BOREAS THE UGLY
Since the incident in Iowa where I set out to ride 120 miles, and ended up almost hyperthermic and in a motel after 50, I’d resolved to be more sensible with any decision to ride in wind and rain. It’s not a question of being ‘ard. It’s a question of not being a tit. So when winter storm ‘Boreas’ rolled on up the East coast just as I was leaving New York, my heart sank. I had two days to make 220 miles to Baltimore in time for Thanksgiving with a friend. I decided that the temperature was warm enough to give riding a crack at least and so, at 5am, I snuk out of a Manhattan apartment and was on my way.
The next two days were lacking in glamour to say the least. It poured. Constantly. And just when I thought it might ease up, the wind picked up and it hailed. Then it snowed. I went into a weird saddle-based trance, removing myself from the situation entirely and pretending I wasn’t there (I use this technique climbing mountains too, before you know it you’re lost in thought and at the top. Magic.) I couldn’t tell you exactly what went through my head for those two days, only that I tried to remain ‘chipper’ at all times, and if my mind wandered, I lied. To myself and to others I met. To questions of: “Aren’t you cold?, Isn’t it miserable to be so wet?, That can’t be much fun.” I retorted “Oh no, I’m fine, it’s not so bad, I love the feel of the driving rain against my frozen skin” . If all else failed I told myself I only had an hour left on the bike. Then carried on for six.
I tell you this not as a plea for sympathy (although it will be gratefully received and securely stored for the next storm) but simply to share trip evidence for the great Yin Yang that is life. Naturally, It’s awesome, but there always comes a time when you have to wade knee deep through a steaming of pile ugly to get back to the awesomeness.
Wet and cold, but definitely still chipper, I made it to Baltimore at last. And Thanksgiving was a marvellous affair. We took the dog for a walk. Ate. Drank an oversized bottle of wine. Ate. Dallied around. Ate. And then, at around 5pm began preparing dinner.
“What IS that smell?!” Came the cry from Lizzie, the hostess with the mostess in the the kitchen. (Five minutes of Turkey sniffing ensued – surely a contender for an Olympic sport in years to come). Calls to mothers were made:
“Mum. The turkey smells like fart.”
“What kind of fart, darling?” (I wondered at this point how many kinds there were. I could think of at least three, and relevant subcategories to boot).
“Well. Sort of an eggy fart.”
“Ah a Sulphur dioxide fart (dammit I forgot that one). That doesn’t sound good. Is there any discolouration?”
“Errr… Hang on (pause for Olympic sport 2, Turkey staring). It’s yellow.”
And so with a jaundiced, farting turkey, our hopes of a perfect first ever Thanksgiving went up in a puff of sulphuric smoke. Thank goodness for the late night store and crispy chicken strips. I’m pretty sure the Pilgrims would have gone in for chicken strips anyway, had the Native American Indians offered them as an option in the first place …
Burnt corn fritters and chicken strips – traditional
Lizzie – the hostess with mostly the mostness
Boston and New York are incredible cities, but I’d visited both before. So it’d been a while since I’d experienced the little stomach jump that comes from seeing a famous landmark for the first time. Rounding the bend on the bike path into Washington DC, the Capitol Building came into view. It was perfectly silhouetted against a clear Blue Sky and so I squealed. Then giggled. Then mouthed “That. Is. So. Cool. ” and stared at it so long I almost rode my bike into the fence.
Lovely little ride into DC
The Capitol Building. Very very cool.
I never really had DC on my bulging bucket list until it became a part of this trip. I was a fool. Of course, I’d be a little disappointed if the Prez couldn’t get the city thing down pat on his own doorstep, but it delighted me nonetheless.
The bike lanes in and around town are some of the most impressive I’ve come across since Seattle, as was the attitude of the drivers to cyclists using them – a key indicator of how well supported cycling really is. The number of things to see and do in such a compact area is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The Art galleries cover French, Chinese, Greek, American and Russian work with indoor and outdoor collections spanning everything from the 330 AD Byzantine era to the 21st century. The choice of museums is no less redunk – Native American Indian history, Air and Space, American history, Natural history and Postal. And then there’s the monuments. Who’s greatest triumph to lend a sense of depth and soul to a city which is so young in comparison to other more established ones around the globe.
The Washington Monument
War memorials a plenty
Lastly but not least, there’s Abe. Mr Lincoln, the Lincolnator. It wasn’t until I spent time at The Lincoln memorial and at the American history museum afterwards, that I truly understood how he altered the course of the nation so dramatically. He was not only tenacious, but way ahead of his time. His irrepressible belief that every man was created an equal became a driving force in the eventual abolition of US slavery. Any man who sets such a morally righteous ball in motion, whilst maintaining immaculate facial hair, gets my respect.
The Lincoln memorial
I’m no history buff. In fact, you could likely attribute everything historical I learnt at school to one of those wooden rulers with the names of past British kings on it (Brits you know the one I’m talking about. Americans, see the pic below). I always thought history a little dull (hold your gasps. stay with me), and never really cared for ‘facts’. Litres of Mr Saunders (long suffering purveyor of education) Red ink were wasted on correcting my fictitious and elaborate accounts of what Henry the VIII would have said, had he been an utter dude instead of a gluttonous, wife slaying tyrant. But when I learnt, in West Virginia, that I was passing close to the site of America’s bloodiest civil war battle, something very odd happened. I was intrigued.
The extent of my History knowledge
And so the morning I was to leave Shepherdstown, I got up a little early and wheeled my way over the Potomac river to the town of Sharpsberg, and to the battlefield of Antietam.
Perhaps it was because it was a foggy morning. And that the rolling fields were blanketed in a heavy haze, which parted every now and then to reveal a distant cannon or monument to the dead. Perhaps it was that over 3,000 souls took their last breath here, and a further 18,000 were wounded – all in a single day. Whatever the cause, Antietam has real ‘feel’ to it. A murky effervescence, bubbling just above non existent, and just below the tangible. I wouldn’t have been entirely surprised if a ghostly figure had wandered from the field to shake my hand. Take it or or leave it, believe me or don’t, it’s an erie place.
The erie battlefield at Antietam
Leaving the Maryland, DC, West Virginia area, I felt reinvigorated – full from a three course culture meal, intellectually nourished and ready to take on the South. I’m currently winging my way through the Carolina’s, somehow managing to avoid yet another winter storm which has affected 43 of the US states. I’m feeling rather jammy, although I have feeling that in these last 6 weeks I may meet old man winter head on yet…
Until next week compadres, thanks for reading
McNuff out 🙂