November 30, 2015
In the summer of 1976, I was a couple of months away from turning 30, I was happily married, and I was out of work. The dossier on me would likely have been filed under "Ordinary" with a note that would say, "Thinks he isn't."
My wife loved history and, being the bicentennial year, we headed east to Williamsburg and some actual historic places.
On our way home, I convinced her that we should check out the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have long believed that this 469 mile commercial free, truck free parkway is on the short list of great places and a beautiful gift that the American people gave themselves and the world.
We stopped at a scenic overlook where the course of my life was to change in ways I could never have imagined.
A fellow rode in on a bike loaded with gear and I asked "THE QUESTION."
"Where ya from?"
"No, no, no, where ya riding from?"
Then I asked about a million questions and it turned out he was a group leader for a Bikecentennial group doing the TransAmerica Trail.
The die was cast when my wife and I got home. There was a small article in both Time and Newsweek magazines about the thousands of people that had ridden all or part of the TransAm. These articles touched me and I told my wife I wanted those maps for my 30th birthday.
In truth, I never expected to bicycle the TransAm and assumed I would use the maps for a cool motorcycle trip.
Nevertheless, I went out and bought a crappy bike, figured out that it was crappy, sold it for the $50 I had paid, and bought a decent bike. That decent bike cost about the same as a decent saddle does today.
In 1977, I rode to Illinois and back. I still remember turning down that first country road and thinking how cool it was. In 1978, I rode to Illinois again. Nothing worked out in 1979 and then I remembered the maps.
So, in 1980 I cobbled together seven weeks of leave and flew to Eugene, Oregon. I didn't fly to Portland because that was the year Mount St. Helens blew. Six and a half weeks later, I rolled into Yorktown, Virginia, a changed person.
Since I started all this, I have rarely missed a year taking a trip. My inventory is 100,000 touring miles, 16 or so times cross country, I've ridden in 47 of the lower 48 states (it's Rhode Island), and filled hundreds of pages of journals with great stories and experiences. I also got to play a significant role in developing the largest network of connected bicycle trails in the United States.
And it might have never happened. The TransAm only uses 10 of the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. That my wife and I happened to be at that scenic overlook at the moment that unknown tour leader stopped seems so improbable. Happily, thanks to that chance encounter, I ended up not quite so ordinary.
Story and photographs courtesy of Phil Hinrichs.
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