Sometimes the hardest part of any challenge is getting started and so it has proved with the TransAmerica. The official start of the cross country route is Yorktown, Virginia, but to my geographer’s mind that’s on the York River, Chesapeake Bay, not the Atlantic Ocean. So Terry and I agreed that instead our ride would begin at Virginia Beach, which effectively adds about 50 miles to the route. But hell, if you are cycling more than 4000 miles what’s that between friends?
I’ve often wondered why the TransAmerica doesn’t start at the coast and today we found out. Some journeys are best done by bike, but travelling across Norfolk, Virginia, is best done by V8 powered Dodge Ram. But there are compensations – who’d have thought we’d end up standing in the queue in Wendy’s (the burger chain) having our adventure blessed by an 80 year old grandmother, or the people we met on the beach would donate money to the cause?
The tricky transition from Washington D.C. had begun the day before. With everything packed into an enormous Alamo people carrier, we drove south to Norfolk airport, unpacked and then cycled to our campsite about ten miles away and just up the coast from Virginia Beach. The First Landing State Park on Shore Drive was a fitting place to begin the day. Part of the reason for cycling East to West, rather the more traditional West to East, was to follow the route of migration of settlers across the US. First Landing is the first landing place of the Jamestown colonists in 1607. On the flip side First Landing is also a grave site to more than 60 Chesapeake Indians whose tribe was eventually annihilated by the arrival of the Europeans.
Inevitably we arrived late and ended up erecting new tents for the first time in the dark (Terry’s top tip: don’t do this). A stunning spot, nestled under the trees and wild honeysuckle with the beach just a stones throw across the dunes. Centuries ago native people would have used canoes to navigate across the bay, today it’s populated by huge ships at anchor, with supplies for the nearby cities of Richmond and Baltimore.
We awoke early the next morning to peculiar bird sounds and then, most oddly, a short blast of brass band music. I thought I was imagining it, but Terry heard it to. It came right at the time I was thinking of Peter Hammerton, a remarkable man, who brought so much happiness to so many during his time at Rayleigh Brass. It’s Peter’s funeral today and perhaps its fitting that the TransAmerica starts on the day a man who was always up for a challenge, is laid to rest.
We headed out across the First Landing State Park to Virginia Beach spotting Osprey nests on the way and as porpoises swam offshore, dipped our wheels into the Atlantic and set off. 200 yards later we stopped for breakfast and fortunately sat next to Marc and Anna from Oregon. Marc, a keen cyclist gave us priceless information about the route to Yorktown. Basically none of the bridges across the James River will allow cyclists. Our only option was to cycle back in the direction of Norfolk Airport and then head to Wards Corner to pick up a bus that would take us across the Hampton Roads Beltway, a bridge and tunnel system close to the Norfolk Naval Base.
So after a 20 mile slog through what seemed to be an endless retail park we found ourselves loading the Surly and Kona onto the front of a bus and headed across the water. A few miles later we were in Hampton Downtown, just 20 odd miles from Yorktown.It should have been simple, but whatever route we took we always ended up at Langley Air Force base. I think if we’d approached the guards to ask for directions one more time we’d have found ourselves in the clink.
Eventually we sought salvation in Wendy’s. For some reason Terry thinks this is a doughnut chain and has been so excited about trying it out. He wasn’t so excited to be eating a baked potato (the only veggie option) while I tucked into a quarter pounder. But we did find Jesus (and some directions) from a family out to dinner whose grandmother laid her hands on us both while we waited for our food and prayed for a safe journey.
It must have worked because we stopped getting lost and eventually made it to Yorktown, by which time it was dark and we still had nowhere to stay. Well I don’t know what the lady in Wendy’s did, but standing in the car park were three local cyclists who had been on a club run. John Parker, a retired engineer from nearby Seaford, who once worked at NASA Langley, not only cycled with us to a local hotel (that allowed the bikes in the room) he also the drove us five miles to a local pizza restaurant where we all enjoyed a meal together before he drove us back to the hotel. What incredible hospitality – something that seems common around theses parts. Thanks John!
Today’s Mileage from First Landing to Yorktown: 62.2
Here is the Garmin data from today’s ride – it’s in three parts which reflects the rather tricky and ill-planned nature of this route!: First Landing to Virginia Beach and then onto Yorktown.
Part One: First Landing to Virginia Beach (spot the navigating error!):
Part Two: Virginia Beach to Norfolk:
Part Three: Norfolk to Hampton