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Unbound preview: My Verdant Path of Neglect

I wrote this journal before starting Unbound on Saturday. I was going to post this on Friday, however, my hotel’s internet was toast, so here it is as a little preview of the big report. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this little insight into how the sausage was made!

A couple weeks ago I realized I made a huge mistake. As an unabashed fan of controlled chaos and the benevolence of mess, I cannot say mistake are uncommon. Mistakes are really more a consistent reminder of the progress I continue to make.

Or so I say to myself.

This time, the mistake is one of gross neglect. Neglect not of anything living, but neglect of something, nonetheless. In travels born of lust, jealousy, wonder and nostalgia, I have neglected my own capacity to appreciate my own space. Through passion for adventure has come a passive ignorance to the wonders of my own home.

Of course, the neglect of the Richmond area – more specifically, the tidewater and piedmont regions of Virginia – has been something that has followed my tendency to Girovagando. Whether it’s the allure of the Blue Ridge or the long odysseys in the Rockies, my tether to my home roads around Richmond is rather loose, with my love of a road trip only stretching my horizons further like the blonde girl in all the movies from out of town that swoops in and takes the boys heart for a ride – you know the one. That is, until I had something, a reason, to anchor me here, something to force me to find the love of place that has been waiting for me in the country lanes of Virginia heartland.

In the end, the anchor, that motivator to fall in love with my home roads, finally presented itself in a cocktail of fear and – like nearly all the other elements of my life – cramming. More specifically, cramming for Unbound Gravel – the biggest baddest of them all. As I have pivoted from road to gravel, I wanted the first year to be something of a gravel hombre; a fade to dirt. Imagine a small dog peeking into a pool and slowly dipping their toe in before quickly taking the joyful plunge.

For me, I tested the waters at Rockstar and then dove in, wriggling my way into Unbound gravel with a last minute transfer entry, cannonballing into the deep end. So, three weeks ago, instead of looking at a nice slow build to some intermediate goals for the 2021 season I was staring down the barrel of the proverbial shotgun with a month to bash my way to the fitness I needed.

Thus, I had my anchor. Instead of looking longingly at far away roads to ride on it was time to get down to business training for Unbound on the roads of Virginia.

What the quick timetable meant for me, was instead of the small, controlled days and leisurely weekends away, I was bound for a single purpose life of riding and resting. Driving to ride in the lustful hinterland of the country was out of the question. My range was where my legs could take me from my front door and my perspective was the nuance of the roads I thought I knew.

In the training, the neglect quickly became apparent through the glorious sensational days in the saddle. While us cyclists get so caught up in sensations of gravity, vastness and scale, the simplicity, age and minutiae of the verdant Virginia landscape captivated me as the miles poured on. Cycling through these farmlands is an expression of sensory celebration and through connecting the dots on point-to-point rides, and riding loops of a scale that road race training couldn’t justify,

While the 500 mile weeks of training were good for fitness, it will be that sensory appreciation for my space is what will last. In place of the vast scenes of the West, I will remember the soft green that seemed to line every frame of my visual reel. That and the soft, sweet smell of the land that creeps up after the rain, not so much a freshness but instead a nostalgic perfume of the natural history that persists amongst the generations of human interaction that define this place.

The roads and lanes that criss cross the piedmont are visceral and vivid, yet also so ordinary. Ordinary as in, these places are not themselves a exotic destination, but instead a comforting home to many, and a home that is always appreciated. Through that familiarity grew an appreciation for those ordinary scenes. In the cover of an all-consuming green landscape was the sly shading and color of a diverse place with easter eggs abound. It was a movie that I had seen before, but also a movie where the plot line is just skimming the surface of the true passion the scenes hold.

Now, Virginia isn’t Kansas, and these paved lanes are not the shrapnel laden double track of the Flint Hills, but I believe the Unbound course will seem like the same genre of simple, beautiful movie. What I hope is that I can make it past the first layer of plot and find the depth of the greater story.After all, if I have learned anything from the past year it is that while gravel may revolve around the length of the racing, the true wonder and fascination is deep in the details. 

It is really all about the minutiae. 

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