Wood-Fired Hospitality in Shenandoah Valley

Waking up to the kindness of old strangers & new friends only furthers our resolve and desire to contribute to our future community in every way possible. Lee woke up hours before dawn to work on his pottery, he was preparing for firing the kiln. Rebecca had coffee waiting for us and before I realized had pancakes cooking. But not just pancakes, these were freshly ground whole wheat from their farm and you could absolutely tell the difference. *Future goal: grow everything!*

Rebecca had to run some errands so we gathered to get our group photo before heading inside to finish packing. Rebecca stocked us up with bunches of candy, it was Halloween after all. Lee told us to stop by his pottery cabin before we left to say goodbye, we wheeled our bikes across one of their fields to go see him.

Turning a 250-year old cabin into a studio for pottery, complete with a custom built wood-fired kiln was almost too much to take in all at once. We had seen his work at the house, but to see the number of pieces and the raw skill put into each and every one of them was incredible. Lee was also a fountain of knowledge answering questions relating to home built fireboxes using calcium alumina and the issues with too much silica content. He went on to explain silica crystalline formation and how it relates to thermal cracking. This passion all grew from a college course he took years ago. **Mind blown.**

We made a decision to stay in the Valley instead of getting on the parkway. We wanted to avoid the biggest elevation gain on the parkway and they Valley was beautiful in a different way. The parkway is hundreds of miles long and we could get on at any time. The James River cuts through the Valley at 620 ft. and climbs up to 4200 ft. at Apple Orchard Mountain. We want to see the Parkway, not the pavement for 13 miles of climbing.

We stayed in the shadow of the valley for most of the day following various creeks, speeding through forgotten towns and abandoned places. We got off of our creek side ride at Natural Bridge and ate lunch while chatting with another bike tourer. He had ridden around the US 1.5 times and had had a trailer to take him around again. Before we left for this trip, Natural Bridge was one of the stops we wanted to make, however speaking to dozens of Virginia natives and transplants alike everyone told us to skip it. It is ironic how much our route can change with a little insight.

Down a road that claimed to not be Rt. 11, but looked like and was named the same as Rt. 11 we went. Our fellow cycle tourer warned us about this and that the VADOT signs were wrong and following them would lead to I-81. We rode adjacent to I-81 for miles and miles, which was idyllic as the cars who wanted to go fast were all there fighting with trucks and the relaxed pace was left for us to enjoy on the side road. Our pace came to a screeching halt at the 6-foot sign for “FREE COFFEE”.

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Inside the tourism shop we enjoyed our actually free “free coffee” while talking with the owner of the stand and his friend. They suggested we check out the ‘bustling city of Buchanan’. Every tip we have received so far has been a great one on our wide open adventure so we heeded his advice and stopped in the quaint, small town.  Before we went into the town, I had to check out the shadiest walkway bridge I had ever seen.

No longer opposed to asking a stranger for assistance, we approached two gentleman at a canoe outfitter and inquired about tenting on a bit of grass not far from their building. They told us we were more than welcome, however there was a party later that night and a dozen or more teenagers would be there until 9. We hid our bikes against a retaining wall and set off to explore the town.

We picked up some produce to stock our food pannier and had the shop keeper offer to wash both our beans and kale. We discovered the seed section in the back corner of the store.  That is not something you seen in this age of Amazon everything.  They also sent us away with homemade cakes and trick-or-treat bags. Small towns on Halloween turn out to be a lot of fun, we had hot dogs and conversations with a minister formerly from Philadelphia. Hot chocolate and candies from another church, and s’mores with cider back at the canoe outfitter. Dinner at ‘The Brink’ was reminiscent of home for Amanda, nearly every dish featured beef or chicken. Where are the veggies!?

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We eventually moved the tent and bikes up to the pavilion and slept under the overhang. It was nice having an unlocked bathroom and electricity next to us. Although we could do without the frieght trains and mine noises all night.

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