6/1/15: 31 miles, Yorktown, Va. to Williamsburg, Va.
On Monday, June 1, Tyler and I dipped our rear wheels in the Atlantic at Yorktown Beach in Virginia, after which we immediately had a couple fish sandwiches—blackened swordfish for me, tuna for T—and PBR tall boys to fuel up. It was in the mid 90s, thick and humid. We weren’t in a blazing rush. It was 3 p.m., and it was going to be a half day, how most of my tours begin.
We pedaled back up the hill to the Yorktown Victory Memorial where the TransAmerica route officially starts. It’s an 84 ft. Maine-granite obelisk marking George Washington’s Revolutionary War-ending battle over Gen. Cornwallis in 1871. It’s the first monument the federal government ever authorized. I’m a nerd I read all the historical plaques.
From there, we headed up the 23-mile Colonial Parkway, which was paved with exposed aggregate concrete. It’s rough and makes for a loud rumble in a car—as though it was paved with clay with smooth stones mixed into it. On a loaded bike, no big deal after a few miles. Guess it’s intended to slow cars down so they admire the surrounding national park and historical American-ness.
We slow rolled through Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, eventually finding the Capital Trail. It’s a new-ish paved path running between Jamestown and Richmond.
It brought us to a county park on the east bank of the Chickahominy River, where we decided to camp. There, we saw one of the Adventure Cycling Association’s supported touring vans, and met the tour leaders Jack and Heather. They were in the middle of leading a tour from Key West to Maine, and their group of a dozen 60-70 year olds was in a hotel in Williamsburg.
We joined their campsite, shared beers and pizzas. Before the sun went down, T and I hopped the fence at the park and jumped in the pool. By 8 p.m., the rain machine turned on and everyone scrambled into their tents. Thunder, lightning and late spring rain pounded the campsite until 1 a.m., when I finally fell asleep.
6/2/15: 64 miles, Williamsburg, Va., to Ashland, Va.
After a wet night, we packed up camp and rolled out by 7:30 a.m. I took on a enough water overnight through the tent’s canopy and seams at the pitch to inspire an eventual new tent purchase. My Lunar Solo, borrowed from my pops, needed seam sealant, which I couldn’t feasibly find and apply without taking a day off.
We rode the freshly paved Capital Trail from Williamsburg to the outskirts of Richmond through old plantations, including the homes of president John Tyler and others. The route took us through a handful of Richmond National Battlefield Park battlefields—places where hundreds of thousands of soldiers mowed each other down during the Civil War. Desperate for some lunch we caved and ate pizza, M&Ms, Gatorade and bananas from a Valero truck stop.
Heading into Mechanicsville, Va., the weather turned from muggy and warm to that Midwest flavor or overcast, gray mist. Add in Richmond’s rush hour traffic—rush hour sucks no matter what city you’re in—and morale began to wane. We made tracks for the Americamps RV Resort in Ashland, across the street from the white noise of I-95. Our ACA pals from the night before showed up, too, so we crammed into the group tent parking lot among the other tents. Threw our wet stuff in one of the dryers behind the main office, showered up.
So hungry I could’ve eaten my arm, T and I found an Irish bistro a mile away and splurged on a couple beers, oysters, tuna, burgers and BBQ pulled pork and salad. By the time we got back to camp around 9 pm, everyone we expected to kick it with had crawled into their tents and passed out. We bumbled around the campsite with our headlamps before deciding to do the same.
6/3/15: 80 miles, Ashland, Va., to Stafford, Va.
Peeled myself out of the tent to a damp campsite and a panorama of RVs, all silent. The ACA group next to us was nearly done packing up before 7 a.m. before I started, but then again all they had were tents to tear down.
Over the last two days, the weight of my pack felt heavier and heavier. There were things I brought that hadn’t been used yet, and a few redundancies (e.g. The extra set of tire levers where I had some built into my multi-tool). When I get to Ohio, I’ll update the pack list. I resolved to mail a bunch of stuff home. We left the RV camp after a free waffle breakfast and headed for the post office in Ashland. Ended up cramming 6 lbs. worth of clothes, tools and stuff home. When I came out of the post office, it was pouring. T and I looked each other, exasperated, and rolled on. A few miles outside of Ashland, we ran into Hoel, a recent Duke grad originally from France, biking from North Carolina to D.C. He was a mega friendly dude, and a good wheel (a thing biker racers say about other riders who are predictable, ride a good pace, and handle the bike well), so we rode together for the day.
Misery loves company. The rain turned on and became steadily heavier, throwing in a headwind for good measure. We found this old storefront shack at a dead intersection near Cedon, and took a breather.
Making our way to Fredericksburg, we stopped in Bike Works bike shop before plugging on to Stafford. We’d decided to split a hotel three ways since, after seven hours of rain, we’d need to let everything dry out. An $80 night at a Best Western split three ways proved totally worth it.
Ordered a ton of Mexican food from a Carlos O’Kelly’s across the parking lot. Never heard of the place before, but I guess it’s a chain to be found near big interstate exits. When we walked over to pick up our chow, they’d forgot one of our burritos, so Hoel and I bellied up to the bar. Rolling into just about any situation in cycling clothing generates attention. I ordered a shot of Makers, and since Hoel nor the bartender would join, I bought one for a guy named Ben, who was thumbing at his phone next to us. I try to be a good cycling ambassador.
T, Hoel and I made short work of the Mexican food, watched the Blackhawks take game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, and nursed a few Tecate tall boys. I draped my tent over the railing of the Best Western to dry out, making it look like a skydiver parachuted into the hotel.
6/4/15: 55 miles, Stafford, Va., to Washington, D.C.
Waking to a hotel room of three guys’ worth of camping gear exploded around the room is claustrophobic. A sleeping bag hanging here, a few jerseys there, plus three bikes. I had tied a Paracord line to the two farthest points in the room—the door hinge and a towel rack above the sink. Nearly all our clothes were draped over it. T said he didn’t sleep much, so Hoel and I took down the free breakfast. Inside the breakfast room, a few older women were yammering full volume about how they were grade school teachers, and their students these days beg for the calculator when they should use their heads.
We got back to the room and slowly packed up with Sportscenter chirping away in the background, picking up clothes and gear. “Is this mine?” “This yours?” “Hey, you left this hanging in the bathroom.”
Looking at the map before rolling out, we figured we could shave 15 miles off of what would be an 80 mile day by routing through Quantico, the giant Marine base. We’d read on a few blogs that some cyclists have made it through. So why not try? It would be a 3 mile detour downpayment on a 15 mile shortcut. Worth it.
We headed down to Quantico. The checkpoint for road MCB-2 was at the bottom of a long descent. Drizzle picked up. A couple of soldiers waved us over, and asked for our IDs. We told them we were trying to get through, and showed them our proposed route. He took our IDs and went back to his kiosk to ask as giant black-on-black Escalades and Suburbans came and went through the gate. A few minutes later, he came back and said he couldn’t let us through. So back up the hill we went and eventually got back on the ACA Atlantic Coast route.
We got some rain after an hour that lasted all day. Stopped to see a few horses at a big property, who seemed to dig us.
Deeper in Prince William County, we took a few more breaks, slowing down our pace. Not that we’d been pushing it, but the rain and wind picked up. Hoel had a look in his eye that we wanted to take off, so I told him no hard feelings.
My ankle had become sore from rolling it about a month ago, and T’s knees were giving him guff. At a gas station near Independent Hill, we shook hands, and Hoel took off.
Prince William Parkway looked like it would’ve been a great road to ride on, but it ended up being under construction, causing us to jump on an adjacent path, which turned into unfinished sidewalks, tight shoulders and all around unpleasant riding. Eventually, Tyler and I had lunch in Occoquan, a historical colonial town that looked like the kinda place I’d take my mom. A couple women there offered us nachos, so we bought them their second round of wine.
Heading into Lorton, we hit more rain and rush hour traffic. Morale started to plummet, and with 30 more miles to go before we go to our friends’ in DC, we looked for a Metro stop. We ended up taking a bus from the Lorton VRE (commuter rail) station to the end of the blue line, which dropped us at McPherson Square in downtown DC. From there, it was a mile ride to our friends’ place on Logan Circle in DC. We got in just before the Cavs/Warriors game, and decided to spend a day or two in DC to see how T’s knees felt and get out of the rain.