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!