Time Marches On - The Great Unwind - CycleBlaze

May 2, 2017

Time Marches On

I'm dead to the world for ten hours. It's not quite enough to bring me back, but it's close. We know we have a short ride ahead of us, so we sleep in, make breakfast out in the low morning sun, and leave the campground long after the RVs and travel trailers have started their slow exodus toward whatever overpriced gravel parking strip lies in their drivers' futures.

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Our future is bucolic. The road is paved but only one lane wide. It takes us past old rusted wire fences, where on the barns beyond, the siding sags and the red paint is coming off in strips and chunks. We pass mailboxes painted yellow and green to look like a John Deere tractor. There's a little sign that reads, Caution: Horses about.

It's overgrown grass trying to reclaim the land around a group of a few dozen old headstones, some no more than a foot tall. It's little dogs barking from front porches as we roll past, but whose hearts aren't in it enough to give chase. It's black butterflies with speckled wings being bounced around by the breeze left over from last night's storm.

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I still can't shake that thing that tells me I should go faster, whatever it is. There's much unwinding left to do. And so I remind myself of something important: the road ahead will always be there, but the moment you're riding through right now will not. It is here and then it is gone, and once it is gone you can never get it back.

It's not so hard to slow down and be present out here. It's so placid and soft and full of color and life. There must be something in our brains that's wired to respond to places like these — the meadows, the creeks and streams, all the trees. Turn after turn, crest after crest, the landscape feels rich and healthy and good. What on the road ahead could be better than this? I wonder.

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Drying my hands next to the sink at a chid stop, I look at my reflection in the mirror and notice for the first time a dozen little hairs of silver or pure white shining through the forest of dark stubble on my chin.

Time marches on.

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A driver lifts his left hand an inch off the steering wheel as he passes by, giving me a short wave with the white length of a cigarette jammed between his index and middle fingers.

Takin' 'er easy, just like us.

Even though we just stopped and took a break five miles up the road, we stop again at a country store in Batesville. The store has been closed for a long time. They've been trying to get it going again for more than a decade. But today, about ninety minutes before we showed up, they opened for regular hours again for the first time in years.

We buy a few things and then sit on the old wooden benches in the shade of the covered porch, looking out at the picket-fenced pasture across the way. We watch the the traffic roll slowly past and listen to snippets of conversation filter out from inside the store through the screen door that gently creaks on its hinges. It's not hard to imagine this place feeling the same way eighty years ago, just with older cars and less modern clothing. If we'd sped on to the future instead of stopping, we'd just be four miles up the road making poop jokes and eating cookies at the end of someone's driveway.

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Any journal I've ever read about Afton, Virginia mentions the son of a bitch hill you have to ride up to get there. It turns out this is because there's a total son of a bitch hill you have to ride up to get to Afton.

But when we get there, it's bicycle touring history. Because at the top of the climb sits the home of the Cookie Lady, June Curry. Back in 1975 when the cross-country Bikecentennial ride was being created — on the route that would later become the TransAm — the planners sent the riders past a small country store in Afton. But before the ride began the following year, the store had closed and been turned into an antique shop. Riders showed up hungry and thirsty but found only ottomans and ashtrays.

June Curry lived a few houses away and filled the void, providing water and baking cookies for the riders. Soon she offered them a place to stay. And so a twist of fate changed June's life forever. From then on, she welcomed in bicycle travelers from all over the world as they passed through Virginia on their way to points west or east. In the process, one of the houses on her property turned into a kind of museum of American bicycle touring. It's now filled with more than forty years of thank-you notes, postcards, pictures, banners, clothing, bicycles parts, water bottles, and a thousand other physical memories of riders that came before.

I know this because six years ago I was one of those riders. Afton is where my path from Florida crossed the TransAm and where I made my turn toward the Pacific. That was June's last full summer of welcoming travelers into her life. She passed away the following July at the age of ninety-one.

Time marches on.

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The building that's part hostel and part museum feels much as I left it. There are still more items tacked onto the wall than paint or wallpaper visible around them. The note I left for June hasn't moved at all. The musty smell of history and old cycling gear and rooms that haven't had their windows opened in decades is stronger than ever.

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Jerry rolls up not long after we do. A few hours later we meet Brad. In my mind I call him Super Brad, because he's traveling super light and super fast. He left Yorktown two days ago, trying to get to Oregon by the end of June before heading down to California. He's cranking out big miles to make it happen.

Four more travelers added to a list that by now stretches into the tens of thousands.

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Wandering back and forth through the rooms of the Cookie House, I'm struck by the way it's a reminder of a different time. It's an era I only knew for a decade and a half, a time where postcards and letters and printed photographs were the way you kept in touch with the ones you loved or the ones you wanted to thank. An era before email and online journals and Facebook and Instagram, when communication took more effort but was also more likely to be savored and stored and looked at again in the future.

But time, it marches on.

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I didn't think returning here would have such a profound effect on me again. But it does. It absolutely does. Anywhere my eyes fall I see the glimpse of a journey that changed the rider's life forever. The joy and excitement of travel and the unknown is palpable. It gives me a sense of how magical the feeling of community and togetherness must have been out here during the Bikecentennial in the summer of '76.

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It makes me want for there to be something like Bikecentennial in my lifetime, for people today who are ready and willing to step away from the demands of modern life for a summer and pedal toward whatever the road has in store for them.

And then I think, Maybe I'm the guy to make that happen.

Today's ride: 22 miles (35 km)
Total: 227 miles (365 km)

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Adam Zamora"Maybe I'm the guy to make that happen."
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2 years ago
Bennie D. BarfieldHey Jeff,, 6 years ago when you were on that trip was the first time that I met you.. I've enjoyed the comments ever since..
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1 year ago
Jeff ArnimTo Bennie D. BarfieldHey Ben,

It's great to hear from you. Thanks for following my travels for all of these years and for all of the kind words of support along the way. It's been quite the ride!
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1 year ago