Gorgeous—and grueling!—ride to Charlottesville


Wow. Nothing like a reminder of how *not* in tip-top bicycling shape I am. I do give myself credit for challenging myself, and I give myself credit for actually making it all the way to Charlottesville, under my own power.

37 miles doesn’t seem like it should feel that tough! In fact, I did 37 miles just a few days ago, from Richmond to Bumpass, and felt OK then.

The main differences? More elevation (this time it was about 1300 feet of gain, which was about twice the previous amount) and higher temps. The mercury reached 92 that day (vs. mid-70s the earlier day) and I was also feeling the humidity in that. (92 in Portland is definitely hotter than I would choose to bike in, but man, on the East Coast it’s something else! However, I know this is only the beginning of probably four more months of these kinds of conditions: I plan to be on the East Coast, and then the Midwest, from now through August.)

So I had to rest a lot that day. Like, a lot. But I kept reminding myself that I could do this. And that it’s not a race, and I could take things at my own pace. I am on a 40 lb. bike, with 16” wheels. And, pulling a 72 lb. trailer. It’s OK for me to go at my own pace.

And… I did it! I made it. Several drivers yelled at me (roads are narrow around here) although one, right near Monticello, asked me with concern if I was OK, which felt nice. I told him I was, and continued to rest a bit before climbing the rest of that hill.

At another spot, I pulled over in the shady driveway of what appeared to be a bakery or similar shop that was closed on Sundays. I sat down on a bench next to the ice machine (which sadly was not available to dispense ice to me) and rested for 15 or 20 minutes. During that time, a young man who had parked his pickup truck in the small gravel lot asked me if I worked there. I said no, and he said he was supposed to be meeting an employee there to pick up a cake.

When the employee arrived, it occurred to me that the water level was getting low in my hydration pack. (I did have extra in a bottle in my trailer, but the thought of retrieving it felt daunting.) I asked the employee if he had a sink inside where I could refill the pack. He graciously agreed, and I walked into the air-conditioned room and gratefully filled up the pack from the commercial kitchen sink. The man asked if I was doing the Trans America Trail, because apparently it runs right through there, and they often had cyclists come through.

I said no, but thanked him profusely for the water, and then went back outside and got back on the road.

Four miles away from my destination, resting in a cemetery, I texted my friend/host Robbi to let her know I was nearby, but still might take a while before reaching her. She immediately texted back and kindly offered to pick me up. I briefly considered the offer, but decided I wanted to be able to know for myself that I had pedaled the entire distance, even though at that point I still had about 200 more feet to climb. (And unbeknownst to me, I would take a couple of wrong turns, thus adding even a few more feet.)

I pressed on… and after one last short but steep hill in her housing development, I arrived at Robbi’s townhouse, greeted by her and her poodle Cookie, as well as a few neighbors, several more dogs, and even a couple of baby birds in a nest on her porch.

I drank a glass of water on the couch while we caught up a bit, and then I took a long and luxurious shower (double-checking for more ticks, but thankfully not finding any).

I did marvel at the incredible natural beauty of this area. It had struck me when I visited Robbi in Charlottesville a couple of years ago, and made me want to return. Seeing that scenery from a bike is pretty hard to beat.

The following day—yesterday—I took another “administrative day,” and stayed indoors resting and tending to various tasks. Today, we had a long rainstorm in the afternoon. Robbi left in the early afternoon to go to a dog-sitting stay at a nearby friend’s place. I did my best to wait out the rain before heading five and a half miles north to my new Warmshowers hosts’ place. Looking at the changing forecast, though, I could see I wouldn’t be able to wait it out before dark, so I decided to just ride in it, starting about 5:30 pm. Fortunately, the rain was pretty gentle, and the ride was short enough that I could peel off my outer layers when I arrived and emerge relatively dry. I joined my hosts for some dinner and conversation, and then retired to their cute basement “suite” for Warmshowers travelers. (They told me they have hosted at least 40!)

I put my pin on their wall map, showing that I had traveled from Portland, but I had to fight for space because there were four other Portlanders already on the map, tied only with New York City for the most common origin point.

Now I’m going to sleep, and tomorrow—when the weather should be nice—I’m looking forward to just soaking in the feel of this town, before hopping on the train for DC the next morning.

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