I had never been quite so happy to see a state border sign as when I crossed from hilly eastern Kentucky into equally hilly western Virginia. Virginia was the state that would bring me to the Atlantic and, therefor, the end of the TransAmerica Trail. I was happy and excited.
(Sidenote: technically, it wasn’t the Atlantic, but the York River, an estuary to the west of Chesapeake Bay, which itself is an estuary inland of the Atlantic Ocean)
Equally hilly terrain over the days that followed, combined with unpredictable weather patterns and the prospect of a hurricane wiped that smug smile right off my face. Hurricane Joaquin stayed away, thankfully, but an unrelated storm system brought plenty of rain to the East Coast as well as parts of Virginia I was about to pass through.
I took an additional rest day at Elk Garden, where I stayed at a biker hostel maintained by the local Elk Garden United Methodist Church. Moving towards the tail end of the cycling season, I was the only person there and passed the time with some more in-depth bike maintenance and catching up on Last Week Tonight and The Daily Show episodes.
Monitoring the weather forecast closely, I tried to find windows that promised the highest chance of staying dry and, for the most part, it worked. I made my way to my hosts in Radford, VA, where I took two weather-related rest days, but then had to eventually suffer through a mostly wet day on my way towards the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).
With a maximum grade of 19%, the road leading up to the BRP was the toughest one to conquer on this tour. I was glad, however, that this challenge had come along towards the end of my journey. Had I had to do this at the beginning, I would have thrown the bike into a ditch and crawled to the next train station in defeat.
The Parkway itself impressed with lush green valley views, sunny, but cool and crisp air and, important for cyclists, not that much traffic. The hardest climbing behind me and the finish at Yorktown in sight, I was just about ready to be done with the ride. Yet, there was still quite a ways to go, riding along parts of Lake Anna before dropping down east of Richmond and making my way to history-laden Williamsburg. The final eleven miles I rode on the Colonial Parkway before, on October 8, after 89 days on the road, I dipped the front tire of my Surly bike into the water at Yorktown Beach. I did it. And it felt quite unreal.
But the tour wasn’t over quite yet. Spending the night at the Riverview House of the Grace Episcopal Church, which has been hosting cyclists for close to thirteen years, I backtracked a bit to Richmond using the recently completed Virginia Capital Trail, before heading up towards Washington, DC via Fredericksburg.
My arrival in the capital was charged with mixed feelings. Due to road closures and detours, the route into DC proved to be longer and more challenging than I had anticipated. Coming into the city on a Sunday from the south along the Mt Vernon Trail also meant lots of people out and about to navigate around.
Crossing the Potomac River on the Arlington Memorial Bridge and arriving at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I found myself in a sea of people. It felt strange going from riding alone on almost empty country roads to being surrounded by hundreds of locals and tourists from different parts of the world. The joy of finishing the ride was tainted a bit by the fact that, at my imaginary finish line at the Zero Milestone just south of the White House, I was shooed away by Secret Service agents claiming that the area had to be cleared for security reasons.
Unfortunate, but at the end it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I completed something that, before starting out, I had a hard time imagining I could do. Riding a bicycle, unsupported and by myself, across the United States Of America, the world’s fourth-largest country.