May 30, 2006
I got up today and planned for the worst. That means I filled up my water, unscrewed the cleats from my shoes, and expected to start walking the 25-30 odd miles to Richmond. I’m a hiker, the days are long… I could do it. If I walked with my thumb out, there’s a good chance that somebody would give me a ride. I’d end up “skipping a section” of my ride coast to coast, but oh well, I’d have to live with that.
After I’m all set to go, I ring the doorbell to the main house. The woman comes to the door, and says “Come on in!” very bright and cheery. Her litter of about five small dogs jump up around my feet. Before I even say a word, she has the phone book out, calling local hardware stores to see if they have bicycle tubes. I knew they wouldn’t have any that fit my wheels, but she calls two different places before I tell her that I’ll probably have to make my way to a bicycle shop, probably in Richmond.
“Richmond?!” she says, “That’s a long way!” She calls somebody else, apparently a friend, and he suggests a bike shop back in Williamsburg. She hangs up the phone.
“I’ll take you to Williamsburg if you want. I have an appointment there at eleven anyway. Do you want some breakfast?”
Wow. She treats me to coffee, orange juice, bacon, eggs, and toast. She takes care of me as if I were her own son, and we talk over breakfast.
Her name is Mary Lou Gilliam – she’s 62 and was born in Williamsburg. She and her husband were lucky to get a small piece of land out here in the country. It was a wooded lot. First they built the garage and lived in the second story “apartment” where I stayed, while the house itself was built. There’s a creek in the back yard, loaded with fish. As she tells me all this, I see roosters and hens wandering around the yard… while I eat fresh eggs. Her husband recently passed away, all her kids are grown. I tell her about myself and we share life stories.
I load my bike into the back of her van (She even lends a hand). On the previous night I asked her how much it would be to stay, and she said to leave it on the table in the apartment. As we’re pulling away, she says, “You didn’t leave any money up there, did you?” She’s about to make me go get it. I convince her to keep it.
As we ride to Williamsburg she gives me the low down on all the local history – she’s lived in the area all her life. She leaves me at the bike shop, telling me the best way to ride back through town. I promise to send an email or postcard.
The bike shop opens at ten o’clock, so I have to wait a few minutes for the owner to open the door. He doesn’t have the proper size tubes I need (I’m prepared to buy 100 of them), but he has some slightly smaller ones that should do okay. Since I’m in a predicament, I buy two. So I set up my little work area in a corner, and go ahead and replace the tube.
I meet Robert, apparently a friend of the owner’s who’s just there hanging out. I enjoy hanging out at the shop too – it reminds me of my days at home over ten years ago, killing time at T-Town Cycles with Eric and Andy.
On the way out of town I stop at a Food Lion. My shopping list consists of: 1 can tuna (In oil), 1 pound spaghetti noodles, 6 snickers, 1 jar peanut butter, 6 bagels, and 1 box of Tastykake Kandy Kakes.
At home I always get the tuna in water, but now I think I should get the oil for more calories at the same price – plus no draining so I can dump it right into my noodles for the perfect cheap meal. The Tastykakes are a special treat because I’m having such a great morning. I inhale the whole box in front of the store, along with two cans of coke. I think about how my top priorities so far have been “M&M” – not candy, not Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris – but Miles and Money… and how those aren’t the real reasons I’m doing this trip. It’s all about meeting people like Mary Lou, and the guys in the bike shop, for instance.
So this afternoon I re-did the 30 or so miles that I rode already yesterday, but I didn’t mind. As opposed to the earlier prospect of skipping a section, having to re-do 30 miles isn’t a big deal at all.
Among the plantations I passed along the way was the homestead of a former president – John Tyler.
My bike thermometer read 98 degrees, but the afternoon was somehow pleasant anyway. The new tube created some thumping on each revolution of the wheel, and I attributed it to its smaller size.
Then it started bouncing, and I realized it was going flat.
So I took the wheel off, pried the tire off, pulled the tube out, ho-hum, gee whiz, not like I’ve never done this before. The leak this time was on the opposing side of the valve, so I patched it up, Put it back together, ho-hum, gee whiz.
The tube still wouldn’t hold air.
By this point, you can imagine, I was getting tired of this. The patch held air somewhat decently, so I opted to ride on it with only 10 miles to go to my destination for the night. This meant stopping about once a mile to top it off with air, and riding out of the saddle to keep my weight off the rear wheel.
I labored up a hill, and at the top I came to Malvern Hill Battlefield, a Civil War sight. It put my discomforts into perspective.
Tonight I’m staying inside “The Red Hut,” a Sunday school behind a church. When I called the given phone number to ask for permission to camp, they came and gave me the keys to the church! Nobody like me would be able to manage these sorts of trips without acts of kindness from strangers.
There’s a roadside marker signifying the end of the Union battle line, 100 yards down the road. There’s also a graveyard right outside the door of where I’ll be spending the night. I’m staying alone here, and I hope no ghosts bother me tonight. Well, the friendly ones can go ahead and bother me, I suppose. Maybe they’ll replace my tube overnight for me, so I don’t have to do it first thing in the morning. Life is good.
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