October 17, 2010

August 23

Today needed to be better than yesterday. I wanted Ellen’s trepidation born out of yesterday’s experience to transform into confidence about unsupported touring. Sun and a good breakfast are two things that rapidly improve cyclists’ spirits. The patchy morning sky eventually cleared, and we rode down to the store to purchase some substantial breakfast food. But Ellen was still nervous—she couldn’t finish her yogurt and cereal.

The Bumpass Country Store had a homey quality to it, right down to the freshly prepared lunch items

We began our cycling day around 10:30 after thanking the firemen for our stay. The morning roads were flatter, in part due to a large, fingered lake we skirted. Near Bumpass we came across a “Country Store,” what today’s convenience stores were once called. Although we were only 15 miles out of Ashland, small towns in central Virginia seemed to be lacking in services, so we stopped for lunch. I wanted to eliminate any possibility of hardship for Ellen that I could.

Judging by its architecture, this store had been there for some time. It had a front porch I imagined once shaded owners who perched there waiting for the next customer. Inside, there was true food service; a person who made your sandwiches to order instead of a selection of pre-packaged goods you stuffed into a microwave. As we waited to place our lunch order, I recognized the person in front of us as the first volunteer fireman we met last night. He recognized us in return, then apologized for yesterday’s cold shoulder. A family quarrel had resulted in a triple killing, and not surprisingly, the police and other emergency responders had been overwhelmed. I could tell the trauma from the situation still lingered.

We set off again through scrubby forest land, attempting to stop at the home of Patrick Henry. Henry was Virginia’s Revolutionary Era governor and is most remembered for his “Give me Liberty, or give me Death” speech, urging the Virginia militia to take up arms against the British. Today though, we were not granted the liberty of seeing his home, or even stepping on the property. The grounds were only open on the weekend.

Horse farms came back into the picture around Ashland

Funneling ever closer to Yorktown

There were ten more miles between Henry’s home and Ashland, which had the promised lodging comforts awaiting Ellen (and me). Our route now took us perpendicular to the rivers, traversing in and out of several carved valleys. This tired Ellen, but not to the degree it had yesterday. We arrived in Ashland at the end of the afternoon, following the straight, pancake-flat railroad tracks into the heart of town.

Ashland was a college town, embracing Randolph-Macon College, a Methodist-founded liberal arts college which had been located in the community since the late 1860s. In fact, the woman at the Ashland Visitor Center recommended the college cafeteria as one place to have dinner. Ellen and I instead opted for less proletarian fare, turning into bike commuters to transport ourselves to a semi-fancy track side restaurant. After a satisfying meal, she, and thus I, pedaled back through the approaching darkness in better spirits compared to last night. Back in our motel room, it was finally time to switch from the thought of to the reality of finishing the trip—I called Amtrak to purchase train tickets for the trip back home at the end of the week.


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