Cross-country cyclist entranced by Catawba

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Photo by Meg Hibbert
Cross-country cyclist Annie Peyton of New Jersey is entranced by Catawba’s mountains as she heads to California by herself. She’s determined to “see my country on my own legs.”

A year ago Annie Peyton was doing landscape architecture work in Thailand, after spending time in Rwanda, Denmark and other far-away locations. Last week she was cycling through the Catawba community on her way by herself to California.

The 28-year-old saw signs for the Catawba Valley Farmers Market and stopped in on her trek via the Trans-America Bicycle Route to buy a fresh peach scone, meet local people and refill her water bottles.

“The best part of my trip is the people. It’s so nice to talk with them,” said Peyton after talking with most of the dozen vendors and learning about the former Catawba School where the market is held from May through mid-October.

She had already completed 63 miles from Lexington that day and was heading to the Four Pines Hostel on Newport Road for the night.

Since it was Thursday, Peyton was considering the all-you-can-eat family style meal at The Homeplace in Catawba that locals told her about. That’s another of the best parts about cross-country cycling. “You can eat anything and don’t gain any weight,” said Peyton.

Peyton is one of scores of cyclists who come through Roanoke County each year on the more-than 4,000-mile bicycle route between Virginia and the West Coast. Many are coming from Oregon with the goal of finishing in Yorktown. Peyton is unusual in that she started in Washington, D.C., and is going west instead. And she’s traveling alone.

Although she had done her homework on the first part of her trip on her Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycle, she was surprised how tired she was after pumping up and down mountains all day.

“I figured that the Rockies would be way worse but constantly going up and down here in Virginia is really tiring,” she said. “The Rockies are a more gentle slope.”

Because she is heading west when cold weather is approaching, Peyton is planning to use the southern route and avoid the highest slopes during her estimated 2-1/2-month trip.

She doesn’t have a goal as to how many miles per day she rides. “I’m definitely not racing. I’m going at my own pace. I’ve just finished two rest days with a friend in Charlottesville. The weather will be my decision point on how long my trip takes.”

She checks in with her parents in Westfield, N.J., daily by sending text messages “and usually a photo every day about the cool stuff I’ve seen.” They were “pretty worried at first,” about her setting off alone, but are now reassured.

Peyton charges her cell phone wherever she can, she said, and keeps it set on the airplane setting for service.

“I’m really careful about using it,” she added. Mostly, during her ride she uses the time to think.

“One of the things I’m thinking about on this trip is where I should live as an adult,” added the Tulane University-trained architect who has lived in New York, California, Louisiana, Thailand, Rwanda and Denmark, so far.

“I read a lot of advice about traveling, and most said to travel while you’re young.” As to why she’s doing it now, “I felt a trip like this would be an amazing experience and would last forever,” Peyton said.

Originally, she had planned to do the cross-country ride with friends, and when they couldn’t fit it into their schedules she decided to go alone. “My younger sister, Kristi, was going to come, but the timing didn’t work,” Peyton said. “I think we will do a bike trip in the future.”

For the trip, Peyton researched the best bike, and watched her Long Haul Trucker put together in Washington, D.C., she said. “I paid $1,400, which is the most money I’ve ever spent on anything.”

The bicycle weighs 33 pounds, with 35 pounds of gear. “I weighed all the gear when I left,” she said. That includes a two-man tent, sleeping bag, rain gear, clothing, bike tools and other necessities.

“I ran into my first problem today when my bike chain fell off, but I got it back on,” said Peyton, who is confident she can solve most challenges she encounters with her equipment. “I have my bike mechanic on speed dial,” she said, but mostly is relying on herself. “The best way to learn is just to do it.”

Four Pines was her first hostel stay in the United States. She plans on spending nights camping, in hostels, couch surfing she finds through the site Warmshowers.org that is specifically for cyclists and sometimes, in inexpensive motels during her trip.

On an overnight stay near Lake Anna, her host took her jet skiing, she added.

Over the years, she has traveled a lot, she said “but never in this way. It’s a good challenge,” said Peyton, who added, “I want to see my country on my own legs.”