Home is a powerful thing. For many it is one place that exists throughout time as the bastion of their childhood. For others, it is something more fluid, something that develops as they do. I, for one, subscribe to the former.
For me, home is something that exists in a purely daily context, depending on where I place my head. I chalk it up to my family’s nomadic habit; Arizona to California; California to Idaho; Idaho to Virginia; Virginia to Arkansas. Home was never a building, a bedroom, or a state; Home was a place where I could feel the love of my family; home was a place where I could appreciate those around me; home was a place that I enjoyed being.
Nonetheless, as much as I take pride in my mobility, one of my homes holds a bit more panache than the others. That home wasn’t special for exceptionally great friends –well, maybe a little! – nor was it special for having some amazing building I used to live in, but instead, it was the place where I learned to love my bicycle.
Enter, central Virginia.
My Virginia home, and its coinciding coming of age, provided the template for my mentality going forward on my path through cycling. Although I raced on the road, the gravel paths and twisty paved lanes twisting and weaving their way through the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valley always provided me the inspiration to think beyond.
Beyond the office park crits and the shallow circuit races of youth development cycling in the United States. While my racing wasn’t the most inspiring for my wild side, the training and the exploration that accompanied it truly lit my fire and push me to pursue cycling to the extent I have. I owe a great deal to these hundreds of little lanes covered in rocks, dirt and sometimes pavement that unnecessarily clutter up the maps here in the Shenandoah Valley.
So, when given the chance to branch out and start a new chapter in cycling, I found no better race to start then one in my preferred backyard.
Luckily for me call it timing or call it fate – the fantastic folks at the Stokesville lodge were putting on a race weekend at just the right time. On the same weekend as that lovely little race in Tuscany, Chris Scott, – the master of ~the Stoke~ – conceived of a Strade of his own. While the Shenandoah Valley may not be the lavish hills of Chianti, it sure has charm that few can match and gravel roads that are hard to come by, thus providing the perfect template for me to start my new chapter coming back home.
The race turned out to be far from poetic. A broken spoke 27 miles in and short of the day would not be one of success but one of frustration. Yet, in the chase that I’m sure ensued I had a sublime experience of sentimental glory. Even though I was not at the front of the race, to have the fire on my back and the burning the legs on roads I have known since I was a wee little 16-year-old was something I truly cherished. It brought me back to the days of my swashbuckling, buccaneers style. It brought me back to when I truly rode for a dream. A dream that I have yet to realize –nor ever realize – but a great dream, nonetheless.
After a morning of watching professional cyclists do something I will never do it was an amazing experience to again put myself in their shoes and play something resembling an imaginary game yet have players that were also real. Even though we were far from that divine action we all watched on our TV’s this morning the dream and the fire that I experienced when I was a 16-year-old kid came flooding back and powered me to a memorable ride on a day that should have been forgettable.
Those emotions only grew on Sunday as I kept the gravel grind going, this time in the form of a casual gravel stroll south of my old hometown of Staunton. Instead of the competition, it was camaraderie which came through to soothe the soul.
It’s the duality for me.
One day, the gravel can provide an explosive theater for vivid expressions of competition, while the next day the same roads can serve as a therapeutic session of social sanity. It’s lovely, it’s unique, it what we want to love. What’s more, to then extend that feeling of backwoods, country fried joy to others – to offer glimpses into the foundational past of my youth – elevates both the competition and the companionship to a place of fantastic euphoria that is nothing short of silly.
I’m still sorting through what I’m going to do the next year. I’d be lying if I said I had a plan. But what I do now is wherever my path takes me I wanted to feel like the way it felt when I came home.