Date: November 23-28, 2009
From: Mechanicsville,Virginia to Washington D.C. to Gaithersburg, Maryland and back to Mechanicsville
Route: Amtrak, Metro and Car
Miles Today: 0 miles
TOTAL MILES: 3,577 miles
Top Speed on this trip: 54.1 mph
Weather: Clouds and Drizzle while in D.C. and sun on Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th
License Plates Collected: 5 Montana, 8 Wyoming (2 motorcycle) and 1 Idaho (found in WY), 2 Colorado, 1 Kansas (Gifted from David of Baldwin City), 1 Missouri (To be sent to Grammy’s by our new buddy, Kansas City firefighter Shawn), 1 Illinois, 4 Kentucky (2 Gifted from Beth and Garry Feltus, one gifted from cousin John, one from Hwy. 127), 1 Virginia, 1 Maryland plate gifted from the McClure Family
Broken Spokes: 3
Cracked Rim: 1
If you've never been to Washington D.C. you need to put this on your list of things to do. This glimpse into the history of America is offered free at most of the museums, memorials and monuments and I know I left feeling inspired and a little awe struck. You can visit The Archives and see the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, the documents that shaped our nation as well as monuments and memorials honoring the men who in a large part made our country what it is today. I've discovered a new appreciation of history and developed a thirst to learn more and I hope the same holds true for Gregory.
On Monday we navigated our way into the city via Amtrak and found our way to The National Mall and the Smithsonian Information Castle via the Metro. It was cloudy, damp and cold but nothing could dampened our spirits. We were thrilled to be in our Nations Capital. (We did find the $20 storage fee per bag, at the Union Station Metro stop, a bit offensive but luckily we did some investigating and found there were lockers at the National Museum of Natural History that turned out to be only a quarter!) We stowed our luggage and were ready to go to the National Air and Space Museum (Gregory had it in his mind that this was the best museum and that he had to do it first, thanks to Mike's recollections from his childhood) when Mike and I suggested we look around here a bit first. Gregory wasn't too sure until he turned the corner and entered the Mammal Hall. The look on his face and his reaction were priceless. "Mom, Dad, look at this!" Lions, tigers and giraffes peered down at us not to mention an endless array of other exotic animals we'd never seen before. We were thoroughly absorbed and wandered for hours through the Sant Ocean Hall, Ice Age Hall, Fossil Plants Hall, Early Life Hall and Dinosaur Hall until Gregory's interest began to wane a bit and then we moved on to National Air and Space Museum for the afternoon. This is the beauty of the Smithsonian Museums. Because they are free and centrally located you can spend a little time in one and move on to another for a while because you know you can come back at any time. You could easily spend a whole day in one museum and we actually did that on Wednesday at the newly opened National Museum of American History. There are many exhibits that you could spend a day in just one exhibit! There is so much to read, see, investigate and learn.
When we entered the National Air and Space Museum Mike took Gregory straight to one of the Apollo Command Modules. Mike remembered being so impressed that astronauts were carried to the moon in these small modules. It was especially neat to see the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia that "carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Michael Collins on their historic voyage to the Moon and back on July 16-24, 1969. This mission culminated in the first human steps on another world." (Museum Signage) In addition, it splashed down on my sister's birthday, July 26, 1969. After marveling at the control panels and construction of these modules I said, "Gregory, Have you even looked up yet?" "Wow!" he exclaimed. From the ceiling dangle a wide array of planes and instruments of flight including The Spirit of St. Louis in which Charles A. Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight in history on May 21, 1927.
We enjoyed the exhibit on the Wright brothers that tells the tale of two midwestern bicycle shop proprietors who invented the airplane and launched America into the aerial age. Gregory seemed to especially enjoy the models of the aircraft carriers and using the flight simulator to try to land his jet on one. Mike got a kick out of this too and they both went back for second turns. With so much to see and do we almost hated to leave but our "dogs were barking" and we wanted to beat the rush on the Metro. We found that sight seeing in Washington D.C. isn't for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of walking and a lot of stamina. Fortunately there are lots of opportunities to take a seat and watch a short exhibit video and there are many interactive exhibits for children.
After braving the weather we gathered our belongings across The National Mall at the National Museum of Natural History and boarded the Metro for our 40-minute ride to the end of the Red Line at Shady Grove Station. Gregory got to count Maryland as the 11th state he has visited on this trip, though we won't be bicycling in Maryland. Liz and her daughter Erin greeted us curbside as we hopped in out of the rain for the 10-minute ride to their beautiful home in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It has been so nice to see Liz again and to finally meet her husband Bob and their three terrific kids, Jack (11), Erin (7) and Kate (5). Liz and I were roommates at the University of Delaware back in 1985-1986 when I was there as a National Student Exchange student. We have all enjoyed our visit tremendously. It has been a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. Gregory has thoroughly enjoyed playing with the kids. Liz and I have had a chance to catch up and we have all found plenty to talk about. When we first arrived Kate, their kindergartner, was eager to have me read with her and practice her "word ring". She is a real charmer and I had a great time working with her. We even gave each other manicures on Thanksgiving morning. My nails are currently a vibrant shade of blue!
We were introduced to the gerbils and Charlie the cat and given the tour of the house complete with a kid-friendly basement much to Gregory's delight. It was hard to put them all to bed when they were having so much fun but the kids had school the next day and we knew our second day in D.C. was going to be a busy one. We planned to make a walking loop to see the many memorials and monuments.
On day two in D.C. we were again faced with cold and drizzle but we donned our rain jackets and gloves, used our borrowed umbrella and made our way around to the various memorials and monuments. Most of the morning was fairly dry so we had a nice walk and both the weather and the timing of our visit worked in our favor as there was a lack of crowds. After walking all the way up to the foot of the Washington Monument we were redirected back down the hill to collect tickets at the ticket booth. Mike and Gregory suggested that I go, so I jogged down the pathway to claim three tickets for the 12:30 P.M. ride up to the top of the 555 foot monument that towers over everything in the Capitol.
This 12:30 time slot gave us plenty of time to make a loop beyond the Tidal Basin to visit the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and back to the Washington Monument. All were equally impressive and touched me in some way. I remember being especially moved by the Vietnam War Memorial when I first visited D.C. back in my 20s. It was raining and I was told the water dripping down the walls of the memorial represented tears that have been shed for those we lost in this war. This time I thought of my uncle who recently died of cancer, who fought in this war and of my stepfather who is my mother's rock, but would rather not talk about his time served in Vietnam.
The Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial seemed to hold more meaning for me and my husband and son because of our recent visit to Jefferson's home of Monticello and our visits to Lincoln's birthplace and boyhood home as we've bicycled our way through his homeland. I feel so blessed that Gregory has been able to experience these things first hand, at such a young age, and that we can make this a jumping off point for further study of the birth and growth of our nation and the battles that have been fought to make and keep America free.
I also really enjoyed the simplicity yet profound nature of the FDR Memorial. It was quite unique with granite walking paths and walls engraved with many moving quotes from this president who served four terms up until 1945. Gregory liked the many waterfalls and the statues of FDR and his dog. There he met a couple who were trying to get their dog to pose by FDR's dog but it was actually scared of it and wouldn't go near it. Gregory did his best to help but didn't have much luck.
Though the weather wasn't ideal we still enjoyed the views from the Washington Monument and were glad we took the time to get tickets and wait our turn for this popular site. They say on a good day that you can see into Maryland. We still had views of the Capital at one end of The National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial on the other and it was interesting to see where we had been earlier in the morning on our walking tour.
"The Washington Monument honors those who helped 13 colonies become one nation. The Lincoln Memorial remembers those who preserved that Union at great sacrifice. And the Capital serves as living testimony to the the enduring principles that still govern this country." National Mall & Memorial Parks, part of the National Park Service (Eastern National Postcard of The National Mall)
We made our way over to the National Christmas Tree (it isn't lit yet but it was still impressive to see this enormous living Christmas tree) and we took the hike around to the front of the White House. At this point we were all fading and Gregory was complaining that his leg was hurting. My calfs were aching too but I was trying not to say anything and I was really glad when we sort of stumbled upon the Ronald Reagan Building and its food court. Mike suggested we go in and it was a nice break. We'd been pushing ourselves all morning and needed some food and a chance to put our feet up and regroup.
We let Gregory choose how to spend the rest of the day and he opted to return to the National Museum of Natural History to look at the Gems and Minerals Exhibit complete with the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond. On the way to this exhibit we had to go through "Dig It! The Secrets of Soil" an exhibit about the world of soil. We all found it extremely interesting and spent a good deal of time here discovering the connections between soils and everyday life. We also got to see official state soil samples and the diversity of the soil colors and composition was really interesting. "Dig It" is a temporary exhibit through January 3, 2010, but if you are in any way fascinated by rocks you have to make the Gems and Minerals exhibit a must see in your lifetime. It is nature's beauty at its finest.
Gregory was wiped out after our first two busy days of sight-seeing and on Wednesday morning he asked, "Can we stay home today?" I reminded him that the kids would be at school all day and that this was our last day to see our Nations Capitol. Mike and I knew we were in trouble and would have to keep the day low key and pick things that would be high on the interest scale for Mr. Gregory. We opted to not try and tour the Capitol (especially since we hadn't booked a tour in advance and weren't sure we could even get one) and we went straight to the National Museum of American History. Liz told us it was one of Jack's favorites and it has recently opened. We thought we'd get to see R2D2 there but found that he and Darth Vader were on tour. Luckily C3PO was there to greet us when we entered. We ending up spending the entire day there yet we barely scratched the surface.
With hands-on activities we learned about inventors and their inventions in the "Science in American Life" and Gregory enjoyed doing science in Spark!Lab where he learned about carbon dioxide and oxygen while using safety goggles, beakers, dry ice and candles. He and Mike also had fun building electrical circuits and I got a little time to myself to explore the kitchen of the famous chef, Julia Child. She and her husband Paul donated their famous Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen and its contents to the museum in 2001.
We were moved by the display of The Star Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to the song we now call our national anthem. A quiet reverence hung over everyone as we viewed this symbolic piece of our history. "A special environmentally controlled chamber in an atmosphere evoking the "dawn's early light" protects the fragile wool and cotton flag." (goSmithsonian Brochure p. 26)
Other moving exhibits included "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War," and "Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life" (through January 2011) where we continued our education about the life and legacy of our 16th president. We took time to talk with Gregory about the Boston Tea Party and the War for Independence, The Civil War and Equality and about Hitler, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. (There is a new U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum however we opted against seeing that this time due to the graphic nature of some of the exhibit.) On a more light-hearted note we saw some footage of the USO performers such as Bob Hope and Mike and Gregory got to practice being "Rosie the Rivetor" with a very noisy riveting gun.
Though we were all exhausted at around 4:00P.M. and Gregory was more than ready to board the Metro and go "home" to play with the kids, we couldn't leave until we made a stop at The Archives. We pointed out that it was on the way to the Metro and promised it wouldn't take long. Well, we didn't wait long but you can't rush viewing the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Gregory did amazingly well given the long day we'd had.
Back in Maryland, Liz, Bob and the kids had a surprise waiting for us. Not only did they grill up some yummy burgers for dinner but they also set up a backyard fire pit so that we could have a s'mores cookout. They were sure their neighbors were wondering what was going on at the McClure house tonight!
Thanksgiving day was a refreshing change of pace. After sleeping in I enjoyed helping Liz with a bit of the holiday food preparation. She was non-stop and really out-did herself preparing a fabulous meal with all of our Thanksgiving favorites. There was a mouthwateringly moist turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, corn, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls and lots of decadent desserts. We decided that when we are not biking we need to get back to our "regular diet" but ending the tour during the holidays is just not fair!! We sampled everything and didn't have to loosen our waistbands too much. Ha!
Gregory had a fun day building forts in the basement, playing Wii, watching movies and even riding bikes with Jack. Liz and Bob were surprised when Gregory asked if they had a bike that he could ride. Any chance he can get to have a single bike all to himself is one he will take gladly.
Mike, Bob and Bob's dad had a chance to catch up on their football and Bob's mom Joy visited with Liz and I and helped with the food preparations. It was nice to not have to rush off anywhere and to have the time to visit and relax!
Liz generously offered to drive us back to the Richmond area and Mechanicsville, the home of Penny and Keith Mead, on her way down to Virginia Beach with her girls. Gregory got cozy between the girls in the back seat of the suburban and this worked out well while they were watching "The Game" with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson on the laptop. After a lunch stop at a Virginia Welcome Center where we enjoyed turkey sandwiches with cranberry and stuffing, (Yes, Liz taught us that stuffing on turkey sandwiches is mighty tasty.) Erin decided she'd had enough of the back seat and joined Mike in the mid-section. The sun finally decided to show itself for the first time in days and we had a nice drive.
At Penny and Keith's house Gregory wanted to show the girls the fort and they took off out back and eventually made their way back to the garage to see the triple bike. We took the obligatory pictures by the bike and sadly said our goodbyes to Liz and the girls. Hopefully it won't be too long before we can reconnect again. It's been a grand time.
Mike and Keith had projects in mind and were off to Home Depot to collect cabinets for the basement. With two trips to the store (one to return the rented truck) and some assembly required on the cabinets they were busy for the rest of the afternoon. Penny and I opted for a lengthy nap and Gregory was thrilled to get to watch cartoons. Penny and Keith treated us to Italian at Mimmo's and then couldn't resist taking us for hand-made ice cream at Bruster's. With temperatures in the 30s it seemed crazy to be eating ice cream but we ran up to the window, put in our order and Gregory, Penny and I hopped back in the car to wait for the guys to deliver it to us. We cranked up the heat and enjoyed our dessert before heading home to watch The Christmas Story. We've been wanting to watch this with Gregory because he thinks he wants a BB Gun for Christmas. It has been a while and though we found it as hilarious as we remember I'd forgotten about the language! I gently reminded Gregory not to say those words.
Friday we finalized plans for our next four days in the Historic Triangle (Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown). We plan to stay at the Cascades Motel, one of the Williamsburg Foundation properties and to explore the area from there. Admission to Colonial Williamsburg is included in our 4-night stay and we will probably do that on Monday which is typically a slow day. Then, perhaps Tuesday, we will ride our bike the 13 miles out to Yorktown to culminate our TransAm route, explore the area and ride back. We will also do a day trip to Jamestown Settlement, just 6 miles away. Tomorrow's ride to Williamsburg will be around 70 miles so we are thrilled to have fine weather in the forecast. We are actually looking forward to getting back on the bike. We will make that return ride to Mechanicsville on Thursday with plans to rent a van on Friday night for the drive to North Carolina on Saturday. Mike's folks are looking forward to our arrival.
Gregory and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to help Keith and Penny decorate their Christmas tree! Keith and Gregory set it up and then left the decorating to Gregory and the ladies. Gregory and I always enjoy getting out our ornaments and telling the story behind each one and this time we got to hear their stories. Gregory lasted for quite a while but was also eager to help Keith hang the Christmas flags and to help in the basement. Final assembly of the remaining cabinets was on the agenda for today. With cabinets completed and Keith's Honey Do list a little shorter the troops decided to head out to REI after dinner. Mike got on the subject of his history as an assistant manager at REI and we found that Penny and Keith had never been to one. So, hi ho hi ho off to REI they go. Meanwhile, I have a rare moment to myself and will listen to some Christmas tunes and send my post to you...