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Brian Cray - Hitchhikin', Trainhoppin', and Wanderin'

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Virginia

It’s Not Fuckin’ Rocket Science

Train Hopping Charlottesville

After a long drug-crazed weekend boozin’, watchin’ pupils turn to pinpoints with the flick of a flame and the exhalation of smoke, we hopped out of a jeep by the train yard in Charlottesville. Mike leaned over, staring with his bloodshot eyes, tired from sleepless nights of meth and hickory smoked ribs. In a raspy voice the words dawdled off of his tongue, “So long bro, til we meet again.”

Teardrop and I nodded as we clenched our packs and hoofed it down the street towards the steel. Not a single train worked so we lingered in the shadows of brisk air, sleeping, sprawled out among the weeds and ballast. The sun slowly advanced and as the shadows crept away, a fierce blaze of light stung my skin like an army of wasps. I fidgeted; sweat trickled down my limbs like tributaries, conjoining to pools of perspiration. I looked out along the tracks at the stationary blocks of grainers, boxcars and lumber racks, hoping a passing train might stop briefly, picking up either block. But, nothing happened, IMs just hummed by at uncatchable speeds, toying with our emotions like the flirtatious woman of my past.

We paced the tracks for hours, evading the malevolent fire in the sky, walking south of the Amtrak station. Nothing stopped on that lonely Sunday, but a few Amtrak commuter trains, as we roamed towards Wild Wings Cafe. Our packs slung lightly over our shoulders from minimal food while our hunger began to diminish to an empty pit of tasty desires, unreachable, yet close.
Dumpster food was not the most appetizing of meals, but we needed nutrients, we needed energy, we needed to eat, anything… We only lived off peanut butter for so long until giving in to trayed food on the top of trash bins or dumpsters. I skimmed the top layer of the metal can, pulling out a bun, and nachos, which curbed our hunger momentarily as we sat north of the Amtrak station. A traffic signal mast stood tall by the curvature of the steel tracks and we stumbled upon the hop out. Broken 40’s piled high by the track-side in mounds of shattered glass with discarded articles of clothing, empty packs of smokes and other trash left by home bums and crackheads.

I just laughed and shook my head.

“Nah, but what the fuck is with all these railfans dude? Who wastes their Sunday with their Nikon strapped to their neck, prancing back-and-forth, waiting for the next passing train? It’s like it feeds their train boners…I mean…I don’t give a fuck…do what ya gotta do…but we can’t get outta here until they leave…this is the spot.”

“Yeah…I know…I know…the right train will come,” Teardrop said.

 

Frank handed me a Pall Mall and finally Teardrop popped into the conversation with a slight grin on his face. Frank stumbled and bobbed as he sipped his Hurricane, spewing the same line of non-sense to my road dog.

“Ya wanna beer…it’s not fuckin’ rocket science…hiccup…it’s either yes or goddamn no, babyyy.”

Teardrop nodded, “Sure…I’ll have a swig.”
“Some of the guys back in Nam fucked me up when I called em babyyy…some guys don’t like that shit…hahaha…glug…glug…glug…but fuck it. Three mah friends died man…three of em…glug…glug…glug…right by my side…still call em babyyy. Ya wanna drink of Four Loko Gold babyyy?”

We both stood there shaken up through the sadness of his sorrows. He winced behind the bottle, drowning in decades of relentless pain, none of which brought back his friends as he proceeded to indulge. His hands stopped shaking as he drank more than half of his 40 and dipped into his 14% malt beverage.

 

I remembered a buildo not too far in the distance to shelter us from the rain for a dry, warm night of sleep. So we journeyed off. I ate ferociously swallowing full bites of pizza out of intense hunger as I piled it on inside my belly. Blisters formed on my feet between the wet crinkles of skin, and pruned toes as a result of puddles and holey footwear.

We walked past the security cameras and through the garage door, marching up the stairs to the unfinished kitchen. I untied my boots and slapped my sopping socks against the brisk floor. My feet felt disgusting. They hurt as I wiggled my toes in utter relief, biting into another slice of dumpster pizza and gulping down the mystery Koolaid. We lay there plumply like fat carcasses, barely moving or speaking, until we drifted asleep.

My alarm sounded early giving us ample time to secure our gear and leave without a trace. The day reset itself with no food, and only water, but the end of breakfast neared. Teardrop plopped in the Mickey D’s dumpster scoring a leftover BBQ sandwich and apple pies for days. We ate like savages, the bottom feeders of society, but experienced the nectar of life riding trains, living free, doing whatever we felt like doing while train hopping Charlottesville.

That day the food bank opened up so we stocked up on a few days worth of canned food, and other expired items. The church needed to keep track of us, scanning our IDs, since they get an incentive from Big Brother. We ate the food for sustenance despite it tasting heaps worse than dumpster food. The slime from the cantaloupe left a sour taste on my tongue while the soft mushy fried chicken skin made me soak up both grease and carbs. Nothing tasted scrumptious or fulfilling, but we gained energy, strength, and the will to move on, and that’s what we did.

 

We danced among the ballast, checking our first gondola, beyond the bend in the tracks. Her walls lay empty with her floor covered in debris, broken drift wood and railroad ties, made for a stiff ride open to the brisk sky.

Teardrop and I unpacked our bedrolls and five hours later we heard the faint rustling of air beneath us. Her cars shunted fiercely and off she zoomed, picking up speed gingerly, but not too soon. She stopped just 12-miles outside of Charlottesville on a double-track. We got our wish after three days, but it cost us 24-hours in Barboursville, with no movement, no stores, draining our supplies.

“When would this fuckin’ junk train move? Where were we going? In 29 hours we traveled a total of 12 miles…fuck it…I’m goin’ back to sleep…”
But at least we’re no longer train hopping Charlottesville…

Breaks Interstate Park

Breaks Interstate Park

Breaks Interstate Park

TransAmerica Trail DE to CO

Breaks Interstate Park

Entering Breaks Interstate Park. Finally in Kentucky!

I made it to Breaks Interstate Park and fell in love with the park. The overlooks are amazing, but I could not get decent pictures to show up on my phone. Guess you just have to take my word for it. The bugs bite me every two minutes, which is irritating but I have had worse days.

Breaks Interstate Park

One of the overlooks at Breaks Interstate Park. Isn’t it beautiful?

I washed my clothes and took a shower at the campground and was able to charge my electronics. I finished reading, “Crime and Punishment.” Once I get a better pen I will write a note and hopefully someone will pick it up and enjoy it as much as I did.

I met William from these parts of Virginia. We talked about the construction field and he thoroughly enjoyed hearing about my adventure cross-country. He could not contemplate a better way to see the countryside. He is in town for the week on business. Apparently they are doing construction further down the road so he is staying at the campground.

Breaks Interstate Park

Look at the valley down below. Pretty cool huh?

I left my bike locked to a tree in the woods across the street and stuck fabric softener in my pannier racks. Hopefully it is stealth enough that no one will see it or animals won’t get into my food. I will find out early tomorrow when I wake up around 5 or 6 AM. I have to be out of here early before people notice.

Breaks Interstate Park

Sleeping on a cliff overlooking Breaks Interstate Park on Pinnacle Rock!

Pizza and Tryin’ Not to Hurl

Pizza and Tryin’ Not to Hurl

Elk Garden Methodist Church

It’s been a slow day so far. I slept in until 7:30 AM. Packed some food, left a small donation and hit the road by 8:00 AM. Each day is getting a little easier as my legs have adjusted to the riding. I wound up bumping into two cyclists heading towards Yorktown. They could not believe how light of a rig I had with just rear panniers and a rack setup. Everyone I have seen thus far all have far more luggage than myself. I actually met Adam from Colorado whom the couple I spoke with last night at Elk Garden Methodist Church was talking about. Adam have me a business card and told me if I need a place to stay in Colorado Springs to give him a call. His journey was for charity.  I am still figuring out what mine represents.  Nonetheless, I think I’m slowly finding myself as I go further each day.

Beautiful Virginia

Random fields of green and skies of blue. I have seen this all day since leaving Elk Garden Methodist Church.

I stocked up on more snacks at Cruisers and ate at an all you can eat pizza buffet called Pizza Plus. I am on my way to Breaks Interstate Park where I plan on reading and writing a bit before I head out to the next campground. I have heard Breaks is a must see attraction from the locals and cyclists coming the other direction. So I plan on staying there for a few hours before I seek shelter.

Breaks Interstate Park

On my way to Breaks Interstate Park. Tomorrow I’ll be in Kentucky!

All of these pictures are from the TransAmerica Bicycle trail if you haven’t been following my blog. These are some of the most beautiful scenic routes in America. If you can’t bicycle tour across the country due to time I would suggest just driving in a car from coast-to-coast. You won’t regret it!

 

Windin’ Roads and Flat Tires

Windin’ Roads and Flat Tires

Damascus

I’ve gone a little over 50 miles today. I rode through the mountains in Mount Rogers National Forest area. The climbs were gradual and fairly easy.  I witnessed the first group of cyclists on the trail, but they were heading eastbound. I finally made it to the top and I felt like speed racer riding down the mountain.  The wind caused my face to tear up due to the speed. This downhill ride was longer than the one I experienced on Vesuvius. I covered roughly 18 miles in a little over an hour, but as I got to the bottom of the hill I hit a piece of pavement and popped my tire. Within seconds it was flat. I pulled over to the side of the road and within minutes a kind gentlemen offered a helping hand, but I already had the necessary equipment so I changed it.

Damascus

Fixing a flat tire after flying down a huge hill in Damascus, VA.

While I was packing up my gear I bumped into Jeff, a local, who was giving me an overview on the area. He recommended I visit the taco place down the road, the harvest table, and if I had time head over to Clinch Mountain. Apparently there is a nice view six miles up, but you have to hike. It would have been interesting but I didn’t want to leave my bike around. We talked about climbing, hiking and cycling for a little while and then I was off towards Rosedale.  I’m headed to the nearest campground, which is roughly 20 miles away. Somehow I ended up heading down the wrong road. I’m on Route 736, which should lead back onto 80. I’ll figure it out.

Damascus, VA Bicycle Touring

More long driveways full of gravel.

I wound up heading down Route 736 to 737 and taking 744 back to interstate 80. It added a little more mileage to the day, but in doing so I avoided encountering a bear and her cubs. A woman stopped me by flashing her high beams and told me had I been there a little earlier I might be in trouble. I blared my music on my phone just to be safe. The bears were not in sight though. I continued on down interstate 80 until I met up with Robert who gave me some waters for my trip. He thought I wrecked down the end of his driveway, but riding 80 miles wears you out so I just rested there to regain some strength for the next steep 3-mile climb. We made small talk. I found out he was a miner back in the day. He showed me a field full of wild turkeys. There must have been about a dozen or so right next to his lawn. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Evergreen Trees Damascus, VA

Look at all the little evergreen trees in the mountains!

I continued on up the mountain and enjoyed a nice windy downhill stretch until I ended up at Elk Garden Methodist Church. I met up with cyclists from Manassas who were heading towards Yorktown to complete the long trek cross-country. Paul and Nancy were in there 60’s and started a few months back. They are doing on average 65 miles a day…so I need to pick up the pace haha. It’s definitely been a journey to say the least and I’ve barely spent much money. I probably would have spent more at home on gas, beer and other unnecessary items. Instead I’m spending less and having the experience of a lifetime. Where shall I go next?

Selfie

A selfie near Damascus, VA.

By the way, tonight I get the luxury of sleeping inside and get free food as well.

Sweet Tomato Sammies

Sweet Tomato Sammies

Rural Retreat State Park

I woke up early today to avoid any possible encounters with park rangers since I stealth camped last night at Claytor Lake State Park (as previously stated). I experienced gradual climbs with the terrain I encountered today so I only put in 50 miles.  The breeze chilled my arms and gave me goosebumps. The nights are already getting colder and each morning the fresh dew and fog become thicker, but it’s refreshing and peaceful. It makes my mind and spirit feel completely free. No matter the weather, rain or shine, hot or cold, each day brings new sights, people and experiences. I can honestly say, I am glad I was laid off from work or I would not be experiencing this first hand. I would still be a dreamer.

Rural Retreat State Park

A view of the lake at Rural Retreat State Park.

One thing for sure is my appetite is getting stronger as I proceed on my journey. I scarf down meals in a few minutes and I eat while cycling down the road. Even cooking groceries, I still spend about $20.00 a day on food, snacks, meals, you name it. Today I actually hit up a mini mart and grabbed some snacks (peanuts, twix, snickers, monster, pretzels) and I hit up a small restaurant off Route 11 and grabbed their special which consisted of 2 eggs, bacon, toast, and hash browns for $5.00.  I continued on down the road and stopped at Bethel Public Church to eat yet again and charge my electronics.  It was there I finished reading the book, “To Build a Fire” and left it with a note for someone else to read it. I ended up biking to Rural Retreat State Park. I met an 11 year old named Cole who just got back into school and was telling me about football and the weather here in Virginia. He showed me around the state park and showed me where the shelters and restrooms were located. Let’s see if I can stealth camp here tonight. There is a park ranger in front of me at the moment so I will try to see if I can relocate to a different area.

Rural Retreat State Park

The driveways out in the countryside of VA are really long. This goes on for a few miles. All of the homes near Rural Retreat State Park are like this!

I stuck around and met two wonderful people, Ron and Roberta, born and raised in VA. I told them my story about my cross-country journey to Washington. They fed me two tomato sandwiches, which were excellent. I have never tasted such sweet tomatoes before in my life. We talked about construction, the ingredients engineered into the food we eat, family, Alaska, Tacoma, and the TransAmerica bicycle trail. All in all, it was a great conversation.

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