Lynchburg, VA

Late start, 11am. A 77 mile route shortened to 70 with a drop off at the edge of town by our first Couch Surfing hosts, Jamie and Christian.

Old Lynchburg road is nice. Two lanes, rolling, low traffic. Our first turn of the day leads us to our first gravel road of the tour. Not very technical and pretty well packed. Then Highway 29 is reached and the route falls apart. Medium shoulder become narrow. Narrow becomes no shoulder. The drivers give us space, but it really isn’t a good idea to be on this road. Especially for the 24 miles Google instructs. I let Garmin take over and we head out of the danger zone for the country roads. And I mean country.

5-6 miles in, pavement becomes a scarce commodity. And then a distant memory. Thin rocky windy roads cut through the terrain. Maintained by pickup trucks rather than the county. These are the roads for which lift kits were conceived. Some of these were meant for all terrain vehicles. Slippy ascents with the loose rock and dust, followed by sloppy descents. Zig zagging up and down the hillsides. Trees and creeks. Startled birds and squires scatter in dismay, humans an unfamiliar sight. Forget about signage. City folk beware.

Light at the end of the tunnel, asphalt. Leading to a gas station to refill water bottles and stomachs. Cheese sandwiches from the pack, and chocolate milk and a coke from the store. Kudzu envelopes pristine temperate with its tropical embrace. Slowly smothering the forest where it can gain a foothold.

As expected, the asphalt can’t last, and it does not fail to deliver. Back on gravel. Fast and vibrating, picking up enough speed that you end up aiming rather than steering your rig. Letting the bike find its own path within some loose boundaries.

The unseen turn is missed. U-turn. Missed again. Is Garmin trying to make this adventure more epic than it already is? A grass path listed as some random creek road. You must be kidding. We didn’t see it the first two times because it isn’t really even maintained. Finding it is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo and everyone is wearing green. This is insane. But, it might lead somewhere amazing no one has seen, or at least, no one I know has seen. Off off road it is, under the tree and down the non-road. Ankle high grass becomes knee high becomes waist high. We have to stop. The route map shows 8 miles of this forest hike. A quarter of a mile in, we reverse course to find a proper road.

It seems it is the grass way or the highway. Back to 29 hoping that the shoulder has reappeared this far south. It has, only for it to disappear again a few miles later. We are 36 direct miles out from Lynchburg. Going back into the wilds would push that close to 60 and could easily die out in some over grown logging roads again.

We pull into a gas station to contemplate our next move. We are starting to run out of time, time to make it to our host before it get dark and cold. Matt heads inside to grab a Gatorade, and I begin approaching drivers refueling their pick up trucks and mini-vans to see if they are heading our way and have any free space. Maybe they could drive us towards Lynchburg if we promise to put on some actual pants. Everyone seems to live locally, we soldier on.

The shoulder becomes the white line. We can’t ride the fringe, even if drivers treating us with respect and passing with plenty of room, with the sun setting ahead of us. Off onto the grassy rocky shoulder, it is time to try some old school thumb in the air hitchhiking. 50-60 vehicles fly by without success. Standing here isn’t making much progress and maybe the shoulder will reappear over the hill, so we walk. Left arm out, thumb up, just in case. A red pickup pulls by with its right turn signal on and comes to a stop, off the road, 400 feet ahead of us. Our ride.

We throw the bikes in the back of John Wright’s truck. I jump in beside them and Matt rides up front in the cab with John and his dog. He is only going 15 miles or so, but those are miles we don’t have to deal with. Somehow he “accidentally” misses his exit resulting in a 10 mile bonus. We are past the Highway 29 section and now only have 11.5 miles between us and our host, a shower, and dinner. John has turned a really tough situation into one of the highlights of the day. It shows that one person can drastically change another person’s situation on their own. We only needed one person with room in their vehicle and a willingness to share it, to change a really rough ending to the day into an amazing one.

Fantastic rural riding, at least 30 miles of which was unpaved. And we did not end up stuck on the side of the highway or lost in the back woods. This wasn’t supposed to be a planes, trains, and automobiles tour, but that is how it goes sometimes. A bike tour becomes multimodal.

Charlottesville, VA

Another early morning, but not quite as early as yesterday. The plan is to Amtrak it to Fredricksburg and then ride to Charlottesville. The trick will be getting the bikes on the trian.

The low last night was 34. It must have warmed up since then. There isn’t much of a bite as we ride the dedicated paved bike path parallel to the tracks we will shortly be on.

A $22 ticket and we stroll to gate J where I will have to sweet talk our way onto our coach. Amtrak has a grey bike policy. TO take a bike into the passenger car, rather than checking it in a bike box on the luggage car, which some routes don’t even have, requires it be folding and usually be in a case. We don’t have cases and the Break-Aways are not really folding bikes. They are outside the regulations. They cause uncertainty rather than a clear cut decision in those that make the thumbs up/thumbs down decision.

The key to success is to be friendly without a sense o entitlement, act like taking this bike on the train is a normal (and expected) thing, wait to be told that you can’t take the bike on the train since it isn’t in a box (meaning they have pre-categorized it as a standard road bike in their heads), and then state it is folding and you will break it down so it fits in the luggage space. This scrip has worked both in the states and in Europe. And it worked here today. We were told by three or four different people at various stages, on the way to our car, that they don’t really let bikes on the train, BUT since they are broken down, we can stash them in one of the exit doors as long as they are out of the walkway. Success!

As we sway our way out of the Union Station, the moon is fat and low on the horizon. Languidly taking its time as sets over, first the Washington Monument and the National Mall, and then the Jefferson Memorial.

Fantastic weather and gorgeous riding. Pre-ride coffee and bagel in Fredricksburg. Today is the first day of long riding since the knee dropped a slip in the complaint box. Why are we on a 6 lane highway with no shoulder? The posted speed limit is 45, which means cars are doing 55. No one is honking and everyone is giving us space, but this is not where we want to be. I stop the Google generated map route and have the Garmin decide. It turns out to be the winner. Up until this point Google Maps with the bike priority option has worked like a dream. Today Garmin gets a gold star. A empty two lane road along the river. A couple of steep climbs, but short and manageable. Onto the Constitution Highway. Through killing fields of slender trunked trees and little underbrush. An open and airy wood with few hiding places. Daytime crickets call to each other.

An old tractor and some new directions. We ignore the GPS and follow a side route provided by a pair of locals. Filling up an ancient tractor, unfazed by our funny pants. Off of the 20 through farms and along the railway line. A little shorter than staying the verified course and much more interesting.

I found my legs today. We arrive at our host house at 5pm on the dot. Plenty of light left. No stress. The sunny 70 degrees balanced out the 10mph SSW wind. A couple of KIND bars and thick sharp cheddar cheese sandwiches during the day. Chocolate milk for recovery 10 miles out from the end.

The night begins with home made pizza, from scratch, and ends with gelato and sitting on a edge of a park watching bluegrass being played by a trio in The Garage. A lamp lit performance in an art backed space by Lac La Belle.

Washington, DC

Up. Too early. 5:30am. I still have to pack and eat in time to catch the 7:09 to Newark to skip the jammed city riding. Jammed with cars and red light interruptions. A 3 min red light doesn’t seem like much, but when you hit 20 of them trying to cross a city, you realize you just spent an hour of your day standing around rather than pedaling.

Our host works 12 miles NE of Newark n Wilmington. Change of plans. A commentated drive with a short run train to bridge the gap. Into Wilmington Station 10 min before the train is scheduled to depart. Tickets in hand, we make it to the track just in time. Garbled speaker announcements, unintelligible and unhelpful. A train arrives. Unsure if it is ours. Passengers disembark, no one is moving towards the train but us. The conductor exits, closes the doors, and walks away from the train. Maybe it is going to sit for a second before departing. A shift change? I move towards him to ask, and the train, our train pulls out of the station. I guess that answers that question.

12 miles of ugly riding. Not particularly poor roads. Good pavement, moderate traffic (no honks), but nothing to look at (or photograph). Strip malls and clutter. Nothing inspiring. Just putting in junk miles into the same old headwind. Fortunately, our luck isn’t running out, even though we keep finding some stretches of it. The route veers off into the country side. Quiet two lane roads through fields of forests. Eerily quiet forests. Not even any bird calls. Just the sound of wind gusting through the trees and branches groaning against trunks. This is where things of interest wait to be discovered.

The site of Fort Defiance. A laid rock road and “No Trespassing” signs. And all we found was a private dock and islands of reeds. No Admiral Cockburn and no ancient fort.

A 1951 Studebaker Champion. Up on blocks, and out in the elements. Cracking paint and rusting quarter panels. One day it may be restored, but that one day is probably far in the future.

We make it to Perryville. THe end point of our test ride. A shorter day to test the knees and work our way back into riding. With 40 min to spare, we catch the last train to DC Union Station. Alternating views into people’s backyards and out over silty coastal water from our second story cabin window.

A 4:20 arrival with plenty of day light left. A couple close sites, the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, and a couple of others.

One the way to our host house we are challenged to a wheelie contest. He doesn’t pull the best wheelie in the world, but better than ours. Washington wheelie wars. We lost, he won.

Sitting in the exit hallway of Safeway making sharp cheddar cheese sandwiches and eating various raw vegetables and fruits. Waiting for Adam to get home from the bike shop so we can take a shower and crash out.

Narrow Buildings and Anatomical Curiosities

Thin buildings wedged together shoulder to shoulder.Three stories high. Tight vertical spaces, promising steep treacherous interior stairs. On a sixteen feet wide and fifty feet deep, your only option is up.

Downtown. A mix of hustling business professionals, smoking art students killing time between their classes, and the muttering disheveled homeless wandering aimlessly. Perpetual shadow aside from that narrow window of mid day sun. A left and forgotten home brewed tandem. Slowly rusting into the sidewalk. The sky is blocked by buildings. Buildings casting a continuous shadow on the street and channeling the wind into swift streams. Lunch at the bustling Reading Terminal Market. Split between various grocery stands, butchers, fishmogers, and food stands.

Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Housing collections of medical curiosities, physical deformations, and the results of various maladies. Wax models, formaldehyde preserved parts (215-525-1671 #26 to learn more about the severed gangrene hand in the jar), corset deformed chest cavities. Shelves of skulls with various issues, 137 in all, ranging from deformation to gunshot. A separate section for those eaten away by syphilis. And a separate room for the shrunken heads of the Tsantsa (215-525-1671 #71). Half freak show attempting to shock the viewer, and the other half, a freak show dressing itself up as a museum of medical history.

Philadelphia, PA

A day of training. Two trains, one to Trenton from Penn Station, and then the connection from Trenton to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Terminal. An unscheduled rest day to give the knee some extra recovery.

Liza is up and out the door at 6:45am. She has a long day ahead of her at the Harlem Children’s Zone and Charter School. A successful school model that has been used in emulation by many others. Successful or not, it is probably a stressful and challenging environment. She comes from a family of teachers. A profession, underpaid and many times undervalued, that courts burnout as it pairs too many students with too few facilities.

I am off the couch around 8:30am and survey the 500 square foot apartment. By Texas standards, barely an efficiency. This is a two bedroom one bath NY apartment. It makes me want a smaller place of my own. This apartment is completely livable. The bedrooms are small (read tiny) but that just means you single use them, as bed rooms. Not as a bed room + study, or bed room + tv room, or bed room + library. Just as a bed room. The living room is practical. And the dining room is a dining room owned by a rectangular table and six chairs. The kitchen is a bit too small but still is usable. This place seems fully utilized. My place has always seemed a bit on the empty side since I don’t have quite enough stuff to fill it. And the larger the place, the more you need to make the rooms feel balanced. And then you just have a bunch of unused filler growing old and collecting dust. This apartment tempts me with the idea of living in an Airstream.

When people think of NY, or at least NY food, they always seem to pick pizza. It is true, they have good pizza all over The City. But lots of cities have good pizza. What seems to be in unknown abundance, at least by the outside world, is cream cheese. Walk into a bagel shop and prepare to be inundated by cream cheese choices. Dill, strawberry, fish, walnut, tofu, plus ten to fifteen more. More types of spreads than bagels on which to slather them. All of them good. All made in house or close by in ice cream parlor style tubs. You buy the bagel for the cream cheese, not the other way around. It is but an efficient cream cheese delivery system.

Coffee and thickly spread bagels in Prospect Park. In the shadow of an Arc de Triomphe imitator. A stream of stroller pushed kids. Is it like watching a nature show? Locked in place, no say in your route. Just along for the ride watching view slide by. Maybe their arrive at a kid park to get some exercise rather than just being pushed about getting a little vitamin D. The Prospect Park paceline circles by for the second time.

Planning my training. Skipping my biking. An NJ Transit line for $15.50 to Trenton, and then an extra $8.75 from the connection on a SEPTA Regional Rail service into Philly. 60min of riding to get to the trains, but that is it for today.

We are in Philadelphia. Not in the fashion planned, but still on schedule in a sense. What can you do. Life happens, you adjust to events, and try to make things as successful as you can. Tomorrow is a full day here, and then we continue onto Washington DC. Tonight we eat delicious Indian food and spend some time with our host Daniel.