April 12th 1997, Batesville, Virginia

Well, here is the first of what I hope will become a steady stream of letters to tell you all about my bike trip across the country. Today I am "rained in" at my host family's house in Batesville, VA, and since they have email, I'm taking this opportunity to write a letter and try to tell you about the last three weeks that I've spent on the road.

On Monday, March 24th, I took a bus from New Jersey to Williamsburg, VA, and was picked up by my host family there. I ended up staying at the Hoff's for several days, during which time I reassembled my bike (it had to be boxed for the bus trip), took a day trip to ride to Yorktown, and just generally got organized. I left Williamsburg on Thursday, and spent the night in a campground in Jamesburg, only about 15 miles away from the Hoffs. (It was my first night camping on the trip, and so I wanted to have lots of time at the campground to set up and stuff.) It was a beautiful night, and my campsite was right on a hill overlooking the James River. After I cooked dinner on my brand new little stove (which, by the way, doesn't look quite so new now!), I sat on the beach, just thinking. I had plenty of thoughts, all fumbling about in my head, as I tried to understand my goals and reasons for being on this trip in the first place. As I watched the sun go down, and I looked at the stars and the comet that was just peeking over the tops of the trees, I felt so very tiny just an infinitesimal dot in this huge universe of ours and I sat on my piece of driftwood for a long time just feeling all of my emotions wash over me. I wasn't lonely, exactly, but I missed my parents and brothers and sister, and for the first time I was able to contemplate the enormity of this project I am undertaking... It felt good, though, the aloneness, and it was (and continues to be) an interesting experience, not to have to do anything except meet my own expectations. When the darkness enveloped me so that I could barely see the water that was lapping at my feet, I walked back to my tent and fell asleep in the stillness of the night.

The next day I rode to Richmond, and for the next three days I stayed with two different homeschooling families in Richmond and then a rather disgusting campground in Ashland. That third night in Ashland, it poured. It was one of those rains that just SOAK everything, and even though my tent didn't leak (and for that I heartily give my thanks to Eureka! tent manufacturers), I could feel the moisture in the air permeating everything. To make matters worse, the campground was right on the highway, and so all night long I listened to roar of tractor trailers and cars. Between the rain and the noise, I didn't sleep much, and when I awoke at 5:30 I wanted nothing more than to get out of that place. So I strapped my wet tent to my bike, gave my chain some extra lube to protect it from the sand and wet, ate some hastily made peanut butter sandwiches, and got out as fast as I could. But although the rain had stopped, that day was a rather intense one anyhow! The wind was so strong that it took every ounce of my to keep my bike on a straight course. Riding fifty miles that day was a challenge that I never knew I could overcome I have never been really good at pushing my limits, physically, and that day I pushed myself more than I ever had before. And yet, although it was difficult, I found myself enjoying it in a perverse sort of way. As I struggled up one particular hill, I realized that I was smiling, and it was so great to discover that I could push my endurance to point I never knew that it was possible.

I arrived at Acorn Community that afternoon, an intentional community of 20 people who live and work together, sharing their income and helping one another to live in a way that benefits all members of the community. I spent three days there, and another week at Twin Oaks community (just 8 miles down the road), and those ten days were amazing. I felt so inspired that the dynamic, caring, enthusiastic, fun, and cooperative environment at both communities, and I have become increasingly more interested in the idea of cooperative & egalitarian living. Both T.O. and Acorn have businesses (hammocks, a tinnery (Acorn), tofu making (T.O.), a CSA program (Acorn) in which each member of the community participates. Twin Oaks, since it's been around for almost 30 years and has 100+ members, obviously does things on a larger scale than Acorn, which is only 4 years old. But they operate on much the same principles, of valuing each person's labor equally and giving each individual access to resources to live a happy, full life. I found both communities fascinating, and I'm sure that I could go on and on about my stay there, but since I have way more to write, I think I won't!

Anyway, on Wednesday the 9th I left Twin Oaks (regretfully), and rode to Charlottesville to stay for two days with another homeschooling family. I did some touristy stuff there, like visiting the Rotunda and the serpentine walls, but we didn't do it in the conventional way! Mary (the mother), Emily, Luke, Daniel (the kids), and I took our bikes and rode around the U.Va, looking at the gardens and climbing trees and watching squirrels. In one of the gardens we discovered a group of students who were just about to put on a performance of Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale" which we ended up watching for an hour. (It actually wasn't that great, but it was the whole idea of stumbling onto the performance by accident that was so much fun!) And then yesterday, I rode here to Batesville, where I'll be until tomorrow (if it stops raining then!) when I get on the Blue Ridge Parkway headed for Vesuvious.

So, here it is: a rather inadequate synopsis of the first three weeks of my journey across the United States. Please understand that I haven't exactly figured out what to write to make these letters interesting, and so hopefully I'll get better as I go along. And now, until the next letter, I send my love to you all.

Sarabeth Matilsky

P.S. Hey, you know what? This trip is my "curriculum" for the final semester of my junior year in "high school." And what an education it is!

This e-mail was sent to her family, Grace Llewellyn, and myself (reanna).

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