What comes with a TV dinner

September 2, 2010

August 12

I woke up this morning not knowing where I would end the day. Pipestem was about 80 miles away. It was a doable distance, under most circumstances. But the circumstances of the last two days took the certainty out of any end goal. I set off from Elk Grove content to let the wind, weather, hills and my legs determine today’s itinerary.

When I left the TransAm trail I also left behind the wealth of travel information included with the maps. I used Google Maps to create a route from Rosedale to Pipestem, and had discovered an intermediate town, Bluefield, that offered lodging. But I had no sense of what existed in between.

Although I've seen this view countless times, it remains beautiful and intriguing

Last night’s rain seemed to have cooled and freshened the air. I quickly turned onto Route 19 and began heading north in the midst of a broad valley. During the whole trip to Pipestem I would be traveling parallel to the major Appalachian ridges, a welcome change from my roller coaster route west to east. Although cooler, the air was still moist from the rains. Low fog stretched across the ridges, offering me pleasant sights along with the pleasant temperature.

Route 19 was a major four-lane highway, but its planners seemed to be indecisive about providing shoulders. They would come and go and, when present, be of varying width. I got tired of always being on the alert for this change, and just decided to ride along the right edge of the roadway. Traffic wasn’t heavy, so cars had plenty of room to pass.

The road had its ups and downs, but I generally felt like I was climbing; believing so because I seemed to be getting closer to the ridge tops. About 25 miles into the day I decided to stop in Bluefield. The person at Elk Grove said Pipestem was “in the mountains.” All my work in the Kentucky mountains had given me the luxury of choice–arriving today in Pipestem a day early, or being on schedule tomorrow.  I would take the luxury of finding out about “the mountains” tomorrow.

As with my Adventure Cycling maps, the Google Maps just gave me a horse blinder’s view of my route. I knew little of what roads and route options were beyond the narrow corridor of travel that was created for me. So I got confused when I came to a sign announcing a turnoff for Bluefield. If I heeded the information on the mileage signs, Bluefield was still a few miles north. If this truly was the only exit for Bluefield, luxury might turn into toil if I had to pedal all the way to Pipestem.

I stopped and cast a view up the exit road. There was little sign of a substantial community. I banked on the idea that this exit was a business route into town and I would intersect with it later.

After a few miles and wide turns north, I was beginning to doubt my reasoning. But then as I had hoped, a raft of buildings and signs appeared. I exited the four-lane into the middle of a commercial area, entering into another decision zone. At a T-intersection a directional sign pointed left for Bluefield, Virginia and right for Bluefield, West Virginia. Something about this location must have made both local governments determine it was critical to be known as Bluefield. I determined this was highly frustrating and placed my bets that there were motels in the West.

The commercial area soon turned residential. It was likely any motel would be at the junction with Route 19, which was now running parallel to my street a few blocks away. I decided I would travel another mile before turning back. Near the end of that distance, the Greater Bluefield Community Center appeared on my right. Having direct personal knowledge about how helpful these places are : ) I turned around and parked my bike out in front.

I asked the person behind the front desk if there were any motels nearby. He confirmed I was going in the right direction and asked to see my maps so that he could give me more detailed directions. Butch, who was the Center Director, then sat me down and began explaining my new course. But soon into the explanation he was called away to the phone. Soon his empty seat was filled by Carl, an older gentleman who had been in the lobby area and presumably had been listening to our conversation. Carl proceeded to draw a detailed map to the motel, citing his own cycling experience to add cautionary recommendations about hills and intersections.

By this time, Butch had returned with a Gatorade for me. He asked more about my travels and I told him about my immediate destination of Pipestem. “I live close to there,” he commented. “Let me see those directions to it.” He determined Google was making things too complicated for me and suggested a simpler way. I was greatly appreciative of their help, thanked them, and headed out to my bike to journey on. Moments later, Butch walked out up to me and said, “Carl’s going to be fixing some TV dinners for lunch. Would you like to join us?”

“TV dinner” conjured up memories from childhood, where the compartmentalized metal trays held portions of what was purported to be a balanced meal, but likely unbalanced in its fat and sodium content. But I could easily set aside any nutritional expectations in light of Butch’s kind gesture. It was in his bones to help people, and I was tickled to be one of his recipients.

We went back inside and Butch instructed Carl to “Make two, he’ll need the calories.” Once again Carl provided the details, informing me the meal was more of a Weight Watchers entrée than a TV dinner, and that I had the choice of sweet and sour chicken or beef stroganoff.

Butch sat with me as we waited for my lunch to appear, modestly but proudly explaining what his center offered. He seemed to be a good community booster as well, suggesting I might go bowling at the local lanes later today–they had 50th anniversary specials–or take my family to the West Virginia State Fair over the weekend.

Carl returned with the entrée, and Butch supplied one more, then a second, Gatorade (for the road). They decided I needed to eat in peace and left me alone. But kids who were moving in and out of the building had spotted my bike and moved up to ask me in disbelief “How do you pedal that thing?” Inspiring kids was one of the reasons I took this trip, so I was happy to tell them about my journey. Their eyes widened and their heads shook when they heard the details. Their seeds would need a lot of watering! Or maybe a youth bike program.

Butch and Carl, my Bluefield benefactors

I’m sometimes reluctant to take pictures of people, feeling that it is an imposition. But in this case I felt it was a way I could convey the importance and appreciation of our chance meeting. Butch and Carl happily agreed to pose in front of the Greater Bluefield Community Center sign. With an affectionate “Farewell, Brother,” Butch shook my hand good-bye. I pedaled off with coddled confidence toward the motel.

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2 Responses to “What comes with a TV dinner”

  1. Heidi Grosch Says:

    Tom, this post made me teary – for many reasons… with your own community center connections, with their generosity and your recognition of it. Thank you for THAT gift and happy pedaling… Hope your reunion with your family is joy-filled.

    • Tom Yuska Says:

      Thanks, Heidi. I started this trip with some back-of-the-mind concerns about “who may be out there.” Once on the road, it become quite obvious to me that the people I interacted with were curious, kind, generous and trusting. It then became quite easy to accept lunch and dinner invitations from people I had only known for five minutes!


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