"Sal, we gotta go and never stop going 'till we get there". "Where we going man?" "I don't know but we gotta go" - Jack Kerouac, On the Road -

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

DAY 1: One mile at a time

Washington DC - Winchester, VA : 73 miles

Today is the first day of my bike journey across America -and down the coast of California. I will be back. I promise.

I spend most of the night tossing and turning in my bed thinking “Tomorrow is the day, tomorrow is the day” until I finally drift off to sleep. I wake up a few hours later to a gloomy day and a sky that threatens rain. The weather forecast last night had me worried: 60% chance rain and scattered storms around the DC area. That's great, good start.

I take a cool shower which soothes my body and wakes up my muscles and I wear clean, soft clothes. As I get dressed I realize that it will be a long time before I will feel this fresh, homey feeling again. I get dressed and I have a bowl of oatmeal with two bananas for breakfast. My friend Kim comes to see me off. How kind of her to drive all the way from Annapolis. Thanks Kim!!! We take a few good-bye pictures, I breathe deeply, I tighten the straps of my helmet and I am off. 5000 miles in front of me, the whole of America: the Appalachians, the Midwest, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the deserts, the Pacific Highway. I try not to think about it, it overwhelms me. Let's focus on this first day. 
After I leave my building, I immediately cross the Potomac which heralds my arrival in Virginia, the first state of my bike ride, and then the first river, the first bridge, the first of many straits of this country that I will come across over and over again in the next 40 days. Once I enter Virginia I smile to myself thinking “Come on, one down and only 14 to go before I roll into LA”!
If it wasn't for the amazing network of bike trails that intersect and clasp the urban sprawl of the Capital, riding out of DC would be a total nightmare. However, the Washington & Old Dominion trail is a wonderful option: it is mile after mile of a pleasant trail which I share with a few joggers and fewer cyclists at this time of a Wednesday morning. It is usually packed with users. The trail, a 45.5-mile long fully paved rails-to-trails, cuts right through the urban areas encroaching on what used to be the rural expanses of Loudon County. The railway operated from 1860 until 1968, when it was torn out and the right of way was used for power lines and the multi-use path.
I cycle cautiously as the first part of the trail through Arlington is somewhat narrow. For the first ten miles I must pay heed to the signs as the WOD intersects a number of other trails. Through Arlington and Vienna, the bike lane runs past neatly trimmed lawns and bushes of elegant houses which dot the reassuring suburbs of Washington DC. It runs under the beltway as it heads toward Leesburg and after that, it is 35 miles of a long and straight well-paved path, hassle-free. It is deceiving because the trail looks level but it is not. It is actually uphill from DC to mile 38 at Clark’s Gap.
Since today is the first day of my journey and I have about 70 miles to cover, I decide to take it easy and ride at a leisurely pace. The funny thing is that I feel pretty good and over 73 miles I stop only once to allow myself a granola bar and that's it. I drink plenty though. Winchester is a necessary stop as I won’t find motels for at least 80 miles after that. Today’s early finish will give me a chance to rest and update the journal.

Riding the trail reminds me of the incredible speed of urban development around Washington DC, from Arlington to Leesburg it is all residential and commercial developments, right up to the path. It spares no town: Falls Church, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, Sterling, Ashland, and Leesburg. Just before the Western end of the trail in Purcellville, I ride a short but beautiful couple of miles under a canopy of leafy branches which keep the sunlight and the heat away.
Past Purcellville I switch to highway cycling, which takes a little getting used to. I realize that the trail has spoiled me with no traffic to worry about. I have no choice but to ride on the incredibly busy highway 7, a high traffic road with a non-existent shoulder. It is a relatively short ride- only 15 miles- but still stressful nonetheless. It is pretty much a “just-ride, head-down” type of shot as I make sure that my wheels are well inside the one ft space that exists between the white line and a patch of gravel. In Berryville I lose the highway and ride on an empty stretch of rural road which takes me very quickly into Winchester. The last 20 miles are very pleasant and luckily the sky turns blue and the heavy clouds disperse rather quickly. As I ride the last few miles I still have a tingling in my stomach from all the excitement, I have been thinking about this trip for many months now and for many years I have been daydreaming about some of the places that I will see. I try to push these thoughts out of my mind and focus on the job at hand. But it is just amazing; I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else now.

I arrive at my destination at 4 PM.  This undemanding day and the early finish give me plenty of time to chill and have dinner somewhere. I haven't eaten much today but tonight I spotted a very inviting burger joint. Winchester has a pretty pedestrian mall in the old town which sports a historic courthouse and a few other things. It’s clean and attractive; the streets are lined with red-brick two story houses and fresh flowers stick out of vases that hang from street lamps. Except the 15 miles on highway 7, it’s been a good first day with no surprises; the weather has been kind and the bike felt very smooth. Yesterday Cyclelife in Georgetown extolled a very hefty sum from me so I was expecting an excellent performance today. I must say that the bike did not disappoint. I will have an early night, the alarm goes off at 6:00 am in the morning; tomorrow I will tackle some of the steepest climbs of the East Coast, it will be no picnic. And it will be a long day. The first real test. Bring it on.

I am good to go 

My dear friend Kim came to see me off, what a wonderful surprise! 

 10:09 AM, I am off, LA here I come!

Crossing the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge, the first of many

 I leave behind a gray, rainy DC guarded by two of its most popular monuments: Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument

On the Curtis Trail, which is empty at 10:30 AM on a Wednesday  

The Capital's suburbs  

After 4 miles I find the WOD trail 

The WOD cuts right through the heart of Loudoun County

Along the WOD 

An out-of-use locomotive 

A pretty mural at Vienna 

How long before you figure this one out?  

Scene from the morning ride on the WOD, not a soul in sight 

The WOD hugged by trees, approaching Leesburg 

A WOD mile marker 

My favorite part of the WOD is between Leesburg and Purcerville  

The canopy of leafy trees enveloping the WOD 

The end (or the west trailhead) of the Washington & Dominion Trail, what a great start to my ride

Highway 7, a 15 mile ride which got me worried more than once..as you can see the shoulder is almost non-existent

But at Berryville I take an alternative road, which turns to be a very enjoyable ride in a rural setting

A few miles south of Winchester 

The Courthouse, downtown Winchester 

The Pedestrian area 

I have a feeling I know where I'll eat tonight..

My home for the night. I go for luxury and comfort, there will be plenty of chances out West to shack it up at cheap places (or out in the open)


  1. Luigi,

    Thank you for starting us in such a high note! I was looking for your post and excited to start this new journey with you. I will be checking your progress every night and cheering you on.

    Keep safe, keep the fun, keep the eye on the destination! We will keep sending you good vibes and many encouraging messages!



    PS: You rode right by my backyard! I should have stayed home and waited to say hi to you!

  2. Yo man, you're aaaaaaawesome. I mean it, seriously, yo, you're the thing!
    Yyyyyes, come on, yeahhhh b.!

  3. You did it Luigi! You are setting out for an incredible journey, one that excited you at first then made you ponder. So you cycled through my neighborhood, Loudoun County....Sterling. It is a beautiful sight, makes me proud to be a resident. My family and I are rooting for you and following you each step of the way. Enjoy the adventure while you can. mcl