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Minnieville, VA contains nothing, save for a strip mall, housing developments, a burrito restaurant, and a large plot of open land between one property and a residential development, with a tree line on one side that allowed for excellent camping.

It was my first time setting up the tent. It was dark. I had my iPhone flashlight to illuminate the area in which I was to work. Only slightly helpful since two hands are necessary for pitching a tent and one is needed for holding the flashlight… I managed, and it wasn’t until I had it up that I bothered to find the directions. Mostly I was surprised that no one from the nearby housing development called the police on me, or came to investigate what I was doing. Maybe no one was home, or perhaps the light flashing all around me wasn’t as apparent as I thought. I was only too grateful to have what was essentially a home, and a cozy comfortable one at that, for the night.

The next morning, dewey and cool, I took my time making coffee and breakfast, and breaking down camp. No one bothered me once again, and once the sun was able to spread itself over the shorn meadow, draping the world in a pale golden light like a fine, loosely woven piece of linen casting its shadow—but a shadow which lightens rather than darkens—and its gentle warmth began to seep into the earth, and seep into my clothing and, thus, seep into me, all the world seemed to be a most delightful place, and I felt confident cycling away from camp that morning.

It was about seven or eight miles outside of Fredericksburg that I ran into her, nearly literally, as I was careening down a hill and around a corner—another cycle tourer, and a Belgian at that! Who would have thought? She had just finished eating a sandwich and was stuffing the last bits of a bar of chocolate into her mouth when I stopped just past her, the surprise, looking back, apparent on her face. We talked for a bit, and a bit more, and then, more or less, road together into Fredericksburg, where she had a WarmShowers host and I had not a clue—typical of me at this point of the journey.

I spent a fair bit of time at a cafe resting, messaging the one other WarmShowers host in town, and pondering what to do next. I then spent another thirty minutes, well after dark, cycling around southern Fredericksburg looking for a suitable place to camp, to be eventually found, tucked away, again, along a wooded edge of a field, though this time by an elementary school.

I awoke to a heavy fog obscuring everything but for the vague border created where the tops of the trees across the field meet the sky, like a piece of paper roughly torn, smoothly ragged at the break. There was too a picnic table, maybe twenty yards distant that I was able to make out faintly. The only things to break the fog were the sun, and that took some doing, and the wail of the train horn, which punched through like a piece of rebar through a skull, as it passed through the city.

I made excellent time cycling into Richmond from Fredericksburg, even considering the thirty minutes or so I spent at an old farm, which in times past was the site of a bloody Civil War battle, The Battle of Fredericksburg, at Slaughter Pen Farm (fitting name, no?). From Fredericksburg to Richmond is nothing but nothing the whole way. I seemed to be cycling through a wasteland, desolation on all sides of me. Tree stumps, tree limbs, dusty, dirty everywhere, yet no machines or man visible. Who might have committed such acts, and why? The utter pointlessness of it all like a poison pit in my heart. Further on, after leaving Petersburg on my way to Alberta I would see more of the same with signs: 9, 10, 11 or more acres for sale. FOR WHAT? A sea of dead trees and dead earth for miles all around me. Absolutely nothing of value left. This, I thought to myself, is the nadir of humanity, and yet for some I’m sure it is near an acme, an inverted acme to be sure, but an acme nonetheless, like a film negative turned upside-down and inside-out. Flesh and blood, but no heart to pump it—a quagmire; a cesspit…

Richmond, though, is beautiful.

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