Pandemic Pedalling: on the road again, almost.

A year ago, the Freewheeling Freelancer pedalled home, not knowing that he would not soon set out for new places to tell you about. This week, he finally rode out again. I propose to interrupt my retelling of the River Run 2017 with trip reports when I have them. First, let me tell you what has been going on since that ride from Philadelphia a year ago .

By Christmas, I had been following reports of coronavirus-19 ravaging Northern Italy, and was not surprised when it began to spread throughout the world, with predictable results. After the New Year, my son, Daniel, began looking for a flat, so that we could move on with our lives. I had a spreadsheet with 38 places around the world where I might like to set up a base to support my bicycle wanderings, but first, I had to sell the house.

On the 1st of March, Daniel took possession of his flat and began moving. We conveniently self-isolated in our respective homes, meeting only to move furniture and other belongings. He declared himself moved in July, and I retained an estate agent to sell the house. It was on the market for less than 18 hours. In early August, I moved to Norfolk, Virginia, and set myself up in a studio flat overlooking the tree-filled Ghent neighbourhood. By then, travel outside Virginia was problematic, and I had cancelled my planned move to New England. Norfolk was one of the 38 places on the list, and the only one in the state. I tested negative for the coronavirus in Charlottesville, just before leaving.

This is the fifth time that I have lived in the Tidewater region of Virginia. The area is familiar, and the flatness of the terrain makes using a bicycle convenient and effortless. I was born in a hospital just next door (now an open lot). So, I have less than 100 meters of net distance to show for all my years of travel. You can read about much of that travel in the bike tours and sea stories of this blog.

The pandemic still rages, and my plan is to watch it unfold from here. As the borders open up, I will venture abroad. When I do, you will read about it here. Meanwhile, I don’t need to stay in my lofty tower like an imprisoned princess. There are many interesting places to ride within easy reach.

Two weeks ago, I tested negative again, then drove to the Skyline Drive along the Blue Ridge Mountains to camp with a friend at Loft Mountain. We checked a half-dozen campgrounds, and all were booked solid. Lesson learned: don’t plan to use a public campground on a weekend during the pandemic if you have not reserved far in advance. Working and schooling at home is making people desperate to get outdoors. Working and class hours still being what they are, this means that parks, ski resorts, and campgrounds are packed Friday through Sunday.

While we were checking parks, we stopped at the Shenandoah River State Park near Bentonville. We were impressed by its beauty and the condition of the facilities. When I returned to Norfolk, I ordered an Annual Pass for the Virginia State Parks. No surprise that they received a Gold Medallion award last year. My plan now is to visit as many of the state parks in Virginia as I can, but only during the week.

This week, I started out easy: First Landing State Park. Located on Cape Henry, next to Fort Story in Virginia Beach, it lies only 28 km from my flat. It would be a good test of my equipment and packing, after three years of not touring with the bicycle. Sunday night, I booked a tent site.

Tuesday morning, I gathered my camping gear and slid them into the panniers of my bicycle. For background, almost everything I ride with sits in two orange Sea-to-Summit 30L stuff sacks in the coat closet of my flat. What is not in those sacks is on a checklist taped to the back of the front door. Why, you might ask? Two reasons:

  1. I do not want to lose my ability to live on my bicycle, so I keep the gear ready to go. This keeps me from spreading out in the flat, or accumulating so much stuff that I can’t carry it.
  2. Hampton Roads is a vulnerable area for hurricanes (did I mention it’s my fifth time living here?). My flat is on the ninth floor, well above any possible storm surge, and the 45-year-old building has proven itself in past storms. I can safely leave everything and come back to it. More important, I can evacuate on no notice — and stay out indefinitely.

The load did not feel any more unwieldy than a run to Costco Wholesale, but I chose to take the light rail Tide train to Newtown Road to avoid the busier roads out of downtown. After a pleasant ride through the suburban neighbourhoods of Virginia Beach, I rode into the park, checked in, and learned that everything was waiting for me. The ReserveAmerica service had taken my payment, the rangers had put a sign on the campsite with my name on it, and my Access Pass covered the entrance fee. I had selected a site as far from the entrance and the traffic on US-60 as possible, but also one with a potable water faucet just across the road. Very convenient.

First Landing State Park is a jewel: meticulously maintained, easy to reach, with a camp store and trails for riding and hiking. There was hot water, hand soap and toilet paper in the bath house. The sand in my site must have been packed down, because it was easy to drive my tent stakes, but they held firmly.

The park literature warns campers that Fort Story next door is a live fire training area, and that the master jet base at Oceana is just to the south. As I washed up after supper, the sound of machine gun and rifle fire on the other side of the woods brought back memories of my second-class summer training in amphibious warfare nearby. The jet noise stopped as the sun set, and the guns ceased fire about an hour later.

The insects and birds were louder than my nearest neighbours around their campfire, By the time I fell asleep, only the distant hum of tyres on US-60 (Shore Drive) broke the silence. It had not been a strenuous day, but I slept soundly for nine hours.

The commuter traffic on Shore Drive started promptly at 07:30, almost as if someone had fired a starting gun. I was already awake, but I lay there for a while, revelling in the solitude, the lack of nearby machinery noise, the privacy of the site, and the luxury of not needing to be anywhere for anyone. Yes, camping during the week is the ticket.

The weather had been cloudy both days, but not damp. I did not even need to hang the footprint of my tent to dry. Breaking camp took less than twenty minutes, and I was on my way to REI in Pembroke Mall to buy tent stakes. The new tent came with six stakes, but I wanted stakes for the optional, high-wind points, and as extras.

The only thing I forgot was the wine to go with supper, not bad for my first outing.

Next week, come over to my author blog for another sea story from the Indian Ocean. The Freewheeling Freelancer will continue up the Adda River to Lake Como the week after that.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

JT

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