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.