Late but great! 2
…or more honestly, Late and of Average Quality!
Woops, so, maybe it’s been awhile since our last post. Turns out, the hustle and bustle of the big cities is equally exhausting as the sprawling mountainous region we currently find ourselves winding through. Also, turns out, there’s not often wifi to be found in such hill country. Also, also, turns out, I’m making excuses, so let’s just hop into this.
Hum, let’s see… two weeks ago… the scene is this: Edison, NJ… behind a Wal-Mart, as per usual. We crawl out of our sleeping quarters, Stink in her hammock slackly slung between two decorative landscape trees, and I, sprawled out on the ground sleeping with the beetles and worms. Incidentally I found a tick taking a long refreshing draught of my bloods later that morning. Rude.
We rolled over to the gas station nearby to relieve the building pressure in our bladders, then scooted off in search of a McDonald’s for coffee (sweet, precious, awakening, delicious…ish, hot coffee). We ending up having selfies taken with us by numerous members of the McDonald’s staff there. It was quite a feat to capture both us Amazonian ladies, our overloaded cycles, and a fellow person in one shot, but I believe it was managed. (No photographic proof here, as we weren’t the ones selfie-ing)
That day we loiter-hopped our miles. Once finished lounging about at one McDonald’s, we rolled on till some other loiterable location caught our eyes. We stopped at a Super H-Mart (which for those who are unfamiliar, is a megastore of Asian foods and goods). We were hoping to capitalize on some cheap bao opportunities (unsuccessful), and I continued my eternal search for the perfect cell-phone-dangley-jinglebell-useless-accessory (also unsuccessful). One must have goals to work towards, you see.
Anyways, Stink got some spicy tamarind candies and kept trying to force them upon me. They were… unique. We also sampled, and re-sampled, multiple types of asian crispy chippy popped snack type things that were scattered throughout the store. Turns out, Korean style popcorn gets two big thumbs up.
We finally left, and scooted on till the next opportunity to sit around and waste time, in the form of an Aldi’s grocery store. Now, I had never really been to an Aldi’s before this trip, and didn’t know what to expect on my first expedition. What I found was winding aisles of inexpensive offbrand foods, and the most speediest, efficiency-driven cashiers this gal has ever seen. No small talk, no bagging, and no patience for time wasters. Oh well, you get what you pay for.
Outside, we sat around munching our cheap snacks (apples, salsa chips, perhaps a boxed pie) and started chatting with folks. To my shock/fear/displeasure, one lady asked if we were mother and daughter… What????? Noooo. Why??
After that unfortunate incident, it started pouring, inciting us to rush over to a McDonald’s a block away to resume snacking in shelter. As we pulled into the parking lot, Stink found that one of her tires had gone flat, so we found to offender (a tricksy double-holer near a seam on the tube) and attempted to patch. This particular location/double-hole situation isn’t always able to be fixed, so when we went out to continue riding after our short loiter, the reemergent flat wasn’t too shocking. Stink pulled out a spare tube, patched it up (it had already seen service), popped it onto the wheel, and away we went!
That night we camped out behind a church in Fairless Hills, PA. There was a large empty dumpster out in parking lot that Stink slung her hammock into, while I sat out on a bench, let Beef around, and read Tom Sawyer on my tablet till I about passed out.
On a somewhat more personal note, these past few days had been a bit exhausting mentally/emotionally. Stink and I are great friends, and alike in many ways, but we are also very different. We had had a tough discussion during this time, about differing views we hold, and that can really test a friendship. It takes a certain amount of stubbornness and respect to be able to acknowledge differences, while retaining individuality, and remain friends. Spending 24/7 with someone for months on end, no matter how close you are, can be stressful, but us two goobs care enough to make it work.
Okay, all seriousness over, let’s get back to what always ends up being a recounting of foods eaten, places loitered at, and unusual and likely illegal campsites:
In the morning, we rolled to a Dunkin’ Donuts, not to buy any donuts, mind you, but just to take advantage of bathroom facilities… and perhaps get an overpriced average-tasting cup of coffee. The east has this weird fascination with Dunkin’ Donuts, and we see them everywhere we go, but I don’t understand it. Maybe I’m just feeling left out because their bagels cost a million dollars and their neat rows of donuts on display look delicious and tempting… I don’t like it.
We rode into Delaware that day; a horrible hot industrial awful part of Delaware, that I don’t even remember much about, but that some areas were so nauseous smelling that I opted to cover my mouth and nose with my ever-present bandana as a makeshift clean breathing apparatus.
We finished that day by making it to a park in New Castle and sitting on a bench for a much needed rest, and chatting with the locals. We were somewhat hoping to get ‘adopted’ for the night, as we’ve termed the act of being invited into a home for rest & recuperation. While we did meet some nice folks, and Denali once more proved to be a wonderful rat ambassador, no one offered to take us smelly people home. So, we scooted around the town and eventually found a school to sleep out at for the night.
We sat around and ate frozen veggies and tortilla chips that I had ‘rescued’ from dumpster earlier that day. (There were also two bags of BBQ chips that were… salvaged. After the rescue mission, we had been sitting out front of the store snacking on those, and some purchased goods too, when we were asked to move along… this is a good indication that we needed to clean up the bikes and ourselves and attempt to appear a bit less homeless).
Back to the school yard: Stink threw her hammock up in a chain-link dugout, and I crashed out on the asphalt, hoping to avoid being eaten by the swarms of mosquitoes about. Hope doesn’t count for much when faced with blood thirsty little buggers like those though, so when, late in the night, a “security” man walked into my domain and woke me, I opted to set up the tent to sleep bug free the remainder of the night.
I say “security” skeptically because it was just a fella walking through the school yard with a flashlight, who seems just as surprised as I was to see him there. “Who are you?!” he called out in shock. My initial instinct was to shoot a “Who are YOU?” right back at him, but I bit it back and replied that we were just traveling through the area and needed a place to sleep. He then said he was security, but I was surprised when there was no further questioning, just an “okay” as he continued on his sweep. Didn’t really come across as true security to me, but oh well, can’t complain.
Anyways, like I said, I got up and set up the tent after he passed, but the damage had already been done; Stink and I were both riddled with tiny bug bites. They seemed different than our usual bites, being smaller and more numerous, so we speculated that perhaps we’re now in chigger country, but are unsure, as we’re both a bit ignorant as to what chiggers actually look like.
In the morning, we rolled back to the park from the evening before and sat around in the dirt in front of the bathrooms eating bagels and somewhat less than fresh carrots. A fella asked us if we knew how to change our tires and his wife promptly defended half the human population, “Women do know how to change tires, dear.”
That day was blazing hot and we rolled through into Maryland at some point. We stopped a few times, more to get out of the heat than anything. One such stop was at a miniature dollhouse furnishings store, that I somehow didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would. I love miniature things! But these things… they were just not doing it for me. Kinda weirded me out in fact. The customers and shop keeper kept discussing tiny electric lamps and doll house expo shows and I just wanted to leave. I will say that I did like the miniature wooden dining and rocking chairs. That is all.
Our next stop, to refill water and get out of the heat, was the only shop for miles in the middle of nowhere, a little Mexican tienda, where the lady let us go back to the deli food prep sink and fill our bottles ourselves. I’m fairly certain this is against food safety standards. There was also a open bowl of chicken meats sitting out in the sink… another somewhat questionable health practice.
But the water was good! And so refreshing! And much needed as we were guzzling water like elephants in a drought all day. Stink also purchased a variety of Mexican pastries, including a pig shaped cookie that apparently means it’s molasses flavoured.
At one point during this day, I saw a shape on the side of the road materialize into the most perfect hat; the kind I’ve been shoulder shopping for for years. I screeched to a stop, hopped off my scoot and nabbed the somewhat worse for wear straw hat. Thank goodness for Amish country.
Rolling on, we got to a McDonald’s located quite conveniently in a Food Lion parking lot. Have I told you guys about Food Lions yet? Great name, super logo, but they do happen to be the ones who asked us to move along one of the previous days. No hard feelings. Seriously, I just like the name.
While in the McDonald’s a man came and sat at the tiny table adjacent to ours and slowly sipped his free cup of water while openly starting right at us. He at least had the decency to momentarily glance away when either of us looked up to see him eyeing us open mouthed. But sure enough, seconds later he would resume his gaze, earning himself the nickname “Baldy McStares-A-Lot” as we left the place and immediately asked the other if they had noticed the intense visual assault happening inside. We don’t look thaaat weird, do we?
About this time, I received a text from my grandpa letting me know that my Aunt Anna & Co. were gunna be in the D.C. area for the next few days. This was a happy coincidence for me, so I sent her a message right away letting her know we’d soon be in the area too.
In high spirits we rolled along the Maryland countryside, with beautiful bucolic views to either side, complete with a fiery sunset tinting the lush landscape with even more vivid colors.
see a quick video of the ride here: https://instagram.com/p/54egF-FO4z/
We reached our destination of Queenstown, MD that evening and immediately upon arrival found both a park and a church parking lot. There was even a picnic tables and nearby porta-john to complete the perfect sneaky campsite.
Stink cooked up a batch of gnocchi for dinner and we sat on the playground and munched as we watched lightning put on an impressive display in the distance. We chose to sleep under cover in the actual playground, expecting that rain was imminent, so Stink once more found a will and a way to sling her hammock and create a cozy cocoon for the night.
impressive lightning display can be poorly seen here: https://instagram.com/p/54l0AOlO3l/
I was lying on the floor of a lower level of the sprawling play structure when the crunch of gravel and the blinding lights of high beams directly aimed into my eyes subtly alerted me to the presence of a police car. Stink hissed out, “Liz! Is that the cops?? Liz!” I replied that it probably was, and merely remained lying down, preferring to wait to be approached and spoken to rather than sitting up all bleary-eyed groggy before I was due to.
A man called out, asking if we could step down and how many of us were there. He was actually very reasonable with us, and explained that he was only checking the park because there had been problems recently with… lusty behaviors being expressed in the play structure. We were quick to affirm that sleep was the only thing we were after. He took our licenses (we’re too used to the procedure by now) and we explained our situation and the trip and all, and added that we didn’t exactly need to actually camp out in the playground, and were just doing so in case of rain.
He did a quick scope around the park and church properties, ascertained that there weren’t any ‘no trespassing’ signs, and allowed that we could camp out in the church lot for the night. If any other patrols came by, we were to tell them, “Officer Fraiser (like the tv show) okay’d us.” Thanks Mista Fraiser, and your memorable name.
When asking about our upcoming route, Stink let slip that we were planning to hitch across a no-bicycles-allowed bridge to get to the other side of Chesapeake Bay. Strictly speaking, hitching isn’t exactly legal there, so he kinda noted that he couldn’t advise doing so… but probably not to mention it to cops anymore.
Finally he cleared out and left us to our own devices. We popped up the gimp-tent and crawled into bed. Thankfully all that thunder & lightening was just an empty threat and we remained dry overnight.
In the morning, we rode out and found ourselves a nice bike path for a good while. They may meander in a less than efficient way, but they’re absent of cars and usually run flat, which sometimes make them a worthwhile endeavor.
We stopped at a McDonald’s for coffee and hot water to stealthily cook our oatmeals, and while we loitered about, I stuck a note on my bike to see if anyone would drive us over the upcoming bridge. No such luck, but it was worth a shot. We rode further on, right up to about where the bridge started and crafted a sign using some cardboard I found in the trash and a red sharpie borrowed from the gas station we were stopped at. “ACROSS BRIDGE?” it humbly asked, and soon we posted ourselves at the intersection, stretched out our thumbs, and crossed our fingers that the Maryland state police wouldn’t happen by.
After about ten minutes of trying to get the drivers of big trucks to glance our way, we were about ready to try Plan B (heading over to a nearby church and asking for a ride), when a fella in a big silver truck pulled over and offered to take us across if we’d pay his toll for the way back. We had ourselves a deal.
We slowly got the bikes hauled up into the bed of the truck and strapped down, and hopped into the cab, pleasantly chilled with beautiful wonderful magical AC. We chatted with our driver as he took us across the four mile long bridge (which incidentally is so long and rises so high above the water that people have a real phobia of it and there’s a special transportation service that will drive you across … for a fee of $25…).
Once safely on land again, we pulled into a state park entrance and hopped out, slowly dragged the bikes back out of the truck and thanked the man. We rolled over to a shady bench and ate lunch before resuming our ride, knowing we’d be heading into that treacherous beast, urban sprawl, once more.
I keep my Aunt posted as to when we might be entering D.C. and she kept us posted as to the same. We made our way through traffic and somewhat seedy neighborhoods, and eventually found ourselves riding past the capital building, with the Washington Monument towering in the distance.
As we sped down the hill, instantaneously my Aunt called and I went over a small ridge in the road, somehow perfectly bouncing my bike as to cause the front left pannier to come flying off. I pulled to a stop, rushing to grab my bag out of the road and set to work zip tying it back on, a bit more securely mind you, and received another call from my aunt. Holding my phone with my shoulder and trying to load my bike at the same time, we planned to meet up at the Washington Monument, where they were heading to at the moment.
Finally, with bags secure, I caught up with Stink (she had to whip back around and wait for me) and we sped off to the giant obelisk dominating the skyline. I was real excited to see everyone so I cycled right on up to the base and surprised them all by popping up behind them while they searched the crowds for my face. It was a joyous reunion, especially since it had worked out so well, virtually unplanned. We got to chat and Beef got to meet the fam and just generally had a good time.
Whe they all eventually parted off to continue strolling the national mall, we stopped to snap some pictures of the bikes in front of the iconic scenery. Soon, we too continued along the course and met up with the gang repeatedly at different spots. Lots of “hello agains!” and “fancy seeing you heres” as we frog hopped through the parks.
We parted for real at the Lincoln memorial after another little hangout session; them to go find a Starbucks and us to go find our Warm Showers host for the evening. Stink had worked had emailing lots of different D.C. members, but this fella, Richard, was the only one to get back to us with a thumbs up.
We rode a lovely bike path (that while was beautiful and lush, also unfortunately smelled strongly of sewer) right up to the street he lived on, and then spent a good deal of time puzzling out what house was his, as we didn’t have an actually address, just a point on a map and a list of landmarks (“down the alley, red umbrella, second gate from the right, second floor door…”).
Finally located, we first were met with the smell of a delicious dinner being cooked as we walked up the steps to the back door. Our host, Richard, emerged from the kitchen and greeted us friendly. We got to know each other for a bit before taking turns showering and having a delicious dinner paired with fine conversation afterwards.
Richard is a German man who works in D.C. doing important governmental advising types things. I may have Stink jump in here and add more details than I can provide, but basically Richard is a genius, and up to date on all things politics and foreign affairs. I think my IQ went up a few notches just from chatting with him.
Soon enough though, the yawns started and couldn’t be controllably be stifled, and it was a clear signal that these two gals were ready for bed.
In the morning the three of us breakfasted together, in German fashion, which included fresh cantaloupe, coffee, dark breads, an extensive variety of jams, some imported from Europe and being entirely new to me. If you know me, you know I love jams (and condiments in general as a rule) and was therefore quite ecstatic as I sampled each new flavor.
After breakfast, Richard gave us a key and headed off to work, while we unloaded the bikes and prepared ourselves for a day of real honest-to-god touring. We headed back to the museums and busy streets of downtown, and split off, Stink heading into the Museum of American History, while I sought out the Natural History Museum. All these Smithsonian museums are free so it was super great to be able to actually do tourist type activities for once.
I roamed the halls for hours, and was especially pleased with the bone rooms, but eventually a growling stomach brought me back out to my bike to snack and plot out a route to a vegan friendly restaurant my home-boy Timmy had told me about when he visited D.C. the week or so before. Stink found me there at the museum before I left, and we scooted out in the same direction, her in search of bao in D.C.’s little Chinatown, and I for my purveyor of fine vegan goods.
We split off again then and I went and had a lovely (somewhat lonely, being without company in a bustling city) lunch of a vegan ‘tuna’ salad sandwich and sweet potato fries. I make this same dish at home, using chickpeas and nori and the like, but for some reason it had made at least three different people throw up… on different occasions. I know… that sounds bad, doesn’t it? It really is a good sandwich though… I mean, I like it… humm.
…Anyways… after lunch, I too went and found bao, unfortunately it didn’t seem fresh, and was rather expensive, but it was the only option, and I knew I’d need a snack if I were to make it through another three hours of museuming. I made my purchase, packed it into my bag, and scooted off to the Postal Museum, another excellent suggestion by Timmy. FYI, I also sorta love the USPS. Something about walking around neighborhoods, getting to handle all sorts of mail, and checking out cool stamps and postcards all the time just strikes my fancy. Not to mention the smart looking uniforms.
I wandered around the museum for hours as predicted, ate my packed bao snack, which was kinda terrible, also as predicted. They had a whole section on Amelia Earhart, my number one historical crush, where I eagerly read all about her involvement with the mail system, and also an area where you could pick out six stamps and start your own collection from boxes full that were sitting out on tables. This may or may not have been meant for children. I may or may not have taken seven…
I really enjoyed my time there, and then realized that there was a whole nother floor to it, and my joy was multiplied. Sections on mail carrier vehicles, train mail-cars, a taxidermied dog, Owney, who traveled all around the world (collecting dog tags along the way) as a sort of unofficial mascot of the postal service, there was even a huge Post Secret section (which if you don’t know what that is, it’s this thing were people create and send in anonymous postcards which they’ve writen one of their secrets on… there’s a whole range of things written (good, bad, ugly, funny) and the cards themselves are often works of art. You can look them up online at postsecret.com … be aware that many secrets tend to be suitable for adult audiences only).
Anyways, I roamed around the museum till I was at last forced out at closing time. I was literally the last patron inside, dragging my feet out the door. Outside, I checked in with Stink (she was already back at the apartment), and then headed off to a Trader Joe’s to pick up actual real healthy food snack and then to head “home” for the evening.
It was hot as hell that day, so I took a quick cold shower (such a luxury!) and set to work relaxing and lying about. Richard came home a bit later, but had plans with his girlfriend, so left us with free range in the kitchen to cook dinner and entertain ourselves for the evening. We whipped up some pasta and had a nice meal sharing our experiences of our day apart. After dinner, I went up to bed to read, but soon drifted off. Ahhh…. so nice.
In the morning we had yet another lovely traditional German breakfast, only this time Richard has us try this new bottle of cold brew coffee he had gotten at the store. It was strong as all get out, but that suited us just fine, then we noticed on the label that it was concentrated and you were supposed to dilute it down with water, four to one. Whoops. Still good. Sure woke me up at least.
After our final meal together, we loaded up the bikes, and Richard noticed Denali rustling around in his mail box right before we said goodbyes. I had sorta… not brought him up during conversation, and left him outside on the back patio during our stay (not to worry! still well taken care, just outdoors like normal). It’s hard to gauge whether someone will be receptive to rats or not, so sometimes he goes unmentioned. But I was pleased to find that Richard was quite welcoming and even held him for a moment before we headed out.
Back on the road again, we wound our way through nice neighborhoods, and onto another bike path. We stopped at a post office and then a natural foods co-op next door, feeling a little inspired, if you will, from the fresh healthy foods we had been enjoying at Richard’s house. After eating a vege ice cream treat and loading up on more snack, we continued on our way.
The bike path (another old canal tow path) was excellent and shady (so necessary on a hot day such it was), and bore us far through the countryside. There were grand views of the Potomac River and rock formations bulging out of the landscape to our left. We encountered friendly people on the trail, stopped to hike around in a few areas, enjoyed the availability of water pumps every so often to refill our bottles, and picnic tables to lunch at as well.
We got off the trail at Harper’s Ferry, a sort of joint meeting of the Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia state lines. To our incredulity, we realized we would need to carry the bikes up four flights of stairs in order to get on the bridge towering overhead and cross the river. Never daunted though, we worked in a quick snack, then teamworked the bikes up one at a time, all hundred pounds of them being maneuvered up the staircase.
On to the other side and we had reached West Virginia, and found a town map on an information kiosk that clearly marked a grocery store up on High Street. That name should have been an indication of things to come for us. Soon we were huffing and puffing our way slowly up a steep steep, with no store in sight. I asked a passerby out walking her dog how much further the grocery mart was, but she replied that there was none, just the 7-11 up that way. We’d been duped. But she also informed us that there was a Wal-Mart six miles down the road, and we made our way that way.
We arrived out front just as the sun was setting, and hungrily advanced indoors in search of dinner. A bag of frozen veggies and a can of black beans eaten cold with tortilla chips sufficed…. till I wandered back in later and bought and ate an entire package of chocolate chip cookies… again… dang it.
We sneaked out back and found a spot to throw up the tent and soon the both of us we zipped in and zonkered out. (Trail riding is a bit slower because of the gravelly surface material, and also normally takes us on longer routes than direct roads, so it does wear ya out, but is still quite nice)
In the morning we rolled to a 7-11 across the road for coffee and oatmeal. (Here I will admit I found a 7-11 cup sitting in the Wal-Mart trash that morning, and rinsed it out and used it to get the refill price… I’m, uh, resourceful?)
This day we had a goal of arriving in Gore, WV, where we had two packages waiting for us at the post . The first was from Stink’s mom, which included our spare tires, new maps for this leg of the journey, and a chewblock for Denali (his teeth are getting too long for my tastes). The second package was from our friend Donna-Oklahoma-Rat-Lady (whom we met in Yellowstone and have been chatting with online this whole time about all things rat, tour, and bicycling). She has asked awhile back if she could send the three of us a care package and truly (and literally) delivered! There were treats of all sorts for little Beef and fun paper for bedding down in, and treats for us human folks too, as well as a high-tech wind detection device (read: whirly-gig), and a birthday card to boot! It was all super sweet and thoughtful and we can’t thank you enough! (We know you’re reading this 🙂
After munching snacks and taking a quick nap, we started packing up our new supplies, and ending up taking with folks coming in to do their postal errands. One such lady even made a cash donation for us to apply to a Watsi patient of our choice, so that was very kind. Miss, I can’t remember what you said your name was, but Mary, a patient in Kenya has you to thank for helping fund her brain surgery!
We finally finished packing and rolled on, into increasingly hilly terrain. We’re worming our way through the Appalachian Mountains, and each rise and fall is quite noticeable on a bike. We finished up the day in Wardensville, WV, and sat outside a Dollar General eating beanie bean burritos (one can beans combined with… another can beans, firmly wrapped in a soft tortilla shell) and talking with more folks about Watsi and our trip. It’s good to be out of the big cities and be able to have folks approach us once more and ask what we’re doing and why for.
After night fell, we rolled over to a baseball dugout we had scouted out earlier, and stealthily rolled the bikes in. I’m gunna say it again, and it’s not for the last time, I love baseball dugouts. Stink slung her hammock from the rafters, I laid out on the bench, and we kept cozy and dry, away from prying eyes, ensuring a restful nights sleep.
This is where I’m gunna sign off, as I buggered Stink into doing the next installment (the 6th through present) even though I’m the one who let the blog get behind two weeks. If you want to read my excuses again, please scroll to the top.
Until next time, your friendly neighborhood cross-country bicyclist and rat handler,