Audra Van Wart has both a demanding job and two sons to raise. She counts herself lucky that Roanoke provides a setting where she can “go right out the door” to her favorite sport.
If roanoke itself plays a role in someone taking up a new outdoor pursuit, then Audra Van Wart may well be Exhibit A.
“I came from Boston, and while I enjoyed getting outside up there, I had to drive to everything,” she says. “Here I can just go right out the door [she lives about a mile from Mill Mountain] and start. And the trails are so well-maintained.”
And what she loves most to go out the door and start?
“Mountain biking,” she says. “When I got here, I hadn’t ridden a bicycle for 15 years—since grad school—and I was looking for a way to overcome feeling a little blah, between the stresses of work and two little kids.”
Work? Van Wart is director of education and training for the Virginia Tech Carilion Institute, with a secondary appointment with the VTC School of Medicine.
Kids? With husband Greg Valdez, two sons, ages 8 and 5.
“Bicycling is my time away from family,” she says. “When I’m alone, there’s some peace in doing it. It’s relaxing and beautiful.”
Van Wart also rides in meet-ups with friends, and has joined the Roanoke chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association.
Her favorite riding spot is Mill Mountain, where she also does some running. She says she loves all the trails, with Sidewinder a particular favorite.
She began to get serious about her new pursuit in May of 2015, and it has reached the point where bicycling is not only “part of my life,” but has also helped her achieve being “in the best shape of my life.”
“I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it at the beginning,” she says. “You have to make quick decisions and you have to stick with those decisions. I had some pretty scabby legs at the start, and have continued to work on conquering more and more situations without putting a foot on the ground.”
And no matter the level of trail, she says, the key is committing to it. “A new trail means a new level of fitness and a new piece of beauty.”
She says her dedication to cycling has resulted in her “developing clandestine tactics for sneaking new gear purchases into the garage,” to get them past her husband.
“It’s like, well, yes, I do have a lamp already, but that’s just for the handlebars; I need one for the helmet, too. Or, you know, I could use lighter pedals. We’ve reached a point where if he notices, then I tell him about it.”
Van Wart says she looks forward to doing more riding at Carvins Cove as her skill level continues to rise, and more broadly to just enjoy being outside in Roanoke.
“It’s become something I have to do.”