First Day on the Road

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October 13th 2003
Published: October 13th 2003
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I can see my breath in the glow of my Palm Pilot screen. Above me the high-tension power lines are humming and the stars are gleaming. Soon the waning moon should rise.

I left Leesburg, VA early this afternoon and headed south on Route 15. I rode 50.5 miles today in a little under 3.5 hours, averaging 14.7 miles per hour. With 60 pounds of gear on my bike, that’s a pretty respectable pace. I can’t say that I was really pushing it today, I just maintained a comfortable pace.

Around 6 PM I started looking for a place to camp for the night, as Friends were unable to help me with accommodations. I decided to take a more direct route to Charlottesville than otherwise and just camp along the way. After searching around, I settled upon a site along the power line right of way. I made the right choice, aside from the fact that I stepped into a puddle and soaked my bike shoes through.

In the distance I can hear that lonesome whistle sound as a Norfolk Southern train passes through. Last year I photographed trains along this route for NS, so some fo the roadside attractions are familiar.

And about 15 years ago I rode through this area with my family on an organized bike tour called “Bike Virginia.” As I rode into the historical downtown of Warrenton today I realized that I had ridden that road before. Route 15 climbs up a short but steep hill to the center of town and ends in a “T.” At the top of the “T” sits the old courthouse. When I came through the first time, I was finishing up a century, 100 miles on a bike nonstop. My legs were throbbing and burning, and I was ready to give up and walk the hill. But as I came up the hill I was greeted by the cheers of 20 or 30 bikers lounging about on the courthouse steps, a sea of neon lycra spread across staid gray granite. In the sight of so many bikers who had finished the course before me, I was bound and determined to ride all the way to the top of the hill. Today as I rode up to the courthouse, 2 girls not yet enrolled in kindergarten were sitting on the courthouse steps with their mother. AS I rode up one of the girls exclaimed, “Look, Mommy, a bicycle!” I felt just as determined to ride to the top and not get off my bike and walk as I had fifteen years ago: I didn’t want to let down those two girls.


I fell asleep with my head sticking out of my tent, looking at the stars above me and watching the horizon brighten with the moon. At some point in the night I crawled all the way in & zipped shut the door. A few hours later I was awoken by the sound of soft snorts and chewed grass. At first I thought the donkeys from the adjacent field had gotten through the fence, but when I looked outside I could almost make out the white tails of fleeing deer. In the morning I found deer tracks around my tent, as well as some steaming scat to confirm the presence of my nocturnal visitors.


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