June 22, 2007, Friday

Reston, VA to Hopewell, VA


This year is the 20th anniversary of Bike Virginia. Kerie and I have ridden on 10 of the last 19 and this would be our 11th trip. The organizers of Bike Virginia live in Williamsburg, VA, which is the headquarters of the organization. This year the event returned to that area to celebrate their 20th.

I've lived in Northern Virginia for many years, since 1979, and yet I've never visited Williamsburg, Yorktown, or Jamestown. I'm not sure why, perhaps I thought it was too commercialized and expensive. I have always wanted to go but never seemed to get around to making the trip. BikeVA was a good excuse to see the area from the seats of our bikes.

The drive down from Reston took about 3 hours. I-95 was crowded and crazy as ever. I can't imagine the daily commute of those thousands of people who drive north from the many towns along the highway. We decided to drive straight to the high school to register before checking into our motel. It's been many years since we've camped, although most cyclists do pitch a tent at "tent city" during the week. We picked up our free t-shirts, wrist bands that we'd wear throughout the week, and checked out the various vendors.

Mary Turnbull, wife of the original organizer of the tour, Alan Turnbull, gave an overview of the week's rides along with her annual safety talk. She discussed the various ride options; usually there are 2 or 3 of varying miles. She also talked about the ferry crossings and the logistics throughout the week. On the ride to Yorktown along the Colonial Parkway she warned of the wide seams in the concrete roadway; apparantly many people skipped the talk as there were many crashes that day.

Welcome party at Weston Manor
We checked in to the Hampton Inn. Luckily the bikes fit in the elevator without any problem. During BikeVa we rarely worry about brining the bikes into the room, everyone does it and we march right in with our recumbents. After getting settled in we took the shuttle bus back to the high school. Although we had access to the car, it seemed the right thing to do to take advantage of the free shuttle and not worry about parking. The big event that evening was a tour of the Weston Manor, an old plantation situated on the banks of the James River. A band played while cyclists ate and drank the beer and wine included in the price of admission, $20. We chatted with some friends, walked the grounds, then decided to see some of the sights of Hopewell.

City Point Historical marker
Hopewell has seen better days, a comment I'm accused of making about many small Virginia towns. Most seem to be dying or dead, with the big box stores on the edge of town taking much of the retail business away from the stores in the heart of the city. There were only one or two restaurants located there, and many shops seemed to be boarded up or in disrepair. But it seems like it was once a thriving downtown area, with shops on the ground level and residences above, a classic mixed-use area that I think will be revived in the near future as more people flock to real downtown areas as opposed to the fake, "new towns" that try to emulate a real city environment.

Grant's Cabin at City Point
A second shuttle bus took us into town. We stopped at City Point, the location of a huge Union encampment that was used to supply troops invading Richmond. Ships travelled down the Potomac and up the James to unload supplies that were shipped to the front by trains from Hopewell to Richmond and Petersburg. Almost nothing is left of the operation. The cabin that General Grant used to conduct the campaign is still standing, having been moved north and later returned to the site. Lincoln at one time visited during the battle.

Luckily we arrived just before the young park ranger closed the visitor's center for the night. He gave us a brief tour of the building and gave an overview of the operations that were conducted during the Civil War, which included a hospital for 15,000 people and the handling of 1,500 tons of supplies a day through the port. Back at the motel we readied our trusty steads for the start of the tour on Saturday.