'When are you leaving?? Its not today is it?' - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

April 23, 2022

'When are you leaving?? Its not today is it?'

Launch day has been in the making for months, and yet it still feels like it arrived suddenly

Bye, D.C.! I wave to the camera as I cross the street in front of my apartment building and head south. You can see the Washington Monument in the background way down the street. (Thanks for the photo, Dani!)
Heart 0 Comment 0

 I texted my friends and neighbors Leo and Alice this morning to say goodbye. Leo's reply: "When are you leaving?? Its not today is it?" Strangely, I kind of felt similarly. Today's the day I set off for four months ? Oh!

Of course, I've been planning and packing for weeks, but here's where my brain went: I realized pretty quickly that the preparation for a cross-country tour isn't very different from that of a two-week tour. You can't be totally sure where you'll stay each night, so you get a feel for the options, plan the first few days, sketch out when you'll hit certain targets and then  hit the road and wing it. You try not to pack too much, knowing you'll just wear the same thing every day and every night and then wash all of it every chance you get. So through all of this planning and especially the packing, it has felt like I have an exciting two-week adventure in store. I don't think the impending length and scale of this trip will hit me until I'm a couple of weeks into this trip.

Also, I'd been waffling on my exact launch date for a few weeks because of an issue I've been dealing with as a result of sitting too much and/or not getting enough exercise — it's actually the second issue I've had over the course of the pandemic that fits that description. I guess it's true what they say about being sedentary too long. Anyway, I'll spare you the details, but the point is, it's kept me from doing any bike rides of any real length for the past month or so. If anyone is wondering how I trained for this ride, the answer is I didn't. In fact, I did way less biking than I would have in my normal routine.

And so, with that mindset and with that lack of training, having ridden barely 10 miles at a time in the past six weeks, I confidently set off today to ride 64 miles with a fully loaded touring bike. And I actually had the nerve to think it wouldn't be hard at all. Hey, I did 75 miles with no problem when I was on a shorter trip in October! Well, I'm glad I didn't plan to do 75 today! I was dragging from mile 55 onward. I guess I deserved it. It wasn't horrible, just enough to give me a wake-up call: I'm not in the kind of shape I was in before the pandemic. But with any luck, I think this trip could fix that.

All day, I looked forward to camping with Dani, who had agreed to pack a dinner and drive down to spend one last night together.

Today I was headed in the direction of Charlottesville, where I will eventually get onto the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. Today's goal would be to get about halfway to Charlottesville, spending the night in Elkton, Virginia. The first half of today's ride had some less-than-fun parts, riding with a decent amount of traffic. But the second half felt more rural. I look forward to more rural roads ahead, the inclusion of which was I believe a big focus when the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail was first established.

A view of an open field and silos in the background, with the road in the foreground.
Heart 0 Comment 0

 Highlights from Day 1 include:

- I stopped for lunch under a tree in front of a church and heard the Latin music from a backyard party around the corner.

- Just when the roads felt built up and designed for cars only, I noticed, when stopped at a gas station, that a dandelion seed was somehow stuck to my handlebars in such a way that the breeze made it dance on top of and even below the handlebar. It must have been stuck on a spider web or something, but for that moment, I chose to see it for what it was: a dandelion seed in the wind, a sign of more natural sunniness to come.

- I saw just how rural Virginia can get once you're out of the D.C. suburbs.

A storefront that looks to me like something out of the Old West.
Heart 2 Comment 0

- Dani drove down and met me at the destination tonight and brought a delicious, healthy dinner! What a great way to finish the first day. All this came about after Dani reminded me about Hipcamp! More on that below.

Dani and I enjoy hanging in a hammock at our Hipcamp site.
Heart 3 Comment 0

Here's how today's plan came about: Today's goal was to get halfway to Charlottesville, which is about 125 or 130 miles from D.C. The TransAm actually begins — or ends, depending on which way you're going — in Yorktown, Virginia, but since I have already reached the Atlantic Ocean on my last tour, I decided I'll just start from D.C. and get onto the trail at the closest point, which is Charlottesville, and head west from there. Dani and I had ridden to Charlottesville a few years ago and I wasn't too excited about retracing these steps, so I considered just starting in Charlottesville, but I was too endeared with the idea of leaving from home and riding all the way to the Pacific Coast from there. 

I've been telling myself to slow down on this trip and plan to ride only about 40-45 miles a day, rather than the 50-75 miles a day I would do regularly on past tours. But I didn't love the first ride I'd done to Charlottesville and I wanted to get it done in two days. So that means about 60-70 miles each day.

When researching my options for where to sleep on Day 1, I couldn't find a great option for camping or for Warmshowers. (Warmshowers is essentially a Couch Surfing for bike tourists. It's amazing.) Also, I did not want to resort to a motel on the first day. So I was pretty much resigned to (A) knocking on someone's door and asking if I could camp in their yard, or (B) stealth camping (aka wild camping), which is basically camping someplace that seems unlikely that anyone would notice you, but with no one's permission to do so. As you might expect, I have mixed feelings about stealth camping: On the one hand, you'd do this only in a place where it's clearly not going to bother anyone and you're not causing any harm. But even still, it can be hard to relax in a situation like this, and it also feels like potentially abusing one's privilege. After all, if I were not white, how much more of a problem would I have if I mistakenly chose to camp in a spot where someone else really didn't want me?

Well, the issue became moot when Dani came through by remembering something a friend had mentioned: the Airbnb of camping — Hipcamp! You camp in someone else's property, as arranged on the Hipcamp platform, and pay whatever fee the property owner charges. We found a place perfectly halfway between D.C. and Charlottesville, where I was planning to stay on Day 2. Hooray for this option! I will definitely be using Hipcamp again on this trip. And having a specific destination in mind definitely made Day 1 feel a bit easier.

The Catlett, Virginia, post office.
Heart 1 Comment 0
The Calverton, Virginia, post office is a noticeable little A-frame with a long ramp.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Finally, I know some friends and family are curious, so I'll enter a separate post soon with some details about what I packed and how much everything weighed, et cetera. You can look for that as a new post under the "Introduction and Preparation" section of this blog in the next few days!

Day 1 stats:

  • Mileage: 64.5
  • Elevation gain: 3,110 ft (estimate by my Lezyne GPS device and Strava)
  • Lodging expenses: $35.40 (Hipcamp)
  • Food expenses: $2.25 (Gatorade)
  • Days without a flat tire: 1
  • Days without falling: 1 (Hey, considering that I clip my shoes into my pedals and that I once fell over in the first few miles of an earlier trip, it seems like it's gonna happen sometime in this trip, so I might as well celebrate if I don't!)

Today's ride: 65 miles (105 km)
Total: 65 miles (105 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 10
Comment on this entry Comment 4
Robert DavisYou ended up shaving your head! Smart move. You're definitely more aerodynamic now.
Reply to this comment
3 months ago
Chris GeorgeTo Robert DavisHa, thanks! I'll explain that decision to shave my head in an upcoming post.

Also, thanks for registering on this site so that you can comment!
Reply to this comment
3 months ago
Peter BrownWait training.... you wait till you begin to start training.
Reply to this comment
3 months ago
George HallYou are going to have a great ride! I know this because your story has some similarities to mine - I rode the Transam in 2015, journal is on Cycleblaze. Be aware that the most challenging part of the entire trip is from Charlottesville to Berea, KY - just slow down during this 10-14 days as you readjust and you will do great. I envy you, and I hope to ride the Transam again some day. Best of luck, I'll be following along as you go.
Reply to this comment
3 months ago