Heat-stroke-induced catatonia is rest, but it is not sleep. In fact, I slept for only three hours, kitted up at 6 am and walked out to the lobby to claim my continental breakfast.
(Aside, re: "continental breakfast". What is that supposed to mean? Is it supposed to refer to culinary traditions in Europe? Because I don't think donuts and Fruit Loops are the default morning edibles there. Nor is drip Maxwell House the preferred coffee-based beverage. I don't mind the breakfast, but please, just call it what it is: "Complimentary Industrial Sugary Shit Breakfast".)
Here in the lobby, I was accosted by one of the aforementioned cougars, purportedly around my age but entombed in the decaying flesh of a senior citizen. I could recount her dark life of trauma for you (and tell you her credit score) but why would I? Just to pass along the discomfort? Let me just sound the alarm: when someone matching the foregoing description, someone artificially blonde and with a raspy smoker's voice of the sort ordinarily used to summon the dead, purrs/growls, "Mind if I sit down?" in the Front Royal Super 8 Motel lobby... just say no.
I was rescued, incredibly, by a group of cyclists, five middle-aged guys from Lancaster County. They've been riding from Pennsylvania down to the bottom of the Shennendoah on Memorial Day weekend for fifteen years, and were preparing to cover the length of the park today, 115 miles, with someone's kind wife driving sag support. What an amazing, enviable tradition. PA long-distance cyclists: congratulations, and from the bottom of my heart, thanks for the rescue.
Two donuts and two styrofoam cups of coffee (viz., one Continental Breakfast) later, I headed out into the park and started a gentle uphill grade, relieved that my legs would still turn the pedals after yesterday. The park was wet, cool, quiet -- no cars for the first ten miles -- and full of animals.
I saw flea-bitten deer, strutting wild turkeys, ring-necked pheasants, assorted song birds (who, apart from specialists, can identify all the little birds anymore?), a black-and-white snake poised to strike on the inside of one of my turns, and some strange migration of millipedes, all crossing the road in parallel. The first pullout under construction was a millipede massacre. Hundreds of squished millipedes, lives cut short by construction equipment. Talk about dappled things...
And so it would go: animals live and dead, more often the latter. I saw dead baby opposums, dead squirrels (many, many), a dead fox, a dead groundhog, and a dead snake of the same species as the live one I saw earlier. It was good to have a reminder of my chances against the almighty automobile.
A woman I met at a rest area, a through hiker traveling from Georgia to Maine, saw a bobcat sitting on a tree limb just that morning, her first bobcat sighting on the AT. She and I guzzled chocolate milk together and talked about the teaching profession, from which she's recently retired. I hope I'm the type of person who hikes the entire AT when I'm in my sixties. Respect.
The Skyline Drive continued upwards for most of the day. 18 of the first 21 miles from Front Royal were uphill and given the exhaustion from yesterday and the lack of sleep, I was going *very* *very* slowly. Also, the Antares was starting to work its magic on my hindmost parts. Yeah, it's quite beautiful in the Shenandoah, with vistas this way, vistas that way, gradual slopes and steady, swooping corners, blah, blah, blah.
But my butt really hurt.
And I guess nature programed us to put butt comfort ahead of the finer aesthetic pleasures in life. (Maslow needs this in his pyramid.) So, my memory is just a series of ever-shifting pains, mostly centered on the butt area, as I made constant adjustments to my position on the bike.
One more encounter story before signing off. Memorial Day weekend was Rolling Thunder, and all of my riding was accompanied by Harley types booming past. My experience out there proved the good sense of Harley Davidson's sponsorship of a bike racing team. Not only do the Battley-Harley boys ride like they have motorcycle engines hidden in their bottom brackets, the actual Harley enthusiasts are extremely considerate to cyclists. First of all, I can always hear them coming. Secondly, when they do come by, they give me plenty of room. And finally, they're genuinely nice people. Along the Skyline Drive that day, no fewer than five bikers offered me cold bottles of water, and one offered me a sandwich. I also got the thumbs-up from a lot of riders. I think they realize, being out in the air and close to the road, what it means to fight an 8% grade for a few miles. They also realize what it's like to be constantly on the watch for cars.
So, shout out to Rolling Thunder.
More to come...