Trent Wagler Tours on Two Wheels

Take a look at Trent Wagler’s tour schedule and you can see that the talented Virginia-based singer-songwriter is going to be spending a lot of time in the van. In this energy-conscious age, that translates to a lot of carbon emissions. Inspired to lessen his footprint, Wagler and band mate in the Steel Wheels Jay Lapp recently spent six days biking 285 miles through Virginia, playing concerts along the way. The trip took them through Harrisonburg, Staunton, Roanoke, Lexington, Lynchburg, and Wintergreen, and was filled with long climbs, well-deserved downhills, and a bit of trail magic.

Trent Wagler and Jay Lapp biked backroads to concerts all across Virginia.

What was the inspiration behind the trip?
We wanted to get serious about having a greener touring model. We started looking at a biodiesel vehicle, but put that on the back burner due to lack of funds. I soon found out other bands were touring on bicycles and decided that there was no reason why we couldn’t do the same thing. We talked about doing it as a full band, but we have an upright bassist.

Are you a regular rider?
Oh yeah, and even more so now. Over the years, I have done a couple other bike tours. I would never call myself a serious cyclist, but I have always biked for pragmatic purposes. And that’s exactly what this was. We were touring, and that’s our work, so this was how we could make our commute to work a little greener. And we were also hoping that it would inspire folks who were coming to our shows to think a bit more about how they are getting around and the energy they are using.

When was your first “What-have-I-gotten-myself-into” moment?
On day two we had given ourselves two days to get to Roanoke from Staunton. We set out hoping to cover 60 miles, so we would have an easy ride into town the next day, but we had this horrible headwind hitting us from the south. By the end of the day, we had only done about 45 miles. We were just being beaten down by the wind and these long, subtle hills were killing us. The wind was an invisible monster. Our morale was way down, because we still had a bunch of days left and we hadn’t climbed any real mountains yet. That was the real low point.

Definitely sounds like a rough day.
It was, but on the flip side, we had one of our best moments of the trip that day. It was around 6:30 and we were getting near Natural Bridge, doing all of about four miles an hour up this long hill. I was riding up front, and I looked back and saw this pick-up truck, also doing about four miles an hour, riding right next to Jay. All I could wonder was what kind of earful Jay was getting from the guy in this truck. It turns out he told us we had a place to stay for the night. The guy was an arborist who lived in Natural Bridge and had seen us getting on the road in Lexington. He told himself he would offer us a place to stay if he saw us riding down Route 11, so we ended up at his house, enjoying a great meal and good company.

What was the toughest stretch of road?
We had some tough road on both of the last two days. We did a lot of seemingly endless climbing between Lynchburg and Wintergreen on our next to last day. But what was great about that day was the last mile and a half or so. There was this amazing downhill and we coasted right into the driveway of Devil’s Backbone Brewery, where we were playing that night. We hit 43 miles per hour on the way down. That’s pretty fast when you are pulling a bunch of instruments and gear.

What did you take away from this experience?
Whenever I do a bike tour, it slows me down and makes me appreciate the areas I am traveling through. Playing music, I travel a lot, and when I am driving I am often focusing on the pavement. I don’t see the beauty around me. I also really appreciated being at the shows at the end of the day. We felt every uphill and earned every downhill. There’s also this sense of vulnerability when you are on a trip like this, whether it means watching out for cars or opening yourself up to meeting new people. As I find myself getting older, I find it easier to close myself off in my own little world. An adventure like this inspires me to find those unexpected nuggets of excitement and connection with people around me.