Virginia has been good to me. Unapologetically beautiful, both in its spectacular landscapes and local communities. The drivers were cautious and courteous – not a single close call throughout the entire state. Thank you so much for your patience with the delay in my update – I’ve truly been off the grid. Today, having Wi-Fi is a treat I will thoroughly indulge in. 🙂As with any journey, unforseen factors, set-backs, and challenges do arise. My Marine riding partner, John, experienced the loss of a dear loved one and needed to travel home for funeral services and to spend precious time to mourn with family and friends. Leaving him behind was absolutely NOT an option in my mind, so I waited in Lexington until his return. We start together, we finish together. Rick, a retired Navy Chief, and his amazing family in nearby Vesuvius, graciously took me in for almost a week. They opened their home and hearts at what couldn’t have been a more perfect time.
Chief Rick showed me around the City of Lexington, giving me a tour of downtown, Stonewall Jackson’s gravesite, and other significant landmarks. We visited the Virginia Military Institute and I had the honor of meeting Marine Officer Colonel Coggins, as well as other Officers and countless new Navy and Marine Recruits.
The Virginia Gem and Mineral Institute had a geological dig in the area, searching for the indigenous rock called Unakite. It’s a gorgeous stone, boasting brights shades of pink, green, and is infused with crystals of granite. They invited me to be an official member of the Institute, which I of course accepted! After we detonated a large rock of Unakite, I picked out a piece to keep, and found one both shaped like Virginia and colored like its mountains.
Spending time with Rick and his family truly felt like a gift and their tremendous generosity will never be forgotten. They even toyed with the idea of filing adoption papers, but I had to press on with my journey… 🙂
The day John returned, we attended a Memorial Day service and he was able to meet Colonel Coggins, who delivered an emotionally pungent speech in dedication to the fallen. I spent some time with the Colonel and also the Buchanan Police Department afterward.
Memorial Day is always tough. How can we ever sufficiently thank our fallen Brothers and Sisters. Deployments seem to result in an exchange of pride for guilt, esteem for disdain; and it’s not necessarily obvious upon returning home. It creeps up and compiles up over time. Our friends gave their lives in our place. We were responsible for one another. We left as a complete unit and our hearts and minds returned with missing pieces. Sometimes, it feels as though I’m living on borrowed time. They paid the ultimate price for me, and there is a debt that I will always feel I owe, but can never repay.
That is why such a huge part of my cycling journey is to HONOR them by LIVING and attempting to make the most of each day. Letting days pass by cannot be an option any longer. No more standing by while your heart and mind fight each other to the death… Deliberately feed your mind with healthy new thoughts and refuse to allow what’s already inside consume you.
Thank you SPC Sam Bowen, 1LT Charles Wilkins, and PFC Ryan Martin, with every beat of my broken heart. Your loving sacrifice will NEVER be forgotten.
Most cyclists travel west to east to condition themselves for these unforgivingly steep grades. I’m proud to say that I have not walked my bike in the Blue Ridge Mountains AT ALL. Not once. So many people said there’d be times I’d have to. That it’s the norm. But they don’t know me. People have discouraged and doubted me throughout my life, and it’s been fun to continuously educate them. However, the truth of the matter is: The people that you have to prove wrong have NO place in your life. Remember that.
The Blue Ridge are said to be the most physically demanding portion of my journey. But each section of the country will present a new set of challenges…
The rest of the ride through rural Virginia was loaded with unique sights, intense climbs, and quirky surprises.
It’s been a pleasure taking my time through this gorgeous state.
I feel that I’ve learned a great deal about my bike, gear, the daily routine, and have gained a strong understanding of what is expected of me both physically and mentally.
The last monstrous climb of the Virginia Mountains was a gruesome 1,500 foot, 30% grade, 3.7 mile long, that took every last piece of me to conquer. I swear, part of my soul itself is still scattered on that mountain top. Not once did I stop – not once did I walk. It required me to reignite a part of my body and mind that I hadn’t tapped into since the military. Eric Ward, this climb was for you, Brother. You are loved and missed endlessly.
Kentucky has been calling my name for quite some time now and I’ve been very anxious to experience the “Unbridled Spirit” of a state I’ve only ever driven through. I will miss the mountains, but I’m excited to begin those high mile days. That being said, it’s official. I am in Kentucky. State 2 out of 10. 620 miles down. 3,700 miles to go.
//NOTHING FOLLOWS //