Cycling continues to serve me with a palpable portion of solace in life. I’m not special by declaring that 2020 has been a challenging year in my court. With that said, I like to try and see opportunity in pretty much everything. I’ve learned some incredible lessons over the last eight months. In recent life experiences I was so rudely reminded of the importance of the people you surround yourself with.
Before we go any further, it’s important for me to state that bicycles, humans and music are the three big facets of my life. That, and the 50 ounces of coffee I elect to consume per day. So, having one of those cogs abruptly start skipping can throw the entire drive train out of tune. I have a deep desire to surround myself with people who trust me and my intentions.
Figuratively, I took my bicycle down the wrong trail this year. This trail lacked empathy and trust. I was painted in a negative and distrustful manner by someone. I watched this person implode. It’s important to keep an eye open for the trail markings. These can often lead you out of harm's way. I had my head down and I missed them. The trail got me.
Whenever things start to get weird in my world, I envision the shop’s tool wall. The wrenches and implements that cohabitate the pegboard and the drawers beneath can fix everything on a bicycle. I find symbolism in the tool wall and life. We have the tools. Would you like the repair? Some people just don’t want their problems to be fixed, whether that be on a bike, or in life. With the repair voided, I pedaled away. And I kept pedaling.
Throughout my life, I’ve found my desired human connections through bicycles and music. It was time for a reset, a major one at that. I set out to find a new trail.
‘Wait….when do we talk about bikes? Isn’t this a bicycle shop blog?’
I read a lot of travel journals and traditionally my biggest qualm is there rarely lies a prologue to the journey. I had a good friend recently say, “it’s about where you start your journey emotionally, not geographically.”
I want to know the headspace someone occupies before they set out for an adventure. So now that I have completed my personal due diligence to paint a picture of where I was mentally on October, 9th, I set out on the Trans VA route at 8:52 a.m.. The Trans VA at its core is a 541-mile route that begins in Washington, D.C. and concludes on the Creeper Trail in Damascus, Va.
Damascus is a well-known Appalachian Trail down buried in the heart of southwest Virginia, miles from where VA, NC and TN all meet. Within the route’s two points, you traverse some of the best gravel roads Virginia has to offer. I've had the Trans VA on my mind for some time now and this was the year. I dialed in my Surly Ogre and headed for a clearer future.
My intentions were simple. I'd like to ride and live off of my bicycle for a week or so and press the reset button. I’d like to challenge myself and even face hardship. I needed to get out of town for a bit.
I set out early on this Friday morning with hopes of making it to Berryville, VA by nightfall. Here, some of my best friends would meet me by car and camp under the stars at Watermelon Park. I parked my car in Arlington early that morning and pedaled the greenways to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the route’s official start. I snapped a couple of photos, took a deep breath and pedaled off.
This, whether cliche or not was the personal motto of the trip, “Keep pedaling.”
My day one was almost too smooth. I cruised out the C&O Trail before catching the ferry across the Potomac River just before lunchtime.
One of my favorite aspects of adventure cycling is the realm of control. As soon as you click into your pedal and push away from your house or your car, you lose a major sense of authority. You begin a new relationship with this idea of trust. We’re back to trust here, people. You’ve got to trust, damnit! You thought you clicked this link to read about bikes. Needless to say, we’re laying the groundwork for some major ethos.
I get to White’s Ferry and look down. I notice one of my Salsa Anything Cages is missing, and so is the entire dry bag that housed my kitchen setup. I’m pissed--I’ve never been more prepared for an adventure before. I make an attempt to locate it, but realize it’s not even worth it.
I make a couple calls and before long I have another Anything Cage and dry bag with kitchen supplies that will greet me in Berryville. I talk to a friend on the phone while on the ferry who reminds me, “just think, you probably won’t even remember this by next week when you finish.”
Man, were they right.
I pull into Berryville eating a bag of Doritos just as the sun is setting ---I crush the time expectation that I had. I met my friend’s Jonathan, Nate and David who quickly set up one of the best camp’s I’ll have on the trip. Jonathan busts out his grill and begins to prepare some burgers. The beer is cold and the night is young. My body feels good. Through day one, I’ve already noticed how much clearer my mind is. We spend the night sharing cycling, music and fishing stories. These are the backgrounds we all come from.
I climb into my tent as country music resonates through the campground from an adjacent RV. I’m pretty tired and quickly fall asleep. I awake a couple hours later and can still hear the voices of Jonathan and David chatting from their neighboring tent. I don’t feel good, but I can’t put my finger on what’s going on. I feel hot, so I shed a couple of layers.
My confusion and discomfort continues until I realize there’s something inside of me that needs to come out. It all happened so suddenly. I don’t even make it out of my tent before I begin to get sick. Thank God for floorless tents! I haven’t thrown up in so long, especially from food that I didn’t even know what was coming.
I feel like absolute trash, but hope this purge helps. I relocated my tent with the help of Jonathan and David. I climb back in, but not 30-minutes of sleep goes by before the episode replays. This will continue for most of the night. A nice bout of food poisoning to begin a 550-mile trip. With food poisoning comes dehydration and now I start to worry. Is this it? All of this preparation and here we are. The sky is clear and the stars are bright. I’m kneeling 15 yards away from camp puking my guts out. Everyone else is now asleep.
I start talking to myself out loud in between bouts of intestinal upheaval. I mutter, “Keep pedaling,” and then vomit some more. It’s about 4 a.m.. I’m 78-miles in.
-Stephen "Phunky" Proffitt