Sunday, 28 February 2010

Day 1011 - New York

Whilst I was staying with Jerome he said to me “I would like to show you some photographs” so I assumed they would be from his bike trip across America, where we met in Arizona. They weren’t at all, they were of a project he had taken on. In a park near his home in New York State there is a wall with a mural on. It was old, the paint was peeling and it had become defaced with graffiti and had become little more than an eyesore. He decided that it would be a good idea for him and his friends to come up with something new for the wall, so he approached the local authorities and attended a series of meetings and it was eventually agreed that they could do it. He then had to go to more meetings to get the funding for it and they were finally given $350 for the materials. Over the course of a week they stripped the wall clean and set to work with the new image that they had decided on, one that they thought that local kids who went there to get high on whatever would look at and say “Wow! That’s cool”. During the week they worked on it, other kids (terminology that Jerome uses for people around his age of 20) became interested in what they were doing and joined in and helped until eventually so many kids of all ages wanted to help that he could no longer think of things that they could do. They all had a great time, it became not only a task to complete but also a place to hang out and just talk and enjoy themselves. The task was completed in a week. I have to say I as very impressed, Jerome showed me a whole series of photographs with everybody involved. He told me “Kids complain that there is nothing to do, but there is always something to do, it’s just that they do not use their imaginations and can not see a vision”. Just the day after Jerome set off on his two and a half month bike ride from coast to coast across USA. I woke early the following morning and lay there thinking, the paintings came into my mind and I thought about the enthusiasm Jerome had shown in both taking on the task and in showing me the photographs. Then I slowly began to realise that what I was looking at was also a pictorial representation of my journey, my life over the last 3 years. When I set off my little world was a mess, it had graffiti all over it, but I decided to set off on a journey, a journey to Australia. Slowly my life, my world was cleaned down, but I didn’t do it alone, I did it with the help of so many other people along the way, people I had never met before, people who didn’t even know they were helping me. I could see them in the second photograph. With their help it has taken my journey beyond my wildest dreams, I have been taken beyond the rainbow’s end, until now my journey is almost complete and I can see the change as in the last photo, my life feels vibrant, full of light and colour. But I am about to return home and when I get home I have to look after that painting, I have to ensure that I don’t let it decay and become covered in graffiti. That will probably be hard work, but worth the effort rather than letting it return to the sorry state of the first painting. Then I thought again about Jerome’s words “Kids complain that there is nothing to do, but there is always something to do, it’s just that they do not use their imaginations and can not see a vision” and I you know I think that can also be said of so many people’s lives, you here them saying “I don’t like my job but it pays the bills”, “I have got myself into a rut” and that favourite old British saying of ours “Life’s a bitch and then you die”, but if only people used their imagination, had a vision, fought like Jerome for what he wanted by going to those meetings and getting the funding for his project, then may be their lives could be revitalised like the mural.

Jerome had also asked me to give a little talk to his Outdoor Group at the Temple University. I am not a lover of talking in public, I get very nervous, but I thought I would give it a go. About 20 students turned up and I started to talk. I had written some notes, but I thought they were boring and when I started talking I took a completely different approach. Questions were soon being asked, in fact there were so many questions that it became a question and answer session. I enjoyed it and talked for 45 minutes with ease, I think far longer than I was supposed to. It was also nice to talk to some of the people that stayed behind afterwards including Sierra, a keen outdoor enthusiast who had created the group and a guy who was about to set off on a ride this summer down the west coast. Tabitha, a friend of Jerome’s came back to the house with us afterwards and Eric, whom I had met in Globe cycling with Jerome also came over and we had a really nice evening of discussions. I once again enjoyed Eric’s and Jerome enthusiasm as they recounted some the events of their journey. As Tabitha Left she gave me a couple of packages of food and inside was a little message that read “I look for examples everyday that prove there is more good than evil in the world, I always find them”. I really appreciated that, but it’s also a nice healthy outlook on life in my opinion.

The forecast was a 30% chance of rain, but it was already raining when I left. I found it hard to say goodbye to Jerome. I had a short but wonderful stop in Philadelphia and I am so glad I came here. All the kids I met seemed to have good heads on their shoulders, or at least seemed to be in a far better place than I was at that age. As we departed Jerome gave me a booklet which had the original words from the Declaration of Independence, something I had been thinking would be really interesting to read. Progress was slow through all the traffic lights, waiting at them was even worse in the rain. I kept going into cafes in the hope that it would soon stop. It didn’t, it rained all day, the very day I buried one of my waterproof gloves and couldn’t be bothered to dig it out. I paid the price, my hands got cold and wet. My route turned surprisingly rural, just what I didn’t need as the light disappeared early. I arrived at a set of traffic lights in the middle of nowhere, yet there on one corner was St Peter’s Lutheran Church. I called in to see if I could camp behind it. Steve the Pastor said “You can camp if you like, or you can stay in the room downstairs”. With water dripping off me a creating a small puddle it was a no-brainer. I had the Sunday school area to myself, including use of the well appointed kitchen. Steve even returned with a big bag full of food of cooked rice and chicken and some really nice fresh salad and fruit. He also gave me a very old and outdated map of New Jersey and New York City which I tried to turn down as it was of little use to me, but he insisted I take it so I gave in. I would really like to have camped out for the last time, but with the rain falling all evening I wasn’t going to complain.

The next day dawned to a very grey day. With a 60% chance of rain I had assumed I was going to get wetter than yesterday, though it just remained grey. I felt so much better than yesterday and pushed along easily. Thoughts were going through my head and time and kilometres slipped by unnoticed. I passed through New Brunswick and then Elizabeth and on to Newark. Whilst I stopped in a café I overheard a conversation. Now, in America a simple “How are you?” is really just a polite greeting, nobody really wants to know how you are and what your problems are, so when the guy serving said it to a customer he got rather an unexpected answer “I suppose I am ok. Guess where I have just come from to be dressed all smart like this”, “I don’t know….church” said the guy serving, “No, I have just come from my wife’s funeral, still we all have to die sometime”. His friend behind the counter had heard it all before and was either unfazed of not listening “Oh really….Sorry I missed you last week, I was away for the day”. What I saw of Newark was not pretty, either run down or industrial, more of the latter. The roads were terrible with large area of damage and gravel to be dodged. There were also large puddles from the rain. I didn’t dare going through any of them as I had a pretty good idea the road would be broken up underneath the water. I made my way to the ferry terminal to get me across to Manhattan. I used the map Steve the Pastor had given me, it was really useful and had far more detail than mine. The ferry would have been much harder to find without it. A truck stopped in front of me a flagged me down “What’s the furthest you have ever ridden on that bike?” he asked “Well in a couple of hours I will have just about finished cycling around the world”, “Wow, that’s fantastic” he replied, shook my hand and carried on. At the next traffic lights his passenger called out “Have you ridden all the way from England on that bike?”, then at the next traffic lights “How many hours did it take?”. Hours! That made me feel so slow when I yelled back “THREE YEARS”. Manhattan is an impressive skyline on the way across. For the past two years I have been heading for New York, it had always been in the back of my mind and there it was in front of me. Strangely I didn’t feel elated, I suspect my little brain doesn’t think I am finished until I am actually back home, even though it is only a days ride from the airport. Jerome gave me some excellent advice for Manhattan so I cycled north along the very good cycle path that runs all the way around. After about 10km I had to leave it and cut across Upper Manhattan in the rush hour. I headed out for The Bronx, it was getting dark and very slow going through all the traffic light as I had to squeeze my way through the queues. I reached Westchester Ave, it was classic big city America as I rode for miles along the road underneath the metro, the trains rumbling above my head. This type of road has been used in many an American movie and probably the very one used in a car chase in The Blues Brothers. I loved it, very atmospheric. I reached the end of the road and knew I was near to my couch surfing host Don so gave him a call. His instructions included footpaths and little grassy tracks to avoid the freeways that are around here. It had long been dark. It was a struggle, I returned to where I started but still couldn’t find the little paths. The final mile took me over an hour, I was frustrated but very glad to finally arrive. Without the map that Steve gave me I have absolutely no idea how I would have got here, it would have been almost impossible, it had been a God send, literally as it came from a church. I have become increasingly turned off from the Catholic religion, a feeling that has grown along this journey, so I thought it would be interesting to Couch Surf with a retired Catholic priest. Don was really interesting to talk to and had worked for 40 years in Africa. I expected him to try and make me see “the error of my ways”, but there was none of it. He was very subjective about all the issues we discussed.

I had made it just in time to New York. The 8-14 inches of snow that was forecast was falling by the following morning. It was a horrible wet snow. I caught the metro to Manhattan, though it was much more fun cycling below it. The compressed slush turned to ice on the pavements. Drains were blocked so deep water collected at the roadside which sometimes I didn’t realise was so deep and got soaked feet. I made for the Metropolitan and spent most of the day there. The place is massive, a complete maze. By evening the snow was deep. The weight of the snow had brought 5 trees down and people have been advised to stay out of the parks. As I write this the snow seems to have been falling all night, conditions look terrible. I am due to move on to another Couch Surfer, but I do not relish even the few miles that I will have to travel. Almost the entire time of my route across America people have been telling me “The weather isn’t normally this cold at this time of year, it’s the worst winter in decades” so I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that on my first day in New York, Central Park had a record amount of snow, a record that hasn’t been broken since 1894.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Day 1006 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In the last post I had a little moan about American security checks, well I am going to start this one with another little rant. Whilst I stayed in Washington Gene had to go to a hospital appointment. He told me it took him 15 minutes to get there and another hour to get through the 3 security checks before he could enter the place, though most of the delay was due to the queue they created. It’s a hospital for goodness sake! I am getting a bit worried about ever having to use one here following a fall on the bike. I have visions of lying there unconscious in an Ambulance at the gate of the hospital and a security guard shouting in my ear “I JUST NEED YOUR ID AND A CREDIT CARD, THEN ALL WE NEED TO DO IS CHECK YOU BAGS FOR EXPLOSIVES”.

My time in Washington continued as before with a bit of sightseeing during the day. Amongst other things I visited the massive National Cemetery at Arlington where I was one of the few on foot. Everybody else opted to pay $7.50 for the short ride between the main points of interest which took me about 45 minutes to walk around. Ok, it was cold walking, but they looked even colder waiting around for the next bus to pick them up. Main points were the grave of John F Kennedy, memorials to the space shuttle crews and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From the cemetery were good views over the massive and impressive Pentagon. I ate breakfast a couple of times at the renowned Ben’s Chilli Bowl, a place where amongst the other well know people to visitors, President Obama had eaten there just before his inauguration. The snow took the edge of most of the places, the Pool of Reflections in front of the Lincoln Memorial was an ice rink as were all the paths in the area. The evenings were spent going to a different bar each evening and sampling different beers. Gene takes his beer sampling seriously and writes notes on each beer and even wrote in the local leaflets for CAMRA when he lived in England.

It was time to move on. Finding my way out of DC was easy, just one long straight road. I headed north into Maryland which was remarkably hilly. At times the roads were narrow, twisty and steep. They seemed to have had far more snow than DC, though thankfully the roads were all clear. I passed through Westminster and started looking for a place to camp once I arrived in Mexico. By the time I had reached Manchester I still hadn’t found anywhere. With so much snow on the ground, still as much as 3ft in places, my tactics for finding a place have completely changed. Normally if I am near a village I stop looking, I like to be well away from people, but now my only chances are in the villages where snow has been cleared. But it is still a problem, if they are too big I don’t want to stay there, if they are too small I generally still can’t find anywhere. In Lineboro I found a patch of grass under the trees behind the church, so called at the nearby house to find the Pastor (pronounced pasta here). It was well dark before I was finally given permission. I camped in the snow in a graveyard, bliss, life doesn’t get much better does it? As I started cooking I was picked out by car headlights and somebody approached. I rather assumed it was a local person coming to complain, but it was Steve from the house I had been to earlier, inviting me to join them for dinner. Steve and Joan have 4 children, 3 girls and a boy being the youngest, and two dogs. They were all wonderful, a lovely happy family full of fun, but I bet they aren’t always like that! For the second night running I had sweet potato fries, highly recommended. They were interested in my blog. They started with one PC but within an hour they had 5 devices connected to the internet.

I carried on along smaller roads and soon entered Pennsylvania. The route was really nice, though a bit tarnished by the dirty snow at the roadsides, sometimes so deep I couldn’t even see over the top. It was hilly, very hilly, even more hilly than the previous day. I eventually reached Lancaster County and a small area I have always wanted to visit known as Dutch Country. It’s an area of about 15 by 20 miles and the home of the Amish Community. They are a religious community also know as the ’plain people’. They dress in black and the men have beards but no moustache and wear what looks like straw hats. They live a very simple lifestyle driving around in horse drawn buggies that have metal wheels making a loud noise on the road as they go along. The buggies are immaculate gleaming things, they probably take them to the buggy wash every Sunday. They also have another mode of transport that I didn’t know about. They use foot powered 2 wheel scooters with a little basket on the front. Apparently even a modest bicycle is too complex a machine for their simple lives. They generally live on farms, easily spotted by the buggies parked outside and the children running around dressed in black. Now in my opinion they cheat on the simple lives. I saw a number of them as passengers in pickup trucks. Apparently they can hire the use of them, including the drivers, but as it is not theirs is doesn’t count, it is apparently alright to use. They don’t have electricity apart from for farm use, though they are rumoured to watch football on televisions out in the barns. Still, it was pretty amazing to seem them, a community of people that looks as though it hasn’t changed for hundreds of years, all living side by side with modern day America. It was another night of struggling to find a place to camp. The villages were too big, there was no space behind the churches, I had little option but carry on. I called in at large house that had plenty of land but just received a friendly no, a sort of “We wish you well, but sod off!” I reached Parkesburg and called in at the fire station and came up trumps. They had nowhere for me to put the tent, but they did have some spare beds at the back. It was another eye opener for me as they informed me that all the fire stations in Pennsylvania are manned by volunteers, there are no paid fireman. If that is not bad enough they even have to do the fundraising to buy the vehicles themselves. We talked a little about travel. Bill told me of a couple of places he would like to visit overseas, but he would never go off American soil, he was too afraid of what would happen to him “I would have a target on my back” he told me. I suspect there are plenty of Americans that have that view, something that I believe is definitely not true, but it also a bit of sad reflection on how they see the rest of the world views their country. I was made very welcome and given coffee and snacks, but as they were volunteers they were off home, I had the place to myself for the night. I can’t imagine being allowed to stay at a fire station in the UK, let alone being left alone for the whole night. Thankfully they told me I didn’t need to know how the vehicles worked, but they did explain how to use the coffee maker. Above the coffee maker are is big long list very detailed instructions such as “Take coffee bag”, “Open coffee bag”, but the last instruction was “Press start button”, but there was no start button and nothing anything like it.

Despite being 50 miles to Philadelphia it was pretty much urban sprawl all the way, just small town after small town. It was easy navigation, one road the whole way. I didn’t have to look at them map at all and as I neared the city the tall central building came into view and all I had to do was head towards them. My route brought me into what on the surface seems to be the roughest and most deprived city I have visited in the US, a complete contrast to Washington. A very high percentage were blacks and I suspect most were poor and under educated. Blacks here dress very differently to the whites and there is little integration so it feels as though there are two cultures running along side by side. Jerome asked me to wait in the city centre as he would not be home until around 7pm. I cycled up there in the dark, another rough neighbourhood near Temple University where he is studying. He told me that Philly is one of the worst cities for drug problems and that is mainly overlooked by the police as they can’t handle the volume of work it creates. “If I policeman gets shot in this area it never surprises me” he told me “But I don’t feel in danger either, normally there are enough students around to make me feel safe”.

Philadelphia is an important historical city for America. I visited what is now called Independence Hall where on July 4th 1776 delegates of the 13 colonies met to approve the Declaration of Independence. The little tour around the building was really interesting. The Declaration of Independence stated words to the effect of “That all men are equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. I little odd then that they still had slaves, that women couldn’t vote and that they would push further west killing Native Americans that were in their paths. I think they omitted the clause “Applies to rich white men only”. Next door in a large, no expense spared building is a series of displays and films leading up to the one artefact on show, the Liberty Bell. It is not that big and very broken, but it was used when the Declaration of Independence was read to the crowd in the square. It just goes to prove you can make a tourist attraction out of anything if you give it enough hype. Surely the building itself and the location is what is of real historical interest.

I now have just 2 days cycling to reach New York. Recently I have found the cycling tough, it has been hard to be motivated. It’s a bit of a state of mind. Normally the first and last days of a stretch are the toughest as the first it is hard to get back into the rhythm and on the last I feel I just want to arrive, but on these little ‘hops’ I have been doing lately that is pretty much all I get. Added to that the fact that I am at the end of a very long trip does not help. I think I am struggling for motivation generally, my mind being on returning home, seeing my family and friends rather than being focused on what there is to see around me. I feel I am counting down the days.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Day 1000 - Washington D.C.

On Sunday I cleared Dawn’s driveway so that she would be able to get out in the morning. I guessed it would take about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes I had hardly started, it was hard, hard work. It was deep and had turned to ice with compressed ice at the bottom and painfully slow work, literally. Every now and then I would stop, look back to her car in the car port, them look at the road “Shit! I am still not even half way there yet!” Despite it being cold it was hot work. I worked in a T-shirt and wore no gloves. My hands were getting sore, then I saw why as my right hand was bleeding from burst blisters. I so wanted to stop, to hear Dawn callout “Don’t worry about that last bit”, but it became symbolic, that snow was not going to stop me getting to the road in the same way it was not going to stop me getting to New York. Now both were so close, yet would still need a final hard push. I got there, but it had taken over 2 hours of sweat. I went back in the house announcing “I don’t do manual labour” to which Dawn replied “Yes you do, you have just cycled around the world”, “That’s not manual labour, that is manual fun”. Actually I felt good for being outside, getting some fresh air, using a bit of energy, it was rewarding.

In my bedroom is a TV that is set to one channel, God's Channel as I call it. I think it is really something like TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network), whatever it is, it is great for sending me to sleep. The other night I listened to a preacher called Joel Osteen. He was in what I thought was a large stadium, but I think it was actually a massive church and the place was packed, it was impressive just to see that, I think it was somewhere in Houston. He told of his friend who was out hiking in the woods in a remote area far from civilisation. Suddenly on the path in front of him he saw a grizzly bear. The bear saw him and came running towards him. The guy thought he was as good as dead, he dropped to his knees and prayed to God saying "Please, please turn this bear into a Christian". The bear had almost reached him when it suddenly stopped, rose up on its hind legs and with its front legs reaching towards the sky it said "Thank you God for the food I am about to receive". I don’t really remember anything else about what he was preaching.

Another day, more snow. It was just awful outside so I stayed in all day. Dawn arrived back with her snow shovel in the back of the car so I set to and started clearing the driveway again. It still took much longer than I expected, but at least it hadn’t frozen this time, it took about an hour and this time I learned from my mistakes and wore gloves, though my hand is still sore from my previous efforts. I have been keeping an eye on the news, mainly for the weather to see when would be a good time to start moving again. There are lots of reports about Washington D.C. which has been badly hit and congress has been closed down for 4 consecutive days. They also reported that for each inch of snow that falls it cost $1m to clear up. I had no idea of the going rates, I will be sending Dawn the bill, though I might give her a couple of percent discount, but I should still clear $10m. My next Couch Surfing host in Washington has told me that he slipped over in the ice and has broken his wrist. I hope he is well, but it acts as a reminded as to how easy it is for it all to go wrong. It has also made me feel that I have made the right decision to sit out the weather as long as possible.

With a window of a couple of days of no snow forecast in either Richmond or Washington D.C. it was finally time to make a move. During our final evening Dawn wrote down all the new English words she had learned from me, none of them useful, such as lark, cheeky, cheerio, blimey, bloody hell, bloke, plus the odd phrase such as “Is this going spare” and a bit of Cockney Rhyming Slang such as “apple and pears”, “dog and bone” etc, but I was on my best behaviour and didn’t teach her “small brown Richard III”. In return she taught me nothing. The Americans are useless and have added no fun words to our language, they just seem content to pronounce them in a funny way! I arrived here to stay for two days but I am leaving two weeks later. Two weeks! Where has it gone? I arrived a Couch Surfer, Dawn was a Couch Surfing host, we departed as good friends. I really enjoyed reading Dawn’s books, then discussing them in the evening and seeing how those topics related to our own lives. I shall always remember her, I am sure we will stay in touch. I set off a couple of hours after Dawn, which ironically, was a couple of hours after dawn. It felt very strange to be cycling again, I didn’t really enjoy it, especially the bits over ice on a long bridge. Within a couple of hours I had settled into my rhythm and things didn’t seem so bad. I stopped in a café for lunch. There was a bloke there talking on a camouflaged mobile phone, though it was pretty useless camouflage, I could still see it. If you are going to have a camouflaged mobile phone shouldn’t it have a picture of an ear on it? The only time his would have been any good would have been in the woods and he dropped it. Then he wouldn’t be able to find the thing, so what’s the point? It seems to be less hunting orientated up here, probably because there are less deer and more people. I suspect there are about the same amount of guns though, it’s just that in the big cities I am heading for they use them on each other. I made good progress, the roads were clear and much better than I expected. I decided to get as far as possible just in case the weather turned for the worse the following day. By the time I started to look for a place to camp it was hilly, hardly any flat ground anywhere. It looked as though I would have to ask. I went along a long drive to a house where I had spotted some flat woodland nearby. I asked but was turned down “my father wouldn’t allow it” the guy said. As I waited for a gap in the traffic to rejoin the road I was called back “my father said you can camp in the pine trees near the road”. It was a bit too close to the busy road, but beggars can’t be choosers. I started to take a walk into the wood, then decided that this beggar could be a chooser and turned back. The snow was deep, way over my knee, it was almost impossible to walk through, let alone push a loaded bike through it. I carried on reluctantly as I was approaching the town of Stafford and camping opportunities would be even less. I spotted a fire station, so decided to see if I could camp behind it. There was nobody there, but there was an embroidery shop around the back. I asked them instead. “Sure, you can camp anywhere that you are happy with” then Donny showed me a building without electricity that I could use. It was perfect, apart from the fact that it didn’t have electricity! It was cold in there though. A couple of minutes later Joan came out “Come and stay in the shop, we have a small lounge out the back with microwave, fridge, a TV and a sofa. I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight thinking of you out here in the cold”. It was already better than setting up the tent and about to get much better. Once inside Joan said “Here, take this and buy yourself some breakfast tomorrow” and tried to hand me $10, “No please, I can’t, you have already been so kind” I replied, but she said “But I would love to buy you breakfast”, so I could hardly refuse. Sometimes I feel like a cat, you can throw me up in the air, but I always seem to land on my feet (That is not to saying how I treat cats though!). During the evening I called Dawn to thank her again. Ok so I didn’t use my name when I started talking but she replied with “Err, who is this?”. Clearly I have made a lasting impression!

I have to say that a breakfast in nice warm café on a freezing cold morning tastes even better when it has been donated in a good will gesture. It was too good, I really didn’t want to move on but move on I must. After the previous days good distance I was only left with about another 42 miles to Washington D.C., but constant ups and downs, a headwind and more sets of traffic lights in a single day than at any time I can remember, it ensured it would be a slow ride and a day that I never really got into any rhythm. I passed through the town of Alexandria where snow was piled up, seemingly far more than I had seen elsewhere. The traffic was terrible but I soon found out that the road ahead was being closed on and off so that bulldozers could fill up a fleet of lorries with snow. Here they are driving the stuff out of the cities, at the Winter Olympics they are bringing it in, the weather has gone crazy. At last I saw the Cathedral high up on the hill over the city, it seemed so close, but there was still a way to go. I crossed the river and made my way up 14th street, stopping at every block for the traffic lights, the timing was set totally wrong for a bike. I crossed Pennsylvania Avenue with the White House to me left, then shortly arrived at Couch Surfing destination, though I had trouble getting the bike long the narrow path cut in the deep snow. I am staying with Gene, ex military with a background in health and now working as a consultant with the government on health diplomacy. He has travelled extensively and his lovely three storey town house is tastefully furnished with items that have been given to him from around the world. As he took me out for a trip on the metro to see the Capitol at night (photo) I was soon to discover that he is a mine of information, very interesting to talk to about politics and has a very balanced view on it. He explained why Washington D.C. is the way it is. After the American Civil War the north and the south could not agree on where the capital should be, so in the end it was placed right on the imaginary border between the two being it’s own entity and not in either Maryland to the north or Virginia to the south. This creates odd little situations. For example it is not represented in congress, car license plate making that well know with the slogan ‘Taxation without representation’. There is a mayor, but they have no real power. Everything in the city is managed by congress, and not always very effectively. The metro is apparently the only underground in the world that has no maintenance fund, only having money spent on it in emergencies, so many of the cars running on it are condemned as being unfit for human transportation. Later, as we boarded another train Gene breaks the conversation with “…oh, by they way, we are now travelling in one of those death traps”. Still, I felt safe, if only by the law of averages as there had been a derailment only yesterday. We walked back via a pub that sold a good array of decent beers, the first such beer as I have had in a very long time, but unlike the rest of the country the capital has not been hit by the recession, there will always be work for the government, so good beer comes at a good price, but the place was packed.

On Sunday morning I made my way on foot to the cathedral. The whole route was walked through the narrow channels cut through the snow, or in the road. I was there to ring the bells and the most challenging ringing chamber I have ever had to find. I knew I had to go up a lift but there were 4 and the little official people wouldn’t let me up before the end of the service, besides, none of them really knew how to get there anyway. I eventually got there about 45 minutes later. Unfortunately they were only ringing 6 of the 10 as 4 bells had snow and ice on them which they could not remove. The ringing was good, they have a very competent band there. The cathedral was a wonderful building and sits on the highest spot in the city giving fantastic views all around. Inside it is crammed packed with stained glass and on a lovely sunny day the coloured light streamed in. One of the windows had a bit of stone from the moon in it, that is if you believe the Americans actually landed on the moon. There is also an ex president buried there. Being the National Cathedral, everything around here is ’National’, the 50 state flags were hanging in the nave, the church filled with the wonderful sounds of the organ, then later the impressive choir. I survived another metro ride to take me to the Mall. This is an impressive open space almost 2 miles in length and about a quarter of a mile wide with the Capitol at one end and a large memorial to Abraham Lincoln at the other with the sides cram packed with impressive buildings, mainly government departments or museums. I made for the National Gallery and a good day was made even better by seeing 5 Van Gogh’s in the impressionist section. Gene and I ate a block away from home in a restaurant cum bookshop known for its human rights campaigning. They are currently collecting 100,000 pairs of shoes to be dumped on the steps of the Capitol, one pair for each innocent life lost in Iraq.

I walked down to the White House (photo), much smaller than I expected. I checked out some of the fabulous museums, but had to be security checked at each one. At the Holocaust Museum I again had to put everything including belt, wallet, watch etc through the x-ray machine “This is worse that being at an airport” I joked, “No it’s not” I was informed as I was taken aside. My bag was being rubbed with a small cloth which was then put into a machine “What’s that in aid of? “ I asked, “We are checking for explosives” came the reply. This was part for the Smithsonian Museum, you could spend a week going around them and still only scratch the surface. It even has a separate building, a castle, just for information on the museums. I went it, I was told to go through another security check. This was one too many, I really couldn’t be bothered to go through all that again just to pick up a piece of paper that would tell me the opening times. Do the Americans really think that a terrorist is going to target what is basically an information kiosk? “Hell, they have blown up our embassies on foreign soil, they have targeted the world trade centre, who knows, the information kiosk may be next!” I can’t help thinking it is all political. Instil a little fear into everyday lives of people and that will make them feel threatened and the political decisions and measures can then be justified. Next stop was the National Air and Space museum where the centre piece for me was the actual aircraft used for the first ever flight by the Wright Bothers. I didn’t know they used to make bikes and what’s more, they have lasted better than mine! In the centre of the Mall sit’s the impressive Washington Monument, an obelisk type structure that stands head and shoulders above any other building here. When it was built it was the highest building in the world, but only for 5 years when the Eiffel Tower doubled the height. Now it is classed as the tallest freestanding stone structure in the world. A lift takes you to the top for views of…..snow! From the top I could see the ground below us through the snow, but little else. There was lots of blurb around on the life of George Washington, the first American President and a very important figure in American history. They told us how he was first in war, first in peace, a humble, humane man, they were full of superlatives for him. They also informed the visitors that it stated in his will that “his slaves were to be set free when he died”. Slaves? He wasn’t THAT humane then? It snowed all afternoon but thankfully never settled. As I walked home I witnessed a dodgy transaction, probably drugs. A quick handshake and a small package was expertly exchanged for a bundle of cash and hands then quickly disappeared into pockets. Later I told Gene about it “Did you see if it was a politician or a policeman? It is normally one of those people” he answered. If I tell you that Gene has a beautifully furnished house, doesn’t like to cook so eats out almost everyday, and has a Porsche in the garage, you may get an idea of his lifestyle, very different to mine. Clearly our wallets are very different too, mine is taking a right bashing at the moment, but I can not deny that I am eating good American food and excellent beer. Last night I was taken to one of Gene’s favourite bars. They have 6 cask ales and other 50 on tap and a huge array of bottled beer from around the world. In the fridge in front of me stood a bottle of Hook Norton, and in the folder I was handed which is updated weekly and takes 2 days to do an update, they even listed it as ‘Hooky’. They have a new refrigeration system here, it cost $100,000 but at the prices they are charging it should have paid for itself within a few minutes. It is funny how your mind can quickly adjusts to different prices scales. You can have a 3oz taster for $3-4, a bargain I thought as you can then taste a few. But hang on a minute, that is still about £2.50 and more than I used to pay for a pint when I left home. Hooky was $13 a bottle, I thought I could wait just a little longer!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Day 991 - Still in Richmond

Hey, another week on and I am still in Richmond. To make matters even worse I have hardly moved from the house. Dawn went off in a retreat on Monday and kindly allowed me to stay in her house whilst I was away saying “I really can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t stay here”. This is the sort of thing that makes me feel so good about the world, being trusted in that way even though I had only met just over 48 hours ago, though she did rather put me in my place by adding “You are on a bike, you couldn’t steal much anyway”, but I know what she meant. I am only the second Couch Surfer that Dawn has hosted and I was asked to be very quiet when her parents phoned as “They don’t really get this Couch Surfing lark and would probably go nuts is they heard I was leaving in the house alone for a few days.”

Dawn departed Monday, the snow was still deep, but the main roads were clear enough, but the cold nights had made it icy. I rode up to the local mall in the afternoon and was very glad not to be moving on. A little rain as the sun was going down and the roads were soon covered in a thin layer of ice so I had to be very careful when braking and heading in anything other than a straight line. Wednesday was a little better. To be honest I perhaps could have made a move but with a big snow storm with a special delivery for Washington D.C. it was perhaps a wise decision to stay put. Thursday was even better and by this time I was getting so bored that I was cleaning things amongst all my crap that I carry that had never been cleaned before. I read more books and tried to keep myself busy.

Dawn surprised me by arriving back early Friday morning. I had expected her back either Thursday evening or Saturday. “More snow is forecast for the next couple of days. 24 inches are expected where I was so I decided to leave before it started” she told me. Just minutes after her arrival it started snowing and snowed pretty much the whole day. It did its best to snow all day Saturday, but I made my way out on foot to the mall, I needed fresh air. Snow on the driveway was deep, but on the main road it was just a deep slush. All the shops in the mall were shut due to the weather apart from the supermarket. I sat in its coffee shop watching life go by. Here not only do the customers stand around and watch the staff bag up their groceries, they also watch them push the trolley out to their car and loaded into the trunk (boot). I am thinking about starting my own service here, for a couple of bucks I will eat it for them!

So not having much to write which ironically comes at the same time that I need to fill my time by waffling a little, I thought I would answer some questions that have been asked recently and forgot to answer in the previous post. As I remember there were 3 questions. Aoiffe asked about cleats, the funny things in the bottom of cycling shoes. Yes, mine do have cleats, but not the silly ones that you see some cyclists wearing that makes them walk like a penguin. There are all sorts of cycling shoes and mine are classed as ‘touring’. Mine are the only pair of shoes I carry (currently soaking wet from walking in the snow) so I chose them because they don’t actually look like a cycling shoes, so when worn with non cycling clothes they at least look sort of normal, in fact they probably look more normal than the rest of me. The cleats are reasonably flush with the bottom on the sole so you can only hear them when walking on rough concrete type materials when they grind the surface. They aren’t great for walking in as the metal on the sole tends to make them a bit slippery. Jacs asked to hear Anav’s (of the Twelve Tribes Community) answer when I stated to him that we both considered that we were leading our lives the way God intended us to, so we couldn’t both be right. He told me that each of us were at different levels of spiritual understanding and knowledge and that God wanted us to live the way we were to further our learning and growth. Oddly enough I have since read that same thing in a book, but talking about different religions and it would seem to make perfect sense to me. Finally Frances asked what country I would be visiting next. Well, my days on this journey are coming to an end. I have always acted and headed to where feels ‘right’ at the time, so consequently my journey has taken me further and lasted much longer than I ever expected, but now the time is right for me to return home. From New York I will fly to London and from there it is just a short cycle home. Then I will stop, but for how long I just can’t tell you, I have no idea myself.

Having been for a walk in the snow this morning and seen that there is thick ice covering the whole of the road, it does not inspire me with confidence for hitting the road tomorrow, but somehow I have to get out of this place. The weather is forecasting more of the stuff on Tuesday and Wednesday, so it looks as though my plans for route through to New York are going to have to be changed. It looks as though it is going to be main roads the whole way, though I guess I should just be thankful if I can just get through without having another accident. As requested, a few snow photos for you, more will be uploaded to the album in due course. Sorry Harpo, still none of the bike deep in snow, I am a wimp and staying nice and warm through it all.