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Say “No!” to Muddy Paws

Summer is over once again, and the cooler weather is becoming dismal and dreary more often than not. All the autumn and winter rains can foul up your best plans to get outside and play with your four-legged buddy. After a good storm you may be hesitant to take poochie out somewhere that he can romp due to the mud and murky puddles, causing him and all your surroundings to need a bath. Ever wonder where to take your pup to get some much needed exercise after being cooped up inside during the foul weather?

Working for a local dog-walking company, I’ve had a great time exploring new trails around Richmond where I can take my four-legged clients for adventure hikes. Many of these I never knew existed until I was in need of a fairly mud-free trail that was also near my client’s home. Below I’ve compiled a short list of a few of my favorite hikes where you can take your furry pal and be assured of staying reasonably clean in the great outdoors.

Belle Isle Loop
300 Tredegar St.
Richmond VA, 23219


On the way to Belle Isle.

On the way to Belle Isle.

Parking in the lot near Tredegar, you can take the footbridge over the James River and onto Belle Isle. Once you step off the bridge you’ll see a doggy potty station just to your left.  It usually has plastic bags stocked in the little box for your convenience. Don’t forget to pick up after Fido! While the path is not actually paved, it does have a substantial layer of gravel on the loop trail to fend off most puddles.  As you hike the trail you get a great view of Richmond’s skyline downtown as well as the dignified headstones from Hollywood Cemetery that overlook the river. There are plenty of opportunities to head out onto the rocks with your buddy if you’re interested in rock hopping. Continuing along, the path has a gentle incline that leads to the western side of the island and you’ll end up on the downward slope as you return. The trail is 2.1 miles from start to finish.

The James River Park System rules state that all pets must be kept on a leash. Remember, even if your dog is friendly, not everyone (other dogs included) is OK with your dog running up to them off-leash.

Forest Hill Park
4021 Forest Hill Ave
Richmond VA, 23225

One of many stone walkways in Forest Hill Park.

One of many stone walkways in Forest Hill Park.

This park is beautiful any time of the year. The main trails are all paved, so there is minimal chance of tracking mud into your life. From either parking lot you can walk down and around the scenic lake and make the loop back up to the gently rolling hills that are visible from Forest Hill Ave. The lake loop makes up a little less than a mile, but the distance of all the main walkways ends up totaling about 2 miles. There are some decent inclines and several sets of stairs in the park if you really want a good workout. You can help him burn off all those rawhides and bacon treats your pup loves so much. There are other paths through the woods that are very steep, slick, and muddy after a rain so be sure to stick to the blacktop. Several pet waste bag stations line the main trail, so you can grab them as needed.

Huguenot Park
10901 Robious Rd
North Chesterfield VA, 23235

I stumbled upon this great little park while I was searching a Google map one day. Huguenot Park’s entrance is on Robious Road, and it backs up to Johnston-Willis Hospital. If you live near Midlothian Turnpike and Courthouse Road, then this is a most convenient place to walk your dog. It boasts 2.32 miles of winding paved and gravel trails under pine and oak trees, and even features an azalea garden if you happen to go when they’re blooming. The terrain is very flat so if you have an older dog and want a gentle walk in the fresh air, this is the place to go.

Rockwood Park
3401 Courthouse Rd
Midlothian, Va. 23236

The paved path at Rockwood Park.

The paved path at Rockwood Park.

I’ve saved my favorite for last.  I just recently discovered this park, although it happens to be the oldest in Chesterfield County. It’s a bit of a trek from the city center to this gorgeous 161-acre woodland habitat, but well worth it, in my opinion. There are numerous rolling hills throughout the heavily wooded park, and the large main trail is paved for your convenience. A map at the trailhead (and also located at intervals throughout) illustrates color-coded trails with corresponding blazes along the way, so you’ll have a hard time getting lost. On the eastern boundary lies Gregory’s Pond, which is private, but offers a nice view of lilly pads and turtles resting on logs. Your dog will go nuts sniffing the tracks of all the small woodland creatures that scurry along the forest trails in solitude. Finally, if you’re not feeling particularly energetic, you can take your mutt to the dog park located on the south end of the property. The Ruff House Dog Park is one of the best perks here. You can let your dog play off-leash with his new best friends in the large fenced enclosure but be aware that there may be some muddy areas here.

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Maybe Winter is Not Coming

Shuozhou_coal_power_plantSo…what if we change the story? What if we set it on a submarine? Then all the characters – all those generations of heroes and villains – live within those fragile walls. Outside stretch the deep waters, black and cold and deadly; but inside they’ve gathered everything needed to survive.

There are sunlamps, and greenhouses where crowded plants produce oxygen and food, their roots filtering clean water from waste. Indeed, there is food and drink and space enough, not just to survive, but to thrive. There is work to do, but also ample rest and entertainment. There is music and dance and cooking and games and story-telling of every form. Within this bubble of protection people have love affairs, and make art, and raise families, and throw celebrations, and there are resources enough for nearly anything they want. But not everything.

There are, of course, limits.

There is only so much space; only so many places to put waste. Water can only be filtered so fast. So the residents rely on common sense. It would be disastrous, for example, to harm the greenhouses.  Too much depends on that system. Everything, in fact.

And while residents could explore the sciences and engineering, study medicine and innovate tools; they couldn’t poison their closed atmosphere. It wouldn’t be reasonable to build machines that generate toxic smoke. Certainly people couldn’t light their living quarters by burning barrels of oil.

In this story, it would be someone’s assigned job to monitor the ships’ life systems. A scientist would conduct air and water tests; someone would monitor a thermostat on board. Then, one day, they notice an uptick. They check their figures. They check their equipment. They reset the system. They watch again. Sure enough. The temperature’s rising. Not in every room on board, but in most; the common spaces. The water’s warming. And it’s warming faster. It’s messing with the carefully balanced life-systems. It’s in the red zone. The scientists sound the alarm.

Now…imagine we’re inside this story. How do we react? Do we complain about the alarm bell? So shrill and unending. Do we mock the anxious scientists, plug our ears, and light another barrel?

Perhaps we are barrel-salesmen, so high on fumes we hallucinate about gilded escape pods for our family and closest friends?

But no. We’re the folks for whom a perfect day is one spent outside. We’re the reluctant heroes, right? The cheerful and competent protagonists who only want to be home with our families, but rally anyway because if we learned anything from our ancestors it’s this: don’t hide in the closet when the house is ablaze.


Well, it’s getting hot in here. 2015 is on its way to being far and away the warmest year in recorded history (that’s 136 years of data) according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Next month, the nations of the world meet in Paris to discuss this long-sounding alarm, and each is bringing to the table a number; how many burning barrels they’ll extinguish in their corner of our sub. But there’s a rub. According to an early November report from the United Nations Environment Programme – those scientists monitoring our temperature gauge – the reductions promised by all 150 attending nations total only half those needed to avoid global climate crisis (i.e. the predicted point of no return).

That seems willfully unwise.

But this month brings good news too. President Obama’s rejection of the proposed Keystone Pipeline delays efforts to burn 100’s of billions of barrels of Canadian tar sands oil. It also revealed the power of public action — in Washington and New York and Richmond — to ensure that our scientists are heard.

So…what next? Offshore wind power? Solar? Cycling? Local agriculture? Opportunities to squelch fires abound. What matters isn’t what we promote, but that we do it now, and together. We need to be smart and brave and put in more effort than any of us wants to; because if we fail in this, our descendants face drought and flood. They face storms and fire. They face crop failures and wars over water and grain.

It’s time to look each other in the eye and say aloud, This is it. Because we’re heroes. Right? Reluctant. Unsure. But heroes still. We’re sure as hell not the ones who shut the door, turn up the TV, and try to drown out that damned alarm.

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Urban Adventure After Dark (With Your Dog)

As the daylight hours dwindle, it can be a challenge to get your dog out for a nice walk in the sunshine, especially if you work until 5 or 6 p.m. Since you can’t venture out into the James River Park System at night, here is a list of places in the city that are well lit and not super busy. These destinations can provide an opportunity for your dog to get some exercise and for you to take in some of the interesting sights our fair city has to offer.

Jefferson Park

Jefferson Park is a small greenspace in Church Hill. Although it’s not that large, what makes it a great place to walk after dark is the beautiful view of the city. There is plenty of grass for dogs to enjoy and it is pretty well lit throughout without any dark patches. The nearby streets are also well lit so a longer walk is definitely possible.

Main Street Station

Downtown and Shockoe can be fun to walk at night. If you and your dog start at 9th and Cary streets and walk down Cary through the cobblestones to 15th and then cross over to Main St, you can check out Main Street Station and the empty 17th St Farmer’s Market. Walking that route is a bit over a mile, and it’s easy to continue on as long or as short of a walk as you want. This route is well lit and has a good amount of foot traffic.


The VMFA is one of my favorite places to walk at night. It is really pretty with all of the outdoor sculptures, fountains and a reflecting pool. As you walk up the stairs up the hill, there is water flowing down the other half of the stairs, and it is always funny to see dogs’ reactions to it. If you bring a long leash, it’s also a nice place for dogs to get to run around in the grass. I like to start at Monument Avenue and walk down Boulevard to the VMFA down to Grove and then come back, which is about a mile.


Around VCU can be a great place to walk around later at night because it’s not as busy as it is during the day or early evening. The wide walkways are great for dogs that prefer having more space in passing by people. I often walk my reactive dog around VCU because I find that we’re less likely to see a bunch of dogs. The bonus of walking around VCU is that my dogs always get complimented for being cute!

These are just a few options for city dog walking after dark, but the possibilities are endless! Carytown can also be a nice place to walk around at night, and Forest Hill Park is decently lit, although with some dark patches, so it can be great to walk closer to dawn or twilight. Get your dog out for some fun urban adventuring and they will be so grateful!

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Sweet Virginia Breeze

Robbin Thompson (left) and Steve Bassett. Credit:

Robbin Thompson (left) and Steve Bassett. Credit:

What’s the difference between a sweet breeze and a foul wind?

A foul wind is what all of us in Richmond almost encountered a couple of weeks back when Hurricane Joaquin did that little jiggle in her dance somewhere over the north Caribbean, and none of our weather experts could predict exactly where she would go next (I understand that this particular dance was more of a European-style hurricane waltz, and our distant relatives across the Atlantic knew her next move the whole time).  Winds blowing over 40 miles an hour are always foul, never welcome where they blow, and especially not welcome here. For forest dwellers like us, these winds go from foul to damaging. I think we were all happy to see Joaquin’s exhale drift away from us and over the ocean as she danced to the tune of some European model.

A sweet breeze, by stark contrast, is what I experienced not long ago on the south bank of the James River just north of the Huguenot Bridge.  It was 4 p.m. on a cool, overcast Saturday, and our river was still choking slightly on the welcome dump of rain poured over its watershed before Joaquin ever danced our way. Richmond’s great brother was bleeding dark and heavy after the sky-dump, but in the days since has transitioned more gently through a Starbucksian series of shades. Milky mocha was the color of the James on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., and a gentle breath of air fresh from the mountains followed the watery earth-discharge from west to east through a dense throng of trees that are just beginning to show their autumnal age.


Bassett plays Jones Landing on the banks of the James River on the day Robbin Thompson died. Credit: Scott Turner

The band was framed by a small, rustic gazebo at the edge between a gravel parking lot and a grove of wide-canopy trees. Pecan, box elder, river birch, and American elm join to become the rafters of a green cathedral above the place where Steve Bassett sat beside his Hammond B3 organ. His arms were raised in bent extension to support fingers that brushed and fondled every inch of one of his greatest instrumental loves.

Only 10 or 15 humans were scattered in the cathedral to hear Bassett finger and blow out his blues, and I felt like I was one of the 10 or 15 most well-placed humans on earth as the music began.  It’s an uncommon thing to witness the performance of a blues artist who only hours before watched the passing of one of his best friends. Bassett and Robbin Thompson had written songs together, performed together, and even spent time at this very place together. They had shared together many special moments of creativity and expression. In summary, Bassett and Thompson had shared together Life itself — in its essence. Their early joint album was titled, fittingly, “Together.”

Earlier in the day we had wondered whether or not the concert would be played, considering the circumstances. We should have known better. The singing and playing was even more likely to occur, because of the circumstances, and the nature of the loss. It was Steve Bassett after all. Today’s grief would follow its normal course, through his voice and fingers.

With one song under his belt, and coming into his own, Bassett looked with approval over the small crowd. He reassured us that this close group was more the type of gathering he had hoped for for this particular performance. He noticed each one of us, talked back and forth with some of us, and cracked us up with small whips of self-deprecating humor. Roots Bassett, I suppose.

Bassett in concert.

Bassett in concert.

Early on he spoke very briefly about his loss, and our loss. He said his friend Robbin Thompson had passed this morning at the age of 66 and at the end of a long, spirited battle with cancer. He said Robbin was his friend, and he said that was about all he had to say. But then he played the song, to let us know how he felt. The song he and Robbin had collaborated on in their youth. The one that Thompson lived long enough to see recognized as our official state song. The light, sweet and loving song that blew into their heads and hearts on the front steps of a Floyd avenue house near VCU (then RPI) in the early 1970’s .

The sound of the song is light and sweet, but as a writing man, I warm up more completely to the words. Here are the words he sang Saturday afternoon beside the James, the ones he and Robbin Thompson wrote in their youth:

I woke up this morning, the wind blowing ‘cross my face,

I just had to look up above and thank somebody for this place.

Because he must have been thinking ‘bout me

When he planted that very first dogwood tree.

It’s where I want to be

Living in the sweet Virginia Breeze

The Sweet Virginia Breeze

Take me out to the country, I feel mighty good out there

But when I get back to the city of monuments

it just doesn’t matter. Where I hang my hat,  it’s home to me

The Blue Ridge mountains tend to set me free

its where I want to be

Living in the sweet Virginia breeze

The sweet Virginia Breeze


It wakes me up in the morning, and rocks me to sleep at night,

You’ve got a red bird sitting on your windowsill

You know everything will be all right

Living in the sweet Virginia breeze

The sweet Virginia breeze.


Well, sitting out on my back porch

I’m just watching the sun come up

The sweet, sweet Virginia breeze

Is blowing ripples ‘cross my coffee cup


He must have been thinking ‘bout me

When he planted that very first dogwood tree

And when that breeze starts blowing through the trees

You know everything will be all right


You’re living in the sweet Virginia breeze,

the sweet Virginia breeze.


The crowd grew slightly larger as the sun finally began to break through the clouds, and late in the program Bassett told us about another song he and Thompson had collaborated on. While sitting at this very place, 46 or so years after that other collaboration, both watching the ancient flow of our great river, both men were still seeking words and sounds for expression. Here’s what they found just one year ago:

Come on baby, and take a walk with me

Down this side road of memories

It’ll all come back, once you see,

right there along the river James,

you remember, that old magnolia tree

thats where I first kissed you, or did you kiss me?

You gave me your heart, I gave you the same, right there along the river James


So roll on, mighty river roll on,

lay it all to rest, down in the Bay,

roll on, mighty river roll on,

keep on rolling, mighty river James


up the river and around the bend

I heard those stories about way back when

let the water wash all those tears away

we stay strong again, along the river James


So roll on, mighty river roll on,

lay it to rest, down in the bay,

roll on, mighty river roll on,

keep on rolling, mighty river James


Still sweet, but infused with a different form of sweetness. A slower, heavier sweetness laden with memory. Pains and triumphs. Loves. Moments of inspiration. A sweetness filled with a soft compliance with physical time and age. A different sound from the organ. A different cadence to the words. An expression of not merely the sweetness of life, but the heavier sweetness of life plus the accumulation of human experience.

The sun finally lowered itself over the north bank upriver somewhere, and with a cool, gentle breeze still pushing through the darkness and following the brown water to the Bay, Bassett circled back. If an aging man is living well, he knows how to circle back. Back through those wonderful feelings of youth, always bringing those forward with him, always finding inspiration in the simple and sweet beauty and rightness of life. A spirit can age without growing old, if that spirit circles back often enough.

And so at the end of a mournful day, and at the edge of a river that is always aging and forever young, Bassett’s encore was a circling back. He laid his fingers to the keys and tilted his head to the sky and out came the sweet sounds of a happy, youthful spirit again:

I woke up this morning, the wind blowing ‘cross my face,

I just had to look up above and thank somebody for this place . . .

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What the World(s) Needs Now

The UCI World Cycling Championships in Richmond made fans out of these St. Catherine's students. Credit: WTVR

The UCI World Cycling Championships in Richmond made fans out of these St. Catherine’s students. Credit: WTVR

I am not a race fan. At least I wasn’t. The truth is, I had no idea what to expect from UCI 2015. Traffic, of course. And crowds. But I never dreamed I’d get a chance to travel back in time.

It’s mid-semester at VCU, which, for me, means one-on-one conferences with sleep-deprived first-year students. How’re classes? I ask. How’s your stress level? And how do you manage that stress? This last question usually brings blank stares, which I answer with a list of healthy ways to unburden ourselves – however briefly – from life’s inevitable strain: physical exercise, being in nature, listening to music, time with friends.

Late one afternoon, weary and over-talked, I sat down with an international student – a mechanical engineer – who told me he coped with stress by working more. That’s great, I said. Very responsible. But you also have to rest. Walk by the river. Paint a picture. Play a board game. Lock your dorm room door and dance, I suggested, now thoroughly off-script. When we do the things we loved as children, we feel like kids again ourselves.

Thinking of his child-self – a decade back and half-a-world away – he nodded, slowly. Then he smiled.

All the news I heard leading up to The Worlds – the presentations on tourism spending, the blown-up maps of street closings and emergency routes – focused wholly on the adult sphere. So, until the races actually started, I didn’t understand that Richmond was hosting an international city-wide Field Day.

Libby Hill had plenty of cowbell during the men's elite road race last month. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Libby Hill had plenty of cowbell during the men’s elite road race last month. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Remember the feeling of being at school but not IN school? The blissful chaos. The games. The din. The Worlds brought that all back (at least in the East End; I didn’t even try to cross town). For three days all the rules changed. We walked down the middle of Main Street. We rang cow bells, and screamed at the top of our lungs. Children chased used water bottles as if they were treasure. And everyone was friends.

To me, the most elusive, enviable magic of childhood is that friendship requires nothing more than a mutual desire to have fun. Prejudice, in all its many forms, requires ideas on which to pre-judge, and children lack the burden of that experience. They don’t approach would-be playmates with a survey: How do you feel about expanded Obamacare? Gun control? Mandated gas mileage? Little kids — God bless them — actually don’t see color. They don’t care what neighborhood you call home or what language you speak. Children can walk up to each other on the playground and vet new companions with one question: Do you want to play?

Fans captured a memory of the start of the men's road race at the University of Richmond. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Fans captured a memory of the start of the men’s road race at the University of Richmond. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Watching The Worlds made all of us children. For days, crowded together in the sometimes rain, we forgot our differences, set down our worries, and played like kids. There’s lots of data on what that gained us. I don’t mean the figures on visitors and generated income. I mean studies on the healing benefits of physical activity, and being outdoors, and time with old and brand-new friends. But the kid in me doesn’t need more proof than I got.

That felt great, Richmond. Thank you. Let’s take advantage of every occasion to come together, in the out-of-doors, and forget our stress. Because the answer to the question is obvious: Hell yes, we want to play!

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Big Man, Small Dog and the Trials of Leash Training

This is not what you're looking for when leash training.

This is not what you’re looking for when leash training.

I’m half-a-dozen sips into my morning coffee when I hear a steadily loudening conversation between someone with a deep voice and possibly a chipmunk.  I look out the window and see a cartoonishly mismatched pair coming down the road; a Paul-Bunyan-sized man and a dog so small that if the man were to open his palm all four of his little friend’s crayon-sized legs could stand comfortably on top of it.  In front of my house their conversation elevates to a squabble, and they both stop walking. The only thing keeping them from looking like two drivers arguing over who’s to blame for the fender-bender is the connecting leash.

The man talks to the dog in a firm tone, while the dog responds by jumping and spinning, his verbal reply more chirp than bark.  After a few seconds, I see that I’m witnessing the leash-train portion of their relationship, which I know from experience is a tough time. For them it hardly seems worth the effort.  When the dog tugs, can the man even feel it? Does he sometimes forget the dog is with him? If he does forget, and has to cover his mouth for a surprise sneeze, the leash and dog will go cracking through the air like a bola whip.

It takes a special kind of person to leash-train a dog, someone with limitless patience, like a professional dog trainer, a saint, possibly a Jedi. I tried as hard as anyone to leash-train my own. For weeks, every day after work, we’d train, and for a few steps the leash would hang comfortably slack in my hand, but just when I’d start thinking yes, yes, that’s it, you got it, they’d pull (hard), and I’d stop (barely). They’d pull until they got tired, and then stop.  Then we’d start again, the same routine, over and over, jerking and jolting down the street like a car driven by someone driving stick for the first time.  Sometimes I’d catch myself staring at their straining legs and claws digging into the sidewalk, and I’d be willing them to walk at a slower pace, just a little bit slower, but it never worked.  Lifting one of the passing cars with my mind felt more possible.  In the end the problem was simple; their desire to run was stronger than my desire to walk.  Ten years later they’re still towing me down the street.  I learned to walk faster.

article-2572480-1A37FD9D00000578-49_634x682Usually when I see someone attempting to leash-train a dog, they’re a wreck (like I was), emotionally leveled from all the hours and days of silent, fervent pleading.  “Oh, please,” their eyes always seem to say, “please, for the love of God, just… just stop pulling.  I’ll do anything.” Like me, they bought the books, sought advice from their dog-having friends, and checked online for alternative solutions, but nothing helped.

This man, though, looks like he knows what he’s doing. His voice is direct but calm, his manner diplomatic, and his spirit (so far) unbroken. They go a few more rounds before continuing on their way.  After a few paces the dog starts pulling again. The man stops, steadfast in his determination for a future of relaxing, peaceful walks. The dog keeps pulling, straining to gain the slightest inch, yet undeterred, not bothered at all by the lack of success. He’s happy just to be outside, walking around, together, no matter the pace.

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NICA Kicks Off Second Season of Mountain Bike Racing in Va.


Move over, refrigerator art. Credit: Mike Lang

With the first week (or more) of school in the books, this past Saturday, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association kicked off its second season of mountain bike racing with the Virginia High School Cycling League at the Miller School of Albemarle.  Now most of you know that a day at the races for Foghorn usually means a cooler full of beer, a megaphone and a litany of obscenities that would make a sailor blush. And you also know that a fine, upstanding institution like the Miller School spends about 364 days per year trying to keep people like me off the grounds. Saturday was different.


The middle school boys division is staged up for their start. 60 strong, with 30 middle school girls to follow.

I was able to accompany Little Miss Leghorn to her first race with about 220 other 6th to 12 graders, representing 20 teams from across the state. Now you likely won’t find your neighborhood high school colors flying here, as many of the teams are “collectives,” representing a group of riders from a certain geographic area, and from several different high schools, middle schools and even home schools. Truly a slice of American pie,  the full socio-economic spectrum is represented.

I was able to catch up with Ann Hardy, lifelong cyclist, matriarch of Richmond cycling and coach of Chesterfield’s Chain Gang team, in the feed zone. Between handing off water bottles and cheering on her riders as well as many others, she gave me some insight as to how she became involved in NICA and the Virginia High School Cycling League. Hardy learned about NICA at a cycling conference in Minnesota, so when the decision was made to start a Virginia league, she jumped at the opportunity to develop the sport and build trail advocates. When asked about the success of the program, she described it as “A win-win.”

On the competitor level, sportsmanship appeared to be overflowing. Everybody cheers for everybody. My pre-ride with Ms. Leghorn was a disaster. Mud, hills and pre-race jitters were not included in our 10-week training program around the Williamsburg area. As we sorted out the frustrations on the course, passing riders peppered us with encouragement.

I found 10th-grader Jaquise Winston fist-bumping a rival from the East-Coasters/New River Valley team whom he had just out-sprinted for second place in the boys sophomore division. The two had battled before, with the opposite result. Jaquise races for Craig Dodson’s Richmond Cycling Corps team, comprising boys and girls from Richmond’s Armstrong High School and MLK Jr. Middle School, the only inner-city team in the league. When asked about cycling as a metaphor for life, Jaquise had this to say:  “It’s like, you’re going to have a lot of ups and downs, but you are always supposed to finish strong.”  Well played, young man.

As is typically the case with youth sports today, the parents are all in, as well. I was pleasantly surprised to find the scene slightly toned down from the “hyper-caffeinated parents fretting over their kids split times,” as jokingly described to me on the way to the event. I personally made three coffee stops over the 90 mile trek.

Paul Croft, father of reigning U16 Short Track National Champion Adam Croft, chatted with me about what it takes to bring up a rider at the elite level of not just state, but national mountain bike racing.

“It certainly takes a lot of time, traveling to races… but it is certainly a lot of fun. I am really enjoying it,” he said.

Paul seemed relaxed and composed as Adam battled it out for a podium spot in the varsity division.  Adam is a home-schooled sophomore, racing for the 18-rider-strong Colonial Revolution team out of Williamsburg. Home-schooling, while not a racing-related decision, allows the flexibility to put in some serious training miles.

NICA and the Virginia High School Cycling League have everything you need to get your kid off the gridiron, the pitch or the couch & into mountain biking.  Wanna become a coach?  They can help you do that, too. Can’t find a team? They can help you start one. Check them out at


As for Little Miss Leghorn, well she turned out to be one tough chick after all…



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Let the World Come…and Go

“We’re no Charlotte, but we’re growing.”

Back in the summer of 2000, when I was new to Richmond, I heard this all the time. Worse still were the self-deprecating comparisons to Atlanta. I grew up in Atlanta, back when it was a city of trees. But I’ve watched that city disappear under “improvement” projects. I always wanted to ask, “Have you been to Atlanta?” Or, more importantly, “Have you tried to live there?”


Libby Hill: One of many RVA locales that will still be cool once the bike races are gone. Credit: UCI

Libby Hill: One of many RVA locales that will still be cool once the bike races are gone. Credit: UCI

The inferiority complex infecting some native Richmonders confused the hell out of me. I’d moved around a fair bit by that point: San Francisco to L.A. to D.C., then back to San Francisco. Right before moving to Richmond I spent three years living in the coal fields of north Alabama. No doubt that influenced my view of Richmond. This place had great coffee AND great libraries AND great movie theatres AND museums. Plus three colleges. I mean, come on, people.

But the years spent in other cities did as much to shape my appreciation. More than once I struggled not to laugh when listening to complaints about downtown’s “parking problem.” Compared to The Mall or The Haight, parking in The Slip was cake. And I was ready for cake.

Richmond once tried to sell itself as “Easy to Love” and that’s fine, but to me it’s an easy place to live. It’s not the pin-up city of your childhood. It’s the city you marry. And it finally knows it.

Our selection as site of the UCI 2015 cycling races is nice confirmation of our beauty (past hosts include Prague, Paris, Madrid and Rome). But we were turning heads long before. In 2008, out of all possible routes nationwide, the U.S. Open Cycling Championships raced Route 5 right into Shockoe Bottom. Maybe we didn’t see the compliment. Like an adolescent, we got caught up in our awkwardness and our flaws, but strangers saw our bone structure – the river, the architecture, the neighborhoods, the farmland, and yes, the enviable history, the rich diversity of which we’re only beginning to tap.

Ed Trask's Take 5 mural on the side of Millie's Diner. Credit: RVANews

Ed Trask’s Take 5 mural on the side of Millie’s Diner. Credit: RVANews

But it feels like somewhere in the last decade, Richmond shed its gawkiness and woke up…cool. We developed our own style, and with it, confidence. We stopped wishing to be some other place, and figured out what we are. And what we are is a bike city. We’re a paddling city. We’re a mural city. We’re a tattoo city. We’re a sculpture city. We’re a college city. We’re a city ready to pull the dirty bandages off our history of enslavement so we can, together, wash out and examine that wound. We’re a food city. We’re a time-to-fix-the-food-deserts city. We’re a neighborhood garden city. We are, and will always be, a river city. And we’ve become RVA.

This month “the world” will meet us. I say, Lucky them.

Then, in a snap, the blur of jerseys and the chaos of street closings will be history. The camera crews will pack their gear, and our guests will return to Prague and Paris and Madrid and Rome. And you know where that will leave us? Virginia in autumn. The Capital Trail will be finished, and calling. The James will run high with fall rains. The Folk Festival will be warming up. And we’ll be here. Because we’re the ones who call Richmond home. And I say, Lucky us.

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Keeping the World Safe

Hollywood Rapid can be a dangerous to the uninitiated. Credit Elli Morris

Hollywood Rapid can be a dangerous to the uninitiated. Credit Elli Morris

With the world coming to Richmond — i.e. tons of tourists descending on our fair city for the impending bike races — the James River will be a big draw. It’s an incredible resource right in the center of all the action. Will visitors be aware of the dangers that accompany the river? Let’s make sure they do.

Having been involved in a few river rescues lately, this article is primarily aimed at locals, people that know the river but might not know how much they don’t know. But the information should be good for all those out-of-towners who want to go experience the mighty James as well.

Each rescue I saw involved someone new to the river. This isn’t too surprising given the enormous amount of diversity, from flat water to rapids to tidal areas, with a changing river bed from spot to spot where it’s rocky, sandy, shallow, or deep enough to jump off bridge embankments. Additionally, the water levels can change from day to day, which has a major impact on river conditions. Those variables are partially what make the Fall Line so amazing and such fun, but also treacherous.

Swiftwater rescue team in training. Credit Elli Morris

Swiftwater rescue team in training. Credit Elli Morris

However, each rescue victim was accompanied by a Richmond local. Locals that obviously didn’t think they were being reckless and negligent yet clearly put their friends and family in danger.

Being able to safely swim the river, particularly in the downtown rapids, involves quite a few skills, ones that might be so intuitive as to be forgotten in one’s spiel about how to be safe. For example, swimming across the current above Hollywood Rapid can be done, but as a frequent river person you might not even be aware you are using eddies, reading the lines, looking out for obstacles. Telling someone to “keep your feet up” is accurate and necessary advice. But it isn’t going to keep them from being swept down through Hollywood Rapid. It isn’t enough information for them to stop being churned around in “God’s Hole,” or being pushing into the “Washing Machine,” and it isn’t going to help them figure out how to get behind a rock to get out of the current.

Saying your husband and son swim above the rapids all the time doesn’t mean it’s OK to let a 12-year-old swim unsupervised and unaware of impending rapids. Before anyone swims in the river, they must become aware of what’s in the current, what’s down-river, how to get out of the current, and what might happen should each escape goal be missed.

Richmond's swiftwater rescue team enters the water near Pipeline rapid. Credit: Elli Morris

Richmond’s swiftwater rescue team enters the water near Pipeline rapid. Credit: Elli Morris

Wearing a PFD (Personal Floatation Device or life jacket) is always a good idea. Using one in a whitewater kayak or canoe is mandatory. Especially when taking new lines with people who aren’t boaters. Not taking such risks, particularly with newbies, ought to be basic knowledge. The City of Richmond law mandates a PFD be used when the river is above 5 feet. Above 9 feet a permit is required to be on the water. Safe river levels generally fall between 3.5 to 5 feet. However, each location in the river is dynamic, wild, and changing, so learn to be wise about where you swim, boat, or float.

Remember, being a “good swimmer” is not the same as being safe on the river. Don’t get carried away with wanting to take visitors to your favorite spots. Take them to a safe, easy location, where they will have fun. Because getting carried away in a river rescue raft is not what anyone should experience as their first introduction to the James.

Use these resources for more information on how to safely enjoy the James River:

*The James River water level can be found on the home page (top left corner)

*James River Park

*James River Association River Watch



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How is Time Like Butter?

Butterfly 2How is time like butter?

They both fly.

That was bad, but I make no apologies. Seriously, though, the last few days of summer are slipping through our fingers. Pretty soon we will all stop complaining about the sweltering heat and drenching humidity and start complaining about the bitter cold and (dare I mention it?) snow of winter. Sure, there’s the brief interlude of Fall/Autumn/Pumpkin Spice Season, but I’ve always thought of Fall as the Sunday of seasons. It’s great and all, but there’s the constant knowledge that Monday (Winter) is coming that kind of ruins it for me.

So join me, as we bask in the last few rays of sunshine before the leaves start falling, the snow starts falling, and the politicians start politicking. You’ve already seen that I love birds, but what you might not know is that I also really like bugs. Since I know that etymology isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I figure I can find some common ground on one of the few bugs that we can all agree are awesome: butterflies. And summer in Richmond means the Butterflies LIVE! Exhibit at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

Butterfly 3Butterflies are a lot like birds, when you think about it. They both have wings and enjoy flowers. They both start off as small little worm-like things that eventually build a small shell for themselves, liquefy themselves, and then emerge as brightly colored winged creatures before they have to manually assemble their own nose (proboscis) in order to eat… Ok, maybe they’re not that much like birds, but I still think they’re really cool.

For a mere $12 for adults or $8 for children 3-12 (free for members!) you get both the awesome experience of the number 2 public garden in North America (as voted by readers of USA Today), but you also get to be surrounded by a collection of brightly colored butterflies from around the world and their not-as-bright-but-still-really-cool moth cousins. Hurry, the exhibit ends October 11!

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