On Thursday, the 24th of October, I rode to the Amtrak Station in Charlottesville and boarded the Crescent to Washington Union Station. Destination: Bowie, Annapolis, New Castle, and Philadelphia.
The forecast of “warm and sunny” was half-right. Temperatures were pleasant, but the overcast carried a constant threat of rain. I promised my Warmshowers hosts, Ken and Patty, that I would arrive after 14:00. This allowed me to enjoy a leisurely lunch at Union Station, then to make my way calmly along the bike lanes of SE Washington, Anacostia and Prince Georges County.
The reason for the stop in Maryland was the 50th anniversary of my graduation from the US Naval Academy.
I had not expected to attend my Class Reunion, but when the plan to attend the American Translators Association Conference in Palm Spring fell through, I accepted an invitation to the launching and christening of the eight-oar shell donated to the USNA crew team by my classmate Pete Blackledge.
I have an association with Navy Crew that is not part of my midshipman experience. In 1960, I was the interpreter for Rusty Callow and the USNA Crew Team, who were representing the United States in the XVII Olympiad in Rome. You can read about it here: https://freewheelingfreelancer.com/2014/07/19/hermes-on-a-bike-the-olympic-messenger-1960/. The class of 1960 crew team invited me to their 50th Reunion, but I was unable to attend. This time, I could connect with those 1960 oarsmen and my own classmates.
I knocked on the door in Bowie about 15:00. Patti was home; Ken came about sundown. Patty and Ken have raised the bar for all Warmshowers hosts. Patty ran a healthy kitchen and insisted on feeding me supper and breakfast. As she fixed a roasted chicken and a sweet potato and apple dish, followed by almond-flour brownies, they told me about their 2015 TransAmerica tour, going East to West on their tandem. Their Santana tandem is a thing of beauty, leaning against the front of their garage.
Among the lessons learned was one for the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) about unintended consequences. The rapid development of the shale oil fields in the Dakotas put convoys of heavy tanker trucks on US-2, which was used by bicyclists following the Northern Tier of the TransAmerica Trail. The ACA decided to move their popular Northern Tier route to the south. They overlooked (or couldn’t overcome) the fact that US-2 runs alongside the railroad, which is where all the towns are located. There were few enough towns in the Badlands of the Dakotas, but there were even fewer on the new route. There is a serious danger of dehydration now, because the distances between sources of food and water are too great.
Patti was also the first person I’ve met in my travels who reads the same things that I do and is interested in the same issues. They both work for NASA (“Yes, I am a rocket scientist”). You can imagine the brilliant conversation to go with the good food. The neighbourhood was wonderfully quiet at night, too.
Riding to Hubbard Hall, the Naval Academy boathouse, from Bowie involved an easy 25 km the next morning, straight along Defense Highway (Route 450). There was little traffic, at least in my direction. I arrived on time and took a seat at the back of the gathering for the dedication of the Class of 1969 shell. The only 1960 oarsman there was Mark Moore, who invited me to their 60th Reunion, a small affair next April. He promised to remind the others about me.
I had lunch at the Westfield Shopping Mall then rode back to Bowie. I spent Friday and Saturday night with Dave and Shelly Buckley, whom I have known for more than 50 years. Dave taught English at the Academy, and Shelly was Carol’s roommate and the Maid of Honor at our wedding. It was a sweet reunion. We had supper at the Old Bowie Town Grille, which, despite the name, was a gastronomic delight. I had a tuna steak with avocado and tomato relish.
The Buckleys were going to the Homecoming football game against Tulane University on Saturday and invited me to join their tailgate. The football game is the main event of a homecoming weekend, so it would be a chance to attend the Class Reunion after all.
The next morning Shelly’s brother and sister-in-law arrived. We drove to Shelly’s daughter’s home, then convoyed with grandchildren and children to the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. We had tickets down front near the cannon that announced Navy scores. The barrel might have melted, there was so much scoring. Navy held a commanding lead at first.
I could not find my famous Class tailgate tent, so I sent text messages to a couple of classmates. They were in the VIP Conference room, enjoying food and drink and watching on large screen television sets. I joined them during half-time, and so I was able to go to my Class Reunion after all. Munching on a salad and sipping a beer, I sat with my Sixth Company classmates Bob Logan, Rich Dempsey, John Scully Tom Halwachs, Dave Clark, Stan Barnett and Michael Boyer. I caught Steve Hudock on the way out. The seats outside were better than being indoors, so I returned to my friends for the second half.
Navy fell behind. The game turned into a nail-biter: the customary third-quarter stampede to the parking lot was delayed. A desperate 48-yard field goal into the wind with only two seconds to go put Navy ahead for the victory, 41-38.
Back at the house, we tried to watch the World Series baseball game, until we could no longer stay awake.
On Sunday, the 27th, everyone awoke late in the Buckley house. Sitting in the cold wind the day before had sapped us more than we expected. I worked at the kitchen table while I ran my laundry and waited for the heavy rain to let up. About 14:30, I bid them goodbye and rode to Harris Teeter for some wine and cheese to take to Patty and Ken. As before, Patty insisted on fixing everything, so I updated the website, jthine.com, with sample chapters of the two books coming out soon.
Bowie was an ideal place to relax and rest. The Levitt homes have all the amenities, and only an occasional dog disturbs the quiet at night.
On Monday, Patty worked from home, and Ken went in about 07:20. I wrote the blog for that week and left about 14:30 for the MARC station at Odenton. The MARC train to Perryville was on time. I found the car with a green light, indicating a free bicycle hook, and hung my bike. Before my stop at Aberdeen, the conductor had me move forward two cars, because the train was too long for the Aberdeen platform.
Lesson: when travelling on MARC, tell the conductor where you are going. If the car will overshoot the platform, they can tell you. Then you may choose to stand with the bike in a car that will match the platform, waiting for a hook to free up, or know that you need to schlepp the bicycle and bags back a car or two. Also, ask them if the destination is at grade, so you are ready to step down with the bike if you can’t roll it out.
An easy ride on US-40 took me to the Super 8 Motel in Havre de Grace. There was a big supermarket next door and a microwave in the room. I fixed myself a nourishing supper and watched Game of Thrones before turning in.
Tuesday, the 29th of October was overcast and cool all day. Bicycles are not allowed on the US-40 bridge over the Susquehanna River on weekdays, but I could catch the local (Harford County) bus for only 50 cents and put my bike on the rack. I also caught a Cecil County bus to Elkton and saved myself a couple of dozen rolling miles on US-40. My friends El and Lydia were home when I arrived in New Castle. After chatting for hours, they took me to Casablanca, an authentic Moroccan restaurant. We stuffed ourselves on the seven courses, and still filled two shopping bags with leftovers. The red wine from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon was not worth $30/bottle, but it went well with the feast.
Heavy rain was forecast for Halloween, so I chose to book an extra day early in Philadelphia. About 11:30 on the 30th, I said goodbye to Lydia and rode the 80 km to the Apple Hostel. I got in before the heavy rains. It was free pasta night at the hostel, so after running my laundry, I enjoyed rotini alla marinara with a Campo Viejo Garnacha.
One of the great things about hostelling is meeting interesting people. I sat next to Marcus Wilson, a talkative 62-year-old rheumatologist. He recalled marching in the Selma-Montgomery march in 1963. His mother was the Emergency Room physician at Saint Jude Hospital, where those wounded by the police and State troopers were brought in. Marcus was only nine. The march went by his school, so he and the others joined the march as they walked home that day. He is a dedicated researcher and told me that the hundreds of newspapers in the African-American press have been digitized in the NY Public Library in Harlem. They were largely ignored by the white readership, but I am sure that the Harlem Library resource will prove invaluable in the future. According to Marcus, almost everything was in those papers, including the comings and goings of anyone worth following.
Friday morning, I spent catching up odds and ends that needed a computer and drawing up a timeline for the backstory to Emily & Hilda. In the afternoon, I wrote the blog for 10 November. For Halloween, I watched the last two episodes of Game of Thrones. My American cultural education is now complete, and I can talk about winter coming with confidence. I’m looking forward to whatever George RR Martin is writing now. I hope it’s full of Arya Stark.
The thermometer kept falling all day and all night, so that All Saints’ Day 2019 never warmed up. This was the first day that I wore my new Arc’teryx puffy jacket and did not feel too warm. I walked to the Pennsylvania Convention Center to check out the venue for my presentation the next day. While I was there, I helped stuff bags and thus qualified as a volunteer. This entitled me to a neon-yellow Exposition T-shirt.
The setup for the seminars (which we call presentations in other contexts) was all very familiar, so after chatting with the audiovisual technician and checking to see if Bina, the organizer, had anything else for me, I walked to Panera Bread for lunch. My friend, Matt Butterman, media man for the Philadelphia Bicycle Exposition, joined me there about 16:30. We worked on our respective writing projects until evening. After supper at the Anastasia Seafood (excellent), we bade each other good night at the corner of 9th and Walnut.
Saturday, the 2nd of November, I decided to wear street clothes rather than bicycle kit for my presentation, but I wore bike shoes. In the morning, Matt gave me a perimeter tour of the exhibition area, before leaving me to interview presenters for his media releases. Between us we passed out all but three bookmarks for the book Emily & Hilda, coming out in December. Next year, I will print fewer business cards but more bookmarks. There was much interest and excitement about a novel featuring bicyclists.
The presentation went very well as far as I could tell. The two-dozen people there asked great questions – the sort of questions that showed an understanding of the presentation but carried the conversation in new directions.
After the Expo closed at 17:00, I took my heavy yellow backpack back to my room, then returned to join Matt and his son Alex for dinner. We walked to a new place, the Butcher’s Smokehouse, which featured Southern cooking. As I gnawed my pork rib and slurped my collard greens, I expected a Virginia politician to walk in and make a speech.
The Expo party at the UBahn night club featured a line out the door, so I retrieved my bike from Matt’s room and rode back to the hostel. As I expected on a Saturday night, I no longer had the room to myself. All the beds were occupied. I turned my watch back to Standard time and slept.
On Sunday over breakfast, I downloaded the manuscript that my editor had sent me overnight. Kerry’s first comment was that there were over 200 instances of the word “now.” I spent 1 ½ hours checking those before shutting down the computer and riding to the Exposition. I saw my first ice puddles of the year in the shady alleys near the hostel. Did I mention that winter is coming?
At the Expo, I passed out 100 business cards or so, which were well received. In the afternoon, I sought out an interesting seminar to attend. Russ Roca and Laura Crawford presented on how to be a “moderately successful You-Tuber.” This is something that I know I will need to learn, so I found it helpful.
I found their blog, pathlesspedaled, even more helpful. I swapped cards after the presentation and got permission to use some of their material as guest posts on Freewheeling Freelancer. Laura remembered me from our correspondence about US Bicycle Route 90. She is the USBRS Coordinator for the ACA.
After the Exposition, I dropped my stuff off and returned. This time, Matt, Alex and I walked to Maggiano’s. I was ready to turn in early but did not get in until 22:35.
Monday, the 4th, I was up at 07:00 and out the door by 09:15. It promised to be a sunny, pleasant day, but with headwinds all day. I covered 62 km on my way to Aberdeen. In Wilmington, Delaware, I would start retracing my path. I passed the Amtrak Station and decided to jump on the Crescent and return to Charlottesville. The train ticket cost much less than a night in Aberdeen and the trains from there and Washington.
The Crescent arrived on time at 20:54. I parked the bicycle at home at 21:17.
It felt good to be back, but I already wondered where to ride next. Stay tuned.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,
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Jon…thank you for this wonderful blog! Why write fiction when you can write “true life” experiences with such panache!! Keep it up, my friend….stay warm and safe! ~ Jan
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Dear Jan — Thank you for your kind words. Fiction is in the soul of a writer. I must do both.
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