A Hard Day’s Ride

One hundred and fifty years ago, when cavalries ranged up and down the Shenandoah Valley, it would be extraordinary to travel 50 miles on horseback for several days in a row.

On a modern road, the Lightning easily outdistances a cavalry horse. The rig is a small fraction of a horse’s weight. A bicyclist needs more food than an equestrian, but much less than a horse. A bicycle can roll downhill far faster than a horse can gallop. A horse makes a better military vehicle, though. A few potholes, some gravel, some debris – things a horse will step over – and a bike will stop or overturn.

Today, as we passed from the Shenandoah Valley to the Draper Valley, we encountered a mixture of roads. We made good time for a while. But for much of the day, we crept along at less than 3 mph.

While we were riding out of the Roanoke-Salem area, Jeffrey saw a woman taking our photo with a telephoto lens. It was Meg Hibbert, Editor of the Salem Times-Register and The New Castle Record. She gave Jeffrey a quick roadside interview. His photo, a caption about HRF – and perhaps the blog address – may be in the local newspaper. Sometimes there’s no substitute for shoes on the ground and bicycle tires on the pavement. No one in Salem would hear of HRF and its good work if we’d stayed in New York.

Soon the road turned ugly.

Construction on I-81 diverted traffic onto the Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (U.S. 11), which in these parts has no shoulder. Tractor-trailer tires went right to the edge of the pavement – see the truck at the left in the first photo – and congestion and the “no passing” edict left them no room to avoid us.



Jeffrey was reduced to walking the Lightning for miles up mountainsides facing traffic. Even that was harrowing. There was no shoulder, and dropoffs and rock walls left him little or no room to get off the pavement. He played a lot of “chicken” with cars and trucks: who would move out of whose way?

In a sector where he dared ride, construction workers called out a cheery greeting. Jeffrey turned his head to give them a nod and a wave . . . dropped off the raised pavement into a gravel pothole, and overturned. He was traveling slowly, and falls from a recumbent tend to be benign anyway. A construction worker ran over to make sure all was OK. And it was. The worker wished us luck, the men shook hands, and the worker took a card with the blog address.

After a while, we turned onto a country road. Hills were steep. Pavement was rough. But traffic was light and there was room for us to ride.


During one 18-mile stretch, we crossed this river. Like many of the bodies of water we’ve crossed in rural Virginia, it had no name-sign. It might be the New River, one of the oldest rivers on earth, which flows into North Carolina. Later, after almost running out of water, Jeffrey stopped for refreshments and was told that the river across the road (was it the same river?) is the New River.


We passed this pretty little Masonic temple in Snowville, Virginia.


We had hoped today to reach Wytheville, birthplace of Woodrow Wilson’s second wife. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and framer of the Constitution. (Speaking of non-Civil War history, yesterday we passed markers pointing out the birthplaces of Woodrow Wilson and of Thomas Lincoln, Abraham’s father.) At least we reached Wythe County, and we were lucky to find shelter at a truck stop in the unusually named hamlet of Max Meadows just before a thunderstorm hit.

Bristol, the town straddling the Virginia-Tennessee line, is now only 85 miles away. Donnie – a truck stop manager with whom Jeffrey had a fascinating discussion about child-raising, concealed-carry, second marriages, forgiveness and other topics – says the terrain is rough between here and there, so we don’t expect to reach Tennessee tomorrow. But Wednesday looks good.