Virginia, Delaware and NewJersey, May 2014

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Travelogue: Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey, May 2014

By Roger W. Reini


By date:

2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Prologue

This is the story of my May 2014 trip, primarily to Virginia, with other areas of focus being Delaware, the southern tip of New Jersey, and the DC area. This trip of mine was, first and foremost, a trip to see my nieces graduate from their respective universities. It was also a chance for me to do a little sightseeing in places I’d never visited before and to do some bike riding in areas I had visited and in areas I had not. It might also have been the last chance I had to see an ailing family pet.

I knew I would be making this trip for some time. My nieces, Candice and Heather, graduated from high school in 2009 and 2010 respectively. They’d graduated from the International School of Uganda, which is where the family had been living at the time. I’d gone there to see Candice graduate; I didn’t go back for Heather’s graduation, though. And if things had gone according to plan, I’d have made a trip last year for Candice’s graduation from college, but thanks to a change in major and a change of schools, she ended up graduating this year, the same year as younger sister Heather. Fortunately, their graduations were a week apart; if their ceremonies had been on the same day, or worse yet, at the same time, that would have presented quite a dilemma!

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Wednesday May 7

This was a day of final preparation. Once I got home from work, I started to load the car. First, the road atlas. Next came bike equipment, although the mirror that was attached to my helmet would no longer attach (the adhesive pad for the mount broke down). Assorted other bags went in after that. Later, I’d put the bike on the rack and finish packing other bags. By packing today, I wouldn’t have to pack after work tomorrow, enabling me to set out directly from the office. I would only have three bags to bring down in the morning: my suitcase, my home computer bag, and my work computer bag. I had supper and washed the dishes by hand. I turned on Fox Sports Detroit in preparation for watching the Tigers and Astros play.

While checking Facebook, I saw a post from America By Rail announcing that 46 travelers had left Chicago’s Union Station today as part of an Alaska rail-sail tour. That was a trip that I hoped would become part of a future travelogue of mine next year.

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Thursday May 8

Today, my trip would begin. I wouldn’t be leaving right away, though; I still had a full day of work ahead of me. And I had a little packing as well; after I got dressed, I finished packing my suitcase and my two computer bags. I made sure all the doors and windows were locked, and then I set off shortly after 6:30. First came a stop at the post office to mail a bill, and then came the rest of the 30-minute drive. I had a QSO (conversation) with Rich, K8RMM, one of the members of the Ford Amateur Radio League.  He would be attending tonight's meeting, but I would not be. I needed to start my drive to Virginia this evening.

Work was not that busy today, not with respect to meetings.  I only had one, a noon meeting with one of our wiring suppliers.  In terms of answering questions and making technical comments and judgements, it was fairly busy. But at 2:30, I stopped what I was doing and performed a backup of my laptop’s hard drive. That took a half-hour or so to complete; at that point, I could leave. At 3:04 PM, I turned the ignition key on my SUV, and my vacation was under way.

Traffic was heavy on Pelham, thanks to a combination of construction and the start of rush hour. 20 minutes later, I was on I-75 heading south. By 4 PM, I was in Ohio. I decided to be a bit different for this trip and take Highway 2 over to the Cleveland area instead of taking the Ohio Turnpike the whole way. This was a drive I made frequently in 1987 as I traveled to the Lorain Assembly Plant for a 3-month assignment.  The sights hadn’t changed that much in 27 years.  There was still a bridge over Sandusky Bay that reminded me somewhat of the Galveston Causeway as it used to be.

After 2 hours or so, I was getting hungry, and I was also thinking of getting gas, as I was at a half-tank. I took care of both of those things in Sandusky. First, I filled up at Meijer’s. Second, I had supper at the Perkins restaurant next door. The chicken & mushrooms served with rice and corn was very good, and it satisfied me for the rest of today’s trip.  Once I got back on the road, the trip was uneventful.  As has been true for the last 12 years, I listened to a lot of satellite radio: some BBC World Service news, a little bit of Radio Classics, some NFL Network and their coverage of the NFL Draft, and some bouncing around on the music channels.  When I reached Elyria, it was time to hop onto the Ohio Turnpike for the rest of the drive.

I reached the Microtel in Streetsboro at 7:20 PM and checked into room 132. From my room, I could see the Bob Evans restaurant. My laptop could see the Bob Evans Wi-Fi network for its diners; it could not see any network for the hotel. It would not have been proper for me to connect to the Bob Evans network (there were some technical reasons for me not to do so, as well), so I had to resort to my MiFi portable hotspot. That was having problems as well, not performing to its full potential; coverage was not as good as it could have been.  I managed, though. By this time, the NFL Draft had begun, so I turned that on to see whom Houston would draft, whom Detroit would draft, and which team would draft Johnny Manziel.  I ended up falling asleep before Johnny Football was drafted by the Browns.

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Friday May 9

How well did I sleep tonight? I’m not sure. At times, it seemed like I had difficulty getting to sleep, but I did feel somewhat rested in the morning.  I got up around 5:40, took a shower, and had a small breakfast downstairs: a muffin, some yogurt, and a glass of orange juice. And with that, I checked out and was on my way to Pennsylvania. While on the turnpike, I found the official state tourism guide for Delaware; how convenient, for I was on my way there for two days. By 11 AM, I was off the turnpike and heading out of Breezewood.

As I drove through Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, traffic was rather heavy. There was some festival in town, and I couldn’t turn left into the Sheetz gas station in the middle of town. I had to backtrack to get there, but once there, I filled the tank. Then it was time for lunch, and I happened to stop at McDonald’s. Shortly after sitting down with my meal, who should happen to walk in but Ronald McDonald himself! I’d never met the costumed mascot in the flesh before, but now I had. His visit was to drum up donations for the Ronald McDonald House in the DC area, and I made a small donation.

I didn’t encounter much difficulty on the way to Fredericksburg except when I got very close to town on US 17. The road was under construction, and backups were long. I-95 traffic was heavy, too, so I stopped for a while at the Welcome Center, where I picked up a lot of tourist literature. I picked up several items for the Hampton Roads area, as I was contemplating returning from Delaware by going through there (as it turned out, I didn’t). Afterwards, I continued onward to the Central Park shopping area in Fredericksburg. It was too early to check into the hotel, so I stopped at the Barnes & Noble and the Walmart. Afterwards, it was time to check in at the hotel: room 506 at the Homewood Suites. I tried connecting my laptop and my iPad to the hotel network but had poor performance. There also seemed to be a new policy: connecting multiple devices from a room would no longer be free. I ended up using the hotel network for the laptop and my MiFi for the iPad.

Would I be meeting my sister and her family tonight? No, I wouldn’t; everyone wouldn’t be available. I would be seeing them in the morning at the graduation ceremony. So what to do for supper? With this being Friday night, I figured most of the restaurants would be busy, so I ended up going to Cici’s Pizza. Unfortunately, the pizza here wasn’t as good as the ones down in Texas. It was OK, but I had had better.  The pasta alfredo was decent enough, though. Then it was back to the room for the evening, where I struggled with connecting to my home computers, reviewed some of the tourist literature I’d picked up today, and watched some more coverage of the NFL draft.

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Saturday May 10

I was up for good around 5:45. Today, my niece Heather would be graduating from the University of Mary Washington with a BA in history, which was mainly a prelude to the master’s in education she would pursue next, a necessary step in becoming a teacher in Virginia. The ceremony would be outdoors in Ball Circle on the university campus. Rain was in the forecast, but not until later on. And so I showered, shaved, put on nice clothes, and went downstairs for breakfast. The breakfast bar was similar to the Hampton Inn’s breakfast bar; I enjoyed some sausage patties, tater tots and yogurt. Many of the other hotel guests were nicely dressed, which had me wondering if they were in town for the UMW graduation.

By 7:25, I was checked out of the hotel and on my way to the university. I found my way to the parking garage and parked there. I had my camera bag with me, but I left my umbrella in the car. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Now I wasn’t quite sure where to go, so I followed some of the graduates and their families. Construction on campus made it a little difficult to get around, but I eventually arrived at Ball Circle.  And there were Sharon, Randy, Candice and Brandon, sitting near a tree. Heather wasn’t there; she was with the other graduating seniors, who would form a procession to the ceremony. Our seats didn’t give a great view of the speaker’s platform, but we could see the rented Jumbo-tron-type display. Unfortunately, the display didn’t have the highest resolution.

At 9 o’clock, the students started walking towards the circle. Parents, relatives and friends lined the walkway in order to see their students, and I was one of them. I saw Heather walking in, although I feared my pictures would be out of focus or be focused on the wrong people (the hazards of autofocus). Once she was past, I went to my seat. The ceremony began with a tribute to a graduating senior who had died a few days earlier (Heather did not know him); his parents received his degree. The main speaker was a strong environmentalist who challenged the graduates to combat climate change or help find ways to adapt to it. Then came the presentations of the degrees. We couldn’t see the degree presentations that well from our location, so we had to rely on the Jumbotron display to see Heather receive her BA.

The weather forecast that the rain would hold off until later that day turned out to be wrong. There were a few drops that fell as I went to Lee Hall to use the restroom. When I came back out, it looked to have rained somewhat substantially, but it had stopped. Then it started coming down hard, and I didn’t have an umbrella. The Marshalls had two, but they weren’t big enough to cover me. I ran inside to Lee Hall. They would follow a few minutes later, and we followed the ceremony from inside. Eventually the rain stopped, and we went outside to view the recessional.  It took quite a while for us to reunite; most of us were at Lee Hall, while Randy had gone down farther. But once we all met up, we took pictures with the new graduate.

What next? We planned to meet an hour later at Five Guys Burger and Fries for lunch. They went back to Heather’s apartment, while I went back to the garage. The rain held off as I walked there, but it started up again after I left. On the way to Central Park, I hooked up my MiFi to the charger, but it wouldn’t charge. I knew the charger had a flaky connection, but today it was much worse than usual. It was time to retire the charger. Fortunately, there was a Best Buy at Central Park, and I was able to find one with little difficulty. Then it was on to Five Guys, but there was a problem: the restaurant was packed, and there wasn’t enough seating for us. We ended up going to Tito’s Diner nearby and had a good meal there. I got a farmer’s omelet, which was good.

Now we would separate. They would go back to Heather’s apartment to help move things, while I would set off for Delaware. I took a more scenic route to reach the Eastern Shore, traveling over to US 301 and crossing the Potomac there, rather than going up I-95 to DC.  Both ways would take me to US 50 and Annapolis and the crossing over Chesapeake Bay, but I figured going up through Maryland would involve less traffic. Other than around Waldorf, I believe, I was right.  I made it up to Highway 50 and through Annapolis, and soon I was heading across the Bay Bridge, which was BIG. Soon after that, I was on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, part of the Delmarva. There wasn’t a whole lot of traffic on 50 or on Highway 404 as I headed eastward. I didn’t stop for supper, but I did stop at a Walmart to use the restroom. Soon, I was in Delaware. The roads had good, wide shoulders for bike routes.

It was after 7 when I pulled into Lewes. Second Street was very busy, and I had a hard time finding a place to park. For the moment, I parked in front of the bank while I went to check in at the Hotel Rodney, which you could say was a boutique hotel. Room 203 was waiting for me. To get there, I had to use a very small elevator where one had to manually close a gate to use it. Room 203 was quite small, but it was all I needed.  Eventually, I was able to move my car off of the street and into the parking lot for the hotel, and then I proceeded to download and identify the pictures I’d taken today, for there were a lot of pictures to identify.

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Sunday May 11

Today would be the highlight of the trip, at least for events not connected with a graduation. I would be traveling by ferry to Cape May, New Jersey for some bike riding and a whale-watching cruise. I’d first taken a marine mammal watching cruise in July 2005, a dolphin-watching cruise off of Virginia Beach with Sharon and family. We did see a few dolphins, although I was disappointed with the pictures I took of them. The next cruises were whale- and dolphin-watching trips in the Pacific, off of San Diego and between Newport Beach and Santa Catalina Island. Those pictures turned out better. Next came a chance to see dolphins in the Galveston Channel last year, and now here I was, about to take a whale-watching cruise from Cape May. Lewes had whale-watching cruises, too, but they wouldn’t start up for another month.

I was up before 6; with my windows facing southeast, thus receiving a good dose of morning sun, that was to be expected. Shortly after 7, I went downstairs and out to the car. Before I removed my bike from its rack, I walked around the hotel neighborhood, taking a few pictures. Then I took the bike down and got it ready to go, as well as making sure my backpack had everything I needed: tools, camera, iPad, food. Soon, I was pedaling through the streets of Lewes, heading towards the ferry dock. I stopped to take a picture of the Cannonball House, so called because there was a cannonball lodged in its foundation, a relic of the War of 1812. As I got ready to get on the main road, a police car stopped traffic for an organized bike ride. This was not an ordinary bike ride, though; this was the Police Unity Tour, where officers would ride to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington. Some of them complimented me on my recumbent bike as they passed.

Once the riders had passed, I was able to cross the drawbridge and head toward the beach, where I took a few pictures. The ferry dock wasn’t too far away, and it didn’t take long to ride there.  The terminal wasn’t open yet, so I rode about a mile past the terminal and turned around.  If I’d gone to the end of the road, I’d have reached Cape Henlopen. Before 8, I’d checked in at the terminal and had 45 minutes before departure. The terminal had a gift shop and a restaurant or snack bar, but I didn’t get anything. As the ferry arrived from Cape May, I retrieved my bike and went to the boarding ramp to await the call to board. Once that call came, I pushed the bike up the ramp and found a rack for parking the bike. I locked it to the rack, wrapping the cable so that it kept the bike from falling over, and then I went up to the passenger deck.

We got under way a little bit after scheduled time, no more than five minutes late, if that. Much of my time was spent on the outside decks, taking pictures of the sights, but I did go inside the main cabin a few times, once to get some breakfast (a blueberry muffin and a bottle of Coke Zero) and once to use the restroom. The cabin was similar to the cabin on the Lake Express ferry between Muskegon and Milwaukee. In the latter third of the trip, we encountered some dolphins at feed and/or play. I tried taking a few pictures of them, but none of them turned out very well.

As we neared Cape May, the call went out for passengers to return to their vehicles. I was the only bike on board today, and I was the last one to leave the ferry after the cars, trucks and motorcycles had left. Soon, I was pedaling eastward on US 9 towards Cape May. The shoulders were wide, ideal for bike riders. Eventually, I found myself heading on the main road to Cape May, a road that was the end (or the start, depending on what direction you were heading) of the Garden State Parkway. There was a bridge to cross the canal, but as I started to pedal up it, I saw a sign that bikes were to be walked across the bridge on the walkway. The walkway was very narrow and very rough, but I pushed my bike up and over, and then I was in Cape May.  I saw where the whale-watching trip would be departing from, and I learned that I could park in the back of the facility. I still had two hours or so before the trip, so I rode around for a while. I rode to the Cape May visitor center, which had been built inside the old New Jersey Transit train station, for a restroom break and a drink from the fountain, and then I set off for Cape May Point State Park and the Cape May Lighthouse.

There was a bit of a headwind as I pedaled west-northwest towards the lighthouse. My odometer was giving unreliable readings, so I wasn’t sure how far I was traveling. But soon, there it was. One could go up in the lighthouse, but I didn’t; there really wasn’t time. I did walk up a beach access ramp and take a few pictures of the area, and then it was back into town and back to the marina for the whale watching trip. I locked up the bike near the picnic area, but I kept wearing my helmet. I must have looked a bit silly, but I had no choice; I couldn’t lock it up with the bike.

We were some 10 minutes late setting out, but once we got going, we traveled down the channel to the west. This was part of the Intracoastal Waterway and dated from World War II, when it was built to provide safe access to the harbor and allowed ships to avoid U-boats. Soon, we were passing the ferry terminal, and then we were in Delaware Bay. We soon came upon the dolphins that I’d seen on the ferry ride, and I took a lot of pictures of them. Most of them didn’t turn out very well, I’d learn when I reviewed them later in the day, but some of them did. I didn’t see any dolphin leaping out of the water. As we cruised in the bay and the ocean, we were watching for the whales, but our watch proved to be in vain. Dolphins a-plenty, yes, but no whales today.

After returning to shore, I retrieved my bike and started back for the ferry terminal. I had to walk my bike up and down that bridge again, and it seemed a bit tougher this time than earlier in the day.  Then it proved to be difficult to get to the right roadway for the trip, as there wasn’t a traffic light, and I had to be careful crossing what was the access ramp to the Garden State Parkway. But I made it in plenty of time for the 6 PM crossing. I was the only bike on board for this crossing, just as on the morning ride. This time, I found a seat in the center of the cabin, sat down, and barely moved. I was tired out from the day, and I wanted to rest. The ship had Wi-Fi, so I was able to catch up on e-mail and download and read the latest issue of New Scientist as we crossed. We were back in Lewes at 7:25, and I pedaled back to the hotel. As I put the bike back on the rack, I was being bothered by gnats or some other flying bugs.

After returning to my room, I dropped off most of my stuff and went down to the Rose and Crown restaurant in the lobby, where I had a bowl of onion soup and The Best Damn Bacon Burger (yes, that’s what it was called). Not having had a proper lunch today, I was hungry, and they were good. Back in the room, I downloaded the pictures (over 600) and started to identify the good ones, but I fell asleep in the process.

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Monday May 12

Even though I was tired, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, not right away. So I took advantage of the time to review and identify more pictures from the dolphin watching cruise (can you call it a whale watching cruise if you didn’t see any whales?). Eventually, I fell back asleep, but I was up around 5:45 thanks to the natural alarm clock known as sunrise. I packed most of my stuff up and then waited for a restaurant down the street to open. The hotel provided coupons for $3 off breakfast entrees; I couldn't use yesterday’s coupon due to my trip to Cape May, but I was able to use today’s. The restaurant only had one other couple at that early hour, so I had the place to nearly myself. The buttermilk pancakes (easy on the syrup) with fruit compote and bacon were pretty good, and they gave me a good start to the day. Shortly after 9, I checked out and was on the road.

Before the trip, I had given serious consideration to taking the long way back to the DC area — that is, driving down the Delmarva towards Hampton Roads, taking the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel across to Norfolk, then traveling past Williamsburg and Yorktown, through Richmond, and up to DC — but I decided I wasn’t going to do that. It was too much driving for how I felt, and I was getting tired of driving. I didn’t feel like crossing the Bay Bridge at Annapolis again, so that left the northern way, going up the length of Delaware to the Wilmington area and then through Maryland.  As I drove northward, I listened to interesting programs on the Radio Classics channel and then caught much of an Artist Confidential program with David Crosby, which was having its premiere at 10 AM. I missed hearing it all because I had stopped at the Christiana Mall in Wilmington, where I would walk around for a while and have lunch.

I’d been advised to not arrive at my sister’s house before 4 or so, for nobody would be home from work or school before then. The cats wouldn’t be able to let me in the house, and some of them might not have wanted to. So here I was at the mall in Wilmington, occupying a bit of time. As it turned out, Delaware didn’t have any sales tax, so here was a chance for some possible bargain hunting. I wasn’t able to get a new laptop at the Apple Store, but I was able to upgrade my earbuds. I found a copy of Smithsonian magazine at the Barnes & Noble, and I was able to visit a Cheesecake Factory for the very first time. I heard that portions at the restaurant were very large, and that was definitely the case for the chicken Caesar salad. I think I was able to eat half to 60% of it before filling up. I couldn’t really take the leftovers with me (no cooler).

As I left, I had wanted to get onto I-95, but I found myself heading back the way I came. I took US 40 westward, thinking I was riding on an official feeder route for the old Lincoln Highway, but it turned out I wasn’t. I was close to the route, but I wasn’t on it.  Eventually, I took a road that led to I-95. This part of I-95 was a partial tollway, and it had tollway-style service plazas. I stopped at one of those plazas, Maryland House, for a restroom break. Would I get a bottle of pop at the convenience store? Not at $2.99 for a 20-oz bottle, I wouldn’t! And so I continued down I-95 through Baltimore and down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway until I reached the Capital Beltway. My trip had the potential to slow down here, but fortunately, the outer loop of the beltway was moving just fine. The inner loop was slow, but I wasn’t going that way. I didn’t have any real difficulties making it out to Ashburn. But it was still too early, so I traveled to Brambleton shopping center and went inside the Harris Teeter grocery store to see what was what. Now “Harris Teeter” sounds like it should be a political poll, but it’s a grocery store chain in North Carolina and Virginia. I didn’t get anything here, nor did I need to.

When I got to my sister’s place at 4:30, the air conditioning was out. That was not good. But a repairman came by within the hour and diagnosed the problem: a clogged air filter. The landlord had never told them where the air filter was, which made it difficult to change. With a new filter in place, the A/C could cool off the house.  Hurray! Supper tonight was hot dog casserole, a dish from home: hot dogs, egg noodles and chili. At home, we had made it with canned chili without beans; tonight, the chili had beans, which made for a different food experience. It was a good experience.

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Tuesday May 13

Today was a rest day for me. I’d been on the go since Thursday after work and had driven long distances every day except Sunday, and on Sunday I’d ridden my bike a lot. So I was in need of a day of rest. Most everyone was at work or at school at some point in the day, so I had the company of the cats. I was able to use my downtime to catch up on TV watching, having retrieved some of my favorite programs from home, such as last Thursday’s Big Bang Theory and Sunday’s Cosmos (I saved Game of Thrones for later). For lunch, I had leftovers from yesterday. Later, I continued to review the pictures I’d taken on Sunday.

The big event in the evening was the middle school band concert featuring my nephew Brandon, who plays the tuba. We could hardly see him on the stage, and we couldn’t distinctly hear him, but he and the rest of the band sounded pretty good as they warmed up for their competition on Friday. Rain threatened to come pouring down on the way home, but it held off.

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Wednesday May 14

When I went to the bathroom first thing yesterday morning, Tiger the cat joined me, even hopping up on the sink counter. This morning, Princess the cat considered joining me in the bathroom as I took my shower, but she didn’t. I had a hard time figuring out how to use the shower, which way I should turn the knob to get the proper temperature water. Turn it one way, get cold water; turn the other way, get very hot water; turn it farther in the hot direction, though, and you’d get warm water, so that’s what I did.

I had considered taking a bike ride today on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, which I’d partially ridden back in 2008. However, as I went outside to retrieve the water bottle, I felt some sprinkles or mist. Rain was threatening, it seemed, so I decided to postpone the ride (it never did rain). Instead, I went to Benihana at Dulles Town Circle for lunch and then went to the nearby Walmart for some dress socks (one of the pairs I’d brought had developed a large hole — not in the sole but on the side) and to Best Buy for a second circular polarizer for my camera lenses. Now I wouldn’t have to swap the polarizer between the lenses as I changed them, something I had to do on Sunday. We had Pizza Hut pizza for supper tonight, and later I went to the grocery store with Sharon and Brandon. They got some cards and gifts in addition to the groceries.

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Thursday May 15

When I woke up around 6:30, I tried to read my e-mail, but all I was getting were error messages saying “incorrect password.” I knew that wasn’t true, so I tried retrieving my mail via the web. I got the same message. Then I logged into my hosting account for my website, and what I saw shocked me. Actually, it was what I DIDN’T see that shocked me.  All of my files and accounts were gone! The same was true for the sub-sites that are under my account, such as the site for the Ford Amateur Radio League. What had happened?!? I had fairly current backups, so I could restore most of the site in time.  When I tried uploading a file, though, I got a message saying nothing could be written. I submitted a trouble ticket and signed up for a support chat.  It turned out that a server had gone down overnight and was being brought back up slowly; my files should be visible in a few hours, the technician said.  That proved to be true; everything was back as it was. Whew!

Today, I would go on the bike ride I had intended to make yesterday. I drove to the intersection of Ashburn Road and the W&OD Trail, parked in the lot next to the trail, prepped the bike, and set off. On my previous rides, I had set off from Herndon near mile marker 20 and had gone east, towards the District. This time, I was setting off from mile marker 27.5 and was heading west. Some two miles west was an overlook at the Luck Quarry. There was also a porta-potty there, which I made sure to use so that I wouldn’t be distracted as I rode.  I thought the elevation of the trail would be consistently increasing as I traveled west, but no, there were ups and downs, and that included getting over some overpasses on Highway 7. I pedaled through Leesburg and on west; my ultimate goal was to reach the end of the trail at Purcellville and mile marker 45. I’m glad to say that I made my goal! I filled up my water bottle at the fountain and then returned the way I came. In total, I’d been on the trail for 3 1/2 hours and close to 35 miles. For lunch, I stopped a Five Guys Burger and Fries near the house; I was tired and hungry, and the meal was messy but good. As for the rain, it held off until I got home, and even then, it was only for a moment or two.

The rain returned with a vengeance in the evening, as we were driving to George Mason University for the first of two graduation ceremonies for Candice. The combination of the rain and the rush hour made for a very slow trip to the Patriot Center. Tonight’s ceremony was a college convocation, where all of the Social Sciences students would walk on stage and receive their degrees.  We found seats in the upper bowl of the area, nearly in line with the stage and speaker’s platform. Here, we could see the graduates receive their degrees and be congratulated by the dean. The graduates would not be walking into the arena tonight, not with the heavy rain; they took their seats on the floor. I was able to see Candice and take a few pictures of her with my long zoom lens. I saw her walk up to the stage and receive her degree. As we left, the rain was coming down even harder, and we got lost on the campus trying to exit. Eventually, though, we found our way out of the campus and on the main road. There was a big puddle on the Fairfax County Parkway at one point; for a moment, I wondered if we were going to be swamped! We weren’t, thank goodness.

Once we got home, I was hungry. There was a Firehouse Sub in the refrigerator with my name on it; the family had had theirs for lunch while I was on my bike ride, not knowing of my plans for lunch. Since I’d been to Five Guys, I didn’t eat the sub then, but it made for a good supper.

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Friday May 16

Today was the day for the school band competition at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. That meant that Brandon had to be at the school very early, and his sisters saw to it that they got him there and on that bus. With that task out of the way, they came home and went back to bed.

After yesterday’s rains, my bike seat was completely soaked. I would not be doing any riding today. It had also gotten cooler. So today, I took care of an overdue task: I got the oil changed on my Mariner. I went to a nearby Jiffy Lube to have it done. Jiffy Lube was not the home of the $19.99 oil change, as I found out; it ended up being nearly twice that, and then there was the replacement of the air filter. But my car was better prepared for the trip home.  Next came a visit to Trader Joe’s in Herndon or Reston (the suburbs tend to run together), where I stocked up on a few items. I knew it would be easier for me to visit the Trader Joe’s here than for me to visit the ones back home; right now, I had the time.

Back at the house, I had lunch and caught up on more of my TV watching by finishing Mad Men and by retrieving from home and watching last night’s The Big Bang Theory. Later, I did something unusual for me: I did some work during vacation. It wasn’t very much work, but it was something that needed to be done. For supper, we had Hungry Jack casserole (hamburger and beans topped with Hungry Jack biscuits), another family traditional meal. Yummy!  And how did the band competition go? Brandon’s school’s band won. Yay for them!

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Saturday May 17

Today was the second graduation ceremony for Candice: George Mason University’s commencement ceremony. This was where the degrees awarded in the convocations were officially conferred by the university president and the students officially became graduates.  We got off to an early start, leaving before 8 for a 10 AM start. With much better traffic and weather, we had no difficulty getting to the university, although we parked in a lot across from where we parked Thursday; the intent was to be able to leave more quickly.  We walked over to the arena, where Candice left us to join her class for the processional. We had to stand outside for 30 minutes or so waiting for the doors to open.

When the doors opened, we got our programs and found seats close to where we’d sat on Thursday. The program listed all of the 7500 or so students graduating today but was deficient in listing the honors of the students. The only ones who’d be walking across the stage were the doctoral candidates; if all the students were walking today, the ceremony might have taken 2 days or more! As the ceremony began, I saw Candice walking in; she’d texted her sister to let us know she was about to enter. The other dignitaries arrived, and the colors were presented. We got to see the presentation of medals to certain faculty members (including the retiring provost), the awarding of an honorary degree to today’s main speaker, the speech from the speaker, the speech from the representative of the students, the hooding of the doctoral recipients, and the movement of the tassels from right side to left side.  Now both of my nieces were officially college graduates!

We jumped the gun and left before most of the students had left; once Candice joined us, we found a spot for taking pictures. When we’d finished, we left for lunch. We went to the nearest Famous Dave’s for barbecue, which was very good. Well, the brisket was good, but the baked potato soup wasn’t the best. Some of us dared to try the Wilbur’s Revenge barbecue sauce; that sauce was HOT!

Back at the house, I downloaded the pictures from my camera and started to identify them. I’d finished doing that just in time to witness the opening of the graduation gifts. I’d given them each a check and a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In For Graduates; Candice said that Sandberg had been mentioned frequently in her sociology classes. What did they receive from Mommy and Daddy? Something very nice, something very nice indeed.

Later on, I started packing the car for the trip home. I could pack up most of my stuff, leaving only two bags to take down in the morning. The kids went out to see Neighbors and the “old folks” (that included me) stayed home.

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Sunday May 18

I had said I wanted to be on the road by 7.  Well, I was slightly behind that pace when I got started shortly after 7. I said goodbye to everyone who was awake at that hour, and then I started on the long drive home. The weather was good as I took the usual route through Leesburg and Frederick and Breezewood and Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Toledo and Monroe. I was getting good gas mileage, so I only had to stop for gas one time on the trip, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  For lunch, I stopped at a Five Guys off of the Cranberry interchange of the turnpike and had another messy hamburger.

By 5 PM, I was pulling into my garage. That made it a 10-hour trip, including all of the stops I made. I could now unpack and get some supper, for the trip was over.

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THE END

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2014 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised May 26, 2014