One of the things that excite Americans more than it perhaps should, is middle names. There can be only one actor in the book with your name, which is why Michael J. Fox has his J. There are times when the letter in the middle does not even stand for anything at all. President Harry S. Truman has an S. that does nothing but keep a little more distance between the y and the T. It is short for nothing. Homer J. Simpson comes close to a redundant letter. The J. there stands for Jay. Then there are those where the letter is important, such as presidents whose parents have been too lazy to think of a new name. W. makes a lot of difference, but few know that it stand for Walker. Even fewer know what the E. in Robert E. Lee stands for. Within the first 200 miles we got to brush up against the W. and the E. as we crossed into what is the official South.
Our leaving day was approaching every bit as fast as the storm with a ‘ severe weather warning ‘ label on it. The day before we were to leave it became apparent that they were going to coincide. Weather forecasts for any more than two days ahead are nothing more than an educated guess using a billion dollar super computer. With 24 hours to go, every one we spoke to began their conversations with the phrase – ” you’re not leaving Tuesday are You! “. It was going to hit as predicted.
We stayed put and watched the rain turn to snow by the end of the day. Our revised leaving day dawned with blue sky and temperatures just above freezing. You can’t cancel twice so we didn’t. We hooked the bags on the bikes for the first time in two months. Every new bit of kit we have is lighter than the thing it is replacing. But our whole-hearted embracing of the American lifestyle means that the total package of rider and bike is actually heavier. Add to this the unescapable fact that we are dreadfully out of shape, and the first few days were nothing short of purgatory. Cycle touring can be a cruel mistress.
3% inclines were met with consideration for a dismount and steady walk up. We have never been this out of shape. After 40 miles of linking bike lanes and quiet roads things got complicated as we entered the suburbs of Washington DC. Perhaps I say this far too often, but thank goodness for the gps. We picked up bike paths and “rail to trail” routes and got to within 100ft of where we were going to be staying. Then we lost a lot of time trying to work out the numbering system of the apartments. Life on the road never wants you to have a totally easy day.
Susie and Neil were our hosts for our first night. They have a cat. Cats the world over have tried to win me over from dog lover status. You are one or the other, and they know this perfectly well. Loading the bags on the bikes had shown up both our fitness levels and some mechanical issues. We had a short day penciled in for day 2 and we spent most of it making a nuisance of ourselves in bike shops. Mechanics roll their eyes so much it hurts their scalp when you tell them you have a knocking noise that you can’t quite pin down. We had one on Esther’s bike.
Santiago ‘ Pinkey ‘ Gonzales of Revolution Cycles has a spot on his bald head that turns slightly pink when he gets flustered. We were watching closely for this ‘ tell ‘ as the hours passed, and one after another the possible causes of slight knocking noise were eliminated. We were in the very capable hands of THE FIRST MECHANIC. Riding buddy and wrench to George ‘ W ‘, we were having work done by the best in the business in DC.
The spokes in the rear wheel had come loose enough to ping. Under the weight of the bags they were complaining with loud pings at every revolution. Pinkey found the problem and sorted it, and did not roll his eyes too much when I asked if he could do the same trick with my wheel. We were back on the road and nice and quiet this time, and had learned that George W. is an accomplished biker – who would have guessed? We ride to our host Gary, in Arlington Virginia and talk bikes far too late into the night.
The morning of day 3 is cold but dry. Even though yesterday was spent in bike shops, we both have the red noses of touring cyclists and cracked lips are making hot drinks painful. We pick up the Mount Vernon Bike Trail to take us out of the suburbs and into more open country along the Potomac River. The path cuts through forest that is struggling to find its first leaf after the hard winter. Bright red flashes of Cardinal, the local bird oddity. More Christmas tree decoration than any normal bird colour, there are territory’s to be claimed for the season and they are active.
We are in the South. Virginia was a Confederate State and today it leans towards the Tea Party end of politics. Every second person we talk to this morning is military, either serving or retired. All treat us well, but after the Mt. Vernon trail ends our fellow bikers are few. The pickup truck is 80% of the traffic and the bigger the tyres the better. With just 50 miles on the clock we end the day with a wild camp in Prince William Forrest. The first time we get to use our new Big Agnes tent and Exped sleeping Pads. We need to get used to them, but it will do for now.
I think back to a man dressed as a monk who was standing by the side of a road. We passed him without acknowledgement some miles ago. ‘ Demand Peace ‘ said the sign he was flashing at the traffic. He did not go into the why’s or where’s, or even the who’s and I thought it a bit aggressive at the time to demand stuff. You do wonder about people, and you certainly meet them when you ride a bike. I had considered taking a photo of him but thought he might hit me or worse without seeing the irony in it. The night passes with many a strange noise, but no Raccoons.
The next day started late. We were in no hurry and rather enjoying the simple pleasures of camp life. It is a good job we had a big bowl of porridge as second breakfast never arrived. We biked through rolling countryside of picket fences, churches of innumerable denominations, cows and horses. The wheels on the pickups got bigger. The woman at the store welcomed us to ‘ Red Neck Country ‘. We said ‘ Thank you very much ‘ and they like good manners here. The cycling had been just wonderful. We spend the night near Fredricksburgh, at a warmshowers host and again talk bikes till far too late.
My legs do not want to rotate and are screaming their disapproval at every revolution. It is more obvious now than at any time on our trip why it is that people do not do this. We turn into Robert E. Lee drive. I asked our host last night what the E. stands for and got a blank look. The war feels fresh here and the signs for this or that battle come up frequently. I start asking everyone ” What does the E. stand for ? ” Every single incline hurts today and my nose is pealing. By great good fortune and a bit of planning, we have the luxury of a bed at a lake-side home for two days of rest. Lake Anna, and the end of the day. Cycle touring is hard. Most would probably take a short prison sentence before a loaded trip on a bike and I can’t argue with their choice too much at the moment. We have already lost a few of the extra pounds and feel good about photos taken in profile again. The T. stands for ” Tiberius “, now I thought that was an easy one for James T. Kirk. We ask our hosts if the fishing is much good here at the lake ” It doesn’t add up to much more than drowning worms “. It is going to be a quiet couple of days then.