A Monologue with the Æther

A Bicycle Odyssey

Day One: Friday 29 June 1990

Mother’s Apartment, Norfolk, VA to The Surrey House, Surry, VA

Auspicious beginning, I had intended to leave while still early, but I don’t leave until nearly noon from my mother’s apartment at the end of Willoughby Spit in Norfolk, VA. I have spent the morning trying to pack my panniers, a task which I should have undertaken the night before. I am at this time significantly overweight with at least a 44 to 45 inch waist, and I have ridden my bicycle no more than 6 miles a day for the past few months. I am going to ride my bicycle across the United States from Norfolk, VA to San Francisco, CA. I start nearly 6 hours later than intended. I’m carrying more gear than I need or will use. I leave the parking lot and head east on W. Ocean View Ave; I stop briefly at my father’s house to drop off somethings in my storage boxes. Barely, one half hour into my journey, a mere six miles of the nearly 3,600 miles I will travel, I experience my first but certainly not my last flat. Flats take awhile to fix at this point, I have to unload the bicycle before patching begins.

I make it to the Elizabeth River Ferry without further incident where I see my father who still is unconvinced that I will begin let alone finish this ride. I take the ferry from Waterside to High St in Portsmouth, VA. Finally, I’m really on my way. I make the long ride down High St until it becomes US 17; I’m not really certain where I’m headed other than Richmond, VA to see friends. I have decided to ride through Smithfield, VA and pick up VA 10 and follow it up the west bank of the James River towards Richmond. By the way, have I mentioned the weather yet? It’s one of those early summer heat waves with a heat index between 105° and 110° Fahrenheit. Need I mention how miserable all that heat and humidity and riding make this fat man. It gets worse. In the late afternoon, I have the misfortune of my route running parallel to the Smithfield meat processing facility which must have been more than a mile in length or at least that’s how I remember it. How’s this worse? The stench. What little air is moving is moving across my path from the direction of this facility. Once, I passed from its aroma; I lay down in the grass by the side of the road and weeped and called for my mother. I was twenty-three. At this point, I decide not to camp that night but to find a motel and sleep in a bed and have a soak in a bath.

Fortunately for me, I was blissfully unaware of the dearth of hotels along this stretch of the James River, or I might never have continued. I do not find a hotel until I reach the Surrey House Restaurant & Country Inn in Surry, VA sometime after 7 pm. Luckily, they have a room available. I soak in the bath and then shower. I sit on the bed to watch The Weather Channel® to see what’s in store for me in the near future. My intent is to catch the weather and then head over to the attached restaurant to grab some food.