DC to Fredericksburg
We departed from the Capital this morning after breakfast. My original breakfast plans had unintentionally set us back as the creperie didn't open for several hours. After securing a morning meal elsewhere, we made our way to the Mount Vernon bike trail, a beautiful paved pedestrian and cycle trail that runs throughout the DC, Alexandria area. For 10 miles we enjoyed the serenity of no cars and no stop lights. The trail and our route eventually diverged and we were unceremoniously dumped onto the Jefferson Davis Highway - Route 1.
The Jeff Davis Highway was a steaming pile of shit.
Fast cars that had no patience for cyclists whizzed by and left us contemplating unfinished business. Faced with the prospect of our mortality, we once again cursed the Garmin and continued along the busy road hoping that we would be able to dive into the ditch should an errant vehicle drift onto the shoulder.
At one point today, Gen and I got separated. A construction site had erased our tiny buffer of safety consuming the shoulder with concrete pylons and heavy equipment. While crossing the road to get onto Route 1, I was swept into the flow of traffic and could not halt safely to wait for Gen to join me. Out of sight and earshot, I was forced to wait like a child who throws a branch over the upper side of a bridge for its appearance opposite, downstream. Gen emerged from the congestion, and we agreed that Route 1 was garbage and we couldn't wait to get off it.
Thankfully, the plotted route soon returned to country roads, and we wound our way down to the greenway bike path. Across a pedestrian bridge we popped back out into a historic village full of shop-fronts and cafes. A local we passed recommended a cafe down the street for a bite to eat, and we pedaled the half block to The Secret Garden Cafe.
While being seated, we had the now familiar conversation with our waitress:
"Wow y'all are from Boston!? How long it take you to get here? Y'all got everything on the bikes? How much do they weigh? Wow. All the way to California!? Wow. I wish I could do something like that."
After boosting our stomachs and egos we departed, encouraging the hostess to go on her own adventure someday soon.
Down roads and sidewalks I checked our plotted route ahead. The GPS had us adding several miles snaking around to the entrance of a park, but I spotted a gravel road that looked like a shortcut and asked Gen to stop.
We interrogated several runners who had just emerged from the gated road and asked them if the road ran all the way through. They confirmed it would take us into the park. Emboldened by the runners and motivated by dislike for superfluous pedaling we passed our bike through the fence and were onto the gravel road. A quarter of a mile in the beaten gravel yielded to washed out gravel trail replete with ruts and exposed roots waiting to ensnare and dismount us. We unclipped from our pedals to reduce our risk of going down with our bikes should the trail deteriorate further.
Gen revoked my navigational rights as the grade of the hill reversed from treacherous loose downhill to gravel kicking tire spinning high grade uphill.
Less than two miles of off-roading eventually dumped us out onto a paved road. I affected disappointment that we would not be continuing our off-road excursion, Gen did not bother to feign amusement. As we turned onto the road we were greeted by what has become our favorite site: a designated bike lane!
What's more, the park was beautiful and was a one way loop meaning we had plenty of buffer between us and the 3 cars we encountered along the entire length.
This, this is why we are doing this trip!
Sunlight leaked through the verdant green canopy casting scattered light along the road in puddles of soft diffuse orbs. The temperature was a perfect 72' with no headwind to speak of, and the lack of power lines and traffic meant that all we could hear was the rush of air as we swept down the curving hills and the whiz of our tires as they rolled along the silky pavement.
Eventually, the two lane bike path ended and we were on a two lane road headed for the exit of the park. Here too, the relative absence of cars made for psychologically easy pedaling.
I must admit my willingness to compare this trip and cycling to climbing is simply due to my absence of experience in other fields. Still, the similarities exist. Psychological fatigue is a real thing in climbing; you spend enough of the day exposed to sketchy protection, long run outs and suspect rock, and you are mentally cooked before dinner. Comparatively, a long easy day of moderate terrain that lasts until just before sundown can leave you feeling enthusiastic and clear headed.
Cycling a 'short' 50 mile day through busy city streets or thru-ways with minimal shoulders, fast-congested traffic and large trucks crushes your mental stamina. You spend so much time worrying about your personal safety that you never really enjoy the sights around you and you are exhausted by the time you finish.
While the Jeff Davis highway had left us feeling awful, this change of pace had reenergized us.
We stopped for a quick pee break at the end of the park where I fashioned a makeshift port-a-potty enclosure for Gen using our giant tarp. Collectively we agreed that prince William would be very proud of his park were he a cyclist as it had proven to be one of the best sections of our trip so far.
The end of our day had us biking through the National Park of the Fredericksburg battlefield. This is one of the many places I frequented as a child growing up; my father's passion for history was complemented by his willingness to involve the rest of the family in compulsory education. While other children spent spring and summer breaks at places like Disney and Mexico, our father preferred mosquito infested meadows and hot sun-baked hills where cannons had once stood and wool-clad men once fought. We exited the park and made a few turns down some local streets before arriving at the White's.
We were greeted by Vicky and her son Cory who helped us bring in our bags and set us up with a shower and a large family style meal of spaghetti and meat sauce. We filled ourselves to the brim and were joined later in the meal by another cyclist using Warm Showers named Nick. Nick is an oceanic-engineer and was cycling from Mexico and planned to get to DC before beginning his journey west.
Cory is a seasoned cyclist with many miles under his belt and many hours of personal bicycle maintenance in his own garage. He spends his days working at a green facility which turns refuse into mulch, repurposes old diesel, and has other recycling initiatives intended to reduce our global carbon footprint. He is an Eagle Scout like his father Bruce, and in the summer he and a dozen fellow Eagle Scouts will begin their own cross-country bicycle journey. We're excited to follow their progress once they begin!
For now, it's another night sleeping in a comfortable bed and we are ready to pass out in preparation for tomorrow. The hope is to reach Charlottesville and prepare ourselves for the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway- a stretch of the Transamerican Trail that is notorious for its climbing difficulty.