Whiteout – GoGoDermo

Those who have been following this blog since I was in Australia will remember a certain Bill Evans whom I met in a roughneck bar, one night before I started the Nularbor traverse. Among other things Bill criticized “that c*** Bear Grylls”, blaming him for encouraging unprepared adventurers out into the Australian bush.

Twice today, I thanked my lucky stars for paying attention to Bear’s wisdom, once when I got caught out in a blizzard in the middle of nowhere and then later when I pitched my tent ready for a night outdoors when temperatures are due to drop to -10°.

It was a cold, cold day. The thermometer was reading -2° when I broke camp this morning and although once or twice it’s a rose to a few degrees above zero, it was -5° again when I pitched camp again tonight.

The cold north wind continued to blow all day, although thankfully in the afternoon a westerly dimension was added which gave me a slight tailwind. So, despite the Arctic conditions I managed to cover the required 150k and I’m now only 650k and four and a half days away from Capitol Hill.

I slept very well last night despite the very cold weather. My sleeping bag is designed to cope with sub zero temperatures and the microclimate inside the tent so far has ensured that it stays nice and snug in there no matter how cold it is outside.

It took me a long long time to warm up this morning. I was up quite early and was cycling by 8:00am. opting to take my breakfast in the next town, Grenville, which was about 20k away.

In the McDonald’s restaurant there, I met Ken, the first real ‘cycle nomad’ I’ve met on Gogogermo. Cycle nomads are people who spend their lives traveling the world by bicycle, normally doing a bit of work here and there to finance their travels but living a very frugal existence, -like myself!

He was too shy to be photographed but allowed me to take a photo of his bike and trailer. Today he was in no hurry and had decided to spend the day chilling in McDonald’s. I was slightly tempted to join him but DC and my date with destiny there were calling.

I’d cycled about 80k when the blizzard struck. First I noticed some very dark clouds in the sky ahead and saw that they were moving very quickly towards me. However I wasn’t prepared for the suddenness of the blizzard or its ferocity. -Whiteout!

There’d been quite a bit of traffic on the number 11 but all of a sudden there was nothing. The drivers had obviously pulled in for safety.
I could see absolutely nothing in any direction and as soon as I stopped I began to get really, really cold. There was no possibility of continuing on and there was absolutely nowhere to go.

A brief moment of panic and then, thankfully the survival instinct kicked in. I threw Karolina in the ditch and with numb fingers pulled out my survival bag from the bottom one of the panniers bags.
Several times, this item of equipment has .itself survived the cull when I’d decided to reduce the weight of my panniers, -very fortunately! It was its compactness and light weight that saved it and could well indeed have saved my life too.

I pulled out my sleeping bag also and stuffed it into the survival bag, squirmed inside and lay down in the ditch to wait out the storm. – It was surprisingly snug inside and within 10 minutes I was actually warmer than I was going to be at any time today.

The blizzard only lasted about half an hour. When I emerged, the sun was shining, the temperature had risen to about-2° and it was actually quite easy to cycle on the powdery snow.

So, I continued on to the busy little town of Bristol, where I crossed the state line into my next state, Virginia. -“Country roads take me home!!!!!”

Once again, I found a fast food restaurant where I could thaw out and get some sustenance. Cycling and surviving in freezing conditions uses up an awful lot of energy.

I was really grateful for all the helpful tips and advice which had been offered yesterday by many of my cyclist followers. I tried replacing my base layer, as suggested but for the touring cyclist this tactic isn’t really a sustainable option when you only carry two of them and have no way to dry them out. Unfortunately, while it would have been plentiful in New Zealand, merino wool was hard to source in Tennessee!

– [ ] Newspapers, between layers worked well and kept my core from getting cold even when the base layers became soaked with sweat. Once again sweating was inevitable as the terrain was even more undulating than yesterday.

There were tall snowcapped peaks ahead and to my right for most of the afternoon, -the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains. I tried to sing some of the songs I knew which referred to these features but the cold had sapped my enthusiasm for singing.

The target destination was a small town called Abingdon which was only about 35k from Bristol. Abingdon is famous for its breweries and country music, -two features which I could sing about tonight once I got indoors!

There was a light dusting of snow on the ground when I reached the veterans memorial park there where I’m camping tonight. The ground in the forest was covered with leaves but there was a large pile of hay lying in the corner of the park. So once again, I remembered the advice of Mr. Grylls, and gathered piles of the hay, layering it with the leaves on the ground, before pitching my tent on top.

Fairfax, the lovely waitress in the bar where I’m having a few beers tonight tells me that the temperature will drop to -10° tonight.

I’m hoping that’s the whiskey nightcap inside me and the hay underneath me will prevent me from freezing to death.

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