2017-11-01 / ReBooted

Big Wheel Keep on Rolling

Jill Gleeson

When I resolved to climb Kilimanjaro last year, and evolved this column into “Rebooted,” I figured that the time had come to up my game. I no longer wanted to be the lovable screw-up from “Go Pink Boots” fame, the goof who gamely tried every adventure possible — and failed at most of them. I’d lost my brother, watched my parents struggle with health issues, had my heart broken, all in the past few years. I wanted to become strong, in spirit as well as body. Tough enough to handle not only ascending mountains, but also any other tragedy life would throw my way.

It went pretty well initially — I got all the way to the top of Kili and down again without having to be airlifted off it — but I’m beginning to question whether I’ll always be more Lucille Ball than Wonder Woman no matter how many mountains I scale. Because try as I might, a bit of chaos seems to follow me everywhere, the way a sailboat leaves rippled water in its wake.

It even follows me when I do something as simple as riding a bike. A week after I came back triumphant from Africa, I drove down to Abingdon, Virginia, to tackle the Virginia Creeper Trail. Beginning at Whitetop, passing through the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area, and descending gently through lush forestland into some of the prettiest farm country in the country, the 34-mile-long rails-to-trails path draws cyclists from all over the planet.

It even draws novices like me who don’t own bikes. In fact, the last time I’d biked was... Well, I can’t remember the last time. That was OK, though, because the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon will not only rent you a bicycle, but they’ll actually haul both you and it up to the top of the mountain.

I admit when I started down the trail I was a little anxious. I wasn’t great with changing gears and I refused to use the front brakes because I was afraid I’d come to a sudden, squealing halt, flying ass over tin cups past the handlebars. But it wasn’t long before I relaxed, smiling wide as I clattered over soaring bridges that had once served the railroad, coasting back down to follow along beside the still banks of the Whitetop Laurel River. It was August, but the air under the tree canopy was cool, the breeze lifting the hair off my face. I remembered why I’d loved riding so much as a child. It was pure pleasure.

I’d gone less than halfway when I felt something shift, the bike suddenly an ungainly thing. I’d gotten a flat. I was dismayed but unsurprised. This was the kind of thing that happened to the person I was before I decided to be... capable. I had no idea how to use a tire repair kit, and in any case had forgotten I even had one in the little bag strapped to my handlebars. I continued pedaling, more or less ignoring the situation until I thought of something better to do.

Pretty soon a good ol’ boy type rode up beside me. “You got a flat,” he said, deadpan.

“I know,” I sighed, not looking at him.

“Well, you better come on over here and let me see if I can fix ’er.”

In no time he had my bike wheel off and was pumping up the spare tube. Every once in awhile a concerned citizen would stop and ask if we needed help. He didn’t. He was capable. I was...not. Truth is, I’d have ridden my bike for another 20 miles on that flat, a frozen smile on my face, until the tire shredded completely and I’d been hurled into the river.

Eventually, after some hearty thank yous, I was back on my way. The scenery turned even prettier as I passed pastoral fields dotted with round hay bales and broken-down barns that only seemed more lovely for their decrepitude. It was a spectacular way to spend the day, and I promised myself I’d return to do it again. I might even learn how to change a bike tire first...or maybe not. Because I’m still, after all, me, and I guess that’s not such a bad thing. •SCM

For more information about biking the Virginia Creeper Trail, visit

Jill Gleeson is on the biggest adventure of her life. Follow her journey on her blog at and via her column at

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