Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Friendly Virginians

Friends: Lucky for me the road in front of the Ashland library had a sign indicating it was a bike route south to Richmond. It made a welcome antidote to the busy four-lane Historic Route One, the Jefferson Davis Highway, that I'd been biking the last thirty miles from Fredricksburg. It provided a leisurely ride the final sixteen miles to Virginia's capital city and home of Virginia Commonwealth University, whose basketball team had been the sensation of the NCAA basketball tournament.

VCU had surprised all experts making it all the way to the Final Four after being an extra, almost token, "First Four" selection to the expanded field of 68 teams, and had been much criticized for being selected. If VCU had only beaten Butler on Saturday, Richmond would be going bonkers in anticipation of the championship game later that evening as I passed through. I was still glad though to add Richmond to my route to see what residue VCU fervor remained.

The bike route followed some railroad tracks for a mile and then ventured off on a series of county roads, well marked all the way. After several miles I caught up to a hefty fifty-year old guy biking along on a department store mountain bike that was a size or two small for him. He was making the ride from Ashland to Richmond himself. He had taken his truck to a mechanic in Ashland and was returning home. He had a Garmin GPS device in his pocket to make sure he didn't get lost. He wanted to know if I was "one of those long distance cyclists." I admitted I was and that I was biking from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, visiting a few friends along the way.

"You're a lucky guy," he said, "to be able to do something you want to and not because you have to. I just got divorced after twenty-eight years of marriage. All I've been doing for years is things that I had to do. I'd like to travel some, maybe even by bike like you."

"If you bought yourself a better bike you'd be amazed how much easier and more pleasurable riding a bike can be. There's no reason you couldn't bike anywhere you'd like to go. My bike has taken me all over the world, up the Alaskan Highway, to the tip of South America, across Australia and China and India and just about anywhere you could imagine."

"For real. That's amazing. I've heard of people like you, but I've never met one. Who would have thought one would come along on this road. This is the longest bike ride I've attempted and I'm enjoying it."

We rode along side by side for several miles without perturbing a single motorist. I briefed him on the ease of camping and pointed out a few forested spots along the way that would have been ideal for disappearing into for the night. I assured him that bikes are quite formidable vehicles that can persevere for thousands of miles without need of repair other than flats and broken cables that can be easily handled along the road. I told him that if he could manage these sixteen miles on his clunker he could manage any distance on a quality bike.

"You have the one essential quality, the willingness to give it a try," I said. "Most people wouldn't dream of attempting a sixteen-mile ride having never ridden more than around the block."

He told me that if I liked Picasso, I ought to check out a Picasso exhibition presently passing through Richmond. It was a big event for the city. It was from the Picasso Museum in Paris that was undergoing renovation. In the mean time its collection was on tour. Richmond was one of four cities on the east coast that was granted the privilege of showing it, he proudly said. "There were only two paintings that I'd hang in my house," he said, "But I'm still glad I saw it even though it set me back thirty bucks." He said it was down Broad Street near the State Capital. "The Capital is a mini-version of the White House. Hollywood frequently uses it because there's a lot less red tape filming here than in Washington."

When we got to the outskirts of Richmond he directed me towards Broad Street and hoped that we would meet up again somewhere in the world on our bikes. Broad Street took me right past VCU University. There were banners hanging on light poles of every player on the VCU team. There were also banners proclaiming, "Who Says We Don't Belong?" and also "We (heart) Our Rams." Across from the basketball stadium a guy sat besides a cart selling Italian ices. He confirmed I was on the right way to the Capital. "How's business?" I asked.

"This is just my second day selling," he said. "I bought the cart on Craig's List. I used to own a restaurant but I got tired of dealing with employees and have been a stay-at-home dad the last few years. I thought I'd give this a try. Its been enjoyable so far. People have been coming by to see where the ruckus was after Friday night's loss. A bunch of students set a fire right in the middle of the street here. The cops had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd."

I asked if he'd attended any of their games. "I saw a couple, but its going to be hard to get tickets now after this year." I felt like I could have chatted with him all afternoon, just like the fellow I had cycled with. He too mentioned the Picasso exhibit, but warned me that it might be too late in the day to get in as it was quite popular. I told him that was okay as I was most interested in seeing the Capital.

The Capital was a magnificent building, stunningly similar to its replica in DC. I had a pleasant ride around its grassy grounds, getting a much closer look at it than Obama's house in Washington. I took a rest on a nearby bench. While I sat reading, an older lady surprised me with a "God bless you." She plopped down a paper bag beside me and hurried off barely giving me a chance to say thank you. In the bag were two cheese and baloney sandwiches, a small tin of peaches, two small tins of wieners, a toothbrush, a razor, a pen, a bottle of lotion and a plastic container of pastries with an expiration date of two days ago. It was my dinner banquet later that night in my tent at another fine forest campsite. I enjoyed it all, even the two-day old pastries, something ordinarily bound for the dumpster. It capped off another great day on the bike.

Later, George

1 comment:

scgrits said...

As we say where I'm from..."American by birth, Southern by the grace of God."