Today (Mon. 6-08) was the longest yet. 4,000ft of climbing over a 60 mile stretch. My gears locked up several times because I did a poor job shifting into a lower gear, but even still a couple hills flat out beat me. After about 40 miles Charlie and I stopped at a small shack on the side of the road called Shake & Shack.
I ate a bad veggie wrap that had way too much mayo and a smoothie that tasted like the fruit was flavored corn syrup. As we sat under the canopy which was just to the side of the building we fell into conversation with two older guys sitting behind Charlie. They were asking where we were headed and what our plan was. As we talked the wind continued to howl and grow in strength. The men mentioned that it was supposed to thunderstorm that afternoon around 3:00. It was 2:30. We had another 20 miles to go and it involved going over the top of a mountain. To say the least, we were not confident that we could make it.
Before we left in a panic the two men gave us a tip, we could ride through a closed turnpike that would allow us to go under the mountain. We hopped on our bikes and made the ride as quick as we could for the tunnel. It was a long shot but the other option was brutal so we went for it. As we rode the hills continued as they had been for the last two days. Up and down we went will the storm growing over head. Suddenly, as we neared the top of a steep hill the wind came up to maybe 20 miles an hour and with it, the most torrential down poor I had ever experienced. At the top of the hill was a house and barn. A shout came from Charlie to take shelter in the barn. We ran up to the edge of the barn and tucked ourselves under an overhang. The rain was coming down and struck the earth with such force it seemed as if the water had it out for the land.
Charlie and I left our bikes and ran 40 ft over to the main house hoping to find the owner. No one was there. We went back to the bikes and stood while the rain poured and wind blew. After a minute or two a man appeared from within the barn. He surprised us a first but his face was kind and we all got to talking. His name was Keith and he had lived on the farm all his life. It was originally his grandfather’s land but now he just leased the land to other growers who grew alfalfa for horses.
Keith had served in the Navy on a submarine, he told me that although he liked to travel, “there was no place like home.” He told us of how the land had changed as it developed and the local populations grew. New roads and highways cut the land while new people moved in. I filmed the rain for a while and watched deer eat the alfalfa at the end of the field. After a time the rain stopped and we asked Keith if he knew of the abandoned tunnel. He said he did and that it would get us to Breezeville which was our destination. Keith said he had to go to town but before he left we asked if we could stay in his barn that night. He kindly said that we could. We decided not to stay.
In a moment that we thought was clear we hopped on our bikes and made a break for the tunnel. Racing down to where it was on the map the rain started similar to earlier and we were quickly getting soaked. The road seemed to go too far and a car passed towing horses. The trees blocked our vision and the only sky we could see was the darkest part of the cloud. As it set in over our heads it unleashed the full force of the rain. We turned around, there were two options, find this tunnel or hide under our emergency tarp until the weather past. On the second go around we luckily found a road tucked away that had a sign TURN PIKE ENTRANCE. We took it and went fast. Up the broken asphalt road after a quarter mile we met a yellow guard rail, too high to go over and too low to go under, also because of the storm a branch was covering the four foot gap which would have allowed us to go around. A sign on the rail said for bikers to proceed at their own caution with a recommendation of head lamps and helmets. We cleared away the branch and climbed around the poring rain with only one goal in mind, to find the tunnel and take cover.
The rain and wind together spat on our faces as we peddled on flat ground but with the resistance of the greatest hill we had met to date. Finally off in the distance we saw the tunnel entrance. Pitch black after only 25 ft from the entrance we stared into the abyss with no other option. I told Charlie to pull out his knife and put it in his pocket. I didn’t know what we would find inside, I wasn’t even sure there was another side.
I turned on my head lamp and flipped on my bike light, as did Charlie. With the three lights together we had roughly 20 ft of vision once we began down the tunnel. The wind continued to blow against us but it was slower now, losing its momentum at the later parts of the tunnel. Inside, other than the graffiti, the tunnel was smooth. The ground looked as if it had been made out of concrete and with the protection of the tunnel was in good condition. No pot holes, only gravel rocks and the occasional piece of trash or tire rubber. We sped along, Charlie would yell out in an attempt to scary off whatever might lie further on in the tunnel.
Finally we saw a light, it was too small to be the entrance but it was straight ahead of us. As we rode our nervousness helped move our feet faster and faster until finally the small hole of light grew to be the tunnel opening. We paused at the end, Charlie looked at me with great relief as we stood at the tunnel opening. Onward we continued, the gps said that we had a total of 18 miles from the shake shack and we had only covered about 6 by that point. We road on but now the rain had stopped and a spirit of optimism returned. As we rode we laughed about the feelings we had just had in the tunnel and what a crazy story it would be. And then in the distance appeared another tunnel opening.
We hadn't heard that there were two tunnels, but we went through it as well. This time with more confidence and the same strategy: peddle fast and stay sharp. Finally it ended and we continued up a long sloping hill which led off into a distance which we could not see. The rain began again. As we climbed steadily up the hill Charlie called out that my front tire looked flat. In fact, it was. In the madness I hadn’t even noticed that my front tire had popped. I hopped off my bike grabbed Charlies handle bars so he could work and quickly we began changing the tire. The rain continued to poor. After pumping like mad with our emergency pump Charlie finished the wheel. We got it back on my bike and in an instant were moving again, ever up the slopping hill.
Finally after 6 more miles of puddles, lighter rain, pot hole, and gravel we met another metal gate similar to the one we encountered on the west side of the turn pike. This time there was more room to pass and we rode on through. Down a dirt cliff we descended, walking our bikes, for the final time, leaving the turn pike behind and with only three quarters of a mile until the Econolodge were we would stay. We pulled up, got a room, showered, and went to dinner. Charlie and I hugged, joked and moved on. We were only at the end of week one, the trip had only just started.