Author: Adam Bratton
Read Time: 4 mins
On the 9-hour drive back from a self-supported 650+ mile bikepacking trip from Charlotte, NC to my hometown of Montoursville, PA this past October, I couldn’t help but daydream about the next “relatively random, but also meaningful to me” journey. Over the next few months, my wandering mind was running rampant, and locations all over the East Coast were under consideration. It took another few months until the light bulb clicked, and it was all my wife’s fault!
I went to The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA and knew that this town between Richmond and Virginia Beach was well within striking distance for a pedal powered trip. The flip side … I also knew that with 2 young kiddos in school, weekly soccer practice/games, professional obligations with MJ Bratton Agency and Human Powered Movement, other “work” trips like packrafting the Buffalo River for 3 days with adventure pal Samuel Martin, it would be tough to justify another solo venture so quickly.
January rolled around and we celebrated my mom’s BDay as a family. As we gathered, typical conversation turned to my dad’s BDay in March which was quickly approaching. Separate from my unspeakable college partying antics, my parents are huge fans of Williamsburg, VA and have been lifelong supporters of Colonial Williamsburg. That’s where the elder Bratton wanted to celebrate his 70th BDay regardless of anyone else’s hectic life. A week later, my wife Kristi, overflowing with better ideas than me 99% of the time, flipped the switch that lit the light bulb. “Why don’t you just ride there?”. My response was quick and succinct. “Yes. I love you!”.
After years of endless “wishful thinking” research for adventures in a 1000 mile radius of Charlotte, I immediately knew I could link up segments of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, the Virginia Capital Trail and the Colonial Parkway to find my way to the heart of America’s Birthplace.
I have two very different packing routines … a suitcase for “normal” weekend getaways with all the trimmings and comforts, and an ultralight and fully self-sufficient setup for multi-day pedal, paddle, and camping efforts. Both would be required for this trip which was the perfect balance.
Day #1 – Wed, March 22
I woke at 6:15am to scarf down a hearty oatmeal breakfast, check weather (again), and make final gear preparations before Miles (6) and Maximus (4) wake up for their typical school routine. Just after sunrise, and after giving the family repeated hugs, kisses, and assurances that I would see them on Friday, I pointed my geared loaded bike towards Southeast Virginia. It would be 360+ miles until I reached my destination less than 58 hours later.
The first day was designed to be the longest mileage-day of the trip for a few reasons. Fresh legs, more familiar roads, and an end goal of my brother’s house in Hillsborough, NC where I could look forward to a warm meal, cold beer, and campsite where I didn’t have to worry about trespassing. I arrived at his front door 138 miles after saying goodbye to my front door 11 hours earlier. For at least half of those hours, I was graced with a consistent light drizzling rain.
Editor’s Note … Now would be a good time to refresh yourself on the “Heading Home: Why I Bikepacked 650+ Miles Through a Hurricane” to get a better understanding why I had a smile on my face from ear to ear as I was riding through the drizzling rain. The whole day was pretty comical to me and brought back a flood of vivid memories. Many of those memories involved frustration with not being able to truly camp out during the PA ride. Because of this, I was committed to camping on this trip. After a few beers and the typical brotherly banter, I decided to set up shop within their new backyard greenhouse that had the magical smell of cedar and some additional shelter from the elements.
Day #2 – Thurs, March 23
“WAAAAAAAKE UUUUP!!” was the first thing I heard at 6:25AM. The same way that my kids were gearing up for their routine a day ago, my niece and nephew were fired up that Uncle Adam was in town and were clearly in a much more energetic state than me. I stumbled out of the greenhouse on no-longer-fresh legs and made my way inside the house to scarf down another bowl of oatmeal, cup of coffee and to repack my gear for another big mileage day.
Anyone that has driven the stretch from Durham, NC to Richmond, VA knows that it is a 2-3hr drive of rural nothingness via I-85. I knew this as well and was mentally gearing up for a long and monotonous day. I also had a less defined end goal on day #2 which can equally be a good or a bad thing. Nonetheless, I was already burning daylight and needed to cross into Virginia and bag as many miles as possible.
These solo expeditions inevitably present a strange dichotomy. Anyone else’s schedule, opinions, or suggestions are completely nonexistent. You’re also completely secluded for hours on end with nothing to distract or entertain you except the next turn. At this stage of my trip, the novelty of day #1 had worn off and the excitement of the final day hadn’t quite struck yet.
Long story short, I hammered through a mix of asphalt and gravel for 127 miles before ducking behind a non-descript church just off my route to set up camp for the night, eat as many calories that I could pull from my frame bag and tuck in for an early night of quiet seclusion.
Day #3 – Fri, March 24
The previous evening’s thought of quiet seclusion was anything but. The locals were nice enough to host an all-night dance party with the road’s rumble strips and their pickup trucks. A restless night of tossing, turning and hip swinging trucks nevertheless brought a beautiful sunrise and the previously mentioned excitement of the final day. I broke camp and continued pedaling East on another pristine stretch of gravel.
Before hitting the Virginia Capital Trail (a 50+ mile paved greenway that connects Richmond to Williamsburg), I snaked through endless farmlands, the urban sprawl of southern Petersburg, VA, and the unnerving crossing of the James River on the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge (complete with 20+ MPH cross winds, speeding tractor trailers and open grid metal surface … not ideal for 30mm road tires).
Another dichotomy had just sunk in. I was thrilled to be on the home stretch but felt the results of my calorie and hydration intake dwindling as the miles continued to climb. My weary legs and lack of meaningful sleep over the past few days were sinking in as well. I caught a glance of the first mile marker since joining to the Capital Trail … 31 miles. Since I was finally off two-lane highways, the earbuds went in, and I settled in for an autopilot stretch of glazed over riding. At this stage, it was another 50 kilometers stretch of straight forward pedaling until I reached Jamestown Settlement.
I encircled the settlement area, and was once again blown away with the concept of early settlers arriving at this exact location in 1607 (also, obviously, without the use of a car) to establish what we now know as the United States of America.
The history and perspective of this place runs deep. I continued my history tour by heading towards the heart of the world’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg, 10 miles away via the Colonial Parkway.
It is exactly 1 mile from the historic steps of the Capital Building within the colonial area to the academic doors of the Sir Christopher Wren Building on the campus of William & Mary. For most students, faculty, and alumni, the Wren Building is the jewel of the campus. It proudly stands as the oldest academic building in the country, is the “soul of the College” and is oozing with history. My finish line, however, was another half mile through campus, and at the gates of Zable Stadium and the Jimmye Laycock Football Facility.
A flood of emotions came over me. I immediately found myself thinking back 22 years from that moment when I walked-on the Division I, Tribe Football team from a small town of 4000 people in rural PA. I took a chance on a whim and navigated things as they unfolded. The countless hours in the weight room, on the practice field, and studying film had and still has an unquestionable impact on how I approach my business life and my personal life these days.
Life isn’t always easy, in fact, sometimes it’s a complete shit show. Much like a football game or a multi-day ride, there will inevitably be some highs and lows. The perpetual drive to get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself with what is physically, mentally, and emotionally possible, and achieve a set goal is something that still motivates and drives me to this day. Something that drove me, figuratively speaking, over 360 miles to this exact spot.
It was also a momentum to understand and appreciate everything that my parents have done for me over my 40 years of existence. What they taught me, what they sacrificed for me, and what they modeled for me, are things that I now think about with my young kiddos. As with many of these physically and mentally demanding efforts, a wide range of feelings and sentiments are experienced. For now, it was birthday party time, and I needed a few extra slices of cake to replenish my lack of calories.
Thanks for the suggestions, Kristi. If you have any other ideas that involve multi-day adventures, I’ll happily blame you for them as well.
Total Distance = 360.4
Total Elevation Gain = 13,274
Total Riding Time = 23:21:25
Average MPH = 15.4
Estimated Calories Consumed = 13,000
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Journal - This 360-Mile Bikepacking Adventure Was All My Wife's Fault
Human Powered Journal
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Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
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