Coming Down(ton) to earth

Our holiday is drawing to a close. We’re back in Blighty, having landed at the very uncivilised Sunday morning time of 6.50am. It’s good to see that we’ve brought the sunshine back with us, but a relief that the temperature is only knocking 70 (F) as opposed to over 90 (F) as it was in Washington yesterday. I’m pleased to report that our bags with the bikes in have also arrived safely and there doesn’t appear to be a repeat of the crushed helmet incident. The in-flight entertainment was reasonable, I watched Hitchcock and an episode of Downton Abbey, (I do like a nice costume drama). We were also entertained by the two (clearly gay) cabin stewards covering our cabin – where do they find them? Both boys, (they could hardly be described as men) were spray-tanned to within an inch of their lives. Forget cabin lighting – they positively glowed. They were also camping it up with ‘sweetie’ and ‘darling’ as though camp was going out of fashion. Their approach to dealing with passengers who wouldn’t put their drop-down tray-table up for landing or turn their headphones off was to go into ‘camp orbit’, flapping their hands, rolling their eyes and screeching at full volume ‘It’s not me darling, it’s the law’. Whilst this performance showed one side of Britain, the episode of Downton Abbey showed another. Wealthy aristocrats, big old houses, fancy costumes and servants, (after all, we all have them over here don’t you know!). The script of Downton Abbey is also full of ‘oldie-world’ English language that doesn’t often get spoken here nowadays, such as ‘marvellous’ and ‘splendid’. While watching, it dawned on me that the reason Americans ‘adore’ Mike everywhere we go in the USA is that he speaks to them in this very language, with beautiful pronunciation to boot, (you’d never know he was a Geordie boy!). As I chuckled to myself, I pointed out to Mike that he spoke to Americans with ‘Downton dialect’ – to which he replied ‘I do not, that’s how I speak to everyone’. I stand corrected, back ‘downstairs’ for me, I know my place!

Summary – day 17 – Washington DC – London and Bristol (Saturday/Sunday 06/07 July)

Up early and out for a run, (no cycling today, a long flight later … and a marathon for me in three months!).

It was warm, bright and amazingly quiet. We’ve been to the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall a few times now and it’s always been heaving with people. This morning was different – a few other runners and ‘power-walkers’, but really hardly anyone about. I was wearing my local Southville Running Club vest – so I wanted to have some pictures of me wearing it around Washington DC. We were out for only about 2 hours, we saw the Lincoln Memorial again, the WWII memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol.

It was extremely hot by the time we’d finished our run. We called into a grocery store to get some juice and fruit for breakfast then off for some more shopping for M. Apparently that store last night wasn’t Crate and Barrel – it was CB2 – similar, but different in some very important respects … so to get to the real McCoy required a Metro train to Clarendon to the west of the city. We found the store and there were some nice things there – including a Vitamix blender for $599.95 – I didn’t buy it! Matthew bought some stuff – citronella candles for the garden and a chopping board I think. Next door was a huge storage-type gadget shop, half the shop seemed to taken up with selling coat hangers of various kinds! I came across a fabulous and entirely unfamiliar (for Brits like me) ‘back to school’ -type display – stuff for pimping one’s locker! This included pre-cut ‘wallpapers’, miniature chandeliers, tidy boxes and mirrors to hang inside the door … I fear that I have seen the future!

Back at the hotel, just time to consolidate the bags before setting off for the airport. An extension to the Metro has been approved apparently, in the meantime getting to Dulles is a nightmare. Either pay a fortune for a taxi or a shuttle bus or take a Metro to L’Enfant Plaza then a bus, (this was quite a bit of hassle with our bicycles in their bags, but saved us in the region of $50). On weekdays the buses are every half hour and beyone reason on weekends they’re only every hour – even on the weekend after 4th July! Needless to say the bus was absolutely rammed and some people couldn’t get on!

Dulles looks a bit dated now and no oversize luggage facility that we could use so at check-in our bicycles were loaded by a rather slight man, who could hardly lift them onto the everyday luggage trolleys. It felt strange bidding them good-bye – especially as we just abandoned them in the middle of the concourse. I was worrying as we walked away that they might not get to our plane. It took ages to get through the long queues for security. But there was a little sushi bar by the departure lounges and the vegetarian sushi was vegan, so we had some of that.

The plane was an Airbus A330-300 with 218 passengers and 14 crew – quite a few empty seats dotted about.

I watched Admission – with Tina Fey, Paul Rudd – mainly because I saw that it had Lily Tomlin in. Fey is a Princetown University admissions officer who believes that a bright young man is the son that she gave up for adoption. She tries to get him admitted to Princetown. Matthew watched Hitchcock – with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren – about the making of Psycho. Then he watched an episode of Downton Abbey – yuk – dreadful Tory propaganda … he did keep chuckling all the way through, though. I’ve no idea why. After we’d landed he said that he was laughing at the language use, which reminded him of my speech! Grrr …

In early to London Heathrow, landing just before 7 am and time to wish my sister, Lisa, the best of luck today with her ‘Monopoly Run’ – a fundraising run through all the streets and placed on the London edition of the Monopoly board. It’ll be a hot one!

A run in the sun

I’m generally an early riser and as today is our last in Washington, (our flight is at 6.40pm) I was up early to make the most of it. What better way to start the day than with a run with Mike down to the Lincoln Memorial and along the National Mall to the Capitol? When we’ve been down there already this holiday it’s always been crowded and full of tourists. Going at 6am is definitely the best time to visit if you want to see it on your own. With the exception of a few other crazy runners out in the morning sunshine and 80 degree heat, (yes I know, it is 6am!) the Mall was all ours for the taking. Our running time was not great a) because of the heat and b) because we kept stopping to take photographs. Nevertheless, it was a brilliant way to round off our trip to Washington DC and a good way for Mike to start his training for the Berlin marathon at the end of September – I hope it’s a bit cooler than this then – run Mike run!

Summary – day 16 – Washington DC – Mount Vernon (Friday 05 July)

Mileage: 31.26

Cumulative distance: 948.78 miles

We didn’t pack our bicycles in bags last night because Matthew wanted to ride to George Washington’s farm at Mount Vernon today, it’s about 15 miles east of Washington DC. He’d also found a vegan bakery, about a mile-and-a-half from our hotel: Sticky Fingers in Columbia Heights … so we rode over there for breakfast. Wonderful to have so much choice. And it was delicious, really making the point that vegan food isn’t boring or in any way sub-standard. It’d be nice if it was available more widely!

We headed to Mount Vernon – first taking our bicycles on to the metro to Huntingdon, then joining a beautiful and well-used bicycle path alongside the Potomac River for about ten miles to George Washington’s estate.

Mount Vernon is made up of several gardens and outbuildings as well as the main house. A landing stage, the Washington’s tomb and a slaves’ cemetery. It was boiling hot – it felt like our hottest day so far and I have to say that I found the whole place a little underwhelming and somewhat dispiriting. At the entrance there was a gallery of photographs of some rather unsavoury visitors: Churchill, De Gaulle, Hussein of Jordan, the Reagans, various Bushes, lots of hideous royals including the Queen, Margaret, Charles, Queen Mother, Akihito of Japan, etc. (too ironic that they visited the house of a founder of a republic). Then I thought that the whole place had very odd air about it – strangely uninformative, uncritical and upbeat. It was disturbing to find that it was overwhelmingly being visited by white, overweight people. In the museum there was only one black person in the room – and he was the security guard. The place seriously needs to implement a diversity strategy! The shop had a very scary children’s book homage to ‘the remarkable’ Ronald Reagan! I tried to hide them behind some other books.

We cycled all the way back to Washington and that perked me up considerably – the path ran up the Potomac, often in the shade of trees, so it was pleasant and cool. There were some incredible smells: pine and cedar and maple syrup with mingled with the smells from the sea – all intoxicating. I’d no idea that the Potomac was do big – its tidal section and estuary are huge. Occasionally the path crossed little creeks or inlets on wooden cycleways, wide and close to the water, surrounding some were tall bulrushes and other water plants. As we neared Washington DC the route passed through a pretty old town – Alexandria, with some old shops and brick-paved roads – quite touristy, but not in an unpleasant way.

Then on past the regional airport – the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as it’s known. I do quite like airports and here there was some excellent vantage points from the cycleway to watch planes taking off and landing … in fact I spent as much time as I thought I could get away with there. However, I do wonder who came up with the absolutely stupid idea of naming the airport after Reagan. I also struggle to understand how enough people to make it happen could possibly have agreed? The man was a monster – his callous indifferent failure to do anything meaningful for people with HIV and Aids should be sufficient to condemn him forever – and that’s before mentioning all the illegal covert operations.

Back in Washington we stopped again at the Lincoln Memorial and people-watched for a while.

We got back to the hotel, showered and changed and then it was time to hit the shops. Matthew wanted to go to a trendy neighbourhood called Georgetown – something to do with barrels and crates, (not that we need either of those items). The area was busy – and we came across a section of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, there was a cycle path from Cumberland that would have followed that – but it wasn’t going to be suitable for cycling on. We called on at a lovely market: Dean and Deluca – we bought some nice treats there.

We took some pictures at the canal had a Chinese meal and back to the hotel to spend the rest of the evening dismantling out bicycles and packing them away for the flight home :(

King (or Queen) of the Hill

Our arrival in Washington DC was timed perfectly with the Independence Day celebrations. People certainly like to show their patriotism, lots of stars and stripes and red white and blue being worn. Almost everywhere we went the national anthem, (Star Spangled Banner) and other patriotic songs such as America the Beautiful were being played. We heard lots of ‘God bless America’ statements being uttered too!

After our quick bike tour to get the photos to prove we’d ridden it, we went to freshen up at the hotel. Then we visited the Air and Space Museum – obviously I was desperately keen to go here, (not! – but I’m a very supportive boyfriend, if ‘not very good at being a boy’ as Mike would say – preferring plants to planes!). After the Museum we met up with Mike who’d come into DC by car/metro to drop off our cycle bags at the hotel.

The National Mall was our destination to get a good spot on the lawn to watch the fireworks, (see more about all of this in Mike’s daily summary). We found a good spot, by chance next to a group of gay men – it was interesting eavesdropping on their conversation. It seems that gay men the world over have similar ‘small talk’ topics of conversation, (where people live, who they are going out with, which men they fancy etc.). The thing I find particularly weird about the USA is that despite their proud nationalism and independence they have a very odd obsession with our royal family. When we were in the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Baltimore they had not one magazine, but a whole section devoted to the British royal family. There was even a magazine just about the pregnancy of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. Being a devout republican (in the UK sense – I’m definitely more Democratic in the US political sense), I’d be quite happy for the Americans to have the royal family if they like, (I can hear my aunt Janet tutting at this point!). They refer to the capital here in DC as ‘the hill’, so if they want they can have Betty, Charles and the rest of them and put a Queen and King on the hill – they might find the ‘magic’ wears off pretty quickly!

Summary – day 15 – Columbia to Washington DC (Thursday 04 July)

Estimated mileage: 29 miles, actual: 32.67 miles

Avg. speed: 13.5 mph

Cumulative distance: 917.16 miles

It’s US Independence Day! We’re not sure how they’ll feel about two British guys arriving into Washington, D.C. today! Hopefully we’ll be fine, providing we don’t appear to be playing with any matches!

When we got up Mike (McL) had yesterday’s Tour de France stage replay on tv – so we watched that over breakfast. Then the broadcast carried on to today’s stage … it was going to be very hard to turn my back on that – but a short ride to Washington awaited and maybe a trip to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the Mall!

We left at 10:00 for a very gentle ride to DC. We went past the restaurant that we’d eaten at last night in Clarkesville and a just afterwards had puncture # 6 (Mike front – a small shard of glass went through the tyre). Once the puncture was repaired and we were in our way again we took Route 108 to Highland, then Brown’s Bridge Road. It was really quite semi-rural with lots of big detached housed surrounded by massive clipped lawns and lovely gardens – almost everywhere we could hear buzzing noises and there were people using sit-on lawns mowers and strimmers! We descended to a bridge over the Rocky Gorge reservoir, then on Ednor Road, Layhill Road – past Northwest Park Golf Course and over the I-370 into the start of the built-up area at Glenmont. Now lots of stops and starts at junctions along Georgia Avenue, through Wheaton, Forest Glen and under the Beltway (ring road) through Silver Spring. The houses were becoming grander and interspersed with lots of churches, a beautiful National Synagogue, parks and some minor embassies as we rode closer to Downtown.

Still two miles out and Matthew spotted the very top of the Washington Monument in the distance – the obelisk is the tallest freestanding stone structure in the world. As we approached we could see more and more of it.

It was with a real real sense of mounting excitement that we approached Washington – partly because it’s so famous, we’ve never been before, it’s almost endlessly iconic and of course it represents the final stopping point on our journey.

The road we were on – 16th Street – passed Rock Creek Park, which ended at Lafayette Park – and suddenly we could see the White House right there in front if us! Just Amazing.

Matthew was given a free tub of ice cream for Independence Day!

We saw some of the parade balloons and floats and marching bands. Then we went to the Lincoln Memorial for more pictures and back to the hotel.

After we’d cleaned up we took the metro to Chinatown and walked to the Air and Space Museum :)

The first incredible thing that it’s possible to do at the Air and Space Museum is touch. a piece of Moon rock!. They also have the actual Apollo 11 command module, (the cone piece that brought the astronauts back to earth and that parachuted into the sea); a lunar module, (LM-2, which was a backup); the Wright flyer; The Spirit of St. Louis, (Charles Lindberg made the first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927); a nose section from a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747, ( it’s possible to visit the flight deck); an Eastern Douglas DC-3; the plane Amelia Erehart flew solo across the Atlantic in, (the first woman pilot to do that). They had lots of first and second world war planes – including a beautiful late-design (mk-4) Spitfire. A Messerschmitt 109, a P-51 Mustang, and a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

Mike (McL) brought our bicycle bags in to Washington for us so that we could cycle in. He left them at our hotel and then we met up again at a branch of Chop’d – a fast food place that specialises in salads. After dinner we walked back to the National Mall to watch the 4th July fireworks. They began at 9:10 and lasted for 20 minutes. Huge crowds were sitting on the grass of the National Mall and in the streets around. We found a fantastic spot near the base of the Washington Monument. The fireworks didn’t disappoint – they were launched from the reflecting pool, which was just in front of us – some even became gigantic letters in the sky when they exploded – a U, then an S then an A – the crowds went wild with delight when they saw that. Music accompanied the fireworks, too – with a USA theme. It was all free – worth coming to Washington on the 4th July alone for!

We walked back to our hotel, had a drink in the bar, then it was time to say thank you and goodbye to Mike (McL). He’s been a superb companion on the trip from Pittsburgh to Columbia – helping us to keep the pace high, keeping the conversation going, making excellent suggestions about the route and what to see. Then he was a wonderful host – showing us some of Baltimore and Colombia. I feel proud of him. It was sad to see him go and we’ll miss him. Thanks Mike! Already we’re starting to wonder if we’ll get to see him in San Diego next year as that’s where his work is taking him next!

Tomorrow is our last full day in Washington – for this trip. I fear that it might be dominated by Matthew and shopping!

The British have arrived!

We have arrived in Washington DC on our bikes all the way from Chicago – how exciting is that?! The route from Mike’s house was lovely, through undulating countryside for about 15 miles until the edge of Washington. The roads were quiet as it’s a public holiday. We rode straight down to the White House for the obligatory photo and a free ice cream for me, (they were being handed out for Independence Day), I think I’ve definitely earned it. We cycled over to the National Mall and caught the tail end of the 4 July parade and saw the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol. After we freshen up we’ll go for a stroll, then later we’ll be watching the fireworks – happy Independence Day everyone.

Put the kettle on please, Barack

We’re about to set off on our final cycle stage of the holiday from Columbia to Washington DC. Mike has mixed feelings about today, excited about getting to Washington but sad that it’s nearly the end of our trip. I’ve tried to cheer him up by suggesting he starts planning our next ride (perhaps a honeymoon!). The route today is our shortest so far, only 29 miles so it shouldn’t take long (famous last words!). With a fair wind we’ll be in central DC for lunch and the Independence Day celebrations (if I can drag Mike away from the Tour de France coverage). A cup of tea would be nice too (we are British after all!), so if you’re in Barack we could pop in for a cuppa – and we promise not to burn the place down.

Dawn – on the 4th July

It’s become a pretty regular pattern over the past fortnight, wherever we’re staying I’m normally wide awake at 4.30am. Quite handy for keeping the blog up to date and for syncing with the UK, which is five hours ahead – but not so great for keeping refreshed. Today I have a good reason to be wide awake so early – excitement! It is 4th July – Independence Day, so have a good one to all our American (and non-American) friends who are celebrating. After our final 35 miles of cycling we hope to be in Washington by lunchtime to join in the celebrations. Everywhere we’ve been people have said how great It is to be in Washington DC on 4 July, there is a big parade this afternoon and after dusk the firework show to end all firework shows! I’m also looking forward to seeing the decorations. As we’ve cycled along I’ve noticed people putting up their red, white and blue flags and swags. Businesses also get into the mood by having special Independence Day shop windows – we saw this cake shop window in Cumberland, I’m sure there will be pictures of many more before the day is out.