And so the plans for our little self guided exploration of Civil War Gettysburg were washed away but luckily we had found some decent coffee and were able to gear up and waterproof everything before it started raining properly. Then it was only a matter of working out how to escape through the crazy rabbit warren of narrow streets, in pouring rain, with a GPS screen that was virtually impossible to see. It took a lot longer than it should have and probably quite a few more choice words then were intended but before too long we found ourselves turning onto another of those interstates heading directly east towards the home of our next ADV Rider host.
It only took an hour or so before we cruised slowly up his street and spotted the open garage with 2 bikes parked inside. Adventure motorcycles are so rare in US that you only need to see one to know you’re in the right place. We pulled into the garage and out of the rain just as Bob appeared through the internal door to greet us. A quick photo, a careful unpack and about 20 minutes later our soaking wet riding gear was hanging up drying and we had changed into dry, warm clothes and were sitting upstairs with our new host sharing adventure travel stories. Then, as the rain pelted the windows we ate lunch and made plans for our visit to the heart of it all, Washington DC.
Bob gave us a rundown on how to navigate the subway, or Metro here, which key stations to look out for and all that basic info. And then he most generously offered to drive us the 20 minutes to the station so we could catch a train into the city. He even loaned us two umbrellas which we were soon to be so very thankful for.
It was that not too much later we emerged from the Smithsonian Metro station up onto the Washington Mall. The sky was very threatening but for the moment at least it was only a slight drizzle. To our right was the Capitol Building, to our left the great needle they call the Washington Monument and beyond the most well-known of all, the Lincoln memorial. We decided to go left and take a slow meandering route down past the WW2 Memorial and Reflecting Pool. We hadn’t gone far when the small rain break ended and the sky opened with a vengeance. We made it to the Korean War Veterans Memorial but our attempt to get over to the Roosevelt Memorial was met with another torrential downpour. We gave up and made a very tenuous run for the only dry place in sight, the Lincoln Memorial.
Ive no idea how many souls have visited this spot over the years, many millions I’m sure. And for good reason. It is genuinely impressive in both its size and its gravitas. After a few photos we had to sit down on the tiles over to one side and take it all in. I don’t claim to know much about US history but to deserve this memorial this man must have really been someone.
It was while sitting there, on cold tiles, gazing at the statue and living in the moment that I had a sudden, and somewhat macabre thought which, after some consideration I’ve decided to share with you here. If (as I have heard some who are disillusioned by this current administration say) their Commander in Chief were to meet the same fate as this national hero (possibly by his own supporter when they realise he can’t actually make anything great again)… there would be an unintended and quite terrible result. Such an act would elevate this man to the same level as Lincoln and Kennedy (also Garfield & McKinley). I’m sure we can all agree that is most certainly not something any of us could accept. So I for one would like to wish this “leader of the free world” a very long life.
After a time with no sign of the rain letting up, our thoughts turned to dinner. Google maps is a wonderful beast and we quickly discovered a number of cafés and restaurants reasonably close by. What we didn’t know was they were all in amongst the campus of George Washington University. We found out quickly enough – around the same time that we realised we didn’t really want to try any of the latest fad foods you’ll find on an up market university. All wasn’t lost though and after half an hour or so of wandering through what is actually quite an impressive campus, we found what we needed. Simple, hot and cheap student food. We sat at a window and indulged in what had become our second favourite pastime in the US (after motorcycle adventuring) … people watching.
And as it turned out this Café was located on Pennsylvania Avenue just a block from the White House. So after dinner, and noting the rain had stopped… well… you know we just had to. A very heavy military presence, sniffer dogs being guided through the crowds, a #metoo protest outside the main gates, some guy with a bible trying his hardest to explain his world to anyone who wanted listen, and soldiers. And there, over the high fence was the building that we’ve all seen so many times. Except for the guards and the pretty lighting it could have been empty.
We looked around a bit, snapped a couple of pics, didn’t feel it worth a selfie, and moved on. Found our way to another Metro station, sent a quick text to Bob to give him an eta and as darkness fell we descended the steps down to the Metro Centre station and ended our first day in the US Capital. A big one to tick off and so glad that we didn’t let a small thing like a Cat 4 hurricane stop us. I cant close this day out without another honourable mention to Bob who was waiting at the station for us.
The next day dawned bright and sunny and there was excitement in the air because it was going to be a big one. Today was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I’d been looking forward to this for quite some years and my enthusiasm had rubbed off on Janelle too. Even more in the last few weeks since our overnight at Charles Lindbergh Park up in Little Falls Minnesota, I was really looking forward to actually seeing his incredible aircraft. Neither of us realised that even greater wonders awaited us. We just knew this day was going to be one to remember. Believe me it didn’t disappoint.
Bob again drove us to the Metro station on his way to work and we quickly navigated our way to emerge again from the Smithsonian Station. It couldn’t have been different today though. The rain had given way to glorious sunshine and although there were still large puddles everywhere, it was a completely different place. A five minute walk and we were at the doors, security was tight as expected but no dramas and amazingly, free entry!
And straight away, greeting us in the large foyer was the Apollo Lunar Module LM-2 which they have gone to great lengths to configure as the landed LM-5 (Apollo 11’s Eagle) which carried Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon.
But just as we had taken that in, we noticed suspended from the ceiling right above it was the aircraft that had been front of my mind for weeks now, Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis!
So I could write up the story of our day in this amazing place, but I honestly don’t think I can do it justice. It delivered everything we expected and so much more. I’ll let the photos tell the story.
However, tucked away in its own dedicated gallery is one particular aircraft that would be remiss of me not to mention. The very first. The one that started it all. The original Wright Brothers Flyer. Yes… the actual aircraft that in 1903 began the era of powered flight. Complete with a model pilot lying in the flight ready position.
And then to raise the level even more there is however one small, yet in my opinion incredibly profound item that I cannot do justice to this diary without mentioning. Attached to a side wall in the Wright Brothers Gallery, barely noticeable and I’m sure missed by many, is a plaque containing a small piece of the aircraft fabric and a sliver of propeller wood. The attached letters tell the story. When Apollo 11 went to the moon in 1969, when Neil Armstrong made that One Giant Leap for Mankind, they carried these two pieces of the Flyer with them to the lunar surface. I have often since wondered about the person that dreamed that idea up. I hope they have truly won at life.
And then it was done. Our little side adventure in Washington DC was complete and that night we signed it off by taking Bob and his lady Karen out to dinner as a thank you for being a fabulous host. As a result we didn’t quite manage the early night we wanted, but still woke refreshed and ready to get going again. With the time off the bikes in NYC, and now two more days in DC, we were seriously missing the road. I suspect you have to ride motorbikes to understand, but we really needed to be out there again.
Bob left for work early and left us to pack and lock up the house. But not before leaving specific instructions that Janelle was not to kidnap his gorgeous cat. I suspected she was sizing up the tank bag for that exact purpose.
We rolled out of the driveway around 10.30, had cleared the suburbs by 11 or so and about an hour on the interstate had us in West Virginia (our 16th state) crossing the Potomac at its intersection with the Shenandoah river and stopping for lunch at a strange little town called Harpers Ferry. It looked to be far too big for the minimal catering available (an Italian restaurant was about it) but we never found out why. Good pizza though!
A few more miles down the road brought us to a town with the strange name of Front Royal nestled at the northern end of the Great Smokey Mountain Ranges. We didn’t know it yet but this was the start of almost a week of the most amazing roads, the most beautiful scenery, the complete lack of any commercial vehicles (because they are actually banned) and what we both agree was the (riding) highlight of this whole adventure.
It all started just south of Front Royal when we took a left turn at a non-descript intersection onto the 160 km they call Skyline Drive, which ran the length of Shenandoah National Park…