I am originally from Virginia Beach VA but have lived in North Carolina for thirty years. North Carolina, it is said, is an island of humility between two mountains of conceit; i.e. Virginia and South Carolina. I enjoy bicycling in central Virginia and looking at all the history signs along the road, even if I perhaps irrationally get annoyed with the weight of the past, the traditions that Virginia seems inundated with.
My idea for a two or three day ride was to drive two and a half hours north from Chapel Hill, park the car in suburban Richmond and bicycle somewhere from there. I chose Mechanicsville as a starting point, nine miles northeast of downtown Richmond. At about 11:00 AM I parked our Prius at the Mechanicsville Walmart and pulled my folding Bike Friday out of the back. Apparently anyone can park in a Walmart parking lot for any length of time. Many Americans associate freedom with freedom to park. Freedom! After parking the car I bicycled up to the store, locked the bike, and went inside to buy a toothbrush. Maybe I do not get out much, but the Mechanicsville Walmart seemed like the largest store interior I had ever seen.
I honestly had expected to be able to bicycle away from Mechanicsville into the rural Virginia countryside. Instead, I found myself bicycling through miles of non-connected exurban housing developments and strip malls. I tried to cycle on minor roads but they kept bringing me back to the same general area in the northern Richmond suburbs. There were a lot of people eating at a restaurant in a strip mall so I stopped for lunch.
By late afternoon I had bicycled over thirty miles but really had not gone anywhere. I was disappointed. It was my fault, I had not done enough planning. I thought about biking back to the Walmart, putting the bike in the car and driving home. Instead, I biked fifteen miles further over to Ashland VA, home of Randolph Macon College, a town whose claim to fame is the CSX and Amtrak main line that runs down the middle of its Main Street. There was a low price at a Motel 6. Motel 6’s are usually OK but this one seemed sleazy, with junk spread around the lobby. If I may generalize, South Asians usually do a good job of running motels. Not here.
With the current state of television, hotel TV’s are now particularly useless because one has to be old school and watch what is playing at that time, with ads. Instead, I sat in the weak and lumpy bed and watched the legal drama The Good Fight on my phone.
Later on I bicycled downtown to the tracks and sat at a bar/restaurant called The Iron Horse. I had meatloaf while the bartender and I watched the trains go by. The place was mostly empty on this Monday night.
I had thought this trip was a washout, but it got better! The following day, riding towards Fredericksburg, the bike riding immediately became much more relaxed. North of Ashland car traffic almost ceased and I found myself bicycling on lovely country roads through either forests or horse country, where the land is chopped up into large residential plots. I saw very little actual farming. I started seeing signs marked US Bicycle Route 1 and started following them.
Being Virginia, there are, of course, lots of historical markers, even on back roads. I find this one creepy. I’ll never wash that pitcher again.
The circuitous but scenic Bicycle Route 1 crossed actual U.S. Highway 1, which is the older highway that parallels Interstate 95. Washington is the closest really big city to where I grew up, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Both my parents had horror stories about driving on US-1 between Richmond and Washington before I-95 was built. Mom talked about driving with me and my siblings in our station wagon on this four lane road in the 1960’s with no center divider and jammed with high speed heavy trucks. Mom said she had nightmares about it. Dad said he had lost several friends to traffic accidents during the 1930’s-1950’s on what he claimed was called “Bloody One.” The highway looked physically the same as my 1960’s memories but with clearly not as much traffic. I was just bicycling across.
The final miles into Fredericksburg were through the national battlefield park.
I was ready for a break at fifty-six miles when I pulled into Sammy T’s in downtown Fredericksburg.
On these bike trips of mine I rarely cycle more than fifty miles per day. On this trip, maybe it was the wine, but I started thinking: I had already bicycled fifty-six miles, it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, the wind was at my back and I wasn’t at all tired. Why not bicycle a Century, one hundred miles in a day? I hadn’t done this in years. I finished lunch and headed off towards D.C.
I bicycled through the older parts of Fredericksburg with the Strava app still set on my phone. I now had a goal: one hundred miles in a day.
As I biked across the river. I learned this day that Fredericksburg marks the fall line, the highest navigable point on the Rappahannock.
I continued to follow signs for Bicycle Route 1, which guided me on smaller country roads. Unfortunately, the suburbs of Washington DC start at Fredericksburg, sixty miles out. Roads had more and more traffic.
And despite the sunny weather predictions, it started to rain; hard, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by lots of traffic on a two lane road. There was nothing to do but soldier on. My goal this day was a mileage, not a specific destination. An hour or two into the ride I must have missed a Bicycle Route 1 sign. I was off the route. I just kept bicycling until I reached a strip of motels outside of the U.S. Marine Base in Quantico VA. The mileage on my Strava app read ninety-six miles. I continued on, circling around a residential area for half an hour trying to add four miles but Strava refused to move! True fact: I had not turned on the Strava app until half an hour into the start of the ride that morning. I was not going to be a slave to some computer application. I am confident I did somewhat over one hundred miles. Really. Here is a screen shot of my phone.
I booked a room at a Quality Inn next to US1 and I-95. After a rest I walked across a sea of parking lots to the chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday. The military is quite diverse, there was an interesting multiracial group of people sitting at the bar. Salmon cooked rare with hickory bourbon sauce was healthy and delicious.
For the next day, to bicycle the safest and most pleasant route it was still at least fifty miles further north to Union Station in downtown Washington DC where I could take Amtrak back to Richmond. After my experiences six months ago in Savannah I swore I would never bicycle again on an openly dangerous road. For the first few miles through the Marine base there were few options. Because there was no easy route other than the six lane US Highway 1, I took an Uber the first seventeen miles, from Quantico to Lorton. North from Lorton the Mount Vernon Trail goes all the way to central D.C., first along the highway, then along the Potomac River.
Around President Washington’s Mount Vernon the Potomac River is much more of an estuary than a river.
Too much history. Tour buses lined up outside Mount Vernon.
On my phone I keep a list of future bicycle riding destinations. “Hollin Hills-Alexandria VA” has been sitting there awhile. It comes, I think, from an article I read in the Washington Post about a development with dozens off 1950-60’s modernist tract houses. Maybe Palm Springs CA is such a big modernist destination because houses show off better in the desert. On the East Coast houses are hidden behind trees.
I bicycled through old town Alexandria.
North of Alexandria the Mount Vernon Trail circles Reagan National Airport.
The bike path then crosses the Potomac on the Fourteenth Street Bridge arriving into the District right in front of the Jefferson Memorial.
It was a pleasure to bicycle Washington crosstown to Union Station, where only an hour in advance I had booked Amtrak leaving at 3:30 PM for Richmond. There are several ways to take a bicycle on an Amtrak train but it is often complicated. It is not complicated with a folding bicycle. You just lug it on any train, no case required.
I arrived into Main Street Station in Richmond that evening and spent the night downtown. In the morning I bicycled through downtown Richmond and then out to the Walmart in Mechanicsville. Our car was still there.
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