I made my way north out of Oxford on highway 15 and just before the border with Virginia took a small road to the right to look for a spot to camp. I explored some lovely oak woodland but I could never get completely out of sight of the road so I went in search of permission. I turned down a driveway and asked a guy I met there. I don’t think he spoke English and just said “Boss man, house”. At the house I was approached by a young smart man reeking of beer and carrying a can of Bud Light “Do you know who owns this land?” I asked “I do” he replied and introduced himself as Shayne. I told him what I was doing and asked if I could camp down the road “Here, come and listen to this” he called out to his companions and 4 hefty, rough looking blokes arrived, all drinking beer. We talked for a while but I couldn’t help but wonder how such a man had come about owning a nice house in a secluded area like this, but his “bodyguards” made me suspicious. My suspicions were not eased when we talked about Washington D.C. and he told me “Be careful where you go in Washington, I used to live there, I know it well. Two of my friends were killed when the ’wandered’ into the wrong area of the city”. Still, he told me I could camp where ever I liked “You can even carry on and have a look at the lake and camp there if you wish”.
As I packed away in the morning there was a big ‘boom’ from a massive gun nearby. A little later Shayne arrived, “I hope I didn’t frighten you with that gun. The dogs were going through the trash and I just wanted to frighten them. I wasn’t shooting at them”, “That was a mighty big gun, it sounded like a bloody canon to me“ I replied “No, just was just a little shotgun“ he told me. I headed into Virginia, it was pleasant cycling, rolling hills with woods of oak, farmland and buildings dotted about the landscape. There was plenty of roadside litter though. Every now and then I stop to check on ‘interesting’ rubbish that I see, in fact I am currently reading a book that I found at the roadside a while ago, and yesterday I tried on pair of glasses. They fitted well and probably really suited me but I couldn’t see a damn thing through them! I put them back carefully for the next cyclist to try on. I haven’t yet started to go through trashcans (dustbins), but it is only a matter of time. For a long time dogs have been giving me a chase. I get the impression dogs are owned for personal security, so they are just doing their job and seeing me off. They generally stick to the boundaries of their property, even if there is nothing to stop them going further, but those that do go beyond seem to have road sense. Having said that, in the last few days I have seen no end of dead dogs beside the road. I guess they are the ones that didn’t have much road sense, either that or Shane has been out to teach them a lesson.
I made my way into Farmsville. I felt I had covered enough distance but still had time to kill before looking for a place to lay my head for the night, so I stopped for a coffee. I set off again only to discover that bicycles were prohibited on the road I needed to go on. I had to head right into town and back out again, much further than my intended route. Now I had a race against the clock to get back out before darkness fell, I cursed having that coffee. I made it out and found a spot, but thought I had better check at the nearby house first. I woman with seemingly a fetish for pink talked non stop, she had a heavy twitch of the eye, or was that a wink that I was choosing to ignore? Most nights now I seek permission, but it is noticeable that the Southern Hospitality is no longer there, I am no longer in the south so why should it be? Actually I like my space, so if it was on offer every night I had to ask it would be a bit of a problem. But people are friendly enough, they almost always say yes, unlike the Californians who didn’t want me anywhere near them. It was hotter in California, it might have been the whiff factor emitting from me.
I had a fast run in to Fork Union, pushed along by the wind. I had a rare luxury of a contact there, Arqam, the brother of my sister Cathy’s friend. Arqam works in the maintenance department of the Military Academy there, a huge place in a small village. I found him easily, or more precisely he found me, I suppose I stuck out a bit in that environment. I was introduced to all of his colleagues and taken into the warmth of their workshop. It was still within working ours so after a little chat I was really surprised when they told me they had a room booked for me in the motel next door and they would pick up the bill. Arqam took me to the room and told me when he would be back. He picked me up an hour later in his new 5.7 litre sports car. I got in with my backside almost touching the ground, then we raced through the lanes at a frightening speed to a small farm where he worked a couple of hours each day. I was given a tour, a lovely place with a beautiful pond. There was a small menagerie of pets including a huge Newfoundland dog that looked like a small black bear, chickens, peacocks and best of all, emus. I was also shown the emus eggs, wonderful things, about the size of a mug and a dark green colour. They decorated and made carvings on the eggs which they then sold at the shows that they took the dog to. They breed the emus for the oil, which apparently when rubbed on wounds takes away any soreness instantly. I was then taken at the speed of sound with my eyes shut to an Italian restaurant for a wonderful dinner. Another white knuckle ride and I was with Bambi and Billy and their family who have rather ’adopted’ Arqam in the 4 years that he has been here. We all talked easily, it instantly felt at home to me too. I had just made it to Fork Union in time as Arqam and Billy were heading down to Florida early the following morning, but they had still very kindly given up their evening to entertain me and shown me around.
Whilst I stayed at the motel I saw a news item on the television. It said it had been proven that it was not dangerous to talk on the cell phone whilst driving. They had come to this conclusion because the accident rate in the states that have banned cell phone whilst driving has not been reduced. What rubbish! The only thing that this proves is that you can use statistics in any way you like to back up your argument. I would guess that a couple of things are going on here, firstly, who really takes any notice of such a ban? I know they certainly don’t in the UK and I would be very surprised if many people do here, so ban or no ban, nothing much is going to change. Secondly, those that do take heed of the ban are just going to do something else with their ’spare’ time in the car. We have all seen clips in American films where the driver talks to the passengers and doesn’t look at the road for about 10 seconds, well I use to just think “Yeah, right”, but now I think “Oooh, ‘eck!”
As I ride up the through the states on the east coast I see no end of churches, mostly small, some in little groups very close to each other, each seemingly a little different in its flavour of Christianity. It is mind boggling to me. Often there is a sign outside, some give worship times, others have little phrases. The phrases themselves vary enormously from the tacky “What is missing in our CH CH - UR” to the thought provoking “To hear God’s voice you need to turn down the world’s volume”, though probably the most common one is “God bless our troops”. I am still struggling with that last one, I just can not understand how it fits in with what is being preached within those walls “Love one another, turn the other cheek, have faith and put all you trust in God. Actually, don’t worry too much about that last bit because before God even gets a chance our troops will save us and kill anybody that might be considered a threat to us, so God bless our troops”. Hey, don’t get me started on the obsession with terrorist threats here, you are not going to make me fall for that one!
My short stop in Fork Union had been an attack on the senses. When I met Arqam and his colleagues at the Academy and was taken into their work shop where we talked. Most of them were smokers. It is such a rare occasion that I enter a smoky environment these days that the smoke really hit me, the smell was intense and my eyes began to water. Later in the evening when I was taken for a meal the cheese sauce and the chicken in the pasta were absolutely delicious, a taste that my poor old taste buds found hard to recognise as they have been subjected to either junk or bland food for most of my visit here. I think I need to throw a few spices into the food I cook on the camp stove. Then, as I left the motel in the morning my senses received a third and final hit. When I stepped outside I was alarmed at just how cold it was, I would be crazy to cycle in such cold weather, yet it was only -2c, a fairly normal morning. When I camp day in and day out in the cold my body acclimatises to the low temperatures. I can sit in my tent in the evening and be surprised that it is only 2c, yet I feel cosy and warm, whereas if I was in a house at that temperature I would think that it is really cold. Now, stepping from that warm room to the cold outside air it really hit me and it seemed to take ages for my body to adjust to its new and shocking surroundings. Now I could understand why so many people make comments of how cold it is and that I must be mad to cycle such conditions. I left Fork Union heading east for a change, heading for Richmond. I am not quite sure why I wanted to divert to Richmond, but I thought about my route on Monday and heading to Richmond just felt right to me. Since then the weather has been predicting 12 inches of snow on Friday evening, the very day I arrived there, impeccable timing. I laboured my on highway 6, for some reason it was slow going, but it was hilly. My route through the eastern states has not been very exciting. I have deliberately steered clear of the Appalachians due to travelling during the winter, but it has been remarkably flat, through lots of pine forests and nothing to get excited about. That started to change around northern North Carolina and has continued through Virginia. Virginia is rolling countryside practically the whole way, I like it, it is all very picturesque. I stopped at a café. These days it is far too cold to stop outside, the temperature had only risen to freezing since I left Fork Union. A guy came in, a well built guy. No, a large guy. No, a very large guy. No, a fat guy. No, a very big fat guy…..ok, let’s be honest, he was a big fat slob of a guy….there, I have said it, not very politically correct, but I have said it! He wore a t-shirt that said “My Perfect Day. 1.Get up, 2.Play video games, 3.Eat breakfast, 4.Play video games, 5. Eat lunch, 6.Play video games, 7.Eat dinner, 8.Play video games, 9.Go to sleep, 10.Dream of video games”. I couldn’t see how he could possibly live his perfect day, surely to maintain that size he would have to eat all day, there would be not time to play video games. He had reached point 5 on his t-shirt, then he proved me wrong, he played video games WHILE he ate his lunch. The guy was brilliant and what he did, he had perfected his technique and stuffed huge handfuls of fries into his mouth leaving about half of them sticking out of his mouth, which were then slowly drawn in as he chewed away. It was disgusting to watch yet at the same time it was compulsive viewing, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Having finished lunch he left and walked out of the door whilst still playing his video game. I was glad he left before me, I didn’t want him driving up behind me, I don’t suppose there is a state ban on playing video games whilst driving! I rode the last few kilometres into Richmond. I had left my Couch Surfing request very late and only sent out some the previous day, but thankfully Dawn had kindly offered to put me up for three nights. Her house was a little further out of town than I expected, but I think I have been guided to the right person. I instantly felt at home with Dawn, a lovely person and very talented. She writes her own songs and plays the guitar and she has a truly amazing singing voice. She sang a couple of songs that she had written, just fantastic. She is also a artist and took me around the house showing me the framed pictures on the walls. Added to that she is also a very spiritual person and I had a great evening asking questions and learning from her. She kept going to her collection of books saying “Here, you should read this” despite me telling her that I am a very slow reader and had no chance of getting through them all. There are also some wonderful little saying on post-its dotted about the house such as “We can not control the wind, but we can learn how to sail better”, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain” and “Don’t look back and ask why, look forward and ask why not”.
I was glad to be in a nice warm and cosy house, especially and it was forecast that a foot of snow would fall over night starting at around 5pm. By the time I went to bed there was nothing. When I got up, Dawn had already left for work at the Post Office, but it was snowing and there was an inch or two accumulated on the ground. It snowed all day, I kept looking out of the window and each time I looked Dawn’s car parked outside was slowly disappearing (photo). The forecast was right, the foot of snow arrived, just a little later than predicted. Dawn arrived home at about 3pm, a couple of hours later than normal, but she had only completed about a third of her round and had abandoned the rest as it was just too dangerous in the blizzard, she couldn’t even see the sides of the road. This morning there is a beautiful blue sky, but with the temperature not rising above freezing it looks as though I may be in Richmond for a few days. It would seem that I am a slow learner as I sit and wait for the storm to pass!