Yorktown, VA to Lexington, VA – The Trip Begins

4 Jun

 

If possible, Please give to the Seattle Chapter of Engineers without Borders at this website https://www.ewb-usa.org/chapters.php?ID=6
 

And here we go:
Crouching at the Williamsburg train station with my Panniers on a bench and my tools beside me, I had unboxed and reconstructed my bike with no problems until it came time to inflate my tires. In some hijinx fitting of an early Woody Allen movie, I spent 15 minutes furiously pumping away at the handle of my air pump, looking pretty obscene from behind, before giving up with the tire half inflated, the pump obviously broken. Having planned ahead, I took out my portable air compressed pump and inserted the cartridge. As cold CO2 blasted into my face I found that this pump was also broke. I had no back up plan for my back up plan. 

 
A Fire Station nearby has an air compressor I can use. One of the Firemen stands by as the hose quickly plumps my tires, remarking that he carries more in the glove compartment of his truck than I am on my bike. He asks the standard questions I’ve answered countless times already in the 5 days I’ve been on this ride. Where are you from, when did you start, where are you going, and when I tell them Seattle, some variation on “Are you fucking nuts?”
 
It’s reaching mid afternoon as I leave a repair shop. My bike, Wilbur (ne 2012 Novarra Randonee) swallows more of my bank account replacing the rear tire and chain (both worn out from the 1000+ miles I put on it riding to SF), and repairing the shifters and other tweaks bent and dented (from when the TSA inspected it by hitting it with clubs to see if it exploded). It’s 13 miles to Yorktown, where I stroll through the eponomous Revolutionary War battlefield, then take my bike down to the sands. With pirate ships floating behind me, celebrating the rich history of ocean thievery and slaughter occuring just off the coast (apparently one of Black Beard’s favorite targets) I dip my wheels in the Atlantic and begin pedalling home. 
 
The sea level ground slopes gently up 300 feet as I ride over sediment washed down from the Appalacians and silts washing up from the Atlantic. It’s a short, flat ride for my first day, ending in Williamsburg. I pass a Naval dock where they unload all the Nuclear weapons from the subs, creeks cutting through the flat marshlands, and more animals pancaked on the concrete per mile than I’ve ever seen before. The turtles can’t dart out of the way, but I’m surprised at the number of formerly agile squirrels. I’m using a website called “Warm Showers” which is like Craigslist for cyclists to find homes to stay in for the night. Jim is my first Warm Showers contact and I’m his first tenant. After securing my bike in the garage we head to Colonial Williamsburg, where it’s too late for me to talk with someone in period costume about proper tallow molding techniques, but there are many separate ghost tours wandering through the streets. Only the restaurants and taverns remain open. I walk through irregular flashes of fireflies, realizing it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve seen them, I almost forgot they existed in real life, and not just in namesake on a sadly cancelled Sci Fi series. In the dark I see the former capitol building where Washington and Jefferson met.
 
Day 2 I sit at the Courthouse Grille in Charles City, listening to the servers on their smoke break discuss LeBron James and which High School girls just turned 18. When the Grille finally opens, the Lobster Bisque is worth the wait. It’s flat country, Sycamores, Dogwoods, Oaks, Maples and Pines separating the fields of amber grain and green leafy tobacco plants. I stop at Civil War Battle sites like Malvern Hill, which without the historical plaques looks just like a wheat field. There are many plaques along the road, celebrating everything from famous river crossings and homes to a log cabin where Stonewall Jackson got a drink of water once. Everything is made of red bricks here, and whoever imports/distributes them has to be Scrooge McDuck levels of rich. Even the fucking Arby’s looks like a colonial mansion. I get caught in one rainstorm. A white dog, scared of the thunder, runs from his yard and begins wandering on the wrong side of the highway, nosing at each of the doors of the stopped line of cars to be let in. I drag him from the road to safety, a cop calls the owner’s number and a cute girl takes the dog into her car to bring him home. Both leave me in the rain to drench. In the evening I hear another storm announce itself and ask to stay in a horse barn of a local farm. Samantha, a 21 year old studio arts major, who has been working with horses for 15 years and owns two of the three, invites me inside for a while and mentions that I can also stay in an actual house. This sounds better. 
 
Day 3 the crops remain the same but the hills begin to steepen and multiply as I bicycle from Ashland to Charlottesville. I pass Monroe and Jefferson’s estates, and one more long climb after 93 miles takes me to the home of Rob, a recent graduate from UVA with a BA in Business and Religion, who worked for a year on Andalucian goat farms and found his new calling. 
 
Day 4 I pass by the 250th History of Virginia festival where I hear they’ll be firing a cannon at Noon so I decide to leave late. In one park people in traditional costumes cook apples and onions over a roaring fire, hammer out red hot iron on an anvil, and stand by their Civil War regimental tents. I speak to a man in a general’s uniform about the many swords and guns in his collection displayed on a blanket. I dry fire one, the flint-lock striking the metal with a loud click as I see him wince beneath his beard and find out this isn’t a replica, it’s an antique. I didn’t break or damage it, which is rare for me in situations like this. By noon I’d stood in a replica of Lewis & Clarks boat, listened to Jefferson deliver a sermon, talked powder horns and daily rations with a Revolutionary War soldier, and learned the history and techniques of Cannonry with some British soldiers. I feel the thump in my chest as they fire the cannon and can’t stop giggling. Later that day the arcs and curves of concrete have grown even taller until I’m over 3,000 feet above sea level, staring out from Humpback Rocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Shenandoa Valley and the curving spines of the Appalacians. I stealth camp for the night. 
 
Day 5 and I’m in a coffee shop in Lexington. At 8am this morning, still on the parkway I stood at the 20 Minutes Overlook staring out at a forested valley curving between the mountains arching into the horizon. From below the howls of wolves calling to each other reached my ears and I shivered. Day to day here, I have no idea where I’ll end up or even what the next hour holds for me. It’s an exciting ride, and it’s just begun.
 
Cheers,
Paul
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