Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Eight Action-Packed Hours in Charlottesville

I took the midnight train from Spartanburg and arrived in Charlottesville a little after 7AM on Sunday morning. Charlottesville was a late addition to the trip after a few people I had talked to in DC highly recommended the historic college town. I was in touch with the visitor's bureau, but they didn't have too many recommendations for car-free ideas. They did give me the contact info for David Brown, a former mayor, current chiropractor, and avid cyclist. I had a hard time getting a hold of him, but I finally spoke to David on the phone the night before my arrival. Not only did he have some free time the next day to meet up, but he gave me contact information for two other people to get in touch with. I called up Len Schoppa, who's very involved with Charlottesville's ACCT (Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation), and Jason Pearson, the chair of the city's planning commissioner and a fellow non-car owner. Amazingly, both Len and Jason also had some free time on Sunday and agreed to meet up.

As soon as I got off the train I was greeted by Jason, who also happens to live a few blocks away from the Amtrak station. We walked back to his place- an awesomely remodeled house built in the 1920s- and Jason and his wife, Katerina invited me to join them for a fresh and delicious breakfast. After the meal, Jason and Katrina lent me a bike and helmet and showed me around the UVA campus, including the rotunda designed by Thomas Jefferson and the many hidden gardens.


Then we rode over to the downtown pedestrian mall where I met with Len. Len's working on a lot of cool transportation initiatives through ACCT including creating "walking buses" for kids to get to school and making the city more bike-friendly. We rode over to a great bike/walking path that goes up to Monticello. The problem is that there is no easy bike-able way to get to the bike path. We had to ride on a busy high speed road with a small shoulder for a few miles before we arrived at the start of the trail. Once on the path, it was beautiful. We cycled over boardwalks and through the woods as we meandered up the hill. With my limited time in Charlottesville, I didn't actually get to see Jefferson's home, but we biked up as far as the path went before we turned around and headed back into town.

Once back in town we met up with David Brown, who had brought his unicycle down to the pedestrian mall.


He hadn't ridden in a while, but he was clearly experienced as he rode around and showed me how it was done. I clumsily stepped up- and then down a few times- and tried pushing off from a nearby metal cable. At first I could barely move an inch, but after ten minutes and a few breaks I was pedaling an impressive three to four feet. Len gave it a go too as did Liz, the reporter from the local TV station, though it became clear that you need to spend a few days with a unicycle to get truly comfortable.

Then I was off again to drop off my bike at Jason's house before heading back to the train station for my 2:45PM train. When I got to the station, I learned that it had become a 4:00PM train. I got comfortable and caught up on some emails- I've become pretty good at using train delays to my advantage. Although to Amtrak's credit, they did make up the time in transit and we only arrived five minutes late in New York. Which is where I am right now.

I haven't actually tried any new modes of transportation in New York yet, though I have plans to in the next few days. I had a few pressing things I had to deal with first- like getting my clothes a deep cleaning. I'm wearing mostly borrowed clothes right now, (thanks Robert!), as my clothes are being laundered professionally on the Upper West Side. I'm also getting ready for my appearance on the Today Show on Thursday. I'll be demonstrating a few modes of transportation, and I want to make sure I don't fall off of any of them. You can watch Thursday morning (between 10-11AM) to see if I succeed.

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