Hello Kentucky

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.  🙂

Rick, a retired Navy Chief, and his amazing family in nearby Vesuvius, opened their home and hearts and invited me in as family!  I never wanted to leave…  <3

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 bright 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…  🙂

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 this incredibly unique opportunity for healing.  Letting days pass by cannot be an option for me 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!

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, not ever.  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.  3,390 miles to go.

Recap Video:

//NOTHING FOLLOWS //

The Climb

Everything is going well and I am safe!  It’s been rumored that there is limited cell service upon entering the Blue Ridge Mountains, but little did I know I’d be entirely off the grid for such a length of time!  There is so much to share, and I’ve been finding it difficult to formulate a proper post that will do this past week justice.

Last week, I got a glimpse of what was to come.  In the distance, beautiful mountain ranges in shades of blue that belong on color swatches in every paint store on the planet.  More majestic than intimidating from afar, but as I approached the base, it began hitting me how physically challenging this would truly be.

As I neared Charlottesville from Palmyra, there were signs for Monticello; Thomas Jefferson’s famous home.  It was decided right then that I would take a day to go back and explore this historic landmark and learn all I could on the guided tour that’s offered.  That evening, I made arrangements with a local couple to stay at their home, which doubled as a shared space / hostel for travelers.  They were very accommodating – I highly recommend Fair Haven, owned by Flame and Raven; a very warm and welcoming couple just east of Charlottesville.

Monticello was built in 1772 by our 3rd President and one of America’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.  This neoclassical style home is located in Albemarle County on an 850 foot peak in the Southwest Mountains of the Blue Ridge.

Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of our Declaration of Independence and served as President from 1801 to 1809.   He briefly practiced law, at times defending slaves seeking their freedom.  During the American Revolution, he represented Virginia in the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration, drafted the law for religious freedom as a Virginia legislator, and organized the Louisiana Purchase.   He was an inventor, architect, linguist, mathematician, horticulturalist, philosopher and brilliant writer.  His final resting place is near his home in Monticello Cemetery.  What a privilege it was to tour his home and visit his grave site…

Before heading out of Charlottesville, I stopped at The Bike Factory for a little tune up before approaching Afton Mountain, which is notoriously difficult for cyclists.  The shop’s staff was very helpful and informative – great guys.  The owner informed me that roughly 50% of westbound cyclists quit their journey while attempting my upcoming climb.  He also mentioned that I would most certainly need to stop and walk my bike up at some point.  I smiled and said, “You Don’t Know Me.”  While at a late lunch at BJ’s Brewhouse, a man by the name of Greg Trojan, a fellow cyclist, approached the table and asked about A Vicious Cycle.  We chatted for a while and as it turns out – Mr. Trojan is the CEO of the BJ’s Brewhouse National chain, and was visiting from L.A. to attend a local graduation.  Incredible…

After spending some time at the shop, picking up a few things at the store, I rode to White Hall, VA and set up camp behind a community building across from Wyant General Store.  The local gas station had Campbell’s tomato soup in stock and I was taken right back to childhood.  Even found some grilled cheese crackers to dip and ate dinner under a little wooden lean-to.  It was really special…

The next day, we went across the street to the General Store, which has been owned by the Wyant family since the 1800’s.  Even got to spend some time with John Wyant and the amazingly talented locals of White Hall.

I was honored to meet Dale, a decorated Air Force Veteran, who hand made me a beautifully crafted wooden top on the spot and also gifted me an original Army pocket watch he’d been holding onto for many decades.  It was incredibly meaningful and emotional hugs were exchanged…

After packing up the camp site, we met back at the General Store to listen to some amazing, spontaneous, authentic Bluegrass Music, played by the people of White Hall.  Talk about being in the right place at the right time…  It’s always a treat to get a behind the scenes peek into their every day lives and an honor to be included in the local traditions.

The time has come to take on Afton Mountain.  I’ve been hyping myself up, but not psyching myself out.  All that I can do is give everything that I have.  Numerous cyclists have warned me of this climb, and the grade of the incline is a menacing 20% – 30% for miles at a time, nothing like the mild, timid grades the signs warn you about on highways.  I was determined, forbidding myself from getting off of my bicycle and waking.  I set out and began the climb:  Mile after mile of unforgiving inclines, sharp curves, and non-existent road shoulders.  I began using my entire body to power my legs, using my clipped in shoes to pull up on the pedals as well as push down, taking in massive breaths of the ever thinning air.  All of a sudden, I realized…  I made it.  I DID IT.  I was in Afton. I didn’t walk – not ONCE!!  I pulled my phone out and immediately made a video.

I arrived in Afton around 9pm, just after dusk, and took in my first breathtaking (and very much earned) view of the mountains from a guard rail by the Inn at Afton.  The next morning, as I returned to the same guard rail for a day lit version of the view, an older gentleman approached me and introduced himself.  He had lost his beloved wife a few years back and frequents this very spot and view regularly.  I was touched that he’d want to talk to me during his alone time here.  After a few minutes of conversation, we quickly realized we were both Army Veterans, and he had an impressive 40 years of service under his belt, separating from the Army as a First Sergeant.  The stories he must have – I wish we’d had more time to talk about our shared military sentiments.  But, he was heading home and it was time for me to head toward the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and continue my journey.

On Monday, I entered the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.  Although I’ve driven it in the past, the opportunities to experience its tremendous beauty would be much more abundant and intimate while on a bicycle.  Nature never seems to disappoint, so always make and take the time…

After tackling an obnoxious number of inclines, I arrived in Love, VA, at a really neat destination called Royal Oaks Cabins and Campground.  The owner, Keith, still happened to be at their general store 2 hours after closing time, so not only were we able to stay at the campground, but Keith fired his grill back up and made us delicious, hot paninis and we enjoyed an ice cold beer.  This was seriously a huge treat…  Keith and his wife, along with their son and daughter, run this hiker / cyclist friendly establishment, which I HIGHLY recommend.  I also got to witness a bicycle with a 14 speed automatic transmission, apparently invented and patented by the creator of Porche.  Fascinating.

I set back out into the Blue Ridge Mountains, coming across inclines that were challenging, but mild in comparison to previous climbs.  That day, it became official – I had reached the peak of the mountain.  On top of the world…  Scattered sunlight decorated endless layers of cascading terrain.  A gentle breeze made use of my perspiration to coax a chill.  The storms in my mind dissipated briefly and laid placid.  It was quite a moment.  What was left of the air in my lungs was stolen away by the breathtaking scenes waiting to reward me with the title of Cyclist.  Can’t wait to know what’s to come as I descend from this mountain top and continue my journey…

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Video Recap:

Blue Ridge

After saying goodbye to my friend Cathy and leaving Willis UMC in Glendale, it was off toward Mechanicsville in a chilly downpour.

I was totally game for it.  But, the weather had the last laugh as I took a wrong turn and had to cycle on a full blown Turnpike to get back on route.  It was a little insane and extra miles, but honestly, the thrill topped the negatives.  Horray for lights and reflective gear!!

Leaving Mechanicsville, the weather was gorgeous, and made for a wonderful ride toward Ashland, VA, where I ran into a couple who had read my in the Willis UMC journal!  They were excited to see us and ask about A Vicious Cycle.  They’re calling their journey Tour de Strange.  Love it!!

As the sun was dropping, I discovered a rustic old historic church on the side of the road and decided to Stealth Camp in the back corner of the property near the forest.

There’s something about being in nature that has felt like home to me since childhood.  In a nearby field, thousands of fireflies lit up the night as far as you could see…  It was an unbelievable sight.  I enjoyed a Montecristo and watched them until their hypnotic blinking made my eyes heavy.

I laid in my little tent listening to the insects sing, the coyotes cry and the trees rustling in the breeze.  In the distance, I could hear the sound of cars buzzing by here and there.  People rushing to get to wherever is it they’re going.  And not a single part of me envies them at all.  It’s almost like I never want to be them again…

Monday, I rode over 30 hilly miles to Mineral, VA, and stopped to refuel my body at Mineral Restaurant.  The owner asked some questions about the journey and then later, came to our table and announced the entire meal was paid for!

After dinner, I went to the Mineral Volunteer Fire station and they offered up their building for the night! The kindness I’m experiencing on this trip is blowing my mind almost daily…

Finally, it’s time to introduce my Kona Sutra and my Quads to the formidable Blue Ridge Mountains. On the way from Mineral to Palmyra, VA, I finally got a glimpse of their grandeur.  Stats from my first official mountain ride (not counting breaks):

I’m staying at the Palmyra United Methodist Church, relaxing in their outdoor sitting area writing and looking over my maps.

While the upcoming elevations are menacing to say the very least, I can’t help but smile to myself.  Sometimes destroying yourself physically can create mental clarity.  So… Blue Ridge Mountains: You know what to do.  🙂

I keep my fellow Veterans and our fallen family at the forefront of my thoughts as I power across this beautiful country that we would all proudly give our lives to defend.  It truly is gratifying and grueling, just as I’d hoped.

The views are breathtaking and I LOVE that I have to EARN them.

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

Humanity

The first several days have been incredible and I’ve been off to an intentionally slow start.  Adjusting my body, fine tuning my load, and thoroughly enjoying the places and people.  The sounds, the smells, the scenes.  It’s so very rare to find experiences capable of igniting all five senses…  I love this.  I love everything about it.

I could spend hours alone in the sand, listening to the waves kiss the shore and the birds cry overhead; and I’ve loved hunting for shells since I was little.  So I decided to pick out a shell from the Atlantic Coast and carry it with me to the Pacific Coast, where I will pick out another.  It’s the little things…  The Colonial Parkway took me from Yorktown to Jamestown; about 21 miles.  Along the way, I ran across a beautiful monument in dedication to the French Soldiers who gave their lives for our Independence during the Battle of Yorktown.  Glad I got to take a moment to thank them…  I didn’t even realize some of this history!

The Capital Trail is a beautifully groomed bikeway that stretches clear from Jamestown, VA to Richmond, VA.  I entered at the Jamestown trail head and the entire ride was basically eye candy until Charles City, a great stop for the night.

I was able to help someone with their tire, which was awesome…  He was out training for an upcoming race in Europe.  Thank you, Halcyon Bike Shop, for the repair class!!  Day 2, it already came in handy…

The Courthouse Grille in Charles City not only has delicious homemade food and free cold water out front, but it is a staple stop for passing cyclists.  There is a world map on the wall where you can add a pin to your hometown and there was barely a spot open anywhere.  The owner, Bonnie, graciously offered a safe place in the back yard to camp.  The next morning, after cooking some breakfast, I noticed the most perfect climbing tree ever, and I’d be a fool to pass up an opportunity like that…

This part of the country is so overwhelmingly historic and powerful.  I refuse to blow through it.  Nearing Glendale, VA, I spotted a small Veterans’ Cemetery and stopped to pay my respects.  Just as I rode off, the Pastor of the Willis United Methodist Church stopped and offered a place to stay!  Full kitchen (made Mac ‘n Cheese), warm showers, plenty of floor space, food.   I challenged him to a game of “horse” before he left and to my surprise, he not only took me up on it – he totally beat me!!  🙂

Heading out toward Mechanicsville, VA today – about 20 miles today, through the rain.  Looks like some pretty wild weather on the way…  Thunderstorms and heavy showers in the forecast until Saturday, but that will be immediately followed by eight straight days of sunshine!!  That’s when the big mile days begin.  😀

It’s now only 4 days into my journey and I am already dumbfounded as to why I haven’t always lived like this.  Simplistic and intricate all at once… It feels impossible to describe, but I will truly try my best.  <3

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //

It Begins

I am finally here.  The starting point of my journey: The Yorktown Victory Monument in Yorktown, VA.  This is it.  Sunday, May 7th.  It’s time to ride…

I arrived in Yorktown at 0500 Friday morning, May 5th.  Fine tuned my gear and ate at Beachcomber Restaurant several times.  Pretty much became a regular and they were all rooting for us by the time we left…  🙂

On Saturday, I had the honor of meeting with Marine Veteran Daniel Sharp, a talented filmmaker and admin of Pop Smoke and Military Memes.  Daniel has been very helpful in spreading the word about my Journey through social media, and he took the time to meet with me and interview us.  Amazing guy…

Well!  Only 4,010 more miles to San Francisco, CA and the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge… Sunday is here, so here goes nothin’.  😉

// NOTHING FOLLOWS //