YONDER JOURNAL: APPALACHIANS, VA

Pizzas the size of pools, night ghouls, river floats—it's all here in Yonder Journal's latest adventure to the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.

DEAD RECKONING

HUB AND SPOKE - BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA

Blacksburg was the last stop on our tour. We’d ridden our way through the artisanally-choked gaps and valleys of Vermont, and across the slate gray gravel and hidden roads that crisscross the hills surrounding State College. We had done some great riding, superb riding, world-class riding, but we hadn’t done enough swimming or trail shredding, we hadn’t properly lounged at camp or taken any time to perfect our hacky sack skills. Up to this point we had been GO GO GO. No, we weren’t head down drilling, but it is very easy to underestimate the time it takes to perform a day of bike packing: there’s the act of cooking breakfast, of breaking camp, of riding 40-60 miles, of setting up camp, of eating again, and then of going to sleep, not to mention the countless other little starts, stops, asides, and adlibs that are bound to happen. If you’re us—seven wonderfully imaginative and excitable beings—then you know this process takes ALL DAY.

So while contemplating our next ride in the charged atmosphere of a roofer's convention (our digs at the Blacksburg Comfort Inn were obviously a de facto barracks/nightclub for a regiment of these burnt red workers), we decided that on this route we would go Hub & Spoke. It is unclear whether the term Hub & Spoke is an established idiom for describing base camp-style bike packing, and it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that the description definitely relates to bikes and that this style meant we were only going to set up camp once.

We loaded up our newly furnished Sequoias and rolled out of town. Did we stop at the local Co-op? Yes. Did we buy wine, beer, and chips from the Circle K? We did. Was it a mere 15 miles to our campsite? Did we take mountain bike trails to get there? Did we splash through puddles, ford rivers, and wait out short bursts of rain squalls under the beatific umbrella canopy of the forest. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And as luck would have it, the clouds cleared just as we arrived at our campsite, a hidden gem with two picnic tables, a massive fire ring, creek access, a horseshoe pit with horseshoes, a large grass area, and an extremely clean and well-kempt pit toilet. My friends, this is the Hub & Spoke ideal, one with just the right amount amenities. Even Benedict was happy.

The next day it was a five-mile ride to the New River Junction, where we rented tubes and floated a mile'ish section of the New River. The water was cool and fine, the tubes were buoyant, and the people-watching was exquisite. Of course we all ran the small section of rapids at the end—we’re adventure professionals for Chrissake. Having taken the shuttle bus back to the start of the float, it was decided that, since the onsite concession stand was not selling corn dogs (yes, this is mind-boggling and borderline offensive), we needed to order some pizzas. Our research found that the only way to get a pizza to the New River Junction was to order for pickup and then to take an UBER to retrieve it, and because of the ideology built into the concept of Hub & Spoke, we knew that this was the right thing to do. Did we know that the pizzas from Benny’s would each be the circumference of a kiddie pool? No, no we did not, and apparently we are the only ones, because when our expeditionary force landed at Benny’s and was confronted by a stack of three kiddie pools with baked white flour coping, red sauce water, and a lactose-indulgent pool cover, we were told that, “Everyone knows about the size of our pizzas.” At least now, considering the scope and size of our readership, everyone will actually know. We tried our best to eat the pizzas, we even shared them with the tubing staff and some random tubers, then we rode the rest of it back to camp as a giant sail lashed to Moi’s Pizza Rack. (I am happy to report the Pizza Rack met and surpassed expectations.) On our way back, Daniel was reprimanded by some locals for taking photos of their dog shack, but aside from this isolated incident, our day was exceedingly pleasant. In the evening we rode mountain bike trails on our road-ish bikes and we enjoyed every minute of it. Later that night, back at camp, we were joined by a local named Kate who tracked us down via Instagram, and even after meeting all of us, she decided to hang around. We took this as a really good sign.

The next morning Kate was gone, she had to get home early for Father’s Day, and Daniel told us about the mysterious night runner he had seen in the middle of the night running through camp with a ghoulish Australian Shepherd. We hope that both Kate and the night ghoul made it home safely. After breakfast, and a deliberately long pack-up, we once again hit the mountain bike trails as a way to meander back into Blacksburg. On the way into camp, we had noticed a few jumps, and what better time to hit a line of doubles and step-ups than when you’ve fully loaded your gravel grinder? After successfully clearing a few table tops and a couple of doubles, I (Kyle) was starting to feel frisky, and in an attempt at clearing a sizeable step-up, I overshot the landing and punched a thimble-sized hole in my elbow. Blood streamed and my pride was injured, but nothing important was damaged. With a little help from the magnificent seven, an emergency aid kit, and a few irrigation blasts from a water bottle, I was back on the trail. Fortunately, the injury had occurred in an area of my body virtually devoid of nerve endings, because only the slightest throbbing accompanied the rest of our ride out, the pain so slight that a group of us choose to take a black diamond trail back into town, impressing the locals with their five-inch full suspension machines as we blasted by them, dry sacks, camp bags, and tent poles jostling in syncopated rhythm.

A bicycle is a wonderful machine, capable of taking you to the end of your endurance and to the far reaches of the earth. But the bicycle isn’t just about limits, its beauty is its function, and whether you’re riding 10 miles or a hundred, exploring a far off land or your own backyard, the bicycle will open your eyes to possibility, to new experiences, and as far as we’re concerned, that’s as good as it can possibly get.