Washington - You knew folks were up early as I could hear the clinking of tools as folks assembled their bikes in their bedrooms, one advantage I guess of jetlag means early rising for a few days. Tony really wanted to see the White House and as Washington is so compact that was easy and with pictures duly taken we headed for the Smithsonian museums. The original red stoned affair had long since proved too small and all the exhibits moved out but it provided a coffee and cake stop. The replacements lined the National Mall with at least 6 different themed museums of epic proportions and it was to the National Air and Space Museum that we all headed for as being America this was bound to have fantastic exhibits and so it proved.
Selma - The cycle to Union Station was simply in the calm of Labour day and there was a bike path right down the centre of Pennsylvania Avenue. The U Haul booked us in quickly and we loaded the bikes. Everyone had an hour to walk to the station for the 1050 departure and Colin and I had 5 hours to drive the 290 miles to Selma along the interstate and with Colin’s excellent map reading skills we didn’t make a wrong turn eventually finding the I95 south to arrive at Selma 30 minutes before the train arrived giving me time to drop the van of and return to the station before heading the short distance to the Quality Inn.
Mount Olive - On the road at 0830, into a warm and sunny day, through the lights and onto the open road. The roads were smooth, there were no hills and the houses and trailers were neat and tidy in amongst the fields of soya, corn and tobacco leaves. Progress was fast as we arrived at Princeton, sited on the train tracks where we stopped at a diner on route 70 for morning coffee. Heading South West, we took a detour towards Bentonville, site of a civil war battle in 1865. Arriving at 1300 we were just in time for a tour of the Hardy house. Within lay re-imagined rooms on the ground floor where 3 rooms were used for amputations and another for recovery. A grizzly re-enactment of blood soiled tables on barrels and blood stained bandages greeted us. The amputated limbs were passed out of the window but where they rested now was a mystery. The small museum had a great 15 minute film on the Civil war and a light board illustrated the battles progress put together from personal accounts. It was cost free and a great stop.
Jacksonville - 0830 starts were working well, so having made breakfast at the hotel we were of for another flat day. We got to Kenansville quickly and headed for the Cowan Museum. Sited in a small white house, Robin the proprietor greeted us and launched into demonstrating the various kitchen utensils that had been collected over the years by the founders who had basically spent years accumulating stuff, much of which no-one seemed to know what it was. Robin had spent the last few years labelling and cleaning everything up and was justifiably proud of the collection. We finished by having our picture taken for the local paper as there was a deal of excitement that a group from England had found the place. ‘Why are you here?’ We were looking for a place for a bite to eat and we were in a motorbike shop as it used to sell food. It’s full of nothing she said as she pointed the rest of the way to Jacksonville and so it proved as we cycled past several run down and shut stores testament to the Food Lion supermarkets and the big trucks that could drive you the 20 miles to the main towns.
Core Creek - The traffic was frenetic but extraordinarily courteous as we set out from Jacksonville. We zigzagged the main roads and back roads and got to Swainsborough in good time. The hassle was trying to find downtown as with most American towns the shops are on the main roads leaving downtown to be filled with antique shops and cafes, but surprisingly elusive. So failing to find it we settled for Hardies which majored on the ice machine. ‘Would you like small, medium or large?’ asked the server. ‘Does the small have a refill?’ I asked. ‘yes’ so I’ll have the small then!! Onwards and the only way was a 6 laned highway. No problem, fast, flat and a small shoulder. Inland we headed past mini swamps and decorated houses to arrive at Newport. Sounded nice but little there. The Food Lion on the larger road had sucked the life out of town but Fat Fellas was an oasis of fried food and salad. The final flat stretch to Core Creek was hot and sticky but the greeting from Gary was grand as we were upgraded to a bridge and marina view.
Ocracoke - A homely breakfast in the lounge fuelled up along the flatlands to the Cedar Island ferry. Hot and humid we stopped for an icecream at a shop that was about 4 foot above sea level but still the highest in the village. You can tell when the National Parks start, it’s when the shops stop and so 10 miles of the trip to the ferry were long views across sea and flatlands. Everyone regathered at the store near the ferry and we took the 2 ½ hour ferry to Ocracoke. The Castle B&B was our final destination where 3 apartments would house us for a couple of days. Salad and lots of it finished the day.
Our first rest day and folks went in different directions. Some to the beach, others took the complementary cruisers out for a spin. With no gears and the only way to stop to back pedal they were a challenge Our evening was a fish supper, blue fish (best fresh) prawns, Spanish Mackerel and Scallops with Phil’s baked potatoes.
Ocracoke – rest day - The accommodation seemed so nice that it took a while to leave and we all went our separate ways. Some took the free cruise bikes out for a spin where everyone seemed to be pottering about on bikes. Others went to the beach, whilst others took in the local museum. Ocracoke can only be described as an expensive place, where else could a loaf of bread cost $7, however the fresh fish was cheaper, so a bunch of us dined on blue fish (best fresh) Spanish Mackerel and prawns, all drawn from the ocean that morning
Rodanthe - 14 miles of flatness took us to the ferry. To the left the lagoon, to the right a sand dune protecting us from the Atlantic waves that scoured the shore. Over to Hattaras Island courtesy of a free ferry that took a wide loop to avoid the sandbanks that made this area the graveyard of the Atlantic. Lunch at a café selling half price buns and coffee, past the world’s largest stuffed Marlin and onto Frisco Native American Museum. It looked bleak from the outside but experience has taught me that on occasions these are great places and so this was. The collection was extraordinary. Over 50 Carl Bornfriend has collected Indian artefacts from all over the USA and here they lay. 2000 year old bowls, fighting equipment and axe heads all set out, a touch different to a museum full of feathers I thought. The museum is looking to solidify its collection but it’s a race against time to get Carl to write down where he got all the artefacts from. Onwards through the high humidity, after all we are in the middle of the ocean and up Hattaras’s iconic stripey lighthouse. At 59metres it had to be climbed, but the most entertaining part was Erica from America AKA Park Ranger taking our pictures lying in the dirt.
Kitty Hawk - Rodanthe was rundown. Deserted waterpark and a shabby feel, even worse no breakfast stop. However, there was a coffee shop close by with a smiling owner who dealt with us all quietly and efficiently. Heading north, the wind blew onshore from the right as we hid behind the enormous dunes which diggers were reconstructing after the recent Hurricane came through. Pea Island Wildlife refuge provided a welcome stop after 10 miles. On the left was a shack with 3 volunteer rangers and 3 lovely Carl Zeiss monoculars for the birds, fabulous for the black and white Kingfisher. Only I wanted to look at the beach and all had left when I got back on the bike. Still flat and route 12 was under repair, being built further from the shore. How long will that last? Over Oregon Inlet on an enormous bridge with enormous cranes pushing in more pilings. Phil and I were alone now as we waved at Bodie Lighthouse from a distance Still flat through Nags Head. The stilted houses attempting to beat the inevitable storms and waves. Places to eat were tricky, so eat more Pork or fish for a bowl of chowder. Past private beach access until I stumbled onto the back entrance to the Wright Museum following the enormous ‘art neuveau’ granite memorial that stuck out of the flatlands all about. Having last visited in 1997 and had Hattaras lighthouse moved, this place had changed too. A new plane in the visitors centre where Ranger Smith gave a talk on aeronautics and a new statue to commemorate the 100th anniversary in 2006. We finished at Cypress Moon, a fabulous Inn in the woods.
Kitty Hawk – Rest Day - Greg was a great talker, barely stopping for breath, but very entertaining. He shifted from politics (Dick Chaney was the devil) to the sinking of the Bounty of the Outer Banks when the captain should have taken refuge rather than ride out the storm at sea as aircraft carriers do and with faulty pumps. We sat on the deck most of the morning, Tony catching up on photos and Phil nursing a cold. The surf was a mile away so on a back pedalled cruiser bike and boogie board under my arm I took to the beach and took on the waves that were small, powerful and dumped you on the beach in the company of 5 surfers, great fun. More chilling in the afternoon before buying bagels, apples and grapes for a picnic supper, then an evening sorting out photos to the sound of classical music and a fantastic sunset.
Elizabeth City - Well it’s good to see a folks without those respirators smiled Greg as we lined up. ‘They usually stagger up to the front door and the pills they take!!’ Clearly he was impressed by our fitness as we were videoed out of the yard. Over the log long bridge and onto the mainland along the shouldered 158 where the trucks and cars rattled past, almost invariably using the second lane, no brushing elbows here with wing mirrors. Into Elizabeth City to the Best Western through the strip. The evening meal was a revelation, proper vegetables, in a land of the deep fryer and pizza this was a grand find
Suffolk - Another hotel breakfast sent us on our way. It turned into a get there day, the only stops were at 2 garages oddly both run by Indians and at the second the eggs in biscuit (bun) went down well with all. Virginia arrived and with it more backroads, though slightly bumpy and as the wind blew in our faces I looked forward to the hotel at the end which was an enormous red building on the banks of the river. Riddicks Folly a 20 bedroom Civil War house was next door and this place had taken inspiration from it.
Williamsburg - Farming country, corn fields and cotton surrounded us as we headed to the James River to cross it via the free ferry. Along the bumpy Colonial Parkway to arrive at the Cedars B&B where we were entertained by Alex, history teacher turned owner in the last month.
Williamsburg - Yorktown - Breakfast was a sit down affair and we all squeezed into the lean too for eggs and fruit salad. Off to Yorktown along the bumpy Colonial Parkway where we visited the National Park illustrating the final battle of the American Revolution. Lord Charles Cornwallis was the British commander who had decided to make a stand at Yorktown. With slaves and the promise of freedom they had spent 2 months preparing defences, many of which can be seen today. Unfortunately, George Washington (who can do no wrong) was assisted by 5000 Frenchmen, who overran redout 9 and 10, then placed cannon 400 metres away and pummelled the British to submission Surrender and a laying down of arms followed, so on October 19th 1781 it was all over. We were guided through this by a park ranger who threw many, many facts and dates at us. In the evening I got a ticket for William and Mary (The Tribe) to play Norfolk State University 35-10 in their newly renovated stadium.
Williamsburg - Jamestown - James Town beckoned. The Colonial Williamsburg Parkway was avoided as it was too bumpy so the tarmac beckoned. We headed for Jamestown Settlement rather than the interpretive part (confusing eh) This was the original settlement where in 1607, 104 men and boys arrived to colonise America. Originally a military fort, women would arrive a few years later. We arrived just in time for the archaeology tour and what a talk that was. The guy who was part of the dig team took us through a potted history of how the new director in the late 1990 persuaded Virginia State to look for the fort. Starting with one grid square he discovered the walls (wooden) and then the church and multiple burials with the 4 important skeletons in the old church chancellery now being identified. An original well that had gone sour had been used as a dumping ground for artefacts and the interesting museum catalogues the 1000’s of finds. It was all very well done.
Richmond - ‘Oh my goodness!’ Alex our host at the B&B stared incredulously at the blueberry dish next to the 2 already empty dishes. “I have never seen this before, the housekeeper will be disappointed as she relies on the left overs’. So another day started and refuelling had finished with a particularly fine breakfast. Outside it had rained overnight, but as soon as you walked out of air conditioned coolness the humidity hit you. It wasn’t the slight uncomfortable feeling, more the water running of your nose type as we headed to Jamestown on smooth tarmac rather than the cobbled parkway. In 2015 the Virginia Capital Trail had been finished and onto 53 miles of pristine bike path we rode. It was completely separate from the road passed fields and through small woods with wooden bridges and fencing it was fast and very pleasant. At 30 miles a café in the middle of nowhere had been transformed. Full of cyclists the Courthouse Grill served sweet iced tea and other delights surrounded by cycling paraphernalia. I told the owner it would have been rude not to stop and he thanked me for doing so. The sky blackened and at 1400 it started to rain, taking shelter at a closed on Monday café (how unlucky is that?) for 30 minutes took the sting out of it, but the ride into Richmond and its skyscrapers was a little damp. We grabbed a bite to eat, then visited the Capital building, trying to get in, but a policeman moaning that we couldn’t leave ours bikes anywhere except a bike rack?? And time stopped us. Our day ended on the edge of town.
Thornburg - Richmond had hosted the Cycling World Championships in 2015, and the stack of bike statue out of town was amusing in so much as a small car was on top, putting us in our place I guess. A proper bakery as well greeted us at 20 miles before a few of us took the diversion to North Anna Battleground where the Confederates held the line against the Union Army in 1864. A fabulous place, buried in the woods that have since engulfed the area, the trenches and side trenches were still in evidence and picture boards told the story of a drunk Union Commander attempting to take the positions, uphill and into a curtain of fire. Needless to say it didn’t end well.
Fredericksburg - We were now in Civil War Country and Stonewall Jackson, second in command to General Lee in the Confederates had been shot by his own men after a scouting mission. Losing his arm, he succumbed to pneumonia and an entertaining talk at his shrine (a small house) by a park ranger brought his last 3 days to life along with his clock, blanket and death bed bequeathed from a local B&B who had acquired it. Into Fredericksburg along Lee Drive where more trenches and cannons illustrated the defences that the Confederates had built to defend the position. The horror of it was further illustrated at the Sunken Road. It was here that General Burnside (originator of the Sideburn – really) tried to cross the river and head south. Delayed by 9 days as his boats didn’t get there in time, his diversion attack on a stone walled road left thousands dead as General Lee had ample time to make defensive plans. It was all a bit of a mess as his attack was supposed to be a diversion to the main attack a few miles to the east. The problem was that the general there also thought his attack was a diversion so only a few troops were used. The glorious Howard Johnson Inn provided a good night’s sleep where we took over the whole house.
Dale City - A sit down breakfast with proper cutlery started the day followed by a grand café to pick up supplies before we headed out of Fredericksburg. Past the cigarette smoking cycle tourist and into the rolling hills of East Virginia where the sun had decided to shine again. To avoid the I-95 corridor we had to go around government land and the roads were busier than expected and got even busier at the end of the day as we entered Dale City and ended the day at the Sleep Inn, where ‘The Magnificent 7’ remake beckoned.
Washington - Our last day on the bike and a pretty hectic first 16 miles as we fought our way across the Interstate 95 corridor where traffic streamed up and down the East Coast. From Mount Vernon to Washington though it was lovely as we cycled the exclusive path along the edge of the Potomac River taking a diversion to Arlington Cemetery before taking in the final sites at Washington