Virginia, Fredericksburg to Emporia

Freddie says relax

After showering and packing my bags I made my way downstairs to discover Ursula drowning on the balcony outside, Mother Nature was angry.

I figured she needed to cut me a break after throwing relentless head winds at me for the past 10 days.  After bringing Ursula indoors and saving her from an almost certain watery death I made breakfast and switched to the morning news on TV.

“Many roads closed…Strong winds…Stronger downpours…Looks set to stay for next few days…Avoid travelling unless essential.”  If they were saying that about cars I’m pretty sure a guy on a bike wouldn’t exactly be exempt from the rule.

I felt that I needed to get going again, over the past 3 days I felt myself getting a little too comfortable with my surroundings… I needed to get on the road again and quick.  So I came to the tough decision that I’d need to catch a ride across the VA State line with my relative.

I found out that there was mass flooding on US1, my only route south by bike was swimming with the fishes and I didn’t know how many days it would be until it would be safe to travel so I carpooled.  So we threw Ursula in the bed of the truck and drove in the torrential rain to Fredericksburg North Virginia.

It was a tough decision to make but I felt at the time it was the right one because I didn’t know how long the storm was going to last and how long the recovery time was going to be.

There was a deeper meaning to it though, one that I didn’t see at the time but looking back I remember feeling like I was running from or refusing to accept something… in a few days I was to find out what.

So we get to the hotel unload my things in my hotel room and go for a farewell fried chicken feast at Popeye’s.  It was great to see family again and I appreciated it even more because it was going to be the last family face I’d see until I got to Daytona Beach, Florida.

I remember having real hang ups about this part of the journey.  For some reason Virginia was the state I was stressing about the most.  1) Because of the terrain, 2) there are some parts of the state that are still very ‘traditional’ and 3) once out of the state I’d be sitting on the halfway mark.

Family back home always said, “If it all gets too much for you just do half and come back, we’ll still be proud.”

I appreciated what they said and understood it just as good too but I was in this for the long haul, I was not going to do anything 50% it was 100% or zero.   So now I was in my hotel suite in North Virginia, I’d left the storm behind me and felt like I had hurdled a pot hole in the road.

I spent the rest of the day planning and checking my route through Virginia, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.  I sat at the foot of the bed on my iPad for hours making sure that I was set.

For a reason still unknown to me at the time I felt like I was in a race against time, like I was looking over my shoulder anticipating something.  At the time I put it down to halfway syndrome and a little stress.  I walked to the gas station adjacent to the hotel and bought myself a subway sandwich before turning in for the night.

I woke up the next morning from the most comfortable sleep I’d have in ages along with another decent breakfast, 2 in a row?  Jackpot!  Looking back on it I think I recall the Wilmington and Fredericksburg hotels being the same franchise, both traditional country hotels.

I left early for the 40 mile journey to Ashland VA down US1.  I planned out a route which stuck as close to i95 as possible.  As soon as my ass hit the saddle I went into beast mode completing the 40 mile journey in just over 3 hours.

I finished so quickly because 1) my legs had enjoyed 3 days off, 2) the terrain was surprisingly smooth and pretty level and 3) Virginia was a lot more bike friendly than I anticipated.

The cycle lane rarely narrowed to anything below a foot in width so I didn’t have to stop and look over my shoulder too many times.Image

Southern hospitality

I remember getting to my hotel feeling really gritty, sweaty and extremely hungry.  I burnt so many calories that day managing just under a 14mph average all ride.

So I treated myself to lunch at the golden arches… I know I know, judge me all you like but I was hungry!

I got back to the hotel, did laundry, wiped down and checked Ursula’s tyres which were still as hard as rock I couldn’t believe it after all I put her through, she was one tough cookie.  Later that night I walked to a local Steak house for dinner just down the road from the hotel.

Walking back to my hotel that night with a gut full of ribeye I got to thinking, “only 2 more days and I’ll be out of Virginia.”  To this day I still don’t know what my hang up was with the place.  So far it had been good to me, it had been the smoothest ride I had all journey.

When I went to bed that night I fell off to sleep with tomorrow’s route playing over in my head.  I was ready to go again and quick.

I woke up the next morning, endured breakfast (no 3rd time lucky) and left for Petersburg Virginia.  I would be cycling through Richmond Virginia and as I cycled south I couldn’t get Chris Brown’s – ‘Till I die’ out of my head.

I remember getting into Richmond a few wrong turns later.  The city was full of students and homeless people – it was sad to see such potential mixed in with rock bottom.  Crossing the Belle Isle (picture) was beautiful if a little scary, I am not great with heights.

Once I negotiated the city it was one dirt road that led me into the nice quite town of Petersburg.

The road leading there was dead of any real life, businesses looked run down and the only life came from the Mexicans who owned them.  The sidewalk was ridden with litter, loose debris and sand but was so wide that it was still more inviting that road cycling.

I knew that I’d have about a layer of grit on my face when I hit the showers later that day.   But again the ride was pretty smooth, I was expecting the worst seeing as I was going through a city but I was in and out pretty quick.

I got to my hotel in the early evening, showered, did my laundry, checked my emails, relaxed and headed to dinner.  The lady at the reception recommended the seafood joint across the street so I went there that evening.

I had one of my most memorable dinners there, king crab legs, sweet potato, green beans, Texas toast and steak.  It was the first meal that I really enjoyed and in turn, really wished that I had someone to share it with.  I looked around the old school looking restaurant and noticed the (what seemed to me) a sudden change in accent.

It occurred to me then and there that I was approaching the South…  I was making some serious tracks, things were becoming real.

Ready to pack it all in

I got back to my hotel suite and planned the last leg of my journey through Virginia before falling quickly off to sleep.

The next morning I was heading to Emporia the last major city before the North Carolina border.  I locked and loaded and headed south on 301 which ran within a few feet of i95 south… perfect.  Out of the 3 journeys it was the most simple in terms of direction but physically the toughest.

This was because it had a lot of slow climbs and I was really beginning to experience the southern air.  It was heavier, more humid and dense I’d break into a sweat just by blinking.

I stopped once for a break to grab an overpriced water and Mango ice tea at Starbucks, my first break I took since cycling in Virginia.

I was in high spirits and couldn’t believe I had negotiated most of Virginia in just 3 days of cycling.  I also couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been met with many high climbs along the way, it was relatively flat and straightforward apart from the few slow climbs that day.

About 35 miles into the 43 mile journey that’s when I saw him….  A cute little abandoned beagle limping across the quiet 301.  There were no houses nearby just woodland and highway.  As I approached him he ran away looking over his shoulder scared.

As I cycled along I couldn’t take my eyes off him, how could anyone do that to a dog I do not know.  I cycled the next few turns wondering if the cars whizzing by me would see him in time.  That put me in a downer from then on and for the rest of the journey I cycled poignantly if not a little angry.

I got to Emporia sweaty, angry and tired and it was reflected in my riding.  99% of the cycle was on the 301 running in between i95 south and woodland, the other 1% I had to cross a busy overpass to get to my hotel.

I waited and waited at the lights for my gap and when it came I was off cycling like the mad man I was a few days back in New York.  I don’t know how many horns I got in that 5 minute spell; I don’t know why because I was well over in my lane.  I noticed a lot of drivers beeping for no reason; they’re usually met with a few choice words and the birdie.

I got to my hotel, did my laundry — you know the rest.  Dinner that night was a hamburger and fries at Five Guys one of my favourite places.  When I got back that evening I didn’t go to back to my hotel room, I sat in the lobby by the fireplace and reflected.

What was the hang up I had about Virginia?  Why was I in such a rush?  Why did I feel like I was looking over my shoulder?

Then it hit me… I was running from myself.  I was faced with an emotion I can honestly say I’ve never felt before in my life… loneliness.  Since I was a kid I was always a loner, I had very few friends, Mum worked late and my Sisters had their extracurricular activities.

I got my comfort from Cartoon Network and my dog but I was never lonely.  In college I didn’t exactly spread myself thin socially but I was never lonely, I was content with my own company.

But here I was in a hotel in the middle of nowhere with not a familiar face or place in sight.  Every day was the same, breakfast, bust my ass on a bike, laundry, dinner, sleep and repeat.

There were only so many times I could walk into a restaurant and say “Just one please.”  This year I had discovered a new appreciation for the terms depression and loneliness, two words that are thrown about regularly but until you truly experience them first hand you don’t really know the full meaning.  To be honest I felt like giving up that night.

It explained my behaviour the past few days, I wanted to go go go and not let my loneliness catch up with me but you can’t run away from something that’s inside you.

It’s a method of overcoming that I’m used to and usually used to it working.  When I feel a flare up coming I go to the gym and kick my ass with metal plates and a few miles on the treadmill and it usually works.

Over the past 3 days I cycled hard and fast through Virginia trying to leave my emotions in the wind but they were tailing me and it was only a matter of time before they came to the forefront.

That night I made no plans for the next day.   I didn’t sleep.  I didn’t care.