Day 30 Emporia, VA to Clarksville 80 miles 3,524 feet
Today’s ride could be summed up in just 4 words, A CYCLISTS WET DREAM, 12 miles of gravel and 68 miles of mostly deserted backcountry roads through forests and farms, with only one traffic light. The day started off cold enough to require a jacket but I was able to shed it as I started to generate some heat from pedaling.
Save for the start and finish, we would only roll through 3 “towns” today, Lawrenceville just before the gravel section, La Crosse just after the gravel, and South Hill, a few miles later. The latter two towns contained some true gems of old Americana.
The farms I rode through were predominately planted with soybeans with a sprinkling of tobacco, including some that was flowering.
The deciduous trees where beginning to exhibit more color and I notice many more majestic Southern Magnolias. The predominant species of tree that I saw today was pine, and the State of Virginia has an active program to increase the population of pine trees.
Many of the farm fields stretched on for miles and were fronted by what could best be described as share croppers shacks. Many had been abandoned years ago as farming became more mechanized. Some are still inhabited today, I had trouble telling the difference.
I saw many elegant farm houses as well as abandoned rundown log houses.
I stopped for water in Lawrenceville at the 20 mile mark before hitting the gravel section. The town looked like it had scene any better days in it’s past. Nearly half the stores on its Main Street were vacant.
The Tobacco Heritage Trail begins in Lawerenceville as a gravel trail. It rolls through dense forests with several bridges but only a single road crossing over its 12 mile length. It had rained the day before so the surface was a combination of mud, sand, gravel, and a few rocks. For the most part you can not see the trail surface as it was covered up to 3 inches deep with wet leaves. It took a leap of faith to be comfortable pedaling along at 15 mph with no idea what was actually under my tires. On section of the trail was totally overgrown on both sides with an invasive species of ivy. It blanketed the trees and hillside in mystical fashion as if created by Walt Disney himself. One grouping looked like a topiary Heffalup posing for passerby’s. The whole effect reminded me of the forest on the South Island of New Zealand used to film The Lord of the Rings.
The last mile or so of the trail consisted mostly of loose and occasionally mounded sand which reeks havoc with skinny treadless tires. We emerged from the gravel and continued on the paved portion of the Heritage Tobacco Trail for a couple of miles till the town of La Crosse, where the folks at Timberline had a surprise waiting for us. Barbara, the owner, and Jenna, one of our guides, had set up a halfway party for us, complete with balloons and half portions of pie. I wasn’t hungry, but to quote Danny Davito, AKA Larry the Liquidator, “it doesn’t taste any better when you are hungry,” so I inhaled a piece of pecan pie before casting back off.
Just a bit up the road I encountered an abandoned tobacco plantation with the owner’s home near the road and the enslaved peoples quarters setback near the fields.
I had been carrying some carrots for over 50 miles till a came upon the Double J Stables, where I noticed two Tennessee Walkers prancing around. With some help from my bag of carrots, I was able to entice them to come visit me. When their owner came by I asked if it was ok to give them a few carrots and she said sure. The larger horse was named Misty and the smaller one Little Bit.
I called my girlfriend, a serious equestrian, to tell her about the horses. We chatted a bit, on speakerphone, as I rolled on. A pickup truck passed on my left and then a small group of dogs took chase. I’m not sure if they were chasing me or the truck, but they seemed playful rather than aggressive, so I paid them no mind and they dropped the chase after 20 feet or so. I would get chase twice more on the way to the hotel, both times by aggressive dogs whom I felt comfortable outrunning.
As I continued to roll through forests and farmland, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to some of my favorite riding in Sonoma County, deep in California’s wine country. Obviously the crops were different, there were no mountains in the distance but the vistas were every bit as enchanting, and the roads were as smooth as butter. Perhaps CalTrans can take some advice from the Virginia Department of Highways. I finally entered Clarksville via the half mile long bridge over the Roanoke River.
When all was said and done, today was my favorite day on the ECG and probably one of my best days ever on a bicycle. If I had to pick a bike riding day to be Groundhogs Day, today was it. I grabbed a few double cheeseburgers from the Golden Arches, my go to food source for 3,000 miles during RAAM to hold me till dinner. There is a brand new brewery right behind our hotel, so I stopped in for a Mainsail Amber Ale which I enjoyed on the outdoor deck overlooking the Roanoke River.
Dinner was at Bridgewater Bar & Grill, 201 Virginia Ave, Clarksville. I opted for the ribeye with coleslaw and a baked stuffed potato. For desert I went with a Creme Brûlée Cheesecake, it was sheer heaven.
Ten states down, 5 more to go.
Feet Climbed 66,864
States Visited Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia
For more details on my route, see my Strava Link