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  • Liam Condon

Day 1: Washington D.C. -> Orlean, VA (68 miles)

“What do you mean, ‘what do I mean’?” the ticket agent snapped, after telling me “They cut it” when I’d asked him where to load my bike onto the Amtrak.

“You have to get here 45 minutes before departure”, he barked, rolling his eyes.

I had purchased the bicycle option along with my ticket, and not even after rereading both the confirmation email and the e-ticket stub could I find a reference to what he was talking about.

“Do you mind if I take it down and try anyways?” I sheepishly replied, as he scribbled W A S on my ticket stub and haphazardly pointed me towards Track 14. I slung my 45lb steed over my shoulder and scurried down the steps.

Even early in the morning, NYC's Penn Station is busy as ever.

Thankfully, the crew downstairs were happy to load my bike, after I spent 15 minutes working up a sweat to unlatch all the bags I woke up at 3:45am this morning to load, as they wouldn’t board the bike with any bags on it. So, at roughly 5:48am, sweaty and anxious, I took my seat on the train scheduled for a 5:51am departure. I passed out as soon as my ass hit the seat.

When I woke others had already detrained (is that a word?), so I hastily grabbed my stuff and ran back to the baggage car to get my bike. I spent another 15 I minutes on the platform re-loading everything back on the bike before heading into the station, where noticed I was missing my sunglasses. My dad’s really nice sport sunglasses he’d been kind enough to lend me for this trip. Gone. And I was barely in DC. Another good omen I’m sure.

The train soon lurched onward, leaving me and my bike alone on the platform.

I walked into Union Station once my bike was re-setup, getting some breakfast and trying to simultaneously figure out a) the weather and if it’s even worth starting out b) how to tell my Dad I lost his glasses and how to replace and c) what to do about the slow leak in my front tire. After a huge cup of coffee a few minutes of Googling and a quick call home, I headed to the bike shop a few blocks away. The clock read 11:30am.

A friendly mechanic by the name of Sam helped me with my tire and after I filled him in on my trip, enthusiastically safety-checked everything else. He told me it all looked good and sent me on my way. After throwing on the bike kit and packing up my clothes, I was.

The first few moments of the day’s ride were sheer bliss. This was it! I was finally on my way to LA! I rode through the National Mall and over the Potomac down towards Alexandria. I stopped several times to snap some photos with my Canon, but quickly found it an annoying task to take it out and put it back in the camera bag every few minutes, so I began just using my phone’s camera, which is pretty solid.

The route I mapped out followed mostly bike paths and trails both secluded and shaded, which made for very tranquil riding with little to no proximity to major roads. I stopped in at a 711 around mile 35 for water and for a replacement pair of sunglasses. After a hearty lunch at Wendy’s I got back on the bike around 3:30pm.

The second half of the ride was much busier. I planned on connecting to the Trans America trail in a few days down near Charlottesville, but I was on my own until then and unfortunately I’d need to take some less bike-friendly roads in the meantime. I stopped again at around mile 50 for some Gatorade around 6pm in a town called Warrenton, and decided to pedal on another 15 or so before finding a place to camp.

Enter Appalachia. I’d hit the first hilly section of the day and of the trip, and they were no joke. 7:30pm came and went, then 8pm. The sun was sinking and I was getting nervous. Surrounded by private property and dense forest, I started knocking on doors, asking if I could pitch a tent in their yard.

The first said no, as did the second. I was really starting to stress at this point, as it was 8:30pm and I had probably another 40 minutes before dark. The third door I knocked on also turned me aside, but directed me another few miles down the road to a “town” called Orlean, which consisted of a convenience store, a fire department, and a post office.

A fire department! I'd read how these folks have often kindly taken in weary cyclists in small towns along the TransAmerica Trail, and was assured my luck had finally turned around.

When I arrived at the fire department it was quarter to nine, and the sun hung low in the sky. I walked up to a door and once I could make out the note taped to it's window, my heart sank. "We moved!".

I turned around with my head in hands, and noticed at the market across the street, a man was smoking a cigarette and locking the doors out front. He looked to be in his late twenties, with long blond hair and had a green bandana wrapped above his ears. “This is my guy”, I thought.

His name was Adrian, a really cool guy. When I told him about my trip and my situation, he got all excited and asked a bunch of questions, told me he lived upstairs, and that I could make camp in the corner of their yard where no one would bother me. Blessed Adrian.

The Orlean Market the next morning.

When all was said and done I had ridden just over 67 miles, so I was content, and exhausted, and fell asleep shortly after pitching my tent. Day 1, in the books. Phew.

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