinding up the hill.
A while later, my stomach is contracting. Gotta keep going. Beef wraps at the top. A trickle of water runs down the hillside. No, don’t stop. Just keep rolling.
I finally make it to the Fiddle, and order a beef wrap and a Seneca IPA in a mason jar and sit across from a chubby kid with eyes that are permanently sunk into his game playing thing.
After I finish eating, I get back on my bike and head for camp.