Horseshoe Tour

Another bicycling-and-speaking tour, running from Baltimore to Detroit (through Richmond and Roanoke VA, Charlseton WV, and Portsmouth OH)

Fri 21 Apr 2006 5:00 p.m.

Hard to believe another bike tour is upon me. Hard to believe so many last-minute tasks crop up right before leaving. I guess they too will pass, and it will soon be just me and the road ... and a riding buddy, for the first time.

Sat 22 Apr - Severn MD

The trip begins!

I'd like to believe in omens. So can I now relax after a trying planning phase, and look forward to a trip full of generosity?
At times during planning, I wondered if the world had turned against me. After near-unanimous rejections from schools I called, I shifted my focus to speaking at libraries, and found myself with too little time left to get many. Then delays in getting my new bike books printed forced me into extra work to cover that.
But that's all in the past now. As I boarded my Minneapolis-Baltimore flight, I handed the flight attendants the last of my roses. They quickly asked me name and my seat assignment, and moments later they changed my seat to first class. What a nice bit of pampering before hitting the road!
Of course the hospitality continued in Baltimore. Bob Zurn, an old friend from California, hosted Tim and I. We psyched ourselves for the ride -- or maybe 'steeled ourselves' would be more appropriate, as the rain did not let up all evening.

Sun 23 April - Severn MD to Dahlgren MD

Welcoming the good weather

overcast, 50s -> sunny, low 70s; 9:30-5:500, 69.5 mi.
As we ordered our sandwiches at the C-Store, I noticed a group of motorcyclists standing next to our bikes, looking at them. I boldly walked outside and said, "You know, when I walked inside, they HAD an engine. I don't what happened to them!" They then blamed us for bringing the rain that had just started. That gave me the right to take credit five minutes later when the sun burst out.
The day was spectacular - cool and overcast in the morning, a heavy mist that drove us to lunch, and eventually clear skies. We followed US301 south much of the day, a serviceable road: 4-lane divided with heavy traffic, but a wide shoulder often shaded by trees. The challenge came at the end: a toll bridge over the Potomac that I wouldn't have liked to bike even if I'd been allowed. We had to back-track a quarter-mile and stick our thumbs out, and within five minutes a local stopped to ferry us over.

Mon 24 April - Dahlgren to Tappahannock VA

Ahhh, what a life...

sunny, 70s; 8:30-5:10; 55.6 miles
The day's worst three mile served as bookends on the day. We started by fighting heavy traffic for two miles on foggy US301, which lost its shoulder at the Potomac.; crossing the Rappahannock River with heavy traffic on a narrow US360 bridge took us to Tappahannock to end the day.
In between we reveled in a magnificent day. Our state highway bobbed and weaved through Potomac forests and past Tidewater farms. In Colonial Beach we picked up lunch fixings, and had a picnic overlooking the water in George Washington Birthplace National Monument. Later we stopped at a roadside fruit stand, snacking on fresh strawberries while the owner served us ice water.

Tue 25 April - Tappahannock-Williamsburg

From bike tourists to tourists with bikes

sunny, near 80. 8:00-3:50, 64.5 miles (+9.8 mile w/o panniers)
One more hot day before tomorrow's predicted cooldown. The morning found us rolling down a relentlessly rural stretch of US17, over twenty miles with nothing but farm houses and forests. The traffic was blessedly light - at one point I could see for over a half-mile of the 4-lane road, with nothing on it but Tim.
This evening we switched gears into tourism mode. After getting our motel, we dropped our panniers and cycled to Colonial Williamsburg. This area, restored to its appearance when the city hosted the colonial government, is quite a tourist draw with shops, old buildings, horse-drawn carriages, and people in period dress. We wandered through town, then had dinner at an (expensive) out-door restaurant while a cute violinist wandered about, serenading the patrons.

Wed 26 April - Williamsburg-Chester VA

As we began heading west...

cloudy, around 60; 8:30-7:10, 74.5 miles
'Twas a fine day, sampling Virginia friendliness. Every time we stopped, people asked about our trip, wishing us a safe journey. They cheerfully gave us directions, at one point cluing us into a shortcut along a quiet country backroad to approach Petersburg. (That worked far better than our route out of town, six miles of sprawl along US1.)
Today we again dipped into history. For our first stop, we visited the site of the Jamestown settlement, England's first permanent settlement in North America. We followed that with an afternoon visit to Petersburg National Battlefield, the site of Robert E. Lee's last-ditch attempt to save the Confederacy.
INTERESTING SIGN: in the battlefield park, signs stated "Alcoholic Beverages Prohibited" and "Vehicle Maintenance Prohibited". The first sign I understand. But did they have problems with people driving to the battlefield to change their oil or something?

Thu 27 April - Chester-Farmville VA

City vs. Country

hazy clouds, 55-70?, 8:45-8:00, 91.4 miles
Today was a tale of two rides: one with a focus on city tourism, with the biking suffering; and eventually a lovely jaunt down a premier Virginia biking road.
The morning took us to National Park sites commemorating the end of the Civil War and its aftermath in and around Richmond. We followed our old friend US301 (also US1) north into the capital, a 4-lane boulevard through urban sprawl. Leaving town found us again on US360, going first past interminable strip malls, then changing into a super-highway with no shoulder.
Ride 2 started at almost 4:00 - with 45 miles under our tires. We stopped at the store in Skinquarter and asked for an alternate route to Farmville. They diverted us onto 603, which took us to 604 and then 616 - which was also signposted VA Bike Route 1. We reveled in the bucolic scenery on the lightly traveled roads, weaving through the forests and farms, climbing the rolling hills, waving at the passing cars, shooing away the occasional dog. t one point I stopped to take a photo, laying my bike down. The next car by promptly stopped, and the female driver asked, "Do you need help? I thought you might have crashed!"
After 36 idyllic miles, we turned onto a more-trafficked road, with a couple of massive hills. For the first time this trip, I shifted into my middle chain ring in front.
By the time we rolled into Farmville, the sun had set, and my odometer had passed 90 miles - making this arguably my longest day of bike touring. (Sure, I did 100 miles one day in Oregon and Idaho, but that was downhill with a tail wind!) My only comparable day was 16 years ago in New Zealand, also around 90 miles while climbing two passes.

Fri 28 April - Farmville-Alta Vista VA

Virginia hospitality redux

sunny and bright, ~50-low 70s, 9:00-7:00, 74.3 miles
Virginia is finally making its bid to enter the pantheon of friendliest states. Everywhere we turned, people asked about our trip or offered help. Several people in or around Appomattox took an interest in how far we'd come. At Concord, one man biding time before an appointment chatted with us, mentioning he'd considered bike touring this summer - and was there anything he could do to help us?
Late in the day, as I climbed one of our last hills, an elderly black woman sitting on her porch called out, "How you doin'?" I stopped to jawbone with her while I waited for Tim, asking her and her neighbor how far into town nd where to eat. Her neighbor recommended Perky's, then offered to take us and our bikes up the last big hill into town. We politely declined.
Since Perky's appeared a mile before the motels, we stopped to eat, accepting a twilight ride for our last mile. The staff were all smiles as we came in, and our waitress Janet asked all about our trek. "I love my new road bike, but no way I could handle a ride like yours!" Moments after taking our order, she came back to inform us the owner had comped our meals. Then she delivered our food, every bit as good as we'd been told. When we finished we had a patron take our picture with Janet and Gaye, and gave them a copy of my book.
Luckily we got a room. Both hotels were fully booked, but Karen - the harried but cheerful clerk/receptionist/gal Friday - squeezed us in. As she found as a roll-away cot, she amused us with tales of her pet ducks Ducky, Doodles, Aflac, and Buffy (or Buffarino when she eats too much).
Beyond the people, the region also impressed us. For our tourism stop, we hit Appomattox Court House, 'where our nation reunited' - the site of Lee's surrender to Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. The village is well-restored, imbuing the area with feeling that history truly happened here.
For the biking: we followed a 4-lane super-road again for 40+ miles, but low traffic and a workable shoulder made it fine. By the time we found our awesome side roads, we had definitely entered the Appalachian foothills. We regularly hurtled down from the heights to cross a creek, then grinded our way up the other side. Occasionally we could see higher peaks looming in the distance, promising harder climbs to come.