September 9, 2012
Since we started this tour, Christof and I have been wanting to get up and out early. Everyday there is some reason why we don’t.
Today it was the last night’s storm. The idea of packing up a soaking-wet tent was thoroughly unappealing, and gave us the excuse we needed to stay in our cozy sleeping bags. We didn’t get onto the road until 10:30!
Near Jamestown we crossed the James River by ferry, the only way possible.
For the first time ever we saw cotton growing, riding along rural roads amongst fields of corn, cotton, and peanuts. We came across one general store near the ferry, but had a hard time finding something to eat in it. The entire store was filled with packaged food – nothing fresh that could spoil – and we ended up with Ritz crackers and cheddar cheese for lunch, supplemented by a bag of local peanuts. For supper we bought a can of baked beans.
While sitting on the front stoop, a cyclist on a race bike stopped for something to eat. He had very little with him, a bundle on the front handlebars and another bundle under his saddle. Sean is the first long distance cyclist we have met, and we discovered that he is on the same route that we are: The Atlantic Coast Route to Florida and from Florida The Southern Tier Route to California. I couldn’t stop asking him questions, because he has been on the road for four months and has so little gear.
Sean rode from California to Alaska and then crossed over to Russia where he rode 3000 miles on dirt roads. He got twenty-five flat tires and said that between the crazy truck drivers and the constant flats, riding there nearly killed him. He gave up and flew back to the United States. Here, he started The Atlantic Coast Route in New York. He rides about one hundred miles a day and plans to be in California by the end of October.
Before we met him I was feeling depressed, realizing that at the rate we are going, we will not be able to do the trip we planned. Just as I was thinking about this, we meet someone who is actually doing what we are dreaming of. Sean so inspired me, that after our lunch break at the general store, I rode as fast as I could. After riding 10 k’s we discovered that we had been going in the wrong direction and as we backtracked I noticed my will to continue quickly waning . . .
We spent the evening in a farmer’s field surrounded by water. We were the only ones there. As it was getting dark, the farmer came by in his pickup with his granddaughter, her puppy in tow.
Christof asked him about his crops and why so many people plant soybeans. He said it’s a good crop, but that many are supplementing it with sorghum. A portion of the soybeans go for the mandatory production of ethanol, and therefore there is a scarcity of animal feed.
He spoke of his luck in having Japanese customers who give him a better price for producing soybeans that are not genetically altered. Monsanto has a monopoly and now – compared to earlier years – the prices for seed have increased steeply. There are hardly any independent seed companies left; most of the competition was bought up by Monsanto. Soy beans have been genetically altered in order to make them resistant to Roundup, enabling the crop to survive poisoning while dispensing with the need for time-consuming weeding.
Christof says he can hardly imagine the amount of work done by slaves during the days when cotton was still harvested by hand. Today, in addition to the fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides dumped on the plants, growth inhibitors are used to stunt the plants’ growth for manageable machine harvesting.
The farmers are presently harvesting corn – we spent the day riding through brown fields of ripe corn drying on the stalks – and are about two weeks away from the peanut harvest. While Christof was in the bathhouse, the farmer returned with a peanut vine. It was dark by this time, so he held it in front of his headlights. I tried a green peanut – ugh – and his granddaughter demonstrated that her puppy loves them.
Up early today, and shocked by the chilly air! We needed our fleeces for the first time – although we often wonder why we bother to carry warm clothing in a hot climate. Now we know, and, grateful for the warmth, we were on the road by 8:30. What a wonderful feeling to be out in the brisk fresh air, riding into a day of undreamed of possibilities, and enthused and inspired, we resolved – once again – to do this more often. The Germans have a saying:
hat Gold Im Mund
are made of gold
Today’s tour took us through fields of corn stubble, soybean and peanuts, a scene like yesterday’s. Crossing the border to North Carolina, no major difference was noticeable. If anything the landscape has flattened out, and is now filled with dank puddles and swamps.
The Great Dismal Swamp is an eerie, sinister place, nowhere to be after dark.
By 2:00 we were starving and looking foreward to Peggy’s, an eatery mentioned on our map. Disappointingly it was closed, as many places are on Mondays.
On to Elisabeth City, which is on the Inner Bank. No campgrounds here, but a wonderful Bed and Breakfast in an old comfortable house. A meal at a restaurant on the harbor with a view of the sunset.
I’m now sitting in a screened-in porch, overlooking a lit up turquoise pool, in a lush, green garden where both light and wifi make writing comfortable as I listen to the melancholic end-of-summer symphony in the growing darkness.