Virginia was an amazing state to ride my bike through. Almost from the moment I left the DC metro area, I felt good about Virginia. The North had seemed crowded and compact. Even the places between cities in states like Connecticut had seemed small. Virginia seemed big and open. Between the forests, there were fields and beyond the fields and forests there were mountains. I was hitting this state at just the right time to witness the fall beauty, and the contrast of the colorful leaves on the bright blue sky behind them was breathtaking.
My first stop out of DC was the town of Culpeper, VA. There I stayed with my Nancy and her son. Surprisingly, it was Nancy and not her son that was on couchsurfing. I would say about 90% of the site is the expected demographic: young, unmarried people who aren’t quite settled down yet. However, there is a good mix on non-traditional hosts as well. Nancy and her son were great. I ate a good meal, had a good fold-out bed, and even better company.
When I was planning my route for the next day, I noticed it would be a short ride at less than 60 miles. However, Nancy recommended a 10-mile detour to the West. It would take me through some scenic countryside that was well-known among the local cyclist community. In fact, there had just been a big ride the previous weekend. I took her up on this, and I was not disappointed. It was amazingly beautiful as I headed toward the blue ridge mountains and surprisingly flat since the road took a path through a valley. There were certainly hills, but my body has gotten used to them by now, and this path managed to avoid the worst of them.
I rolled into Charlottesville while my host was still at work. He told me where the key was, and I let myself into his place. It felt a little weird coming home without him there. It was the right address and everything matched what he said it would, but I still had to wonder if I was in the right home. I just imagined a startled occupant coming home and wondering who this guy was taking a nap on their couch. Fortunately, it was the right house, and Chris came home a couple hours later.
Oh also, in Charlottesville, I stopped at the market to get some food and drinks. While I was there, a young woman came up and said her sister thought I had a nice butt. Not knowing how to respond, it said it was due to the padding in the bike shorts.
Charlottesville was a great evening. Chris invited some of his friends over and a couchsurfer who was new to the area. We had delicious plov and great conversation. I mentioned that I still didn’t have housing for the next day. I had emailed some hosts in Farmville later than I wanted to, and I hadn’t heard back yet. Ashley, who was new to Charlottesville, said that I should head to Lynchburg instead. She had friends there she was sure I could stay with. I looked at the map. It was about twelve more miles to Lynchburg than Farmville, and a little the west of where I wanted to go. Doable, for sure, but I wasn’t persuaded. I had already added ten miles to the route that day, and I wasn’t excited about going out of my way. Do you like saunas, she asked. Saunas? I LOVE saunas. It’s one thing I miss about the KZ. Yeah, my friends have a sauna, she said. You could use it. So I decided I was going to Lynchburg. It turned out that two of her friends were out of town and one was working but eventually she found a friend of a friend who would take me to the sauna and had a TV so I could watch the football game (LSU v Alabama).
After dinner, Chris and I rode around town a little bit on our bicycles. Charlottesville was hilly, but the hills were much more manageable without my 25 pounds of gear. The bike has a whole different feel to it when it’s not loaded down. We checked out a new bar downtown, saw UVA’s campus, and then just went back to his place. It was a good Friday night.
The next day I woke up and set off for Lynchburg. There was one highway that was pretty much a straight shot, but I had heard that it was pretty busy. I wanted to avoid that for a few miles, so I took a couple smaller roads out of town. This was awesome and horrible. Lynchburg was supposed to be a 72 mile ride, and I don’t like to do that long in one day. I knew my legs were going to be tired by the end. So when the scenic route decided to go up a mountain, I was wondering if I’d made the right choice. I mean, it wasn’t a real mountain, but I did climb for about an hour. There were some downhill breaks, but overall, it was up up up. It was gorgeous, of course, but my legs were feeling it. Finally, I crested and felt the roads generally sloping downward. Google directions had me turning left down another road, but when I came to this road, it looked less than favorable. It was gravel and dirt and seemed to head off to nowhere. The names checked out though, so I just went with it. Three miles of bumpy riding finally took me out the highway. I was on my way again.
The rest of the ride was good. Major highways are generally flatter than back roads, although the traffic was pretty heavy at times. I rolled into Lynchburg about an hour before sunset and found my host’s house. Dusty was a great guy. He wasn’t even on couchsurfing; he was just a friend of a friend. He was excited to be hosting though, and we talked a lot about our international travels. We made dinner, watched some TV, and then we hit up the sauna at his friend’s house.
The sauna was in the basement of his friends’ house. The house was owned by a Finnish couple who had installed the sauna shortly after buying the house. They didn’t live in the house anymore, but they rented it to friends. The sauna was a popular feature. It was nice. Wooden benches, wooden walls, a simple switch to turn it on and off. I kinda missed the burning wood though of a Kazakhstan sauna. They also didn’t have any tree branches to hit one another with. In addition to me and Dusty, there were about five others guys that were sauna-ing as well. It was a popular thing to do with their group of friends. I must admit, I did not put up my best performance. I was tired and couldn’t stay in for very long. It felt good to be in there and sweat though, and I think it helped with my sore legs as well.
After about an hour, we left the sauna and went back to Dusty’s. I was exhausted. It had been a long ride. It had been a sweaty evening. It was time for bed.
The next day my ride supposed to only be about 60 miles. I was headed to Halifax, VA. I left Lynchburg with ease and was following my directions. I got off of Highway 29 and onto some country roads to cut through to Highway 501. Everything seemed to be on track when I came to a highway. My directions indicated this should be 501, but there were no signs. I was supposed to take a right, it seemed like that direction would be north. (My inner compass has been improving with this trip.) I saw a gas station about 400 meters up the road, so I went there and asked a nice couple pumping gas for directions. Is this 501, I asked. No, this is 29, the said. 29! I had just gotten off 29 twelve miles back. They had a map though, and we figured out how I could cut back across to 501.
I must have written the directions down wrong on the country roads. One ironic thing was that as I was on the country roads, I came to a junction with a state highway. When I was starting my trip, I would always get out my map at these junctions to see how far I’d gone. It also made sure that I was still on track. That day, I was thinking about how much time I must be saving by not having a Virginia map because I wasn’t constantly stopping to see my progress. However, had I had a map to look at, I would have realized the directions I had were probably not correct.
Overall, my wrong turn cost me about 14 miles, and just over an hour of cycling time. It was scenic, but it was scenic scenery I’d already seen for hundreds of miles in Virginia. Fortunately, all of Sunday was much flatter than the previous days. I was headed away from the mountains of Virginia as I approached the North Carolina border.
Eventually, I got to 501, and I took that all the way down to Halifax. There wasn’t much of note on the road. I passed through a number of small towns. I stopped at a nice local fast food place and got a milk shake. Overall, the road was not that busy, but it didn’t have much of a shoulder. Mostly, I was just bored. Flat, unchanging scenery, 14 mile detour. That’s what I was thinking about. Once I arrived in Halifax, I assumed I was almost there. I didn’t write down mileage indicators that day, and I saw I only had two turns left. I couldn’t find the road I was looking for though, so I called my hosts. Oh, you’re on that road. Good! You are only about three miles away! Three miles! I thought I was half a mile away. I had the right directions, but I just didn’t realize I was going to be going miles down the roads I had left.
I reached the house of Kevin and Amanda, two more “non-traditional” couchsurfers. They had four children, two of which were still living at the house. I asked how they had gotten involved in couchsurfing, and they said they heard about it from some people at a medical conference at the Patch Adams institute, especially this girl named Gabi. I knew a Gabi in Baltimore from Couchsurfing who had also mentioned a medical conference at the Patch Adams Institute. We started describing her, and it turns out they knew my host in Baltimore! We had a great meal with lots of carbs for me, and then we just watched football and talked about life and traveling. Kevin was finishing up nursing school soon after leaving his job as a truck driver, and Amanda was an English teacher at a local high school and community college. They hoped to travel more once he finished his degree, possibly moving to the Philippines. I tried to stay up and watch the Ravens/Steelers game with them, but I was just too tired. I zonked out early.
The next day we had a hearty breakfast (Kevin made omelette for the family and for me), and I set out towards Durham. It was a pretty straight shot down a state highway. The highway was great until North Carolina where the amazing shoulder suddenly disappeared. Leaving Virginia and entering NC, I felt something had changed immediately. The vast open fields seemed to stop, and I felt like I was entering a giant forest. I also appreciated that NC tried to educate the entering drivers about their traffic laws. They had at least four signs explaining traffic rules. I was hoping they’d have the whole traffic code signed out for us, but alas, they did not.
The road in NC was a little hazardous. The whole way there had been logging trucks, but in Virginia they had room to pass with ease. The two-lane, shoulderless road of NC felt a little dangerous. With my helmet mirror though, I was able to see all the trucks behind me as they approached, and I would just move to the grass next to the highway. It was an easy solution to the problem.
I arrived in Durham before my friend was done with his classes for the day, so I decided to check out Duke’s campus. It was nice. Lots of trees. Lots of stone, castle-looking buildings. Free wifi for guests.
I had arrived in North Carolina. I had done five long days across Virginia, but I was rewarded with amazing rides everyday. It felt good to rest my legs though. I was going to have three days in the area to just relax and see some old friends.