On Monday, 8 March 2021, I wheeled my loaded bicycle into the lift and went down to the street. Glorious, blazing sunshine in a cloudless sky, the temperature in the low teens (°C). The weather forecast was as close to ideal as it could get for the first day on the road since the Pandemic Pedalling of 2020. Although a headwind was forecast for both days of my outing, it proved to be almost a dead calm.
First, I rode to the Norfolk Waterside to take the ferry to Portsmouth. Though most people seem to like sandy beaches and empty shorelines, I have always liked working ports. As I waited, three tugs carefully eased USS New York (LHD-21) into the floating drydock across the river. The monstrous amphibious warfare ship had to be the biggest vessel the dock could accommodate, because it towered over the drydock, with so little room on either side that anyone falling into the space would be crushed. The team had inched the big ship only about one-third of the way in by the time the ferry loaded the three waiting cyclists and a half-dozen pedestrians and started across the Elizabeth River.
The ferry is part of the Greater Hampton Roads Transit system (https://gohrt.com/), which I think is one of the best thought-out public transit systems in the country, considering the geographical expanse, the number of municipalities involved, and the car-centred culture that dominates outside New York City. Hampton Roads has tunnels and bridges joining the Virginia Peninsula and south Hampton Roads. The ferry connects the downtowns of Norfolk and Portsmouth.
All GRT buses have bike racks, and carry me through the tunnels for just two dollars. Now, if the light rail (the Tidewater Tide) ran all the way to the ocean in Virginia Beach, the system would be complete. It stops at the Norfolk border right now, but the right-of-way and the rail bed to continue are mostly in place already.
From High Street, I rode west on US 17 through Portsmouth into Suffolk and Isle of Wight County. Where US 17 turned north to cross the James River Bridge, I continued west as the road became US 258. The new number reminded me that some day I wanted to ride US 58 along the North Carolina border to the Cumberland Gap. That may be part of my first big outing. Stay tuned.
The main highways on the south side of the James River are almost all four-lane divided carriageways with wide, smooth shoulders. I felt very safe. There are no dense urban areas between Portsmouth and Richmond, so no pressure to build expressways.
In Surry County, I followed a succession of two-lane state roads north toward Chippokes Plantation State Park. On either side of me, harvested cotton fields stretched into the distance. I had not seen cotton since driving through South Carolina in 1975. Later, I found out that the corn farmers in Southeast Virginia turned to cotton when corn prices fell at the turn of the century. I noticed that there were no farmhouses and only one barn on any of the properties. I surmise that today, farmers commute to work like everyone else, driving their leased machinery to the field during the working season. From what I read, this is not big agri-business farming. Individual farmers own these fields, but mechanized farming allows them to live and work differently than in the past.
Cotton is in high demand now. It’s a natural product and useful in many products that use plastic. I wish the farmers well.
This was flat, low-lying farmland, but well-watered with brooks and streams that cut the fields with hundreds of ravines. The road took me along this roller coaster until suddenly, I was turning in the state park.
Chippokes Plantation is a jewel of a state park in a park system that has won national awards. I found my campsite easily. I was the only tent camper, but park rules forbade generators, so the large and small recreational vehicles parked in the trees with me did not make noise or put out exhaust fumes. The deep pea gravel might not have held down my tent on a windy day. However, the park had just opened for camping, and the clean, fresh stones did not stick to my clothes or follow me into the tent.
The camp host informed me that the place is pronounced chip’ pokes. It sounds like either cheap oaks or chip oaks, or something in between those two.
With almost no wind, the supper of rice pilaf and tuna cooked up easily, and went nicely with the cheap Vendange Pinot Grigio I picked up at a gas station. A hook took my food bag, and the pole under it accommodated the U-lock of my bicycle. The temperature would drop below freezing, so I did not need a refrigerator for the food.
However, it did get so cold that I regretted not using the silk liner for my sleeping bag. When new, the bag kept me toasty in temperatures down to -7°C, but I think it may be aging out. It also coated me with down feathers that night. Time to research restoring or replacing the sleeping bag.
It had been a wonderful day and a pleasant seventy-kilometre ride. When the excited, noisy teenagers next door finally went to sleep, I shut down my e-reader and slept myself.
The next morning, I packed up my tent first, in case I needed to dry something during breakfast. The humidity had been so low that even my ground cloth could stow immediately. After coffee, muesli with Core Power® protein drink, I rolled to the ferry at Scotland, Virginia, on the south shore of the James River.
I had never seen a glassy surface on the James River, and the ferryman shared my amazement. In the afternoon, the wind did come up, but so gently that it did not slow my down.
The ferry left me in Jamestown, where the English colonists established their first successful settlement. The Capital Trail led away to the left on its way to Richmond, but I would be saving that for a future ride. Virginia 31 took me to the intersection with US 60 coming out of Williamsburg. Again, I enjoyed a four-lane highway with decent shoulders.
After I passed the eerily empty parking lot of Busch Gardens, I stopped for lunch at Maurizio’s Italian Restaurant. Good food, reasonably priced. Sated and rested, I rode the rest of the way on US 60 to the Newport News Transfer Station. There, I caught the number 961 bus to Norfolk. Getting off at Wards Corner in the northern part of the city, I rode the last 11 km to my flat. The round trip totalled an easy 140 km.
I plan to do more camping as the season warms up, particularly in April and May. Stay tuned for those adventures.
Meanwhile, the account of River Run 2017 will continue. In two weeks, the Freelancing Freelancer will leave Budapest to ride upstream by the great Danube River. Next week, enjoy a short story from the world of Sandra in the Lockhart series on my author blog. The link will be here, too.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,