Virginia and DC, June/July 2008

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Travelogue: Virginia and DC
June and July 2008

By Roger W. Reini

By date:

June 28 | 29 | 30
July 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Prologue

This was originally supposed to have been a travelogue about a trip to Mount Rushmore and to Colorado, mainly Colorado Springs, the home of Pikes Peak.  These were areas that I had not visited before, and I was really looking forward to seeing them.  I had already made hotel reservations, and I’d even booked passage on the Lake Michigan ferry from Ludington to Manitowoc, wanting to experience the ride across the lake, something else I’d never done before.  But I cancelled all of those plans after learning that my sister and her family would be coming back to this country for a few weeks, weeks that coincided with my vacation weeks.  Would they be coming to Michigan? No, not this time.  They would go back to Virginia, which is their home state when they’re not overseas.

When I was deciding what to do and where to go for vacation in early July, I had considered going to DC and environs, mainly for the opportunity to bike some of the trails in the area.  I’d walked a section of the Washington & Old Dominion trail on a visit last year.  But I eventually decided to take the trip out West.  Now, with my learning about my sister’s plans, I started re-examining those notions of biking in and near our nation’s capital.  Pikes Peak wasn’t going anywhere; I could defer that trip to another time, possibly late September or early October.  But my nieces and nephew were growing up, and I wouldn’t get as many chances to see them all together in the future.  So the decision for me was quite easy.

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Saturday June 28

My original plans for a trip out West had me taking the Lake Michigan car ferry across to Wisconsin this morning.  Instead, I was helping set up the Field Day station for the joint operation of the Ford Amateur Radio League and the Livonia Amateur Radio Club.  I got there after 9:30 and help erect tents, move tables, put up an antenna, etc.  Because rain was in the forecast, I had brought my laptop and cell phone along so that I could check weather radar.  When skies looked threatening, I checked the radar and found a line of heavy rain was due to arrive within the next 15 minutes.

The rain arrived in 10 minutes and came down real hard for 15.  We couldn’t set up while it rained, but when it stopped, we resumed.  I set up my Buddipole antenna and used it to monitor the 6-meter band in case there were an opening.  Finally, operations began at 2.  As the main voice station started making calls, I could hear two stations across town calling for contacts.  Then I heard a strong station with the callsign CY0X.  I wasn’t sure what that was, so I looked it up.  It turned out to be a DXpedition to Sable Island off of the Nova Scotia coast.  I tried calling using my FT-817 radio but could not be heard.  When I moved to my car, though, and tried to contact them with higher power, I succeeded.  It was my first contact with a DXpedition, which is an expedition by amateur radio operators to a location that doesn’t normally have a ham radio presence.

I logged for around an hour but didn’t operate because I was going to have to leave early to pack.  I left between 6:30 and 7, having made sure I had had supper first (it was excellent, by the way).  I went to the Garden City branch of my credit union to get cash for the trip, then stopped at McDonald’s for a strawberry shake.  Had to go to two McDonald’s to get it; the first one had a broken shake machine.  And then I made it home in order to start packing the car for the trip tomorrow.

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Sunday June 29

I was up fairly early this morning checking my e-mail and doing my customary web surfing.  I finished packing, then loaded my bike onto the bike rack.  It was shortly after 7:30, and I was ready to roll.  I drove out from my driveway, drove over to I-275, then took the freeway south.  I would eat breakfast somewhere en route.

As I neared the Wayne County line, though, the thought occurred to me that I had left my camera at home -- specifically, on the kitchen floor.  That was unforgivable, to leave on vacation and forget the camera.  I had only gone 20 miles, so it was still feasible to turn around and head home to get it.  If it hadn’t been feasible, then I would have done some camera shopping someplace en route.  I exited the freeway, stopped the car, opened the trunk -- no camera.  So it was back home for me.  The camera was right where I had left it on the kitchen floor, the last remnant of the pile of stuff to be loaded into the car.  I picked it up and took it with me.

By this time, I was getting hungry, and the car’s gas tank was starting to get thirsty.  So I filled up at the BP station at Ford and Hix before crossing the street to eat breakfast at McDonald’s (their 2 sausage burrito meal).  It was 8:46 when I got underway again, this time for real.  As I drove southward, I listened to XM radio but also listened to the Field Day activities on my amateur radio.  The 40 meter band was very crowded, as one might expect for such an event.  I hoped to hear our FARL/LARC station, but I didn’t hear it.

Now would I drive across Ohio on the Ohio Turnpike or on Highway 2 (good for making time), or would I take the more historic path and drive the old Lincoln Highway?  Today, I felt like driving the Lincoln Highway, so I went through Toledo and past the turnpike.  North of Findlay, I got off the freeway and onto the old Dixie Highway, taking that to its intersection with the Lincoln.  I’d been here several times before, but in all of the previous occasions, I had taken a right turn, heading west.  Today, though, I turned left, heading east.  It was a nice drive, reasonably well marked.  As I neared Upper Sandusky, though, there were signs for a detour.  A bridge was out, so I needed to get onto the US 30 freeway, which I stayed on until the other side of Upper Sandusky, then it was back onto the Lincoln Highway.  It was a good drive through Bucyrus, but I started to get concerned about my progress or lack thereof, so I got back on the freeway.

The combination of getting a late start, the slower speed limits of the old roadway and having a hotel reservation in Breezewood, PA led me to decide that I needed to abandon the Lincoln Highway drive.  As I had lunch at Skyline Chili in Mansfield, OH, I decided to look for the fastest way to get to the Ohio or Pennsylvania Turnpikes.  That route had me going north on I-71 to reach I-76 near Akron.  As I drove northeastward, I was listening to the Field Day activities on 40 meters again.  As 2 PM arrived, the activity dropped off to nearly nothing, for that was the end of the competition for most stations.  I listened to baseball on XM, first the Tiger game and then the Astro game (both of them won, by the way), and then started bouncing around Sirius and XM.  World Radio Network on Sirius had an interesting broadcast from Korea, and the BBC World Service had an interesting discussion on various philosophical issues, including the possible impact of the discovery of life on Mars, should any be discovered.

By this time, it was 6 PM, and I was hungry for supper, so I stopped at the service plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike east of Somerset.  A few minutes and a Roy Rogers hamburger meal later, I was back on the road heading towards Breezewood.  My GPS receiver kept close tabs on where I was.  A recent upgrade seemed to have added speed limit information, for it was programmed to beep if you exceeded the speed limit (one could turn off the beep, though).  It did beep a few times for me, I must admit, but I won’t say where.  Finally, I arrived in Breezewood around 7:30.  There was still time for me to do something I really wanted to do.

I knew I could drive from Detroit to the DC area in a day -- 10 hours if I did it straight through.  I didn’t need to spend the night in Breezewood unless I wanted to, and I now had a reason to do so.  Back in 1968, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was rerouted to eliminate dangerous bottlenecks at two tunnels east of Breezewood.  The abandoned turnpike still exists, albeit in rough shape, and it’s being turned into a bike and hike path.  It’s not officially open yet, but users can use it at their own risk.  There was time for me on Sunday evening to take a short ride on the path.  I drove to the parking area east of town, removed my bike, applied plenty of bug repellent, then pushed my bike up a steep embankment to the old roadway.  Nature was busy reclaiming what was once hers; the pavement was crumbling, plants were growing everywhere, and animals crossed the roadway without any fear of being run over by speeding traffic.  While I was there, I saw a big cat, several rabbits, a raccoon family, and some deer.  It was eerie at times as I pedaled the old westbound lanes, thinking how 41 years earlier, they would have been filled with traffic.  When I reached the entrance to the Ray’s Hill Tunnel, the sun was already hidden.  I thought it best to turn around and head back to the hotel for the evening.  That short ride was a little over 3 miles long.

Back at the hotel, I checked my e-mail and called my sister to let her know where I was and when I might arrive in town tomorrow.  Then I listened to some podcasts I’d recently downloaded, including the previous Friday’s Left, Right and Center, featuring the real Arianna Huffington, as opposed to Tracey Ullman’s excellent impersonation of her.  Hm, now there’s an interesting idea for a podcast or other program, or even a song: Dueling Ariannas (remember Dueling Brandos from early SNL?).  But I digress.  I started playing a second podcast, XM’s Baseball Confidential featuring Ernie Harwell, but I got tired and turned it off after 5 minutes (I’d listen to the rest later; I was just sleepy).  It was time for bed.

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Monday June 30

Once again, I found myself waking fairly early, more in line with a workday than with a vacation.  Then again, an early start would be useful today, for I wanted to continue with my ride on the old abandoned turnpike.  It had rained overnight; in fact, there had been thunderstorms, but it was sunny now.  I expected few difficulties with my ride.  I had breakfast down in the lobby, then set off for the trail.

I parked in the same place as yesterday, applied sunscreen and bug repellent, then pushed my bike up the hill again.  The ride was not much different from yesterday evening, though I did see a lot of mist rising up from the ground.  As I approached the first tunnel, I turned on my headlight to help see where I was going.  It helped, but not very much, for the tunnel was quite dark.  I could see a light at the end, though, so I knew it would eventually end.  As I pedaled through, I hoped that I wouldn’t encounter any critters in the tunnel -- or maniacs, for that matter.  Now this tunnel was two lanes, meaning that the full traffic of the turnpike narrowed down into this tunnel with two-way traffic.  No, it wasn’t a very safe configuration, and that no doubt contributed to the decision to bypass it and the other tunnel.

I made it through the tunnel and started pedaling onward, wondering how far I would go.  Before riding, I’d checked out some elevation maps of the route and was somewhat concerned by indications of some uphill climbs.  I got rolling on a nice downhill, then started on the upside.  The pavement was mostly OK for a mountain or hybrid bike, though road bikes would have had problems.  There were times I could hear traffic from the current turnpike high above me; at one point, I could even see a billboard for Bob Evans in Breezewood (I could see that restaurant from my hotel room window).  Next came the Sideling Hill Tunnel, which was longer than the first tunnel.  I could barely see an indication of light from the other side.  At one point, I started running over rocks, which were probably small chunks of concrete flaking from the roof.  I wished my headlights had been aimed better to let me see those.  But I made it through without incident and made it to the barricades at the eastern end of the trail.  Then it was time to turn around and go back.  I passed by the site of a turnpike service plaza, though there was no sign of the structures that used to be there.  I thought about taking a picture of the eastern side of the Sideling Hill Tunnel, but there was some racist graffiti there.  The sun got higher, and so did the road; I was huffing and puffing a bit more on the way back.  But the tunnels were nice and cool, and I appreciated the chance to cool off in there.

By 9:30 I was back at the start; by 10, I was gassing up and hitting the road.  I didn’t want to go to Herndon right away, for I’d arrive too early to check in.  Instead, I decided to go to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, where three states come together.  Perhaps I could do some bike riding there.  Down I-70 I went, toward and across the Maryland state line, the true Mason-Dixon Line.  I noticed a sign for a C&O Visitor’s Center in Hancock; as I wanted to ride that trail into DC, I stopped at that center and picked up a map and a guidebook that covered not only the C&O Trail but a continuation trail that led almost to Pittsburgh (and would eventually lead there).  Now there were some ideas for long-distance rides....

My route had me staying on I-70 to Frederick, then taking US 340 to Harper’s Ferry.  As I drove westward on 340, though, I could see rain in the distance.  Before long, it wasn’t in the distance any more; it was right on top of me, and it was coming down rather hard.  But I kept going, and then I crossed two rivers, the Potomac and the Shenandoah, and found myself in Harper’s Ferry.  When I looked for a parking space, though, I couldn’t find one.  Most of the parking was for visitors to the national park, which I didn’t want to visit.  All I wanted to do was ride the bike, possibly through three states in short order.  But that didn’t seem possible, so back out I went, back over to Maryland.  I didn’t see any access to the C&O trail there, so I went to the next place I knew there would be access, Brunswick.

There was a small parking lot under the bridge leading to Virginia.  There was also a porta-potty at the corner of the lot for trail riders and other visitors; it was a welcome sight, as I needed to go.  With that out of the way, I got down my bike from the rack and prepared to ride the trail.  But I saw a large group of riders come from the west; they were covered in mud.  So I went the other way but only went three-tenths of a mile before I decided that this direction would also result in my being covered in mud.  Ride aborted.  Back went the bike onto the rack, and back on the road I went.  Now it was lunchtime (past it, actually), and I was hungry.  I decided to go spend some time at Dulles Town Center in Sterling, where I knew there would be some good food.  The drive there was unremarkable, and I found myself at the Uno Chicago Grill at around 2 PM.  I ordered sirloin steak tips, and while I waited for my food, I called my sister Sharon.  It turned out that they were at the same mall and had eaten at that same restaurant an hour or so before.  What a coincidence!  They had pizza, though.  But I was happy with my sirloin tips.  Then I went over to the mall to walk off my lunch and to waste a bit of time before checking into the hotel.  It wasn’t a total waste, though, for I picked up a bottle of flat tire sealant from Dick’s Sporting Goods.  I briefly visited the T-Mobile store; I’d bought my current cell phone there last year after I lost my previous one.  No need to get a new phone today, though.

Then it was time to head for the hotel, the Crowne Plaza in Herndon, at the corner of Centreville Road and the Dulles Toll Road.  I’d stayed here last year and had been reasonably impressed with it.  It was a good value, in my opinion, and so here I was again.  I would be in room 475 in the main tower.  I could park in the parking garage and take the rear elevators to my floor.  After an hour or so of unloading and unpacking, I was sufficiently settled in to call Sharon.  I got directions to their apartment, and so I drove over.  It was on the south side of the toll road, less than a mile from the hotel.  When I arrived, there was a lot of packing and boxing going on.  They lived overseas in Africa, and so they were shipping over a lot of products that were hard to find on store shelves over there.  They used my address as a return address for the packages, just in case some were rejected for one reason or another.

I brought over my gifts and other things they’d asked me to pick up, things I would have mailed but didn’t have to now, such as DVD’s of TV shows, various magazines, and Red Wings Stanley Cup merchandise.  I got to see pictures of Candice and Heather before the school prom, and I got to see some pictures from their safari in March.  Later, I had to decide if I would accompany them on their trips to one or more of the colleges and universities the girls were interested in.  One of the trips would be to William and Mary in Williamsburg, but there might be others, and in different parts of the state.  I didn’t want to pay for two hotel rooms simultaneously, one up here and one wherever, so I decided not to accompany them.

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Tuesday July 1

I woke up before 6, a bit later than normal for a workday.  I did my normal routine, and I took a shower, for I needed it.  Then it was downstairs to Houlihan’s for breakfast.  I recalled from last year that the restaurant had a breakfast buffet, and that’s what I had this morning.

Since I wasn’t going college-touring, I was free to do whatever I wanted.  And since I knew that the family would be slow getting up and getting ready in the morning, I had some time for an early bike ride.  I drove into downtown Herndon and parked at the municipal lot, then got on my bike and rode the Washington & Old Dominion trail to the northwest.  I’d walked on some of this last year and hoped to ride on it this year.  My first ride was some 4 miles one-way, from just before milepost 20 to near milepost 24.  This took me into the town of Sterling, past a golf course, and to the crossing of Highway 28.  Then I turned around and pedaled back to my starting point.  Back at the hotel, I called Sharon and informed them of my decision not to join them.  So while they set off on their trip, I drove up and over to Maryland -- specifically, the Carderock recreation area on the C&O Canal Towpath.  Here, I would ride my bike on the towpath some 10 miles into the District, ending up at Georgetown.

The road markings for Carderock weren’t the best, so I missed the turnoff the first time around and had to loop back to get there.  Once there, I had a hard time figuring out the direction to go in order to reach the towpath.  I saw a rough trail which seemed to lead in the right direction; I took it, and my hunch was correct.  There was the canal, and there was the towpath.  It may have been a bit damp in places, but there were not big puddles on it, unlike yesterday up at Brunswick.  I set off downstream towards Georgetown.  In between locks, the towpath was quite flat, but at each lock, there was a short stretch where the path and canal lowered several feet.  Easy going downstream, but it would be a bit harder coming back upstream.

At Fletcher’s Landing, I saw a sign for the Capital Crescent Trail.  This trail led from Georgetown to Bethesda, and it was paved, unlike the C&O towpath.  Since they were parallel from this point forward, I decided to change to the paved trail.  It was also slighty lower in elevation, and as I headed closer to Georgetown, the elevation difference became more pronounced.  Eventually, I reached the end of the trail and found myself on a street underneath a freeway deck.  I had thoughts of pedaling along the shore to the National Mall area, but I didn’t know I had to turn onto the Rock Creek Parkway for that.  I pedaled up a ramp and onto K Street and busy District streets.  At one point, I was pedaling along Virginia Avenue and could clearly see the Washington Monument straight ahead.  I rode past the Watergate Hotel, scene of the burglary that led to the downfall of President Nixon and (eventually) to a radio show for G. Gordon Liddy.

I turned into the Kennedy Center and rode around there for a bit until I saw a Bike Route sign.  I thought it would put me on the riverfront.  Instead, it took me onto the Roosevelt Bridge out of town.  It was narrow in places, so it wasn’t the easiest riding.  It was a little unnerving to know that right alongside this trail was I-66, with high-speed freeway traffic.  The trail eventually connected to the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac in Virginia, where a short pedal got me to the parking area for Roosevelt Island.  There was a bike rack, as the island was for walkers and hikers only.  I took a brief walk on the island, stopping to admire the memorial to Theodore Roosevelt.  The island was worthy of additional time, but I didn’t feel like walking all over it today.  Then it was back onto the trail, which ended up on a steep bridge and additional grade to reach the Rosslyn area.  I had to get off and push my bike up that additional grade, for I couldn’t pedal up it.  Several years ago, I’d stayed in this area for a few days.  I recalled walking across the Key Bridge into Georgetown.  This time, I pedaled across the bridge into Georgetown, then found the C&O Canal trail again.  In this area, it seemed to be on both sides of the canal at once.  I stayed on the south side and rode east until I couldn’t, then rode westward.  This was the start of my return trip to Carderock.

At Fletcher’s Landing, I got a drink and a bag of Oreo Bits, which served as a lunch of sorts.  Not the best lunch, but it did satisfy my thirst.  Then it was back on the bike for the ride to Carderock.  Several locks bunched together near the end of the ride, meaning a fairly rapid grade change.  At one point, I had to push the bike up one lock hill.  It was after 3 by the time I reached Carderock; I’d been on the bike for around 4 hours.  It was time to head on, and so I drove back to Virginia.  I didn’t go directly to the hotel, though; I stopped at Tysons Corner for a few items.  I had “lupper” (lunch-supper) at La Sandia, a new Mexican restaurant that opened up in part of the space that used to be Woodward & Lothrop.  At the LL Bean store, I got a new pair of bike gloves.  Now I wouldn’t have to put on gloves that were sweaty from a previous ride, like I had had to do when I set out on the C&O Canal ride.  Then I got onto the Dulles Access Road -- no toll to the airport.  I ended up looping around the airport and getting onto Highway 28, which eventually led me back to the hotel for some reading, resting and watching baseball.

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Wednesday July 2

At some point, I’d fallen asleep with the light on.  I must have been tired.  I was up before 6, monitoring the Weather Channel and News Channel 8 (DC’s local news channel) and reading from the book on bike tours of DC I’d picked up yesterday at the Barnes & Noble at Tysons (also new since my last visit; it too was in the old Woodie’s space).  I went downstairs for another visit to Houlihan’s breakfast buffet.

The forecast today seemed good for more bike riding: lower humidity, temperatures only in the 80’s, etc.  But I was a bit sore from yesterday’s riding, so I decided to take a break and not ride.  But what would I do today instead?  After reviewing my shorts, I saw one thing I needed to do almost immediately: get a new pair.  The button that held them up was in imminent danger of falling off, as the attaching threads had become ridiculously stretched.  I also wanted to visit the Ham Radio Online store south of town, and so my plans for the day were set.  I would drive to Woodbridge and the Potomac Mills area.

There was no need for me to get on the Beltway to reach I-95.  A combination of US 50, the Fairfax County Parkway and Highway 123 let me get there with a minimum of fuss.  I got gas in Occoquan; as I was about to do so, my phone rang.  The family would be returning today from Williamsburg, said Sharon; Candice was impressed enough with William and Mary.

I had thought the Ham Radio Online store was near Potomac Mills, meaning in the outer ring of buildings surrounding it.  It wasn’t; it was actually in a strip center along US 1 in “downtown” Woodbridge.  It was a small store, compared to the California stores I’d visited before, but it was well-stocked.  I wasn’t specifically looking for anything, but I did get an updated training manual for the Extra Class license.  Then it was over to Potomac Mills for the new pair of shorts.  It took me a while to find a good pair, but I did find one at T.J. Maxx.  I had lunch at Silver Diner; the fried clam special was OK, though not outstanding.

Back in Fairfax, I looked for the Washington Bike Center, where I’d bought a bag for my trike last year.  I knew vaguely where it was, but I had to do a bit more driving around in the Fair Lakes area before I found it.  I also found the official guide for the W&OD Trail, which was my main purpose in going there.  I popped into the nearby Best Buy, and here I received a surprise: there was a small yet full-fledged music store in the back, with amps, guitars, keyboards, drums, etc.  I couldn’t resist checking this out.  I spent a few minutes playing an Epiphone -- I don’t remember the model, but it was an ES-335/Casino-type -- before heading back to the hotel.

After resting for a bit, I decided to download my recent pictures to my Mac.  It was time to free up some space on my memory card, plus I wanted to review my pictures on a larger screen than the one on the camera.  Dinner this evening was next door to the hotel at Bertucci’s, an Italian restaurant.  The service was rather poor this evening; I waited for a very long time to be served, and then when I was, it was with a brand-new waiter.  When the food finally arrived (a variant of chicken parmesan), though, it was very good.  Almost made the difficulties worthwhile.

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Thursday July 3

I’d settled into a routine at the hotel: get up either side of 6, take my time getting up for good, then go down for the breakfast buffet before 8.  Once again, I thought about riding on the W&OD trail but decided against it.  Later in the morning, I went over to the apartments where my sister and family were staying and more or less hung out there for the day.  I helped bring some of their packages to the post office.  Some of them were big and heavy, especially the one with the kitty litter.

Later in the evening, we were at a loss for what to do about supper.  Someone (Heather?) suggested Mexican, and that ended up being our choice.  Randy drove us all over to the On The Border restaurant in Reston.  I thought it a bit chilly in the restaurant (I happened to be sitting underneath the vent).  The food was good, nonetheless.  Afterwards, we went to the nearby Barnes & Noble.  Their purpose in going was to stock up on reading material back in Uganda.  I looked around for a bit, but then I went to the Best Buy next door.  It turned out that I was in the market for a new portable hard drive, as the one I’d brought with me still showed symptoms of locking up during file transfers (not a good thing).  I hadn’t noticed any errors as a result of this, but I couldn’t count on that remaining true.  So I spent some money for a new hard drive and went back to the bookstore.  Their alarms beeped as I came in.  When I left, I made sure I was witnessed by an employee so that problems or misunderstandings would not arise.

As Randy, Brandon and I went back to the car, I noticed a La Madeleine restaurant across the parking lot.  I said I hadn’t been to one since the last time I was at Baybrook, meaning Baybrook Mall in Texas.  Brandon thought I’d said “Babe Ruth” and started asking about him.  This got us into talking about the Curse of the Bambino and the Billy Goat curse.

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Friday July 4

What would I do on our nation’s birthday?  Not very much.  I did go for a short ride on the W&OD trail, 7 miles round trip.  I was become annoyed and then concerned by a ticking sound that seemed to be tied to the pedals or crank.  Perhaps something needed to be lubricated.  That was quite possible, as the bike had been more exposed to the environment than normal recently, being always on the back of the car except when I wasn’t using it.  I vowed to look for bike stores nearby and get some lubricant.  Of course, I’d have to do that starting tomorrow, for the store would be closed today.

Back at the hotel, I decided to have lunch at the hotel restaurant.  That was a change, for the only meals I’d had there had been breakfasts.  Now the item that looked most appealing to me on the menu today was a salad, a Buffalo Bleu Salad.  As one might expect from the name, it was topped with Buffalo-style (spicy) chicken and sprinkles of bleu cheese.  Along with a cup of soup, that was my lunch.  And as I enjoyed my lunch, I got to watch people eating something completely different: hot dogs.  I’m referring to the annual hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, which was being carried on one of the ESPN channels.  At the end of the contest, there was a tie between last year’s champion and the champion from two years ago, so naturally they broke the tie with an eat-off.  At the end of that round, the tie was broken; last year’s champion had prevailed again.

After lunch, I went over to the apartments to see Sharon and family, and that’s where I spent the rest of the day.  There was some talk about going into town to see the fireworks from the National Mall.  However, rain was in the forecast and was in the area, which washed out that idea.  There were fireworks closer by, in Herndon, and we considered going to those.  Ultimately, though, we didn’t do that either.  I may have heard the Herndon fireworks when I was back at the hotel, although I couldn’t see them very well from my room.  I had to stick my head as close to the glass as I could and look right, and then I could see the fireworks.  The view of the fireworks on the Mall on public TV was better.  After the national broadcast ended, the local station stayed with the fireworks, which continued for a half-hour longer.

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Saturday July 5

I didn’t feel like breakfast at the hotel today.  Going to IHOP was an option, but there weren’t any that were really close by, and they might have been rather busy on a Saturday morning.  I ended up having breakfast at McDonald’s instead.  It was also convenient for my going to the bike store to pick up the lubricant.  I ended up getting two cans, each of a different type.  So there I was in the parking lot, spraying the lube onto the bike in the places I felt needed it.  Having the bike on the rack really helped with that.

Now I wanted to ride around a bit and work some of that lube in.  I ended up going into town and riding around the W&OD Trail and the parking lot of the post office.  Why the post office?  Well, I happened to see Sharon and the kids there taking more packages to be mailed overseas.  I did not have a lock with me; it was back at the car, for I didn’t expect to go anywhere and stop.  This meant I couldn’t get off and help with the packages.  But I was able to determine that the ticking had been reduced, which was the main purpose of the ride.

Lunch for me today was with Sharon, Randy and Brandon at the nearby Chuck E. Cheese’s.  The girls stayed at home; they’re no longer the Chuck E. Cheese type.  That might change if/when they have children of their own, but that won’t be for a while.  But Brandon didn’t mind.  We got two pizzas and scads of tokens, divided up among the three men.  The games I played the most were a football game, a baseball game and a ball game where you roll your balls up a ramp and try to land in the targets.  Sometimes those balls went astray or got stuck, so you couldn’t always complete a full game.  Still, it was enjoyable.  All of the tickets we won went to Brandon, of course, and he was able to cash out some toys at the end -- many rubber bugs, as I recall.

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Sunday July 6

Today looked to be pretty good, weatherwise, and so I decided that I would ride into town.  I wouldn’t take the W&OD trail from Herndon, though; there wasn’t time for that, not with our plans to go to Medieval Times.  Instead, I drove into town via the Dulles Toll Road and I-66.  I wanted to get to the parking area for Roosevelt Island, but I had a hard time doing so.  I drove past National Airport before I figured out how to get on the George Washington Parkway heading north, which would take me to the parking area for Roosevelt Island.  It was also a prime parking area for the Mount Vernon Trail, and there were several cars here already.

I got my bike ready for the ride, got myself ready for the ride, and then set out on the trail.  Not long after I set out, there was an intersection.  To the right, the path to the Roosevelt Bridge and ultimately the Kennedy Center.  I’d done that the other day, so I stayed to the left and on the trail.  This trail went along the river bank, leading to some great picture-taking opportunities.  I saw some rowing crews in the river getting in some practice.  I saw and heard planes landing at National Airport.  A little farther down the trail, I saw National Airport, for the trail went directly past it.  And of course, I saw the monuments on the other side of the river. 

The trail went down to Alexandria and to Mount Vernon, but I turned around at the airport and headed back north.  I left the trail to take the 14th Street Bridge into town.  This took me very near the Jefferson Memorial, which still had the barricades and now-unmanned checkpoints from the ceremonies on the 4th.  There was a large group of Asian travelers there at the time.  I didn’t go up to the monument proper, for I’d done so several years ago, but I did take a picture of my bike in front of the memorial.  I then took the paths around the Tidal Basin and made my way to the World War II Memorial.  Here, I locked the bike to a fence (didn’t see a proper bike rack) and made a proper visit.

The memorial opened in 2004 over the Memorial Day weekend.  I was in town during that event but didn’t go (though I saw the jets getting set up for their fly-by during the dedication), so I wanted to see it on this trip.  The memorial occupied a prime location on the National Mall -- to the east, the Washington Monument; to the west, the Lincoln Memorial, seen over a wall of stars, each star representing 100 American lives lost in the conflict.  The south side honored the Pacific Theater, and the north side honored the Atlantic Theater.  Quotes from Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Marshall lined the walls.  It was a popular attraction, drawing a steady stream of visitors.  I believed I stayed for 15 to 20 minutes, then went to visit the restroom before setting on my way again.

I then pedaled eastward along the Mall towards the Capitol, past the Washington Monument and through the exhibition taking place in front of the Smithsonian museums.  This exhibition had three subjects: NASA, Texas, and Bhutan.  I couldn’t think of a way in which all three were related, nor did relations between NASA and Bhutan or Texas and Bhutan come to mind.  When I came to the Capitol, crews were busy removing the stage and barricades from the festivities on the Fourth.  Not seeing an easy way to loop around the Capitol, I crossed over to the north side of the Mall and started riding back.  At one point, Sharon called.  I promised to be back in plenty of time for our trip to Medieval Times.  Back to the ride: I rode around the Ellipse and over to the first open street to the west of the White House (17th Street NW, I later learned).  I rode up this street until I reached Pennsylvania Avenue, and then I turned onto the closed section (closed to motor vehicles, that is).  There are always people in front of the White House -- tourists, protesters, etc. -- and today was no exception.  I was able to take a picture of my bike in front of the White House; too bad the bike could not take a picture of me in front of the White House.  I noticed a group of Segway riders to the west of the White House; were they being trained how to ride it, I wondered.

The ticking sound I’d complained about came back, but not all of the time.  Sometimes it would be quiet, other times it would tick.  At one point, I shoved my bike bag underneath the seat somewhat to hold it in place; it would flop around on the rack a lot.  Oddly enough, it didn’t tick after that.  I could feel the seat contact the bag on occasion as I pedaled, and that led me to conclude that the ticking was coming from the seat, not from the crank.  That put me at ease; I wouldn’t need to take the bike in for repairs.  In the back of my mind was the concern that the crank would crack on me, throwing me to the ground.  That happened to me in college, giving me a badly scraped face.  Somebody said at the time that I looked like I’d been beaten up.

I looked at the time, and it was time for me to head back.  I pedaled down to the Mall and wound my way to the Lincoln Memorial, crossed the Arlington bridge and got back onto the Mount Vernon Trail for the trip back to my car.  Once I got the bike back on the rack, I set off for the hotel, enjoying the cooling from my air conditioning.  Back onto I-66, back onto the Dulles Toll Road, and back to my hotel for a shower.  As soon as I got out of the shower, my phone rang again.  It was Sharon, asking if I’d returned to the hotel.  I had indeed, I said, and I would be over by noon.  I got there before noon, just as promised.

Our destination was Medieval Times in Hanover, Maryland, up near Baltimore.  They’d printed out directions, but I offered to bring along my TomTom GPS unit and let them use it.  So there it sat on their instrument panel, guiding them to our destination.  It wasn’t terribly difficult to get to, though traffic on I-95 was heavy at times, probably from returning holiday traffic.  It was part of the Arundel Mills outlet mall, and it was easy to find once we got close enough: the building looked like a castle.  When we entered, we learned we would be seated in the section cheering for the Black and White Knight, one of six knights who would participate in the action.  We all received cardboard crowns colored black and white and had a group picture taken with the “King” and “Princess”.  While we waited to be seated, we could roam around the lobby and gift shop.  Some had brought cameras, but we didn’t.  I’d thought about it but did not think they were permitted.  Our phones all had cameras, but with the low lighting, they didn’t work very well.  I fought a temptation to yell out “Bring out your dead!”

Our dinner packages got us front row seating, so we had a closeup view of the action.  Now since this was to be a medieval themed meal, we would be eating without utensils.  No problem, though, not when the main course was roasted chicken, a spare rib and a half of a baked potato.  It was a little more difficult with the tomato soup and the pewter bowl and handle; very hot soup led to a very hot handle, one that was nearly too hot to handle.  For some in our party, it was too hot to handle.  Now for the action on the arena floor: the story involved the wedding of a prince to the king’s daughter, but the prince had been captured and held prisoner by a rival king.  That king’s representative, the Green Knight, was one of the six knights participating in the tournament.  He was our knight’s sworn enemy, and we booed him as loudly as we could.  We saw several examples of fine horsemanship, falconry, jousting, and hand-to-hand combat.  At three or four points in the competition, the princess presented flowers to the knights, who would then distribute them to members of the audience.  Heather received a flower, to the displeasure of Candice.  Our knight was the first eliminated in the competition, but the story had a happy ending: prince and princess were reunited, and they lived happily ever after.

After the show, we went out in the mall for a bit.  The girls wanted to visit a shoe store, while the men went to Best Buy.  Randy and Brandon looked for a video game, and then we looked for computer cables.  Randy was also investigating new laptops, but he didn’t get one today.  While we were there, there was heavy rain outside, for we could hear it on the roof.  It had ended by the time we left for home, though.  At one point on the drive home, Sharon asked me what that unusual building was straight ahead.  I had to slouch down a bit to see (I was in the second row), and then I recognized the Mormon Temple and told her what it was.

Back at the hotel, I picked up an order from Taco Bell (this was later in the evening) and finished watching what I had been watching earlier.

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Monday July 7

My cell phone rang at 1:30 in the morning.  That was very unusual, for I normally don’t have it turned on all of the time.  I was doing so only for my vacation so that Sharon and family could easily reach me.  What was more unusual was the phone number: Hidden.  What the heck was going on, I wondered as I answered it.  It was “The UPS Store”, asking for confirmation details about a package pickup.  I eventually told them they must have called the wrong number.  I was expecting a package delivery at home, but that was to be by mail, not UPS.  They hung up on me.  In retrospect, it may have been a phishing expedition, trying to pry a credit-card number out of me.  It wasn’t easy getting back to sleep after that, but eventually I did.

When I was up for good, I went to the breakfast buffet again.  Now the family was going to take a trip to Culpeper for, among other things, doctor appointments, so I would be on my own today.  First on the agenda was a longer ride on the W&OD Trail.  I didn’t think I was up to taking it all of the way into Arlington or the District, but I thought I could make the Beltway.  Once again, I got onto the trail at mile marker 20 in Herndon and rode southeast.  I rode much farther than I’d gone before on the trail -- underneath the Dulles Toll Road and into Vienna.  At the intersection with Park Road in Vienna, there was a park bench that looked very welcoming, and I rested there for several minutes.  I’d made it to mile marker 11 1/2, and I didn’t feel like continuing onward, so I turned around and went back to Herndon.  It was a good ride, and at the end of it was an even better Blizzard of the Dairy Queen variety.  This would prove to be my last ride of the trail this trip, but I hoped I would get the chance to return.

I drove back to the hotel to cool off and to change my shirt; I didn’t feel like wearing my bike jersey the rest of the day.  So what would I do now?  First, I drove to the Micro Center in Vienna but didn’t get anything there.  By the time I left, I was getting hungry, so I had lunch at the McDonald’s across the parking lot.  Next came a short drive to Bikes@Vienna, a store that specialized in selling recumbent bikes and trikes.  There were some nice ‘bents there, including a well-equipped trike that was much like mine (same manufacturer but with regular handlebars instead of under-the-seat handlebars like mine).  No, I wasn’t getting anything here either.

As I drove down Highway 123, my phone rang.  It was Sharon; they were still in Culpeper and would have dinner in Manassas on the way back.  I wouldn’t be seeing them today, I figured.  I got onto I-66 but then exited at the next intersection, which was US 50.  Fair Oaks Mall was there, so I went there and walked around for a bit.  I was not specifically looking for anything, and I didn’t get anything.  I did see a Texas de Brazil restaurant there, the local outpost of a churrascaria chain which I’d been to before near Chicago.  Excellent, but expensive!  They weren’t open yet for dinner, and I wasn’t in the mood for it anyway.  What I was ultimately in the mood for was Mexican at Baja Fresh.  I’d seen one close to where Sharon and family were staying, but I was unable to locate it again.  I found another one in Reston and ended up going there.  The food was still good, but I was nonetheless irked that I couldn’t find the one I was looking for.

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Tuesday July 8

Today ended up being a lazy day.  After the breakfast buffet at the hotel -- not immediately after, just after -- I drove over to the Barnes & Noble and the Best Buy in Reston, the ones we’d visited last Thursday.  I didn’t get anything at Best Buy, and all I got at the Best Buy were the day’s papers.  I’d been there long enough that it was almost lunchtime.  Having spotted the La Madeleine restaurant the last time I was here, I had it in my mind to go there today.  It was a good choice, for I had a good grilled chicken Caesar salad, a potato cake, a breadstick and some Coke Zero.

Then I went over to see the family.  Not much was going on there.  The main thing I did was to help Candice set up her new MacBook.  Her iBook no longer had working USB ports.  It was also 3 1/2 years old, which meant it made more sense to replace it than to get it repaired.  And so she got what would have been a graduation gift a year early.  Fortunately for her, the Firewire port still worked on the iBook, so I was able to put it into Target Disk Mode, which would allow the new MacBook to copy over all of her old files, programs and account settings.  It took a while to do so, but after the end of a few hours, everything had copied over properly.  And now there were two, sometimes three, MacBooks in the apartment.  How to tell them apart?  Once they were opened, it would be pretty easy to tell them apart, just by the wallpaper and the files on there.  Mine wouldn’t look like Heather’s, and neither of ours would look like Candice’s.

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Wednesday July 9

Today would be my last chance to get some riding in on this trip.  Would the weather permit it, though?  Radar screens looked unfavorable, and ultimately, there was some rain.  It wasn’t a gully-washer, but it was enough for me to say my riding was done.  Instead, I decided to travel to Great Falls, Virginia and the National Park there (there’s a companion park on the Maryland side).  This was a place I’d never visited before on either side of the river.  If rain hadn’t wiped out bike riding, I might have travelled to the Maryland park via the C&O Canal trail.  But driving to the Virginia park was fine with me.

The Virginia park contained three scenic overlooks with slightly differing views of the falls, and I visited each in turn, closest to farthest.  The closest one was also the most treacherous, for there were several rocks to climb over to reach the rail.  My footwear tended to slip on those rocks, and I had not brought my walking stick.  It was easily obtainable from the car, though, and I would have gone back to get it had I needed to.  Now this vantage point was very close to the falls, and it seemed that the whole of the railing was taken up with painters and their easels.  At the next overlook, there was a deck, so I didn’t need to get my walking stick.  This overlook was filled with tripods and cameras with long telephoto lenses; the first overlook wasn’t very tripod-amenable, plus the painters had beaten them to it.  The third overlook may have had the best view of all, a square-on view of the falls with an easy glance over to the overlook on the Maryland side.  The falls were nowhere near as high as those at Niagara, but trust me, you still wouldn’t want to go through them in a boat.  That’s why two canals were built here, one on the Virginia side in the 1700’s (George Washington was involved in its construction, I believe) that was eventually abandoned and the one on the Maryland side, the C&O Canal.

I saw a tall pole with signs with years on them; those represented the high-water marks for floods in those years.  Elsewhere in the park, there were ruins of the old canal, its locks, and a town that had sprung up here but was eventually abandoned.  I saw some of these ruins up close on the various trails that wound through the park.  I eventually ended up on what was known as the River Trail, a trail that got very close to the banks of the Potomac -- which were a long way down at this point!  Many of the trees were marked with green rectangles, pointing the way of the trail.  Without those markings, I would have been lost for sure!  Even then, I went down a couple of blind alleys, but I soon found my way back to the trail.

When I had seen all of the park I felt like seeing, I went to the Visitor Center and bought a guidebook on the C&O Canal, in case I came back to visit.  I had a feeling I would.  Then it was back to my car, back to the highway and eventually on to the Beltway.  Now it was nearly lunchtime, so I stopped at Tysons Corner and the food court for a meal.  After a period of indecision, I chose to get slices of pizza from the local equivalent of Sbarro’s.  It was OK -- not great, just OK.  Next came a visit to the Barnes & Noble.  I was looking for an audiobook to listen to on the drive home tomorrow.  Yes, I had the satellite radio, but I really wanted an audiobook.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find one here.  Now there was a nearby Borders, but the closest one appeared to be too difficult to get to from where I was, so I went out to the one in Fairfax (I’d been there before, a few years ago).  There, the selection was better -- or maybe it was better organized.  Whichever it was, I eventually found the unabridged version of Don’t Know Much About History (19 CD’s, enough to get me home and beyond).  That sounded interesting enough to me to pick up.  Then I went back to the hotel for a while.  I would have gone to the apartment, but Sharon and family were still out.

When they got back, I went over.  Dinner that evening was at Outback Steakhouse in Herndon.  It was a bit busy, so we had to wait outside for a bit.  Brandon amused himself by running down the sidewalk of the strip mall where the steakhouse was located.  We finally were seated, and we got down to the business of enjoying a good meal.  I got an Outback Special with some additional grilled shrimp.  Not a bad combination.  Sharon and Candice split a burger; I can’t remember what Heather or Brandon got.  We all enjoyed whatever we ate.  Then it was back to the apartment.  Criminal Minds was on the TV.  Candice complained about these crime shows’ tendencies to feature young college coeds being attacked.  It’s hitting too close to home, she said, especially since she will be a young college coed a year from now.  I’d never really thought of it like that before, probably because I never was a young college coed.  The girls got a hold of my camera and started going koo-koo with it, like teenagers tend to do.  Eventually, it got late, and it was time for me to say my goodbyes and head back to the hotel, for I would be leaving in the morning.

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Thursday July 10

I woke up early, took a shower, finished packing and hit the road by 6:40.  No breakfast buffet at Houlihan’s for me today; I was tired of it, frankly.  I got on the Dulles Greenway, which took me to Leesburg and US 15, which took me to Frederick and then I-70.  I started off listening to an old Fred Allen Show (they’re all old these days, frankly) on XM’s old-time-radio channel, later changing over to the audiobook I got yesterday.  I’d have that audiobook on for most of the drive home, in fact.  I stopped for breakfast at a McDonald’s west of Frederick, then continued onward.

There was very little dilly-dallying for me today.  When I reached Breezewood, I did not stop for another crack at the Pike2Bike trail.  No, I continued onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike and stayed on it until it became the Ohio Turnpike.  There were several construction zones in Pennsylvania, so my progress was slowed somewhat, but things got better in Ohio.  I stopped for lunch at the first rest area in Ohio, which turned out to be another McDonald’s.  When I left the Ohio Turnpike near Toledo, I stopped for gas at a nearby station.  I suspected (correctly, it turned out) that the gas price here would be lower than that in my part of Detroit.  I had no problems getting through Toledo or Monroe, although traffic began to slow on I-75 as I reached the interchange with I-275.  There was no construction on I-275 to hinder my progress as I hurried home, and I arrived home at 5:20 PM.  Time to unload the car and unpack the suitcases; time to start the piles of laundry that needed to be done; time to tell my relatives that I was home; time to make sure I was ready for my cousin’s wedding on Saturday; and above all, time to relax.

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2008 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
RevisedAugust 01, 2008