John Shearer: Roger Vredeveld's Bike Trip To Charlottesville, Va.

Monday, July 15, 2013 - by John Shearer

Retired Baylor School teacher Roger Vredeveld saw some pretty countryside and quaint towns while taking a roughly 10-day bicycle trip recently from Chattanooga to Charlottesville, Va.

However, the most stunning and attractive scenes he found were those of the human spirit displaying itself in a friendly manner.

On several occasions, he said, he was the recipient of random acts of kindness from people trying to help him along the way.

“What really was amazing to me was that I benefited so much from unbelievably kind hospitality from strangers,” he said. “I met a lot of nice people.

“When you are on a loaded bike, I don’t know if you just seem vulnerable, but people want to help you.”

Mr. Vredeveld, who just retired this spring as a history teacher from the school where he graduated in 1979, is an avid bike rider, but he made plans for the trip only recently.

However, he has been mentally pondering such a journey for a long time. When he was young, he said, his parents were both educators, so they had some time in the summers to take long family trips out West.

He continued the tradition as a young adult and as his children, Nathan and Kristen, were coming along.

Not too long ago, he was visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota and started talking with a young couple on a long bike trip.

“I remember thinking, “Wow, this looks cool,’ ” Mr. Vredeveld remarked.

He recently bought a sturdier touring bike to allow him to carry some side bags, and with his swimming son, Nathan, having graduated from the University of Virginia and finishing up helping with a junior swim camp, he decided to head to Charlottesville.

Mr. Vredeveld left his Chattanooga home on Sunday, June 23, and arrived in Charlottesville on Wednesday, July 3.

However, the journey, and not arriving at the destination, is what he will remember the most. In fact, from the start, he realized it would be an unusually pleasant trip.

The first day, for example, he went up Highway 58 and was outside Kingston when a man on a motorcycle pulled up beside him and asked him where he was headed.

After a brief-but-amicable conversation, the man wished him well and went on. Then, when Mr. Vredeveld stopped at a Sonic in Kingston, he saw the man again.

This time, instead of just a greeting the Chattanoogan, he also had a gift. After learning Mr. Vredeveld did not have any housing arrangements for the night, he handed him a card from the local Super 8 motel and said, “Show this to the manager. Tell him your room is paid for.”

He had also made arrangements for him to have a complimentary breakfast the next day at the local Handy Burger and for him to have three Powerades for his trip.

At the restaurant, he learned that the man’s first name was Jack, and that he was known for doing random acts of kindness for people.

The next day, Mr. Vredeveld rode through Oak Ridge and later had lunch at Hunter’s deli in the area of Knoxville near Halls High School. Eating another big meal because of all the calories he was burning, he started talking with the operator in the restaurant and telling him about his trip.

Before Mr. Vredeveld knew it, this meal ended up being complimentary as well.

“I haven’t paid for anything yet,” Mr. Vredeveld said with a laugh

He then continued on up to a Cherokee Lake campground above Morristown and found a place to stay. The nearest restaurant was several miles away, and after riding more than 90 miles that day, he did not feel like having to ride anymore.

So he talked to the operator, saying he would buy someone’s dinner if the person or persons would drive him there. The operator told him to hop in his golf cart, and they began driving around the campground looking for suitors.

They did not go more than 15 or 20 yards before stopping at a campsite, where the family offered to give him a plate of homemade food.  

Just as enriching, he discovered, was the conversation he enjoyed.

“These were coal miners from Eastern Kentucky,” Mr. Vredeveld said. “I ended up hearing about coal mines. They were retired and fished on the lake. They were lovely people.”

He eventually went on his way and entered the state of Virginia. But the hospitality he found in Tennessee remained the same.

For example, Mr. Vredeveld soon realized that one of his wheels did not sound right, so he stopped at a bicycle shop in Abingdon. The mechanic discovered not enough grease was getting to the ball bearings, so he fixed it – free of charge.

Later, as he continued through Virginia, he decided to get online and join a network called warmshowers.org, in which traveling bike riders agree to host other traveling bikers.

After signing himself up as a host, Mr. Vredeveld decided to see if he could find someone to host him in Blacksburg.

He randomly called a man named Mike Abraham, who agreed to let him stay. Not only did Mr. Vredeveld get to take a shower and get some clothes washed, but Mr. Abraham and his wife also took him out to a potluck house party and an on-site folk concert.

He had such a good time visiting with Mr. Abraham – a novelist who is also running for the state legislature in Virginia – that he stayed an extra night.

“I had some great conversations with really nice people,” he said. “I would never have met him, but I happened to call him up.”

He later stayed near Charlottesville with an old family friend, Louise Freeman Davis.

Mr. Vredeveld then rode on to Charlottesville and was able to drive back to Chattanooga with his son – a little worn out physically but no doubt greatly refreshed emotionally.

While some of the days covered more miles than others, and parts of the trip featured steeper and more grueling routes than others, he still managed to find a sameness in the gracious hospitality he experienced.

In fact, it greatly restored his faith in humanity, he added.

“I was amazed how incredibly friendly and open people will be,” he said. “It was a great experience.”

Mr. Vredeveld is already planning a much longer bike trip next year to see his daughter, Kristen, who is joining the swim team at the University of California at Berkeley along with fellow freshman and Olympic champion Missy Franklin.

If that trip is anything like this one, however, whom Mr. Vredeveld sees along the way will likely be more memorable than what he sees.

Jcshearer2@comcast.net

 



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