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"Bikepacking" to William & Mary

Adam Bratton ’06 traveled more than 360 miles on his bicycle in three days from his home in North Carolina to campus

July 19, 2023
By Adam Bratton ’06

This excerpt is from a post from Adam Bratton ’06 on the Human Powered Movement website. Read the full story.

I went to William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and knew that this town between Richmond and Virginia Beach was well within striking distance for a pedal-powered trip. The flip side … I also knew that with two young kiddos in school, weekly soccer practice/games, professional obligations with MJ Bratton Agency and Human Powered Movement, other “work” trips like packrafting the Buffalo River, it would be tough to justify another solo venture so quickly.

January rolled around and we celebrated my mom’s birthday as a family. As we gathered, typical conversation turned to my dad’s birthday in March which was quickly approaching. Separate from my unspeakable college partying antics, my parents are huge fans of Williamsburg and have been lifelong supporters of Colonial Williamsburg. That’s where the elder Bratton wanted to celebrate his 70th birthday regardless of anyone else’s hectic life. A week later, my wife Kristi, overflowing with better ideas than me 99% of the time, flipped the switch that lit the light bulb. “Why don’t you just ride there?” My response was quick and succinct. “Yes. I love you!”

​After years of endless “wishful thinking” research for adventures in a 1000 mile radius of Charlotte, I immediately knew I could link up segments of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, the Virginia Capital Trail and the Colonial Parkway to find my way to the heart of America’s Birthplace.

I have two very different packing routines … a suitcase for “normal” weekend getaways with all the trimmings and comforts, and an ultralight and fully self-sufficient setup for multi-day pedal, paddle, and camping efforts. Both would be required for this trip, which was the perfect balance.

Bratton's bike with the supplies he packed


Day #1 – Wednesday, March 22

I woke at 6:15 a.m. to scarf down a hearty oatmeal breakfast, check weather (again), and make final gear preparations before Miles (6) and Maximus (4) wake up for their typical school routine. Just after sunrise, and after giving the family repeated hugs, kisses and assurances that I would see them on Friday, I pointed my geared loaded bike towards Southeast Virginia. It would be 360+ miles until I reached my destination less than 58 hours later.

The first day was designed to be the longest mileage-day of the trip for a few reasons. Fresh legs, more familiar roads, and an end goal of my brother’s house in Hillsborough, North Carolina, where I could look forward to a warm meal, cold beer and campsite where I didn’t have to worry about trespassing. I arrived at his front door 138 miles after saying goodbye to my front door 11 hours earlier. For at least half of those hours, I was graced with a consistent light drizzling rain. 


Day #2 – Thursday, March 23

Anyone that has driven the stretch from Durham, North Carolina, to Richmond, Virginia, knows that it is a 2-3-hour drive of rural nothingness via I-85. I knew this as well and was mentally gearing up for a long and monotonous day. I also had a less defined end goal on day 2 which can equally be a good or a bad thing. Nonetheless, I was already burning daylight and needed to cross into Virginia and bag as many miles as possible.

Bratton at a "Virginia is for Lovers" sign

These solo expeditions inevitably present a strange dichotomy. Anyone else’s schedule, opinions or suggestions are completely nonexistent. You’re also completely secluded for hours on end with nothing to distract or entertain you except the next turn. At this stage of my trip, the novelty of day 1 had worn off and the excitement of the final day hadn’t quite struck yet. 

Long story short, I hammered through a mix of asphalt and gravel for 127 miles before ducking behind a non-descript church just off my route to set up camp for the night, eat as many calories that I could pull from my frame bag and tuck in for an early night of quiet seclusion.


Day #3 – Fri, March 24

Before hitting the Virginia Capital Trail (a 50+ mile paved greenway that connects Richmond to Williamsburg), I snaked through endless farmlands, the urban sprawl of southern Petersburg, Virginia, and the unnerving crossing of the James River on the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge (complete with 20+ mph crosswinds, speeding tractor trailers and open grid metal surface … not ideal for 30mm road tires).

Bratton riding along a dirt road

Another dichotomy had just sunk in. I was thrilled to be on the home stretch but felt the results of my calorie and hydration intake dwindling as the miles continued to climb. My weary legs and lack of meaningful sleep over the past few days were sinking in as well. I caught a glance of the first mile marker since joining to the Capital Trail … 31 miles. Since I was finally off two-lane highways, the earbuds went in and I settled in for an autopilot stretch of glazed over riding. At this stage, it was another 50 kilometers stretch of straight forward pedaling until I reached Jamestown Settlement.

The history and perspective of this place runs deep. I continued my history tour by heading towards the heart of the world’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg, 10 miles away via the Colonial Parkway.

It is exactly one mile from the historic steps of the Capital Building within the colonial area to the academic doors of the Sir Christopher Wren Building on the campus of William & Mary. For most students, faculty, and alumni, the Wren Building is the jewel of the campus. It proudly stands as the oldest academic building in the country, is the “soul of the College” and is oozing with history. My finish line, however, was another half mile through campus, and at the gates of Zable Stadium and the Jimmye Laycock Football Center.

Jimmye Laycock Football Facility 

A flood of emotions came over me. I immediately found myself thinking back 22 years from that moment when I walked onto the Division I W&M Football team from a small town of 4,000 people in rural Pennsylvania. I took a chance on a whim and navigated things as they unfolded. The countless hours in the weight room, on the practice field, and studying film had and still has an unquestionable impact on how I approach my business life and my personal life these days.

Life isn’t always easy. Much like a football game or a multi-day ride, there will inevitably be some highs and lows. The perpetual drive to get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself with what is physically, mentally, and emotionally possible, and achieve a set goal is something that still motivates and drives me to this day. Something that drove me, figuratively speaking, over 360 miles to this exact spot.