Tag Archives: journaling


I don’t sleep well when I camp. Exhausted as I may be I am forever tossing and turning. It’s hard when one is accustomed to sleeping on a mattress that is deeper than just a couple inches. As a result of this the following day of a mere 35 miles to Charlotte turned into a slog, which it should not have been.

I spent five days in Charlotte. Most of those days it rained. One of those days was Christmas. Not a bad way to spend one’s Christmas, alone in a house taking care of some chickens.

I had thought that I would be spending a few nights at a friend’s house, but that was not to be. I arrived in Charlotte around 3:30 only to be notified that a) I could not stop by until 8 pm and, b) I was only kind of welcome for that night. After sending numerous emergency couch requests out I heard back from someone who, while they weren’t there, had a friend staying overnight a couple evenings to take care of the chickens in the backyard, and that he was okay with me crashing there. This was a God send if ever there was one. This friend of hers, Dean, who I now call a friend, and I got along really well. We got along so well in fact that he vouched for me to Charlotte (yes, her name is the name of the city she lives in) so that I could stay in the house for another couple of days, two of which would be Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Splendid. I just had to look after the chickens which was no problem, in fact, it was a delight. The experience of having watched over them has convinced me that I should like to own a few if I ever settle down in a place on a little land.

Most of my time in Charlotte was spent relaxing, writing, getting things in order for the next leg of the trip, having my bicycle looked at and determining that I might need to make some changes down the road (perhaps a premonition of what was to come), and the aforementioned chickens which I had to chase down and herd back to the yard twice on Christmas Day because the gate got left open the previous night. Herding chickens is surprisingly easy though. Just walk behind them in the direction you want them to go. The trickier part is getting them out of a neighbor’s fenced in yard because they’re often unwilling to fly (probably because they don’t fly well at all). A chicken’s flight is something like a leap with a lot of chaotic fluttering. It’s a bit comedic because watching them one gets the sense that they don’t really know what they’re doing, where they’re going, and if they’ll get there. This explains why you really only need a yard with a waist-high fence to keep them; they prefer to be on the ground foraging for food.



My departure from Star was greeted with warmer, less windy weather, and largely trafficless roads which, to begin with at least, wound through a quiet wood, down into a valley, and over a rushing, narrow river, before entering the next town: Troy. This tearing downhill into a valley of course meant that I had to climb back out of it, but I was feeling exceptionally sprite and energetic after the solid breakfast of that morning and the peaceful slumber of the previous night so I was really able to enjoy it, and my groin, surprisingly enough, felt almost normal.

It wasn’t long before I arrived and passed through Troy. Located on the edge of the Uwharrie National Forest, Troy is pretty much like any other 19th century-founded town today; it has an historic and quaint town center bustling with life which, as you move further from, turns into a suburban wasteland peppered with the typical fast-food joints; convenience stores; auto-body shops; decrepit, vacant buildings; shoulders littered with glass and rubbish, or no shoulders at all; sidewalks chipped and gashed, with knee-high weeds growing between the cracks, or no sidewalks at all. In general a sense of poverty impresses itself upon one, and it’s quite a great relief once one makes it through, and past the leaden-eyed stares from the zombies toddling around the parking lots, into and out of these hovels and their automobiles. It’s standard disappointment cycling through these outer rings of rubbish revolving around their more life-affirming nuclei.

I had a relaxing, scenic lunch on a bridge spanning the PeeDee River, not far beyond the western boundary of the Uwharrie Forest. Possibly the first proper, relaxing lunch I’d taken the entire trip. In the near distance was a dam, its reservoir on the other side flowing through at a regular, even rate. Gulls were gliding to and fro over and under the bridge, and a variety of waterfowl bobbed along stoically in the river below. Herons taking flight along the shoreline; wading in the shallows on their elegantly long legs, taking the most punctilious of strides. The sun dazzling on the shallow waters below, every ripple like a shattered piece of glitter reflecting brightly. Or the sun, nature’s own disco ball, and everything twinkling and sparkling to the rhythms of the music of existence. It was a paradise, even with the dam in the background, compared to the couple of towns I had cycled through to that point—though one doesn’t need a great shock of nature when surrounded by the ugliness of man—all we’ve created, all we’ve conquered, the towns we’ve built and let fall to ruin and then rebuilt and circled round with soulless structures born of an architect’s nightmares…

I camped along the boundary of a harvested farm field and a wood, just beyond the town of Oakboro. It was one of my more enjoyable campsites, partly due to the fact that I actually got there before dark and was able to pitch my tent without the need of a flashlight, but also because of the utterly peaceful setting in which I found myself the next morning—the sunrise spectacular, a conflagration beyond the gaunt, leafless trees, following a break along an imaginary horizon between shelves of clouds, before being smothered as it rose higher by those very same clouds; the calls of chickadees and titmice flittering above in some nearby trees; and the abundance of various mosses and lichens scattered along the tree line. I listened to Mozart’s Requiem while cooking and eating dinner, my little tent light dangling above me illuminating the cozy nucleus I encapsulated myself in.

Lying back in my sleeping bag, the light above me now dark, I listened to the dogs howling at the moon glowing faintly through the soft fuzz of clouds, and barking at God only knows what. A bloody cacophony, to be sure. Occasionally a pickup truck would go by on the road thirty or forty yards behind me, with their fat, deeply treaded tires smacking on the asphalt, exhausts roaring disdainfully. I fell asleep eventually, only to wake up a short couple of hours later to a pair of horned owls calling to each other, one of which was quite near to my tent. Entertaining for a few minutes, but after another twenty I soon grew tired of it. There’s little to do though, but lie there and…


Sanford, NC. I had every reason to believe that this was going to be a great day, a marvelous day! I would put in sixty or seventy miles and stop somewhere near Uwharrie National Forest. Perhaps the following day even spend some hours exploring it. Oh!, but Life and its many vicissitudes…

Not long after clambering from my tent and departing Sanford I began feeling some groin discomfort, like the muscle or other tissue in the area was bunching up on every upstroke. That’s the most lucid explanation of the sensation I had that I can articulate. Like a paper blinds was folding and creasing in the wrong spots. It only got worse as they day wore on. As well, headwinds strengthened and hills increased in frequency and grade. Not by much, but with my steadily increasing groin discomfort even the slightest increase in difficulty required much more effort to overcome.

The day was cool and sunny—quite pleasant in fact—but as the sun fell and darkness neared, cold began to seep in. My right foot was relatively chilly all day because it was in constant shadow as a result of riding south and west, thus maintaining the sun always either directly ahead of me or on my left. It was impossible to keep any of my toes comfortable once the sun dipped below the tree line. Also, my groin was very much nearing a condition of off-the-bike-walking-only. Doubt, the great negator of all things positive, progressive, optimistic and good was making his voice heard. The thought that I might have to end the trip early was tolling in my mind, like silence at a funeral, yet also the determination to at least, come what may, make it to Charlotte…

I stopped for a few minutes at a convenience store in the town of Robbins to fill my water bottles, have a snack, and warm my toes. Talked to a couple of heavyset men in their 40’s and 50’s and a younger guy putting on some weight himself—all dressed in camouflage overalls, all barely able to make themselves understood what with their strong accent, especially the oldest guy—about the area, my trip, and the distance to Star, which, given that I had wanted to cycle farther than that, was the nearest town I thought to allow myself to stop in.

I creeped into Star just as night was beginning to drape itself over the world, unable to determine any kind of sensible place to camp aside from perhaps the lawn of the Star Inn Bed & Breakfast: a large, estate-sized building, painted Robin’s egg blue, on the corner of Spies Road (the road I entered town on) and Main Street; the eaves strung brilliant with Christmas lights; and an historic, albeit filthy Rolls Royce parked in the gravel lot. Still, I thought to investigate the town a bit more thoroughly before knocking on the door of the establishment.

The town of Star, the center of North Carolina (there’s a plaque), is essentially one street bordered by numerous empty, shuttered buildings, the most prominent among them a long, brick piece nearly a city block in length (a good portion of the town); two restaurants and a gas station. I made my way to this lone gas station in order to thaw out my frozen toes and contemplate what I was to do next. I didn’t feel like pedaling much further, most particularly because of the chill outside and being rather sweat-soaked—a bad combination to be sure—but also because of the aforementioned painful groin. Really, what was I to do but go back to the B&B and ask to camp? The property was the largest and greenest by a long shot in the entirety of the town. I would actually go so far as to say it was the only green property in town, and the only inviting one as well.

I entered through what I assumed was the front door into the main foyer. Hanging from the second floor ceiling was a large, brass chandelier. To my right stood an enormous green and white, lacquered Chinese vase, four feet tall or so, and to my left, up a few stairs on a landing in the corner was a black and gold replica of an Egyptian king’s burial casket. From the landing a set of stairs ran up the wall to the second floor. Beneath these stairs was a console piano acting as a shelf for a variety of knick-knacks and photographs. Beside the previously mentioned vase was a large gilt-framed painting, and against the far wall a cabinet, like the piano, acting as a shelf for a number of framed photographs and other paraphernalia related to the history of the building.

I still hadn’t discovered the proprietor or manager of the place, despite my announcements of “hello?”, so proceeded to enter still further into the bizarre, other-land of an inn. Down the hall hung with still more ornately framed paintings, I entered into the dining room which was, if possible, even more ornately decorated than the foyer. Two huge glass chandeliers hung over a long, hardwood dining table capable of seating sixteen or so guests. More paintings; more cabinets; large floor-to-ceiling mirror against one wall; heavy drapes over the windows, tied back with tassled gold rope; a large silver mirror that could have been mistaken for a platter in the not-so-vague shape of a sea turtle hanging on the opposite wall; and two Romanesque columns topped with potted plants—vines hanging down like green ropes, vibrant, life-giving, and natural—something real and living amongst the antiquated embellishment of the room’s decor. It all felt a bit like I had stumbled into someone’s personal art and antiquities collection, but displayed in such a way that didn’t feel as though I was invading his privacy, but that I was welcome here to wander and observe. It was in a way a museum. I imagine if I had wandered into Gertrude and Leo Stein’s Paris apartment during the first two decades of the twentieth century this same sense of curiosity and amazement would have come over me.

It wasn’t until I wandered into, then back out of the kitchen, that the manager, Richard at last materialized from some back room. His was a face I will be unlikely to forget: that of a bulldog, heavy-jowled; sparkling grey eyes, slightly uneven, peering out from beneath a deep brow, upon which were perched white eyebrows, like little hummocks of snow; his hair, also white, and razor sharp was closely cropped to his scalp and meticulously combed, every hair in its right place. He was short in stature, but he had a large heart, a colossal heart, a heart that was bursting, bursting to give, bursting with kindness, generosity, sympathy, love… A heart that could never be confined to the constraints of a physical body, but which existed in every wall; in every window that let in the sun’s noble light; in every bit of decor, great or small; and in the lightbulbs inside that illuminated the ancient floors and every nail that held them down; the carpets; the drapes; the cables and wires visible; and so too every person that walked into and out of the inn. But that magnanimous heart of his was yet confined within himself, and thus he would take it with him wherever he went. He was a beacon on the move, a lighthouse which floated with the currents and tides. He waded through the darkness shining his lantern, illuminating a way for others to follow if they would only open their eyes and their hearts. His first words to me were “Well, could I offer to you a room to stay inside here?”. CAN I. As though he were asking me a favor. Would I please do him the pleasure of staying at the Star B & B? FOR FREE! I knew immediately that I was dealing with no mere mortal here, no standard human being, but an angel or deva. Any chill that I may still have been experiencing from having been outside immediately melted away.

Humbled by this man’s generous spirit I agreed and, after talking a short tour of one wing of the inn I brought in my bags and got myself somewhat situated in a room of my choosing (walls painted burgundy; white baseboards, crown molding and trim; mahogany four poster bed; burgundy comforter with gold embroidery; television set in one corner; old, high-backed chair in another; large, skull-size gemstone on a shelf in another corner near to the bed’s headboard). Shortly thereafter he would drop me off at the one restaurant that was then open—a lugubrious looking, greasy dive where, “everything is good,” according to the uninterested waiter. There was one older gentleman at a table when I walked in and he quickly departed after my arrival. Maybe I smelled; I hadn’t had a shower or changed out of my cycling wear yet. No one there seemed to know what to make of me, best as I could tell. Frankly, they all looked like they wanted to kill themselves, though the woman (owner maybe?) standing at the register brightened up considerably when Richard arrived to pick me up (and pay for my meal!).

Upon returning to the estate Richard bid me bonne nuit and vanished into he and his wife’s living quarters. I crept up the stairs into the shower, and afterwards lay on my bed feeling sorry for myself, but grateful for my savior.

The following morning I was to have breakfast in the dining room with the few other guests who were there. It was a pleasant enough group of people, all, I believe, from the town or, if not, from the surrounding region. One well-traveled gentleman was currently living in Colorado. Richard, being the marvelous host that he is introduced me to the table since I was last to arrive, explained briefly why it was that I was there, and then sidled off into the kitchen to allow us to enjoy our breakfast and conversation.

Eventually breakfast came to an end and all the guests but myself departed. Richard gave me a proper tour of the building, including all the various rooms that I didn’t see the previous night, along with a bit of its history; shared an explanation of the long brick building which lie across the street from the inn; and shared various stories and vignettes of experiences he’d had and people he’d met while running the B & B.

That old brick building, where Richard in fact worked for 37 years before taking management of the B & B, was once a hosiery mill until the children of the previous owner, who had died, decided they didn’t feel like running it anymore, so simply shut it down. Who knows how many people were left jobless. Now the building lies there a bit like a mausoleum. I imagine all the old machines are still in there, cold and lifeless, coated in dust, without the guiding touch of a human hand, like so many other old factories and mills around the country.


As usual, I rolled into town, Sanford,NC, around sundown, after one of my lesser pleasant days on the saddle, though Jordan Lake and a certain train track presented some very nice photo opportunities. This getting into, or out of, town around sunset is typical for me of course. And then the searching on google maps for a green patch in the vicinity. In this case I didn’t see anything, but did find an interesting little store selling various, local, handcrafted goods, with a small cafe inside where I filled my water bottles and asked about a safe place to camp in town. I received very little useful information in answer to my question, and I don’t think the boy, and his mother?, understood what I was looking for, as he kept referring to a spot north of town (from where I had just come) that had camping facilities, whereas I just wanted an out of the way piece of earth where I wouldn’t be bothered. In the end I left, creeping another few miles south in the dark and the chill towards an area community college and high school where I found a pleasantly secluded spot to camp near some trees, and a sign warning that I was on private property and that all trespassers would be prosecuted.

After setting up camp and having dinner I wrote this in my journal: Lying in a cold tent, on a cold field, on a cold night, at a community college just outside of Sanford, NC I still don’t know what I’m doing—in life in general, on this trip specifically… There is a light shining in my face and I try to block it with this journal. I don’t really like writing on my back—my arms ache, my neck aches. Sometimes the tent smells of the weed Chad gave me as a parting gift. In the tent it just smells like weed—that general cannabis-y scent—but if you dip your nose into the bag there is a very pleasing aroma of pineapple and hops. It smells bright, and alive. Invigorating. I think that means it’s good, but I’m no expert on the subject.

A train in the distance: haunting; beautiful and melancholic. A text up close, tender and warm. This journal—the book itself—smells of roses. Everywhere a rose, if one stops to look and to think (or not think). The squeak of a small animal, outside in the brush somewhere. A bird or a mouse; probably not a bear or a lion. But, perhaps if one shrinks himself down enough that bird would be an eagle, the mouse a lion… The interior of this tent is a silvery white. It is like being shrouded in a cocoon. I am nothing right now, or very nearly nothing. I am pupa. I wonder, if anyone were to be around tomorrow morning when I burst forth from this tent if I would be taken for a butterfly. I wonder how being in this tent has, or will change me.

If there is someone out there who is a spotlight, I would like to be a floodlight.


North Carolina, at least to start, yielded much of the same landscape and topography that Virginia had. However, I’m not there yet.

The previous day, on my way to Alberta, I was to stop at some point to purchase a lighter as I was out of matches, however, in typical fashion I forgot. This resulted in a cold dinner of granola, peanut butter, pecans, and pecan butter. Breakfast the next morning was actually worse since I ate all the granola; I stopped off at a gas station seeing as that was the only amenity or service anywhere in town. Clif bar (and another for the road), honey bun, and coffee in a delightful styrofoam cup.

Sitting outside with my back against a wall an old man mentioned that he had seen me earlier that morning breaking camp. That was about as far as that conversation went. What the point of the statement was I couldn’t say, but a lot of people out there seem to talk about nothing, or make offhand comments that lead down a blind alley. Talking for talk’s sake. Or sanity’s sake. Makes me wonder if everyone in these backwater places are bored out of their skulls for nothing to do. The soothing sound of one’s own voice must be like a panacea to them. Sweet, sweet ambrosia! One’s cup may overfloweth if only one never stops talking.

Departing the confines of the gas station asylum, I was to experience long stretches of reasonably semi-flat-ish road early on, if I remember correctly (and if that description of road is any indication, I don’t). Later on quite a few hills. Took a detour around the Dick Cross Wildlife Management Area that added some miles (and steep hills), but was quite pretty; an old man waved to me out of the window of his truck (the best gesture); and I got a lovely Instagram photo for my trouble, on the bridge crossing Robbins Creek. At that point the day was maybe half over and I was starting to feel fatigued. No matter! Rain!

As I crested the top of quite a long climb to the dam which I was to cross at John H. Kerr Reservoir it began. As well the wind picked up quite a bit as it was open water on one side and empty space on the other. I stopped for no photos. The following three hours were the most miserable of the trip to that point, though I was near the North Carolina border. However, that thought did little to stir what bit of cheer remained in the depths of my heart—wet misery.

Perhaps thirty minutes after crossing the Carolina border, rather damp, everything in my trailer soaked, peering out on a foreign world, a dead-gloom world, I came upon a small shop with the sign, “If we ain’t got it, you don’t need it” hung over the door. I thought I might ask the proprietor, or whoever might be behind the desk, if I could fill up my bidons at a sink, and, walking inside I did notice that they stocked quite a wide range of supplies, from electrical, to plumbing, to food, to ammunition… what have you. With an appraising eye he directed me towards a sink around a corner. A rather dirty, minuscule sink it turns out; I could’t fit the bidons under the spigot, but as luck would have it there was a coffee pot nestled amongst a pile of rubbish on a small table beside the sink. Coming back around the corner and approaching the front desk the man behind the counter, with a wry smile, asked me how I got water in my bottles, to which I explained about the coffee pot. He laughed, and smiling said “I wondered how yud fill ’em when I told you where it was.” Well, alright…

Two more shit hours to Henderson. I made it into town with the idea to camp on some soaking piece of earth, wherever I could find it, but as I came upon a cheap inn, the Budget Host Inn to be exact, I thought I might check it out. A bit of a luxury for sure, but why not? Why not a bit of luxury every so often? $50 worth of luxury. Perhaps not in the remotest sense luxury to most or many, but in my shoes any place with a shower and bed, no matter the state, would be a step up from a tent and sodden earth. Besides, if it were so bad I did have my tent I could pitch in the room, and a sleeping bag to sleep in. Thankfully this wasn’t necessary; there was even wifi, and included breakfast in the morning.

I attempted haggling with the receptionist behind the counter, but he wouldn’t budge. He was though, quite kind, and showed curiosity in my adventure, asking where I was from, where I was heading to, etc. I think he gave me a nicer room than the cost would indicate as an act of generosity. Fine by me. I had to lug everything up a flight of stairs to get to this fancy room anyhow. And dinner cooked with my camp stove in the bathroom.

The following day was spectacular. Not a bit of wind; the sky a crisp, electric blue, like a great, big, perfect paint chip floating overhead; warm, dry weather; and roads paved in the glossiest of blacks. Thus, despite my late, late start I was able to put in a decent amount of miles, and made it to Durham just before dark. I had to wait for Chad, the raddest dude and best WarmShowers host in all the land, to pick me up to head to Raleigh for a bike polo match, so I popped over to the Pinhook, a divey music venue and bar in the same vein as the Ottobar in Baltimore (or any other divey music venue/bar, because they’re basically all the same, which is to say, FANTASTIC). I was immediately in love; totally my kind of place. PBR on tap, Natty Boh’ in cans (surprised? yes), in addition to a bunch of craft brews, great music playing. And besides the bar there was also an area of couches, chairs and low tables for relaxing. Big owl on one wall. Nearly very overcharged for my PBR but didn’t really care. Bartender was cool. Didn’t really care much to talk to me, but whatevs. Shit, everyone doesn’t want to hear your story, and that’s just life. I’ve found a great appreciation for conversation after spending so much time alone on the bicycle though.

Chad, my fabulous host and wonderful friend, lives in Chapel Hill, very near to Carrboro, thus, after the bike polo shenanigans we drove there. I’ve now skipped about ten miles of cycling. Boohoo.

My stay was great. Chapel Hill seems nice, though aside from my time spent in the house I was mostly in Carrboro. There there is an excellent market/co-op (I love co-ops), a great bike shop, and a nice cafe that I spent a fair bit of time at. Chad and I (mostly Chad) cooked a delicious dinner for ourselves and his roommates, who are also very nice people and, in general, had a lovely time together. But eventually I had to leave, and he had to leave too. For Christmas fun times. Goodbye for now.


Suuuuuuuper stoked on my friends Stephanie and Chad in Richmond. Stephanie for being an amazing host (along with her patient roommate), Chad for being a great cook of delicious, vegan food, and both for being the raddest of people. Many, many thanks for everything!

I left Richmond after three gloriously fun and relaxing days for what I thought would be Alberta, VA, my planned destination, however, after stopping off at a nice, little cafe in Petersburg called Demolition Coffee, I struck up a conversation with a couple of strangers on the patio, Zarasun and Jonathan Pond. We chatted about my trip, my life, their life, etc. for the better part of three hours, by which time it was nearing that stretch when the sky begins to molt color for color along the horizon, as the sun slowly dips down for the long, cold interlude between days. Realizing that it wasn’t practical for me to be cycling off from the city at this point in time and, I would say, enjoying my company (as I was enjoying theirs), they invited me to stay with them for the evening. Naturally I joyously accepted.

After touring around town in the last few, fading minutes of daylight, seeing what there is to see, which is quite a bit if one bothers to examine, I made my way the short distance to their quaint and quiet home downtown. It was at one point a duplex, but was later converted into a single home with an addition on the back. It made for a house with a whole ton of character and charm, much of which was also contributed to by their own warm, comforting touch. They cooked me dinner, cooked me breakfast the next morning, took a few pictures before I cycled away, and in the in between we talked. A lot. It was one of the more fabulous exchanges I’ve had so far on this trip, and being invited into a “stranger’s” home is always a happy circumstance not to be declined. Many thanks and blessings to them.

Two things stand out to me from my ride from Petersburg to Alberta. One took place as I was cycling along Route 1 and stopped to take a picture of a U.S. Post Office, about the size of a small, one room cabin, that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere at a ‘T’ intersection. A car was parked in front of it and a there was a girl—a beautiful black girl dressed all in white like some sort of angel, and an angel she was—in the post office mailing a few things. As she came out and hopped into her car she asked me quite curiously, but with apparent awe, if I was one of those cyclists that rides across the country, to which I answered with a laugh, “yes, I suppose you could say so.” She then told me how cool she thought that was, before driving away. Not a minute later she comes back as I’m finishing up shooting this bafflingly mysterious (to me) construction, and, with the statement, “I’m sure you probably know what you’re doing,” she hands me a few packs of crackers she scavenged from a restaurant she had been to earlier, explaining that she’d like to help out in some small way anyway. A touching gesture, particularly when one considers the fact that I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

The other memorable moment occurred a little bit earlier in the day when, as I cycled past a rather shabby, single-floor shack, two dogs, one a puppy, came tearing through the yard and down the road after me followed shortly thereafter by a teenage boy chasing after them in dirty, white socks, shouting all the while. I continued on for a bit, but as it seemed the dogs would have followed me all the way to the next town and then some I turned around and rode back towards the boy and his house. He had a very strong southern accent and, as I mentioned earlier, had only a pair of white socks on his feet, both of which of course were filthy on their soles. His too large polo shirt, and pants weren’t in much better shape. His was a rather charming smile though, and he had a very cordial, friendly disposition. According to him the dogs chase after anyone on a bicycle, and sometimes even cars. I didn’t bother to ask why they weren’t tied up so that they couldn’t give chase. I simply thanked him and continued on my way.

This was probably one of the sadder stretches of road that I was on, and creeping into Alberta after dark on a Sunday night I had no idea what to expect. There were some friendly looking homes on the outskirts, some of which were festively decorated for the season, but as I approached the town center, which appeared to be simply a crossroads, with dogs everywhere howling in the dark, the atmosphere took on a bit more of a sinister air, not at all helped by the fact that there were few working streetlights, and no businesses to speak of, closed or otherwise. It was a Sunday evening, yes, and in a sleepy, little town such as it was I didn’t expect much, but I didn’t plan on it being so devoid of life. There was a municipal office though, and while closed, I did notice that there were a couple of people inside, and so knocking on the door I asked the gentleman when he opened it if he might recommend a good spot to pitch a tent. He looked at me a bit strangely, so I explained that I was a bicycle tourer and that I just needed a place to sleep for the night—I’d be gone in the morning. He pointed out a patch of grass along a tree line behind a happy, little gazebo strung with colorful Christmas lights (clearly there is a soul somewhere in the depths of this backwater community, though it be obscured by the corpses of abandoned buildings and the curtain of night) in a small, concrete gathering area where one might hold a community event, and said I could camp out along there, and that was all I heard from him or anyone else the rest of the night and the next day when I broke camp and headed off for Henderson, NC.


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.


The day began early, in the pre-dawn hours. In the pre-pre-dawn hours, even. All night under the willow tree restless sleep, tossing, turning, gazing through the knotty web of branches arcing above and around me, cocooned, roofed in wood and vegetation and cloudy sky.

The morning came in a thick fog and pale colors of lilac, lavender and rose; ducks and geese silently gliding into and out of the mist like wishes or ghosts. And then the sun came, slowly, a brilliant orange-gold disc burning a hole through the mist beneath an arch in the Roosevelt Bridge, and reflecting, dazzling like sparks, off the windowed buildings on the banks of the Potomac opposite. Soon after, the tip of Washington’s monument pierced the fog, pointing skyward toward something, or nothing, greater than itself.

It was during this period of world-awakening, beneath a hail of bird song that I made breakfast and coffee after my first night camping, and packed my gear in the muzzling cold and eruption of horizon fire, the sun stabbing forth like a lance on the water’s surface, eventually mounting my bicycle and moving off through a mysterious world of half-veiled objects, and people materializing and vanishing in and out of existence.

The going was peaceful and easy, cycling south on the Mt. Vernon trail, along the Potomac, until I cleared Alexandria and the hills began to pick up in frequency and intensity. This stayed fairly constant for the next couple of days into Fredericksburg—an uneventful two days save for the meeting of a fellow cycle-tourist just outside of Fredericksburg, and the difficulties of learning how to pitch my tent in the dark which falls like a cold, heavy curtain so quickly now. The actor in the play finally removed from his audience, his costume, left to himself—a respite. However, I’m jumping ahead.

It was during my first evening of camping that I met him, early, about three-thirty or four o’clock he came sauntering down from the trail, beneath the willows through the tall grass: Werner, the Swiss. A more peculiar man I’ve never met to the best of my recollection. Dressed in multiple layers of various loosely fitting articles of clothing, he says that he lives in NW D.C.. That could mean under a bridge for all I can fathom, though he did give me an address.

His choice of topics for discussion ranged from the artist Paul Klee, to the swan he observed on this stretch of the Potomac all summer long, to commercial and residential development here and in Switzerland, to his travels around America on a Greyhound bus ($99 for ninety-nine days, though he only rode for eighty-three) many years ago. He spoke of the Matterhorn as a glistening giant covered in ice and snow, and in the evening with the moon above it, glowing like a great flashlight in the night sky, illuminating even more vibrantly this most illustrious of European peaks. His excitement over my journey sparkled frenziedly as he told me I would have the most wonderful of times. Eventually he made his way across the Key Bridge, back to his abode, whatever that be, in the fading light, the darkening night. A solitary swan without a partner. In need of no partner. Utterly sublime.