DAMASCUS, Va. — A small crowd of spectators in Damascus last week clapped and cheered as a Harrisonburg, Virginia, bicyclist sped across the last trestle of a bike route that ended at the caboose in town.
Abe Kaufman, 38, participated in the 2021 TransVirginia Bike Route, a 550-mile trek that departed from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, May 22, and concluded for the power cyclist on Monday, May 24, in Damascus.
Riding among at least 40 other cyclists, Kaufman finished the race in a little over 55 hours — two days, seven hours and 21 minutes, to be exact — crushing the record of 73 hours set last year.
Among the spectators in town was David Landis, an experienced outdoor adventure specialist, who created the TransVirginia Bike Route. Landis, who develops professional bike routes, co-founded the Jesus Trail, a hiking and pilgrimage route in the Galilee region of Israel that traces the route Jesus may have walked.
Although there are no prizes or money attached to finishing the TransVirginia Bike Route, Damascus Mayor Katie Lamb was on hand to present Kaufman with T-shirts, a cap and other promotional gifts.
“The TransVirginia Bike Route is very hard but very rewarding for the kind of person who’s up for a challenge and looking to see new places,” said Landis, who has ridden the route several times since its creation in 2019.
Landis, who also is from Harrisonburg, chose Damascus for the end point of the route because of his familiarity with the town, based on articles he has read about its charm and beautiful scenery.
“Damascus is Trail Town USA. It’s a cool town, and there’s something about riding from D.C. to Damascus that sounds good, too,” he said.
“To move across the state and finish on the Virginia Creeper Trail is an amazing ending to your ride.”
The TransVirginia bike route is a mostly unpaved, gravel bike-packing route from D.C. to Damascus that connects remote forested areas in Virginia, state parks and rail trails. The route traverses a variety of challenging climbs in remote areas of Virginia’s mountains, national forests and public lands.
“The route travels over paved roads, dirt and graveled roads. There’s a big movement now for gravel cycling,” he said.
Landis said the route was based off the Tour Divide, a 2,700-mile route through the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico.
Traditionally, most riders are from the Virginia area, but this year, riders represented numerous states. He credits the increase to the number of people who are finding outdoor entertainment during the pandemic.
Some cyclists participate just for the pleasure, riding only a portion of the route. Other cyclists take as much as two weeks to finish the route, he said.
Kaufman described the bike route as a “test of perseverance.”
“It was an adventure, for sure. It was interesting to leave the busy downtown D.C. and end up in the beautiful little town of Damascus, but it was a circuitous route to get there.”
With the clock always running, bikers decide if they want to sleep while on the route.
“It was fun to see how far and long I could push myself,” said the cyclist, who slept a total of three hours during the two days.
“After riding all day, it’s hard to fall asleep on the dot.”
His goal was to finish under three days. “But you’re never sure what can happen. There’s so much that can go wrong — your bike can break, a tire goes flat, or you become sick,” he said.
Kaufman said the only mishap he experienced was enduring a bug trapped in his ear canal for several hours.
Kaufman, who discovered gravel bike-packing just this year, said he will take another endurance bike trip again one day.
He may venture to Damascus, one of his favorite little towns on the trail.
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at email@example.com.